Further adventures in swimming – my first open water experience

Thursday dawned grey and drizzly after a night where the rain was bouncing off the roof. I was up early as usual for my PT session on the beach, where it felt more like November than May in the fine rain that gets you really wet without you really noticing.

I’ve missed training with Ian the past couple of weeks while he was on holiday, so it was good to catch up, to pick his brains over training plans and to have him put me through my paces. I struggled a bit at first, soon out of breath, but gradually fell back into the rhythm and enjoyed a great workout.

I carried a good portion of the beach back home with me on my sodden waterproof and trainers and left a good sprinkling in the shower. It felt good to be back.

The work day whizzed by on a training course, my mind engaged in learning and working. But the grey never lifted and I splashed through puddles as I drove up to the lake at Ashington for my first open water swim.

Heavy traffic meant I was late to arrive. People were already wetsuited up as I ran over to meet up with the crew from the try a tri sessions. I quickly scrambled back to the car and into my wetsuit, checked in and approached the water with the group.

Me after my first open water swim
I survived my first open water swim

I’d had no time to prepare myself, no time to think about it, I was just going in. A slippery couple of steps down into the water and it didn’t feel as cold as I’d feared on my feet. I sat down, to stop myself slipping and that encouraged me to get into the water and immersed quickly.

The group began to swim out into the green waters of the lake, sighting using a pylon as swimmers placed buoys in a triangle. I bobbed along, old lady breast stroke style while I calmed my nerves.

Swimming in the lake was fine. I knew I could keep myself afloat, and I wasn’t shivering. I enjoyed the feeling of buoyancy in my wet suit.

But as soon as I put my face in the water to try and swim front crawl properly, I felt that old sense of panic and spluttered. I swam 2/3 of a circuit head out of the water, just staying out of everyone’s way.

I tried again on the length back towards the shore, managing 3 or 4 strokes, but holding my breath and feeling my heart rate rushing. Back in the shallows, I found a place to stand and rest and get my breathing back to normal.

‘Oh well,’ I thought. ‘Looks like I’ll be doing breast stroke in my tri then’. But as I stopped, I realised it wasn’t the swimming itself I was worried about, it was just the old head in the water thing again. It wasn’t even the coldness on my face, just the unnaturalness of breathing out under water. And I’ve conquered that in the pool. I could conquer it again.

So I set out on another lap and kept asking myself to try to swim properly. I managed 6 strokes, then 12, broke it up with a bit of random bobbing around and eventually managed to swim between two bouys in a combination of head down and head up front crawl.

When I swam properly, I could feel myself moving more quickly through the water. I just needed to slow down the stroke and give myself chance to breathe.

I managed 4 circuits in all, probably around 180m each time with a mixture of strokes, but becoming more confident in my open water crawl each time. I was only going to do 3, but then another new to open water swimmer from my tri club said, “I’ll go if you do.”

I have no idea how long I was in the water for. I’d guess around 15-20 minutes. There was still a group out with one of the coaches, but I’d had enough and made my way out. A lot of faffing getting out of my wetsuit and into dry clothes and my feet were freezing!

Mostly I’d enjoyed my open water experience. There was a sense of freedom and exhilaration about swimming in the lake and I’d happily have bobbed around for a while. Properly swimming was a little scary at first, but I managed to get over that, so next time, I’ll have that knowledge to help me.

I’m quite daunted at the thought of swimming 750m, and then getting out and onto a bike, following that with a run. But I will just tackle it like I did that first triathlon and throw myself into it when it comes.

I’m encouraged by the way I felt when I was swimming and the fact I got in the lake on a cold grey day. I shall be hoping for sunshine on 3 June.

My right shoulder blade was rather stiff afterwards, most likely a result of the cold and my head up swim technique. But a heat patch, some ibuprofen and avoid sleep just about sorted that out.

I’ve come a long way since my swimming lessons and that first 100m front crawl. Open water is just another step forwards.


Author: The Scribbler

I'm a writer, based in the North East of England. In my working life I give a human voice to business communications. As well as writing, reading and language, I enjoy running and triathlons and I often write about races and events in the North East

3 thoughts on “Further adventures in swimming – my first open water experience”

  1. Great effort – it’s really good that you enjoyed it. That is the main thing.
    I’d suggest focussing on breathing out when you do Front Crawl (head-down), lots of people hold their breath, then when they turn their head to breath they are trying to breath out & breath in… there isn’t enough time. Focus on smooth, slow arm, and breathing out – then when you turn your head to the side – the breathing in happens all by itself! Best of luck for your tri!


    1. Thanks for the great advice Dan. Breathing out underwater is something I had difficulty with when I started trying it in the pool, but I have got better at it. I definitely improve when I slow my stroke down and give myself time to breathe.


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