Some of my earliest childhood memories are of swimming with my dad at Walden Pond. I couldn’t have been more than six or seven when he started taking my sister and I there. A former competitive swimmer, he’d bribe us with promises of ice cream to get us to doggie paddle out to the rope marking the end of the swim area without help (when I got older it was crawl stroke with proper breathing technique). It probably wasn’t more than 50 yards, but back then that swim felt like a marathon. We’d tread water out there to catch our breath, and then my dad would lift up the rope and we’d slip out of the swim area, into the middle of the pond. Swimming out there always felt like we were breaking the rules, going out of bounds. Of course, that also made it more fun.
words to live by
Since then, I’ve returned to Walden once every few years. There was the obligatory field trip in high school, picnics with out-of-town friends, and leisurely swims back when I first moved to Boston. But with Timberman coming up, I have a feeling I’ll be at Walden more this summer than in the past five years combined. Walden is THE place for Boston-area triathletes to train, I’m guessing because it’s clean and has parking.
Katy and I planned to meet up there yesterday for my first open-water swim of the season. Wanting to be in the water at 6 a.m. meant a 4:45 wake-up, which I still can’t believe I managed. I was on the road by 5:15. (I would welcome suggestions of open-water swim spots closer to home. The ocean, a block from my house, seems like an obvious, albeit colder, choice.)
I haven’t done an open water swim in years. With the wetsuit, the water wasn’t too bad. But when I put my head in and started swimming, I had something close to a panic attack. My heart was pounding and I couldn’t catch my breath. Seeing nothing but blackness underneath me freaked me out, and my goggles were full of some crud that made it hard to see above the water as well. I flipped over and did some back stroke while I caught my breath. I was good to go after a few moments, and managed not to fall too far behind Katy.
Back when I lived in Florida, open-water swimming was literally entering the food chain. When I lived in Orlando, I did Lucky’s Lake swim, a daily 6:30 a.m. workout hosted by a former collegiate swimmer-turned-doctor who graciously opened his property up for the local athletic community. Gators are a fact of life in Florida, as are snakes, and you just never knew what was under the surface. I would swim laps across the lake as fast as I possibly could, fully expecting to be dragged under the water by a famished alligator at any second.
When I moved to Miami and started swimming in the ocean, it was hardly better. The following conversation took place just before my first swim workout there:
Me: Is it safe?
Random guy: Mostly. We haven’t seen a bull shark in a while, and we try to scout for man o wars before we get in. Oh, and Marco over there keeps an eye on the bacteria levels posted on the county website.
All of this was going through my mind as I swam across Walden Pond. I knew intellectually that there was nothing in the water that could eat me, but I kept thinking about sharks and water moccasins and snapping turtles. It probably didn’t help that it was a foggy morning where you could barely see the shore you were swimming to.
Katy and I swam almost 2,000 yards in 33 minutes (If you’re swimming Walden, there is a handy map that shows various swim distances here). This was my first real swim in a wetsuit, and it was interesting getting used to it. I definitely didn’t have to kick as much, but my arms felt like they were doing a lot more work. My head also felt heavy when ever I’d lift it to sight the shore, probably because the rest of my body was so buoyant.
All in all, I’m really glad that I went, and that I started open water swimming so early in the season. Can’t wait to head back next week and face my fears all over again.