“On Friday 19th Arena supported triathlete, Beau Smith, was up in Edinburgh to try his hand at the @ScottishSwim Masters short-course swimming champs…”
Whilst growing up and competing in a wide variety of sports, I used to go to quite a few swimming galas but now with my attention focused on triathlon I haven’t had the opportunity to compete in swimming as a single discipline for quite a while. I decided to enter the Scottish short course master’s champs gala after a friend who was competing in it invited me. I thought it would be a good early season test of my swim fitness before getting back into the elite triathlon races where the standard of swimming is very high.
I travelled up to Edinburgh with a close friend, her two children and my mum, so it was a nice relaxed atmosphere for the day. Once we arrived I met up with an old friend, Bill, who I swam with when I was at school and we even had swimming lessons together back at the age of about 7 or 8! We’ve always been quite evenly matched at swimming but more on that later! My main focus was on the 800m freestyle, with it being the most applicable to triathlon, and it was in the first ‘afternoon’ session of the two-day gala. It was my first ever masters gala and it was great to see the age range of people still enjoying swimming (and competing) with swimmers right up into their 70s and 80s in some of the earlier heats. I was in the final heat which I’d guestimated would be at around 3:45pm so I timed it and warmed up (in the 6 lane diving pool) and then went and levered and squeezed myself into my new Arena Carbon Flex VX jammers – they were a struggle to get on (as all good race jammers should be) but once they were on they felt great!
Some of my recent training sessions have been geared towards pacing an 800m and this was my main aim for the race; go off hard enough to swim as quick a time as possible, but not too fast that I’d start to blow and lose time in the final quarter of the distance. I’ve never swam a competitive 800m so technically whatever I swam would be a PB but I had my eye on a sub 9 minute time. The starter went and I was off, a couple of fly kicks and soon into my swimming – wow it felt fast, I was at the other end before I knew it. “Right, relax, slow down! Don’t go too hard… But it feels so easy… Stop pulling so hard!” After 3 or 4 lengths I was settled and got into a nice rhythm and was a couple of metres down on a quick swimmer two lanes over from me. I concentrated on holding a pace I felt was maintainable, breathing well and hitting all my turns well to get as much from the wall as I could but without pushing myself into oxygen debt. The lengths soon rolled by and I could still see my man two lanes over but I was about 5m down on him; 4:24:62 through 400m and feeling good. I didn’t know my split time during the race, I just knew I was now into the second half and I could start to push the intensity up little by little. Soon it was 300m to go and the nature of pacing meant my perception of effort was getting much harder just to hold the same pace. 200m to go and I was getting closer to my target two lanes over. 100m to go and I really started working, breathing hard on every two strokes, sucking the air in but I was starting to really move; final turn and a BIG push off, remember those fly kicks and then all in for the last 25m, my competitor’s lead was tumbling down and I nailed the timing mat on the wall just 0.8 after him – gutted! I looked up at the big screen and I’d finished in 8:45:62 – 15 seconds under my target – buzzing! From over 4 seconds down on him at half way I’d pulled it back to within 0.8 of a second so I was pleased with my pacing and I’d swam a 4:21:20 for the second 400m, a slight negative split so probably as well as I could have hoped to have paced it.
I had finished 3rd and later found out the lad I’d been battling with wasn’t actually in my age category so I’d got a silver medal – what a bonus.
A quick break and then it was the evening session where I’d put myself down for the 50m fly and the 100m free ‘just for a bit of fun’ and because I’d gone all the way up to Scotland so may as well make it worthwhile! Now, my aforementioned friend from my old school and swim club has always been similar or slightly quicker than me, but when the heat sheets came out you couldn’t have made it up! In the 50m fly we were in lanes 4 and 5 respectively in the same heat, and again in the 100m free the same situation again – we’d be competing side-by-side in both races. My 50m fly wasn’t the best as I mistimed my breakout from my dive and in a 50m it’s not good to be on the back foot straight from the off. I still swam a solid 27:43 but 0.42 down on Bill who was 5th in our age category while I was 6th: 1-nill to Bill. Next up the 100m free and although I’d swam the 800m I was probably in slightly better fitness than Bill even if he was stronger – I fancied my chances. I was quick off the blocks and as the two fastest seeded swimmers in the gala we were right in the race in the two centre lanes. I was going well but holding just that little bit back so I could finish strong. I turned well after 50m but could sense I was slightly down on Bill (0.24 to be precise); I started to squeeze the trigger and was level with him after 75m and then hit a BIG turn and went all in for the last length, holding my breath for more strokes than felt comfortable! The last 5m and I was swimming in lactic but I’d pulled far enough ahead to touch first to win the heat in a new PB of 55:51 just 0:17 ahead of Bill. I was 4th and he was 5th in our age – 1:1! After all these years and still swimming so closely!
As a whole the gala was a great experience, and something I’d definitely look to do again in the future when it fits with my other training and racing plans. I’d recommend masters swimming to any adult swimmer as the ability range is wide and the gala was such a positive experience – why not!? I’d also like to think both myself and so many other older swimmers may have offered a little bit of inspiration to my friend’s two daughters who are both keen swimmers, the elder of which is currently plotting swimming some county qualifying times for her age group!