Preparing to become a triathlete: Supplies, the open water swim

I tried on two wetsuits. So glad it didn't take more to find mine! This is it.

After I survived the swim clinic, I decided three things: 1) triathlon is for me, 2) I needed practice swimming in open water and 3) I needed supplies.

I acted on number three within a week.

Shopping for a wetsuit

I browsed online first, knowing I could track down a good deal (my Twitter friend @IronGirl11 gave me some tips), but I knew that I have crappy luck and that I should probably shop for this one item at a brick-and-mortar-store. So I headed straight to Fleet Feet at Piper’s Alley and asked if they had any wetsuits from last season that were on sale. They did. There was one. It was 20 percent off, and it was in my size. In theory.

Erin, saleswoman extraordinaire, had prepped the fitting room for me — she cranked up the A/C and stocked the room with a tri suit (it’s a good idea to try on your wetsuit with the kind of item you intend to wear when racing), paper towels, suit juice and cup of water. I didn’t know what I gotten myself into until I pulled, jumped, squatted, wrestled, lubed and sweated my way into that suit.

I felt bad that it was taking so long, so every couple of minutes I’d peek out at Erin and say, “I’m still working on it.”

After about 15 minutes, I invited her in, told her I wasn’t shy and asked for help. The two of us eventually got that damn thing up. But it was too small — at least around the neck. I felt like it was choking me.

I tugged at the neck for a while and I almost bought it, because the thought of having to wriggle out of it, and try on another one made me sweat even more.

But I made my way out, tried on the next one without too much trouble and it fit just right. I paid full price, and it was worth all $240. (I’m now wondering if they always have an “ill-fitting, on sale suit” for us newbies to try on so we go for the full-price item. Hmm.)

At any rate, in my mind, Fleet Feet stood up to its “fitlosophy.”

Next I needed to take the darn thing out to the lake and use it.

Open water swimming

I’ve heard several swimmers tell me that practice doesn’t make perfect. Instead, perfect practice makes perfect. It’s the idea that swimming badly a lot will just make you good at swimming badly. In order to get good, you have to perfect your technique and practice that until its second-nature.

Here's a tip: Don't stop to look at what lies beneath the water before you go swim in it.

Well, swimming in fishy, sometimes-polluted, seaweed-laden Lake Michigan would prove to be my biggest swimming challenge to date. So I had to work at practicing perfect.

I met up at Ohio Street Beach with a woman I met at the open-water swim clinic and we swam to the 1/4-mile buoy marker and back, for a grand total of 1/2 mile. It proved more difficult than swimming in the pool — I had to sight, waves came rolling in, I had to stop periodically, and it’s just easy to panic. I don’t know why, but for me, it’s thanks to an over-active imagination. I freak out about what I can’t see. (Fishes? Dead bodies? Monsters? You name it…)

It was nice to have that companion there, swimming with me, to keep my crazy thoughts in check. And it was also good to practice using my supplies: nose plug (it helps with the waves), cap, goggles (found out they leak) and of course the new wetsuit.

I left that practice feeling good, but knowing I needed more time in the wild open water.

More practice

The next time I went to swim in the open water, I broke a cardinal rule. I went alone.

I reasoned that because I was going to a designated swim area, it was shallow enough that I could touch bottom the whole way, that lifeguards would be present and that others would be swimming as well, I wasn’t alone. Well… there weren’t that many other swimmers and the lifeguards weren’t on duty that early in the morning. (Ooops. My Twitter friend @aliengin set me straight.)

Here's a tip: Never swim alone, no matter how calm the water appears.

Let me say it again, just to be clear: NEVER go swimming alone in open water.

That swim didn’t go well. I did 1/4. There was no perfect practice to be found. And it felt like it took forever. I had to keep stopping because I was hyper-ventilating. My imagination got the best of me, and I couldn’t push the negative thoughts out of my mind. I couldn’t wait to get out of the water.

One more time, for the cheap seats in the back

I put a call out on Facebook, Twitter and DailyMile to see if I could talk anyone into meeting me at Ohio Street Beach one last time before my first triathlon on Aug. 28.

I had one taker — a friend of the BF’s, who is training for an Ironman.

His training called for an hour swim that day, nearly a week ago. I ran five miles, and then biked down to OSB to meet him at 8 a.m. Saturday morning for a 1/4-mile swim. He was kind enough to stay with me the whole time, let me try out his Aqua Sphere goggles (loved them! Bought a pair. They stay on your face and have awesome range of sight.) and he gave me a couple of tips:

  1. Keep repeating calm, positive thoughts to yourself
  2. And always keep moving (even if you get tired, keep going forward so you don’t get run over!)


I’m not sure if I’m ready for my first event on Saturday, but I left my last open water swim practice feeling calm and not-so-freaked-out. I want to remember that feeling and keep it with me on what I’m sure will be a crazy day…

And I’m glad I’ve gotten a few uses out of my wetsuit as well!


Filed under Open Water, Swimming, Wetsuit

3 responses to “Preparing to become a triathlete: Supplies, the open water swim

  1. Pingback: This little injured runner became a triathlete (holy sh*%!) « f my injury [dot] com

  2. K, the first time I did an open water swim, also at Ohio Street beach, I totally, totally bawled after I was done, it was so terrifying. I can’t say I’ve ever come to be totally relaxed at swimming, but I have found the more I swim, the more comfortable I get and the more my fears ease a little that I’m not going to die. I hear you, sister. Good for you for getting out there.