Normally, I wouldn't write a race report for an open water swim race. But I thought it was important because of the conditions we raced in. I thought if there are any new triathletes out there, I might have some advice for swimming in open water, especially in cold conditions.
I went into this 1.2 mile race expecting to win. I came in 2nd. The first place woman came in at 22 minutes and change. I am nowhere near that speed. My 1500m (.92 miles) is 22:00. I ended up with a PR, and I'm thrilled since I had to change my race plan.
I finished 1.23 miles (including the run to the timing mat) in 32:00 which is a pace of 1:30 per 100, for those of you who are interested.
There were a number of new people. I saw them make a bunch of mistakes, especially for cold water.
First of all, the air temp was 40 degrees when I arrived on site. I had my swim parka with me and wore my tri kit under it.
Although we weren't give a specific water temp, the announcer said the water was "getting closer to 60". I took that to mean 59.....at the shore. At the deeper water, it was probably 57.
A few things to note:
1.) To start with, I saw a BUNCH of people in the water ahead of time, as in anywhere from 20-30 minutes ahead of time. When the water temps are in the 50's, I STRONGLY urge you to stay out of the water until a few minutes before race start. The reason for this is that even when you get used to the water, your body is remaining cold. Swimmers were just standing there in the cold water.....getting cold. Their bodies will need to keep warm by shivering, shivering burns calories. This swim was anywhere from a half mile to 2.5 miles. GET OUT OF THE WATER and bundle up on shore.
Normally, I get into the water and start warming up, but I knew that the cold temps could wreck havoc on me. It could cause cramping, burning too many calories, dehydration, etc. I stayed on the shore, wetsuit halfway on wearing my parka. With 5 minutes to MY start I got into the water.
1.a. I also recommend two swim caps. You don't need to buy the fancy thermal ones, just two regular swim caps will do. You'll thank me later when you don't get the cold water brain freeze. Trust me. That's something you want to avoid at all costs.
2.) How to get into the water. Please please please don't jump immediately into the water. This sends your body into shock and your body starts sending out all the hormones to counteract the stress. You will see people do this at every damn race. In 57 degree water, it has a MUCH more significant impact on your swim. Instead of jumping in, walk in to waist high (or about where your zipper starts), allow the water to start to seep in. YES, it will be cold, but you'll survive and your body will warm up the water quickly. Every 30 seconds or so, go deeper into the water. Once your shoulders are submerged, start pulling out the neck of your wetsuit and allow the water to get into the front of your suit.
You can then put your face in the water, but you don't have to. Your body has already adjusted to the water, slowly and without stress. When you start swimming, you won't go into a panic attack or any type of stress related to the cold water.
3.) Regardless of distance, since you will not have done a normal swim warmup, take the first 200m or so as a warmup. I swim with a sleeveless wetsuit. It took about that long for my arms to feel "normal".
I saw so many people, jump right into the water and take off like a bat out of hell. I passed them all before the 200m mark. Many had panic attacks. Other were back stroking. In other words, they'd ruined their race. It's VERY VERY hard to recover from a bad swim start in cold water. Unlike going out too hard on a run, where you can walk. On a swim, you're bobbing around in frigid water. Your stress responses are going. It's tough. Very tough to recover.
So...that's that: how to swim in cold water. By the time you get to 200m, it feels like a regular swim.
My race plan was to go out hard and finish at a sprint. I had to adjust my plan because of the cold water and started slower. I was going stronger, but I wanted to save my energy for the last lap.
When I got to the last lap, my goal was to pick up the pace and finish with a sprint. I didn't think I had much left. There were no orange caps around me (my swim wave color). That's when I saw a guy on my right side. He had a great pace going. We collided at the last turn buoy, and I made it my goal to hang with him. I backed off just a couple of seconds, so I could draft off him. (Again, conserving energy. Let him take the brunt of the water).
I hung with him until about the last 50 m.....when he disappeared. Maybe he took off really fast, and I missed him. Maybe he dropped back. Maybe I just lost him in the crowd. At this point, we had caught most of the swimmers that were swimming longer and were in a group of those swimmers that were turning for their next loop.
I don't know what happened to him, but I got to shore. Two volunteers pulled me up out of the water, and I ran toward the timing mat.....on feet that felt like stubs.....I couldn't feel anything. I checked my garmin. My time was right around 32:00.
That's a PR for me. I was SO happy. I started slower than expected, and I PR'd. I'm closing in on my ultimate goal of 30 minutes. (In warmer temps and non race day, I've hit 30:00. I have yet to do it in a race). More importantly, it sets me up for a very good 1500m race swim because I know that I had a lot more in the tank. I just chose to be conservative on a day that it was probably smart to do so.
Once I got home, it was time for a quick snack and one of those rides. Once again, it was ridiculous, and I was counting down the seconds of everything interval.
You know....the kind that goes 110%, 100%, 105%, 100%....and then finally a short rest before starting all over again.
My saving grace today.....was simply knowing that tomorrow is a rest day. Over and over and over, I kept saying, "knock this interval out of the ball park....tomorrow is a rest day." or "Let's go into the rest day knowing you gave everything you had."
Somehow it worked.
Now, I have the day off....from work AND training.
....how rarely the two collide.