What I Learned from an Early Morning Swim

Aric Emerging From OceanI am not a morning person.  To make matters worse, I am also house-sitting for someone that has a lot of animals and a very quirky house. So, time is a little tight and I have a triathlon coming up in just four days!  Sacrifices must be made.

So, this morning after taking care of the house and animals, I headed down to East Beach for a swim.  After checking the marine forecast, water temperature was a warm 54 degrees and waves were 5ft at 13 seconds.   Wow…  calm, but a little cool.

Arriving at the beach, conditions were beautiful, with the ocean surface flat, some breaking surf, but sunny, calm and almost pool-like.  After getting tossed around by a large breaking wave once, I managed to swim beyond the break and get acclimated. Then I started to learn, fast.

What I Learned

1) It is best to wait for your feet and hands go to numb before swimming, get acclimated.

  • Due to sensory overload, you need to minimize your distractions and maximize concentration as quickly as possible. it is best to wait for the body to adjust to the water temperature before going all out.  This is why it is important that you take that practice swim before the triathlon start.

2) Swimming TI crawl in the ocean is nothing like swimming in the pool.

  • The wetsuit changes your buoyancy, which throws off hydrofoil position in the water. Hand and head position needs to be adjusted.
  • It is one thing to swallow chlorine, yet something completely different to swallow polluted salt water.
  • Breathing is made extremely difficult as the body’s reaction is to panic with the head underwater and to the extremely cold water.
  • Finding a nice relaxed state is difficult due to an overwhelming of sensory inputs: cold, smell, salty taste, sand in the ears, sea monsters, etc.
  • While you can sight off the line in the middle of the lane in the pool, there is no such thing in the ocean and it is difficult to swim straight. I swam in circles.

3) It is going to take many baby steps to reach efficiency in the ocean.

  • I already accomplished the biggest hurdle yet, getting my head into the water and not panicking.
  • But there are more steps to come, breathing practice, sighting practice, getting comfortable, etc. etc
  • Baby steps do not happen in five days.

4) UCSB Triathlon swim is going to be really, really tough.

  • After swimming around in the water for less than 20 minutes, I really started to fatigue from the cold and fighting the current.  I only covered about 500 yards.
  • I am not in the best of shape for either side stroke or crawl due to lack of practice time.

More Thoughts

With just four days to go and looking back over my training for the past quarter, I can’t help but wonder if I had set the right expectations for the upcoming UCSB Triathlon.  Sure, I’ve had months to prepare for it and get time in the ocean, but conditions, until recently, have been less than favorable and unsafe.

While crawl may not be up to snuff, I still have side stroke, doggie paddle, and backward platypus.  I know I am not going to win the event so time shouldn’t be an issue.  Yet, I keep thinking that the swim is so long and my skills so bad that I will never make it.  Not the best visualization so close to the race.

Mental State

It is the mental state that gets a triathlete through a triathlon and I am not there yet.   The last time I tried to compete in an ocean event without the proper preparation, I crushed my confidence and ended the event with a DNF (you can read the post here at my old blog).

Making It Happen

The best way to proceed is two fold:  start positive visualization and get in as much practice as possible.   By my calculations, the 800m swim should take me about 38 minutes, given I swim at the same rate that I swam in the pool.  Afterall, I did set the goal and despite the poor timing of a number of life events, I better get this done!

Can I do it?  There is only way to know… keep learning and keep swimming!

This entry was posted in analysis, Commentary, Goals, Swimming, Tips, Triathlon, triathlon training, Workout Logs and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What I Learned from an Early Morning Swim

  1. Nick Irons says:

    Hey Aric…Nice article. There is one thing you didn’t mention. Were you alone?

    With all the factors you mentioned with open water swimming, cold, sensory overload, numbness, it really is not safe to be out there alone. Even the best swimmers can get into trouble in open water. Find someone to join you out there.

    Just a thought,


    • aricrmonts says:

      Hi Nick,

      Thank you for your comment!

      Yes, I was alone. I don’t recommend swimming along and do recognize the danger I put myself into. However, sometimes when time is critical, coordinating schedules and convincing buddies to brave the cold is difficult. Hopefully, after the water warms up a bit, buddies will join me.


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