As my bare feet touch the water I’m comforted that my 7mm wetsuit and cap may be enough to keep me warm during my first open water swim in Puget Sound. The water temperature today: 56 degrees, but I don’t retract from the cold. I look down at Sophia and Kristi’s feet as we enter the water. They have neoprene boots. I chose not to purchase them because I worried it would be more equipment to adjust.
Thankfully Saratoga Passage today was glass. Just seeing the calm conditions alleviated some of my anxiety from earlier.
Lined up with the others for the Whidbey Adventure Swim we all adjusted to the cold. Brief chats revealed swimmers came from all over the country and Canada for this U.S. Master Swim event. I’m completely out of my league here, but my goal this year was to swim a mile comfortably in the Sound by the end of the summer. Today I would try to swim 1.2.
The horn sounds. The salt water burned my face momentarily as I dove toward the buoys marking the turnaround point. I’m not a fast swimmer. The course would take me about an hour to complete.
An hour in this cold water. Why am I doing this? I love to swim but the pool is warmer, easier. I don’t need a wetsuit in the pool.
My wetsuit. It’s so buoyant and it feels so unnatural as I work to dig through the water. I feel like lead and it doesn’t feel like I’m necessarily moving forward. Am I kicking? I kick harder.
Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe. I have to find a rhythm.
Looking up to breathe and mark my point, the buoy I’m striving for seems so far and the majority of the swimmers are already way ahead of me. I’m now alone in the water. My heart is racing because I remind myself I’m in the ocean and no longer surrounded by my peers. My mind wanders to what lies beneath the Sound.
Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe. Don’t think about what is below.
Looking up again I see a paddle boarder and a kayaker. I see a thumbs up as I look up again to breathe. I’m on course, I’m doing this. People are watching me. I have to settle in and get my mind on track. I’m not here to be the first one out of the water. I’m here to finish.
Each time my face enters the water, I try to notice the ocean floor. A huge Dungenous Crab scuttles across the floor. Is it crabbing season yet? The seagrass is flowing toward me. I’m going against the current which explains why I feel like lead.
Finally I’m turning at the halfway point. I met the time requirement which was to finish half the course in 30 minutes or they would’ve turned me around sooner. I’m going to finish this.
My face is no longer cold and I’m now working with the buoyancy of my wetsuit, being more buoyant makes it easier to focus on my stroke, but my feet. My feet are freezing. I begin to covet the boots that Sophia and Kristi are wearing. All I can think about are those boots now. Black, snug neoprene would feel so good right now. I’m still in swimmer survival mode, breathing every two strokes. I need a new rhythm, perhaps I can gain a little ground. I decide to add four strokes in between each breath as much as possible. I count them off.
One, two, three, four breathe. Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe. One, two, three, four breathe….this becomes my new rhythm.
But my feet are so cold.
Damn. I have to get those black boots. I try to wiggle my toes while kicking at the same time. My toes move. A good sign. If I have hypothermia, will I know?
One, two, three, four breathe. Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe. One, two, three, four breathe…
Now as I look forward to breathe the final buoy is in sight. Far but in sight. On my four stroke count I have more time to explore the sea floor again, but we are a little deeper. The water is darker, but I can make out bits of sand, shells in between the clumps of seagrass. And now the seagrass is bending toward my path. I’m riding the small current.
I pass over another crab, it’s on its back, motionless. I wonder what happened to it.
One, two, three, four breathe. Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe. One, two, three, four breathe.
I can hear voices as I near the final turn. Almost there. I wonder how long I’ve been in the water.
Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe.
The sea floor is getting closer to me. I’m basically at shore, I look up…just a few more feet..but I’ve overshot the finish.
Damn it. The steps are far to my right.
Finally my hands hit sand. I try to stand, but my sea legs reject the land. My husband and Sophia are on shore cheering for me and I smile as I wobble to the steps to the timer which signifies my finish.
My 1.2 mile swim completed under an hour. Goal accomplished.
And now, I wonder when I can do this again.