I have a passion for open water swimming.
For years it was on my list of things I wanted to try but it’s not all that common, so I didn’t. Three years ago I started looking around again for an open water race, a new challenge and I came across LOST – Lake Ontario Swim Team. They swim out of Oakville and I was living in Toronto at the time so it was perfect. The first Saturday that I showed up I got in the water and within the first 50m I was in love. This was amazing… no turns, no chlorine (which I’m allergic to), no lane swim hours to work into my schedule. I can swim as far as I want, whenever I want… kinda…
Of course it’s not perfect… this is Canada, we have cold weather and cold water! There are only a couple of good months to swim in the lake. Add to that it’s Lake Ontario… a very unpredictable lake. A few weeks ago I was swimming at Cobourg beach, it was awesome 70F, no wetsuit…. 4 days later 55F, even with a wetsuit the swim was brief.
So in comes the fear – I have a fear of cold water! There are times when I go in a pool that’s 80F and I think it’s cold!
Having a passion for open water swimming and a fear of cold water creates quite the dilemma especially when you swim in Lake Ontario.
I faced this dilemma yesterday. Every year LOST has a 3.8km race in August. I have done it for the past 2 years and signed up for it back in the spring. I was closely watching the Lake O temperature map all week. Last Saturday in Oakville the water temperature was 45F so I was happy when it was forecasting 65F for race day.
Race day – I woke up at 4:30am, drove from Cobourg to Oakville and parked at the finish line hoping to get a ride to the start line. I went down to check out the finish line and noticed that the registration table was set up… strange, as registration should be at the start. When I went to the table I was asked if I was doing the 500 or 1,000 (I was there to swim 3.8K so again I was confused). I was told that they changed the race to a 500m or 1km due to the temperature of the water. My stomach dropped. Reluctantly I asked what the water temperature was. 50F. My first reaction was to laugh and say that there was no way I was getting in the water. Instead I said 500m. As I walked away I was still contemplating not doing it. I looked around, there were a lot of people that seemed like they were going to do this. I thought well if they can do it so can I. Not to mention I just drove for 2 hours to get there! This was the perfect opportunity to step into my fear.
As we were waiting for the race to start I said to the lady next to me – there are a lot of crazy people here. She looked at me in my wetsuit and said and you’re one of them, you’re going to get in the water and do it!
Ok, start time… it’s a rocky beach so we walked down to the water’s edge and waited for the start. My feet were getting wet and I thought, oh the water doesn’t feel too bad. It could be because I was only in an inch of water.
The race started. I swam the first 25m head up. After the first buoy I put my face in the water, it still didn’t feel too bad… I think this was a very real case of mind over matter. My brain was convincing my body that it wasn’t that bad. It apparently was cold as I was having a difficult time getting breathes in. I was taking breathes but the air wasn’t entering my lungs. I told myself to calm down and just breathe every stroke. By the second buoy I could breathe… good news! And then I just started doing what I do… swimming! At the half way point I was kicking myself for not doing the 1km. Then I remembered that when I made the decision I was seriously considering not doing it at all.
As I headed to the finish I actually had to take my goggles off 10m out as they were so fogged up I couldn’t see the beach (there might have even been frost on them 😉 ) I got out of the water and ran to the finish. I was so obsessed with the cold that I forgot that this was a race. When I went to the computer to check my time it said Place in Division 1st – ummmm what? There must be something wrong… No mistake, I was the first female in the wetsuit division (believe it or not yes, there was a non-wetsuit division which several people did – there are people crazier than me!)
I got called up and my picture was taken with the other 1st place swimmers and the trophy. My name will be on it and it will be forever documented that I faced my fear.
You hear a lot of people talk about fear and facing it and that’s how you grow. I have to tell ya, they’re not just making this stuff up. Yesterday, I got it. Stepping into that fear was very scary (I did not want to get in that cold water) but SO worth it. First of all, I’m proud of myself for living full out and not sitting on the beach as a spectator. Second, now that I know I can handle the cold water, I will be able to swim in the lake more often without the cold holding me back.
Face your fears – seriously it will make your life better. If I can swim in 50F water, you can do whatever scares you!
Go be epic!