Are you experienced?

To keep myself interested in swimming, and to make it pretty much impossible to drop out of working out pretty regularly, I’ve signed up for a couple of open water swims next summer.

The first one I will do is Son of a Swim — a two mile open water swim through Kingdom Swim at Lake Maphremagog. It’s meant for new open water swimmers and signups are limited. This just suits me for a first open water event. It’ll be in late June, so I am going to have some time to get some open water practice in before I do the swim.

The second one is going to be the Boston Sharkfest. While it’s a race, I’m going to have to admit I’m really only swimming to complete this one. It’s 1500 meters, so is almost a mile.

I’ve asked some questions on a message board dedicated to marathon swimmers. (You, like people who swim the English channel and stuff). They’ve been very kind and have offered some advice, mostly that I need coaching to get my speed up. Annoying, but unsurprising. I didn’t really want to join a swim team, but for something as technical as swimming, I obviously need someone to critique my technique. So yeah, coaching.

I’ve also been advised that I need to bring up my swimming volume on some individual workouts. While common wisdom says you can swim in a day what you swim in a week, it’d be a good idea to make sure I really CAN do a couple of miles in a pool at some point before I try the open water stuff. So, I need to plan for a few much longer swims in the months ahead. That’s cool. I can deal with that.

The last part is relevant to the two mile swim, but not the shorter one — feedings.


I swim on an empty stomach most days. In the pool at five thirty, I really have neither time nor inclination for breakfast until after my swim. Given that I am generally hungry with a strong adjective in front of it after a swim, I’m okay with this.

But for longer swims, food of some sort is generally thought of as a good idea. Depending on the length of the swim, most marathon swimmers eat every half hour or so. Now, a two mile swim is by no means a marathon. (Cutoff for that is 10K, I think…) But, yeah, it’s going to take me a couple of hours to do the swim. I dunno… The idea of eating on such a short swim makes me wince.

On the other hand, this is advice given to me by people who are majorly into this, and ya know, like swim the English Channel and stuff. I can’t say they don’t know what they’re talking about. They do. They totally do.

What I am wondering is how that advice translates to me, the fitness swimmer who is signing up for a pretty small event just to keep herself interested enough to work out most days. I tend to snark non-elite athletes imitating what the elite athlete does. (Gatorade after a normal fitness class, or protein powder when you’re not a competitive bodybuilder, ferinstance).

Yet, these elite athletes are actually advising the whole feeding thing for this tiny little swim. (Not that it’s tiny to me. It’s huge to ME. But I’m comparing what they do).

Like the coaching, I am probably going to suck it up and follow their advice. Until I have experience doing this, I can’t know better, and I realize that.

The reality is that these swims are going to be a little dangerous. Not hugely so, of course, but there is risk involved. I could get hypothermia, I could get a cramp and have a hard time keeping afloat. I could panic out in the open water (yes, I’m a good swimmer, but being scared before an open water swim is not too unusual, and panicking happens among the inexperienced sometimes, and I am inexperienced). I could get too tired to go on in the middle of the swim, and it’s not like running where you can slow down and walk. You have to keep up the pace to stay afloat and keep up your body heat.

So, with all that in mind, I figure I don’t really have enough personal experience that might trump someone else’s knowledge, and until I do, it’d be suicidally stupid not to follow advice.

I’m still resisting the idea of sports gels, though… Lynne Cox got by on oatmeal cookies and warm apple juice, darn it!

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