Thursday, July 11, 2013

Tales from Walden Pond Open Water Swimming


All it takes is a quick 30 minute drive out of Boston, and you're in Concord at Walden Pond. Thoreau did stuff the and wrote...yadda, yadda, yadda, but to tell the truth, that didn't interested me AT ALL this time. I was on a mission.

Open water swimming!

For the record, I must state....that I am VERY grateful to Kosher Biker for pushing me to get some open water swim time in before the Swim Across America event. I learned some very important lessons.

Sunday was the first trip out. Al and I got there relatively early so we could get one of the limited parking spaces. The pond told us via twitter that it had been filling up a lot late. Did you know that ponds have twitter these days? Well, they do!

As it was a summer weekend the pond was quite busy. Lots of families, lots of screaming kids, a few open water swimmers dotting the pond, three or four kayaks, and one small aluminum boat.

I was super excited! I quickly got into my wet suit, found my stop to start my triangular 1/2 mile route and plunged into the water.

This shows exactly why one should wear a BRIGHT swim cap for OWSing.

Swim, swim, swim, swim.....this is kinda hard....wow it's REALLY dark down there....swim, swim, swim....this wetsuit feels so tight around my chest....swim, swim, swim....I'm really moving fast...how fast am I going?.....swim, swim, swim....STOP...how the F%CK did I get in the middle of the lake so fast....wow...I'm in the middle of the lake....alone. F&CK! F#CK! F*CK & PANIC!

This would be a good time to mention that "swimming outside the lines" at Walden is 100% "swim at your own risk."

This is going to sound really strange when I say this, but I'm so glad that this was not my first panic attack. Spending a good portion of my life as a rather anxious person, I've had my share of panic attacks. I haven't had one in a good two and 1/2 years, but at least I knew what I was experiencing. Had I not had this knowledge under my belt on Sunday, I'm pretty sure I would have thought I was dying and that would have been a lot worse.

Just when I was starting to REALLY panic another open water swimmer was coming in from a swim across the pond longways. He was toting a safety float around his waist. Once I got his attention, he offered to swim in slowly and offered me use of his safety float to get back to the shore.

I was shaken.

I was humiliated.

I've NEVER...EVER...gotten scared in the water in my life. What the HELL was this all about? I'll explain more later.

The swimmer that helped me in was very nice to me, asked what was going on... What WAS going on? I think the biggest thing that got to me was the realization that I was ALONE and if something really bad DID happen, I was screwed beyond belief.

He reassured me that he had a very similar situation happen to him during his first OWS, which was why he swam w/ the safety float. He also encouraged me to get out the again and give it a try.

Giving it another go!
 I ditched my wetsuit this time, I really wanted the reassuring feel of the water against my legs...and was honestly thinking that the wetsuit was weighing me down. I swam just outside of the designated swimming area where my best guess the depth is 7-9 and I was cognisant of the bottom and couldn't "see" it. I was still a little shaky from my panic attack and could never get into a smooth rhythm like I know I am capable of, but I got back out there and shook off the earlier debacle off. All in all I think I swam somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 a mile.

I told myself, well....you maybe flailed a bit, but you weren't a quitter and you were smart and didn't repeatedly put yourself in a potentially dangerous situation.

Leaving the pond I was more ravenously hungry and more sore than I have been since I started swimming in February. Adrenaline is amazing, isn't it?

Al and I quickly made plans to get back out to Walden after work on Tuesday. I had to get a 100% positive OWSing experience under my belt before Nantasket. Firth though, what really contributed to my panic attack.

There are a lot of things I could have done A LOT better...and that's the main reason I'm penning this blog entry.

1) Biggest thing - I really shouldn't have gone out that far alone on my first time out. Never in any race or OW event are you completely flying solo. Hell, even people that swim the English Channel have a boat super close to them and sometimes even a ghost swimmer to give them company. That feeling of being 100% alone. It's much more daunting that I EVER expected. Lesson learned. Solution? Either joining an OWS group or Al falls desperately in love with kayaking. The make inflatable kayaks now, you know. Totally perfect for apartment dwelling & I could take it on the T!

2) Lack of pacing - When I swim in the pool, I know exactly where my body should be for each breath to not tire myself out for the length that I'm swimming for any given workout. This wasn't to easy in open water. Add that to the adrenaline of being in the open water....no wonder I booked it to the middle of the pond and wondered how the hell I got there so fast. Solution? Through some "swim math", Al determined when swimming the 1/2 mile I take a stroke on average each 1.5 seconds. If I sing a march in my head and sing just a TAD fast and stroke every other beat, I can keep pace. As I result, I just sing "Stars and Stripes Forever" over and over and OVER again as I swim. Why just that march? Well, it's been awhile since my march playing days and I'm starting to forget a lot of the orders the strains come in for a lot of marches. This just pisses me off in the water and I'll stop swimming and float until I can remember what comes next and continue swimming. Totally efficient, right? "Stars and Stripes" it is!

3) I just jumped right in - This covers a multitude of sins committed. I always, ALWAYS stretch before I swim....I didn't do that Sunday at Walden. Also, I didn't take time to acclimate to the water. I didn't let any water into my wetsuit to help it expand a bit. I didn't get a feel for myself, in my wetsuit, in that particular body of water, on that day. Maybe that sounds a little bit metaphysical to actually be a thing, but I really think there is some truth to that.

4) Millimeters matter - Just as in clarinet playing, they matter in wetsuit donning. Wetsuit wearing really does have a learning curve. I feel like you can just say, "there's always more" room to be found. Take you time, and get it on RIGHT. Once it's on correctly, (I've learned) that swimming in a wetsuit can be FUN and actually give you a secure feeling.

Monday I did a 1/2 mile swim in my wetsuit in the pool and it went awesomely! I started to really understand the wetsuit and enjoy it. I shaved my 1/2 mile time from 27 to 24!

Tuesday it was back to Walden. I had a SMALL window though, was able to take the train to Al's work and leaving the Boston area at 5:15 and had to be back from a work meeting in the Back Bay at 8. (Eating had to happen at some point as well.) Al and I decided while still in the car that at 6:50 he would signal for me to get out of the water and and HAD to get out of the water at that time. No discussion.

Things went MUCH better at Walden on Tuesday.

The vibe was a lot different. There was ONE family, one dude just lounging, a lady randomly playing the ukulele, and a good deal of open water swimmer. I stretched, I eased into things, and then I started swimming close-ish to the shore. I didn't want to do anything stupid.

I. Love. This. Picture!!!



 This was a much better and much more fun experience than Sunday. The water a lot less murky than it had been on Sunday. (Which makes zero sense to me as Sunday was sunny and Tuesday was cloudy.) I enjoyed and sometimes got a little distracted checking out the fish down there. There was what was either a really large perch or really small trout that hung out around me. I named him Bob. Yesterday on the T I wondered to myself, "I wonder how Bob's doing today?

I have one more easy swim workout to go before Saturday. I can't believe it's almost here! I'm getting really excited!!!! I just keep telling myself any time I get nervous, stop and think about WHY I'm doing this and it puts in ALL into perspective. 

Speaking of which! It's not too late to make a donate! Just follow this link.

BTW....Al made friends with the Walden ducks on Tuesday!

QUACK!!!!


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