Monday, June 18, 2012

Open Water Swimming

Saturday morning at 10am I joined Janice, Klari and Doug on the dock of the new South Niagara Canoe Centre in Welland. The parking lot was packed and people were dragging rowing shells in and out of the water, a dragon boat was parked (totally not the right word I know) a few hundred metres off shore and athletes were milling around like ants. It was a busy place.

We three were the only swimmers.

Janice and I prepared ourselves - which basically meant taking off our shoes and pulling on our swim caps and goggles.

It's been months since I've worn a swim cap and my abhorrence of them has not lessened over time.


This is my 'regal' look apparently. 
(Honestly, I think I was just trying not to move my face for fear of the swim cap popping off.)

Klari had a wetsuit to yank on, which apparently takes a while, so Janice and I started working out our plan. We would swim to the first buoy which was who the hell knows how far away. Janice thought perhaps 25-50m. I thought at least 100m. We figured we would see how long it took us to get there and that would help us figure out the distance. So we would swim to the first buoy, swim around it and head back to the dock. Repeat three times.

That would help us practice sighting and keep us from going too far from help.

We sat on the dock and dipped our toes into the water.

"OMIGOD!" yelped the girl who likes cold water (me). That's really really cold.

Unlike my beloved pool, we couldn't see the bottom so we had no idea how deep it was. I lowered myself gingerly up to my waist - no bottom yet but holy hell it's cold! Dropped in up to my neck and still no bottom. Janice figured it was safe to jump in so she did and surfaced with her own half-frozen yelp.

"Well, the cold water will help our legs recover from this morning's run at least" she said. I'll take silver linings wherever I can get them so I nodded in agreement.

We started swimming. It was so cold that it felt like my lungs were shivering. I realized within seconds that breathing every third stroke like I do in the pool was not going to work. So I breathed every second stroke instead and immediately felt better - less like I was hyperventilating. Sighting for the buoy was not easy as it's fairly small and pretty much the colour of the water. But, we found it and we circled it and we headed back.

This photo is Janice and I heading to the dock and Klari heading out for her first 'length'. Can you see the tiny buoy off in the distance? 

I got to the dock feeling absolutely invigorated from the water which had gone from freezing to perfect. I tore off my vile swim cap, gave coach Doug a smile and headed back out for the second swim. 

The second trip out and back felt much better. I figured out a little breathing/sighting routine that seemed to work. Stroke, stroke, breathe left, stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe right, sight, stroke, stroke, breathe left. Repeat. 

It's amazing how low my head looks when I breathe...

...compared to when I sight. The videos I watched showed swimmers with just their eyes above the water. Should probably work on that...

After three trips to and from the buoy, we figured we had swum about 600m. It felt great and I decided that I really really like open water swimming. I'm sure it will be a little more frantic on race day but it's certainly an enjoyable way to swim. 

I had tucked a gel into my shirt pocket a) just in case and b) to see if it actually stayed put during a swim. I'm happy to report that it was not needed and it stayed where it was supposed to the entire time. Even during our very un-ladylike struggles to hoist ourselves up on to the dock. Thank goodness that's not part of the race requirements. I don't think bursting into giggles halfway out and falling back into the water will help our time. 

Race day plan: get in the water before the race starts to a) get used to the temperature and b) get my lungs warmed up so they stop shivering. That first few minutes in cold water is pretty rough and, if you add race day panic to the mix, I'm thinking it's not going to go well. 

We headed back to our cars and all had the same response to our first open-water swim. It went much better than expected and, this time next week, we're all going to be triathletes!!

Big grins all around. 


  1. Well done! This is a big step. You're going to be so amazing during the tri this weekend!

    It still cracks me up that you hate swim caps. Maybe it's because I'm the only guy at my local pool who wears one. I started wearing them regularly when I started open-water swimming, and now it's just part of getting into the water to have one on.

    And those buoys are TINY. It should be a lot easier on race day.

  2. I adore all the pictures!
    now THIS makes me REALLY want to swim!
    I bet with my wee noggin (it's a youth size) I probably couldn't keep caps on either.
    Wish I could be there to watch your first tri but you know I'm always there in spirit!