Matt’s First Open Water Swim

>> Saturday, June 26, 2010

Yesterday morning, Pharmie, Matt, and I hit Square Lake. Matt’s working up his distance in the pool to be ready for this first triathlon this summer!! And we were about to treat him to his first open water experience!

We gave him all the pointers we could. We kept telling him about how we used to “freak out” during our first open water swims of the year to get him ready for a possible freak out. We kept telling him how swimming in a pool is very different than watching the sand disappear under you into black nothingness.

We reminded him to stay calm, and that we’d meet him at the first buoy. Pharmie and I watched him take off (much like proud parents must watch their child roll away on a bike for the first time) and commented that his form was pretty good! He was keeping his movements easy and controlled. Good. He was doing just fine!

We started swimming and met him at the first buoy. Matt got there with a mix of freestyle, side-stroke, and back-stroke. His first remarks once he popped out of the water were something like, “Shit, when the ground disappears under you... I mean... that’s just not stuff you can be ready for!” He understood our warnings pre-swim, but, like he said, you just CAN’T be ready for that. This is my 5th year of triathlon, and it’s only been the last 2 years that I HAVEN’T had a mini-freak-out when hitting open water for the first time.

We got out to the second buoy, chatted for a moment, and swam straight back in. I swam a bit quicker on the way back and grabbed my camera to get a shot of Matt and Pharmie coming in:


Pharmie’s arm in the center, Matt’s head to the right


Chatting in the shallows

The great thing is that we got Matt out for one more trip to the second buoy and back!! Nice work Matt!! Now, he knows what he has to work on, and he has about a month to do it. So time to hit the pool.

After the swim, Pharmie and Matt changed, and they planned on riding their bikes home. Here’s Pharmie getting sunscreened:



And here they are riding out of the park as I was about to pass them in the car:



CONGRATS on your first OWS, Matt!! I think we can all remember looking down into nothingness for the first time and feeling our heart beat just go through the roof! Nice work out there!

I sort of want to ask “does anyone have any good OWS stories for Matt of when they were newbies?” But really, I want to hear your early OWS stories! Do you remember watching the sand disappear and wanting to turn back? Do you remember brushing up against some dead creature face-first? Do you remember those irrational fears of killer beasts coming out of the depths after you? (I still have that one. Really. So why did I watch Jaws the night before the 2008 St. Croix Valley Sprint Tri? Am I STUPID?!?)

So give us your best OWS incident / story / moment! Thanks everyone!

29 comments:

Ryan 12:07 PM, June 26, 2010  

Dude! I WALKED my first sprint swim leg. Thank god Lake Michigan is shallow along the beaches!

It's just a matter of time. The more OWS you do, the easier it is. No worries!

Ryan

Suzy 12:09 PM, June 26, 2010  

I find it strange that people have their first OWS when they are adults. I grew up living next to a lake, so I was in open water from my first summer. OWS were part of life living next to a lake - you want to swim then you best get in the lake.

Carolina John 12:47 PM, June 26, 2010  

Good job getting matt in the water steve! the mental game in an ows is so much harder than the swimming parts.

GoBigGreen 2:04 PM, June 26, 2010  

I think sometimes its worse when you can SEE Stuff below you! But that is just me. Square lake is likely the most clean and clear of many lakes so maybe when he gets into a murky one where he cant see his hand it wont seem as bad. Some mantra's ( ie I am strong, i CAN do this, etc..) work as well, talking to yourself or focusing on something( ie breathing ever 3-5 strokes) other than the DEEP DARK water and what you cant see below...and remind him that when he is in there with 100's of others nothing is gonna come bite his toes!
Good job Matt!

tstorms,  2:28 PM, June 26, 2010  

I don't think I could put my face in the water for my first open water swim. I was too scared. I think I did the breast stroke the whole way. It gets better!

Jaime 4:08 PM, June 26, 2010  

Suzy has nailed it: take your kids to the lake or the sea often when they are young, and 'freaking out' won't even be an option. Your heart still skips a beat when your leading hand touches an UFO (unidentified floating object), and if you commit yourself to think about shark attacks, it won't be too much fun. But no freaking out. No way.

Smithers 4:10 PM, June 26, 2010  

During my first open water swim...I FREAKED out. It didn't help that my first open water swim was in my first triathlon! Bad idea.

I started panicking (sp?) and ended up doing the breast stroke the rest of the way to the turn around. By then, my nerves had settled and I made it back to shore with only a few small back stroke snippets.

I found out later that my husband and his friend had been watching the swim when his friend said, "Who the heck is out there doing the breast stroke?!?" to which my husband replied..."I think it's Panda!"

I may have been second-to-last out of the water, but I had a ton of fun...even if the question "Who the heck is doing the breast stroke?" has now become a family joke. :)

Good job, Matt!

Anonymous,  5:10 PM, June 26, 2010  

My family has been vacationing at an Island in the 1000 Islands for years. When prepping for my Tri I tried to do a swim around the island. Holy Moly did it freak me out (I think I had my first panic attack). In some parts large seaweed came up to grab my legs. In the shallow parts the water is murky and in the deep places the water is crystal clear and all I could see was deep nothingness. (I was convinced I would get tired over the deep part and sink into the abyss). And throughout I would see these massive fish (2 - 3 feet long). Locally the water is very murky and I decided I prefer it that way (ignorance in bliss). My first tri went great. I am sure yours will too! - Greg A.

Mindy 7:50 PM, June 26, 2010  

I've done 5 or 6 triathlons now, and the swim is ALWAYS my hardest portion. I commend anyone who even gets in a lake and tries it. Way to go Matt!

Square Lake is a good, clear, cool lake to keep working in as well.

Keep it up! Nice job!

-Mindy

Katie 9:01 PM, June 26, 2010  

I did my first tri last year, and even though I practiced OWS several times during the summer, I still breast stroked most of the race. I did my second outdoor race this morning (Croixathalon) and was so distracted by the band-aids on my arm and shoulder falling off (I took a spill about 2 weeks ago) that I was finally able to not freak out as much about the swim (I was still horribly slow)! I guess band-aids (or some other distraction) will be my key to success.
Good job Matt!

Kathy 9:38 PM, June 26, 2010  

the only place I can swim is open water - no pools big enough for a swim workout. My last swim i was stung all over my back by a jellyfish and today i could have had a great story (had i survived) but Tropical Storm Alex is offshore and that would have just been stoopid. But I normally see lots of fish, sometimes a turtle (Caribbean is the sea) and once and a while a barracuda. The sharks and I have an agreement. They stay on THEIR side of the reef and I stay on mine.

Jennifer 11:24 PM, June 26, 2010  

I did my first OWS in my first tri (really bad idea)... which was totally unplanned. Meant to do Morgan Hill sprint as my first, but my friends talked me into signing up for Wildflower (a really challenging, hilly, hot Oly.) I blogged about it here: http://brand.blogs.com/mantra/2010/05/10-guidelines-for-a-successful-first-triathlon.html
I do have the really funny "stick on my head" photo coming out of the swim that I could be persuaded to share. The actual swim was dreadful; I backstroked the entire way, repeating my mantra "don't freak out in the lake, don't freak out..." My 2nd tri swim was WAY better.

Jumper 2.0 7:04 AM, June 27, 2010  

My first OWS was Lifetime Fitness Tri in 2007, without a wetsuit too. I definitely did not do any freestyle! Well, maybe the first 100 yds.
It is freaky isn't it? It gets better every time, I promise!

Greenking17 "TRI-harder" 8:34 AM, June 27, 2010  

Yeah, it gets better!! I am not a very good swimmer anyway, but have learned to just get 'comfortable' in the water first and foremost...the rest comes with time and practice. Practice makes better ya know. Keep it up, Matt...you will do great, just stay calm!

Dr. TriRunner 8:58 AM, June 27, 2010  

Yayyy! And Square Lake is a NICE place to it too!! I've been getting in Cedar at least once a week - even if it's just across the lake once or twice and back - just to stay "comfortable".

I have had ONE panic during the swim.. and ironically not even during my first tri. And also ironically it was at St. Croix Valley. :) Loved that race though (at least I think I did...?). Are you going back this year?

amybee 10:36 AM, June 27, 2010  

So here is my story and it happened at the St. Croix Valley Sprint my first year doing tris.

I was really an awful swimmer then (now just a not so speedy swimmer). I was taking my time out to the turn around buoy and needed to catch my breath so I popped up and let my legs dangle, when I discoverd I COULD TOUCH THE BOTTOM! BOOO-YA! I walked the rest of the swim.....

Sparklinglady 11:20 AM, June 27, 2010  

there is a lake where we swim, were on an overcast day with no wind, the water is like a mirror and very black. when its like that i have a hard time because it 100% makes me think of a teen camp horror flick, and i'm convinced something horrible is going to happen. i still do OWS there, i just try really really hard to not think about it!

SingletrackJenny (formerly known as IronJenny) 11:21 AM, June 27, 2010  

Matt - I swam as a child, so I'm REALLY comfortable in the water.... as long as there is chlorine, a wide black lane line, I can touch the bottom, there is a steady temperature control, a lifeguard, and fat plastic lane lines that keep other swimmers a safe 2 or three feet away from me on either side.
My first open water swim freaked me out, too. You can't see the bottom, you feel like your throat has stiffened and closed off a little, you breathe only into the top half of your lungs cause the bottom half is already filled with panic-air.
Once the gun goes off in a race, people swim on top of you, over you, around you... I once thought someone threw a lawn chair on me but it was really just some other swimmer: he was a dentist or a salesman or a student - just an everyman who I only THOUGHT was a lawnchair.
Dont' sweat it - you WILL get better, and you'll be able to swim away from other athletes. But know going-in that you aren't going to break any ows records; just be fast in transition and on the bike and you will catch up and pass all those people who freaked you out in the water a half hour earlier.
It's a really fun sport, and if you talk to others you will learn that you are not alone in hating the swim.
Good luck!

Gottatri 6:07 PM, June 27, 2010  

I went for an OWS today. I grew up on a lake but still get uneasy around the shallows, especially in murky water. More chance to run into something. I feel better in the deeper sections. I don't think it matters how long you've been doing OWS's. You'll always get the heartrate up when something unexpected comes into view suddenly. There is always that urge to stop, figure out what it is, and then move on. Probably why snorkeling is fun. You just have to remind yourself you're racing here, not snorkeling on vacation!

Krissa,  10:59 PM, June 27, 2010  

My first (and only) open water swim was last fall in the Pacific Ocean in San Diego. Good think I had no idea what to expect! We took off from beautiful La Jolla Cove and swam out about 1/2 mile I believe. It was pretty cool in the beginning, seeing the huge (and harmless as far as I know!) orange girabaldi fish swimming below you, stopping to look back at the others on the beach, thinking how much fun it is! Then it was creepy seeing the bottom disappear, all you see is aqua blue (I think at that point I swam with my eyes closed!), then swimming through seaweed (gross). Also creepy was when I was at the bottom of the big wave and I couldn't see my swimming buddy...but then there he was when I was on the high point of the wave! I was proud of myself when I made it to the bouy but then saw how far I had to go back...I slowly made it back but every few strokes I'd get a mouthful of salt water from the big waves coming from my right side :/ Overall fun but glad I made it back!!

Krissa,  10:59 PM, June 27, 2010  

My first (and only) open water swim was last fall in the Pacific Ocean in San Diego. Good think I had no idea what to expect! We took off from beautiful La Jolla Cove and swam out about 1/2 mile I believe. It was pretty cool in the beginning, seeing the huge (and harmless as far as I know!) orange girabaldi fish swimming below you, stopping to look back at the others on the beach, thinking how much fun it is! Then it was creepy seeing the bottom disappear, all you see is aqua blue (I think at that point I swam with my eyes closed!), then swimming through seaweed (gross). Also creepy was when I was at the bottom of the big wave and I couldn't see my swimming buddy...but then there he was when I was on the high point of the wave! I was proud of myself when I made it to the bouy but then saw how far I had to go back...I slowly made it back but every few strokes I'd get a mouthful of salt water from the big waves coming from my right side :/ Overall fun but glad I made it back!!

kyle. 1:00 AM, June 28, 2010  

it's probably because i grew up going to a lake regularly, surfing, and eventually lifeguarding, but the open water never bothered me. as i used to instruct scared junior lifeguards, you swim on top of the water so as long as you can keep moving it doesn't matter if it's 1 yard or 1 mile deep.
i'd think more people would be freaked about the chaos of the swim than the unseen bottom.

Ms. R 8:21 AM, June 28, 2010  

YAY Matt! The first OWS of the year is always a doozie. After 4 years of tri, last year was my first year not having a major panic attack, and this year was my first year of no panic attack. It gets easier the more you get in the water. In a month, you'll be a pro at OWS.

Andy W,  9:27 AM, June 28, 2010  

Um funny you mention this...I did my first OWS on Saturday morning. We biked to a local lake 12 miles out and swam. Now swimming is my strong point in a pool at least. This was a whole new experience though, I never panicked but I was never fully comfortable doing it. The not being able to see part was frustrating, so I did some drills to practice getting my head out of the water. And by surprise I swim pretty straight when I swim with my eyes closed. The water was freaking warm though over 80 or some it was like bath tub water, and I could tell in just my buoyancy I didn't stay up in the water as much. But more practice will only tell, I have my 3rd tri in 3 weeks, but my first OWS...pretty nervous though.

Michelle 4:01 PM, June 28, 2010  

I have a write-up that I did a few years back on conquering my OWS demons. Here's a link! http://theroadtoboston08.blogspot.com/2007/12/finding-your-why.html

My first OWS race was a mess - I panicked and swam nearly the entire race doing backstroke, as that helped keep me calm enough to make forward progress. I swore like a sailor as I saw my friends (who convinced me to do this race in the first place!) coming out of the water, and was PISSED beyond belief.

Years later, now I honestly and truly LOVE OWS swimming.

Nelson 4:26 PM, June 28, 2010  

Just had my first OWS experience a few weeks ago. I just learned to swim in December so I wasn't really expecting much. Now just the night before I kept envisioning getting pulled under by some lake creature, it's funny that you mentioned it.

So I went out with a group and before long the water all faded to black and I was out in the open lake. I kept running into one of my swimming partners, or maybe she was running into me. I tried to sight but I had never done it so my rhythm fell apart and I stopped. My head mouth dipped under the water and I realized that I was in the middle of a lake with no lane lines or pool walls to rest on. I was breathing heavy and decided it was best to just head back before I got myself into trouble.

I ended up going back in and swimming about a half mile out and back along the shore (no blackness) while stopping all quite often. No line on the bottom of the lake plus no practice sighting, plus little confidence in my swim ability equals bad idea to go swimming with a large group.

I want to try to go with just one or two other people and play with treading water before I do another long swim again.

FinnyKnits 7:19 PM, June 28, 2010  

My first OWS came during my SCUBA certification when we had to strap on our tanks and paddle out to the dive spot from the beach.

The only, and I'm talking ONLY, thing that kept me paddling when my heart threatened to fail and I was *thisclose* to swallowing my tongue, was the shame factor that would have been associated with having to swim back to shore when my whole dive group forged ahead.

Then, just as we were getting ready to descend to our certification depth, one dude barfed in his regulator.

Gross. But at least I wasn't the shameful one.

Mr. P 7:57 AM, June 29, 2010  

My very first OWS, in a Sprint, was a disaster. Inhaled a lungful of water and called it quits on the swim. I stuck with duathlons from that point until last year. I very strategically picked my first tri back that had a swim parallel to the beach. It was still rough, but I managed. A wetsuit helped my confidence TREMENDOUSLY!

With the two other tris I did last year, including Steelhead in with some large swells, I somehow managed to detach my imagination and just focussed on getting the job done.

Congrats Matt!

Josh 4:00 PM, June 29, 2010  

Great stuff! OWS are nerve wracking... then add the adrenaline of a race and look out!

Reminds me of my first OWS a couple years back at Tinman in upstate New York

http://joshmorphew.blogspot.com/2007/07/tinman.html

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