Utah Lake

Olympic Triathlon: Training Part I

July 9, 2016
Today I competed in my first triathlon! I signed up about 2 months ago the week after watching TJ, Rob’s brother, compete in an half IRONMAN in St. George. I was inspired as I watched each individual fight through personal challenges, overcoming physical fatigue and exhaustion, perverse weather conditions, and mechanical problems to complete the course. I wanted to know what that felt like. I wanted to be apart of something like that. I wanted to compete in something that was more than just running or weightlifting. I signed up for a sprint triathlon back in the winter of 2014, but while I was training I sprained my ankle and wasn’t able to compete. I had only competed in running and Crossfit events since college. I thought it would a nice change to train for swimming and biking.

When I signed up for Echo, I had exactly 8 weeks to train. I knew that the swimming was going to be my biggest challenge, because I am not a strong swimmer. I had never trained for or competed in any swimming  race, and had never swam distance in open water. Luckily I have a husband who was a swimmer growing up and offered to coach me in swimming through my training.

The first day we began swimming, Rob and TJ capped me with a swim cap (I might add, it was my first time ever wearing a swim cap). I learned that swim caps are one size fits all… which I don’t think ever works, “one size fits all”, but the cap TJ let me borrow seemed to fit just fine. We got in the water and Rob and T had me swim a few laps, about 50 yards down and back a few times so they could watch and observe. Rob later admitted that I was terrible that first day. I was not shocked by his evaluation. I knew I needed a LOT of work in the swimming department, which was why I determined to swim 3 days a week every week until the triathlon. I only missed one week during the 8 weeks of training.

Rob found a 6 week program on-line for how to get an amateur/beginner swimming a mile in 6 weeks and we followed that schedule each week. I would do the same swim workout each day, 3 days a week. Then the next week Rob would give me a new workout to do. For example, one of the first weeks my workout each day looked something like this:

400 yards x 2 with 12 breaths in-between each 400
100 yards x 4 with 10 breaths in-between each 100
50 yards x 4 with 8 breaths in-between each 50
100 yard cool down

The first few weeks I was pretty uncomfortable in the water; trying to learn how to breath every other stroke while attempting to maintain consistent strokes and some kind of rhythm between my arms and legs. Rob was trying to help me with my form at the same time, so while I was swimming I felt like I was having to focus on 10 different things at the same time. Such as, exhaling immediately when I put my head in the water, kicking my feet at a constant pace (which pace did not have to match my arm strokes, a very difficult concept for me to put into motion being a dancer and doing everything with rhythm unintentionally). Stroking my arms at a consistent pace and not panicking when I need to adjust my breaths, keeping my fingers together and pulling my arms through the water to propel myself forward (not just letting my arms kind of slowly drift through the water). Also inhaling for a breath immediately when my mouth came out of the water but not gasping for air, keeping my breathing controlled and not panicky when I increased my stroke rate, breathing to the side by barley tilting my head to the side each third stroke, etc.

I felt very frustrated some days, because I didn’t feel I was making much progress. As Rob watched me, he usually found more things for me to work on. It was good for him to correct me, because I couldn’t get better if I didn’t know what I was doing wrong, but some days I felt so discouraged, even felt like I was getting worse a few times.

As we continued to swim, and I mean we, because Rob swam with me almost every week over the course of those 8 weeks, after about 5 weeks we started to see real progress in my swimming. At that point we were up to swimming 1000 yards without a break. It was time for an open water swim! We decided we would kill two birds with one stone by going to Utah Lake and swimming there, checking another Utah State Park off our list!

Week 5
June 18, 2016 – First Open Water Swim: Utah Lake
It was a beautiful day. We arrived around 3:00pm. It was kind of busy but we found a great spot for me to swim that was in the no wake zone. There were no other swimmers in that area. The water was nice and warm so I had no trouble getting right in. I had to walk about 150 feet from the shore to get to an area that was deep enough to swim and it still was really shallow. The water was pretty dirty. Visibility was only about 6″, so I couldn’t even see my hands or much of my arms in the water with each stroke.

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As I swam, Rob walked along the shore to keep an eye on me. In the water I had no concept of time or distance. Rob had pointed out what I thought was a bus in the distance as a point of reference, which I learned afterwards was actually just a building. But it was so far away, as I swam I couldn’t tell if I was getting closer or further away. I kept looking up to the shore to look at Rob as a reference, but since he was also moving as I moved, it felt like I was getting nowhere.

After I had been swimming for what felt like quite a while, fighting a little bit of a current, and not swimming very straight because of limited visibility, I felt really frustrated and finally stood up and yelled to Rob, “am I getting anywhere?!” He yelled back in the affirmative, “yeah look behind you at how far you’ve come!” I looked back and could see that the jetty was a little ways back, but it didn’t look very far. He said I had been swimming for about 45 minutes. I was pleasantly surprised and frustrated at the same time, because I figured there was no way I could have gone anywhere close to 3/4 or 1 mile, but I had to have gone a decent distance if I had been swimming for 45 minutes.

Utah Lake

We decided to have me swim for 48 minutes, for no good reason. When the 48 minutes was up I stood up and walked towards Rob. The water was only about 3 feet deep I am guessing, because I kept scooping up dirt off the bottom of the lake throughout the swim. I felt good, but realized that open water swimming presents a few more challenges to swimming than pool swimming. It was challenging in ways that I hadn’t really thought about. Pool swimming and open water are very different.

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That little black thing that looks like a bird in the water is me swimming. 🙂

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The gnats were really bad near the water at the lake. Rob was getting eaten alive walking along the shore watching me swim, so he cleverly tucked my shirt up into his glasses to cover his ears and neck.

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I was glad I had the experience and it made me more confident in my ability to swim open water, but also made me realize that I may be doing more breast stroke and side stroke during the race to keep my head above water. You have to look where you are going when you’re in a lake so you don’t start swimming in the wrong direction and waste a bunch of energy going off course. Rob and I estimated the distance of my swim to be about 2/3 of a mile, based on Google maps. I was happy with it, even though it was a little less than I wanted to swim. I felt accomplished having successfully swam in open water for 48 minutes and getting out of the water feeling good, not exhausted or defeated. Success!

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