First swim in open water

Big day today as it was my first open water swim session. I was pretty nervous as I’d done a lot of reading on open water swimming and I knew it can be very different to the pool. The flip side was that having done the reading I felt I knew what to expect and had strategies in place to make the most of the session. I’d also been lucky enough to bump into an open water swimming expert at a work event a few days ago, who worked for Triathlon England, and he’d given me quite a few tips.

I did get a curve ball the day before as Steve Crane had agreed to “buddy” me, and had come down with a bad head cold so could not go in the water. He emailed me loads of advice though so I decided to just bite the bullet and go on my own. To be honest I quite like doing new things on my own sometimes as I can do my own thing at my own pace.

I cycled to the lake – Box End Park, wake-boarding facility – at a fairly leisurely pace (4.08 miles in 21:04, av speed 11.6mph). I suspect my brain and body were conspiring to delay the inevitable! I didn’t have the best start as I got there and the shop I was going to hire a wet suit from appeared closed. I thought I was going to have to turn around and go home. But as it turns out, that was the wake-boarding shop. The triathlon place (Tri-Crazy), was round the corner in a little hut. Dave the owner was in there helping another newbie into a wetsuit, with another person waiting. Popular guy. In fact another three came in while I was waiting, this sport is really on the rise. 

Anyway soon it was my turn and Dave fitted me up with a wetsuit. I was surprised at how easy it went on actually, although I suspect it won’t be that easy on my own! Soon, I was all kitted out and headed on my way to the lake. Squeaky bum time. 

I hovered about a bit as I wanted to watch a few other people go in first. But they all seemed to be taking their sweet time about it and I was left looking like I had very temperamental set of googles given how much attention they were getting! The lake was packed (well relatively given it’s a big lake), there must have been 30-40 people swimming round it. It was funny watching them swim in somewhere I have only ever watched people wake-board around. The ramps and the wires were all in place, and these little people were swimming past them in their different coloured caps. 

Anyway I stopped faffing and in I got. Yup – bloody freezing! I took an immediate hit too as I did the acclimatisation techniques I’d read about / been advised – I let a bit of water in at the neck and splashed some on my face to preempt the gasp reflex. I had a little bob around leaning back and forward to get used to the buoyancy and then I was off. I was expecting the first few metres to be tough, having read about anxiety and feelings of wetsuit claustrophobia. However, I remembered to breath out from the first stroke and got into my rhythm straight away. I found it so much easier to swim in the wetsuit with the buoyancy, which implies I probably have low legs in the pool (pull buoy drills needed!) I was actually really enjoying it, with the only issue being a freezing cold face. But that soon warmed up. In fact for the first 1/4 of a length of the lake I also kept pretty straight. That soon stopped though and I began to zig zag around a bit. I was trying to sight using the buoys and the wires, but to be honest I really need to work on that. Not easy!

I was in my stride though, and swimming proper freestyle around a lake! I didn’t find the fact I couldn’t see the bottom as off-putting as I thought and even when I inevitably swallowed a bit of it, the water tasted nicer than pool chlorine!

I was freaked a bit as some people went past and touched my bum (accidentally I presume), but I am going to have to get used to the rough and tumble before I race in June. 

Eventually I reached the landing stage and out I got. 0.62 miles in 21:56. Pretty damn slow, but who cares – I am an open water swimmer now! And to boot, I really, really enjoyed it. It was easier to swim than in a pool (barring my zig zags), and just more fun really. I can see how people get hooked on it. I need loads more practice before I can say I am competent, and lets face it Weymouth Bay in September is going to be a whole different kettle of fish, but its as good a start I could have wished for. 

I got showered and dressed in the excellent facilities at Box End and then took the wetsuit back to Dave. One of the great things he does it hire them out for the season, if you don’t want to leap in and buy just yet. I figured that would be a good idea for a novice triathlete in his first year and I am going to need one for my three races anyway. So I parted company with my £130, and am now the proud temporary owner of a wetsuit 🙂

Really great fun, looking forward to my next swim. You can tell I was in a better mood as was much quicker on the way home – 3.88 miles (quicker round the one way system going back) in 16:17, av speed 15.1mph). 

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