Wednesday, May 14, 2008

More challenging than I thought

I've been saying that I could probably throw down that tri right now, no problemo. What an asshole. Yes, I could do the swim and yes, I could do the bike ride and yes, I absolutely could run the measly 10k. I could even put the ride and run together with very little problem, even though I'd be tired afterward. And if the swim was in a nice little heated Olympic-sized pool where I could sight along the painted lines and kick off the wall every 25 meters, I could probably even do that. But open water? Ah, there's the rub.

I've been swimming almost my entire life. My first swim lessons that I actually remember were when I was 3 years old, on a Florida vacation we took (long story about my parent's separation and my mom's get-away that maybe I'll tell some other day). I had lessons at the JCC when I was 4 and 5 and by the time I was 6 I was being sent away to summer camp where every year I'd become a stronger swimmer.

Michigan isn't called a water wonderland for nothing. In addition to the huge Great Lakes there are little lakes everywhere. We spent many weekend days in the summer at Sandy Beach (yeah, it was really called that) and at Kensington, a couple of local lakes with nice beaches and all the facilities. In those days nobody was too worried about kids playing alone or drowning, and we were in and out of the water all the time while my mom slathered on oil and worked on her tan (kids, don't try that at home; sun is bad for you!). My comfort level in water has always been very high and although my skills are rusty I still feel at home when I'm swimming.

When we started swimming a couple of months ago at the San Ramon pool I realized that I'd have to refine my swim techniques and form. Waaaay back when I learned to swim we were taught to keep our body as still as possible and breathe to one side. I was taught to flutter kick from the knee. Now I find out that twisting through the water is good, you should breathe from both sides and kicking is from the hip. The kicking part was easiest to fix; if my knee starts hurting I know I'm kicking wrong. In addition, for a tri you want to kick as little as possible, save the legs for later. I'm mostly kicking now just to keep my legs on top of the water, instead of dragging down behind me. Harder than it seems.

Working on the drills in the pool has helped with body motion but I've still just been breathing to the left. My asthma is better swimming than running, but still not great. I need to breathe through my mouth, great gulping deep breaths, and that's where I've been spending most of my effort to smooth out the stokes.

Last night Claudia and I decided it was finally time to hit the open water. Actually, we decided that on Friday after a couple of cocktails. I dunno, drinking with Claudia gets me in trouble, I'm going to have to be careful what I agree to with her! Since we're both registered for the Tri for Fun we thought that we might as well go to Shadow Cliffs in Pleasanton. The heat wave has arrived and it was warm enough to swim outside. We thought.

Last night when we arrived the air temp was hovering somewhere around 80, maybe a little less. The lake was pretty empty, maybe a half dozen guys playing around in there. While we stripped down to our swim suits we noticed two women getting into wet suits and chuckled about their wussiness. As we walked over to the water one of the women yelled out that the water temp was 67 degrees. Oh crap, that's much colder than we're used to. Brrr and no we can't back out now.

Inch by inch we crept into the water, feeling like weenies. Cold weenies. There is one big swim lane at the back of the recreational swim area and we headed that way. We finally decided to take the plunge and ducked under and started swimming. Brrr. We swam over to the lane and took stock.

Hmm. The water was murky and deep and cold and had a bit of wave action going on (not to mention the unsanitary duck-poop-filled water). Not what I was used to. For a moment my brain decided to freak out about it and I forgot how to swim. Heh. Then I remembered that I've been swimming for more than 50 years (yikes) and get a grip lady. We decided to swim to the mid-buoy and take a break if we had to.

Well. That's different. No nice little lines to sight along. I really really didn't want to open my mouth in that nasty water so my breathing was off. I was able to turn my head both directions to breathe but I wasn't getting enough air. My legs were dragging. I had apparently forgotten all the drills I've been doing, forgotten even what I had learned back when I was a little tyke. When we regrouped at the buoy I told myself sternly that I knew how to swim, so do it. Just relax and get over the water conditions.

The second half of the lap was easier because I really did relax. Wasn't swimming much better but I wasn't having mental issues any longer. I realized that I had to sight almost every breath or I'd veer off to the side, wacking into the lane rope and ouch. In the pool I was breathing every 4 count, here I started every 3 count which meant changing sides to breath. That worked well, although breathing on my non-dominant side sent me swimming that direction too. Something to work on. And yes, I opened my mouth in the water and it didn't kill me.

We decided to do 5 laps, a good beginning workout. My hands were getting colder the more I swam, but my form improved until the end of the last lap where I was tired and it got sloppy again. I think I swam twice as far as I should have because of the veering off to the sides. A straight line is quicker but I was swimming back and forth like a drunk driver. It was hard walking out of the water when we finished, I was that tired. And cold, although at that point the air felt pretty warm in comparison to the water.

We think that the lane is 160 meters. That or 120 meters, but more information points to the longer length. So that means for our first open water swim we either swam 600 or 800 meters, not too shabby considering the tri is 1200.

But I'm also pretty darn sure that last night I couldn't have climbed on my bike and then gone for a run afterward. Yep, good thing this is just pre-training. Imagine how well I'll do when I've actually completed four months of real training!