Good news. I successfully got my wetsuit on all the way. For those of you following along, you might remember my first wetsuit attempt from last week. It was rough.
We were supposed to do an hour long open water swim on Saturday as part of our triathlon training. We spent quite a while pondering where we should go for our first attempt. We wanted a calm body of water with little or no boat traffic. I wanted to feel like the water was somewhat clean. And we needed a place where we could safely enter the water without having to climb through lots of vegetation.
We ruled out swimming in the Willamette River in downtown Portland once Eric told me he was pretty sure he saw a sea lion in the river the other day. I DO NOT SWIM WITH ANIMALS. (And after Googling, “are there sea lions in the Willamette River?,” I discovered dozens of videos and articles confirming that we do, in fact, have sea lions swimming in the river less than a mile from our home. Commence panic now.)
Eric spent Saturday morning researching expected temperatures for race day in Elk Lake, and comparing those with current temperatures of lakes and rivers around Portland. In the end, we decided on swimming in Clackamas Cove, which had water temperatures the most similar to the ones we should expect on race day in Victoria (anywhere between 59 and 71 degrees).
Clackamas Cove is about 30 minutes from downtown, so we headed there on the most beautiful, warm Saturday morning to do our swim. (I’m super glad I didn’t research this whole sea lion situation until after the swim, since apparently the most sea lions have been spotted just a mile or so downriver from Clackamas Cove. Yikes.) We put on our wetsuits on the side of the road and walked down to the rocky beach area to get in the water. It took a lot of convincing to get me in that water. Surprisingly, I was less concerned about the water temperature than I thought I would be. It probably helped that it was 75 degrees outside and very sunny, but the water wasn’t that cold, even on my bare feet. It was the walking in bare feet on the slimy, sharp rocks to get into the lake that was the first battle. I have always hated the feeling of the bottom of lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, oceans, etc., which is why I’m not really into swimming outside of a pool. Once I finally got into the water, the next challenge was putting my head under. I know this is ridiculous, but I just couldn’t do it for along time. Eric just went for it, but I was just doggy paddling with my head above the water. It was just too gross. And I was nervous about getting river water in my mouth. Eric finally convinced me to swim like a normal person, but it was hard. And completely unnatural.
We didn’t last a terribly long time in the water, but I feel like we at least accomplished our goal of getting used to the suits and understanding how much we have to learn in the next 5 weeks!
Now, because I apparently have no shame, here’s what I look like in a wetsuit. Flattering, yes?
So, here’s what we know about wetsuits after our first open water swim:
1. They are the most unflattering body covering I’ve ever worn (see photo above). When I first tried mine on, Eric said, “It really rounds out your…everything.” Thanks. In order to keep you buoyant, there’s a lot of extra padding in some really odd places, which I think makes me look about 40 pounds heavier.
2. They are tricky to pull on. Eric found a video of a professional triathlete demonstrating how to put on a wetsuit after my embarrassing first attempt the other day. The good news is, it looked tricky for her, so I’m clearly not alone in this struggle. The bad news is, her muscles are a lot bigger than mine, and can probably handle the workout involved in pulling on a wetsuit a bit better than mine.
3. Once you get it on, there’s no going to the bathroom for a long time. This is the ultimate swimming struggle for me. It’s a really delicate balance between being hydrated and having to pee. I have a hard enough time when it comes to swimming in the pool for a long workout without getting out to use the bathroom. (I’m almost certain my bladder is absorbing pool water through my skin.) But once you pull that wetsuit on, there’s no such thing as a quick bathroom trip.
4. Swimming in a wetsuit feels completely different from swimming in a swimsuit. First of all, the wetsuit makes you float, so it’s a little like swimming in a life jacket. I was constantly moving my arms and legs in the water in an attempt to keep any wildlife away (I’m looking at you, sea lions), but I’m pretty sure I would have floated without any movement. But when you actually start swimming, it feels really weird. Even though I could move freely in the suit, I think my arms and legs still felt constricted by the material, which kept me from swimming with my normal form. It’s definitely something to work on over the next 5 weeks.
5. Open water swims are scary. There’s something completely unnerving about not being able to see the bottom of the water. I didn’t realize how much I loved seeing that center line in the pool at the gym. But when you are swimming in open water, it’s just a mass of green water. This also makes it really difficult to feel like you are moving at all. We were lucky enough to have some buoys in the water to use as our marks, but had we not been swimming to and from those buoys, I’m not sure I would have believed I was making any progress in the water.
6. A wetsuit doesn’t keep you dry. I’m not sure why I thought a wetsuit would prevent my body from getting wet, but I did. But as soon as you get in the water, you can feel your suit filling up with water, which is completely terrifying. Luckily, that feeling only lasts a minute or so, and then you get used to it. And when you finally get out of the water, you can feel all the water draining out of the suit at your feet. Also a weird feeling.
7. Removing a wet wetsuit is also tricky. I wish we could have assistants in the transition area during the race, because I’m not sure I’m going to be able to pull this thing off on my own. Eric had to peel it off my arms. I was hoping the water would make the wetsuit glide off my body, but it just makes everything a little heavier.
Here’s hoping we’ll figure out this whole open water swimming thing over the next few weeks! Half Ironman, here we come!