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<span style="font-size:medium;"><span style="font-family:'Joanna MT';"><b>Open Water Swimming</b> – that phrase may send a shudder through many people’s spines, but for me, the simple word of swimming does that in general. But at least I didn’t have to think much about it much ever, especially at this time last year, when I was tapering down for my first ever marathon, the San Francisco Marathon at the end of July.</span></span><br><br><span style="font-size:medium;"><span style="font-family:'Joanna MT';">The run experience was special but pretty typical, and was capped by a nice case of ITBS in my right leg. That forced me to stop the running, and brought the shudder back – one of the most viable options for me then was that dreaded notion of swimming. I signed up for beginner lessons, but they weren’t the most pleasant of experiences. The instructor may have been interested, but enthusiasm was non-existent.</span></span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Joanna MT';"><span style="font-size:medium;">I never really ever learned to swim formally; I had forged a semi-decent backstroke over time, but my freestyle was essentially a whirling dervish of thrashing arms, desperate gasps for air, and a kick that essentially sent me BACKWARD when I used a kickboard.</span></span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Joanna MT';"><span style="font-size:medium;">All in all, this re-introduction to the water was short-lived. My ITBS was resolved late September and I was free to get back to running again. After building up the mileage again, trail running became my new passion, until one muddy excursion in Muir Woods in April this year brought issues with my ITB on my left leg. And as I suspected, running a HM with ITBS is a bad idea, as I found out 3-weeks-later at the Flying Pig in Cincinnati, OH.</span></span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Joanna MT';"><span style="font-size:medium;">Well, this was a sign. Last year I tinkered with thoughts of triathlon as I was trying to pick up a decent swim stroke. Now, it was time to go whole hog into the notion. Unlike last year, when the ITBS was fixed up in June, I would not stop the swimming or the biking I had taken up. A short-distance triathlon would be my next serious goal race.</span></span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Joanna MT';"><span style="font-size:medium;">This time around, the regular pool work was making progress. With the help of Internet resources and the Total Immersion DVD, I could see my stroke rounding into shape. Recently, I began building up the length of the non-stop sessions. I was still mixing in backstroke with freestyle, but the endurance was increasing. I had reached 550 yd non-stop when I decided I might as well tackle something I’d have to face sooner or later in triathlons – the dreaded OWS, or Open Water Swim.</span></span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Joanna MT';"><span style="font-size:medium;">I found an instructor conducting some beginning OWS sessions around the SF Bay Area and inquired, relaying my modest experience and skills. She responded enthusiastically that I’d be fine, and so I showed up with a group of a dozen beginning to advanced swimmers ready to tackle the waters off Treasure Island, in the middle of San Francisco Bay.</span></span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Joanna MT';"><span style="font-size:medium;">Already facing the unknown, I overhead the assistant instructor mention the legs we’d be doing as I was donning the wetsuit. “First, we’ll warm up with a 200 yd leg out to the boat there, followed by...” 200 yards? I just crept over that yardage mark in a non-stop manner three weeks ago! And these were done well after I was warmed up…okay, sure no problem, I thought hesitantly to myself</span></span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Joanna MT';"><span style="font-size:medium;">Ahh, yes, speaking of the wetsuit – the title “Comedy Of Errors” comes to mind. I noticed as I was unpacking the wetsuit (Leslie, the coordinator of these sessions, was kind enough to pick up my rental wetsuit and bring it with her) that it had a pretty significant tear in the calf area. She said I wouldn’t be held liable for that, but that I should try to be careful in donning the thing. Maybe this caution hindered me further, because brute force seemed to be not an option anymore , and none of the tips I had read prior about donning a wetsuit seemed to help much. I struggled into the wetsuit eventually but by then, the rest of the group was already churning in the water, close to completing the first leg of the session.</span></span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Joanna MT';"><span style="font-size:medium;">I dove in and started stroking. Couldn’t see jack through the brackish water. The cold water temps against my face shocked me initially. Salt water isn’t the worse thing I’ve tasted, but the first slosh or two in the mouth added more unwanted sensations. I had no rhythm in my stroke, and I flailed about, reminding me of last year during the first swim lesson sessions, when I struggled mightily to go width-wise across a pool. I instinctively tried to stand, only to realize there was no bottom (ceramic-tiled, mud-covered or otherwise) to support my weight and allow me to rest. Just 50 yards into this, I flopped onto my back to start up a backstroke, wondering what the @#%!$# I was doing out here? I didn’t belong out here at all.</span></span><br><br><span style="font-size:medium;"><span style="font-family:'Joanna MT';">Somehow, I struggled through and completed the first leg to the target boat, where Leslie was there waiting. She drifted up to me on a paddleboard, asking how I was doing. To me, I sounded breathless, panicky and unconvincing when I said I was doing fine. But maybe she’s seen many a beginner like me, because she reassured me that I was doing great and that she liked how I was handling myself in the water, especially on how I moved onto my back when I needed to. She said to forget about the main group and pointed to an abandoned pier 100 yd away and asked me to aim for that. From there I could just head back or swim close to the shore, and if I ever found myself in trouble, I would simply need to signal her and she would be there. I was still uncertain at this point, but I nodded, turned toward the pier, and started to stroke.</span></span><br><br><span style="font-size:medium;"><span style="font-family:'Joanna MT';">And then all of a sudden, an amazing thing happened - it didn’t feel so bad any more.</span></span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Joanna MT';"><span style="font-size:medium;">I concentrated on my mechanics, getting my hands stretched out and pulling through underneath. The breathing became more relaxed and natural. I felt I was making good progress, when I saw an imposing shadow grow in the water. Hmmm, this is too soon for the pier, I thought. I stopped stroking to glance up and saw it was a pier, but it was simply farther up the pier that the target boat was tied to.</span></span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Joanna MT';"><span style="font-size:medium;">Whoops! Now I had just simply had to laugh, and that relaxed me even more.</span></span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Joanna MT';"><span style="font-size:medium;">It simply got better from there. I reached the target pier from there with no issues. I sighted another boat, set forth, and reached that no problem. Yes, I was still alternating between backstroke and freestyle, but as time moved forth, I was staying longer in freestyle. I was actually getting in some bi-lateral breathing, something that had escaped my grasp until now. Even more revelatory, I found I was enjoying the freedom of no lap lane markers; no over-saturation with tear and mucus-generating chlorine fumes; no cement walls; and no children wrestling within or launching cannonball style into the water, threatening to break a couple or three of my ribs.</span></span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Joanna MT';"><span style="font-size:medium;">I eventually caught back up with the main beginning group, which completed this growing sense that this OW stuff wasn’t too bad after all.</span></span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Joanna MT';"><span style="font-size:medium;">I still have issues – my sense of direction still needs fine-tuning, and my freestyle tends to put me on a leftward drift. Wetsuit dressing and removal – only lots of practice will help with that. And who knows how I’ll react in choppier conditions. But as I saw the skyline of downtown San Francisco and sun setting behind the Golden Gate Bridge as I was packing my stuff in the car, my sense of why the heck I was out here swimming had been replaced by a sense of why hadn’t I gotten out here sooner to begin with.</span></span>
 

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Wow Joe, what an adventure! It sounds like you were really getting the hang of it out there. It really sounds like you'll be ready for a tri in no time. Nice job!
 

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VERY nice Moon.<br><br>
More impressed that you started out a non-swimmer.<br><br>
Gives me hope that I might be able to do something like that as well!
 

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Nice job! My first OWS was in my first ever tri. Very good idea to get the OWS part in hand before racing. I think we should swim together, I drift right so if you stay to my left, we will keep each other out of trouble. LOL. Maybe I'll bring my wetsuit with next week and do my first O*WS (i.e. Ocean Water Swim).
 

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Wow! You had me right in that water with you, you are such an excellent storyteller. You did a fantastic job and will only improve from here. Besides, trust me when I say that if you saw <i>me</i> swimming, you'd feel like Michael Phelps. <img alt="biggrin.gif" src="http://files.kickrunners.com/smilies/biggrin.gif">
 

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Very cool <b>Moon!</b> Oh btw, thanks for the pic yesterday too! Im glad to see im not the only one who has had issues initially with flailing about in a pool when starting out <img alt="biggrin.gif" src="http://files.kickrunners.com/smilies/biggrin.gif"><br><br>
Hard to believe your first OWS was in the SF Bay <img alt="notworthy.gif" src="http://files.kickrunners.com/smilies/notworthy.gif"> Thats a huge accomplishment in itself. I dont think I could do it. Way to go bud!
 

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Moonie,<br><br>
This sounds like it was an AWESOME experience! One that would absolutely terrify me, but man, what a great report! Way to go, and thank you for sharing!<br><br><img alt="" src="http://i160.photobucket.com/albums/t197/laiesken/BUZO4.gif" style="border:0px solid;">
 

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I bow down to anyone who swims....the water scares the bijeebus out of me.<br><img alt="notworthy.gif" src="http://files.kickrunners.com/smilies/notworthy.gif"><img alt="notworthy.gif" src="http://files.kickrunners.com/smilies/notworthy.gif">
 

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<b>Moonie!!!!!!</b> That was so much fun to read! I know exactly how you were feeling and was smiling as I read through. Isn' tjust the best feeling when it all hits you and you find your stroke? Baby, you got the mojo now!!!!! <img alt="headbang.gif" src="http://files.kickrunners.com/smilies/headbang.gif">
 

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Didn't people once escape from Alcatraz Prison and drown in that Bay?<br>
I'm just saying, if that didn't happen..you did AWESOME.<br><br>
Congrats. Water freaks me the hell out.
 

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Great OWS report....my first OWS was in a lake that was soooooo cold. I hadn't mastered the breathing pattern that worked for me-so I had a migraine!<br><br>
The first OWS each season seems to be a "freakout session" for me.<br><br>
I loved swimming in the gulf of mexico in my half ironman.<br><br>
Yay for your sighting and stroking!
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Thanks for all the kudos and comments everyone - they mean a lot to me <img alt="smile.gif" src="http://files.kickrunners.com/smilies/smile.gif"><br><br>
Just as a short followup, I did my second OWS today at Aquatic Park. Quite a bit different than Treasure Island in that:<br><br>
A) the water was about 5 degrees colder (brrrrr! at first for certain)<br>
2) the sea had a little more kick to it, with some decent swells and waves<br>
d) there were about 20 or so beginner folk there attending this session with me<br><br>
I guess I just have an idea of what to expect now, because this went really nicely! It felt triathlon-esque at times (Feet, elbows, and legs were all around as I was swimming up to and right beside some of my fellow session attenders (or vice versa); we also got some sighting practice) as well as peaceful (can't beat floating on the bay gazing up at a deep blue sky dotted by white swirly clouds.)<br><br>
And not once during the session did I break into backstroke, a fact with which I'm pretty pleased about.
 
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