Reflections of an Open Water Swimmer

Firstly, I need to point out the title of this entry. Get it, eh? Come on. I was quite proud of thinking this one up,  although I fully acknowledge it probably my most pretentious blog name to date. I am also not sure I can class myself as a really serious open water swimmer, for example I don’t go finding isolated rivers in the Welsh mountains to swim naked at midnight, and have not yet traversed a Scottish lock in December or anything crazy like that.

But I do manage a little bit, and had a great session this morning in the lake at Ragley Hall, scoping out the venue for my next adventure which is now just two weeks ago today. Open water (OW) swimming in a new location can be daunting, especially in a race situation, and I find it makes a huge difference if you have been there before and know the entry & exit points, water clarity, depths and so on to take the sting out of things on the big day. I managed to swim for just over an hour before the session ended, completing 7 laps of the 400 metre course, although due to a bit if wayward drifting on some of the back straights I probably covered around 3 km in all.

Ragley LakeOpen Water Madness2

As usual I had plenty of time to think during the swim, so without further ado here are my top 10 reflections today:

  1. My body was still a little stiff from Thursday’s football (see last blog)  but fortunately did not seem to affect my swimming, nor did the large steak and bottle of wine last night, which was good news. That said, I am not planning on repeating this ahead of the next race just to be on the safe side.
  2. My clear OW goggles worked perfectly with no leakage or fogging throughout the entire session. Unlike my tinted ones which I used in my Cornish sea session which needed emptying every few minutes or so. Lets hope it is not too bright on race day!
  3. Although mine still fits, I had a bit of wetsuit envy today. My wetsuit is actually my oldest piece of proper triathlon equipment (my goggles don’t count as I used them for pool swimming), and is coming up for 5 years old now. At the time is cost nearly £100 online, which seemed a lot back then. Oh how little I knew about how expensive this hobby would turn out to be – bike, trainers, clothing, etc – and funnily enough it is now one of the cheaper things I own!
  4. People should not wear pink swim caps when there are pink buoys. OW sighting can be tricky enough as it is, without wondering why your turning marker is gradually drifting further away from you the more you swim. The mind plays tricks!
  5. My pool swim style is different, as I tend to do ‘bilateral breathing’, which means coming up for air on alternate sides, usually every three strokes, which is the most balanced way of swimming crawl. For some reason in OW I tend to breathe only on my left side every other stroke, which could be down to comfort, exertion, or simply needing to breath more often with the effort. Whilst it gets me more oxygen to keep going, the side effect it a tenancy to drift off line, so have to correct every few sets to ensure I swim as straight (and short distance) as possible.
  6. The marshals always mark you with a permanent pen for safety reasons, which is fully understandable (see my report on the Stratford Tri). This is ok it is when out of sight, on say your ankle, but I now have a huge number  63 on back of my hand which may well last until next weekend and raise a few questions at work tomorrow.
  7. Training could not be more different from racing, and is a lot like rugby in this sense. People apologise and sometimes even stop if they accidentally tap your leg when swimming alongside you in training or get in your way. In races, it is the opposite case, where some even seem to deliberately elbow or dunk you to get past without a second glance. See above for examples of before and during pictures. Wetsuits and matching swim caps make it particularly difficult to recognise them later on to try and get your own back…
  8. Nutrition plays an interesting role in tri swims. There are loads of strategies as to how much fluid to take on during the bike leg and when, what sort of gels to use, etc. But there is not really much you can do in the water, unless you are on one of the crazy 10 km swims, or doing the channel or something. I read an interesting story about legendary coach Brett Sutton not allowing his students to drink during swim training, on the basis they can’t do it during a race, so it is best not to get used to it. And if the guy who has coached most of the Kona winners in recent years says so, I guess it is a reasonable philosophy.
  9. Swimming really is for all ages, and triathlon even more so. I would go as far as to say I was one of the youngest there today, one of only a few in my age group of U35, possibly even U40, which gives me some hope that I have a while left in this game. I am not sure how this reflects on me now though. I felt a bit like Manny in Modern Family at one point: old before my time!
  10. One always seem to come across suspiciously warm patches in what is otherwise a cold lake. That is all on this point…
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