Thursday, July 26, 2012

Let's Swim

Cherry Creek Reservoir - sight of the Aquaman swim races
Since bidding farewell for a few weeks to the road and trail race circuit, I actually started having a little no-racing anxiety so thought I'd take advantage of a great series of swim races here at a reservoir near my house called Aquaman.  They are held every Tuesday evening for 6 weeks.

According to the website:
The AQUAMAN Open Water Swim and Aquathlon Series is the perfect opportunity for swimmers and triathletes of all ages and abilities to practice their open water swimming in a fun, competitive environment and at distances not previously offered at other venues. It's also the perfect opportunity for triathletes to practice their open water pacing and swimming in a mass start format with the bonus of an added 5K run.

Each week, the races offer a barrage of events and you can pick and choose any that you desire:
1/2 mile swim
1 mile swim
1.5 mile swim
2 mile swim
1/2 mile swim followed by a 5k
1 mile swim followed by a 5k.

If you're lucky enough to be a gifted swimmer, or one of the uber fit triathletes seen hording the beach beforehand, you can earn lots of points by however may races you enter and where you place, and then win some prizes at the end.  Though I consider myself a fairly "Okay" swimmer, I didn't do the races for the points - I'm a far cry from being in any serious condition like those that will win these prizes.  I swam competitively in college for a couple years - so I have the swim stoke technique skills required to be a swimmer, but since my departure of the college swim team, my time in the pool has been mainly as a great recovery for my achy running muscles and nothing for speed.  My pace in the pool could easily be described as either "slow" or "very slow" - depending on how sore I was from running.
In the blue, swimming for the University of Northern Iowa in either 1981 or 1982.
Sorry for the crappy pic, I have only 3 to choose from and this is about as good as it gets
So I decided to do these races because... and I know this will come as a shocker to most....I'm doing a little triathlon in less than 2 weeks.  Crazy, huh?!

The last triathlon I did was in 1989 (I apologize to all those I mistakenly said 1987...when you're old, you forget dates easily).  I really don't remember much about it other than the run was first, it was hot, and was on some sort of grassy, hilly cross country course.  Next was the bike and since I really never spent much time on my bike (a theme continued to this date), I was just lolly-gagging the bike part and felt super slow (a theme continued to this date.  Hum).  The swim was the finale and in a pool.  Back then, I swam a lot faster than I do now and I remember just being annoyed at all the non-swimmers hanging on the lane rope to survive.  I swam under water a lot just to get around people; there was very little actual freestyle swimming involved.  I have no idea what my split times were or how long the course was (but I do know the run was a 5k), but I finished in 53:30.
I am NOT the spandex red shorts girl with terrible form
Back in the days before triathlons were the "it" thing, bike racks didn't exist.
You either had a kickstand or you laid it on the ground.  Me: white top, aqua shorts...
done with the run and hunting for my lost bike
Official triathlon clothes also didn't exist.  I wore that swim suit
under my running/biking clothes and loved how it rode up my girl bits running!
So, let's recap:

  • My last triathlon I did was 23 years ago.
  • The swim portion was in the pool (and so was the only other tri I did about 3 years earlier); it was last, not first like they are these days.
  • I've never done an open water swim.

Yeah, these swim races are a great idea: the more experience I could get the better (that apparently doesn't hold true for anything related to my bike, since I've rode about 8 times this year).

The first race I did was July 3rd and I opted for just the 1/2 mile swim since I had no clue what I was doing and wanted to mostly just observe and learn.  I opted to also participate in a swim clinic offered beforehand from Carmichael Training Systems. For those of you who are in the uber triathlete classification, you are familiar with Carmichael and how awesome their training and coaching programs are (also ver ex. pen. sive!!).  About the time I showed up for the tri clinic coincidentally was the exact same time a cold front decided to go through and the water was producing some serious swells.

Okay, maybe not THAT bad, but the white caps were intense and I felt like a rag doll just being tossed around.  Nothing like introducing yourself to some of the harshest race conditions on day 1!!

I held my own though and plowed through those waves and actually wasn't all that worried about others around me kicking and fighting their way around the orange buoys - which initially I was terrified of.  I just swam and somehow finished.  Stats: 6/11 female with a time of 12:15 (later we found out the course was shortened due to the bad weather so this time isn't for an actual half).  I swallowed a ton of muddy, murky, e-coli-ridden lake water and felt pretty icky for a few days after.  I instantly went and bought nose plugs for future races.

The next week I thought I needed more punishment so went for the mile swim.  Thankfully, in much calmer waters than the week before.
Before the start.  Never, ever, ever wear a white top in
muddy, gross lake water.

The mile swim was 2 laps and you run through the above shoot after lap one then head back for lap 2.  On the 2nd lap, I seriously thought my arms were going to fall off.  I've never swam a mile without stopping to talk to Tara for awhile or kicking a billion laps in the middle.  So this non-stop 1-mile was uncharted territory for me and I definitely felt it.  I finished 8/14 with a time of 28:44 for 1-mile.

This past Tuesday was my 3rd of the series and again I opted to do the 1-mile again.  I sprained my inner left ankle last week and it was still bothering me at the race (and still is - so not happy about that!) so I wasn't going to push the swim super hard (like that's an option anyway).  There was also a record number of swimmers there - 191, so I knew it was going to be a little more congested than the past races.  I convinced fellow blogger, Katie, to join me since she's dong the same triathlon as me, which just happens to be at the same place as these swim races.  She gave me some great tri transition tips and I was so excited to finally meet her; she's a sweetie and we got along great!
Someone obviously needs to hurry and get their swim cap on!
Myself, Katie and her friend, Audrey
I was a bit worried about the larger start this time but knew it would be great practice for the race.  I tried to jump in the middle of the starters but I really have no clue where I was.  I forgot to start my watch and actually stopped mid-race to start it but ended up getting bounced around too much to figure it out so I just went on my auto-pilot speed and hoped for the best.

I felt a lot better this week than I did 2 weeks ago when I raced last, but my 2nd lap I was tiring and felt like I was drinking half the lake again.  I "tried" to push the pace some but just felt like I wasn't making much progress in the speed department.  I passed a ton of swimmers in the first lap and no one in the 2nd (but it thinned out considerably by now since a lot of swimmers did the 1/2 mile option).  I finished in a much higher position with a much slower time: 6/18 in 30:12.  I later found out that these markers can easily float around and distances are not set in stone and can actually fluxuate in distance from lap to lap as the buoy can move some ... my friend told me later the course was long this week so I felt a wee-bit better about that.  But really, it didn't matter that much to me.

I've learned tons about open water swimming through these races and have had an absolutely great time doing so.

  • I'm not as freaked about the mass start as I once was and the kicking and hitting by other swimmers wasn't as bad as I thought it'd be.
  • Swimming a mile non-stop in open water is a LOT more difficult than swimming a mile in the pool where I can stop and kick laps in between (hum...who'd have thought?)
  • I breathe much differently - almost every stroke - in ows vs the pool where I breathe every 3rd stroke.  I just feel like I can't get enough air every 3rd stroke out there in the open water and it bothers me to breath on my "bad" side.  
  • Looking up frequently to make sure I'm not off course from the orange buoy and repositioning myself takes a lot of practice.  And is a lot harder than I thought.  And it makes my neck hurt.
  • All the fine-tuning my college swim coach did to help perfect my stroke went straight to hell in the open water; I felt my arms were just thrashing and slapping the water with no direct point of entry.
  • Not able to see my arms in the murky water pulling through is a little unsettling.  
  • Drinking half of a disgustingly gross lake is....gross.
  • Swimming in high water chop can make you seasick.  Trust me!
  • Nose plugs are dorky.  But who cares!
  • Swimming a mile leaves my body utterly exhausted a couple hours later.  A full body workout for sure.  I usually sleep well the night after a swim race....I seriously should do a mile race every night!
  • Triathlon clothes you can wear in the water are expensive.  Like $80 for a pair of tri shorts expensive. Holy crap!!  But I admit, they feel fantastic and I think made a good choice - for once.
  • I have a ton of work to do if I ever think I'm going to do a full Ironman for my 50th birthday next year.
  • I look forward to the challenge.  

There are two more swim races in the series - one before my August 5th triathlon.  I think I'll do one more next week before the race but not sure about the other..  I've had a great time poking with my past and  pushing my threshold swimming.  I've become more comfortable with the uncomfortable.  I've become more confident with the uncertain.  I'm a less nervous about my upcoming triathlon in a few short days than I was, but I'm sure it won't be easy and I'm sure I'll make many rookie mistakes along the way.  But I'm excited and feel pretty lucky I've done these races to help get me ready.  

Before I close, fellow blogger, Chris, is looking for pacers for the upcoming Leadville 100 miler on August 18-19.  I will be up there pacing/crewing for a teacher I used to work with so don't think I can help Chris out, but if anyone is interested, please shoot me - or Chris - an email.  Guaranteed fun times and I bet the experience that will leave a permanent mark on those laminated pages in the memory bank!

Until next time...

Swim on, friends!


Amanda - RunToTheFinish said...

wow 23 years between races, makes me feel better about the 5 between my marathons :)

this seems like a neat group, i've never heard of anything like it. so kudos for diving in (HAHA) and good luck!

Adrienne said...

Very cool post! Jumping into triathlon as well? You're ahead of me, my first open water swim was in-gasp-a race itself!! I'm, water and the pool are almost totally foreign!

I love reading of your adventures and hope you have a fun experience in a couple weeks:) You're already ahead of yours truly!!

Beth said...

It sounds like your swimming is really taking off! Good luck with the rest of the swims in your series and with your triathlon!

ShutUpandRun said...

Ok, how did I miss that you swam competitively in college? Impressive!!

And I am dying laughing at the lack of bike racks and the kick stands. They should do that for an Ironman race.

Glad you are hitting the water and getting some good workouts.

Do you know what kind of mileage Chris wants someone to run with him? How about pace?

Teamarcia said...

You were spectacular out there. You'll be great in your tri and you MUST do the IM to celebrate 50. You just have to. Love the vintage pics!

C2Iowa said...

"I look forward to the challenge. " Now there she is! A comment we all have been waiting to read.

Well done.

Once A Runner said...

Jill you've got me laughing this morning.. I'm not the girl in the spandex! HAHA!!!!!!!! Seriously though you are such a great, great athlete. How cool is this! I remember hating swimming when I could not see a damn thing but green colored water at my half IM I also feared the whole time I might throw up from the taste of the water! YUK!!!!!!!

GZ said...

I am interested in seeing what you are going to outline for a training week in prep for this IM next year. While I have thought about a tri, I drop that thought pretty quick when thinking about how long I would have to stare at the bottom of a pool.

misszippy said...

I didn't know you swam in college?! That's really cool. I always say that college swimmers make the best all-around athletes. You all have lungs that can crush the rest of us mortals!

I think it sounds like a really fun series. Wish we had soothing like that around here!

Kandi said...

My tri swim was only 1/4 mile. I probably could have done twice that distance but not much else. A mile seems SO LONG in the water. It's nice that you have these races to help prepare for your long swims. I think if I want to do more swimming/triathlons I need to work on my form a bit more. I lack good form anyway but like you said, once I was in the open water (and choppy water!) what little I had went to hell.
Good luck with your tri! I did one once that was in reverse order (because it was cold outside) and the swim was awful! I much prefer it being the first event.

ajh said...

Good post! It sounds like such a good opportunity to get better at swimming for a tri.
Do you know what Ironman you will do? That is a great goal. My 50th was my first marathon. I should wait a year and do a triathlon for my 6oth.
THe wet suit helps me a poor swimmer with the buoyancy. I lose a lot of that issue of drag. I hear you on the swim stroke. Mine is poor everywhere but in the OWS I shudder to think what I am doing.

Michelle said...

I love the pics from your first tri! :) You are such a crazy lady and I LOVE it! Always trying something new....can't wait to follow this adventure. And I know you are going to grab onto that Ironman soon!

CautiouslyAudacious said...

Yay! Welcome back to the triathlon world!! I wish we had more events like this here I sooo could use the open water swim practice but we don't have much water here other than pools! Good luck!

SupermomE12 said...

YOU ARE AWESOME!!! I love that you swam in college and that you are doing these races (and doing so well!!) SO cool. :) GOOD luck with the tri. I will be cheering for you!

Johann said...

Yay for doing a tri! I did some in the 90's and haven't been on a bike since :) I love your tri photos! I did a Throwback Thursday today. Yours is way further back than mine. How is your foot?

Robin said...

That's awesome, good luck in your tri! 23 years that's somethin'. Love those pics...the bikes all over the ground is something! Have fun! I'm sure you'll do great.

Coy Martinez said...

YAY!!! You're swimming! You've read my blog so you know. I use to be terrified of swimming and getting in the open water. I'm not fast but I LOVE it now. It's my favorite part of a triathlon! Those old school pics kick ass!!! Loving the kick stands! Can you imagine now a Cervelo with a kickstand!?

Casey said...

Great post!! I chuckled @ spandex pants/bad form. A tri is on my next-5-years to-do list!! This post got me pumped!

Karen said...

I love everything about this post: from the old photos and their captions to the frank assessments you made about open water swimming. "Nose plugs are dorky. Who cares!!" Way to go! :)

Tasha @Healthy Diva said...

I loved your old photos! I think that it is awesome that even after 23 years you want to do another tri. This summer seems like the summer to do tri's- I feel like the only person not competing in one....oh well. :-)

Christie said...

I think you are going to really surprise yourself at your Tri!!! Then you will be addicted and 140.6 will be a definite on your list next year:) Which one are you thinking about doing??

The toughest part for me about the open water swim is spotting. I always end up swimming a lot of extra yardage because of it. I would practice putting a bright colored bag at the opposite end of your lane.. close your eyes other than looking up to spot that bag so you cant cheat using the black line at the bottom of the pool:)

Julie said...

Really wish I could be there to cheer you on at the tri! I've commited to volunteering up in Boulder to cheer on those that I backed out on. :) You are truly going to rock that race!

We'll talk but if you are swimming this Tuesday I may try to come out too...if I can stand the thought of the traffic. :)

Matthew Smith said...

What a great trip down memory lane. Those pictures were awesome! It's got to say something about you when you can put a 23 year gap in between and still do a triathlon! Good for you!

Char said...

It's so sensible to have gotten some experience swimming in open water before the event. Swallowing all that E Coli might help get your intestines ready for the main event.

Mike said...

Loved the old school tri pictures!

Your swim series sounds perfect for preparing for your tri. Your mile times are fast to me so I wouldn't worry about the time.

Looking forward to your tri race report.

Bubble Boy said...

23 years since your last Tri. At least you should be well rested! Go Panthers!!

Linda W. said...

Good for you for getting back in the saddle! What a great goal for your 50th (I'll be 50 next year too - maybe I need to set a big goal for myself!)

pensive pumpkin said...

I swear every time I read a post from you my response is Wow.

But, wow.

You rock!

Raina said...

Why am i surprised that you swam competitively in college? You should have told me this I now you will rock the tri- as soon as you get used to swimming with wind.:) I think you are going to do great, lady!!

Kate said...

Ah, it's coming up! What a great practice opportunity,'ll cut out all kinds of anxiety (to make room for other kinds of anxiety :D).

LOVE the old pictures! How fun!

Jenny @ The Little J-Bird said...

You are so cool. I can't swim for crap but I really want to do a half-iron next year. Please teach me your ways!!! ;) xo

readgirl said...

Love reading about your swimming adventures. I've always been a little scared to swim open water because of the reasons you mentioned above, especially swallowing the gross water. Although my fear of what lies beneath would definitely make me pick up the pace. This reminds me that somewhere on the web I came accross a description on how Navy SEALS swim and was surprised that they didn't have their head in the water like our pool freestyle. If I find it again, I'll send you the link.

lindsay said...

eh, 23 years. you'll be FIIIIIINE! ;) my kickstand bike will come in handy it looks like if i ever attempt a tri. i can cheat and park my bike right by the exit since i don't need a rack!

good luck crazy woman. it doesn't surprise me that you're springing this out of nowhere... ;)

HappyTrails said...

Go, Fish!!! I didn't know you had been a competitive college swimmer!!! I think the tri scene might just "become" you. Go girl!!!

Terzah said...

This sounds like perfect practice for your tri! You're going to be great! And that picture of the surf cracked me up. Watch out for the lake bacteria--the reservoir up here has been closed a couple of times due to high levels. Gross.

Katie @ Will Race for Carbs said...

Hey it only took me a week to read seriously, I have been reading it for a week and every time I read more than a sentence I get interrupted! When does school start again ;)
Loved, loved, loved meeting you and you are in fact as nice and fun as I thought you would be! Can't wait for the tri and I think you will be awesome. How is the ankle by the way?? Hope it is good!!!!

XLMIC said...

GAh! Where have I been? lol

Go, swimmer lady :)

Suz and Allan said...

Wow, so many people would never have done another tri after that many years in between!

Bookmaker Casino said...

It is great that you have been looking something else if you can't find a race to run. At least you found great swimming races.