Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Open Water Swim... a disaster. Like many people who consider or attempt a triathlon, the swim is my main source of fear and pessimism about the whole endeavor. Sure I can ride a bike. I don't love it, but I can do it. I definitely can run. But swim? The last time I took a swimming test (I think I was in 5th grade at Lake Loiuse for those interested), I failed and was not allowed to go beyond the "shallow" part of the lake. I knew how to doggie paddle but I never learned the whole bilateral breathing thing (i.e. putting your head under water and breathing on one side and then the other) until Adam taught me last year. I maybe swam 3 times in 2011. Then in the past 3 months I've started to take it more seriously, swimming twice a week or so. I've been quite happy with my (slow) progress. When I started I couldn't swim across one length (20 yards) without stopping in the middle either to breathe or to deal with the water in my mouth or nose or to correct my stroke, and last week I swam three times, the longest being 0.75 miles, which is longer than I need to do in the Chicago Sprint Triathlon in August. But this was all in the pool.

Last weekend I rented a wetsuit and made my way down to Ohio Street Beach for my first open water swim with my supportive husband at my side. It wasn't a disaster. But it wasn't good. I had low expectations for my first time, to prevent feeling devastated if things went poorly. I am somewhat afraid of the water. I'm not worried about drowning, I can swim well enough, there are plenty of other people and lifeguards- but water that is not in the controlled setting of a chlorinated pool has always freaked me out a bit. Ever since coming out of the water with 8 leeches on my leg in St Germain as a kid, and the time my family went on an ocean cruise where they warned us "don't touch the bright red corral- it could kill you" which caused me to abstain from snorkeling for years, oh- and the time I decided to overcome my fear of snorkeling and snorkeled on a beach in Egypt and literally got my foot caught in corral and couldn't get it out- well now even I sorta see why I have the heebie jeebies about open water.

But the "scared factor" wasn't a huge problem. Admittedly, I have now been swimming in the lake 3 times and I do spend a few minutes standing in the water up to my waist freaked out, tachycardic thinking about what's in the water (who needs a warm up to get the heart pumping when you have fear?), but I sternly tell myself it's just like swimming in the pool and once I put my face in once all is well. Last night, there were some pretty serious waves, which meant pieces of seaweed and garbage (yeah, it's urban swimming) kept hitting me but I was able to keep my cool through that.

Speaking of waves....people told me another hard part of the open swim is the waves both in terms of difficulty swimming and getting the chance to breathe. I suppose both of these things could be problems if I swam for longer than 15 breaths at a time (45 strokes). But I CAN'T. And I don't know why. And it's so frustrating!!

So what exactly is my problem? I've spent a lot of time thinking about it this week and honestly have been really bummed that I have been out 3 times and can't get this going. I've narrowed it down to two things, neither of which I know how to fix which is bumming me out further.

#1 The goggles. After a few strokes, I inevitably get water in my left goggle. I guess I could "tough it out" and just keep my left eye closed but I have enough to think about as a beginning swimmer in Lake Michigan and I just can't do it. So I stop swimming, re-adjust, but no matter how tight I make my goggles, it doesn't seem to help:(

#2 Laxity in training leads to problems in the real deal. When swimming in a pool, there are natural break points when you reach the pool edge at the end of a lap. Even though I've minimized my loitering times b/t laps and often don't loiter at all, that couple second break where I hang on to the wall to turn myself around was more of a break than I realized. I think this is why the few times when my goggles aren't a problem, I don't swim much more than 2-3 "pool lengths" before I feel like my breathing is off, I'm disoriented and it's time to stop.

So what am I going to do? I honestly don't know. Tomorrow is my last day with the wet suit and I'm going to march down there full of purpose, spend a few minutes terrified in the water, then COMMAND myself to swim 30 breaths (90 strokes) at a time until I get to the 1/4 mile marker. I'll allow myself to take breaks tomorrow because it's completely unrealistic to think that I can do this without them at this point. But I need a way to take "breaks" that don't involve hanging on the edge of the pool or standing up in the water. Adam says a few strokes of butterfly can serve as a break but I'm not so sure that swimming can be a break from swimming. But I'm willing to try. I'm willing to try anything. Race day is in 5 weeks and I will be there. I'd much prefer to finish the race rather than DNF my first ever triathlon.

And don't even get me talking about putting on and taking off the wetsuit. Might be harder than actually swimming......

Tips and advice are welcome. I'm way out of my league.

1 comment:

  1. Breast stroke, back stroke....they are how I learned to love open water and full gear swims. And by love I mean tolerate. And by tolerate I mean finish.