So, last time I left the subject of open water swimming, I’d blundered and breast stroked my way round my first OW tri of the season, feeling rather unsatisfied that I’d been unable to control my breathing and swim front crawl.
Thankfully, there have been some significant improvements since then.
I returned to the same lake the week after my tri for another evening practice session, determined to get to grips with my breathing issues.
The weather had been kind and the water was several degrees warmer, which I think helped me a lot. I certainly didn’t get the same kind of heart-pounding breathlessness I’d had even when swimming with my face out of the water. Still, it took a bit of mental bullying to get my face in the water and to blow bubbles before I started swimming.
But once I’d bobbed about a bit, relaxed and stuck my face in, it was a completely different experience. I swam front crawl, smooth, easy, without always having to shout bubble, bubble, bubble to myself in my head to get myself to exhale with my face in the water.
I just bumbled round the short triangular course set out in the shallows of the lake, taking it easy with the front crawl. Getting my breath back and gathering my thoughts with a spot of treading water or breast stroking around the buoys and basically keeping out of everyone else’s way.
Some of the other swimmers were just happy to potter along too, and we kept checking on each other. A girl in a white cap came gasping up to one of the buoys and I waited for her to recover before we set out again together to complete the rest of the lap. Although we weren’t swimming close to each other, it felt reassuring to glance up and see her white cap as I took a breath and I relaxed and swam better and more controlled.
I swam for about 45 minutes, with little rest breaks and would have stayed in for another lap, but I’d had a twinge that suggested cramp in my calf on the last swim, so signed out elated after a session I could tick off as ‘conquering my swim demons’.
But when it comes to swimming, I’m learning not to take anything for granted. I thought I’d conquered my body’s natural flight response in the water last season, but found it came back this time round. So another session gave me another chance to test my new relaxed confidence.
The water was apparently a balmy 19C and once again I got in and prepared myself before I started swimming. And as soon as I broke into front crawl I knew I was fine. Remembering my thoughts from the previous week, I tried to make more of the rotation to breathe in (so much easier in a wetsuit) and set out to swim alongside or nearby other swimmers. I barely had to think about breathing out under water at all. It just seemed to happen naturally and I felt relaxed and at home in the water.
These are really good open water sessions run by the guys from VO2 Max Racing who organise several local triathlons. There are always a few different groups for those who want a longer swim further up the lake and one group which is coached by Barry from a canoe, typically doing harder swim efforts round the buoys.
I’d planned to just pootle round and stay out of their way as usual. But feeling brave and happy in the water, I decided to give the session a try. It meant I was swimming with a larger group and as we set off on some 1 min then 30 sec and 15 sec efforts, it was a bit like the melee at the start of a triathlon.
At first I held back a bit, trying to avoid the scrum, but as I grew more confident, I put myself in the mix, testing my open water nerves against a scramble of arms, feet, legs and bubbles. I got knocked, kicked, slapped on the side of the head and on one occasion it felt like someone was grabbing my wetsuit zipper. And I loved it.
There were a couple of gaspy moments, but the brief collisions were soon over and I managed my nerves and breathing to swim, find my space and push myself, kicking hard, shoulders burning and still come to a stop at Barry’s shout with a smile.
I’m still crossing my arms in front when I swim, especially my right one. But I seem to be okay at keeping in a straight line and even started sighting without lifting my head too far. But it was a great confidence boosting session and after 55 minutes in the water, including some decently hard efforts, I still felt good and strong. I can’t wait to get back in the water – and I don’t mean the pool