Wednesday, 24 June 2009

first open water swim!

As an Australian kid, i spent a bit of time in creeks, rivers, dams and lakes. Any body of water larger than a puddle was fair game to me, and my mum loves telling me stories of her turning her back, and me darting to the nearest lick of water for a swim attempt. As a result, i started swimming at 18 months old. Mum clearly wasn't taking any risks.

For the London Triathlon in August i need to swim in the Thames. It's not something i've been looking forward to, at all. Like i've said, whales have *died* in these waters. And while i've had my fair share of swimming in random water bodies as a kid, it doesn't compare to swimming competitively - so last night i went to my first training open water session.

The session was held in central London's Hyde Park, in a lake called the Serpentine. It was run by these clever kids,

I arrived just in time, with husband in tow for moral support/hot drink provider, and pulled on my wetsuit, slowly and painfully. The changing room was filled of groans and grunts, it was a very dodgy sounding affair.

We separated into three groups; fitness, technique and new to open water technique. I went into the last group, but upon reflection really should have gone into the second. The instructors were good communicators, and knew their stuff, but the groups were so large it made personal advice pretty much impossible. They do offer one to one training, so if you want anything more than general advice, that would be the best option.

So, open water, how was it?

The lake itself was pretty gross; weeds, rubbish, algae, stuff that moved, stuff that should have moved. But luckily - there were also other triathletes in the water - and when swimming my focus wasn't on all that lurked beneath - but trying to stay out of harms way from all the legs and feet and elbows and hands thrashing all around. It encouraged my stroke to stay long and strong, to get away from the others and into the settled water. Luckily i was able to do this pretty comfortably, but this is all going to change on race day without a doubt!

It was all going pretty well, for 45 minutes or so - and then it all went wrong. Earlier that morning i'd woken up with a cramp in my arch. Really painful, and no doubt a result of my previous days mammoth brick session (and lack of sufficient recovery). I've always been prone to toe cramps in cold water, but as i was in the lake last night, overtaking my last swimmer to take the lead, i got a cramp in my left calf. A show stopping, calf-clutching, face squinting cramp. I hobbled over to the edge of the lake, pulled myself out, and it was all over.

So i've learnt i'm not invincible. I can't expect to go hard on bricks, just drink a bit of water afterwards, and not suffer the consequences. I've never liked the idea of refueling after training because it feels like i'm 'wasting' the efforts - but clearly there's a reason why every other person does this except for me. I'm wrong! (husband take note, i've said it!)

I'm not sure i'll go to another session, as the lake itself wasn't half as much as a problem i was anticipating. It was great experience swimming in the rough + tumble with others, and learning how to sight, and i might try another cold swim in the wetsuit to ascertain i won't have a repeat cramping experience.

Overall though, swimming in dirty water wasn't a terrible experience. There's too much else going on to think about it too much; sighting, legs, arms, technique, breathing. It wasn't even that bad during the moments i was literally swimming through weeds (god that sounds optimistic, but hey - the whale really did die, so optimism isn't really an option. it's a necessity).


ironjack35 said...

I'm craving my open water swims - summer seems like a very long way away! But I actually mentioned swimming in the Thames to my tri coach this week - he's English and is still coaching a few people over there. He assured me that they have significantly cleaned it up in recent years and it's nearly good enough to drink??!!! I'll take your advice on that!! Good luck anyway!

al said...

brilliant, great to hear - not sure i'll be drinking it though!!! how about i bottle a little for you, and you let me know how it goes down :)