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.

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