Why open water swimming freaks me out

Why open water swimming freaks me out

I've been swimming in a 25 yard pool once a week since January.  I've graduated from swimming in the basic beginner lane where we only went half the length of the lane before turning around to being in the group that does a 300 yard warm up, 400 yards of drills, and 675 yards of swimming intervals. Nine sets of 75 yards each? Yep, I can do that now.

But I still can't swim half a mile in open water without flipping onto my back, doing breaststroke, dog paddling, or basically wishing I was anywhere but there.

I know. I've tried it three times.

But, Erin, you're saying, three times is hardly enough!

At least, I hope that's what you're saying. Because last night, in the middle of a set of 75 yards where we swam the first half fast and the second half slow, I realized something: I need to hit the wall.

When I'm swimming in the pool I feel strong. Even when I think I can't make it one more stroke I look at the bottom and see that I'm so close to the wall and I bust out just a few more feet before pushing off to start back the other way or grabbing for the edge at the end of the set.

I LIVE for that wall. I live for that goal line. Swimming isn't like running or biking. In addition to not being able to breathe whenever you want, when you're out in the open water you have very little in the way of landmarks that tell you how far you've gone and how far you have left to go. Buoys are like mirages; they never seem to get closer. Buildings alongside  Ohio Street Beach never seem to recede into the distance.

When I did my triathlon last weekend it was sort of like swimming in a huge pool...except it was one where the lanes were longer than I was used to and there were no black lines on the bottom to tell me when I was reaching the end of each lane. Sure, I could lift my head up and see a buoy but I had no concept of how much further I really had. I was so happy when I figured out that the lifeguards were standing at the halfway point...and that I could touch the bottom at the halfway point of each lane! I just had to make it to the halfway mark and I could put my feet down for a second and regroup. That was my wall.

Do I just need to practice without my wall more often? Should I find a 50 meter pool so I can get used to going longer between breaks? Do I need to get a watch that will beep every 25 yards so that I have an idea of where I would be in the pool?

For all the reading and research I did before I decided to do triathlons, I didn't read anything about how to transition from pool swimming to open water swimming. I'm doing an Open Water Swim Clinic next week but I'd also love any advice anyone has to give!

Amazingly, the flailing of limbs and bodies at the start of the swim doesn't freak me out. And the deep end of the pool doesn't freak me out. But everything else about being out in the lake? It's starting to freak me out!

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Filed under: Swimming

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    Erin Vandenberg

    I'm a 30-something who decided to get off the elliptical and expand my fitness horizons. Since moving to Chicago in 2008 I've run marathons and biked miles. I've done group fitness classes and lifted weights on my own. And now I want to share my fitness finds with you!

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