My first aquathon

Havering Tri Aquathon

Yesterday, I took part in my first Aquathon. I’ve debated whether or not to write about it. I wanted to blog about my experiences, then I completed the event and didn’t want to, then I changed my mind.

Lucy of Paddle, Peddle, Pace posted on Facebook that her club Havering Tri were organising an Aquathon with a choice of distances. I fancied doing something different and despite being a pretty terrible swimmer, I decided to have a go at the super sprint distance (200m swim, 3k run). My technique is poor and I get tired quickly, but I knew I could splash my way through 200m. Having completed 4 marathons and being that I run several times a week, I wasn’t concerned about the run. A sprint distance was also available, made up of a 400m swim and a fun sounding 5k route.

By complete coincidence, Fitness First, Hammersmith got in touch to offer me some swimming lessons (more on this is a future post). I jumped at the chance to brush up on technique and to feel more confident before Sunday and Jono kindly gave up his time to work with me on drills and to build up my confidence. Although he broke me Friday, I felt more confident and he assured me that I had made improvements. I definitely knew I could cover the distance now.

But Sunday came as a complete shock. I faffed about worrying what to wear, before opting for a sports bra under my swimsuit. Although it was windy, it was also a warm day, so I laid out one of my running skirts to pull on over my swimming costume in transition and I took care to put talcum powder in my socks to pull them on quicker. This turned out to be a nifty trick, not that I was concerned about saving time in the end.

Havering Tri are a really lovely and welcoming club and the event was well organised and marshaled. The super sprint group were set off in the pool first – there were just 5 of us, so I had the luxury of a lane to myself. I only had 8 lengths to swim, I didn’t have to share a lane, no need to worry, right?


I set off for my first length, doing front crawl, trying to pace myself and remember what I was taught and it went fairly well. Then as I turned around to come up again, I saw how far behind I was and started panicking about what the hell I was doing there. I told myself to calm down, it didn’t matter and off I went, but I’d unsettled myself and my breathing was all over the place. This meant that because I felt I couldn’t breathe, I didn’t put my face in the water. Halfway through the length, I was close to a fully fledged panic attack. I somehow got to the end of the length and nearly burst into tears. Instead, I was trembling, my pulse was racing and I couldn’t breathe and then I was hyperventilating.

Yep, I picked 50m into a 200m swim as a great time to have a panic attack. I don’t know what happened. I just suddenly felt out of my depth, if you’ll excuse the pun. Then I started panicking because everyone was witnessing this and that made it worse. And then everyone else was out of the water and I’d done two lousy lengths and the next wave couldn’t start and that made me feel even worse.

The wonderful marshals were supportive and reassuring and I’m almost crying again writing this, but thank you Havering Tri. Somehow, they managed to calm me down enough for me to go off again, albeit it on my back this time as I was just too freaked out now. I ended up stopping every length, but eventually, somehow, it was done. I don’t know how, I genuinely thought I wouldn’t be able to continue after the first two lengths.

I headed out to transition where I discovered I felt drunk and that my legs didn’t work anymore. I managed to pull my skirt, socks and shoes on and headed out on the 3k run, which was three flat laps around the playing field. It was supposed to be a run, it was more of a drunken shuffle. I had been warned that my legs would feel odd as I moved from the swim to run, but I wasn’t expecting them to feel like lead as well. I didn’t time my run and I’m glad I didn’t as I think I would have depressed myself – it was definitely my slowest 3k ever! I never really got my breathing under control from the panic attack during the swim and I was just relieved to finish.


Post race feeling sorry for myself face.

The club were wonderful, they knew I was embarrassed and upset after the attack and did everything they could to support me round. Lucy’s husband, Glen, and Lucy both gave me a quick hug at the end and assured me that it happens to everyone at some point.

I felt better after getting changed and a chat with Lucy and enjoyed watching the finishers come in from the sprint tri. Glen finished third, so that was a pretty good effort!


Havering Tri Aquathon
Glen coming in to finish


I have no idea what happened to me in the pool. I’m not uncomfortable in the water, despite not being a great swimmer. I went diving last week and loved it. Whether it was the combination of trying to remember what I’d learned, the nerves and the realisation that I was so far behind combined, I don’t know, but it was upsetting and scary. I nearly didn’t write this post, but I finished the race and that’s what matters.

Yesterday, I was saying never again. Today? Today, I’m feeling like I want to go back next year because I need to put the demons to bed.

Thanks Lucy, Glen and the gang at Havering Tri for looking after me yesterday. I might see you next year!

23 thoughts on “My first aquathon

  1. Good on you Helen for giving it a go! Everything you’ve written about how you felt (i.e heavy legs etc) sounds normal especially if you’ve never done brick training (multi discipline) before! ..and at the end of the day you finished the swim! I’m not sure I could even do 200m right now! so congrats hun! I’m inspired and proud of you for taking this on! xoxo

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this. Your swim experience sounds almost identical to what happened to me in a similar event yesterday. It was such an awful feeling and it’s reassuring to know it’s happened to someone else. Like you, I almost decided not to write my post about it, but now I know I’m going to go ahead.

    1. I’m sorry you had a similar experience, but I’m pleased that this post has reassured you a little. I’ll keep an eye out for your post. Hope you are ok and feeling better about it x

      1. Yes, I’m ok about it now. It was horrible at the time and I felt quite down, but I’ve had a chance to reflect on it now and come to a better understanding of why it happened. I’ve even been back in the pool again to prove to myself that I can swim and haven’t just been wasting my time!

  3. So sorry this happened to you. I know in my swimming lessons my “warm up” lengths are always my worst – I feel exhausted and like I can’t breathe. Always feel much better later on though. I can quite see how the combination of feeling like that, plus race adrenaline, could be a bad combination.

    But really well done for keeping on going – it takes huge amounts of character to do that. Next time it will be easier …

  4. Hi Helen – this is Graham, Haverig Tri Chairman, and your swim starter yesterday.

    Firstly, thankyou for your kind words, Havering Tri is a club for all abilities and I’m pleased our guys were there to help you through.

    We could see you were struggling, but what impressed us was your determination not to give in and get that swim done. Very well done – we’d love to have you back next year because I have this feeling that you’ll not only smash that swim, you’ll be doing the Sprint distance next time…..

    All the best,


    1. Hi Graham – thanks so much for supporting my “tri” at an aquathon! And thank you for taking the time to comment, it really means a lot.

      I love the optimisim on the sprint…at the moment, that’s terrifying to me, but we’ll see in a year! :)

  5. Well done Helen, you did it! As a few people have already said, it’s not unusual to experience panic in the water. I had exactly the same thing in my first triathlon and still have difficulties, even after a few events. But that’s it, I went back for more! There’s something about wanting to get past that initial experience and you have already shown you have the determination to do it.

    1. Adele, funnily enough, I actually thought of you after, I remember reading your post and you said were panicking and started out doing breaststroke! You made me feel a little bit better, although you still smashed it :) x

  6. I’m so sorry to hear that you experienced this, I totally understand the feeling – even though I think my water confidence has improved it just takes one moment where I feel unsure or unsafe and then all my old fears come flooding back. You are incredible for carrying on with the swim AND then going on to do the run. xx

  7. Firstly, well done you for sticking with it and finishing even in difficult circumstances – you’re stronger and tougher than you give yourself credit for. Trying something new is always stressful, and adding water into the mix is another challenge! I’ve been swimming for years, and still get the odd moment where my breathing is off and I get a mouthful of water and start coughing and spluttering and then panic and can’t settle my breathing down – it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone has been there, I promise! Be proud of yourself, you worked hard and did really well. xxx

  8. VERY late to the party so don’t know if you’ll see this Helen, but I was the same, sure I could do the distance and had done brick training but panicked and was unable to breathe properly in go-tri also ended up keeping head out of water after about 4 lengths to my eternal shame. but I’m determined to give it another go and just really take it easy this time

    1. Hi Caroline! Thanks for taking the time to comment. I am going to have another go one day, and remember it takes as long as it takes and no need to worry and hopefully that will help. Let me know how you get on when you do another!

      1. WELL! got some news! didn’t try another event yet but officially tried OW swimming last night with some #mumsthattri I went off quite fast- why? silly me! then got tired and panicked my breathing again aaarrrgghh and kept my head out until the next bouy or two every negative thought ever flooding in-pardon the pun- including “here we go again” “you can’t do this” faffed with my new goggles….BUT then I managed to talk myself out of it thinking “one breath at a time” “one stroke at a time” “just to the next bouy” etc etc and whaddya know? I managed a lap and enjoyed it, but I thought I’d finish there however peer pressure the old devil appeared on my shoulder- I thought let’s try again, tried another lap, no panics at all, tried another lap and could honestly say I loved it by now and was able to go the whole distance- very slowly- without stopping at all. so I’ll try to build up my stamina and would cautiously love to book another event.

        1. That’s fabulous! Congratulations. You’re actually making me feel like maybe I want to try dipping my toe into open water. Brilliant stuff – well done :)

  9. I’m replying AGAIN to say- I did an aquathlon today without telling my family first, only signed up yesterday, barely got there on time. it worked much better- I told the marshals I might panic but would recover and they said to take my time so I did. I’m not gonna lie I did start to have a tight chest same old same old so I said “do you want to breast stroke?” did this one or two non consecutive lengths worked a treat. maybe the warm up lengths helped too? met some lovely people. SO glad I did it!

      1. Thanks for the virtual high five you’ve made my day! I’m glad I’ve given you confidence too. in your own time…and enjoy xxxx

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