February 2nd, 2017




“Failing to prepare, is like preparing to fail”, that’s what they say isn’t it?


If you don’t put the time into your preparation for a race or challenge, then you can only expect one outcome… simple really.

The above phrase is literally etched into my conscious at the moment. I turned up to an event unprepared, and to make matters worse one in which I already knew deep down would be a huge test for me. This event had me literally floundering around like a fish out of water for a week before the big day with nerves, it’s been a long time since I got pre-race nerves before a race.


The event am I talking about is the one and only Red Bull Neptune Steps(RBNS).

RBNS is sold as the UK’s toughest open water swimming event and from what I’d been told about their inaugural event, it was going to be tough going in the freezing cold locks of Glasgow. This unique challenge of swimming uphill for 420m whist incorporating eight climbs over lock gates over a total of 10.5M assent.

The Open Water swim season doesn’t usually start for a good few weeks after the date which is set for RBNS.  This is because most locations/events set a lower limit of the water temperature to be 12 degrees, and even then it’s only the hardcore swimmers who go out that early in the season.  So April 9th was well before anyone would consider usually taking a dip in open water.


The first obstacle was getting signed up for the event, as this year the tickets sold out in a lightening fast 9 minutes for the male categories. This has to be a record even by Red Bulls unique event standards. The next few weeks that followed this should have been made up of structured swim training in open water and the pool. Being a purely self taught swimmer, I probably shouldn’t have skipped the open water swim experience part, and should have left a little more time than getting my wet suit a week before the event.


Turning up on race day with just pool kilometres under my belt and having never swam in my wet suit, was probably not the best preparation I could have wished for.


Registration was smooth and before I knew it I was pulling my wetsuit on for only the second time since it was newly unwrapped a week before.

I had been placed in wave two with some on the best open water swimmers and triathletes from Ireland, Sweden, The Netherlands, France, Switzerland and Canada……. talk about feeling out of my depth.  

After walking the course numerous times checking out the obstacles, I felt confident that none of them should cause me too much hassle. Little did I know that the obstacles would be the least of my worries. Being led down to the start line after the safety briefing was like being slowly cooked like a boil in the bag human. The sun was beating down on us and the choice of a 4mm wetsuit with gloves, hood and neoprene socks was already feeling like it could be too much, as conditions were much better than the year before. One by one we all took the leap and dived in the water, the first bit of icy water to hit your face was a real shock to the system, but it was nearly time to go.

I’m not ashamed to say at this point, as the cold water was slowing starting to make its way into my wetsuit, I gave in to the call of nature and pee’d into the wet suit! Which was a nice little bit of central heating while bobbing on the start line.


Ready, Steady GO!

We were off, and I have to say the shoulder to shoulder washing machine effect of the start line was absolutely nothing at all like swimming in the lanes with the old people I was used to at my local swimming pool.  

Wow, I’m not going anywhere, was my first thought. Everyone else was racing off like torpedoes, why wasn’t I moving as fast as I was when I was in the pool? My swimming position was so alien in the water; next mistake was that I hadn’t taken into consideration what the extra floatation which my wetsuit was going to provide in the water. First swim was a 165m stretch before hitting the first obstacle, this was brutal and energy sapping. As I came to the first lock, I remember thinking, ‘Yes, I can take a breather on the obstacle’, take a minute and get my breath back and recover from swallowing so much water’.   How wrong could I have been!  I swam up to the obstacle and the flow of the water was throwing me backwards, there was no way you could swim into them by breast stroke alone! It was front crawl all out into the obstacle. As I reached for the obstacle I thought to myself let’s get some breaths in now and recover. Ha, fat chance of that! On the way up the obstacle the water was hitting you in the face until around half way up the lock, this makes it impossible to get those much needed breaths in, until you reach the top. 

I have never been so hot in all my life, but before I knew it I looked around me at all the spectators and thought “I’d better get cracking”, so in I dived.

Why was I so tired already? I had swum double, triple even 10 times this distance in training.  I got to the next lock and was only getting hotter still, I think the only thing that stopped me quitting at this lock was the amount of crowd support, which was amazing! In I dived. I got the next swim done and once I hit the next lock I knew I was done for sure. Standing at the top of the lock I knew I couldn’t swim another metre. The safety divers who were all amazing throughout the day came over and asked me was I done, it was an easy yes from me. He did something I saw him do a lot more times throughout the day, he undid the zip on the back of my wetsuit and it was like immediate release! My chest could open up and my breaths were full again. Pulling off my goggles and hood…Wow, what a sense of relief.  I was convinced I was miles behind at the back, but while I was stood there on the top of the lock recovering, two swimmers both climbed up beside me and dived in to make their way to the next obstacle.

So that was me done! My first ever DNF!! But I have to say, it’s done me a world of good, as I now know I need to balance my writing a little better with my training.


Red Bull Neptune Steps ill be back next year to finish what I started.