Having signed up for Ironman UK 2018 I thought it would be best to get in some open water swimming practice beforehand. I thought about continuing with my pool swimming from now until early spring 2018, but then thought why not have a couple of open water swims now (summer / early autumn 2017) to find my feet, get used to it and then hit the ground running properly next year.
So in typical fashion, I signed up for the Swim Serpentine 2 mile swim on 16th September before even stepping foot in a lake or even owning a wetsuit. Crazy right? some may say so, I like to do this, I find that this gives me the motivation to get out there, do it, learn it, buy what I need. Otherwise I would do a bit and have a half hearted crack at it. Also, there is some logic in this madness, as part of signing up for Swim Serpentine, you can hire a wetsuit from HUUB for the two weeks prior to the swim, giving you the chance to test the wetsuit out and also do some open water swimming. I ordered the medium / large wetsuit, this seemed the right choice for me going off their measurements. When the wetsuit arrived and I opened the packaging I couldn’t help but think “have the send me the wrong one?” “surely that’s a childs wetsuit right?” but no, it was an adult male in m/l.
Now I had my wetsuit, sitting on the bed smelling of rubber (something the wife is growing to hate more and more each day). Next I needed to try it on, so after a few YouTube videos on How To Put on a Wetsuit, I felt confident enough to do it, I even used a carry bag on my feet and hands and to be fair, I got it on and felt pretty good about myself. My wife zipped me up and we agreed it did fit ok, they are meant to be a tight fit anyway. Having got into the wetsuit the next challenge was taking it off, now, I hadn’t been clever enough to watch any videos on this part, I just assumed you just slide it off like you see the pros do it. OMG how wrong could I be!!! arms came out ok but the legs? nope, they were not coming off, over I went onto my side in a heap with both legs trapped in the wetsuit. Eventually I got out. I think my problem was, I am too worried about tearing or cutting the wetsuit because it’s not mine.
Anyway, this is a swimming post not a fashion disaster post. So in 2016, I went to a local lake where a company called uSwim run a twice weekly open water swim. I went back there again on a Thursday evening to have a nose around and make sure it looked newbie friendly and the guy I spoke to who was manning the desk was so nice and gave me so much more info than would have asked, he put me at ease about and just said, come up on Sunday and get in the lake and just do what you want. You can do front crawl, doggie paddle, it doesn’t matter just do what you feel comfortable with and have fun. Now to put this in context, a month ago I went to a lake closer to home where a local tri club ran the open water swimming. Immediately I felt that I would be judged and under pressure swimming with club members, people who have done this before and a lot more of it. I didn’t feel comfortable when I was there, whereas with uSwim, I felt so much more comfortable and confident I can just have a bash and see how it goes.
The big day! my first open water swim. Still feeling a bit ropey with the wetsuit I got my legs and waist into it at home then drove the 10 miles to Knutsford and signed up, paid my £5 and battled to get my arms into the wetsuit. Went to zip it up and the zip had come apart FFS!!! First time here and I have got to ask someone to help me put the damn wetsuit on. Fortunately, the friendly guy from Thursday was on the desk again and he zipped me up and I was good to go. He informed me that the water was really warm and 21.5c. I thought that 21.5c does actually sound pretty warm. I waded into the lake and instantly thought OMG how cold is this!!!! I am used to swimming in nice warm indoor pools remember, being a total novice and feeling completely out of place I thought the only way to get warm is to get swimming so off I went. Those first 5 minutes where I was trying to swim and breath but every time I put my face into the water the coldness took my breathe away, were so hard, I wondered whether I would be able to do this. Then the next 5 minutes of my 10 lap of the lake, these felt ok, I was swimming comfortably, breathing ok, not getting freaked out my weeds touching me or lake water in my mouth. The wetsuit was keeping me warm and what I hadn’t even thought about was that the wetsuit was giving me extra buoyancy, lifting my legs higher in the water meaning that I was swimming faster. Now I had sorted my breathing out I went for a second lap and went the full course without stopping or feeling out of breath at all. In total I swam over 1,200yrds and at a pace that was 40secs per 100 yards faster than my fastest pool swim.
Feeling more confident with my swimming I went back the following Thursday. Again, still lacking confidence in putting this bloody wetsuit on and not practicing between swims. I went with it half on again and made sure the zip was at least an inch pulled up this time. I got my arms in and zipped it up, I had actually got my wetsuit on myself for the first time! thank god for that! It felt a little tight around the neck but I can live with that. This time I was aiming for three laps of the lake which would give me a 1-mile swim. The first swim was a nice warm sunny day, this time it was cloudy and heading towards sunset, so different conditions to swim in, all part of the learning process. Second time around I got into the water, splashed some on my face, dunked my head under and got a feel for it before setting off, common sense really. I swam the full three laps without stopping and feeling really good about it, I am really starting to enjoy this open water swimming business. However, the day after I noticed that the back of my neck felt funny, the wetsuit must have rubbed on it as I was swimming, I think I may have not pulled it over my shoulders enough which made it pull tighter around the neck.
My third and final open water swim before the Swim Serpentine was on a Sunday again, this time it was grey, raining heavy and very windy. Like the two previous swims I drove there with my wetsuit half on and got my arms in again made sure to pull it more around my shoulders, got it zipped up fine and it didn’t feel too tight around my neck, I felt happier with this. Now I know I should use bodyglide or something similar, I decided that as I was only getting two weeks use out of the wetsuit I would go without, which in hindsight was stupid but life is one big learning process, we just have to learn from the mistakes and make sure not to do it again. My target for this swim was to get 1.5 miles in. The wind made this more of a challenge, part of the lap had a tailwind which really pushed me through the water, but then on the turn coming back into the water, I had to contend with choppy water splashing in my face and learn that I need to raise my head higher in choppy conditions so that I can breathe without getting a mouthful of water and also that it took twice the effort to swim back. After three laps (1 mile) I thought I would check my watch to see how I was doing in comparison to Thursday night, I then noticed I hadn’t started the watch so I had no idea how I had done. At that point I just lost interest in the last half a mile and got out. After getting home feeling down about it all I soon realised that I had just swam my second 1 mile open water swim and experienced more weather conditions which will be a great help when it comes to the Swim Serpentine and Ironman swims.
In summary, I have had three goes at open water swimming, each time learning more about it, making mistakes, correcting these mistakes and gaining more confidence each time I swim. I have got up to 1 mile, which is half what I am swimming in London, but I have felt very comfortable swimming 1 mile on each occasion so I am confident I can swim the full 2 miles. That will then give me a good baseline on where my open water swimming is now (the start), I can then do another 2-mile swim next spring and compare the two.