What is an aquathlon?
Aquathlon in its simplest terms is a swim followed immediately by a run. Races can take place in pools or in open water. The swim can be anywhere from 400m to 1000m – usually 400m if it’s in the pool and usually 750m or 1000m if it’s in the sea, a lake or a river. Championship events are always held in open water.
Swimmers emerge from the water and into the transition zone where they remove their wetsuit (if they are using one), goggles and swim cap and then immediately don their race number and running shoes before setting off on a 5km run. The run can be all road, off-road or mixed terrain but championship events are usually all on road.
Aquathlon can definitely be described as a sprint event and races are fast!
How did I find myself racing aquathlon?!
Back in 2017 I decided I would give triathlon a try (a tri? Ba-dum-cha). I did not take well to the biking aspect, I just didn’t find riding on the roads a comfortable experience – physically I was fine, but I carried a huge fear and anxiety with me on every road ride about being hit by a vehicle or crashing out.
As part of my multisport exploration in 2017 I entered a sportive, a sprint triathlon, a standard duathlon and an aquathlon.
I didn’t realise it at the time but I had a pretty good chance to qualify for a GB Age Group place at sprint triathlon as I finished 2nd in my age group at my first and only triathlon to date! But, as I mentioned above, I just didn’t like the bike enough to enter another. I went into my duathlon that year and actually enjoyed the bike aspect of that one more than the triathlon, but again, it wasn’t enough to keep me on the bike and racing.
Winter came and I had entered an aquathlon which was taking place near where I grew up. I figured at the time that I had the run speed and as I now had a tri-suit I might as well give it a go. It would also be the first time my Mom had come to see me race.
I really enjoyed the experience and I was pleased with how my pool swim went considering I had never raced in a pool before, and I didn’t consider myself a particularly strong swimmer. I exited the pool in 7:38, went through T1 in under a minute and then ran an off-road 5km in 19:40 – I crossed the line in 11th place overall and 5th in my age group which annihilated my expectations! In the intervening months between my first triathlon and duathlon I had done a bit of research into GB Age Group stuff and I knew I had just run well within the standard but I had some improvements to make in the pool if I wanted to qualify for the Age Group team. I made the decision on the drive home from the race that I would try to qualify in 2018 for the 2019 European Triathlon Union (ETU) Championship in Romania.
Championships & International Competition!
After the 2017 aquathlon it didn’t occur to me to find some others to enter in 2018. Running came back to the forefront of my mind quite quickly and multisport ambitions were quickly put aside as I sold my bike and decided I wanted to try for a sub-3 marathon again. Then, even that faded in significance somewhat, as did the rest of my racing that year, because I decided I was going to ask Sarah to marry me whilst we were on our planned trip to India in 2018. Long story short, she said yes. But I digress.
We came back from India and I started to think about what I might want to do later in the year – aquathlon came back to mind so I entered another December race which was taking place even closer to where I grew up. I did a little bit more swimming to train for this one but nothing really that structured, I just went to the pool a bit more (but still only twice a week) and made it known I was going to try and qualify for the 2019 ETU Championship.
My Mom came along to see me race again and I remember being excited and really looking forward to getting underway…until I started to get ready and realised that I had made possibly the biggest rookie error you can make at a swim event. Yes, I had forgotten to pack my goggles! I felt quite stressed out but as the race was pool based again I had the option of buying goggles from the leisure centre where it was based. Alas, they only had a children’s pair left for sale (marked as ‘Adult’ size) so I ended up racing in a very small and pink set of goggles! They leaked from the second I got in the pool and it was a very uncomfortable and mostly blind effort. I was very glad to get out of the pool and very, very surprised to see I swam 7:38 which was exactly the same as my previous aquathlon. I got through T1 much more swiftly this time out and hit the run on icy roads. I was again pleased to feel really strong once I got on the run and I passed a lot of people finishing in 19:10 and clocking the fastest run time of the day. I was 10th overall and 4th in my age group – a place higher overall and in my age group than the previous race in 2017.
As I had stated it was my intention to qualify for the Age Group team I figured it would do no harm to register my intent and then just sit back and hope for the best – I had a feeling my run time and performance might lead to good things. I registered intent in January and found out I was selected for the team at some point during March. I was very excited and Sarah was also up for going to Romania about 2 weeks after our wedding for the event. However, I made the decision that I didn’t think it would be the most relaxing mini-moon we could have and so I withdrew from the team and happily went off to Ibiza in early July.
I didn’t regret my choice of passing up the ETU Championships, I made the right decision as 2019 was probably one of the most full on years of my life outside of running and endurance. The way I saw it at the time, and the way I see it now, is that I was on a curve of improvement both with swimming and in aquathlon. I did a bit of research and found out that my 2017/18 races would be accepted for the 2020 ETU Championship. But then I missed the registration window at the end of 2019. With that being the case I thought I would scratch my 2017/18 times and increase my pool and open water time in 2020, and race 3 or 4 aquathlons over the year to qualify with new (and hopefully faster) race times for the 2021 Championship. But then Covid happened.
Obviously there were very, very few races in 2020 and pools were closed for most of the year. The 2020 ETU Championship was unsurprisingly cancelled. However, it did look as though the 2021 ETU Championship event would take place in Austria and British Triathlon opened up registrations for Age Group qualification in November 2020. I took a look and it did seem that I might be able to scrape into the team if spots were not allocated in rounds 1 and 2 of the four round qualification/selection period. I put my hat in the ring with 2017/18 times and figured if I was selected I would have time (Covid restrictions allowing) to get back in the water in preparation for the Championship at the end of June 2021. I figured I had little chance of being selected. But then, to my utter surprise, I was indeed selected and was notified in February 2021.
To cut a long story short, I began preparing as best I could whilst waiting for restrictions to ease which would allow me to get back in the pool. Pools opened in May and I got back in the game! But, this turned out to be in vain as eventually in late May the notice came through that British Triathlon would not be supporting an Age Group team at Austria 2021.
What comes next?
Naturally, I was a bit cut up about it at first but within a few days I had made my mind up to enter the National Aquathlon Championship in September 2021 and to keep on training to become a better swimmer. I also entered an aquathlon in August which will be my first ever open water aquathlon, and another in September which will take place in a 50m outdoor heated pool. The August race result won’t count as a qualifying race for future European or World Championships but all racing after that will count. It is my intention to swim and run qualifying times at each of the aquathlons I line up for this year, regardless.
|AGE GROUP||MENS 1KM SWIM||MENS 750M SWIM||MENS 400M SWIM||MENS 5KM RUN|
I love the counter balance that aquathlon brings to my other endurance activities which are longer, slower and usually over rougher terrain. I hope that I will continue to be able to qualify for my Age Group in aquathlon as I get older, and I am beginning to look at getting back on the bike again with a view to revisiting triathlon – if that happens I am pretty sure I will be putting myself out there for a GB Age Group qualifiication at whichever distance I find myself most competitive at. I am still definitely a runner first and foremost, and my primary interest is still ultra-distance racing and adventures but multi-sport will definitely have a part to play in my future development.
When I took up running and changed my life 10 years ago I never thought I would ever have the chance to compete for my country, let alone in an event that includes swimming! I am pleased to close this post by saying I have pre-qualified and been selected for the 30-39 Age Group Aquathlon Team to represent Great Britain at the European Triathlon Union Championships which will take place in Bilbao in 2022. Here’s hoping that I will make it there fit, fast and healthy – I cannot wait to race in my GB kit!