Sunday, 31 May 2015

First open water swim in five simple steps

I could feel the nerves welling up in me the night before, a bit like the feeling you get the night before an important exam, coupled with a feeling of disbelief that the following day I would be doing something I never expected to be doing in a million years - swimming in open water. The next day I would tackle my first open water swim practice for my first ever triathlon in July, which I'm doing to raise money for the charity, Pregnancy Sickness Support.

Susi and Jason at the open water swim venue, Cliff Lakes Open Water Swimming, were really helpful. Susi sorted me out with a wetsuit (£5 per hire) and Jason talked me through my first attempt at open water swimming.

Based on my very limited experience, here are my five steps to your first open water swim.

Step one. Lower yourself into the lake, checking first that it's shallow enough to stand up. I've made that mistake in the pool before now when I dropped into the water expecting my feet to hit the bottom only to discover it was the deep end and I went completely under. Not cool! I certainly didn't fancy repeating that in a freezing cold lake.

Step two. Open the neck of your wetsuit to let all that cold water flood in (brace yourself first!). I never did the ice bucket challenge but I imagine the sensation is pretty similar. Thankfully the suit did then start to warm up a bit but that only made me even more aware of how freezing my hands and feet were. Apparently, it's perfectly normal for your extremities to go numb!

Step three. Swim up and down without putting your head in the water so that your body gets used to the temperature and the feeling that your chest is being squeezed. Just imagine you're one of those ladies of a certain age you see at the swimming pool. You know, the ones who swim side by side, managing to maintain a full conversation while not letting a hair stray out of place or get wet. I've always wondered how they do that!

Step four. Start "face-in-the-water-swimming". At this point, I think my hands and feet might have warmed up a bit, although it could have been because I was distracted by the feeling of cold water sloshing about in my ears. I always get water in my ears at the pool but it never bothers me too much apart from making me a bit deaf! Presumably, it was the difference in temperature between the lake and my ears that made it much more noticeable. I might have to invest in some ear plugs. Wetsuit lubrication is also on the shopping list but that's another story!

Make sure that you watch out for obstacles. In my case it was a jetty which seemed to appear out of nowhere from the green murkiness. I lifted my head and there it was, right in front of me. Next task is to learn how to look where I'm going whilst swimming.

Step five. Emerge triumphantly from the lake. Make sure there is something or someone nearby to hold on to (fence, husband, random stranger) in case, like me, you feel a bit dizzy. Again, this is normal (apparently). On this occasion my husband was on hand to oblige but on triathlon day one of my fellow competitors might get more than they bargained for!
This has also shattered the illusion that, on exiting the triathlon swim, I will sprint Brownlee-style to my bike whilst simultaneously stripping off my wetsuit to my waist. Instead, I now have an image of me, slightly dazed, staggering to the sea of bikes in the transition area wondering where on earth I left my bike. Hmmm could be interesting!

So there you have it. My first attempt at open water swimming in five "simple" steps. Overall, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be and my nerves soon disappeared once I was in the water. Just as well - I'm doing it all over again on Saturday although this time I'll not be hogging the shoreline but swimming out into the middle of the lake. Wish me luck!

If you have enjoyed reading this or are even slightly impressed by my attempt at "extreme swimming", please consider sponsoring me. My fundraising page is here. Thank you.

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