Sunday, July 10, 2011

Swimming with the fishes

Today was my first open water swim of the season!  The triathlon I am doing next month is open water so practicing is a must.  Why is practicing in open water necessary?  Swimming is swimming, right?  Um, no.  Not even close.  Here are my thoughts about open water swims and why you need to (make yourself) get in before race day:
Clean and Safe!
  • Running on a treadmill feels a little different than running outside.  Riding a stationary bike is not the same as riding on the road.  But swimming in a pool is totally and completely different than swimming in open water.  While the mechanics of your stroke are the same, the mental aspect of being in open water is what makes it so different.  In a pool you can see the bottom.  That bottom is close to your feet.  There are lane markers and walls.  You can stop if you want to.  Even if you don't stop you know that you can and that makes you feel safe and calm.  In open water you have to swim, float, or die.  Those are your three option and I generally try to avoid the third.   
  • I am not a neat freak, and I don't have OCD. . .until I get into water.  I don't like murky water.  The cleaner the better.  Chlorine?  Bring it on!  Sea creatures, slimy plants, mud between my toes.  Yuck!!!!  It really, really makes my skin crawl and I have to go to my special place to make it through the whole experience.  Maybe I was traumatized by seaweed as a child (I am pretty sure my brother threw it at me often)?  I don't really know, but whole slimy, gooey aspect gets to me.  The more time I spend in open water the more I can block out the goo.
  • I think I saw this while swimming today
  • I am pretty sure there is something bad in the water that will try to eat me. . .and I know this is ridiculous, but really I think there is something bad in the water that will try to eat me.  I really never should have watched Jaws.  Yes, a shark in a man made lake 1000's of miles from the ocean is unlikely, but maybe there is a "lake shark" or a Loch Ness monster type creature.  I don't know. . .because I can't see anything!  And frankly a small fish rubbing up against me is almost just as bad.  It gives me the heebie jeebies and so spending time in the water reassures that I will not be swallowed by lake creatures (probably).
  • You think you swim in a straight line?  Probably not.  Or at least I don't.  Open water swimming requires sighting (which to be honest I don't really get or know how to do).  My strategy is to front crawl and then occasionally switch to breast stroke to make sure I am going the right way.  This seemed to work for me today but maybe I will try to figure out this whole "sighting" thing.  
  • Waves splash into your face sometimes.  You need to get used to that or you will start hyperventilating and quite possibly die (and when I say you I mean me).  The very first time I did open water last year this happened to me.  I was not ready for the wave/splash factor.  It was fine once I got used to it, but I would have been in trouble if I had not practiced in open water before my race.  
  • Make like this walrus and float if you need to.
  • Be prepared to start off slow and know what to do if you start to feel panicky.  If you start off too fast during an open water swim there is no place to take a rest.  So I think you should start off your swim nice and easy.  Also, it is reassuring to know if you need to take a rest you can switch your stroke or simply float.  Practice this and it will give you peace of mind.  Remember, if you start to feel panicky just flip to your back, float, breath, calm down, and continue when you feel ready (and by the way you can also do this during a race).       
  • The most important reason you should get into the water before the race day is just to gain a sense of confidence that you can do it.  When you see the buoy markers it is going to seem reeeeeally far.  Knowing that you can accomplish the distance will make you calm and confident on race day.
So how did I do on my first open water swim of the year?  I did not do so hot if I am going to be honest.  The water was super murky.  It was a big green mess when I looked in.  Instead of swimming the buoys I just got accustom to swimming front crawl in the water.  It was the first time I swam with my head in open water and it is going to take some getting used to (last year I swam in it, but not with my head in the water).  So I stayed close to shore to help my anxiety and swam back and forth.  Next time I will go farther but for me and water it is always baby steps (or strokes I guess).

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