I’m Jo Mitchinson, a 36-year old open water swimmer from Stevenage in Hertfordshire. I’m also a full time teacher at a local secondary school, mum to a very active eight-year old Ellie and wife to ex GB runner and now cyclist, Dave.
I swam as a junior, competing and medalling at national ASA competitions. At 15, I ducked under nine minutes for the 800m and at 18, I went 17:31 for 1500m.
But, plagued by both illness and injury, I never realised my potential and finally stopped swimming aged 22 in 2002 when I set GB Masters records in the 400m, 800m and 1500m. I didn’t swim a stroke again until 2013, when our daughter was six and I was in desperate need of some ‘me time’!
“I didn’t swim a stroke again until 2013, when our daughter was six and I was in desperate need of some ‘me time’!”
I had a huge knee operation later that year and can no longer tumble at speed. For that reason I love the ASA National Masters Open Water Championships as it gives me the opportunity to race against the best swimmers in the country. I can’t do that in the pool any more – I’m simply not able to be as competitive as I would like.
I first competed in the National Masters Open Water Champs in 2014. I’d only done two open water races previously, but it appealed, so I entered. I had no expectations, it was simply about swimming in a new place, against new swimmers, in a safe and friendly environment.
I was shocked to win my age group (35-39 Yrs) and it was the start of a fantastic 2015. I was fortunate enough to be sponsored by AquaSphere and that gave me more confidence to enter races in a variety of settings.
In 2015 I raced in the Thames, Majorca and mainland Spain in the European Oceanman Championships, winning the 30-39 Yrs age group. I also returned to Rother Valley for the National Open Water Champs, finishing second in a great race.
Looking ahead to July 2016, I’m looking forward to the atmosphere and sense of occasion that this event brings. Masters swimming has a unique sense of camaraderie – a mixture of relatively inexperienced swimmers, triathletes, recreational open water swimmers, right through to incredibly fast ex-internationals.
I am somewhere in between – one of the faster in my age group, but nowhere near the fastest of the day.
Training-wise, I am now building up after a much needed break. My training comes in two categories; what I aim to do and what I actually achieve.
I have to have a slightly more relaxed approach to my training now I am a Masters swimmer. As much as I love being a swimmer, I naturally prioritise my daughter’s training and my husband’s shift work. I try to train with Stevenage SC at least four times a week (ideally six), but sometimes it’s simply not possible. That’s life.
“I try to train with Stevenage SC at least four times a week, but sometimes it’s simply not possible. That’s life.”
It’s the same for all of us Masters swimmers and that’s the major difference between elite age group swimming and Masters swimming. It’s not a case of a lack of commitment, it is simply that we are juggling far more than when we were younger – work, partners, children and their hobbies and interests.
In my next blog I’ll be looking at races that I’m planning on doing between now and the ASA National Masters Open Water Championships.