Learn to read the water!

In about 60 hours the gun will go off and I’ll start splashing my way through my first 1/2 IM-distance race. I’m definitely looking forward to it, I know I’m ready and I know I’m capable. So it’s just a matter of putting everything together at the right time in the right way. Easy, eh?

With this race week, the workouts have been short with bursts up to race pace, just to keep the muscles aware of what I’ll be expecting of them.

Since the water at the race will still likely be cool, I rented a wetsuit from, are you ready for this? WetsuitRental.com. What a deal. For $35, they Fed-Ex out a wetsuit about 10 days prior to your race, which is enough time to give it a few tries. So that’s what I’ve been doing this week, giving the Orca Evo a try. Quite a nice wetsuit, much different from the wetsuits I’ve worn in the past for surfing and bodyboarding.

Based on my height and weight, I ordered the Medium Large, which actually turned out to be a bit small in the shoulders. I can definitely feel my shoulders after a few minutes of freestyle. Now I find that tri-shops like All3Sports recommend sizing up since the suits run a touch tight. Like the best line in The Wedding Singer – “Gee, you know that information…really would’ve been more useful to me YESTERDAY!”.

Hehe. No worries. The added resistance isn’t that big of a deal.

Anyway, in order to make sure it was comfortable to swim in, my lovely bride and I drove out Monday morning to the site where my IM-distance race will be held in September. But wouldn’t you know it, the beach is closed for the season, waiting for warmer weather and tourists. So I had to poach a swim by hiking through the woods down to the water and then swimming across an inlet. The water was warm, almost too warm for the wetsuit.

Since I didn’t want to drive the 75 minutes out there again today, I decided to drive downtown and jump in the Cumberland River, which feeds the lake that I swam in on Monday. I planned on swimming upstream, against the current for a while, then turning around and cruising back to my start point.

Waking up this morning, I knew the river would be a bit more entertaining that usual, since we had a few hours of torrential rain last night. Somewhere between 1.5″ and 2.25″ during that time. I didn’t know how high that would push the river and what sort of stuff would be floating in it, but I wasn’t going to let that deter me.

After some morning errands, we got out there just before lunchtime, stopped in the City Park and immediately saw the “No Swimming” signs. Ah well. I’ll just walk down outside of the park and jump in. I definitely got some odd looks as we walked past the playground, me with the wetsuit pulled up around my waist.

We sat and watched the water for a bit and what we saw confirmed that my planned route would take me upstream for the out leg, which would be north. Everything on the surface was moving south and at not too quick of a clip, so I was good to go.

I jumped in and gasped since the water was cold. Not as cold as that first rush of cold water down the back of the wetsuit after duck-diving under that first wave during a January dawn patrol in California, but it was cold, thanks to the rain last night. I started swimming along the bank, making sure to stay out of the middle of the river, since it’s a working river full of barges and tugs.

I got down to my turnaround point fairly quickly, thanks to a couple of surges to race pace along the way. I then started my swim back. That’s when I realized I’d made a mistake. The northerly wind was blowing everything on the surface towards the south, disguising the fact that I was now destined to swim upstream for the return leg.

Immediately the “Oh, shit” portion of my mind got to work, but luckily I soon realized that I was making headway against the current. At least I was getting a good workout. Time to make the best of it. The return leg took about 5 minutes longer than the out leg. Not too bad. But I’m sure glad that the current wasn’t any stronger.

That made me realize that I can’t read big rivers. I can drive up to a beach that I’ve never seen before, sit for 10 minutes, watch the water and have a darn good understanding of the currents, the contour of the bottom and the way the waves are breaking. I can walk up to a river in the Rockies or the Sierras, stand for a few minutes and see exactly what seams I need to cast my fly into or which rocks to drift the fly past.

But big, wide, slow-moving rivers? Apparently I’ve got a bit to learn…

Next post – Race Report.

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