I’m up in New Hampshire with my wife and her family, up by the Great East Lake. It’s a lovely day, quiet and softly raining, temperature in the mid to high 70’s. Other than relaxing and having a good time… and getting some Maine lobster… visiting Kennebunkport, watching some Olympics… anyway, other than a bunch of things, I wanted to have the guts to do some open water swimming while I’m here. I’ve never done open water swimming, and if I’m going to do the triathlon next year, it’s high time I get used to it. I wanted to get used to what it looks like under water, how dark it is, how it feels. How it feels is a big question for me: it has to be colder than pool water, so again, I’d better get used to it. I also wanted to learn what the water tastes like, and how I’ll react when the water’s choppy and I get a mouthful of it. I won’t have the chaos of a thousand other swimmers around me, but a start’s a start.
There were more than a few butterflies and excuses knocking around in my head. Oh, it’s a rainy day, don’t bother. There are some boats out, you should be careful. It’s your first day of vacation! Relax! Yammer yammer yammer. Get in the water, dude. It’ll be cold! Yammer. If I listen to the excuses today it’ll be harder not to listen to them later. I’m still going.
Speaking of starts, We drove up at oh-dark-thirty yesterday, so I slept in today and got off to a late start. I made it down to the water’s edge in swim trunks a little after noon. The thermometer that we keep in the lake said the water temperature was about 77 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s pretty good. High 70’s, 80 max, is a good pool temperature for me. My wife told me the lake’s been warm this year. That means the river back home is going to be colder next July. Okay, that’s good to know. I put my goggles on and flopped backwards off the dock into the water. Then I started kicking and settled into my fingertip drills.
Let’s start by saying that the bottom of a lake looks nothing like the bottom of a pool. It’s green, it’s rocky or it’s muddy, and it’s dark. Visibility was maybe about 10 yards. Bits of plants blown off from nearby trees floated here and there. No doubt any fish in the area bolted as soon as I started swimming.
It’s hard to see where you’re going. Holly, my trainer, already told me to relax my neck and not look so much at where I’m going, to keep from bunching up the muscles in my shoulders. I’m here to tell you that even when you’re looking, you’re really not seeing enough to help anyway. Three times I was almost on top of a neighbor’s boat dock before I knew it, and had to swim around. It was all the more reason to just look straight down and swim far enough away from the docks for it not to matter.
Fresh water tastes much, much better than pool water. They don’t call it “fresh” for nothing. I’m sure there’s some algae, leafy bits, and boat fuel or polish in it, but it’s not like I was drinking it.
It’s easy to get disoriented. Other than my close encounters with the docks, twice I found myself in shallower water than I expected. I figure this won’t be such a problem when I’m surrounded by all the other swimmers. That’s my master plan not to get lost: follow someone else’s feet.
And, for those of you who’ve been following this adventure, the next part won’t surprise you. The biggest problem I had was in my head. As soon as I got tired, at all, I got worried. Let’s face it, I really don’t know how tired I’m going to feel before there’s a problem. That dark water and not always being able to just stand up and breathe scared the crap out of me.
First I swam through the fear. Fear happens. It’s what you do with it when you’re in the middle of it that matters. I didn’t ignore it and I didn’t push it down, but I recognized that my arms weren’t lead weights, my legs weren’t either, and I could still breathe. It didn’t make it go away but thinking at all is a good thing. After a while, I did what my trainer taught me to do: I rolled over onto my back and kicked, but kept going. When I got my breath back, I rolled back over and kept going. A few times I breaststroked, too, but that’s boring, so I went back to freestyle and worked on my breathing. The big thing was that not to stop, at all.
The goal was to do at least a quarter mile today. If I felt dynamite, I’d do a half mile. I have no idea how far I went; I lost count after 200+ strokes, so I definitely made the quarter mile. I swam as far as I had the nerve to go, then turned around and came back. My wife said that she didn’t know when I left, but it went past 12:30 while I was out, and it was about 1:00 when I came in. Assuming I was swimming the whole time, fast or slow, breaststroke or freestyle, that’s pretty darned good for a first try.
The next swim is in three days. I’ve got two days of solid put-your-feet-up-and-enjoy-it time coming in Kennebunkport tomorrow and the day after. That’s a working port and there’s no way I’m swimming in *that* water! After that, we’re back at the lake house, and if there’s no lightning, I’ll be swimming open water again.