On Tuesday May 9th I did my first open water swim, a half mile. Years ago, I thought about doing an open water swim. I learned about Swim Across America and I’ve gone on their website from time to time to see where their open water swims are. While that was my original plan for this year, the costs to travel to one (because I was looking at Florida) were costly when I need to be saving money for a house. I reached out to a fellow yoga teacher who does a lot of open water swimming and asked about the pool she trains at and open water swims in the area. Since January, I have been going to coached swim sessions on some Saturdays, usually 2x a month right now as my schedule allows. I then swim 1-2x at my local YMCA each week. The outdoor 50M pool just reopened on May 1st and I’m so excited to have that again this summer.
The swim club that I go to for coached sessions holds monthly open water swims in the local river. It’s very affordable to do one swim and it’s less than a 15-minute drive from me. Given that this would be my first open water swim, I thought it would be a great place to start. I also loved the idea of doing a half mile and then the next month signing up for the mile if the half felt good.
Please enjoy this long recap of my half mile swim.
When I told some people I was doing an open water swim, they asked if I was doing a triathlon. No, I just wanted to do the open water swim to see if I could do it. I mean I knew I could do the half mile given that I can swim 2 miles in the pool with few breaks but open water is still different.
Over the last year I have gained so much muscle from adding swimming to my routine. Swimming has also improved my endurance which was not great before. I did weightlift, but did not have much cardio in my routine aside from walking. (Walking is great, but doesn’t get your heart rate up like swimming and running can). With that, my only goal was to finish. I didn’t have a specific time in mind. I knew I could swim a half mile in the pool around 16-17 minutes. I knew it would take longer in open water because there are no walls to kick off of.
So I bought myself a wetsuit back in March because the river could be cold in May. Turned out it was 65 degrees. I still wore my wetsuit but I expected the water to be around 50-55 degrees. I think the mild winter and the warm weather we had a few weeks ago contributed to above average temp for May. No complaints though, because it was easy to get in with the wetsuit and I didn’t need the gloves or wetsuit socks I had.
My swim was at 5pm. I actually took a half day from work and Brian was able to come down. I was very thankful his schedule worked out to come because a new wetsuit is hard to put on and I needed a bit of help. We got there early, about 4:15. I wasn’t sure if you could warm up before swimming. I think I could have but I just watched the volunteer crew go at 4:30. I got in about 5 minutes before we started, filling up my wetsuit with water to adjust to the temp and floating on my buoy. Then it was go time.
I think I started out too fast, but I was struggling with the collar on my wetsuit being so tight around my neck. I started to panic a bit as I was stroking. I was wondering how I was going to make it. I read about how in open water swimming you can’t see a thing in the water typically. That was definitely true and made it difficult. It’s really a mental battle because you can’t see where you are going. Then add wearing a new wetsuit and not being used to the feeling around my neck. I told myself to calm down though, take breaths each way if I needed and I needed to slow my breathing down. I felt so out of breath in that start.
I’ve been taking cold showers since November to help anxiety and as a way of meditating. I think practicing cold showers for months really helped me in this swim. In a cold shower, you have to learn to breathe slowly and that’s what I needed to do to stop panicking during the swim. I began slowing my breath down, thinking of the way I breath in the cold shower to try to catch my breath. I switched to breast stroke for a bit to try to see ahead. One thing I often worried about with open water swimming was if I had to swim freestyle the whole time. I have issues with swimming long distance freestyle because of my right shoulder, but I have strengthened that over the last year with weightlifting and swim sessions. However, I still like to balance out freestyle and breast stroke whenever possible. No one was stopping me from switching. It was also difficult because my goggles kept fogging up. I need to figure something out for next time, but I would almost stop and tread water while wiping my goggles quickly every so often.
I felt I was drifting far right as I swam. I tried to keep a person within sight the whole time. Once I got to the first buoy and quickly the second to turn back towards the start, I felt a lot better. My strokes were also feeling better. By the time I made it halfway I was giving myself pep talks like “Alicia you can do this. You’ve made it half way.”
When I could see the finish, I got excited. I was getting tired, but knew I could make it. I had no idea how much time I was swimming because my watch doesn’t measure open water so I left it with Brian. I turned around the last buoy and tried to increase my speed to go through the finish.
I came through the finish, touching the white banner and was so excited to get out and truly catch my breath. Brian said I was going so fast when I came back in his viewpoint. I didn’t feel fast, but my time was 20:20.
Only about 3 minutes longer than a pool half mile for me which I don’t think is bad. I was very glad I stuck with a half mile for my first. I don’t know how I would have made another lap. I do still want to go for a mile next time. I felt like I was more than prepared except for the wetsuit feeling and panic at the start. I was fighting a bit of a current upriver so that could have been my reason for feeling so out of breath at the start also.
Afterwards, I took my wetsuit halfway down and chatted with people. The weather was perfect 70 degrees and I air dried. I didn’t even need my towel I brought. I was really happy to have finished. Knowing my time is great but I wasn’t after any time goal.
One of my friends asked how I did in comparison to the other people and honestly I did not notice nor care. What mattered to me was that I completed it. It was me against the water and I wanted to finish. I was successful. When I reflected on that, I was like wow I need to think this way with weightlifting. It doesn’t matter what others are lifting, it’s you competing against you (and in a safe way/with proper form please).
Why did I do an open water swim? To see if I could (knowing I could)
I did this purely for fun, for a new challenge. In the end, I achieved my goal to finish. Next month I’ll try the mile swim.
We stopped for ice cream after since we skipped dinner.
And thanks to Brian for being there because that helped me feel less nervous and also taking awesome photos with my camera and zoom lens.