Experiencing the European Masters Championships

To quote from Verity Dobbie in this month's Swimming Times "The 10,000 plus swimmers scheduled to compete in 28,000 swims over the five-day meet provided a logistical nightmare and what should have been a fabulous event was blighted by having to deal with the sheer numbers in a venue with a maximum capacity of 4,000. "

The build up to the European Masters Championships in London began ramping up over 18 months prior, as the British Masters community were encouraged to enter this event as a fantastic opportunity to swim in the Olympic pool. 4 years ago I was lucky enough to watch the inspirational Michael Phelps and many others race in this pool, and I also watched the elite European Championships that took place the week prior to the Masters meet. How exciting to be racing in the same iconic facility!

My personal training had ramped up over the last 6 months under the guidance of Wisbech head coach Greg Marsters who provided me with 3-4 sessions a week in the pool. Wisbech Swimming Club had also supported me by paying for my entries at this international meet. I supplemented this pool time with strength and conditioning training most days, and an international training camp under Olympian and Masters World Record Holder Glen Christiansen.

The day finally arrived to start racing in my first event of the 200 Individual Medley. Not really my best event but I had chosen to include it to provide variety in both my training and racing programme. I had also enjoyed racing the 100 IM for Wisbech and my times have steadily improved. The race experience was incredible - the Dutch lady next to me was at least a foot taller - and there were literally thousands of incredibly inspiring masters swimmers around. The 70yrs and 60yrs swimmers racing 200IM before me were just incredible and I enjoyed supporting other Cambridgeshire swimmers in the heats just before mine. My biggest takeaway from the meet was the incredible strength and depth of masters swimming. The sacrifice and commitment that so many thousands are putting into their swimming - and the fantastic impact and opportunity that gives for health and mental and social enjoyment. My race was good and I managed to climb up the rankings from 14th to 12th in my 40-45yrs age group.

Next up was the 100m Breastroke and there were 110 swimmers in my age group! I was in heat 54 of over 70 heats of women (with 10 in each heat) which experienced swimmers will recognise as very abnormal! There were so many swimmers to get through the starters were ordering you to 'take your marks', before the previous heat was even finished! There was also an announcement about a left suitcase that they were about to take away and explode - at the same time as taking my marks - and the music of the synchro competition going on behind a curtain in the diving pit immediately behind the main pool. Frantic! I was a little distracted and it probably impacted on my slowish start and first length. I found my rhythm and power on the second length and managed to pull back my position by at least 3 places, finishing 5th in my age group. Better than my 8th place ranking and within site of a medal.

The 200m Breastroke has always been my strongest event and it fell on the last day. I arrived as advised at 9am - only to be told the warm up for my heats was running an hour late at 10am. I'm not sure how this was possible as the entries for the event had closed over a month before, and there couldn't have been too many late entries of 60+yrs women wanting to do 200m Breastroke that Sunday morning! Another hour queuing outside the venue and then we were told that the 20min warm up advertised had been cut to 8mins. An 8min warm up for a 3min race when you are over 40yrs is not good! Particularly when you are told the morning of the race so can't prepare. Still, the atmosphere was positive and exciting and I felt brilliant in the race. The last length was very hard work but I managed to finish 4th place in Europe for my age group - probably the best result of my swimming career.

Unfortunately my fiancé had missed watching the race as he was kept queueing outside for over 2 hours - they were operating a one in one out policy for spectators so many families and team members were unable to support those they had come to watch.

For the week or so after my swim I was disappointed - a medal would have been so incredible and wasn't far out of my reach. But on reflection I've accepted I really did prepare and perform to the best of my ability, and that's all I really wanted to do. I had achieved higher placings than my entries on all of my events. The standard of masters swimming is truly inspiring. Helen Gorman won all 3 breastroke events in my age group and she trains over 10hours a week with a squad, and plenty of weights/gym / yoga out of the pool too. That is a very high level of commitment! With 3 primary school age children and my own business I just can't manage it at the moment.

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