Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Open water swimming

No, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. The whole moving business, combined with a total lack of running (waaaah!) to report on, has kept me largely off the blogosphere lately.

A couple weekends ago, still resting my Achilles, I watched the Niantic Bay Triathlon (sprint distance - 0.5 mile swim, 12 mile bike, 3.5 mile run). It was the first triathlon I'd ever watched in person, and was well attended with over 500 entrants and probably an equal or greater number of spectators. The whole event was inspiring enough to make me think of trying it myself next year. The idea of getting a lot better at swimming and biking is intriguing.

I watched the swim from a hill above the beach, and marveled at the speed of the swimmers and the distance they were covering in ocean water. Then I headed over to the transition area to study what sort of gear the athletes used, and how they handled the transition from swim to bike, and then from bike to run. I literally took notes as this was new to me. My only experience with triathlons pretty much comes from watching parts of the Ironman on TV, and reading a little about triathlons online and more recently in library books.

A week or so later, inspired by the triathlon and also by the Olympics on TV, I headed out into the ocean myself on back-to-back days to try a little open water swimming. My goal was to get myself introduced to open water swimming, so that it would not seem quite so daunting mentally or physically. The first mental/physical hurdles were the weather and water conditions; they were virtually identical each day: about 60 degrees air temperature at 6 am, water temp around 73-74, flat calm. So no problems there. Yes, I swam early... it's light here earlier in the day than in central Florida, and I like to get up and get my exercise in and have the rest of the day free. I was pleased to feel warm enough which was a minor concern after living in Florida until July. The next mental/physical hurdle was dealing with the large number of jellyfish inhabiting the bay. Apparently there is a bumper crop of them this year. My technique was to swim between them, and I guess I got lucky, as I escaped unscathed. One beach walker was surprised I got in the water with them at all. Another told me I deserved a good day for swimming so early. I thought that was nice. I've never been stung by jellyfish before (I used to catch them in my beach pail as a boy, actually) so I'm either lucky or the jellies like me.

Speaking of technique, I found that my swimming technique was much worse than I feared. I learned that it's one thing to flail across a pool, or swim the length underwater, but something else entirely to swim hundreds of yards in open water. You have to actually breathe. Imagine that! Swimming without breathing doesn't work well for longer swims (which I define as 100+ yards). It's tiring trying to swim with mostly your arms (again, still resting the Achilles) while keeping an eye out for jellies.

I have a very long way to go indeed.