A Swim in the Lake

It’s strongly recommended to get some practice with Open Water Swimming before attempting one’s first triathlon. All the online training resources echo this advice. But I didn’t really understand why… Until today.

I’m enough of a rule-follower, by nature, that I wanted to “check that box” for a practice open-water swimming session — so I made plans to put in an hour at the Twin Lakes, just north of Kent. Some friends from H2O lent me their guest pass (since it’s supposed to be a private lake). I informed Marci about my plans, just in case something went wrong. And then I cycled to the lake, in order to double up the training effectiveness. I kept telling myself “It’s just another swim. It’s just water, like they have in the pool at the Kent State University Recreation Center.” But even before I parked my bicycle by the dock at the Western Shore of the Twin Lakes, my anxiety started to build.

When I finally summed up the courage to jump in, off the end of the dock, things got even more unfamiliar, even more unsettling. Aquatic plants reached up from the bottom of the lake to snare me and slow my progress. It was terrifying to not know what was beneath me. But looking down into the water, through my goggles, was even worse. A murky greenish, grayish darkness pushed in from every side. It took me a solid twenty minutes before I felt fully comfortable with any swimming strokes that put my face down into the water!

As I got out further, into the middle part of the lake, it really hit me that there are no life guards or resting points available, if needed, when one is practicing open-water swimming. There are no lines on the bottom of the pool to provide guidance, so one must develop different navigation techniques. I also learned that the GPS information from my Garmin wristwatch wasn’t very accurate when my wrist was underwater (which was a good bit of the time!).

The whole experience was far more taxing, psychologically, than I ever expected. But I learned a lot from the experience and felt a great deal more comfortable by the end.

Using another app, cross-referenced with Garmin’s information, I estimate that the actual distance covered on this swim was more about 0.75 to 0.8 mile, over about 40 minutes in the water. Such swimming might not even allow me to complete the first leg of my first triathlon before being disqualified (I’ll have 70 minutes to swim 1.2 miles). But hopefully I’m learning and growing through the experience!

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