I was still a little down on my second day of competing, but also eager to get back in the water. I was determined to leave nothing to chance and myself and Jia left for the pool very early. I should mention how lucky I was to have Jia with me for the trip. She helped get my mind off competing by planning and bringing us to tourist locations around the city after my race each day, she was also a great source of encouragement and support. My swim this day was in the Hajos arena which is on an island in the Danube that wasn’t far from our apartment so we decided to walk to it. As we got closer more swimmers and spectators joined us and the area was far more welcoming than the Duna arena, which feels a little isolated in its location. Having learned a hard life lesson the day before, the first thing I did on entering Hajos was to ask the information desk where the call room for my pool (Hajos B) was. I then walked straight to it to make sure I knew exactly where it was and how long it would take to get there. We had arrived shortly after the first event had started and I had plenty of time to prepare, so I spent some time with Jia in the stands watching some of the swims and soaking up the atmosphere. The women’s events were held before the mens that day, so I made sure that I had done my warm up before the womens 200m free had begun. I had skipped the indoor warm up pool in favour of the outdoor one, even though it was only a 25m pool. Living in Ireland I don’t often get the chance to swim in outdoor pools and despite childhood memories of competing in an outdoor pool in Askeaton, where we sometimes were treated to hailstones as we waited for our events, I really enjoy swimming in them. Getting my racing suit on meant the usual struggling and wrestling with it in a room of men also struggling with theirs. It’s funny how people have different techniques to get them on and I can only wonder how funny changing rooms must have been during the shiny suit era.
When I got to the call room I found I was far too early and there was still over 10 heats left in the womens event before mine even started. I made for the stands and found a shaded spot to watch the heats that wasn’t too far away, my heat was 132 and the mens heats in this pool would start somewhere in the 120s. When I went back down I got to do the prep-work that I had missed the previous day. I spent time listening to music, focusing on my race and making sure I wasn’t getting overly nervous or anxious. I did a few small warm up routines which also helps get rid of any nervous energy and it makes me feel like I am taking control by doing something to prepare. The call room and its area were more like what I was used to. It had 4-5 rows of chairs for each of the heats to progress through and it was accessed by a larger area that gave people space to prepare themselves. It was in this area that I met an American that was representing Great Britain. It turns out he had been in the same heat as me for the 100m. I told him my story of the 100m and it turns out that things weren’t a whole pile better for those that had made it to the correct place in time. As I had mentioned yesterday my heat were ready to go when I got to them, what I hadn’t mentioned was that the room had 4-5 rows for heats in it, all of them empty (if you had seen Arena’s video for spotting placed products then you have seen the room). They had simply come out of a common area and were told they are up next, they literally had just gotten in when I had. He also told me he had competed at the Irish Masters open this year, so there is a good chance we had raced then as well.
The call room in Hajos B was an interesting experience, being a tent in the sun it was a little hotter than the rest of the area. Myself and the American were joined by an Englishman who joined in with our chat, one of these would race on my left and the other my right so we all got to sit together. We did the usual move up the chairs, show the FINA Approved code on our suits to the officials and confirmed who we were. We walked out to the blocks and I got an unexpected, but welcome, surprise from a number of Irish who were in the stands near the blocks cheering my name. I got to my block, fixed the back step to the setting I like it, loosened out and decided to do one of my usual pre-race jumps, I jumped up… into the umbrella that was over each timekeeper. I took a quick look around, a step to the side and hoped few people saw it and that it wouldn’t appear on the official live stream of the swim.
At this point I should mention my tactics for the 200m, in the past I would have tried to feel out the race and stay near the front. This usually worked well enough, but I have never been happy with my splits in the latter part of the race. So for Budapest I decided to work on a 200m race pace in training, I was determined to not go faster than that pace for the first 100m, then I would up the pace for the 3rd 50m and go all out for the final 50m. For the actual race I had a good dive and watched as the swimmers around me pushed ahead, I was prepared for this and forced myself to not follow them as I usually would. I figured I’d catch them after the first 100m. By the end of the first 50m I was already reeling them in, staying steady trying not to kick too hard. On the third 50m I began to up the tempo, engaging the legs, not flat out sprinting but definitely close to it. On the last 50m I put the hammer down and sprinted, hitting the wall second. Looking at the scoreboard I spotted my time 2:12.98, the first time going under 2:14 in my masters career and the fastest time in my life beating my best short course time from my days as a junior swimmer. Myself and the two swimmers I had been chatting to before the race all shared some pleasantries and we hoped to meet again either at a UK or Irish gala. I made my way down to the training pool and did an easy cool down. Later I found out that my swim meant I was ranked 27th overall, a complete surprise as I thought I would be lucky to get top 30 or 40. Better still there was only a split second between me and 24th place. I was also delighted with my splits, both 100s were clocked at 1:06.
After all this it was still only lunch time so we gave a quick visit to the Arena store and headed to one of the city’s baths to relax and unwind. – Mike