Saturday, May 25, 2013

Open Water Simulation

The official start to the triathlon season is right around the corner. I particularly like this time of year. The temperatures are gradually warming up (and in the case of 2013, I'm stressing "gradually"). There is a certain buzz in the air, both literally and figuratively.

Literally- since due to the warming temps, insects feel the need to resurrect themselves from wherever they winter. Many of these aforementioned insects, seriously many, breed incessantly. A venture to the world away from my recliner yields dive bombs at my noggin like I'm King Kong to their helicopters/ prop planes (depending on which version you watch). I try and tell them that I'm only trying to coerce the hottie but they are not interested in negotiation. They only want blood, sweat, and or tears.

Figuratively- since with tri season almost here, it just feels like there's more energy in the air. I go out for a ride or a run, it's almost as if the air is alive willing me to faster or further. Either that, or I've been working out near power lines and can simply hear the flow of electrons though thickly gauged wires. That's still energy too so it counts.

Spring time is often a time of rebirth. There are a lot more people spending a lot more time on the roads and trails. It's kinda fun not to be the only idiot running on the road anymore. One thing that mid-Spring does not offer is a nice place to practice open water swims.

Water has some exceptionally nice properties. It's pleasant to look at, which is good since it makes up about 78% of the earth's surface area. It's rumored to be one of those essential chemicals for life, as evidenced by the fact that you and I are about 80% H2O. It's one of the most polar chemicals on the planet, and not just up north. It's an efficient solvent for many compounds. In certain situations, you can add it to large molecules and water magically transforms them into smaller ones. Plants split it while making sugar. Running it over your body reduces your stank. It's the main ingredient in both beer and wine! Some people even drink it plain, without any cooking, flavoring, or fermenting. Weirdos.

One problem with water is that it refuses to change temperature. The scientific term for this is specific heat. Water's is high. The layman's term for this is: Damn, the lake is still cold. Whereas, I live close to 1/5th of the world's fresh water supply, I don't have to worry about water conservation (thank you water cycle!). I'm not brave enough to venture in to the 50ยบ murk. It's off to the pool for some laps.

Like I said, triathlon season is almost here. Granted, there are races which feature pool swims. They have you swim down one lane and back in the next. I'm pretty sure I would excel at this sort of thing because I do almost all of my swim practices in the pool and because I have a better than average flip turn. I hear great things about the pool swim triathlons. For some reason that I cannot explain, they just don't appeal to me. I like the open water environment. It feels more like a more pure of a race. You kids have fun in the pool.

Ideally, you and I would have a chance to practice open water swimming before the first race. It's a little different than pool swimming.
  1. There's no black line on the bottom for you to follow. Hell, in most instances, you can't even see the bottom anyway. 
  2. There are no energy cancelling lane lines. Therefore, you have to put up with waves. 
  3. You don't get to stop every 25 yards and turn around and come back. There is no turning back in triathlon, you are stuck here forever.
  4. Because of #1-3, you actually have to look where you are going. This is a skill commonly referred to as either 'sighting' or 'holy crap I'm off course.'
What most inexperienced athletes do not realize is that you can simulate open water swimming very effectively in the pool. I have done so many times and it's quite effective. The toughest part is figuring out exactly how to go about OW simulation. Being the good blogger that I am, I'm going to tell you.

Check your pool schedule
Let's assume, just for a moment, that you do not own a swimming device in your home. This means you don't have your own 25-50 yard/ meter pool in your back yard nor do you own one of those newfangled water fans that create current while you go nowhere (they're basically treadmills for swimming). This means that you rely on someone else to grow a pool and take care of it. This also means that they allow other people in the pool, not just you.

More than likely, they have a pamphlet, flyer, or internet page that lists all of the activities. Contrary to popular belief (meaning mine), some people don't actually use the pool for swimming. They do other activities, such as 'swimming', floating, water walking, hanging on the wall, learning how to swim, and as a meeting place for large business transactions. The pool schedule will list the appropriate times when the above activities are encouraged.

Choose your swim time wisely
On rare occasions, the pool will actually close off the entire pool for lap swimming. If you visit the pool at this time, you will be lucky enough to see 3-5 people using the liquid filled hole as it was intended. Most of the time, you will also see people trying to use the pool for 'swimming', floating, water walking, hanging on the wall, learning how to swim, and as a meeting place for large business transactions.

If your goal is to simulate open water swimming, you want to avoid the times when there are only a few people who are all swimming. This is a nice time but does not yield the necessary rewards. You are scanning the pool schedule for these activities or the like: Water Aerobics, Water Fitness Classes, or Kids Birthday Parties. You've hit pay dirt when you can find more than one at the same time.

Choose your lane wisely
Many of the pools that I visit still keep a couple of lanes available for morons who actually want to swim. Whereas they know that the swimmers are the silent minority, most pool directors are former swimmers themselves and will respect the lappers. They typically leave a lane or 3 for people like you and I who who really want to go down and back and down and back and down and back for 30 minutes to an hour without stopping.

You are now going to go against the concentration gradient and choose the lane that is closest to the 20 old ladies, one dude, and their noodles. Not only that, but you are going to swim on the side of the lane that is right next to them.

Be mindful of the risk
Assuming you have chosen your time and place appropriately, you should be forewarned about the inherent danger of your decisions.
  • The water will be choppier than you can imagine- When you get a large mass of people bouncing up and down, walking in circles, and flapping their arms, they will create a large disturbance in the force.
  • Breathing may be compromised- If you point your head towards the turbulence, there's a high probability that a gush of water will cross into your lane timed perfectly with your open, inhaling mouth. You can either learn how to breathe on the other side or how to cope with not breathing for a cycle. Both are good.
  • You will be slower than expected- Due to the extra resistance in the water, you will not be able to achieve the same evaporating-inducing speeds. That's okay. Speed is not currently the goal. You only want to survive the experience.
  • There may be contact- Please keep in mind that these people may not be in full control of their limbs. Any of the forward kicks, side lunges, crouch and punches, etc could easily cross the boundary. They also have weapons, in the form of foam noodles and foam barbell type thingies, and they're not afraid to use them. Accept this since triathlon open water swimming is a contact sport.
  • You might go blind- There will be several instances when you are swimming that the situation will catch you perfectly. The water athletes are not typically known for their fashion sense nor their low body fat percentages. On several occurrences, be prepared for this, as you will catch a look at an area of elderly that you just didn't want to see. It's sort of like looking into the sun while sighting. Don't linger or you'll see spots/ possibly burn your retina.
So there you have it. Pool swimming is a great way to get in shape. Due to the structure, it does not mimic open water swimming. However, if you are mindful of your surroundings and plan your swim sessions accordingly, you'll be able to experience some of the challenges present in the open water. And, as always, try and have fun.

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