Saturday, April 30, 2016

Open Water Swimming With Confidence

My first experience with open water swimming was as a child at a YMCA summer camp in Deckers, Colorado.  As a part of the camp, each camper had to do a swim test of about 50 meters. It was a cool mountain lake and I always felt a sense of accomplishment surviving the swim in the dark water where you couldn't touch the bottom.

Ten years ago, I signed up for my first open water race, the Lake to Lake Triathlon in Loveland, Colorado.  Like most people, I had received recommendations to get some experience in open water before the race itself.  I started asking around about places to practice and researched online.  Of course, I also had to get equipped properly and had heard I needed a wet suit.  The wet suit that I had for scuba diving would not work for triathlon because the neoprene is too thick and not flexible enough.  The stiff shoulders of a scuba wet suit would be too restricting for free style swimming.

After finding an entry level wet suit, I made my way to the local pond with my new suit and there I stood at the edge of the water.  Everyone around me seemed to know what they were doing, wiggling into their wet suits, wading into the water and then splashing away in the direction of the far shore.  I awkwardly squeezed into my new suit and followed the crowd.  My goal was to swim the 300 meters to a sand bar and back.  As I entered the water, the cool water seeped into my suit and coated my my face.  I instantly felt my breath swept away, but paddled on.  I made it to the sand bar and back that day.  I celebrated and went on to race three open water swims that year.

Fast forward to my first Ironman experiences in 2009 at Ironman Cozumel.  It was an in-water start and I positioned myself behind the dense assembly of athletes at the start line.  I wanted to avoid the 'washing machine' experience at the start line with 1800 athletes battling to get their day starte.  I wanted clear water from the start.  It was the most physical swim in terms of contact with other athletes that I had experienced to date, but would pale in comparison to Ironman Cour d'Alene (IMCDA) the following year.  2800 athletes on the start line of IMCDA, the lake temperature was 57 degrees, and it was choppy.  IMCDA is a two-loop course which translated to nearly 4 times the congestion and physicality of IM Cozumel the previous year.  My training served me well and I survived.

Having complete 5 Ironman distance races and dozens of open water races at shorter distances, I still get a little anxious in the open water.  Along the way, I've found resources, developed thought processes and practices that help me manage that anxiety and actually enjoy open water racing today.  
If you find open water swimming to be challenging, you are not alone.  The good news is there are thousands of triathletes and open water swimmers that do their first open water swim or overcome their anxieties each year.  There is also a lot of information and resources available to you to help you through the process.

This month's episode is dedicated to helping you understand how to prepare physically and mentally for the open water.  The guest experts offer tips on how to execute a successful open water race and make sure you are properly equipped.

For more resources on open water swimming, check out the Resources page of MileHighTriathlon and prepare yourself for the greatest open water swimming season yet!