I am knee deep in training for my first sprint triathlon and
I’m feeling more confident with each passing week. Although in total I will only
have “officially” trained for my first sprint triathlon for six weeks, I feel
that it has been a little easier for me for two reasons: I just ran a marathon
and I was on the swim team in high school. My biggest challenge so far has been
getting used to the bike, but that’s another story. The one thing that I wasn’t
sure how to anticipate is the open water portion of the swim. Although I swam
4-5 days a week for three years in high school, I haven’t ever swam freestyle in
the ocean before. I suppose I’ve thrown in a few strokes for good measure, but
I surely haven’t donned a swim cap and googles for a several hundred meter swim
at any point.
Tri Club Resources – A Lesson in Open Water Swimming
My first taste of “open water” swimming was at the Beginner
Triathlon put on but the San Diego Tri Club (see that post here). We swam 300 meters
in the bay on Coronado island and there were about 100 swimmers at the start.
My start group at Solana Beach triathlon will be of similar size (slightly
smaller actually) and distance (400 meters) but the main difference is the waves.
The Solana Beach triathlon has seen VERY
large waves for the last two years; so big that some people don’t finish the swim
as a result. In preparation for the open water portion of the swim, fellow newbie
triathletes Asia, Jeremy and I attended a beginner open water clinic put on by
the Tri Club a couple of weeks ago. We met in Del Mar at 9 a.m. on a Sunday
morning and after a brief instructional, we were paired up with an experienced
swimmer who would teach us the ropes on open water swimming.
Mike came with me to the clinic for support, and also didn’t
wear a wetsuit although nearly everyone else was wearing them(except for Jeremy
whose wetsuit was also backordered from Xterra at the time). Our
experienced swimmer was helpful but hesitant right away about whether or not we
needed any help at all. He started by asking about our experience and Mike
quickly said he was there to support me, and I told him that I had swam in high
school. After questioning our need to be there, he proceeded to give me some helpful hints for entering the water:
- During your warm up, pick a spot on the beach
directly in front of you on shore. Get in the water and then note where the
spot has moved. If you are now to the
left of it, you know that the current is pulling you that way. You can use this information to position
yourself at the correct spot on the beach. If you know the current is going to
pull you to the right, you want to start on the left of the buoy so that you
don’t accidentally miss it and have to back track.
- At the start, run into the water until a wave
comes and then dive underneath it, dolphin kicking as you go.
- Upon returning from the swim, try to catch waves
and use them to body surf in.
After I did a few dolphin dives and then body surfed in on a
big wave, our experienced swimming partner announced “I’m wasting my time. You
know how to swim.” And then told us that we should go for an open water swim on
our own. He pointed out a spot about a half mile away and said to swim to it
and back. He gave us our blessing and swam away! Mike and I looked at each
other, swam for about five minutes, and then decided to go in. It was freezing
with no wet suit and we had planned to do a 7 mile long run with Asia and
Jeremy after the lesson. We didn’t want to wear ourselves out with this
unplanned ocean swim! Despite the fact that I didn’t get much instruction
during the lesson, I felt much more confident coming out of it – an experienced
swimmer noticed that I was a good swimmer! I also learned that open water
swimming is kind of a free for all – there’s not so much you can do to plan for
it. Good to know.
Tri Club Aquathon
Each month in the summer, the San Diego Tri Club puts on an aquathon
event at the La Jolla Shores. The tri club aquathon is a 1,000 meter ocean swim
followed by an approximately 3 mile run on the sand. I was quite nervous to
participate in this event as I have never in my life swum 1,000 meters without
stopping ( I competed in the 500 meter swim in high school once and I was
exhausted afterward) and especially not in the open water where there is no possible
way stop and put my feet on the ground. However, after the ocean water swim and
a solo swim session in the pool that Monday, I felt that I could at the very
least complete the swim without dying and probably not come in last. When looking up the
results from the previous month’s aquathon, I noted that the first swimmer came
in at 10 minutes and the last at 35 with the majority of swimmers completing
the swim in about 20-24 minutes. I figured I’d be in this range, especially
since I didn’t have wetsuit, which can take off up to five minutes per mile on
I planned to arrive at the aquathon by 5:30 so that I could
hear the course talk and get ready before the race. Unfortunately traffic getting
to the race caused us to arrive just six minutes prior. We had to find a spot
for our towels, set out our shoes, strip down and run down the beach to the
start. I didn’t have time to even stretch let alone get in the water and figure
out which was the current was going to take me. However, right before the race
we saw our “expert” swimming buddy from the previous Sunday. He told me that I
was going to great and that he could tell that I’m really good swimmer. That made
me feel SO much more confident. I was seriously more nervous for the aquathon than
I was for the marathon I ran just weeks prior!
We stood ankle deep in the water with over 200 other swimmers when a
horn blew (or someone shouted, I honestly have no idea) and we ran into the
water. Luckily there were no waves that day so the entry was pretty easy.
However, getting around 200 other swimmers was not. The beginner triathlon was quite
crowded, but this was a new level of overwhelming. I was getting kicked, my toes touched both
other swimmers, bumped into, you name it. It was scary at times and definitely
not easy to swim with good form. I just tried to do my best to get around
people as best as I could and to avoid people that were bumping me. The first buoy
seemed pretty far out, and I ended up swimming on the inside of it and having
to back track back to go around it. Several swimmers just ignored the buoy and
turned without going around (cheaters).
At this point things were pretty jammed and there were a
couple people ahead of me that were going slow but I couldn’t pass them. I
finally did and at probably about 400 meters into the swim I finally found a
rhythm. I tried to focus on my breathing and on extending my arms far into the
water and pulling down close to my body. The swim seemed to take forever. I
wasn’t sure how hard to swim and my shoulders were starting to burn and my
breath was heavy but I just wanted to go as hard as I could. By the time I
reached the next buoy, I had to take a few breast strokes to let my shoulders take
a break. I was relieved to see that the final buoy wasn’t too far off and then
all I had to do was swim to shore.
By the time I reached the second buoy, I had a clear reign for
swimming alone and hard. I used the current of the water to get a good pace and
swam in until my hands were nearly touching the bottom. Then I stood up, ran in
and checked the clock – 16:30!!! I was shocked. I had no idea that I could swim
1,000 meters in open water that quickly.
I was slightly disoriented but I found my bag and towel and
put on my shoes and started to run. About ¾ of the way down the .75 mile run to
the pier I saw Mike on the other side. I was surprised that I wasn’t too far
behind him (of course he got much farther ahead on the run). I also saw my open
water swim buddy who shouted words of encouragement. I felt good! Once I turned
at the pier and made my way back toward the finish, I was happy to see that I
was ahead of a lot of people and that there were several still swimming. When I
turned onto my second, and last loop, I was feeling pretty good. In the end, I
finished in 42:20, which means I ran the slightly longer than three-mile course
in about 25 minutes (give or take with transition), which is about a 8:30/mile.
I was happy with that time, as the swim pretty much wiped me out!
Time is Ticking to Race Day!
Race day is in just 2 ½ weeks. I hope to get at least two
more ocean swims in before the race, including the July aquathon which is just
three days before the triathlon. I hope to have my wetsuit in the next couple
of days (Xterra had it backordered until June and then failed to inform me that
it was backordered again until August- after they charged my credit card. I canceled
my order and bought one on Ebay for $20 cheaper and will never do business with this company again) so that I can test it out and get comfortable swimming in it.At this point I’m feeling pretty confident in my ability to swim the 400 meter ocean swim on race
day. The bike is another story….
Misc Open Water Info
I also found this really informative video online (that
takes place in San Diego) about how to enter the water in a triathlon: http://triswimcoachonline.com/tri/open-water-race-entry/
Aquathon swim course:
Aquathon run course: