Saturday, May 19, 2012

My First Open Water Swim

It was the morning of my first open water swim.  I woke up so nervous I thought I was going to throw up.  Boats!  Would they see me?  I tried to keep gruesome images of me being caught in the blades of a boat's propeller at bay.  Those images were only to be replaced with those of a drunk boat operator mowing me down.  It was Mother's Day for godsake!  My whole family was going with me to the lake to support me for my first open water swim.  Please don't let me die before their very eyes.

 Once we got to the lake I saw that the swimming portion was clearly divided from the boating section with a line and buoys.  Whew.  One less thing to worry about.  One length of the section that I would swim was three tenths of mile.  It looked like a ridiculously long ways to swim.   It would take me five lengths to cover 1.2 miles, the distance of my race.  Every single scary blog post, chapter of a book or excerpt from a movie haunted my thoughts.  My daughter, bless her heart asked on the way to the lake, if there were sharks.  Her sister, apparently unsatisfied with her father's negative response, asked how about alligators?  Nope, none of those either.  The water might be contaminated with Giardia though!  Yikes, please don't let me contract giardia.  Note to self: Keep. Mouth. Closed.

The lake was packed with swimmers, boaters, picnickers and folks of all kinds, none of whom happened to be wearing a full wetsuit.  My saving grace was a running friend, who also happens to be a kick ass swimmer, would be out swimming with me.  I ever so carefully, squeezed myself into my rented wetsuit feeling like biggest rookie ever.  Why do I always have to be the greenie asking the dumb questions and experiencing something new for the first time, I complained to my husband.  I complain when I'm nervous.  My hubs has a great coping mechanism for such instances.  He lets my words go in one ear and out the other without appearing to be disinterested or unsympathetic.  He's a real gem, that one.

We were all suited up.  I kept hearing "How I Met Your Mother" character Barney Stinson say "Suit up!"  I of course changed the phrase to "Wet suit up!"  God, I'm a nerd.  I offered another prayer before slipping into the water.  Please don't let me drown on Mother's Day in front of my family and hordes of people enjoying this amazingly sunny warm day at the lake.

I've always been a water lubber.  Nonetheless I'm one of those highly annoying folks that enters the water slowly gasping and shivering every painful inch of the way.  In my wetsuit, only my hands, feet, neck and head were exposed to the elements.  The rest of me was protected by a lovely buoyant layer of neoprene.  The water felt lovely.  I was still nervous as hell.  There was no backing out now.  I had paid my race entry, reserved a hotel, taken the time off work and trained for 16 weeks for this thing.  I was ready for the bike.  I was more than ready for the run.  The only thing I had left to conquer was the open water.  Today was the day.  I slinked deeper and deeper into the water.  The day before I had been told that I would need to 'burp" my wetsuit.  Huh?  Let a little cold water in at the neck so that it filled up any air pockets that might be trapped in the wetsuit.  I did just that.  Brrrr!

Next thing I knew, my feet were no longer touching the bottom of the lake.  It was time to put my face in the water and swim.  I did just that.  I was pleasantly surprised at how warm and buoyant I was in my wetsuit.  I swam scared that first length.  I couldn't see under the water.  I couldn't control my breathing.  I quickly tired.  With all the boat action, sighting was difficult and swimming in a straight line seemed damn near impossible.  I managed to get a mouthful of water which much to my horror I ended up swallowing rather than spitting out.  Giardia?!  Would I spend the rest of my Mother's Day sicker than a dog?  I suddenly feel queasy. Shut up! Stop it brain. I'm swimming here!

As much as possible, I kept my eye on the graceful swimming of my swim mate.  It was reassuring to have her close by.  While she could swim much faster than me, she stuck with me and kept a watchful eye over me.  I stopped several times testing out the suit, resting and regaining my bearings.  I thought I would never get across the first length.  I was thrilled when I finally did and felt the reassuring solid ground under my feet.

Could I possibly swim back across?  I wasn't entirely convinced, but I tried anyway.  This time I got light headed and dizzy.  It was quite disorienting.  I must have appeared like a drunken swimmer swerving all over the place.  I plodded on.  I took fewer breaks this time.  Once I got my mind to calm down and let go of my fear, things got easier.  Nothing bad was going to happen to me.  It is just water.  I can swim.  I could always flip over and swim on my back if things got hairy out there.  I was OK.  By my third length, I relaxed enough to find a more efficient, sustainable swim stroke.  I was starting to have fun now that I wasn't flailing around wildly and gasping for breath.  How nice it was to be swimming under the blue skies on a sunny day in a lake!  My third length felt good.  I was tired though.  I decided to end the day on a high note rather than attempt my final length.

Perhaps my swimming 1.2 miles in lake wasn't such a crazy idea after all.  If I got through that portion of the triathlon, the rest would just be gravy.  Being the overly-eager trainee that I am, I committed to swimming in the open water as often as I possibly could.  I would get my bearings and build my confidence in the warmish waters of Fern Ridge Reservoir before moving into the snow melted lakes on the outskirts of Lane County. 


  1. Great work, Leah. The open water piece is definitely the most daunting to me. Maybe someday I'll tackle and open water tri.

  2. Thanks Lauren! Takes getting used to but I think I might grow to like open water swimming more than pool swimming. :) You should give it a try!