Open Water

This week has been crazy busy at work. Didn’t manage to get even a run in. But what I had my focus on was the open water swim at Decker Lake this Saturday. Last Saturday in the pool we did a mock open water swim where we swam about 75 yards in a group in a zigzag fashion along the lanes. I was gasping for breath everytime we reached the end of the pool. I was not prepared for the open water at all.

I got a swim in on Thursday at the UT pool which actually felt like a huge improvement already. I focused on my stroke and I think I’ve gotten much faster. I thought I finally figured out what the swim coach at the UT swim class was telling me to do all along. I stretched my arms out long, rotated my body, kept my legs straight and kicked from the hips. Underwater, my arms went down in a straight line and folded under my chest. I tried keeping my elbows up straight out, as high as possible but that’s what slacks off when I get tired.

So when I got to Decker Lake, I was pretty nervous but excited at the same time. Since I was a child, I’ve had a morbid fear of open water. Well, today was the day to overcome it. It’s not like I haven’t been in open water. But that’s been on vacation where I can stray as far as I feel comfortable and not any more. Today I had to at least attempt to follow the training instructions. It was fairly cool and the water was cold. The ladies of Ironchicks were giggling and fake-shrieking in the cold water. It almost felt like it was a vacation and not training. I tepidly moved in the water on the slippery rocks. I tried to swim but I couldn’t. I took a deep breath, put my face in the water and saw nothing but a green opaque wall that felt like it was closing in on me. I tried breathing out but I was swallowing water. I kept jerking my head out and gasping. I started to swim but I couldn’t breathe out in the water. This was so different from the pool where you can see the concrete below. By the time I had about 10 strokes in the others had finished their 20 strokes and were swimming back right into me. A fellow Ichix lady, Stacey offered to stay with me. She said she would swim with me if I wanted and I was glad for that. So we tried the 20 strokes out and back again. Again I couldn’t breathe in for more than 2-3 strokes at a time. But Stacey kept with me and continued to egg me on. Every now and then I could increment the number of strokes and breathe in. Slowly, the green opaque wall became not so terrifying. But unfortunately I’d made a bad breakfast choice! I ate in the car while driving to Decker (because I couldn’t wake up early enough) and while swimming I’d get these incredible urges to belch which made breathing in and out very difficult. I told Stacey that and apologized that I’d have to be rude and belch in order to be able to swim on.

There were 3 buoys and we had to swim around that length and back to the shore. I made it to the first buoy while stopping in between to get breath, treading on the water (and belching). Got to the first and Stacey asked if I wanted to swim back to the shore. While swimming to the first buoy, I saw some of the Ironchicks folks swimming back. But by the time I reached the first buoy I felt good and wanted to go on. Stacey looked surprised. We swam on and I stopped a couple of times to, of course, belch! Kept apologizing to Stacey about being rude but I needed to get the air out of my stomach to be able to breathe. She said better to learn that today than on race day.

That wasn’t the only lesson I learned today. Like any other endurance sport, it is all a mind game. I know how to swim. I can swim for a reasonably long distance too (with breaks of course). But even in the open water, you can take a break and tread water, swim backstroke, breaststroke or whatever it is you need to do to keep moving. Every now and then, you have the fear creep into your mind and sometimes it takes over. That’s when I stopped, treaded water and calmed down and went on. It’s a mind game you play with yourself. At one point I even invoked the little Vedanta I remembered, thinking there is no difference between the water and myself. I became the water and suddenly there wasn’t the fear. It still niggled every now and then. The trick is to figure out what keeps your mind from going down that path and stopping it. And of course, 100 hours of training :).

Finally made it back to the shore, after swimming the whole length, approximately 300-400 meters. That felt great. When I got to the shore, Stacey said I swam strong. While she said she usually blunt so she meant the compliment, I thought about how much her positive reinforcement helped me to make that effort today. She’s a quiet, unassuming lady and Marion’s friend. I really appreciated her today for sticking with me, through the water, stopping when I stopped and swimming along with me, almost touching me so I could get a feel of what race day would feel like. I really felt grateful.

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2 responses to “Open Water

  1. I feel sorry for Stacey, though as I said people do crazy stuff in endurance sports 🙂 And for your Vedanta piece, Jai Gurudev!!

  2. Pingback: Choking in open water | Running Commentary

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