Last night after my plans to swim with Mike at his company pool were canceled, I asked Jeremy if he’d like to do an open water swim at the beach right near our houses (Asia and Jeremy now live just a block away from us) instead. During my run with Asia on Sunday she had mentioned that Jeremy wanted to go swimming in Moonlight Beach so I figured he’d be up for a Monday evening swim. Luckily he was. Once I got home I suited up, slapped on some body glide (learned a valuable lesson last Wednesday on my first open water swim in the form of a nasty rash on my neck!) and literally walked out my front door. Despite living in the tiniest 2 bedroom apartment in Encinitas, one of the major perks of said apartment is that it is literally steps from the ocean. The sun was shining, it was over 70 degrees and I knew the water would be warm. As soon as I saw Jeremy I said “I wonder why we never did this during Ironman training!?” and we couldn’t come up with a good reason for why not.
We briefly talked about how long/far we’d swim. I was swearing my fancy Garmin that can track swim distance and thinking back to my Ironman training days, I said “2000 yards?!” He looked at me incredulously and admitted when he swam yesterday he swam out to the buoy, did one lap and came back (his first swim in many months as well). I then thought back to the previous Wednesday’s swim – I didn’t wear a watch but probably wasn’t in the water longer than 20 minutes. I told him I at least wanted to swim 1,000 meters since that was how long the swim at my upcoming triathlon is. We decided to play it by ear.
There are two buoys in Moonlight Beach and you rarely see swimmers out there. I had never swam to them and from the beach they looked pretty close. We waded in the water and navigated the waves. The waves were fairly large for Encinitas – not huge but big enough to create some large swells even after we got past the break. We swam for what seemed like quite a while before reaching the buoy. I looked at my watch. Barely 200 yards. I looked back at the beach. It seemed far away. I looked at the next buoy – also seemed far. I was still distracted by all of this when we made our way to the buoy, which was about 50 or so yards away, depending on how straight you swam (when we first started to swim, Jeremy pulled on my leg and told me I was swimming out to sea rather than the buoy….oops). We turned around, headed back and then made our way back. 1 loop down. We started the next loop and all of a sudden a big, scary thought popped in my mind:
During ever swim in the open ocean (as compared to a bay – no fears there other than ending up with sewage on my face), the thought of sharks enters my mind. Usually, it’s a fleeting thought and doesn’t really scare me. Usually, however, I do open water swims with a fairly large group. By the law of numbers, I figure I’m not likely to be eaten alive by Jaws’ cousin. However, with just Jeremy and I out there, my chances of being dinner were higher if he so happened to come across us.
Jeremy was swimming so that he kept me to his right so he could watch me and pace off me (he is very nice!) so on the swims north, he would be on the “outside” of the ocean – i.e. closer to Jaws. On the way back, I’d be on the outside. This is when I’d get especially scared. I literally couldn’t’ keep the thought of the sharks out of my head. At one point I ran into some seaweed and immediately popped my head up in fear. JAWS? No, seaweed. I kept looking to my left and right, waiting for the shark to come out of nowhere. At one point I had the realization that he could actually come at me from beneath me! I couldn’t see the ocean floor so it was a real possibility. My face could get eaten off before I had a chance to react.
If you are to google, “shark attacks in San Diego” the first result is a Wikipedia list of unprovoked shark attacks in the United States. The list is short. On it, however, is Dave Martin, who was killed while training for a triathlon with a group of 8 fellow swimmers from the San Diego Triathlon Club on April 25th 2008. He was attacked by a Great White just a couple miles from where I was swimming last night, in Solana Beach. Since that attack, there have only been 5 other fatal shark attacks in the US, two of which were in Santa Barbara County. Basically, my chances of being hit and killed by a car during a bike ride (ok this scares me too!) are 10000x higher than me being attacked by a shark. Yet, for some reason I couldn’t get the shark out of my head last night.
I grew up in a beach town and have a lot of experience in the ocean. It has never scared me and I consider myself a strong swimmer. The biggest fears I’ve had related to the swim portion of the triathlon are always related to getting clobbered and/or swam over by large men at the Ironman mass start. So for me, these fears were new. I know that a lot of people have fears of open water for reasons other than being eaten alive – fears of strong currents and drowning are also serious and significant fears.
However, all of these fears can be conquered. ACTIVE.com has a great article (see here) which reviews the 4 biggest open water fears and how to overcome them. As for the fear of lurking creatures, the best tip I found and will try to implement is “remember YOU are the lurking creature.” When you put it into perspective that you are probably scaring off way more fish that you do not plan to actually harm than the one BIG and IMAGINARY fish you are scared of, it helps reduce anxiety. Another useful tip is to focus on something else during the swim –such as counting strokes or focusing on a strong pull, rather than letting your mind wander into the unknown.
In the end, I pushed past my fears and stayed in the water for about 25 minutes. I’m not sure I’ve quite conquered them yet, but last night’s swim and today’s reflection (and research) on the unlikeliness of a shark attack happening have helped get me in the right direction.
What is your biggest fear when it comes to open water swimming?