I had read, several times, that doing an open water swim in a triathlon was much different than doing a pool swim. Going into today I had never done an open water tri...though I had done a couple with pool swims. Now, I've swam in rivers, lakes, even in the ocean quite a bit...but I was NOT ready for THIS.
We entered the water in a time trial start, 5 seconds between each person, which is designed to avoid the chaos of a mass shotgun start. Instantly I recognized that all of the usual proprioceptive ques that help me keep a steady pace in the pool were gone. Within the first fifty meters I was thrashing. My heart rate was way up, I couldn't go more than a handful of strokes without peeking up to see if I was on a good line. I was worried about running into people...it was horrible.
Truth be known I can do 500 meters in a pool with relative ease at a decent pace but by the time we got out to the 250 meter mark and made the turn for shore I was worried I might not make it. There are kayaks along the the way that you can grab on to if you are in a bad enough way and as long as you don't propel yourself forward there is no penalty...but I did NOT want to be that guy.
With 50 meters to go I had a couple guys pass me and ask if I was ok. I was kicking along on my back trying to catch my breath. I pushed myself to roll back over and dug in hard for about 30 meters and finally found lake bottom. I managed to get my feet under me and dragged myself onto the beach only to find that I was staggering like late night drunk. I couldn't keep anything like a straight line, my eyes were doing weird focus things, I felt overwhelming panic and relief all at the same time and knew I still had to bike 12 miles and run a 5K.
Normaly I can get a good jog on after the swim but this was a lurching survival walk. I stumbled past the people who were there to help us out of our wetsuits knowing that if I lay down to let them pull it off my legs I wouldn't be able to get back up. I CLEARLY remember the small, rational, analytical part of my brain chipping in with, "Ok, that was ridiculous. You could have died. We're never doing THAT again."
My transition time, which doesn't start until AFTER you stagger in to the transition area, was close to two minutes longer than my normal...only 1/3 of the race down and I was spent.
to be continued...