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and get in the water before you tri!  Today I had my first open water swim.  My first, I forgot earplugs – got vertigo and freaked.  My second, I swam in the deep end, roped off area in my wet suit and just focused on staying calm, sighting and swimming laps in murky lake water.

My third, I swam the swim course of my upcoming tri – with friend right along side me.  I admit, when I got about chest deep in the water, I nearly had a panic attack.  In fact, I actually started heading back towards shore.  I told my friend she could go on without me…but Gob bless her, she refused and stayed right by me – which gave me strength.  That and the sight of all these people swimming toward me put some kind check on the panic.  I looked over at my friend, who was waiting patiently (and dodging swimmers) and headed back out into open water.

Initially, I started out with a freestyle stroke and my head out of water.   That, I can tell you, tires you very quickly.  The sooner you learn to put your face in the water, the better.  This allows you to swim efficiently and with less energy wasted.  So, at the first attempt to swim with my face in the water, I almost freaked again – I couldn’t breathe, when I went to take a breath!  Then I realized I wasn’t breathing OUT when I had my face in the water.  So, I began to focus on making sure I was making bubbles exhaling, before I turned to breathe.  This had the additional effect of giving me something to focus on and calming me down.  During this time, I also got bumped…kicked and once, I even was pulled under – with much apologies by the person who inadvertently did it.  Funnily enough, that didn’t faze me at all.

Before I knew it, I made it to the first buoy.  My friend cheered my success (as she irritatingly swam in place next to me, like freaking Daryl Hannah in “Splash”).  I took a moment to relax, regroup and then began swimming toward the next buoy.  Amazingly, I managed to stay fairly straight on course toward it.  Only once, did I have to stop and swim in place to calm myself down.

I made it to the next buoy, it seemed, much quicker than I made it to the first one.  Again, my friend was right by me cheering me on.  This time, I hung out at the buoy a bit longer.  I have to admit, I was a bit overwhelmed by the fact that I had made it that far without 1) a wall to stop at 2) feeling exhausted and 3) panicking.   I turned to look behind me and was surprised I had made it to this point and how many people were still behind me.  BEHIND ME!!  Did you get that…behind ME!!

These were people, just like me…struggling with doing the unfamiliar and the unknown.  I watched for a moment – a lady, who did most of the swim on her back, turning over only to course correct.  Another woman, who had done the Iron Girl last year, despite a phobia of the water. She did the entire swim, doggy paddling and cracking jokes as her daughter swam next to her.  Lastly, a gentleman about my age, who looked terrified the whole time, but inch by inch, did that swim.  The smile on his face when he walked out of the water was amazing.

So, I let go of that last buoy and swam toward shore. My friend just ahead of me or right along side me.  Once or twice, I felt the panic try to get a hold of me.  Not panic of the water exactly…just the unfamiliar feeling of not having a wall or lane rope to touch. Could I really make it on my own power?  I admit,  I had to grit it out and beat down that monster of self-doubt.  But suddenly, with one exploratory toe…I realized, I could touch the bottom.  I had done it.  I finished the open water swim, along with all the other participants that day.  I wasn’t even the last one out of the water.  600m in 21 minutes.  No world record, but a personal one for certain.  It felt freaking amazing.

Today, I only swam about 200m.  Just to the first buoy and back.  I had no one keeping me company and I admit, I was jittery and a bit anxious.  I waded out into the water with the other participants.   I walked and walked (its doable for a ways out) until a friend of mine, who was already swimming, looked over at me and said “C’mon Shawn, get in there!”  I began to swim.  I focused on keeping  my face pointed straight down –  making my body a clean line.  I blew bubbles out my nose and mouth, as my face was in the water.  I concentrated on how I turned my head/upper body to breathe, noting how the waves were coming at my face and how to adapt to get that breath.  I also focused on a high catch with my elbow and how my hand re-entered the water.  I wanted to maintain my forward momentum and work with the water, not against it.  I was honestly surprised, I was able to think about swim drills and form.  I can also honestly say, it helped to keep me calm.  I’m using all the strategies I can think of, to stay calm and get through the swim.

About every 6 strokes, I looked for the buoy.  I was surprised how fast I was approaching it.  A couple of times, I got a wave full on in the face as I went to take a breath.  It was very choppy today.  Amazingly enough…that didn’t bother me (but I admit, I did NOT like the bobbing sensation).  Later, my tri coach even remarked on the chop.  I’m glad for it, because now I know what its like – even more so, I like how I reacted to it.  I decided not to swim out to the second buoy – not because I was panicky or tired, it wasn’t why I came out to swim today.  It was all about being relaxed and enjoying it.  I went today, with no goal in mind other than to have fun…and I did that.

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