As a relatively competent and confident swimmer I don’t usually pay too much attention to the rescue boat volunteers at a open water race. They’re there for other people, right?
Not last Sunday.
4km into a 5km race and things were going well. I was swimming comfortably in fifth position with no realistic possibility of overtaking the four swimmers in front and not much danger of being caught by anyone behind. I was feeling strong and gradually kicking harder and increasing my pace for the finish when I felt a twinge in my calf. Recognising the first symptoms of cramp I eased up, but too late. The muscle locked into a painful spasm.
Annoyance and frustration were my first thoughts. I rolled onto my back to check who was following and the next person was some distance back. I though if I could relax and massage it out I’d soon be able to continue and hold my position but as soon as I reached down my upper leg muscles began cramping as well. Swimming further would have been painful, damaging and dangerous, if not impossible.
I raised my hand and called for help. Within seconds a kayak and motorised RIB arrived. I said I had cramp and wanted assistance. The boat driver warned me that if I touched the boat my race was over, which I acknowledged, and a few seconds later I was in the RIB being whisked to the first aid station despite my protests that it was just a case of cramp I could deal with myself and not a heart attack.
After a quick chat with the first aiders I was delivered to the finishing area wrapped in a thermal blanked, somewhat to the amusement of my fellow competitors.
Nobody likes a DNF (did not finish) but sometimes you have to put your personal safety and well-being ahead of getting to the end. I don’t usually suffer from cramp and don’t really know why it happened on this occasion, but the experience showed me that you may need the help of volunteers at any moment.
So, next time you race, remember to thank them and be thankful they are there.