18 March 2017


420m of swimming, 10.5m of climbing, 8c water temp, multiple rope climbs, 1 rock climbing wall... many inelegant jumps into the water.

This was Red Bull Neptune Steps, and boy did I find it tough.

I saw this event last year, hesitated entering, and watched as it sold out. This year I was online at 10am, waiting to get my hands on an entry spot.

Fast forward a few weeks, two swims under my belt, and wearing my wetsuit for the first time in a many many many months - I was bobbing in the water of an Glasgow canal.

The day was split into the following:
> Eight men's heats
> Three women's
> Two men's semi finals
> Women's final
> Men's final

I was in the second heat which kicked off at 2pm, meaning I had plenty of time to watch the other races and check out the course. And also ask if I had to go over the cargo net or under it... the answer was under.

10 minutes before the start of your heat, we were allowed in the water to warm up. I got straight in, preferring to acclimatise a bit. The water was no means warm, but initially it wasn't as cold as I was expecting. I popped my face in, did a few long breathes, flushed my wetsuit, and finished up with a few warm up strokes - trying to look like I knew what I was doing. Then I started to feel the cold in my hands, and it was not comfortable.
We lined up for the start, and awaited the klaxon. Although it's meant to be non contact, an open water swim start is likely to always have a bit of rough and tumble. The horn sounded, and we were off, beginning with a 100m swim to a cargo net crawl which was on a pontoon. Hoisting myself up I crawled my way under the net, before jumping back into the water.

A 90m swim, and then the first of seven lock climbs. A 4m cargo net climb to ease you in, with the water hitting your face as you try and get on at the bottom. Snailing to the top, I stopped for a quick breather, had a glance down behind me, and then jumped forward. With the two longest swim legs over, next up was a 40m swim leg, followed by a 4m wooden ladder.

The rest went as follows: 25m swim > rope climb > 40m swim > 3m rope ladder (the force of the water at the bottom made it a struggle to get a foot up to start the climb) 25m swim > rope climb > 40m... then onto the penultimate obstacle, which was also my favourite.

A 3m climbing wall proceeds a 25m swim, before the final rope climb. It was then one last jump into the cold, before a crawling swim for 35m to the finish line. A dash under the arch, and that's it. It was over. The final lock provided a diving platform where many showed off a range of seriously impressive posing, including somersaults. This was also the place for my most elegant jump. Think along the lines of a breaching whale... elegance is not in my nature.

Many headed straight for the hot tubs after they'd finished. I wasn't particularly cold at this time, so stripped my wetsuit to my waist and instead immersed my hands in the hot water - hoping to bring some life back to them. After they'd warmed up, I got changed, popped on a beanie, and headed to grab some food.

I watched the rest of the semi's & finals, before heading back to my B&B to try and warm up.
Note to self: if competing in future make sure you take enough layers - I underestimated what my body temp would do after the race.

And that was it, Red Bull Neptune Steps conquered... or slightly conquered, mainly just finished with much elegance and style.

Top race tip: don't roll your ankle the day before and freak out over it. Especially as when you're in water that that's cold, you won't even feel it...