The Red Bull Neptune Steps race has always been one on my bucket list to do. With a swimming background and an enjoyment of obstacle racing what could be better…. forgetting the freezing water issue!
A week before the race – the beast from the east had hit and temperatures were a lot lower than usual. Even though we knew it was going to be cold… 3 degrees celsius was much colder than previous years.
I arrived in Glasgow in the morning, my heat was not until after lunch so I had the enjoyment of watching the 12 men’s heats. Seeing grown men broken due to the conditions and seeing how hard the event actually is. Neptune steps is definitely not an ‘easy’ event for anyone. I got more nervous watching and seeing men drop out even at the first obstacle. The first section of the swim was a 190m and then you approach the first obstacle which was a cargo net… sounds easy, but with freezing water pouring on top of you and having to pull yourself up using your upper body strength, it was something else!
I tried to keep warm all morning, which was tricky in the weather conditions, which seemed to get worse throughout the day. I was in the second heat of the females, I looked on and watched heat one of the ladies take to the water and seeing the facial expressions of the ladies didn’t make me look forward to my turn. To help prepare yourself for the cold water they gave you a two minute climatization before your start, two minutes to get in and concentrate on breathing and get used to the cold temperatures (easier said than done), you then got out again and then 30 seconds before the start you had the enjoyment of getting back in again.
So it was now my turn to start, they gave you a 10 second count down and then you are off. I set off way to quick and excited, I have never swam in such cold water and I struggled to get my head in the water. I was leading the way and then all of a sudden a gush of cold water went down into my lungs, it felt like my lungs froze. I struggled to breath and started to panic, the girls started to catch up and over take.
I swam on my back for a few meters to help focus on my breathing and concentrate on what I was to do, I didn’t want to pull out. I then tried again. I made it to the first obstacle and to my surprise I got up with no problems. Over taking some girls who struggled to even get onto the net. I knew from after that obstacle I was just less than half way.
“ The first section of the swim was a 190m and then you approach the first obstacle which was a cargo net… sounds easy...”
I dived in from the lock and swam to the next obstacle, a wooden ladder. This obstacle was one of the easier ones, you could get on and climb up quickly to the top. Swimming into the obstacles was hard. You had to put your head down and just go for it, after a count to 3 and a big breath I went for it, with the force of the water pushing you the other way and then knowing that water will then be coming down on top of you. You think you can have a breather on the obstacles but there’s just no chance. Along the way there were three small 60cm rope climbs but the next big obstacle was one of the worst – the rope ladder. With the force of the water on top of you, you felt like you were being waterboarded, trying to find a gap in the water so you can breathe and at the same time trying to pull yourself up. Having to use my elbows to help grip onto the ladder as my grip strength was not doing well thanks to the cold water and the force of the water on me.
I now just had 2 of the rope climbs left and the climbing wall. When you reach the top of the climbing wall you can see the Red Bull arch which means you have almost finished. The climbing wall wasn’t too bad, the obstacle itself wasn’t difficult it was now more of a fight to coordinate your body and make things work. You can feel your hands and feet getting colder, even wearing protective gear it doesn’t take long for the cold to hit. Trying to coordinate yourself up a climbing wall without the use of of hands and feet is a lot harder than it sounds. With just one rope climb left and a swim to the finish, I could see a finalist tag hanging down to grab. This meant I had to do it all over again in the final. It was mixed emotions of – “Yay, wow I did it” to “Oh my god I have to do that all over again”. It would of been so easy to stop half way through, it was hands down one of the hardest races I’ve done, physically and mentally.
"It was hands down one of the hardest races I’ve done, physically and mentally”
Jumping into the hot tubs was one of the nicest feelings and the realisation of having to go through that again. I really couldn’t of done it without being shouted at all the way – and knowing that my friends and family were watching on live stream kept me going. Even on each lock having someone shout “3,2,1 Go” made such a difference (I didn’t want to go back in the water once you get out at a lock).
I now had an hour and half to wait until my final. I got warm and tried to relax and warm my chest back up, from swallowing the freezing water had really effected my breathing and it felt so hard to take a breath I was worried about how I would cope in the final.
Women’s final time and I knew I was up against some top athletes. My aim – was to finish again! We did a quicker climatization as I think we all knew what it was like from the heats. Before I knew it we were off again. I had learnt my lesson from the heats and knew to keep it steady and not set off to hard, I set off much better and managed to keep a good rate to the first obstacle and over took girls along the way. I got stuck behind someone on the first obstacle which slowed me down but I just knew I needed to keep going. I knew what to expect and was now around 5th or 6th place with another girl. We got to the last rope climb and my hands just didn’t want to work and I fell back twice, I managed to climb up and dive off and swim to the end. I was happy with a 6th place overall. My first proper open water swimming event and managing to knock 2 minutes off my heat time.
It was an amazing event and experience and I will definitely be entering again to try and do better. I had such fantastic support from everyone and the Red Bull team were brilliant. An event definitely to push yourself to the limit and making you realise how strong you actually are.
~ Holly Jones, Team KitBrix