The Great East Swim 2015 has to be one of my favourite open water events to date. I had trained consistently well in the build up and was excited at the prospect of racing over a course that I had met previously.  Prior to the day itself I was busy – packing my bag, unpacking my bag, repacking my bag. Confident that I had everything I needed in there, I then moved on to the much harder job of trying to pack the essentials for an 8 year old spectator at the event.

My daughters first question, when I suggested that she might like to pack a small bag with some bits in it was “Can I take my pink suitcase?”.  Bearing in mind she can manage a 2 week holiday with this suitcase- the answer was easy. As anyone who regularly attends sporting events with children knows there is no such thing as travelling light!! When we left the house on Saturday morning, complete with 3 camping chairs, our trusty 2 man 'Value' tent (which is perfect for both shade and shelter), multiple picnics, enough spare clothing to pass a personal survival award or survive extreme temperatures on Everest, colouring books, reading books and a selection of at least 8 ‘essential’ cuddly toys – it felt like the first hurdle had been overcome. We were, at last on our way!

I thought I managed my nerves well on 1 hour 40 minute journey to Alton Water, though I’m not sure my husband would agree. Race day nerves are something else! I like to just switch off, listen to music and focus on race day. In my head, I am calm, rational and organised. Trying to work out which road to take, how we just managed to miss it despite Sat-Nav lady clearly telling us to 'Turn Right’, whether anyone needs a ‘loo-stop’ and did we lock the front door are inevitable parts of any car journey, but suddenly far more frustrating than usual! In short, it's fair to say I can snap on race day!

The event organisation was incredible, from parking, all the way through the Farmers Market to the water’s edge. Arriving at 11:30 for a 14:00 race, we had plenty of time to mooch around, familiarise myself once again with the course, get a coffee and eat. Registration opened for my race just after 13:30, so I got changed into my Aqua Sphere swimsuit and, of course 'Wilbur' my sleeveless Aqua Sphere Pursuit wetsuit. Then I grabbed my hat and Aqua Sphere K180+ goggles (tinted - as it was quite bright) and went for a warm up in the acclimatisation area. Being in the 'Challenge Wave', it was very apparent that some of these swimmers had done this a lot! I am still a relative novice - in just my 2nd full season. I chatted to a swimmer, asking what finish time he was hoping for and he explained that he had competed at The Great North Swim the previous weekend. We had similar target times – mental note made!

Very quickly, the race was upon us. The start is always a bit of a blur - jostling for position, assessing how you feel etc. By 400m I realised I felt strong and comfortable - this is always a huge relief. By 800m, I didn't know where any other swimmers were, except Cameron Kaiser (The Great North Swimmer from warm up). I simply stayed strong and focused, and when I started to tire I concentrated on making my stroke as efficient as possible. It seemed that however hard I tried, I couldn't swim fast enough to 'lose' Cameron and vice versa.

The realisation came with about 100m to go. I was building strongly into my attempt at a 'sprint finish'. Cameron was approximately 6ft 5" and, as soon as he started to sprint and went to his legs, I wasn't going to stand a chance! He started to pull ahead, my hand touched the floor, I stood up and half jogged through the finish. As I did so, the first people I saw and heard were my husband and daughter congratulating me - which was incredibly special – it’s the first race that they’ve been able to attend with me this year. I congratulated Cameron on his swim and we made our way out of the finish area. I was thrilled, firstly to find out my time (20:55 - sub 21:00 - my initial aim!) and secondly my finishing position in the wave (3rd, behind Alex Proffitt and Cameron Kaiser). I discovered later, that I was also the 2nd fastest female swimmer of the entire day and the 5th fastest swimmer overall.

The race reminded me that the Great Swim Series is special. All of the event staff are so supportive, the swimmers are inspirational and the race had served to further fuel my love of the sport. I cannot wait to compete in more of these events – each one is a privilege to be part of!

Jo Mitchinson is a full time teacher, mother and wife. She is also an open water swimmer, National Masters Open Water Champion, @AquaSphereUK and @ScienceFitUK brand ambassador, Transition Tri and Stevenage Swimming Club member. Follow her @swimmitch


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