A year ago I began training for a sprint triathlon that will take place on August 19. Since committing to that, I have completed a duathlon and a 1.76-mile open water swim across Lake Pend Oreille. I participated in these other events in order to become familiar with transitions, bike racing and swimming in the open water.
Lake Pend Oreille is Idaho's largest lake and in some areas is 1,158 feet deep. Swimming in a lake, especially one as large as Pend Oreille, is unlike swimming in a pool. Daily laps will strengthen your muscles for a sprint or long distance swim, but it will not prepare you for wind, waves and mental fears.
I knew the depth of the lake was more of an issue with me than swimming the distance. In order to face my fear of the deep water I started swimming in the lake a month before the event.
The first time I ventured into the deep murky green lake and could not see the bottom my muscles tensed and my imagined fears surfaced. What exactly lies beneath? I decided it would be wiser for me to start in shallow water. This allowed me to view what really lies at the bottom of the lake. Mossy rocks, large branches, a rusty tire rim here, a tin can there and milfoil. My fears subsided as I realized these objects were harmless.
I also became accustomed to the waves. Lake Pend Oreille is rarely calm. A breeze, a light wind or gusts is normal. The motion of the waves can be fun if you are relaxing on an inflatable device, but it is a workout when you are swimming. Some mornings I felt like I was losing and the waves were winning. Other times I felt nauseous from of all the motion. But as my body learned to relax in the various conditions, my swimming improved.
Breathing while swimming laps at the pool and breathing in open water is different. Swimming in turbulent water forces a person to turn more toward their armpit than toward the side. And it is not uncommon to take in some water. Recuperating quickly and not panicking is important in an open water swim.
The week before the event my body rebelled at my normal workout routine and craved chocolate. I gave in to its cravings within reason. I decreased my swimming and running routine, but kept my yoga, weight training, and biking the same.
The morning of the swim, there was a light wind blowing out of the south and the water temperature was 72 degrees. I ate a good breakfast, did a condensed yoga routine and arrived in plenty of time to check in, sign a waiver and listen to the required safety instructions. This was the 13th year for the event and they have never lost a swimmer.
Brightly colored swim caps were issued to each participant. These caps make swimmers very visible. I had not practiced with a cap on and this caused a little bit of difficulty about ¼ mile into my swim. My goggles began to leak and I had to stop, tread water and adjust them. This was not an easy maneuver, but it was my only difficulty.
The Long Bridge Swim hosted the United States Masters Swimming Open Water National Championships. These swimmers were very fast, very fit. The winner finished in 34:42. The community swimmers ranged in age and abilities. They youngest swimmer was 5-years old and the oldest was 86-years old. The winner in the community swim (wearing a wet suit) came in at 34:11.I was grateful that I had trained long and hard for this swim. My body responded well to what I asked it to do. I did not panic in the deep and I endured the distance. A few days before the race someone asked me, “What do you hope your time will be?” “They allow 2 ½ hours to complete the race and that is my goal, to complete it.” And I did. Official times have not yet been posted, but I think I was 321st out of 600 finishing in about 90 minutes.
The finish line was sweet. As I walked out of the water and into the crowd I heard someone say, “Hey mom.” It was one of my sons. He had a towel for me, just like I used to do for him at his high school swim meets. He put his arms around me and said,“Wow, great job mom. You did it.”Yes, I did it.
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anais Nin