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Musician. Triathlete. Almost.
Musician. Triathlete. Almost.

Open Water 101

Bishmanby BishmanMay 13th 2012
Today I swam in open water for the first time. I'm not going to lie.. before the session, I was bricking it. And not in the training sense.

Aside from the whole "is that a fish or is it my hand, the water's too murky for me to tell, and besides I should be focusing on the more pressing issue of being too cold to breathe" experience, it gave me a new perspective on all this triathlon business I'm putting myself through.

Doing this session made it real. Until now, I'd been swimming in a pool and that was fine. Open water is a whole different ball game. These were the conditions I would be racing in; wetsuit, outside, no lanes. I'd worn my wetsuit when trying it on to buy it as well as getting in and out of it a couple of times (including standing in the shower) to make sure that I could do it.

It was hard taking off my wetsuit.

The technique of swimming open water is different: my first instinct after jumping into the water (which went completely against my instincts anyway) was to just bob there treading water instead of actually swimming. I became acutely aware at once of both my breathing and how murky the water was.

After forcing myself to swim I found I had to adopt a completely different approach. In a pool it is very easy to just stick in your head face down in the water and press with the chest. You can see the bottom of the pool and you don't need to worry about sighting. In the lake, I was cold and didn't want to swim, let alone stick my face in the dark and drag myself along. I found my legs sinking in an effort to keep my head and chest as close to the surface as possible. The advantage of this was that I was able to see much easier and clear my head when breathing to make sure I didn't take in any of the green water. The disadvantage was that I created much more drag and was not actually swimming very ell. Of course, after telling myself off and keeping the legs high and head down I was actually able to swim somewhat normally.

Now then... the cold.

It wasn't actually as cold as I am making out. My entire body was fine in fact, except the areas which were exposed; my feet got the coldest, prompting me to get out after about 1.5k and warm them in the sun (I wasn't slacking off training - I got back in once I was warm!) My face was generally fine and I wasn't using a swim cap. I found that towards the end of the session it became harder to keep my hands tight for the paddle. My little finger in particular was an especially disobedient digit.

The wetsuit was not as restricting as I had imagined. I kept thinking how amazing it was that it just let me do what I wanted to do, and also imagining how cold I would be if I wasn't wearing it. I got the odd moment of an arm or the small of my back being waterlogged but I did nothing to sort it out and the problem fixed itself almost instantly. Note to self, put glide gel on the side of my neck by the shoulders. I assumed it would be the front and back which would rub.

It actually felt like I was swimming faster too. I heard various estimates for the length of a lap (between 200-250m) so doing 5 laps = 1k + upto 250 extra. I think this had the mental effect of feeling like I had swum less distance than I had - I only did 8 laps! But they could represent anywhere between 1,600 - 2k worth or swimming.

So now I know what to expect next Sunday I'm even more excited. This morning gave me the first definitive proof that I can actually do these triathlons because I've now tried everything I'll have to do during them.

Now I'm drinking a can of coke because my flatmate told me it kills river bacteria.
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