My First Open Water Swim: Look like an idiot or drown?

Going into my first tri, I had one open water swim practice under my belt. I knew it wasn’t the best idea, but I figured it was close enough to pool swimming that I’d be fine. My swim start was first thing in the morning and the sun was just rising over the mountains, right in the sight line of our first turn buoy. Our bright YELLOW buoy (see where this is going?)…

With 12 or so women and several fellow first timers in my wave, we nervously chattered while waiting for our 3-2-1 GO!. When it came, we all hit the water with enthusiasm and started swimming.

For about 50 meters.

At this point, the pack began to separate. Frantically I searched for the buoy but was blinded by the sun. I was having trouble catching my breath, and I couldn’t put my face in the water to find a rhythm. The thought crossed my mind, “What are you doing? This is nuts! YOU’RE GOING TO DROWN! Just raise your hand and have a lifeguard pull you out!”

I mentally slapped myself. I did not pay a boatload of money in entry fees and gear to stop, and I had that brand new bike waiting for me in transition.

Thankfully I was not the only one having trouble finding the buoy. One of my fellow newbies suddenly popped her head up and at the top of her lungs let out a mighty cry:


She was my hero, giving voice to what I was too embarrassed to admit- that I was way out of my depth and couldn’t see shit.

Let's face it- Swim caps are goofy,

Let’s face it- Swim caps are goofy

The lifeguards on the boat were kind enough to point us in the right direction, and we continued on. I battled with myself the entire way. When I got tired, I rolled on to my back and backstroked, awkwardly smiling at the lifeguards who couldn’t quite decide if I was in need of rescue. When I thought I had spent enough time looking like an idiot, I rolled back over and kept moving. I was never really able to put my face in the water- thankfully, I had practiced my side stroke and polo style head-out-of-water-shoulder-aching swagger, so I switched back and forth between whatever felt less awkward. 50 meters from the finish I forced myself to swim like a normal-ish person. After all, at 50 meters, people on the beach can see you…

I finished my swim in 13:35. I didn’t care- I was just in awe that I had moved my body 500 meters through the open ocean. I could have called it a victory right there. After all, I was alive, and I didn’t get passed by anyone from the wave behind me. Small victories.

This week I’m sharing my top learnings from my first open water swim race, what I wish I had learned, and what makes me feel more comfortable today swimming in open water. Stay tuned!

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