In the words of the great Dory from Disney’s Finding Nemo – “When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming.”
…and with my first triathlon now 7 days away, I’ve been doing just that (and more)
On Sunday July 22 in South Portland, Maine, I’ll be participating in Maine Cancer Foundation’s Tri for a Cure (Link to site HERE) – a women’s only, sprint triathlon held every year to raise awareness and funding for cancer research and support for families fighting the battle against the disease in the state of Maine. I had seen the advertisements for this event for several years and, like many other folks, always thought “wow, cool event but not for me.” ….especially because of the open water swim (eeek!)
However, 2 years ago that would all change – my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer on a sunny morning in May – I will never forget the day she called to tell me the news as I stood frozen in a NYC intersection. Several months later, our family, led by this incredibly strong and positive woman, banded together through her two surgeries and later that fall, the best news possible came to light — cancer free!
After beating cancer (and with a smile), my mom set off to conquer her bucket list – one of which had been completing a triathlon. She later entered the lottery for Tri for a Cure and was picked – incredible that this event I once shrugged at became the focal point of her healing and our family’s inspiration. On a warm sunny morning, much like the day she broke the news of her cancer, she put on her wet suit and completed one of her bucket list items – her first triathlon – she was on top of the world.
Her quest to conquer this event was inspiring and this year, in honor of her 2nd anniversary of beating cancer, I decided to continue the the family participation and entered this event.
The 3 primary components of a sprint triathlon are:
- Swim – 1/3 of a mile
- Bike – 15 miles
- Run – 5K (3.1 miles)
While I’ve never been a serious cyclist, I’ve never been too worried about the cycling component (or even the run, as I’m currently training for the Chicago Marathon) – but the piece I dread THE MOST = the swim.
Open Water Swimming 101
With 7 days until the event, I look back on the scariest part of the event training and know I’ve come a long way – sometimes via the hard way or lessons learned – but there are aspects that have been a tremendous help along the way.
Wet Suits are a must
It definitely pays to do your research in this area OR if you’re new to the event (like me), you can always see if folks are willing to let you borrow a suit before you get serious.
My mom was kind enough to lend me her suit from last year’s event, so that was a huge help – here’s a link to a suit similar to the one I’m using (LINK HERE)
A couple of things to keep in mind – TRY IT ON!!! Goes without saying because the first time I used the full suit, I had a small claustrophobic moment – was a little scary but after using the suit a few times, that feeling went away.
Make sure you do find a suit that will be appropriate for the type of water you plan to train/participate in – I chose to use the full suit because the event I’m competing in will be on the ocean in Maine (brrrr).
Open water swimming can be scary enough on its own without factoring in tides, currents, wind, waves and the occasional surfer – make sure before you head out you have the following nailed down:
- Ocean swimming – did you check the tides? Tides in certain areas can fluctuate very quickly, so make sure you do your homework so you’re not swept out to sea
- Lifeguards – if you’re swimming at a state or local beach/pond/lake, will there be lifeguards? If so, this is GREAT – just an extra measure of safety in case anything happens
- Swim Buoys – these cute little guys come in a variety of highly visible colors and are pretty inexpensive – I would highly recommend getting one if for nothing else, but to be visible to the other folks in the water (including boaters). Here’s a link to the one I’ve purchased (LINK HERE)
If you’re not Michael Phelps or a natural-born fish in the water, remember to start slowly in your training. Going out on your first swim and thinking you’ll swim a full mile without any issues may not be wise.
In order to build up to open water swims, I started in the local pool during the chillier months – I even enrolled in an advanced swim class just to get my swim legs back under me. I admit that I did swim in high school and was a fish as a kid – so my starting baseline wasn’t exactly zero, but it had been a good 15 years since I had been doing laps.
My pool workouts would look a little something like this:
- Warm-up freestyle for 100 meters
- Kick-board 100 meters / Pulls Only 100 meters / Freestyle 100 meters (3-4 rounds)
- Freestyle for 200-300 meters
It’s a quick pool workout that can be done in 30-45 min and perfect set up for form and aerobic acclimation.
…open water swims begin
Remember that with your wet suit and swim buoy, you have a lot of great flotation on your side. Take it easy and take breaks as you need to – there is absolutely nothing wrong with floating on your back for a bit.
But above all, remember that you are doing something incredible and that the goal is to have fun! Remember that less than 1% of folks are even putting themselves out there for these types of events!