Oh, swimming…

10 Jun

Should we get in?

As you may remember from my Boulder Sunrise race recap, the open water swim portion of the triathlon is my most daunting opponent. I’ve had a hard time with it ever since I did my first triathlon in 2009. That first race, I wore my wetsuit but lucked out with the swim course having been measured incorrectly so instead of swimming 500 meters, it was more like 300. I got out of the water in record time! 😉

Between that race and the next, I discovered that when doing the breaststroke, wetsuits are not your friend. With the breaststroke, you want to move up and down in the water. That’s how the stroke works. The buoyancy of wetsuits work great for the front crawl because they make you float on the surface. Not so great for the breaststroke (IMO). So you can see in the picture above, I did not wear my wetsuit for the second tri I did. (It helped that the race was in September.)

This year, I am doing races a couple months earlier than those others (and we’ve had a freakishly cold spring), so the water hasn’t had a chance to warm up. The water at the tri last weekend was 60 (though I could have sworn it was colder!) but luckily, the water this Sunday is supposed to be 68-70 degrees. Woohoo! I think that will make a huge difference.

I did do an open water swim with D (pictured) on Tuesday night after work. We calculated the swim area was 3 swimming pools long (75 yards) and what do you know, we were close. I measured on Google Maps and it’s 80 meters long – slightly longer than 3 pools.

As we got in, the water was pretty cold (the website said 62 degrees) but we got used to it within a few minutes. Then the worst part: putting your face in. Ugh, I hate that. But I did it and then we were off swimming our first length. I got to the end, sighting every 6-7 strokes, and had to move to where I could touch the bottom to rest because once again, I couldn’t catch my breath. I don’t know if it’s wearing the wetsuit that makes it harder or if I’m just going out too fast because I can’t judge my speed or if it’s the thought of “I can’t make it that far!” but I definitely get out of breath WAY faster in open water than I do in a pool.

I also think that swimming in a wetsuit feels a lot like swimming with a pull buoy. Your legs float so much! Not only is kicking them almost completely unnecessary, I feel like I don’t have much control over my torso rotation. I end up swimming “flat” except for rolling to breathe; otherwise I feel like I can’t turn back around fast enough for another breath. Just like with the breaststroke, you lose some of the control you have in the pool. (Maybe that’s just my inexperience talking.)

I caught my breath, though, and made my way back. The second time down and back, I took a 30 second break before turning around, more because my goggles were all fogged up and I couldn’t see a thing (which I discovered this morning can be cured by licking my goggles – thank you Nesties!). D decided she was good after that second lap but I still wasn’t feeling the most confident so I did one more lap – during which I discovered every time I looked up that I was swimming completely diagonally. Which wouldn’t have been that big of an issue but there were like 8 other swimmers out there and I felt bad for going off course so much. Luckily, I didn’t run into anyone.

An unfortunate side effect of my diagonal swimming was that every time I looked up to see that I was 10 feet to the right of where I had expected to be, I did the breaststroke to move back over into my “lane.” As I got out of the water, I realized that because my inner thighs were so sore from the thrashing swim of the Sunrise and hadn’t been stretching, doing the breaststroke just then made it felt like I had torn my groin muscle. I couldn’t walk without it hurting. Great, just what I need. {BUT I am happy to report that it was just very sore, not a pulled muscle. It hasn’t completely recovered so I probably won’t be breaking any speed records on Sunday, but it has healed enough for me to run.}

The end result of the open water swim was that it helped, but left me in a quandry of WHY couldn’t I swim straight at all? So this morning, I headed to the pool with the intention of swimming with my eyes closed. After thinking a lot about why open water swimming is so hard for me, especially doing freestyle, I realized it’s 1) not being able to see where I’m going and 2) seeing the entire distance stretched out before me with no pool walls to grab on to.

Swimming in a pool with your eyes closed is a little freaky – you can’t see where you’re going. Just like open water swimming! I ended up running into the lane divider a couple of times (I’m sure the lifeguards were wondering what was wrong with me) but I got a lot of practice with sighting (every 4 strokes or so) and discovered that my going diagonal is caused by not rotating enough to the opposite side of my breathing (I breathe on the right, so I’m not rotating enough to the left.) To simulate open water conditions even more, I swam 300 yards or so with a pull buoy AND my eyes closed. It takes a little getting used to but it is possible to rotate your torso even when your lower body is floating on the surface.

I ended my swim session feeling like I have a much better feel for what it’s like to swim without seeing where you’re going, as well as handling body rotation in a wetsuit. I think that if I can remember to rotate my torso both ways, I’ll be able to swim straight and if I count my strokes to sight every 4-5, I’ll have something to think about instead of “It’s so far! I can’t swim this far! I’m going to run out of breath!”

I am doing another open water swim tomorrow, during which I plan on putting my two tactics described above into practice. We’ll see if they help!

{Note: If my tactics don’t help, at least with the torso rotation thing, I am contemplating leaving the wetsuit at home again. The water will be fairly warm, I’ll have more control over my stroke, and it saves me that time in T1. I think I would prefer to wear my wetsuit but maybe I’m just not a wetsuit person?}

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