I participated in my first competitive Open Water Swim recently at the first Splash and Dash of the year. Growing up around lakes and swimming in them every summer, I thought the open water swim would be a piece of cake. I read race reports in which people mentioned panicking during the swim and I scoffed, “I grew up around water.”
I got to the Tempe Marina around 4:20pm as I didn’t know what to expect from this type of event. Unsurprisingly, I was one of the first people there so I got my bib and chip then sat on my towel in the transition area to wait. An hour later, things were finally getting going, and a quick swim clinic by WannaTri was getting started. I went down to the WannaTri tent to listen to the tips then started getting really nervous about my wetsuit. All I’ve done with my wetsuit in the past was try it on and wear it around the house for 10 minutes. I’ve never actually worn it for swimming.
My partner was supposed to be here by this point but there was no sign of him. I’d have to get the wetsuit on all by myself. I inched my wetsuit on after liberally greasing up with Body Glide on my neck, shoulders, wrists, calves and ankles (this was a smart move) and pulled the suit up over and over and over. A fellow athlete pulled up the string and then asked how I wanted the string. (???) Maybe this is one of those things that will one day make sense in retrospect. Walking into the water, I really only noticed how tight the knees felt. Is that normal? I have no idea.
After five minutes idling in the water, we were off! We started swimming around a rectangle of orange, yellow, and green buoys. And *OMG*, I can’t breathe, I think I might pass out, or die, or something. I stuck my head above water, paddled for a second, then started breaststroking. I’d do this if it killed me. Trying to be rationale, I listed the positives 1) I can swim this distance 2) the wetsuit is on correctly and 3) I grew up swimming in open water. I kept swimming freestyle until the panic hit again, switched to breaststroke, and repeated as necessary. If I really felt like I would pass out, I gave myself the option of getting out of the water but otherwise, I was chalking this swim up as a mental toughness day.
I knew what the problem was, but I couldn’t fix it in the water. I was too hot in my wetsuit, which caused me to feel overheated, claustrophobic and panicky. I had to keep stopping in order to pull the wetsuit away from my neck to let in the cold water which relieved it temporarily. Also, I couldn’t see the buoys or the sides of the lake. I have crappy vision along with color blindness and I couldn’t see the buoys until I was close, which made me constantly panic that I was off course. I had no way to guide me as I also couldn’t see my position relative to the lake walls, again given my crappy vision. The solution for the future would be to swim in colder water or a sleeveless wetsuit and to find contact lenses. These would substantially reduce two of the things that caused me to panic in the water. Also, practice. (I do have a practice open water swim coming up, thank goodness. Apparently, I was much too optimistic about my skills in the open water).
After the swim, the run (the “dash”) felt like a piece of cake. Due to construction, the course had shortened from 3.1 mi to 2.5 mi. My splits were much better than my training paces in the recent 2 months (since the knee pain started) but unfortunately, the sustained, fast pace seems to have really aggravated my right ankle.
Results: My swim time was longer than I’d hoped given my swim times in practice but also, considering how often I stopped and doggy paddled, it was superb. The run time was slower than my fastest 5K but considering how slowly I am running during my average run, it was a nice surprise to see I could still put down the hammer for a timed race.