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Race Recap: Toronto Island Lake Swim


This morning I tackled the inaugural Toronto Island Lake Swim, 1,500m distance.  I treated this as a training race, and boy did I learn a lot…

My goal for this race was to stick with the pack for the full 1,500m.  Was I successful… well… it’s hard to say…

While sitting around on the beach, waiting for the swim to start, some volunteers came around announcing to everyone that the water temperature had dropped a lot over night, to a frigid 61°F.  Brrr. 

cold swim

Seriously?!?  August!!!  WTF?!?

Right away everyone around me started pulling wetsuits out of their bag.  Did I?  No – my wetsuit was in my closet back at home.  Crap.  Lesson #1: Always bring the wetsuit.  Always.  Even when the organizers send out emails stating the water was too warm, bring it anyway!

I decided to swim with my tri top on.  It isn’t nearly as warm as a wetsuit, and doesn’t offer any buoyancy, but I think it was a bit warmer than swimming shirtless.  At least I hope so…

The 3,800m swimmers were off first and shortly after us 1,500m swimmers got our turn. We lined up at the start line – 3 out of 4 swimmers in their wetsuits, and poor, cold, me.

The gun went off and I dove into the water.  My arms and legs burned instantly.  It was SO cold.  It felt like an ice bath.  I found myself instantly short of breath and scrambling to get into my stroke.  I had to force myself to put my face in the water – it was so cold.  And my tri top, while possibly adding some warmth, felt like a drag chute.  Lesson #2: The tri top may feel like spandex when running and biking, but it’s not.  And swimming in it anytime the clock is running is a bad idea.  I was slow, and still cold.

By roughly 1/4 of the race, my toes started to go numb.  I lost feel of the water and felt like i was kicking aimlessly.  I seriously contemplated waiving the swim cap and calling it a day.  But as I looked around, I was surrounded by a sea of wetsuits.  I was sticking with the pack so far, so I kept pushing.

The water was choppier than I was used to, and I felt it really messed with my stroke, and with my breathing.  I was limited to breathing away from the chop, which started to tire one of my shoulders faster than the other.  But that’s part of open water swimming – just keep on keeping on.  Eventually I sighted the orange buoy that was my turn around point.

It was hard to tell how well I stuck with the pack after the turn around point – the pack thinned out as the race went on, and there was always one or two swimmers with me, though never more than that.  I was never alone, but I was never surrounded by other swimmers.

Funny story – I got my first ever kick to the face in this swim… in the last 100m of all places.  Go figure!

I was hoping to swim sub 30:00.  In the end, I swam 1,500m in 36:50 (8/9 in my age group).  I was a bit disappointed when I saw the clock – It was a slower time than I’d normally like, but given the cold and the chop, it wasn’t awful.  And in fact only 3 minutes separated me from 4th out of 9 in my age group.  Had I swum sub 30:00, I would have been 2nd.  Everybody had a rough day – most of them in wetsuits that I didn’t have.  Lesson #3: I can swim with the pack.

After I packed up from my race I threw my stuff in a locker by the beach and set out for a quick 5k run.  Go figure – the sun was blistering hot and the shade was sparse.  I could finally feel my toes again!

What’s the coldest water you’ve ever swam in?

  1. August 18, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    I’ve learned the wetsuit lesson a few times already and hope it doesn’t happen again. I’d say given the conditions and swimming in a t-shirt, not bad at all.

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