The Competitive Joy of Open Water Swimming

Weiswampach_triathlon_2007_men_swimming_startThis past weekend I entered my first swimming competition in more than a year. Rather than swim in a pool, however, I swam the first leg of a half-ironman triathlon.Like many people who swam all through high school and college, I am not always fired up about going to the pool every day to swim laps. I still enjoy the challenge, and I still enjoy the feeling of acceleration through the water, but going to the pool doesn’t always stoke my competitive fire. Enter open water swimming. Rather than swimming back and forth in a pool with lane boundaries, open water swimming brings many new elements into play, including navigation, sunlight, physical contact with other swimmers, and the ability to stand up at the end of a long swim race and run up the beach to the finish line. These elements add a lot of excitement to your standard swimming race.

This past Sunday, more than 350 people dove into the water to start the triathlon. We went off in five waves spaced three minutes apart. Because I was on a relay team, I went off in the fifth, and final, wave. This meant I would have very little access to “clean” water and likely would be surrounded by other swimmers throughout. The race was 1.2 miles long, and involved swimming two laps around a number of buoys placed in a triangular shape. At the end of the first lap, we had to get out of the water, run around a buoy on the beach, and then run back into the water and start swimming again. Spectators were lining the beach cheering everyone on as they exited the water at the half way point. For one leg of our triangular path, we had to swim due East – or straight into the low angle rising sun at approximately 7:30 in the morning. Trying to find the next buoy while simultaneously being blinded by sunlight really gets the adrenaline going – especially when you are also wedged between three other swimmers. Technique, to a degree, is abandoned, and for a swimmer who was raised in a pool like me, the sport really became about survival for the first time. None of this is to say I have given up on pool racing, but I can assure you I will make a point to do a few open water swim events every summer for the rest of my life.

If you ever feel like you are getting in a rut with your swimming like I was, I highly encourage you to try and break the mold and find an open water event. I guarantee it will reinvigorate your competitive swimming spirit!