My First Open Water Swim

by - Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Holy crap the Chesapeake Bay is cold.

That's what I was thinking as my my training buddy Zach and I waded into the water Sunday afternoon. The air temperature was in the low 60s and the water was somewhere in the 50s.


Getting ready for my first open water swim
Don't let the sunshine fool you. It was cold.

Open water swimming was extremely humbling.

I'm a strong swimmer in the pool. I don't tire easily and my form has improved tons in the last few months. Swimming is the one sport in triathlon where I have a very clear edge over Zach. At least in the pool.

In choppy bay waves, it's totally different.

Zach destroyed me in the open water.

Zach getting ready to swim
Zach getting ready to swim

I've been referring to Sunday's open water adventure as an epic failure. Zach more kindly prefers to call it a learning experience.

It didn't bother me that much to not have a lane line, but I really, really struggled with sighting the buoys in the distance. It took a while for me to get into a rhythm of breathing and sighting. During my first couple of laps I had to alternate between freestyle and breast stroke to sight, but by the end I had gotten used to picking my head up out of the water in the middle of my freestyle stroke.

My form though was all over the place. I was having a hard time getting used to swimming in a wetsuit and I felt a little restricted in my arm movement. I kept swinging my left arm super high out of the water trying to improve my range of motion. Not only did it look ridiculous, but it wasted a lot of energy.

Bad form
This is bad form. Don't do this.

I was also having a hard time figuring out how to breath. With the waves coming in I could only really breath on one side without getting a face full of water. I ended up swallowing a mouthful of bay at one point. It was fairly disgusting.

Toward the end of our swim, Zach decided to swim behind me and swat at my feet so I'd get used to being bumped in the water. That didn't bother me too much. But then I started to veer off course a little bit and all of sudden Zach was swimming over me.

Right onto my back.

My first instinct was to throw an elbow, but I didn't. He correct pretty quickly, and he didn't swim over my head or anything, so it wasn't quite as scary as I expected it would be. But I can totally see how stuff like that would cause someone to panic in the water.

Swimming in the bay
Just keep swimming, just keep swimming

I have no idea how long we swam for. We ended up taking a decent amount of breaks to get out and warm our hands and feet up. We eventually called it quits when neither of us could control the movement in our hands anymore since they had started to curl into claws.

My fingers were useless for the next 20 minutes. I couldn't get out of my wetsuit, nor could I tie my shoelaces after changing. The water was definitely chilly.

I'm really, really glad to have done at least one open water swim before my race. It was a humbling experience. I'm not used to moving that slowly through the water. I seriously felt like I was crawling.

The waves made me miss the nice smooth water in the pool.

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