For 140 years, treasure hunters scoured the coast of Georgia in the United States for the SS Republic, a paddlewheel steamship that sank in 1865 in a hurricane with a reported $400,000 in gold and silver coins on board. In 2003 the ship was located and more than 50,000 precious coins, worth an estimated $75 million was discovered.
While the Challenge Roth canal may not contain millions of pounds of lost confederate gold, if there are any treasure hunters looking for a fortune then they need look no further than 50 metres from the start line – as that’s where my £500 Garmin 945 now lies.
It was a stupid mistake. One I’d even predicted. I’d bought the Garmin a few weeks ago so that I could play music at the end of the run. I’d changed the wrist bands to quick release straps and, during a race simulation at a training swim, Iain had pulled the watch accidentally as he tried to swim in front of me and it had fallen off.
I’ll be clever I thought. I’ll put the wetsuit over it and that way it’ll be safe.
I was wrong.
Just after the start, just as everyone was jostling for position, someone accidentally caught my arm with their stroke and ran their hand along my arm catching the watch.
Which was more than I could do. As I felt it slip, tried to catch it, but only managed to grab hold of the straps. The watch was gone! And with it my only way to know the time, my speed and how far I’d gone as I was relying on the watch to last all day. I had no back up.
And now no choice. I had to complete Challenge Roth entirely on feel.
Saturday was nearly 30 degrees with clear blue skies but the weather forecast for the race was for the heatwave to end and for rain to clear the air. We woke at 430 a.m. with the intention of collecting another athlete (a former member of Glasgow Tri Club) at 5 a.m. That left 30 minutes to dress, eat something and try not to think about the fact it was actually 3:30 am in UK time.
The drive to the start involved a missed junction, which wasn’t a problem for me but for Iain it meant we’d have to take the next junction and a car park which would be shut until 11am while the bike course was closed.
Getting round was okay though. Iain dropped us off at transition and then went to park while we checked the bikes and dropped off the swim and race bags. The swim bags needed to be dropped off by 6:15 but other than that we were free to enter and leave transition, even after the race had started.
A cannon signals the start of each wave with the rain stopping just as the professionals started. There were thousands of people around the canal, more than I’d seen at any other race.
Every five minutes another wave would set off and another blast of the cannon would sound.
I was swimming at 8am, the second last wave, and it was easy to get lined up. Swimmers could wait near the start and when your wave was called you were directed into a pen as volunteers checked your swim cap to make sure the time printed on the side of it matched your start time.
Once everyone was in the pen, the previous wave would start and you were allowed to enter the canal and line up.
I stayed near the centre, as it was quieter, and hung back so as not to be swum over by the faster swimmers. I thought I had it sussed. I would avoid a melee and be able to find my own pace. But we all know how well that went…
The race started. There was the usual flurry of legs and limbs but no fighting for position, just the accidental crossing over of a few hundred swimmers in a few short metres.
And the less said about the next five minutes the better…
The water was warm. Almost 25 degrees, and just shy of banning wetsuits all together, but it was calm and swimming was as easy as swimming in a swimming pool.
Sighting was easy too. There was very little need to look forward as you could always judge if you were swimming in a straight line by looking at the side of the canal. Provided you could see the bank, the people and the trees, you always knew if you were getting closer or further away.
Because of that, I swam most of the way in the centre of the canal. The side is reportedly easier but it was quieter in the centre and it gave me free reign to carry on at my own pace and just count out the strokes. 1. 2. 3. 4. Breathe. 1. 2. 3. 4. Breathe.
You swim around 1500 metres to the next bridge, then around 1700 back to the bridge overlooking the start before swimming under it and doing a u-turn back to transition.
I felt strong throughout, and the fact you’re always swimming to something – bridge, then bridge, then under bridge, meant the swim was broken up and didn’t feel like one long slog.
There are also metre signs on the bank but I didn’t look out for them. I prefer not to know how far I’ve swum when swimming. And, thanks to my accident at the start, I would also find out what it was like to cycle and run without knowing how far I’ve gone either. Damn!
This was the bit I was looking forward too. I’d read that the volunteers in transition will help you get out of your wetsuit – something I always struggle with as I can never get the wetsuit off my legs. Prisoners in shackles have more chance of getting free than I do with rubber wrapped around my ankles.
And it was true. As soon as you grab your bag from the ground as you go into the tent – each bag is laid out in numerical order – a volunteer starts to help you strip, empties your bag and hands you everything you need.
Except a watch.
Sadly, they didn’t have a spare Garmin.
I changed into full cycle gear and eight minutes later (a new record for me) l was on my bike and away.