First Open Water Swim: IT WAS RAD!

Because who likes to be kept in suspense?

If you don’t want to read this epic post, go ahead and just look at me smiling and thumbs-upping post-swim.

That's a happy swimmer, right there!

Yep!  That’s a happy swimmer, right there!  See ya later!

Now I know who my real readers are.  You get candy.

After a fitful and crampy night of sleep, I woke up at 5:50am and hallelujah: there was a bit of daylight!  It’s so much easier to get up for an early workout when there’s light out!  Then it doesn’t feel like you should be going to the airport for an early flight. I packed up all my crap the night before so I could literally pull on my trisuit, brush my teeth (you’re welcome, fellow swimmers) and roll out.

Good morning, Bay Bridge!

As I crossed the  Bay Bridge from Oakland to SF, I was a bit stunned that I’d soon be IN THE WATER…

I didn’t realize that Aquatic Park was essentially in the tourist clusterf*ck of Pier 39/Ghiradelli Square.  Thankfully, it was so dang early that parking wasn’t an issue.   Swims later in the day could be a major challenge for this reason (especially during the summer) but there is In-N-Out a couple blocks away for some post-swimming Protein Style.  #WorthIt #SponsorMe

Good morning, very beautiful place!

Good morning, very beautiful place!

This clinic was put on by the newly-formed Oakland Tri Club.  About ten of us were in attendance, with the full spectrum of experience represented.  Myself and a couple others were swimming in wetsuits for the first time while several were experienced Bay swimmers and veterans of Alcatraz swims!  One even swam sans wetsuit!

My new hero for innumerable reasons.

My new hero for innumerable reasons.

Club Founder and President Chris Van Luen led the clinic.  We discussed major points of open water swimming:

* What happens to your body in a wetsuit, in cold water, when you exit the water after swimming, etc.

What to do if you have anxiety and what that can feel like.

Types of triathlon swim starts and where to position yourself in the start, depending on your experience level.

Sighting.

Chris took his time explaining everything we could expect.  Others shared their experiences and for someone who really likes to have ALL the information when attempting something new, it was very comforting.  Before I knew it, we were suiting up and the non-noobs were heading out for their workout.  My grocery bag feet worked like a charm and I got my suit on much more quickly than ever before.  Having my trisuit underneath helped it to slide right up over my butt and hips.  Even got the crotch up in the right place.  Not being able to get my wetsuit on in front of folks I don’t know was really my only fear for the day so with that conquered, I was ready to go!

Sidebar: Everyone else’s suits slid right up their legs.  When I got home, I noted that my suit was actually an XS, not an S, like I thought.  Based on the room in my torso, I think I’m between sizes and tightness in the legs is preferable to lots of cold water pooling around my skinnier parts.  

At Aquatic Park, there is a line of buoys.  From end to end round-trip, it’s about a third of a mile.  I can’t even tell you how relieved I was when Chris said that us noobies were going to start by simply swimming from the shore to one of the buoys and back to the shore.  About 100 meters total?  As we put on our caps and goggles (and I dropped mine in the sand for the first of two times – BALLS!), we walked ankle-deep into the water.  It was cold but not as shocking as I expected.  I walked a bit further and barely registered cold temperatures on my legs.  Wetsuit for the WIN.

I'm pink.

I’m pink.

We broke into small buddy groups and dove in.  My first thought was:

THIS IS TOTALLY AWESOME.  

It certainly wasn’t warm water but with the protection of the wetsuit, it wasn’t uncomfortable at all.  I did notice that my torso was colder than my legs, as to be expected with more water collecting in the upper half of the suit.  My face was quite cold (obviously) but my overall temperature wasn’t even distracting.

We swam around the buoy and back to shore.  The first words out of my mouth were “that was rad!”  Surprisingly, we got out of the water to warm up.  Exactly the opposite of the uncomfortable cold that you feel getting out of an outdoor pool.

Okay, so here’s the deal.  There are a few common things that seem to bother/hinder/panic people when swimming in open water.  Those things include (but are not limited to):

* Not being able to see in the water and by extension, creepy things being in the water like kelp, bugs, fish, and predators.

The water being really cold.

The wetsuit feeling constricting and chokey.

* Seasickness (hadn’t heard that one but it came up!)

* Difficulty sighting and getting off-course.

Contact with other swimmers.

None of these things bothered me!  The temperature was no biggie.  My wetsuit was comfortable (once I could get it on.)  During our second trip out and back, another swimmer literally swam over my body.  I was unfazed.  SO WEIRD.  Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have a metric ton of fears but oddly, the thing that uniformly inspires anxiety in triathlon doesn’t bug me in the least.

If this sounds braggy, can we just rewind to last week when the anticipation of a Sunday morning bike ride with good friends had me in tears?  No one here is claiming to have triathlon on lock-down.

I did, however, have one major difficulty:

I can’t swim very well.

I’m just not in shape yet.  Each time I looked up to sight, everyone was further and further away from me.  My breathing pattern was fairly consistent with my pool breathing, so that’s good.  My sighting seemed decent, if a bit more frequent than I’d eventually like.  The only time I had a sighting issue was after the other swimmer swam over me – probably because I was off-course!  Basically, I swam like myself, and myself is pretty slow.  I think that on each of our three out and back trips, I was the last one out of the water.  While I wasn’t compromised by some of the usual challenges, I also wasn’t focusing at all on efficient technique.  I’m sure I reverted back to rotating less and didn’t take full advantage of my suit’s buoyancy.  There is still much work to do!

Practicing a Grand Prix start.

Practicing a Grand Prix start.

All of that said, I consider today a huge success.  I’ll take a lack of fitness over crippling anxiety any day.  This experience made me so excited to get in the pool and improve!  If I’d had a panic attack, who knows if I’d even continue in triathlon?  Maybe I will be the last one out of the water next week (!) but after today’s clinic I know it will be a really fun and empowering experience.

Huge thanks to Chris for sharing his knowledge and getting some great photos of us in the water!

Ever swam in cold-ass water?  Tell us all about it!

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7 thoughts on “First Open Water Swim: IT WAS RAD!

  1. Roger Fallihee says:

    This is an incredible journey that you are on. You prove that you really can teach a young dog new tricks!

    • Shauna says:

      Awww thanks Daddio! Pretty cool change, huh? Never would have been so comfy in the water without all of our wonderful vacations with Kenny G!

  2. Clair says:

    That is so awesome, congratulations! My first (and last) OWS experience involved learning I have pretty bad cold water asthma, and I needed to be towed to shore because I couldn’t breathe. Yeah, no more Bay swims for me.

  3. Amanda says:

    Congrats on an awesome open-water swim! I feel like if I tried that, especially with a wetsuit, I would feel too constricted and panic. So I think I’ll stick with running, haha 🙂

  4. Velia Villa says:

    Saw this on the OTC website. Wow! Shauna, I really enjoyed reading this.
    You are AMAZING!!

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