Monday, May 27, 2013

McDonnel Lake Swims: Come On In, the (64F) Water's Fine

It was probably evident from my last post that I’ve just about had it with trying to be positive about the health/weight struggles and how they affect my athletic performance. The rapid 10 pound weight gain made me so miserable while biking on any kind of incline that I seriously considered throwing my bike out a window on Saturday morning, and my joints are not too happy when I run, even if *I* am happy while I run.

But there is one advantage to suddenly holding onto extra body fat: the ability to swim a race in cold water without a wetsuit.

See, I vehemently object to the use of a wetsuit in standalone open water swims. Some argue that there are separate divisions for awards so it doesn’t matter, but let’s take a look at what FINA, the international aquatic sports governing body, has to say about that.

So there.

Anyway, given how much I rant about people clinging to their wetsuits in all sorts of inappropriate conditions (76F lake swim? Really?), donning a wetsuit for an open water swim is not an option for me. Even if the water temperature on race day is 64-66F, like it was for the McDonnell One- and Two-Mile Lake Swims in Reston this weekend.

I mean, if people can swim the English Channel without a wetsuit, surely I can handle a few miles in lake in Virginia, right? On to the race…

I got to the race site nice and early, found an air temperature of just about 50F and decided that the warm up pool had to be balmy in comparison. After registering 600 yards before running into a bunch of wetsuit-clad folks who apparently don’t know how to circle swim, I declared myself loosened up and put my “warm” clothes back on while we all waited for the one mile swim to start. I lined up with a field that was about 85% covered in neoprene (again, English Channel vs. loop around a lake in Virginia, people) and waited to get going.

My feet essentially turned into ice blocks waiting around for the start, but I otherwise felt fine while swimming. I managed to do a decent job of staying on course thanks to the new FINIS Surge polarized goggles that I recently purchased to help with visibility in harsh, glaring conditions.* After making one loop around the lake, I ran out in 28:17, good for second in my age group, and a volunteer immediately wrapped me in a foil blanket – apparently I looked cold.

Several triathlete friends and DCRP teammates had shown up while I was out swimming, and I tried to convince them that the lake felt GREAT and that they should abandon their wetsuits. Evidently, the fact that my lips were blue and I was shivering while bundled in multiple sweatshirts did not convince them.

Garret, one of my DCRP buddies, was the only one to step up to the challenge, and he agreed after the race that it was the way to go. Swimming like a real (wo)man, just yourself and the water.**

The two mile swim was similar to the one mile, aside from a little fatigue I felt towards the end of the second lap. It wasn’t crushing fatigue, but I could definitely feel myself slowing a little. I came out in 58:51, and another 2nd place finish in my age group.

The times are OK, and relatively encouraging for a good finish at the Chesapeake Bay Swim in 13 days. I won’t be winning, or even coming out near the top, but I can definitely handle 4.4 miles without a wetsuit.


I promise, it’s not so bad.

*I've received products from FINIS for review before, but purchased these goggles out of my own pocket because 1. I needed better goggles for open water swimming and 2. I know that FINIS is run by swimmers who develop outstanding products. They were $40 and worth every penny. 
**I acknowledge that some people do have legitimate physical and medical conditions that call for the use of a wetsuit. However, that's not the case for 99% of the field.


  1. Badass to the bone......literally! I would have looked like Golum getting out of 64* water for sure. IMAZ was 62* and I spent 12 minutes in T1. IMTX was 78* and I spent less than 5 minutes there. That alone tells you how cold I was AND I was wearing a wetsuit. Maybe next time I swim in 62* water I need a submarine?

  2. Oh my gosh I give you credit, I am shivering just thinking about it. I have to say open swims sound pretty scary and I remember you saying how it is something to work up to. I also may hit you up because I am starting the whole 30 this friday and I know you are a pro at this.

  3. I'm not even a swimmer (duh) but even I have to raise my eyebrows a bit at wearing a wetsuit when others don't - it's a definite unfair advantage and unless we're talking arctic temps I don't see the need...then again I'm always too hot and I suspect I'd change my mind if I actually had to do the swim :P

    Congrats on the AG placings. I feel your pain on the slowing down due to weight gain - my extra 30lbs+ have torched my half marathon and 10K times :(


  4. I have to admit that I am HUGE baby coming to swimming in the open water. It actually comes from getting hypothermia at the Island Beach swim in 2010 and nearly being airlifted out of there...why I did it the following year, well let's go with to meet you.

    Good luck at 4.4 and nice swim of course.

  5. This post is really reassuring to me. I've got my first tri (a baby tri - super-sprint) in 2 weeks and the cool weather has me nervous. But it's only a 400m swim (like I said, baby tri) and I worried about the wetsuit/no-wetsuit debate. After all, any time gain would be lost immediately in taking it off. And it should be at least 70, maybe warmer. This makes me think that I can TOTALLY do it.

  6. Yep, I'm one of those people who cling to my wetsuit. What can I say--I love neoprene. ;) That being said, though, when the water temperature climbs during triathlons and wearing a wetsuit makes an athlete ineligible for AG awards, then I swim without it. Nice work!

  7. Great job on the swim! I wore my wetsuit in 74 degree weather only because it was legal and I hardly ever get to wear it in Memphis. My wife likes to point out that for what I paid for it, I should wear it more!

  8. Damn two medals - you are on that podium all the freaking time. Amazing. And I am cold just reading this. Congrats!

  9. Damn, kick ass at open water swimming!!

    I do feel you on the weight gain. I gained about 4lbs and I can totally feel it. It drives me nuts and makes me super self-conscious. Also my thyroid levels got tested again and they're wonky and it stresses me out. Not fun. Why can't our metabolisms just BEHAVE like they are supposed to!?

  10. Speedy!!! It's awesome that to you, a 2 mile open water swim sans wetsuit is NBD after ALREADY swimming 1 mile without a wetsuit!

  11. you are so badass :) congrats!! i was going to comment about how I haven't been swimming outside yet, but then I realized I have been swimming much in general... oops.

  12. Congrats on the poduim finish

    I personally think that people rely too much on the wetsuit. It is a crutch. For my beginning years in triathlons, I didnt wear a wetsuit, I didnt feel the need, I came from a swimming background as a youth. I trusted my ability in the water, I was fine without it. Then I got one because I heard the water was in the low 60's in a race to keep myself warm. But when I tried it out, I instantly understood the obession of people wanting to wear it, its basically a life preserver. I still prefer to race with out one, only when it is too cold, like at IMSW with Lake Zurich being a glacier fed lake it a valid reason to wear it.