The First Open Water Swim of the Season is Always Gloriously Awful

For me, the first open water swim of the season is always incredibly crappy. No matter how much pool swimming I do, once my toes touch lake water for the first time in several months, what little swim ability and athleticism I had is left on the shore alongside a fresh little pile of grassy-colored duck poop. Last week was no exception; in fact, throw in some shitty weather along with the customary flailing and you’ve got what (I dearly hope) will be my worst open water swim of the year.

I checked my workout schedule and saw that Teresa assigned me a 2,000 yd swim or the option of swimming with the group at Greenlake. I wasn’t thrilled with either choice, but no matter how many times I closed my eyes and opened them, expecting the workout to change to “Eat a cheeseburger, fries, and a milkshake — hard effort!”, the stupid swim workout never went away.

Jason, being the annoying training partner that he is, was all “Herp derp let’s go to the group swim!” I wasn’t crapping myself with glee at the thought of yanking on my wetsuit and trudging into water that was marginally warmer (56 degrees) than the air temperature (54 degrees), but I figured I’d have to get in the lake eventually, and since I want to improve my swimming, it’s a necessary evil.

It was raining when we arrived at Greenlake, and my teammates and I made futile attempts to shield our dry clothes from the precipitation. I pulled on my wetsuit and, anticipating how cold the water was, yanked on a thermal swimcap in addition to a regular cap. The water didn’t feel quite as cold as I thought it would be, but it was still a bit of a shock to the system.

Jas and I took off with our friends Brent and Jes. I made my way to the second orange buoy from the shore, huffing and puffing the entire way and stopping a couple times to catch my breath. By the time I made it to the buoy, it felt like I had been swimming forever. I looked at my watch. Three minutes and nine seconds. Son of a bitch.

Jason and Brent opted to swim across the lake and do the full mile, but since my first open water swim of the season is always spectacularly awful, I headed back to shore with Jes. It felt hard to breathe, like the chin strap from the thermal cap was restricting me. We went out to the buoy again, and when I got there I flagged down Thomas and his son, who were in a canoe keeping an eye on those of us who were foolish enough to be swimming that day.

Me: “Can I give you my thermal cap?”

Thomas, joking: “Man, you’re that warm?”

I yanked off my goggles, then my regular swim cap, then my thermal cap and handed it over to him. His son, meanwhile, offered some tough love to Jes.

Declan: “Want a swim noodle?”

Jes, politely: “Uh, sure!”

Declan handed her the noodle, then said in a grave tone, “You have to give it back,” as if Jes figured he was gifting it to her permanently. We all laughed and they paddled away. I felt better not having the too-tight thermal cap choking me (although, weirdly enough, I swam with it fine when I raced Boise last year; I know I’ve gained weight since last season, but I didn’t think it was all chin weight).

Then I realized something: it’s pretty damn difficult to put on a swim cap when treading in deep water. I was kicking my legs to stay afloat and attempting to yank the cap on with two hands, but my frantic efforts were unsuccessful. I looked so pathetic and useless that Jes, having taken pity on the sorry, sad sight before her, asked, “Want me to hold you?” I nodded like a little kid who had just been offered a lollipop if he’ll stop crying. She got behind me and stabilized me by holding my hips with each hand.

Then poor Jes realized that she was having problems staying afloat because now both of her arms were occupied. She warned me that I had about “ten seconds” before she was going to drop me and I’d plunge down the murky, pee-filled depths of Greenlake. Feeling the 24-like urgency, I yanked down once, twice, thrice before my fourth spazzy attempt was successful. Sure, most of my hair was hanging out the back like some sort of unfortunate swimmer’s mullet, but at least my cap was back in its rightful place.

We swam back to shore, my swim confidence officially obliterated. I checked my watch to see how long my epic return to open water swimming had lasted. A whopping fifteen minutes, during which I successfully managed to swallow a hearty mouthful of Greenlake’s finest. As I got out to try and salvage my once-dry clothes that were now soggy and rain-soaked, the wind picked up and it started pouring. The rain turned to hail, and we all waddle-ran to our cars, our wetsuits half-undone and our wet clothes bundled up in our arms. This swim, like all of my first open water swims of the year, was a big fat failure. Here’s hoping the next one isn’t quite so gloriously terrible.

2 Responses to “ “The First Open Water Swim of the Season is Always Gloriously Awful”

  1. teresa says:

    Ha! Love the declan and cap stories…do you think Jess will ever swim with you again?! J/K. Proud of you for fighting the rain storm and doing the work! tn

  2. Mary Moltman says:

    It’s too early and cold to start open water swimming! Summer isn’t here yet! Hockey isn’t done – you’re brave to be out so soon. And don’t forget what the old gals at the Y say – you’re so fast!

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