Following Ashley’s enormous enthusiasm to have club representation at the event and numerous iterations of team types and team members the “final” team was confirmed last week:
Ashley Walton, Ian Stewart, Nick Alvis and Martin Harris.
The plan was to take part in both the relay event (consisting of a notional 1km lap completed by each member in turn who hand over a wrist band to the next team member within the allocated change over area) AND the “team pursuit” which was based around the same lap but this time with all team members swimming together with the team time taken as being the time of the last team member to swim under the finish bridge.
In light of the lack of mutual knowledge regarding other members abilities and experience it was agreed that on open water event specific preparation session would be in order, so the team met at Reading lake the Thursday prior to the event to familiarize themselves with the “team time trial” swimming concept and to formulate a plan for the optimal relay order and swim formation in order to achieve the fastest team swim.
Formations tested were: four in line, in the style of track cycling.
A lozenge pattern with a lead swimmer with two flanking swimmers at hip distance and the “protected” swimmer directly behind the leader and on the hips of the two “flankers”.
But the configuration that proved most successful was a parallelogram shape with a lead swimmer, a second row swimmer at hip level to the leader, the third swimmer on the feet of the leader and hip level to the second row swimmer and the final member on the feet of the second row swimmer and hips of the third. This pattern allowed for easier sighting within the team to keep the shape intact and provide maximum draft for the final swimmer.
The order for the relay swim was roughly agreed at this point in so far as Ian, as the fastest swimmer, would go last and therefore get less recovery time before the team pursuit. Nick agreed to go as first swimmer so Ashley went second with Martin third.
The weather forecast for race day was not optimistic, ironically following a gloriously sunny Saturday! Undeterred the team set off in the team bus (or more accurately Teutonic black saloon) and had motivational conversations until arriving in good time at the venue to be greeted with grey skies, grey water and the feeling that summer was well and truly over. Water temperature a bracing 17 degrees.
The venue had plenty of parking close to the lake, the course was easily navigable and the event HQ (lakeside hut) hosted registration and provision for hot and cold drinks and bacon, sausages and egg sandwiches, cake and confectionary bars for those in need. In addition two changing and toilet cabins provided additional shelter.
The course consisted of a start line and finish line separated by 20 or 30 metres and this area would be the in water change over area during the relay. A first turn buoy was at about 50m from the start and was approximately a 90 degree left turn, then about 200m to the next left turn buoy, a “back straight” of about 500m before the final left turn and about 250 metres to the finish bridge which was equipped with transducers to log the passing of timing chips which were attached to each swimmer’s cap.
Nick took the lead leg and posted a very creditable 12:17 to arrive back at the finish bridge and searched for Ashley in the change-over area and handed the band in 5th place to Ashley who posted 14:19 (including changeover) and passed the band to Martin in 8th position. Martin (ensured his stopwatch had started before commencing his swim!) managed to claw back 2 places posting 13:15 including changeover and passed the band to Ian who stormed a 12:40 including changeover and almost managed to catch 5th and 4th placed swimmers, another 50 metres and he would probably have claimed the 4th place.
As the weather conditions turning more autumnal the organisers very sensibly decided that it was not desirable to have wet athletes standing around getting colder by the minute they would start the team pursuit event earlier than scheduled. Basingstoke Tri squad were the first team name out of the hat some were first to set off on the 4 man team loop, followed at 30 second intervals by the rest of the pursuit teams. The team started steadily with Ian leading, Martin swimming to the left of Ian’s hip, Nick directly behind Ian and to the right of Martin’s hip and Ashley directly behind Martin and to the left of Nick’s hip. The held formation well around the first two buoys and the pace was increased along the back straight and around the third buoy with a further increase in pace as the finish came closer and a shout from Martin for a sprint for the last hundred metres or so. All four team members finished within a few metres of each other having successfully held off any challenge of overtaking from faster teams behind. The team time of 14.01 put them in fifth place which by consensus was a very creditable performance considering this was only the second time the team had swum as a unit.
Despite the autumnal conditions spirits were high amongst the assembled athletes and there seemed to be widespread approval of the event in general.
This event could be a fun end of season team event and the team pursuit in particular brings a different dynamic to what is ostensibly an individual sport (swimming).