Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Triathlete’s Relationship with Water

Part 1 – The Swim

I entered the world of triathlons 5 years ago after cheering for and supporting my husband, his friends, and his brother while they were participating in triathlons and other multi-sport races. Once I finally joined in the fun, my husband was my biggest fan, enthusiastically teaching me and training with me along the way. Of the 3 components of the triathlon, I am the weakest at the swim. So, the one part of my training that I can’t afford to neglect is SWIMMING!

The obvious relationship that a triathlete would have with water in the swimming portion of the sport is the immersion. You aren’t swimming if you aren’t actually in the water. But the less obvious relation with water in this part of the training is the actual need for hydration. Swimming is hard work! And working out to become a stronger, better swimmer is really hard work. When you are working that hard, staying hydrated is crucial to getting the most benefit from each workout. At some point in my training calendar, my coach started making notes to remind me to take a water bottle to drink during the workouts. The thought had never occurred to me, but if the coach tells me to take a water bottle, I take a water bottle. I would get to the pool and find a lane to jump into. At the edge of the pool, I would pile up all my pool ‘toys’ – fins, hand weights, tennis balls, kickboard – and my water bottle. I’d look across at the other lanes, and unless there were other triathletes in the pool, my bottle would be the only one sitting at the edge. But I learned that with all the effort I was putting into the workout, I really needed that water. If you are going to be spending a lot of time and energy swimming, either for triathlons, or just because it’s your favorite way to stay in shape – include a water bottle in your workout bag and put it within reach while you’re in the pool. You may find that you will get more benefits from your swim session.

I am in a part of the country where it is not practical to swim in lakes all year long. That means that the winter is time to get back into the pools. The lakes will still be there next spring. But that’s okay, because pool time is time to focus on mechanics and skills for the next season. One of the things that stands out from the past season’s training is that there were days where I spent so much time in the pool that I smelled like the pool even hours after showering and getting on with the day. My new perfume!

The Open Water Swim (OWS)
As the season progresses, and the outside air warms up, the OWS workouts start to show up in the training calendar. This is where you put it all together, all the drills from the winter, the wetsuit, the weather and the lake. I am fortunate enough to live reasonably close to a few swimmable lakes. The one I train at exclusively is a small lake completely surrounded by private homes, with one public access boat ramp. To swim from the boat ramp to the Tree (easy landmark) and back is almost exactly a mile. It is warm enough to start swimming usually in early May and conditions are decent through part of September. Open water swimming groups are a fun way to get into the water. You’re not out there alone, sometimes there’s kayak support, and you can sometimes practice drafting or swimming in crowded conditions to get more comfortable with the bumping and contact that happens in a race.

Figure 1 A Family of Ducks at My Favorite Training Lake

Beyond the Workouts
Since water is essential in this sport, it helps to know more about it. Are you buying bottled water to hydrate during your swims or are you using tap water? If you are using tap water, you can test your water and determine whether a filter would be a benefit for your water source. 
Since I always swim in the same lake, I’ve developed a sense of curiosity about it. I wonder about the plants growing in and around this lake. What is considered a healthy balance of growth for this lake? What fish might I see when I’m swimming? I have found a few of these answers on my state, county and even city’s websites. I also learned that one of the creeks that comes from this small urban lake has cutthroat trout spawning and Coho salmon have been reported only a mile away. How cool is that? That’s just one more reason to care about the health of ‘my’ lake. It seems to me that tri clubs and open water swim clubs would have a natural interest in the health of the lakes they enjoy training in. So perhaps if you are in one of these groups, you could round up some of your friends and get to know your local training lake better.

Written by Colleen Hall

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