Open water swimming for the first time

About 3 years ago, I visited Lakeside Country Park in Eastleigh for my first ever parkrun. At the time, the lake was being used for open water swimming and it was something that really didn’t appeal to me at all. 2 1/2 years later I signed up for my first triathlon and as it is being held at the same venue, it includes a 400m swim of the lake!

I certainly didn’t want my first experience of the lake to be during the Eastleigh Open Water Sprint Triathlon, so spoke with a friend and fellow novice triathlete, Clare, about going for a swim in the lake on one of TryTri’s supervised open water sessions. These are run twice a week (Tuesday and Saturday) from April until October and are open to anyone that can swim 400m without stopping. Well, after about 8 months of swimming 2+ times a week in a 25m pool, I guess that means I qualify for that criteria so other than having to get a wetsuit, there were no excuses.

Finding a wetsuit proved to be a little bit of a challenge! I’m sure it is for everyone but I didn’t comfortably fall into any particular size range as my chest isn’t exactly Herculean but my waist more than makes up for it! Given that I am hoping to lose a little more weight, I chose a size that accommodated my height and chest measurements but left me at the upper end of waist and weight measurements. The rationale being that it’d have to stretch to get me all in!

This morning dawned. I woke up at 5am and then clock-watched for about an hour before getting out of bed. I’d already got everything ready (wetsuit, swim cap, goggles, towel and swim pass – thanks to Chris Stocks for the latter) so it was just necessary to grab some toast and an Americano (thanks Tassimo!) before heading on the 5 minute journey to Lakeside. As I arrived, there were a good number of cars in the car park already. Clare was there as I got out of the car and we walked down to the changing rooms where we met Ben from TryTri who explained what was going to happen. As it was my first swim in the lake, I had to complete a waiver form but this isn’t necessary everytime you participate.

The changing rooms are clean and bright. They are small though and having several people in there at a time means that you’re jostling a little for space. There are also lockers although not enough for everyone. My advice, leave any valuable in your car!

Having put on my wetsuit, it was time to return to Ben to swap car keys for a swimmer number (which is on a silicon wrist band) before heading down to the lake. There were already several people swimming and the lake did look quite inviting! It was a glorious morning weatherwise with blue skies and the sun out.

As we entered the water, it didn’t feel quite as cold as I’d thought it was going to be which was a pleasant surprise. It was time for my first lap. I’m going to be honest… It was tough. I got about 100m (maybe less) and I had to rest. Having swum in a pool, I’d got used to the opportunity to rest at the ends of the pool and to be able to catch your breath at the end of every length of the pool. It was also surprisingly difficult to swim in a straight line! In a pool, this is easy. Just follow the tiles at the bottom the pool. In the lake, you can’t see the tiles at the bottom. For all I know, there aren’t any! 😉 In fact, as your hand enters the water, it disappears into the green murkiness! It’s like swimming in pea soup (or so I’d imagine given that I’ve not actually done that!)

Each lap is 350m and I must have stopped for a bob about about 4 times on the first lap. At times, the water felt tidal as I was swept off course!! I’m sure that it was just that I simply can’t swim in a straight line without a guiding hand! The only thing that constantly helped me swim in approximately the right direction was knowing that the sun was on the right side of me! On the first lap, I rarely
‘spotted’ the next buoy and that was what was causing me to swim an erratic path. ‘Spotting’ involves raising your head and looking for a point of interest (in this case, the next buoy) regularly during the swim and adjusting your course accordingly. This is vital in open water swimming and a useful skill to practice! I will!

So, my first lap was shameful but I’d made it around! Clare was waiting for me and we had a brief chat before heading off for a second lap. This time, I knew what to expect and was a little less apprehensive. I’d also warmed up which made a big difference. This time around the lake, I spotted more regularly and relaxed my breathing. I made more use of the natural buoyancy of the wetsuit and rolled my body more. I’m still not able to bilaterally breath (no idea how I’m going to master that!) but it wasn’t too much of a problem. As I swam, I tried to remember all of the things that I’d learned from the pool; straight body, extend, kick from the hip, engage core, etc etc and things did seem easier. I made it around the lap without stopping! I’d even go as far as to say I enjoyed it… I think! Clare decide that two laps was enough and I was left to decide whether to go for another lap. Given that I swim 1km in the pool on each session, I wanted to do that same in the lake. Time for lap number 3…

As I did each lap, it seemed a little easier than the previous one. My route from buoy to buoy was slightly less erratic and the distance between the buoys didn’t see quite so far. At the end of the 3rd lap, I chatted briefly with a novice triathlete who had swum half a lap and was undecided as to whether to do a 2nd. This gave me the impetus to swim one more lap.

I have no idea how long each lap took me and don’t really care too much! 4 laps completed. 1.4km swum in a duck pond! Did I enjoy it? Yes, definitely! Am looking forward to doing it again.

The next challenge was to get out of the water with wobbly legs! However, the real challenge was getting out of the wetsuit. I make a complete hash of that until Ben provided some invaluable advice. Pull the suit down as far as you can then with one leg, stand on the suit, pull the leg out, step sideways and repeat. It worked. Phew! Another bit of advice is to cut some material off the bottom of the wetsuit so there’s a bigger hole. That’s not advice I’ll be taking with my brand new £140 suit! :-S

Time to get changed, have a quick shower and get home before work. First lake swim completed and successful. Looking forward to the next one!!

Quick reminder – – some useful transition tips

One thought on “Open water swimming for the first time

  1. Pingback: A year of achievements | Running - one step at a time

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