Sunday, February 19, 2012

Open Water -- Do I Dare?

Saguaro Lake, Arizona on 2/17/2012, temp 46 degrees
I've got to admit, when I sent out the client email advertising an open water swim in the frigid water of Saguaro Lake in mid-February, I was sure I'd have no takers.  I just wanted to put it out there ... maybe pretend like I was willing to jump into the lake.  But hoping everyone would pass.

I was wrong.  Ant wanted to swim and was not about to say no, even when I passed along the info I had received about the lake's temperature: 46 degrees. 

So off we went -- me: hoping I could borrow some friend's canoe and SUV to "supervise" the swim from the safety and warmth of a dry situation.  Ant: eager and ready to try out his virgin 2XU wetsuit and newly acquired swimming skills.

Not gonna lie, that initial take-your-breath-away shock when the water creeps up over your neck hole and down your back for the first time is not fun.  But I soon realized if I could tread water and get used to the cold before I dunked my head, it was going to be okay. 

Ant and I swam the buoy line around Keyhole Marina, a fine place to get in some open water practice.  We had protected water, site-able buoys, and a landscape of lookyloo spectators with whom we provided some great entertainment, I'm sure.  I watched as one couple followed us around the lake with their binoculars, discussing and questioning what/why/how we were in the lake this time of year.  But the pros outweighed the cons this day for the following reasons:

-- Wetsuit Compatibility.  Ant's wetsuit was new, he'd never swam in it and it's a different sensation to swim in something that is constricting around the body.  If there are issues with asthma or having something tight around the chest, it's good to get it and practice and use the wetsuit on a regular basis.

-- Waves.  A pool doesn't have waves, or pitch-black water. And there are definitely no lines along the bottom of a lake.  It's a completely different situation to swim without walls to push off or lane lines to follow.  The more comfortable you are in the lake, the better you will perform in a race.

-- Temps.  Most pools heaters are set on about 82 degrees, give or take.  A dip in an ocean or lake, while shocking, gives you a more realistic perspective on what you'll be swimming in come race day.  I've yet to swim in a balmy lake or ocean, besides IM Florida's Gulf swim, that is warm and comfy from the get-go.  Get used to diving into headachy cold water and you'll be one step ahead of your competitors when the cannon goes off.

Experience counts in triathlon.  And the comfort that comes from knowing your wetsuit works and you can handle the colder temps of a lake or ocean are all confidence builders for triathletes.  Make it a point to go jump in the lake on a regular basis.  You'll be glad you did. 

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