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Red Bull Neptune Steps experience
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Tuesday 19th April 2016

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Kyle Campbell takes on the Red Bull Neptune Steps

"I love the fact that in this Health and Safety world we live in there are still challenges and races that fly in the face of common sense and push the boundaries, physically, technically and mentally."

We featured the awesome looking Red Bull Neptune Steps event a few times recently, including an interview with Irish Elite triathlete Con Doherty (who finished fifth), and the participation of Scotland's Marc Austin (who finished second). The event was held on Saturday 9th April in Glasgow. Another triathlete, Edward Castro (British Triathlon Male Age Group Athlete of the Year last year), finished fourth.

We also said...

"We'll be bringing you more from the event next week, having sent a sacrificial lamb willing volunteer to take part and give us the inside view on what it is really like..."

Well, Kyle Campbell was brave enough to take it on for us (actually, he volunteered...), and he says, "I loved it". He also describes it as "a completely bonkers event" - but having almost made the final, we suspect he can't wait for the 2017 edition. Looking for something different? Check out Kyle's report.

The Fourth and Clyde canal goes from the West Coast to the East Coast and into the heart of Scotland's largest city, Glasgow. It is a beautiful and historic canal taking in some incredible scenery. I've kayaked the full length and apart from a few unintentional falling-in's, I didn't for once think I would swim in it... until Red Bull came up with Neptune Steps.

I love the fact that in this Health and Safety world we live in there are still challenges and races that fly in the face of common sense and push the boundaries, physically, technically and mentally.

Red Bull Neptune Steps is definitely one of those races. In a nutshell, it's an open water endurance test, swimming 420 meters in the Fourth and Clyde canal, up-and-over eight canal locks using rope climbs, wooden ladders, cargo nets and a climbing wall. I forgot to mention it's in brain freezing and muscle sapping cold water in April. It is billed as the only race of its kind anywhere in the world... and I loved it.

Red Bull Neptune Steps 2016

It's a simple format: the first ten in each heat progress to the semi-finals and again onto the final. I'm an ok swimmer in the pool but tend to struggle in the cold. Open water swimming can be tough at the best of times but throw in 25 like-minded nutters in freezing cold water with a dose of serious nerves and you have an interesting mix. We were told the water was 10°c, but I beg to differ. I had already done some cold water acclimatising in temperatures around 7.5°c and this felt just as cold. It didn't matter, we were all in it together - it was time to get on and race!

I'd raced at the Celtman Extreme Triathlon and a SwimRun race called Loch Gu Loch in 2015, so I knew what sort of kit I needed. I had a Head SwimRun wetsuit which was very flexible but a bit thinner than your average wetsuit, neoprene heat-seeker vest, neoprene booties, neoprene gloves and a neoprene cap. I then put the swim cap provided on top of this. Wearing all this kit does nothing for your street cred whatsoever!

Red Bull Neptune Steps 2016

The race starts with a 165m swim which I found one of the hardest parts of the race. 25 competitors jostling for places in a narrow canal doesn't do much for the nerves and doesn't allow the field to spread out much.

Red Bull Neptune Steps 2016

Before I felt I ready, we were given the one minute warning. I slipped into the cold dark water and we were off. I settled into my own pace focusing on breathing and not letting the cold get the better of me. Before I realised it, I was at the first obstacle. The water was spraying into my face and mouth, reducing vision and making just breathing hard. I was lucky and had a free climb up the net. I don't do obstacle course races and it's amazing how much energy you expend. When I got to the top I thought “Bugger I've got another seven of these to go”. I didn't dwell on this and just dived in and swam to the next one.. I was surprised when I got to the top and didn't have anyone around me.

I then reached the new addition to the race this year, a three metre climb and then jump off an old barge. At the top you catch a glimpse of the finish gantry 65 meters away then you jump into the cold water and swim up to the penultimate obstacle which is the climbing wall.

Red Bull Neptune Steps 2016

I was knackered at this point and have to admit I swam the last 40 meters breast stroke. I scrambled out ungracefully at the finish and grabbed one of the tags that were hanging from the trident and collapsed. I finished third in my heat and couldn't believe it.

Red Bull Neptune Steps 2016Now there aren't too many races where you are both elated and also a wee bit frightened about getting to the next round. I realised I was going to have to do it all over again. I spent the next hour and a half trying to stay warm; it wasn't worth taking off my wetsuit so I just wrapped up and tried to get some energy inside without getting that bloated feeling.

I felt good and actually thought about reaching the final. A lot of racing is mental and trying to keep focused and prepared. I realised I had managed this far... then why couldn't I get through the semi finals too?

We got the call and headed down to the start, I jumped in and my breath was taken away immediately which was a bit of a shock as I was expecting my body to be ready for the cold. Off went the starter gun and I settled into my routine of breathing and I got to the first obstacle mid pack. This time however I was unlucky to be stuck behind other competitors who were struggling to pull themselves up onto the net. I must have been there a good few minutes and I was actually trying to push them up so I could get out of the spray that was making breathing hard.

Red Bull Neptune Steps 2016

You can see me on the far right of the cargo net with nowhere to go and helping the guy in front of me by pushing him up onto the net. When I eventually got onto the net I realised I had lost a load of places so worked really hard to make up lost ground. I was passing people but had no idea where I was in the race position wise.

Red Bull Neptune Steps 2016

Just before the jump I realised I was in the red so I just gave it my all. I was very slowly catching the guys in front and as we crawled out on the finish gantry I saw the guy literally feet in front of me reach up and take the last tab off the trident. I was gutted - I had missed out on the final by just one place. I congratulated the guy and thought what a mental race :-)

Long may it continue and well done to Red Bull for actually putting on a completely bonkers event.

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