Finding Comfort in a Wetsuit : Preparing for the NYC Triathlon

It is amazing how complicated getting ready for the swim leg of the Aquaphor NYC Triathlon seems because really, I have nothing to base it on. It has been my biggest worry and easily the thing that has caused me the most concern, even with all of the veteran’s advice about how it really isn’t so bad. Once I had the distance down in the pool, it was really the getting in the Hudson River portion that was my final stumbling block.

If you are going to jump in the Hudson River – on purpose – really, a wetsuit is necessary, even if it isn’t required. I haven’t ever worn a wetsuit so when I was originally looking for one, I was looking at the sleeveless versions, thinking that I would want the shoulder movement but was set straight by one of the NYCTri vets whose brains I have picked.  Her advice: “SLEEVES. Seriously. You want sleeves.  It is the Hudson after all, the more coverage the better.” After looking at all of the local shops, I ended up finding a great deal online at Wetsuitoutlet.com – which has deals on really nice suits & an awesome return policy if you end up hating the suit. For the week it took to arrive, I spent most of my time yelling at the fella “Where is my SUPER suit?!”.   Thankfully, he fully got The Incredibles reference and didn’t think I had just completely lost my marbles. When it finally arrived, I was excited and so glad it actually fit! Seriously though, I LOVE it and it really does make me feel like a super hero.  I kind of want to wear it all the time…

The first time I looked at JackRabbit’s class schedule, all of their swim sections were sold out, but when their June newsletter came out a week later, they had added a few extra open water workshops & I immediately signed up for one of them. I chose the final one they would be holding before the race, wanting to have time to get my distance up before I actually went out into the open water. Sunday, I finally got out into the open water and practiced in my wetsuit for the first time.

The workshop, which was held in Brighton Beach, was a 1.5-2 hour clinic described as an introduction for people with limited experience in “basic open water swim and tri race skills, including but not limited to sighting, getting into your wetsuit, drafting, dealing with waves, swimming straight, signaling for help and staying relaxed.  You will finish the class much more confident and comfortable in your ability to swim safely and continuously in the open water than when you began.” Which was exactly what I was looking for – plus, I was really excited to get to have some time with an actual Triathlon swim coach. On Friday, I got an instruction email about where to meet, with really clear, easy to follow directions for taking the subway out there, a picture of the structure we would be meeting at and the name and number of the woman who would be checking us in and watching our bags while we were out in the water. Seriously, JackRabbit won my heart with making it all so easy, comfortable and worry free because it let me focus on what I was really there for!

Our coach for the day was John Stewart, an USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach and a veteran of triathlons from sprint to iron-distance. John was awesome – funny, very knowledgeable and calm. As soon as he arrived, he launched into the topic of the day. We spent a few minutes up on the boardwalk in the shade talking and getting pointers before heading down to the beach to get into our wetsuits. Our group was slightly smaller than scheduled because 7 people who where supposed to be there called out, so there were only about 11 of us. I fully expected the class to be filled with super serious type-A’s, obsessed with improving their time, who would not be fun to spend the morning with.  It turned out that this group wasn’t like that at all. Mostly, everyone was fun and relaxed and just wanting tips on being more comfortable in the water.  We only had one super serious woman who basically worried about every single thing, beginning with even getting her suit on. Which, while listening to her on the boardwalk I thought was strange, but turns out that I have a weirdly easy suit to get on. So, while everyone else shimmied, hopped and yanked their suits on, I stood there fully dressed and starting to bake in the hot sun. I started to wonder if I was going to overheat out in the water when I was moving. Once everyone had their wetsuits on and we made it out into the water, I realized right away that wasn’t going to be an issue at all. The water was chilly and I was so glad to have the suit on – the two members of our group who had decided not to wear suits for the race looked miserable!

The first order of business was getting used to being in the suit, IN the water. Since I hadn’t ever actually had a wetsuit on in the water, the fact that water actually does get IN the suit shocked me but I felt marginally better that I wasn’t the only one surprised! As we slowly made our way out into the water until we were just treading water, I was really happy to feel just how buoyant a wetsuit makes you. It was also during this portion that I learned my favorite thing of the whole day:

“You cannot sink in a wetsuit. You can drown if you are facedown, but if you start to panic or get tired, flip on your back and you will float. In fact, given the current, you really could just float all the way there, you would eventually make it.”

We practiced floating on our backs for a little bit and while our resident panic-er freaked out and couldn’t relax into it, I found it really, really comforting. You really do just bob there in your suit with absolutely no effort at all. Have I mentioned I love my super suit??

We spent a lot of time practicing sighting drills because it isn’t something you do in a pool. In a pool, the black line at the bottom tells you if you are straight or not.  Out in open water, you need to rely on landmarks. We practiced 3 different ways of sighting – before or after you breathe and then every few strokes. Mostly, I really, really want to look at where I am going, so pretty much the ones where you looked each time worked the best for me. I don’t think I ever did manage to not try and sneak a peak in at every stroke even when we weren’t supposed to. It was also great to get you used to swimming in a pack. It was nice that it was really easy to become accustomed to – weirdly, it was actually kind of comforting to be swimming in the midst of the pack.

We swam closing our eyes to see how straight we actually swam and learned how to correct if we tended to veer one way or the other.  Although I REALLY hated this exercise, it turns out in general, I go pretty straight even without looking! Who knew? Some people tend to really veer one way or the other and one lady in our group actually swam in almost a complete circle. It was funny because as straight as I would swim, that exercise completely and utterly freaked me out. The panic-er in our group LOVED it and it calmed her down not to look, but for me, it was the complete opposite. I really want to see where the hell I am going – always. Thank you, I will be keeping my eyes open the whole time!

It was so amazing to swim in open water and it is totally different. I loved the freedom of not being in the pool  and the feeling of the water stretched out around me. It was so liberating and really, the wetsuit makes me feel like anything is possible. After almost two hours in the water, we headed back into shore. I was tired but felt so much more comfortable about the swim portion of the NYC Triathlon…

Photos by Eric C Stafford & end quote just some internet goodness.

The Only Possible Answer Was Yes: The Aquaphor Tri Team

About a month ago, I received an email that totally turned my life upside down – in the best possible way. The email was titled “Invitation: NYC Triathlon – Aquaphor Tri Team” and I gasped as I read it what it was offering me. I have wanted to do a Triathlon for YEARS – for me, it has always been that “I will really be an athlete if I can do that” thing. These days, I feel like an athlete but that thing in the back of my head has remained. To have the chance dropped in my lap to compete in one of the premiere Triathlons in the country, and one that I had completely written off because I couldn’t remotely afford the entry fee, was shockingly awesome. It honestly never occurred to me to not snap up the opportunity. I immediately wrote back to say yes.

In some ways, it is great to not have time to really freak out about it – really, because there is too much to make happen before the race that there isn’t a window of time to panic. Head down and get prepared -mostly what that has involved has been LOTS AND LOTS of swimming. It’s funny, when I was little, swimming was the one thing that I loved.  At every Navy base, there was always a large, magical place of escapism for me at the pool and I would swim laps forever, easily doing a mile a day. However, it has been years since I even had access to a pool, so the very first thing I did was figure out how to change that. To that end, I have been at the amazingly beautiful Reebok Sports Center/NY’s pool 3-4 times per week. The pool is amazing and seemingly never overrun but always filled with serious swimmers of all shape and stripe. There are a lot of people who are obviously training for the Tri too, which is inspiring to see… and has incidentally provided me with swimming tips.  I don’t think swimming is “like riding a bike”, but I have been shocked at how quickly it has come back to feeling natural. I am back up to mile swims and have loved every moment I have gotten to be back in the water. The swim was really the only part that worried me and while a mile swim in the Hudson still seems slightly scary, it no long sounds so daunting. Plus, my wetsuit has been ordered and really, how can you not feel like a superhero getting to race in one of those??

I really can’t wait for the Aquaphor New York City Triathlon and I almost can’t believe it is happening, but as everything starts to fall into place, it doesn’t just feel like a crazy dream. I am so grateful for the exciting and truly amazing opportunity to be part of something so special and when July 8th rolls around, I am going to be ready. Until then, I will be swimming as often as possible…and biking…and running….. so there may be a few weeks before I get back to lots of class reviews!

Top & bottom photos from Aquaphor New York City Triathlon’s Facebook page and the quote in the middle just a really good thing to remember.