Can there be any better way to open a triathlon then a swim?  Shaking your arms, rotating your shoulders and neck while staring at an uncontrollable body of water.  A taste of the unknown is moments away and your heart pounds with the thought.  The depth alone is a place you won’t let your mind go.  You breathe deeply, convince yourself to stay relaxed, but deep down you know . . . you know you’re about to face a storm.  One inadvertent punch to the ribs, foot to the face, or short breath could derail the reason you came.  The tone for your race is about to be set.  Will you let it get the best of you, or will you calmly navigate the mystery?

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Today, I went back to the lake.  I really miss the training days when we had groups of 10-15 people out there three days a week working our asses off.  We started at 6 am and it was simply a bunch of people who wanted to work.

We practiced running beach starts, dolphin dives, scampering out of the water down the beach, then sprinting out to a buoy and back.  This was normally convoluted with several of us clamoring to get around the buoy at once.  We were well trained for water combat and didn’t realize how lucky we were.

There’s a different energy in open water.  It’s raw, it’s nature, it’s intimidating.  By the end of my first summer training for Ironman, I had virtually no fear, and it’s a good thing, because Wisconsin’s swim is not for the meek.

wisconsin swim start
Ironman Wisconsin Swim Start

Open water also has another major difference from a pool:  You can’t stop . . . and for some reason that keeps you swimming.

In the pool, there are “lifeguards” and ropes and a shallow bottom.  In a lake there is darkness, and swimming 800 yards to warm up means swimming 800 yards without pushing off or touching ground.

You truly have to suspend fear in open water, and really, why not?  Why the fear?  There is shit to be scared about around every corner, the GOP Debate for instance.

A common question we had when we used to train at the lake was “Are we swimming enough distance?”  Many of those workouts were only 1,500 yards and rarely did we go past 2,000, but I can tell you, I have finally realized swim advances don’t come from plodding along for 3 or 4,000 yards.  They come from busting your ass for short distances while maintaining form and composure.

I will still swim most of my sessions in a pool, but swimming open water is a different sport.  There are currents and waves, winds and sighting challenges.  There’s rarely cruise control in open water and certainly no center line.

Every time I drive over a bridge I yearn to be in the water below.  It feels like the ultimate escape and oneness with nature.  The place I came from and place I belong.  I am water and crave to be in it . . . or maybe I’m just dehydrated.

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Open Water Swimming

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