Today was my first open water swim in many, many, many years. It’s been at LEAST a dozen years since I really swam in a non-chlorinated body of water.
I had not really faced the fact that I really had to do this until I found I was hesitating to sign up for the tri. I literally waited until the last minute, Saturday night at around midnight (the price went up the next day). I couldn’t figure out what the problem was, why I had issues clicking the button. I’ve proven that I can do twice the bike and run distance back to back. I’ve proven that I can swim WELL beyond the 500m required. I wasn’t sure what the problem was. Then I remembered the whole open water thing.
I decided to sign up anyway, figuring worst case I’d be uncomfortable, get through it, and be better next time. I read up on forums and sites and everything, and heard stories and accounts of people freaking out their first time swimming in open water. That made my decision easy – I had to find a way to try it before the race. However, I convinced myself it was just in the spirit of not having any surprises on race day. I’ve swam in my singlet, I’ve gone swim to bike to run, I’ve done just about everything to prepare I can think of – that was one of the only missing pieces. I didn’t figure the open water would faze me.
I’ve got BIG PLANZ this weekend with friends in from out of town, so today was the day. I was hoping to get into the facility up the street from work, but found out it was TWENTY BUCKS for a day pass, so I searched for another place – I was solo so it had to be somewhere with lifeguards and other people. Barton Springs Pool it was. Three dollars for entry is much more reasonable. However, it’s 68 degrees in there year round. For someone that runs about 10 degrees colder than the rest of the world, I expected that to be my biggest problem.
After work, I moseyed down there, paid my cash, and went in. I was a little nervous by then but excited, as I always am for new and exciting experiences. My toe dipped in the water and it was a bit freezy, but not as bad as I expected. It took me at least 5 minutes to get down the steps, but once my bottom half was acclimated to the water, I dove in and got ready to swim some laps.
That’s when the totally unexpected freak out occured. Holy SHIT there is nature here. I don’t know what I was expecting, but this was so different than the bottom of a pool. I was ok as long as I kept my head above water, but anytime I went under, I found it a little hard to breathe. I tried to swim all the way to the end of the dammed off area but I just couldn’t make it and turned around and went back to the shallow side (I got in right about halfway between). Every time I put my head under things were just too much. Plants! They even touched me in some spots! Fish! Living creatures! Freaky, freaky nature all up in my bidness.
I retreated to the shallow, feeling sort of pissed off, disappointed in myself, and defeated. I regrouped, and started again from shallow water, where I found I was actually fine. The first drop off startled me, but I was able to keep my composure. The next drop off wasn’t too bad. The next fish I saw made me jump a little, and then I realized that I had this experience 13 years ago. I even paid for it. It’s called fucking snorkling. I became more and more comfortable with everything and saw the end in sight. I was going for it.
However, the plants kept fucking with me. For some reason, more frightening then live things swimming around, more frightening than anything, was the areas where the plants reached almost up to the surface. I had to summon logic-brain to talk sense into silly brain. Plants don’t eat you. Plants don’t harm me in any way. Plants don’t even feel all that icky. I felt a little less anxious, and silly for feeling that way, but definitely not comfortable swimming through the area with high plants. I almost convinced myself I had made enough of my point and turned around again and then I looked at that wall. It was maybe 100 feet away. I decided I was not going to quit 100 feet from the wall. I swam through all the NATURE until I touched that damn wall and turned around.
I felt awesome and accomplished but still had to navigate back through the plants. Something happened though – I didn’t mind as much. The fish started to become my friends, when I saw one, I would take a few extra underwater strokes so I could see it longer. The plants, I realized, were just plants. I took about 3 lengths down and back of the 1000 foot expanse, each time, it got easier until the last time I realized I was just about as comfortable as in the pool. The first two laps, I definitely had to psych myself up and say little things in my head like, “I am kicking nature’s ass” and “I’m a fish! Wheee!” and “Yay for boobies, I have natural floatation devices”. The last one, I was just thinking about my day and dinner and work tomorrow and then I knew I had done enough. I looked around, and the sun was setting, and when I asked the lifeguard for the time it had been an hour.
Holy crap! An hour swimming with nature and I had stopped all of twice – for less than a minute to adjust my goggles at the shallow side. I didn’t feel tired at all… til I got out. Then the muscle fatigue and shakiness set in (good to know for the swim/bike transition for the longer distance), but I was way too proud of myself to be buggered about it. I was also happy that I realized that at no time was I freaked out because I couldn’t touch bottom. The SANE thing to worry about didn’t really bother me at all.
I am so so so so so glad I decided to do this before the race. I’m pretty sure I would have made it, I”m a tough cookie, but dang that would have been a WAY worse experience with a thousand people kicking me in the face. Definitely doing one more sesh there next week before the race.
I’m also happy I *did* it. It would have been so easy to just not sign up. This was way out of my comfort zone. Old me would have made some excuse about having to drive all the way across town on a weekday and that it wasn’t convient and I didn’t have enough time to really properly train anyway so I might as well do it another time. Me this year put my foot down and said fuck it – I will conquer it, I will do what it takes, and there are no excuses. Like nike says, just do it.
So, I mentioned ONE of the things was open water. The other is heat training/acclimation. I forgot how brutal it is when you’re not used to it. As much as I thought “it’s only a 5k” and “I ran a half marathon in this” – I have to remember that I only succeeded at that half in 80’s (that felt like 90s with humidity) because I trained 100% outside. I had a great and powerful slap in the face courtesy of a 5k I ran Tuesday morning. It felt like I was wading through soup and it was all I could do to keep a 10 min/mile pace. Tomorrow, I’m heading out in the morning for a bike ride in the heat as well. It takes 2 weeks to get acclimated to exertion in the heat, and two weeks is what I got. Can’t say I’ll be sad to bring my training back inside for the rest of August after this, but you gotta do whatcha gotta do.
If last week was the week of discovering new muscles and making them hurt, this week was the week of kicking nature’s ass. Tuesday by surviving my run (seriously pukeworthy), today by swimming with living things, and tomorrow I’ll be terrorizing the ‘hood and tearing it up with a 12 mile ride. What have you kicked in the ass this week?