The dark water grips like a giant’s hand. I kick upwards and grin. I’ve made it. I’ve escaped. I’ve jumped from the ferry.
Earlier, it’s 3am and we’ve been up for 10 minutes. My back feels fine. The physio’s promise has come true. It was okay for Saturday, she made no promises for the rest of the week. I pull my wetsuit on over my legs but don’t pull it on over my arms. Instead I wear a couple of t-shirts. It would be too warm to walk around in a full wetsuit.
I grab my bag for the boat and we drive five minutes to Eidfjord and park behind the main street. We walk down to the pier and… we’re lost. We’ve walked the wrong way and we’re facing a school building. Good start, especially in a town that only has a handful of streets, most of them pointing down to the shore.
We walk back and take the right street.
At transition we have another scare. They check the bike for lights and for working brakes. They check my bag to make sure I have a hi-viz top for the first 20 miles but they say mine doesn’t have enough fluorescent stripes. “It’s doesn’t?” I say dumbly, thinking, “Is this it?” But they have spares and I get a baggy extra large Norseman hi-viz top instead. It doesn’t fit. It doesn’t matter.
We take the bike and bag and I join the queue to board the ferry. We need to be on board by 4am and, through the windows, I can see the Olympic opening ceremony playing on a tv in a lounge. I remember that it’s not quite morning, that it’s still Friday night no matter what time my watch shows.
The deck of the boat is empty as everyone finds a seat in the lounges upstair. I sit beside a Canadian and a Swedish man who has the same type of wetsuit as me. “You must have had the shortest journey?” I say to him to make conversation. “I drove for 14 hours,” he said. D’oh.
At 4:45 I apply Powerglide and ask the Canadian to zip up my wetsuit. I wish both of them luck and I go down to the car deck, which is not filling up with athletes getting ready for the race to start.
At the back of the deck I see the hose pumping and spraying sea water. I know I need to adjust to the cold water so I walk straight into it –
– and start hypeventilating –
– so I duck out of the spray, then duck in again.
And again. Again. For 10 minutes. Until the water no longer feels cold, until I can breathe normally, until I feel ready to jump.
A tannoy annouces the jump will start in two minutes. I put on my large swim cap to cover my ears, my goggle and my race cap. I walk as close to the front as I can. I don’t want to wait. I want to go straight in without hesitation.
The jump starts.
People fall like lemmings in front of me. It only takes a few seconds for me to stand on the edge of the deck. Another second for me to jump. To raise my hand to my google to make sure they stay in place. Then I strike the water and it’s cold, and dark, and surrounding me completely holding me tight in it’s grip, but it’s not too cold. And as I kick to push myself up and break the surface I see lights on the coastal road, dawnlight peaking over the fjord and I grin. And I shout in joy. I’d faced my fear and I’d won.
There is line of canoes ahead of me. I swim over, using breaststroke and a few crawl strokes to acclimatize more to the water.
I look back and people are still falling. The boat squats on the water and I know that everything will be okay.
I float for a few minutes. “Enjoy this,” I tell myself. Dark cliffs tower above, in front and to the side. The water is cool. And fresh, the winter snows creating a freshwater layer that masks the salt. The canoes drift. I stay near the front, floating between two canoes. I know everyone will pass me but I like the thought of being in the lead if only for a second.
I wait for the ferry’s horn to sound.
And we’re off. I’m quickly overtaken but I settle into a rhythm. 1 – 2 – 3 – 4. 1 – 2 – 3 – 4. And I breathe to my left every time I count 4.
I have no idea where I am. I can see lights in the fjord ahead. Daylight wakens and I know which direction to go but I can’t tell how far I’ve gone or how far I have to go.
Even when we turn the corner of the fjord and face Eidfjord directly I don’t know if this is one mile or one metre away.
At times I follow the feet of a swimmer in front. At others I have a Siamese twin. A swimmer breathing to my right keep pace and only a feet away to my left. Some times I even swim near a pack, though most of the time I’m on my own. I’m further out than others but as I’m heading in the right direction I don’t try and move closer.
In Eidfjord they light a bonfire on a beach to help you find your way. I didn’t know this when I swam but I could see an orange light and I used that to get me to the first (and only) bouy. From there it’s about 500 metres across Eidfyord pier to a small rocky beach. This final stretch is tough. It was the same area we’d swum yesterday in a practice session. Yesterday, however, it was flat calm. Today, the wind had picked up waves and the current was against me. But I was nearly ‘home’. I kept going.
Round the pier I thought there was another 100 metres to the finish but I was wrong, it was only 20 metres. I kicked my legs to try and get some feeling into them. I wobbled on the stoney ground when I stood up. I tried to balance and looked at the people on the beach and the pier above to see if I could find Iain.
I started to jog. (As if it would help!). I was happy, I was done. I told myself: “You will never do this again!”, the same thing I told myself last year at IronMan UK. I’m good at lying to myself.