Today I went with SW Tri Gal, Bones, Sweet Baboo, and others to Cochiti Lake to get in my first long open water swim of the season.
The lake was around 57 degrees, and I wore my long-sleeved wetsuit for the first time.
I turned back and only finished a mile of the swim. It was my first cold open water swim of the season, and every year the first one of the season is always shorter than I planned. That first time your face goes into the icy water and takes your breath away. Oh-h-h-h-h-h-h!
Cold water, when your face hits it, causes your breathing and heart rate to increase, which your brain reads as panic. When that happens, you're supposed to relax and just concentrate on swimming smoothly and slowly and breathing slowly and deeply. Usually within the first 400 meters you body starts to adjust to the temperature but oh, how long that first 400 meters seems!
Your brain's first line of defense in protecting you from dehydration, low blood sugar, or hypothermia is to start send you a message: STOP THIS! STOP NOW! TURN BACK. QUIT! TURN BACK NOW! Each of us hears this differently. For some of us, it's a tiny voice of despair that whispers, "Oh, I can't do this! I'll never be able to do this!" I at remember my first open water swim, I actually forgot how to swim at the start.
You can practice to overcome it and become mentally strong. Every now and then, it gets the better of me, like today, the first cold open water swim of the season. But Friday is a different day, and then there's the Friday after that...with practice, you learn to overcome the despair and the freakouts.
I'm going to be doing it every Friday until we leave for Coeur D'Alene, and at least one time there, too. The more you do it, the easier it gets. I'm saying this directly to anyone who has freaked out about swimming in open water: I promise you it gets better. The best part is that the side effects from being mentally tough are that you start getting mentally tough in other situations, too. You start thinking things to yourself like, "I swam a mile in an ice-cold lake! I think I can start that training course! I can tell that jerk that I don't like the way she talks to me!"
Or change jobs.
But anway. Another reason for practicing long swims are that there are some unpleasant aspects to doing a forward crawl in a lake for 4000 meters. You have to practice long, open water swims so that you can experience and deal with them. Friday I'll be administering body glide in strategic places, and cutting two slits in the front of the neck of my suit. I did this in my old sleeveless wetsuit and it made a huge difference in my comfort.
Added later: I should have asked if anyone has any open-water swim advice to offer, go ahead and put it here.
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