Friday, May 21, 2010

Open Water Swim

Well, as most of you know, I have been begging and pleading with Mother Nature to let up around here so we could get in an open water swim. I guess you get what you ask for eventually. Wednesday night was another tornado outbreak here in Oklahoma, but thankfully all the pesky twisters stayed out in rural areas and didn't do a ton of property damage. My grandparents had one go a few miles from their house, but they escaped with only the minor inconvenience of having no power for a few hours. After the latest round, it looks like we might be settling into our early summer routine: 80s and 90s and no rain.

Our group swim with Team-in-Training was actually canceled on Wednesday because of the weather so I sat on my butt and watched the tornado footage. As I have said before, I am a weather nerd so that was right up my alley. Due to no swim, the TNT group ended up joining forces with the TRI-OKC group for their first Splash N Dash of the season. The TRI-OKC group is the local triathlon club and they host regular swims and runs out at Arcadia Lake to provide some open water practice for local triathletes. It's a great way to meet people and get in some practice at the same time. Double bonus!

The weather Thursday was amazing. Low 80s, sunny, and no wind. You really couldn't ask for better weather for the first open water. I lugged all my gear to the lake and made sure everyone realized I was a newbie by struggling with my wetsuit and awkwardly asking questions. I was really nervous and it turns out that I had good reason.

After finally getting into the body bag we so affectionately call a wetsuit, I listened to the instructions for the swim and made my way to the beach with the rest of the crew. I would say there were probably 30-40 people present and some looked like seasoned veterans and others looked a lot like me: the classic deer in the headlights look. I was abnormally nervous and it was probably what precipitated the panic attack in the water. I think if I could have calmed myself down and just treated this like any other swim I could have done much better. Such is the life of a triathlete-in-training.

The swim started off fine. It was a little unnerving not being able to see anything in the water and constantly having to dodge feet and hands. The wetsuit also limited my range of motion which took a little while to get used to, but I could definitely tell it was much easier to stay afloat. I made it about 100 yards off shore and made my first turn around a "no wake zone" buoy and that's when the panic ensued. Right as I turned the corner, a guy in front of me kicked me in the face and dislodged the right side of my goggles. Water streamed in, the left side fogged up, and I sucked in a mouthful of lovely red-dirt tainted water. I then lost all control of my movements and felt like I was one of the people bailing off the Titanic. I really just freaked out. Everything I learned went out the window and I felt like I was back in my childhood days scared to death of the water. Finally it dawned on me that I could roll over on my back and compose myself. I laid there for a bit and lightly kicked while I messed with my goggles and finally got them back on. They were still fogged up when I turned over to swim so I just blindly swam until I hit something I could grab onto and catch my breath. Basically I had just swam a triangle, not the half-octagon shaped course that I should have been doing. I called it quits on that lap and walked back to the shore defeated. Bottom line : It sucked!

After getting some tips from Coach Ryan and seeing another fellow TNT'er struggling as well, I made my way back to the start for my second lap and prayed I wouldn't pull a similar stunt. I was hesitant to immediately jump back in the water and spent a few minutes spitting in my goggles, adjusting my swim cap, and gathering myself for another attempt. After finally convincing myself it would be better, off I went. With the exception of swimming a little off course and not sighting very well, the second lap was 100 times better and left me feeling a tad bit better about my open water swim abilities. I still got out of the water seriously questioning what I had gotten myself into and was happier than ever to get off that body bag and move on to running. Putting on those running shoes never felt so good.

To sum it up, the first open water swim was a borderline disaster. My confidence took a big hit and now I have to get myself back to that place where I know I can do this and remove those doubts in my head. Race day is only 9 days away now. There is no turning back. It's time to suck it up and face my demons. Open water swim #2 is on Monday with the TNT group. Please keep your fingers crossed that it goes better for me. I really need it to go well.

As a way to get back some of my mojo, I opted for a pool workout today and swam the full 1500 meters and felt great doing it. It definitely instilled some of that confidence I lost on Thursday. I know I can handle the distance. I just need to get that evil voice out of my head reminding me that there is no lane rope or wall to grab onto when I get into trouble. Any suggestions from you triathlon pros reading my blog?


  1. Congrats on your first OWS!! It's definitely totally different than pool swimming... In fact, tomorrow I'll have my first for the season, and I'm nervous about the water temperature!!

  2. First congrats as well on your first OWS. That's half the battle. I can pretty much promise you that the second one will be miles better. A few things that might help:

    1) There are no lane lines and no rhythm-comforting flip turns every 25 meters. It is what it is. Embrace the fact that you just go and go, you'll come to prefer it.

    2) Sight every 10 strokes or less if you need to, knowing where you are relative to your surroundings will help you get used to being in the open.

    3) Make up a mantra that you chant to yourself as you stroke, and get into a rhythm like you would if you where running.

  3. Thanks for the comments! Mel, I will be coming over to your blog to see how it went. Good luck!

    Patrick - Thanks for all the tips! Very good advice. I will put those to good use on Monday.

  4. I forgot one. Trust your wetsuit, it's very bouyant...

  5. practice, practice, practice, OWS is a different beast, thats for sure. If you have to breaststroke or sidecrawl, so be it. Dont let the water beat you, show the water your not scared and complete it.

    I come from a swimming background, and my first tri, the swim was horrible, I hated it. But I made it. the reward is worth it.

  6. Hi! Great blog! I found it on Alliope's blog and wanted to say thanks for the talking up Red Coyote. I work there and we really love being involved in the community and getting involved with all the running organizations, like TNT.

    Awesome job on your first OWS. I think having the experience behind you is really important, not you can figure out what you need to do to improve for the actual race. Always be prepared!

    Good luck on your race!