I knew when I signed up for the New Jersey State Triathlon
that I’d have to swim in open water (aka not a pool), but I hadn’t really wrapped my head around what that actually means: salt water, waves, no lane markers, the inability to see the bottom (or unless your triathlon is in the Caribbean, the inability to see, well, anything). Now I know.
There aren’t many places to swim—period—in NYC, let alone places that aren’t clear blue, chlorinated, 25-meter-long pools, but last weekend I was in an area of Long Island known as the North Fork at my boyfriend’s house, which conveniently sits on an inlet to the Peconic Bay. (That's it, at left—it's not as calm as it looks!) He suggested we swim across it. Uh…sure…why don’t we, former Connecticut state swimming champion (OK, he was 10 when he won, but still…). I was terrified. It looked cold, and choppy, and murky, and…cold. But SHAPE’s tri coach Scott Berlinger
warned me enough times of the importance of swimming in open water prior to race day that I knew I had to suck it up and try.
In the end, it wasn’t so bad. Yes, the water was freezing for this Florida girl. And yes, I got salt water up my nose and down my throat and in my goggles. And yes, my zig-zaggy route probably tacked on 25 or so extra meters. But I actually felt pretty strong. I didn’t get any more tired than I usually do swimming laps in the pool, and when I did feel fatigued, I practiced treading water or doing the breast stroke (there won’t be any walls to rest against during the real thing!).
Will I make traversing the inlet a regular weekend activity? Probably not. But I will swim my way across it a few more times before July 21—there’ll be enough chaos trying to swim among hundreds of other people; I want to make sure a few waves are the least of my worries.
Have you tried open-water swimming yet? What did you think? Let me know in the comments or tweet me @DaniSMcNally
Danielle McNally is the associate fitness editor at SHAPE magazine, where she reports on the latest news, trends, and gear in the exercise world, along with the occasional travel and pop culture piece. She was previously an assistant editor at Food Network Magazine, but left shortly after completing the ING New York City Marathon, when she realized her passion for working out. She’s run seven half marathons, and regularly practices yoga and pilates. This summer she’ll be competing in the New Jersey State Triathlon (her first!) and blogging about it here!