Adventures in Open Water

Over the weekend, Sirrah and Katie took to the waters of Coney Island for their first open water swim of the season. The work out consisted of three out and backs in the water with coaching on the shore in between and then 30 minutes of continuous swim.


Everyone walking out to the water



Sirrah: I’ve mentioned it before, but open water swimming is not my strong suit. My swim endurance in the pool is pretty good. I’m not the fastest or the best, but I can keep moving for at least 30 minutes without a break and feel just fine. I get in open water though and after about 5 strokes (no joke) I start to think, “OH MY GOD! WHAT AM I DOING OUT HERE?!”

The swim on Saturday was not the day I mastered this fear, however I do think its getting a little better. I remember last year at my first open water swim, feeling more panic and more out of breath. This year I tried to take to heart some tips from a friend of mine who also has trouble with open water but manages to compete in Ironman competitions- two in particular: find your rhythm and don’t let your heart rate get up from panic – if it starts stop and chill. For me, in open water, I have to focus on the things I can control, like the rhythm of my stroke, and it’s true, once I start to panic, it’s all over. I think these tips helped, but part of the fear is just plain ole irrational panic that I can’t really pin down, and I think the only real solution will come by another of my friend’s tips: practice.

During the 30 minutes continuous swim I opted to swim closer to shore than some of the folks in my group which helped me relax a little. Next time I have to push myself though and stay in the deeper water because when you jump in the Hudson there is no shallow end. Toward the end of the swim, I had a really great moment of total relaxation: the sun was out and I realized that I was just swimming at the beach – something I always loved as a kid – after that the rest of the swim was really relaxed and easy. I’m not sure how to recreate that moment of clarity, but it was a little bit of a break through and hopefully it will stay with me, even if only a little bit.

Katie: I don’t get as anxious in open water as most people, but I in no way had a great time in the water. My last few times in Coney Island had been very similar. I struggle to keep my face in the water. I have the odd impulse to breathe in the water (I have this in the pool sometimes. I think I really was a shark or a mermaid in a past life). I just get so damn tired and when I sight, it’s like I’ve gone no where. Haven’t moved, will not get to the end, cannot keep going.

This is what I really struggled with on Saturday. In the pool it’s so much easier; you can see the bottom and can mark your progress by the line painted at the bottom of the lane. I kept getting frustrated and overwhelmingly tired so I would stop and bob in my wetsuit for a second, talk myself up and stick my face back in the water. I felt so tired after the first two out and backs that ended into the shore I was convinced the continuous swim would be the longest half an hour of my life. It was long, but not near as long as expected. At one point, I was semi close to the jetty and convinced myself that it’s just about 20 strokes away. It was more, but I think the mental game helped me stay moving.

Also, with everyone else around, the last thing I want is to push everyone out of the way to make room for myself. Sighting came in hand for this, as I was able to find my own path most of the time. In the beginning this lead to me being out further than I wanted and had to fight my way back in toward the shore. Toward the end of the continuous swim, I went to the shallows where the water was mainly unoccupied and I was able to see fish at the bottom!

While this experience wasn’t fun, it was absolutely needed. I know the race swim is much easier than what we practiced, just based on endorphins, adrenaline and strong current alone, but I have to concentrate on relaxing. Last time I hummed the Jaws theme (I know, I know, I’m a strange one) and it was oddly relaxing. Every slow “duhhh nuh” was a stroke set and it helped me stay on rhythm. I’ll try this method again next time.

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