Open Water Swimming

Because I signed up for a mid-May triathlon, I knew that I would have limited options for open water swimming. And while I’m really happy I signed up for an early in the season race, since it’s kept me training since January, the open water swim aspect of it is definitely one where I feel like I’m not well trained. I don’t do well in cold, for starters, so this made me nervous, and then with the winter and late start to spring that we’ve had, well, it’s even scarier.

I’m wearing a wetsuit, which makes open water swimming possible, but not delightful. My wetsuit is a 3/2 by O’Neill which means that the arms are 2mm and the body is 3mm. Since I’ve recently gained weight, the best part is that this particular suit is pretty stretchy and still fits. The 2mm on the arms also means that my arms can move a bit more easily. I think it’s technically for surfing. My sweet husband got me a wetsuit for Christmas but the sizing chart was very confusing and while my measurements were between the small and medium, the weight put me in the medium/large and he bought me a small and the mediums were completely sold out when we went to exchange it. So while he owes me a wetsuit, I’ve opted not to buy/rent one for this particular race, because again, I’ve gained some weight and I want to get back down to my fighting weight before I invest in a wetsuit.

So yesterday, we hit one of the state parks which had just put it’s swim lines in. The water was really, really, really cold. I have no idea what the actual temperature was, but let’s just go with cold. The tri water is likely to be mid 60s, so hopefully this wasn’t warmer than that. When I first started swimming, I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs and I couldn’t breathe and then I went too fast and was out of breath AND couldn’t breathe. So I got out of the water, then got back in, knelt down to chest height, and forced myself to take deep breaths. I put my face in the water and then came out and took a deep breath. This all helped. Then I was finally able to swim a full "lap" of the swim area, took a break to check in with my husband, then swam another 4 "laps", so the total was close to a mile, since each lap was .1 mile. I felt towards then end like I could definitely swim a mile, but I couldn’t feel my feet by the end and got out. I’m considering getting neoprene socks for the tri, I know they will cost me time in transition but being able to feel my feet is important to me. Somebody on the internet also recommended doublecapping, that is, wearing a thick silicone swim cap under your race cap, which is totally genius and did not occur to me at all.

Between now and the race (which is 2 weeks away), I am going to be hitting our outdoor pool to open water swim in my tri clothes (to figure out where I chafe), and trying a few other cold-water-acclimation strategies. Namely, freezing cold showers. (Sob!) I tried it this morning and taking a freezing cold shower also causes my chest to tighten and my breathing to shorten, so this will be a good way to force myself to get used to cold water. Also, apparently people who acclimate to cold water are able to raise their body temperature just by thinking about it, so I remain optimistic that maybe this means I can only wear two sweaters in the wintertime. There is also a SBR (swim-bike-run) with the local tri club next Sunday that I will be doing, which will be a great taper + practice swim. I’m not really sure how to properly taper for a tri, so my plan is to just do short brick workouts for the next two weeks. Today I’m going running after I bike home, tomorrow I’m thinking to swim & spin, etc. I also need to be getting up in the morning and exercise, so that I’m used to getting up early and working out hard starting at 7am.

How is your training going? Any open water swim tips?


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