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Archive for the ‘Swimming’ Category

I may have been joking when I said that I did speedwork with sprinter Usain Bolt, but I am serious when I say that I trained with swimmer Janet Evans. I was 12 or 13 at the time, and we trained on the same aquatic sports team. We competed against each other, and I use “competed” in the loosest sense possible, given that we were distance swimmers and in our distance races she beat me by minutes, not seconds. Hey, not that many people can say they came in second against Janet Evans! Of course she went on to become a 5-time Olympic medalist, and I went on to quit competitive swimming due to repeated sinus infections. I’m not jealous. I’m not bitter. Who’s the triathlete now, though? 😉

All that to explain that I am a competent swimmer. The swim segment ought to be the strongest part of my triathlon race, or at least my favorite part. Nope on both counts! Sunday’s swim at Zuma Beach proved I have plenty to work on. With that in mind, I reviewed several sources for open water swimming tips. These stood out as the most important for beginner triathletes like me.

1. Evaluate whether or not you will need a wetsuit. There are two reasons to wear a wetsuit: protection against the cold, and buoyancy. I find that wetsuits feel constraining and I haven’t noticed the buoyancy advantage, but I still wear one to protect against the chilly waters of the Pacific Ocean. I would have gone with sleeveless if the cold temperatures for local races didn’t require a full wetsuit. If you’re a beginner and you’re not quite ready to buy a suit, you can rent one. Personally I just dove right in, so to speak, and bought my own suit. I don’t know anything about WetsuitRental.com but I appreciate its Triathlon Event Water Temperatures Index for All States. It lists the past water temperatures for many popular events in the U.S. and recommends the appropriate type of wetsuit (and booties and a neoprene cap if it comes to that!) Keep in mind that some races do not allow a wetsuit, and that it’s also possible to overheat if you wear one when the water is warm.

2. Wear your goggles under your swim cap. Putting your swim cap on over your goggles will help prevent them from being knocked off by waves or other competitors. I noticed that many of the 2012 Olympic swimmers did this even though they didn’t have to contend with other swimmers around them.

3. Conquer your fear. Getting out in the open water for several trial swims is not about “practice makes perfect” so much as it’s about learning to be comfortable in the open water. You can practice form in the pool, but you need to get out in the river, lake or ocean to learn how to sight and swim without a black line to follow, how to deal with waves and wind, and just plain how to get over the fear factor.

Pacific Ocean at Zuma Beach

The shore start for the Nautica Malibu Triathlon at Zuma Beach

4. Practice your start. Will you have a beach start, a diving start, or an in-water start? Each of them requires a different technique and strategy. I love an in-water start like the one at SheROX San Diego. The shore start at the freshwater reservoir for HITS Palm Springs presented a challenge, and that’s nothing compared to the shore start for Nautica Malibu. I’ve got to work on running into the water, diving under the waves to swim out to the first buoy, and body-surfing back in to shore!

5. Expect to adjust your breathing. No matter the conditions in the water, at the beginning of a race the adrenaline requires me to breathe more often than I normally would. That’s something for me to work on, but in the meantime it simply helps to know that I can breathe from either my left or right side and can alternate sides when necessary. Not only is that helpful at the start, it’s helpful when you’ve got a competitor splashing close on your right or someone swimming over you on your left!

6. Train with some backstroke and breaststroke in addition to freestyle. I can swim a mile of freestyle in the pool no problem, but sometimes race day conditions make it necessary for me to change things up. A stroke or two of breaststroke can help you with sighting and help you catch your breath. I don’t recommend much of that though, because it slows you down tremendously! If you really need to catch your breath but want to keep moving forward, flip to your back for a while. With practice, I find that I’m nearly as fast on my back, and while I wouldn’t race the whole way like that, it’s helpful to catch my breath or to recover after accidentally getting a mouthful of water.

7. Practice sighting. With no black line at the bottom of the ocean, you’ve got to pick out a building or a feature on land to guide you. You can follow the buoys too, but there are multiple buoys and they make slightly moving targets. I understood the basic advice to “practice sighting” but it took me a long time to get down the technique that works for me. The key is the timing — where in your stroke you lift your head, and when in comparison to when you breathe. I pull hard with my right arm to lift my head enough for my goggles to peek above the water line, sight, then quickly turn my head left to breathe.

8. Cut yourself a break. Do not fight too hard to replicate that perfect form you have in the pool (ha ha — I wish I had perfect form). Enjoy the moment. You are out there doing something many others are afraid to do.

For more tips, check out these Expert Open Water Swimming Tips for Ocean Swims.

Do have any open water swimming tips? Do you love the swim portion of a triathlon or is it your nemesis?

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After a prior postponement due to child illness, my family and I made it out to Zuma Beach on Sunday along with what seemed like half the population of Southern California. The roads were crowded with people fleeing the inland heat, but the beach itself was fine. Malibu has 21 gorgeous miles of coastline and there was room for everyone!

You see the beautiful Pacific Ocean view at Zuma Beach in Malibu, but I see the intimidating waves I’d need to conquer on my open water swim!

Before I could get too nervous about practicing the one-mile open water swim for the Nautica Malibu Triathlon, I wiggled my way into my wetsuit and posed for the camera because wetsuits are so flattering (not!)

Smiling through the fear

The first challenge in the water was getting out past the two sets of waves that pounded the shore. On my first attempt, I made it past the first set but was still getting hammered by the second set that was farther out. I headed back to shore and consulted with my husband and Chief Safety Officer, who advised me to swim out an additional 50 feet or so to get free of the worst of the waves. It took some guts to get back in the water.

Once I made it past that second line of onslaught, Poseidon rewarded me with the sight of two dolphins swimming past me! They looked so big that my first thoughts were: “Dolphins! Amazing! Wow, those dorsal fins are huge. Wait, are those really dolphins? Could they be sharks?! Does anyone else see them?! Do I look like a tasty seal in my black wetsuit?” After my heart stopped racing I just hoped my kids had gotten to see the dolphins swimming with their mom (with the kids’ mom, me, not the dolphins’ mom, and yes they did see the dolphins. The kids saw them. You know what I mean).

The swim was harder than any I have done before. That was my ninth time in open water, after two times in a protected cove off Catalina Island, three times in choppy Mission Bay in San Diego, once off Silver Strand Beach at Coronado Island, once in freshwater Lake Cahuilla near Palm Springs, and once at Corona Del Mar State Beach.

Because the swim proved so tough, I learned a lot. (1) Strap your goggles on tighter, silly, this is the Pacific Ocean! (2) Dive under the waves that are trying to tumble you in the washing machine. (3) Learn to identify dophin fins vs. shark fins. (4) Stop trying to fight the ocean and just swim! (5) Alter your breathing pattern to fit the conditions. I finally determined that I did the best by breathing to my left side, every two strokes, rather than my usual alternating sides every three strokes. It helped me manage my feeling of hyperventilating, and it allowed me to keep tabs on the waves and avoid being swamped.

I can’t say it was a fun experience, but it was an empowering one! I made it the whole 1.5K and now I know that if I can do it in those winds and high waves in the afternoon, I can do it in what I hope is the relative calm on the morning of race day.

I am so grateful that my family supported me with a trip out there. We made a mini-vacation out of it and treated ourselves to dinner on the patio at this family-friendly place:

Thumbs-up (or claws-up?) to the Malibu Seafood Fresh Fish Market

followed by gelato at Grom Gelateria, also in Malibu. I don’t have a photo of my yummy vanilla gelato because I was too busy inhaling it savoring its wonderful flavor.

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Perhaps you have heard the following inspirational quote by Eleanor Roosevelt:

Do one thing every day that scares you.

It’s the mantra that got me through much of my early triathlon training. Learn to ride with bike shoes and clipless pedals. Scary, but check. Get back on the bike after once falling over on a hill with my feet still clipped in to the pedals’ cleats. Double scary, but check! Master the fine art of pelagic swimming. Check. Use the word “pelagic” in a sentence. Check for today! (Note that no triathlete I know calls it pelagic swimming, it’s just open water swimming. But I wanted to sound smart compliments of the Dictionary.com Word of the Day — “Pelagic: of or pertaining to the open seas and oceans.”) Speaking of which, I will be practicing my open water swimming skills tomorrow as I preview the course for the Nautica Malibu Triathlon. Pictures to follow! In the meantime, enjoy this photo of the one thing that scared me yesterday:

My husband and I singing “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones at karaoke night.

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I am an amateur athlete who prides herself on being a fit, fun mom. I have always been focused on fitness as a key to health and well-being. My long-standing goal has been to exercise at least four times per week (now I average six!) At first that meant running, mountain biking, swimming, hiking, or just plain walking. If I had the time, maybe yoga or an aerobics video.

At the age of 39, after having three children, I was ready to commit to more. A friend issued a challenge in March 2011: run 30 miles in 30 days. I was equal to the challenge. My fitness built from there. Soon I could swim a half mile (back to my high school competitive swimming days) and I decided I could commit to a triathlon. Of course that meant that I would need to build on my running ability and get a road bike! Soon I was swept into the world of triathlon. I celebrated being “fit at forty” with my first sprint distance race.

As soon as I finished my first sprint tri, I signed up for an Olympic distance tri. In the meantime, I tested my running fitness at the 5K distance. I was hooked! I loved running. Still, it was the weak leg (so to speak) of my race. I could swim fine and loved the biking but felt like I would slog through the run. I sensed a need to work on my running form and speed. So when I finished the Olympic distance tri, I signed up for a half marathon training class. The class was just what I needed. I trained through injury to run an 8K, a 10K, and finally the half marathon. During the half I told myself I was crazy and I never wanted to race again. Two days later I signed up for a full marathon six months in the future! (That tends to be how things go in the post-race glow.)

That’s where I am now — training for another Olympic distance triathlon, a repeat of my first sprint tri, and my first full marathon! Join me as I talk about my training, about fitness and nutrition, and about how to get the whole family involved in the fun of fitness!

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