For those who don’t know the event go to the Red Bull site, there’s lots of great videos and information to motivate you for next year, entries normally open mid-October and sell out fast. People actually fly over from Canada and the US just to take part (convincing themselves that their just tagging it onto a holiday in Scotland, come on really!!!)
I raced the Neptune steps last year in 8°C water temperatures and did very well with a 14th place in the final. No specific training other than swimming, so with some focus this year I thought there was a good chance on improving on this.
Great new kit from Aqua Sphere adds to the motivation so after numerous months of red-line sprints climbing in out the pool after each 25m (and sorry Fleet Feet members for scaring you during Monday training session) all was looking good. A 3 week bout of the cold with no training surprisingly didn’t dent my swim progress (although led me not to race the Fetteresso Marathon that I had planned) .
The ‘Beast from the East’ almost put a spanner in the works, I was sure being Red Bull we would be racing even if they had to break the ice and 2” of snow on the water (or maybe that’s what I was hoping as it makes it more extreme and adds to the feeling of achievement!)
Race day came and it was a tropical 2-3°C in the water so it had warmed up, with more competitors this year the number in the heats had increased to 35 with only 5 qualifying so there really wasn’t any guarantee of getting past the first round. I watched the first 2 heats thankfully and saw that everyone was struggling on the first obstacle (cargo net). So I got it straight in my head of how to tackle it.
The hardest part of the day was that we had to do a 2minutes acclimatisation in the water before getting out for 1minute and then back in for the start. Not sure if this was for medical reasons or just to torture us some more!
I had gloves on and a new Aqua Sphere pursuit wetsuit so I didn’t really feel the cold until I started swimming and got the head in the water, it was excruciatingly painful and took a until the cargo net to get used to it (or actually until I lost all feeling in my face). Up the cargo net and I could already see I was in 3rd place, so I then eased off from there and kept an eye on not being caught. I was surprised how quickly the energy was sapped by the cold. One of my gloves filled with water so by the end I could feel one hand but not the other, and was sure I had broken a toe in the process also.
A great bonus of the event was that I teamed up with fellow Aqua Sphere Ambassador Seamus Sheard and by no preconceived plan we qualified 3rd and 4th from the same heat for the semi –finals. A 5hr wait then ensured which was great to be able to dry the Pursuit wetsuit out, chill, and try not to overdose on Red Bull (which I failed).
The semi-finals were always going to be more competitive, we were up against Gordon Benson (Olympic Triathlete) and a number of the previous year’s top 5. It was full on from the go, I deliberately took it easy (well not flat out) for the first swim which paid off as I then passed people and felt stronger as we proceeded through the climbs (I had changed to full surfing gloves for the semi-final so had no problems with the cold in my hands).
I thought I was higher up than I was in the field, but relieved when I exited the water to see two tags left for slots in the final. One final comedy fall on my but saw me sliding across the finish line on my back followed by a mad scramble to get back up and grab the tag before other competitors.
It took a while to realise that not only had I qualified I’d beaten an Olympic Triathlete (accepted that this isn’t the same sport and the physic of these guys doesn’t lend itself to swimming in 2°C water), but I’ll take that!
Only 50mins until the final so into the hot Tubs, top up the Red Bull levels in the blood stream, on with the Dryrobe (best Christmas Present ever) and back to the start.
After the obligatory 2mins of torture we were off, knowing there were far stronger swimmers in the final I took to hesitant a start and swam easy behind the first row.
The cold got the better of me and I ended up swimming breastroke for a short part, I was dead last and even considered pulling out, however thankfully quickly said to myself it’s only another 9minutes and you’re done!
I enjoyed climbing the lock gates and picking up some places as I went (it was discussed in the hot tubs between races that this must as close a feeling as being waterboarded as you can probably get).
It was a race all the way to the finish and I wasn’t last which was great, turned out I was 15th only one place behind last year. That picture below says it all – Completely done – I was in that bad a state!
On reflection a bit disappointed that I didn’t get going earlier in the final as my semi-final time would have got me in the top 10. Finishing was an achievement as there were lots of people pulled -out and rescued.
Probably the most fun event of the year, It’s like being a kid again climbing stuff and jumping in the water, what’s not to like! I’ll be back next year. As the photo show’s I was pretty broken (yes that’s me on the floor on the bottom left!!)
I was double dosing on Torq Banoffee Energy Gels and Red bull which probably explains why I didn’t sleep much that night!