At the beginning of June I was starting to feel a bit nervous about TTF in just over a month, while I had spent the winter putting in the work in the pool, on my wheels (may not as much as I wanted) and on the pavement I wasn’t sure it was enough.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ll know that last year when I raced Iron Girl in August that swim portion of the triathlon was cancelled. That’s right folks in the final weeks of August the water in Lake Ontario on the shorelines of Grimsby was deemed too cold by Ironman standards and thus my first triathlon became a duathlon.
I knew that I had to get into the water outside before TTF, it was a necessity to ensuring that I was mentally and physically ready for race day as best as I could be. Problem with open water swims is it’s difficult to find a spot locally to do it and it definitely helps to have a buddy or group of folks to swim with. My former boss who’s an Ironman invited me to swim up at a conservation area with him but I wasn’t going to be able to swing the timing, I also reached out to my Tribe #solesister Kim – who’s presently training for her first half Ironman – as I knew that she swam with a group in Oakville. Kim was more than happy to ask about me joining the Oakville group on Saturday morning, she told me that she’d checked-in with the organizer and that I had to be ready to get in the water at 8am SHARP!
That evening I managed to track my wetsuit down in my condo lock that is presently packed for a move – thank the Lord it was in one of the first few bags I opened, I was praying that it wasn’t buried in the back and I’d have to unpack everything to reach it. Since I picked it up after race season last year and I’ve been working to tone up I said a little prayer that it would fit. After one failed attempted on Thursday night and a semi-decent attempt after some pointers from my coach – aka I got it on but couldn’t get the zipper up on my own – I was ready to tackle a swim on the weekend.
I got up extra early on the Saturday morning to squeeze myself into my wetsuit before I drove to Oakville to meet Kim – yes that’s right folks I squeezed my butt into my wetsuit and then proceeded to drive to Oakville – I didn’t want to risk a struggle on the beach with everyone watching. Little did I know that everyone arrives without their wetsuit on and struggles together to get suited up before hitting the water. The group I was swimming with was called L.O.S.T. (Lake Ontario Swim Team) and they had graciously allowed me to come out for the morning with Kim to give them a go before I decided if I would commit for the year.
I was surprised to see how many people had come out to brave the potentially bone chilling water temperatures even if the weather was already hot and humid for 8am. Kim introduced me to a few of her swim buddies, we got suited up and all gathered around for the pre-swim brief from the Founder himself. We were informed that the water would be a chilly 54 degrees Fahrenheit – that’s 12 degree Celsius for your Canadians like me – aka that’s pretty DAMN cold. Folks we surprised and relieved, apparently the weekend prior the water had only been 50 degrees Fahrenheit and some had not made it to far during their swim before getting out.
The great thing about L.O.S.T. is that they set up a course in the water similar to one that you would race within for at triathlon, this weekend the course was a triangle and it was a total distance around of about 350m – give or take depending on how wide you were swimming. In addition to a marked course they also have spotters out in kayaks to be on watch should anyone find themselves in trouble during the training swim. I should also note that OVER 100 folks had come out to swim on this particular morning, it sounded like it was a new record for the group and it really was something else to see so many folks out to train together.
Before I knew it Kim had me zipped in and it was time to get into the water…good lord was it COLD. After easing our way in over a few minutes we attempted to make our first lap of the course without much feeling in our hand or feet and making a conscious decision to not put our faces in right away. Kim had completed 3 laps last week so that goal was to attempt to do the same this week with the motivation being that the water was slightly warmer. I’ll be honest the first lap was a bit of a challenge – between being very cold, a bit uncomfortable in the wetsuit, my goggles fogging up and trying to get my breathing levelled out I wasn’t to sure about all of this.
Once we completed the first lap I was certainly feeling a bit warmer and slightly more confident, Kim and I took a breather before we made an attempt at our second lap of the course. My second time around I was feeling better, my goggles were still an issue so I just gave up on them and I had my first experience being swam over in a group – but hey practice makes perfect in order to make sure instances like that don’t rock your confidence on race day.
A few things that I learned from my first open water swim:
- If it’s cold it’s really hard to commit to putting your face it – I swam head-up for a majority of the session.
- Swimming in a wetsuit is a whole other experience, especially if you are a strong swimmer and aren’t used to wearing something that makes you so buoyant.
- I need new goggles – seriously I swam for most of the session without them on because they wouldn’t stop fogging up.
- Wearing a wetsuit provides a level of constriction in your range of motion that takes some getting used to.
After we completed our swim, changed into some dry clothes and made a few posts on social media it was time for me to follow Kim over to the local coffee spot for post swim brews + bites. Seriously this is an awesome community to see that once everyone is out of the water they all meet-up to grab a coffee and chat with one another. We arrived at Bean There Coffee – a small shop that one of the swimmers from L.O.S.T. – and I treated myself to a coffee + cookie.
Needless to say I went home that morning feel relieved and grateful. I felt relieved because my confidence in race day was better than before, I knew that I had really worked hard to build my swim endurance over the winter but it was very helpful to know that I could translate that to open water. I was grateful because again this #sweatcommunity continues to blow me away in how we welcome and support each other. So BIG thank you to Kim for inviting me out and MASSIVE thanks to the folks of L.O.S.T. who made me feel super welcome and allowed my first open water swim to be a fantastic experience even if the water was a little chilly!