Sunday fun for the triathlete: Open water swim class today!

Today was an open water swim class at the local lake, put on by the folks who do the local sprint and Oly tri every August (coincidentally also at the local lake).  This was a perfect opportunity to baptize our new Christmas wetsuits in actual water.

We biked to the lake on the city bikes (of course, how else would a car-free couple get to the lake early on a Sunday morning?), got there with plenty of time to spare, despite my typical 7 minutes of Verspätung (yes, lateness in two languages these days) and had a lovely chat with a slightly crazy of center ultra runner who offhandedly talks about running distances (and sleeping a few minutes in park benches in the middle of runs that take days rather than minutes or hours to complete) that even I occasionally balk at biking, never mind running.

So then we all squirmed into our wetsuits, and can I just say that I really love my new wetsuit more than anything (well, except the wife.  And the bicycle. And the cats.  And chocolate.  And…well you get the idea, the wetsuit is really nice with well articulated arms and really appreciated stretchiness everywhere making it so much less panic inducing (more on that later) than the previous one I was using.   Xterra does not pay me in any way for saying this, but I love my new vortex suit.   Anyway.)

Before we knew it, we were all wading into the very somewhat cold lake (18°C or 64°F for the backwards and the Americans) and from the looks and actions of most of the folks around me, I was prepared for the very worst.  The wife, of course, just waded in like it was bathwater and was far ahead of the rest of us “more seasoned” triathletes.  I felt positively brave as I was in the water before about half of the group.  The new wetsuit is warm.  Pleasantly so rather than claustrophobically.  After splashing water into the wetsuit neck to get my chest nice and cool and then slowly splashing water on my face, I dove in with no gasp reflex and started swimming towards the platform (there’s a nice wide swim platform about 150 meters or so out in the swimming portion of the lake).  And it was just like swimming in the pool.  Stroke, breathe, kick.  No Problem.

I didn’t panic!  At all!  For those keeping count, this is the first time I’ve been in a wetsuit without at least one incident of panic.  So far the only race that I didn’t have a panic attack during the swim was Eagleman where the water was bathtub warm, green and viscous like pea soup and no one got to wear a wetsuit.  The last time I had the (old) wetsuit at this same lake, I definitely had a panic attack of the “I can’t breathe under water” sort.  This time: no panic, no wetsuit induced claustrophobia, just lots of nice, relaxed swimming.  The one time I started to feel a bit freaked-out, I just slowed my strokes down and concentrated on easy swimming and it just went away.

I attribute this to 2 things:

1)   New wetsuit is much more stretchy and forgiving than old wetsuit.  Also more buoyant.

2)   I’ve been swimming more.  Tri coach (who has been fired for unrelated reasons) was terrific at getting me to swim more, swim differently, do exercises, structured swim workouts and most importantly, to do that three times a week.  So since February I’ve swum somewhere in the vicinity of 100 km.  All that practice is paying off in spades (well in nice, happy swims anyway).  I feel comfortable in the water these days.  Comfortable swimming in the water with my head down and breathing, just like a real swimmer.

And one of the fun things from the class (other than doing this fun roll onto our backs to get around turns, just like sea lions or porpoises – well in the case of some of us, really uncoordinated sea lions) is that it turns out that I’m . . . not slow.  At least relative to this group.  I could keep up with men!  We practiced a group start and I hung back and let the fast folks go first as usual – I have a very healthy fear of flailing arms and legs too close to my person when I’m on the verge of panic anyway.  Then I started my usual dogged crawl and oddly, by the time I got back the shallow area, I’d miraculously passed pretty much everyone but the four fastest (the ones you would send out to find the Dread Pirate Roberts if this were Florin and swimmers were ships. . .blah, blah, blah, Inconceivable!).  And someone was actually drafting off me!  And I got complimented on my straight sighting (I guess part of me can be straight after all. . .)  We won’t talk about the other exercise where I was inexplicably dead last and didn’t get back before the instructor had started talking again.

The wife did wonderfully for her first time in a wetsuit!  She will deny this, but it is the truth.  She panicked at the beginning, felt like she couldn’t breathe and got a bit upset.  I sent her off to talk with the swim trainer who was on the shore expecting that she would get some help with adjusting the wetsuit (these things are very challenging for those of us who look like actual women and I could see that it was too low and needed to go up a couple of inches so that she had enough neoprene to cover her. . . tracts of land and still have room for breathing) and be assured that this happens to lots of people their first time in a wetsuit.  I was, alas, incorrect about the swim trainer, but no matter, the wife shook it off like the brave and awesome person she is and by the end of the class was swimming away.  (And to remind her again, not last.  Not by a long shot.  Also, did I mention that she just learned to swim a crawl this winter?  Amazing, she is!

So yes.  Fun with rubber.  And everyone got wet, and enjoyed themselves.

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