Is it mental to swim uphill in the canal in Maryhill, Glasgow?
What exactly is "swimming uphill" Kate? Well it's swimming 450m, punctuated with 8 obstacles up the locks, including cargo nets, ladders, a climbing wall and rope climbs, whilst freezing, dirty water gushes down in your face.
Look, I'll be honest. As someone who loves the outdoors, swimming in the grubby canal at Maryhill wouldn't be my first choice of locations. It would probably be down there with the Thames (no it's not clean, believe me, it's gross), and a stinky sea loch filled with jellyfish. But a few things attracted me to this race:
And I did!
So, is doing Neptune's Steps absolutely mental?
Well, one thing is for sure - it is fecking hard. Oh my word. I was prepared for the cold (7 degrees) and actually that part was fine. I was prepared for the sprint swims in the sense that I'm not a sprinter. Also we did 16x100s at club on Thursday, which I thoroughly enjoyed but which also gave me major DOMS in time for Saturday!
But the climbs were so incredibly tough, I can't even tell you. The current is against you, water is pouring down, and you have to rely so hard on your upper body strength - forarms, biceps, shoulder in particular - to get you over the obstacles. I struggled to get on the first cargo net and genuinely doubted I would even finish. It was exhausting. But I took a breath, focussed and hauled my injured ass up that net. The three separate rope climbs nearly killed me. I practically crawled over the finish line 11 minutes later and was gutted to learn that I was 6th and therefore had secured a place in the final - I had to do it all again!
I debated whether or not to bother, as I knew I'd be at the back of the field and I was knackered. But I chatted to my old tri coach Joel, there competing and supporting his team (all three of his girls finished in the top 10!) and he suggested I ask myself how I'd feel if I went home. And I knew I had to do it. No way could I have gone home despite the searing pain in my pelvis and my arms!
So off we set an hour later. It was colder by then as our core body temperatures had dropped in that hour. I made the decision to take it easy but as soon as the klaxon went I couldn't help myself. It was so tough but I coped better with the obstacles this time round, pushed myself much harder and didn't hesitate at the top like I had before. The battle for 15th place was hard fought between three of us, with myself coming in 17th in the end - the hardest part was getting out to the finish line - so slippy!
I am so sore today - normal pain in my upper body and my osteitis pubis is pretty bad, but it's a price I wanted to pay just to feel alive again! Being injured has slowly chipped away at my competitiveness, dragging me further down into emptiness as the months have gone on. But Neptune's Steps has given me life again and the confidence to train harder in the pool and the lochs, and try new therapies to one day overcome this stupid chronic pain.
So no, I don't think it's mental. I don't think anyone who did it is mental. I think getting out of your bed, into the outside world, switching off from the shite media, challenging ourselves and finding ways to make us feel alive and invigorated -
Yoga, knitting, running, mountaineering, baking, whatever - is completely and utterly sane.
And maybe next year I'll get that coveted place - 15th!