“It’s Like Swimming in a Washing Machine.” : The First Open Water Swim

The first open water swim has come and gone.  I woke up at 5am on Saturday and jumped out of my bed, ready to take on Coney Island with a force that would even surprise myself.  I had a rhythm down when swimming in the pool and was excited to see it translate to the open water.  I headed out at 5:45 to meet a fellow TNT-er at the subway, picked up a few more along the way, and we made the nearly 1.5 hour trek to the ocean. 

We got there, met the rest of the team, pulled on our wetsuits and waited anxiously, excitedly, and nervously to hit the water. 

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 After splitting up into 3 groups, we ran in!  No swimming at first – just getting acclimated to the water (which was colder than I expected!)and getting loose (jumping around, putting our heads under the water, and shaking our arms and shoulders to release any tension).  So far so good.

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Then it was time to actually swim.  We picked buddies to swim with and headed back in.  I was nervous, but still excited – until I started swimming.  I put my head under and started going.  Stroke – the water was murky and it was hard to see.  Nothing like the pool.  Stroke – there were people’s feet kicking and arms moving all around me.  It was a little claustrophobic and reminded me of the scene in Titanic after the ship sank and everyone was crowded and flailing together in the water.  Stroke – I had heard that ocean swimming can be like swimming in a washing machine and I was suddenly aware of the waves and all that was different from the pool.  Breathe – I had forgotten to breathe out, so when I turned my head to take a breath, I couldn’t.  Then I think I forgot how to breathe altogether.  Alright, panic attack, I feel you coming.  Let’s just get this over with.  My buddy was calm, cool and collected and totally helped me out, but it was too late – I was too far inside my head and there was no turning back.  I kept trying though, but it was hard to push my head under the water, and my body was so tense.  I was frustrated and it showed.  After a little bit, I got out of the ocean to shake it off and headed straight to the head coach for advice.  So helpful.  He calmed me down, reassured me, and reminded me that I had done this in practice.

Ok, back into the water, where I was greeted by some TNT pals – some who were experiencing the same thing I was, and others who swam next to me and offered their own advice.  By the time the open water swim ended, I was just getting comfortable.  I left the ocean feeling let down, but confident that I could do it the next time. After the swim (and 5-mile boardwalk run that followed), we feasted!  We all gathered at one of the millions of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs where I had fries and calmed myself down with a good old Coney Island Mermaid.

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Here are some things I learned:

You will probably get hit or kicked along the way. There are a ton of people in that water – some pros, some beginners, all trying to reach the same finish line. With all the arm strokes and kicks, it would be a wonder if you made it through without any hits! Get used to it. (And for the love of God, don’t think about that scene in Titanic while you’re swimming!!)

Learn to sight. There is no thick black line at the bottom of the ocean to help guide your way like there is in the pool. (And if there is, the water is too murky and gross to see it anyway!)

Breathe.  Every time I felt an inkling of uncertainty, I held my breath. I forgot to breathe, which added to the whole panic thing. Breathing is pretty key. Who knew? 😉

Relax.  Much easier said than done, but once you remember everything (that you’re not going to drown, that your wetsuit is buoyant, that you know what you’re doing because you’ve done it in the pool, that breathing is kind of an important part of swimming, that slower and calm strokes will get you there faster and more efficiently than quicker, rushed strokes, that you’re not trying to race or keep up with anyone so it’s fine to just go at your own pace, that YOU’VE GOT THIS) you will relax. And you will be fine. And you will enjoy the swim.

Ok so maybe my first attempt at open water swimming wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be, but it was a learning experience and can only get better. The next ocean swim is in July so you can bet that I’ll be back out at Coney Island – wetsuit and all – working on my open water swimming before then. Whether it be by myself (near the lifeguards of course, Mom), with other TNT team members, or with other friends, I’ll be there. But at least I didn’t leave the ocean feeling completely defeated, so I guess there’s always that.  And I had a great day with my team!

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 I went to the pool this morning before work to make sure I still had it in me. We’re supposed to be able to swim 20 consecutive minutes before the triathlon, and I did 17 right off the bat pretty easily and ended up swimming a total of 40 mins.  Coney Island won’t know what hit it next time.

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