A new distance, 5km SWIMMING! (Barbados)

This swimming journey of mine began last year when at work the tourism department of Barbados came to my office for something about running but little did they know was they came to challenge me, to do something new and unique, at the right time when I was ready to take the step. A new 5k distance started to present itself…

Those from Barbados came to find some influential runners to go race on their island, to promote tourism there. Meanwhile I noticed they have an open water swim festival (Barbados Open Water Festival) in November and at this time I was training for a half ironman and I was interested in the swimming event bc i was trying to feel comfy swimming and i thought hey if I can achieve 5k swimming i would/should feel better outside of my own personal comfort zone. (In my ironman race I did feel comfy and this was a big step.)

In the back of my head the whole year I was anticipating this challenge. It kind of scared me but I liked the new, different challenge and really wanted to achieve it, feel comfy and face head on a true weakness for me. This also amused me because very few people do this, i am surrounded by runners, triathletes, cyclists but swimmers that is rare and totally my style to stray from the norm!

Well that is just what I did, truely challenge myself. 3 months before race day I found a coach and signed up. I decided I needed a coach since the idea was not just get to the distance but feel really comfortable in the water. My coach ended up being my best friend here in Colombia who is a swimmer and triathlete. I chose him, Alejandro,  because i trusted that he knew what he was doing and would help me successfully reach my goals.

This whole swimming thing turned out to be quite the challenge. I learned sooo soo much not just about swimming but about myself and my surroundings.

I trained every day e week except 1 and I felt as if I was an elite athlete with the hours, dedication and concentration I put in daily…I mean sometimes I swam 2x a day. My sessions normally were 2hrs and anywhere between 2,000 to 4,000 meters a session. Sometimes it was more technical, sometimes fast others just lots of distance. I learned quickly how complete of a workout swimming was as I often left the pool more sore then when I trained for marathons. In this time period i was dealing with an injury (plantar fasciitis in the foot) so I wasn’t running. Instead we complimented swimming with bike, gym and walking. I also learned quickly to not count the meters i was swimming and just program 2 hours. I added some new swimming tools to my bag, some fins, snorkel and learned how to use my remos all to help technique and become stronger (…I also acquired more swimsuits, one time I even matched with my coach on accident ha ha)

It was only 3 months of training, it was enough and it was intense. My coach really helped, it was all personalized for me, when after a month my arm and shoulder started to bug me, he changed the plan a bit and it stopped hurting all while not losing distance. I was impressed at the number of ways you can do a swim plan and still get similar results (so many different exercises, series, tools, etc, literally no way to get bored ever). I have no clue where to even begin to make a training for even a day but i tried to understand, usually annoying my coach bc its not something one learns easily (it took him 15 years!). I do understand more now but no where near creating my own plan like i do with running. Workouts consisted in abs and dorsal reps, mobility whole body, afloje (warm up between 300m-800m), the hard work building up toward the end, then afloje again (300m at least), stretch; Gym was focused on legs, arms, abs and dorsal; and Bike was to get in concentrated hours like when i would be swimming.

It was nice to have a coach for once as I usually train myself. I could have again trained by myself, there are plans on the internet, but that wasn’t the point, it was to learn from the experience instead of just arriving at the distance ready to complete it. Instead with a coach I was not only going to arrive and finish but do it well, comfortable and truly be prepared (with tips and guidance). Something that in the last few weeks I began to notice when my coach took a video of me swimming that when I saw it I didnt even know it was me. My technique and everything about swimming had changed so much that I didn’t even recognize myself, I was starting to look like a swimmer. (This also became apparent at my pool as swimmers started inviting me to compete on their team an I was like; who me?, you want this sad story of a swimmer on your team? Ha)

As I reached the last month I did several things to prepare – a long swim in Guatavita or better known as Embalse Tomine (where triathletes train in open water) alone and longer than I thought I’d want to swim (even though it was cold water, I enjoyed) – a duathlon competition that was swimming 600m? and mtn bike 23km, I enjoyed as it was my first competition on mtb bike (borrowed one)… I went with some friends…I was really, really nervous before the race but I felt ok in the water and finished 2nd out of 3 girls ha ha (but hey it included $150 so that paid for the trip and well the area around town was gorgeous) – my longest pool swim 2200 non stop 🙂 – and somehow survived the longest swim week which had me swimming in 1 day 8000m between the 2 times I went to the pool that day in addition to the 5 hours of exercise during 1 week day.

So I guess I was ready for Barbados. I went to Bridgetown with my friend Anca who I somehow failed to advise that I was going to compete meanwhile she was ready for the beach and party! Ha ha but she’s a trooper and no complaints were had. While she tanned I swam, while she drank I competed ha ha well something like that. Barbados was my 49th country and I was glad I picked it because on a cave tour we learned that it is not a volcanic island like most other Caribbean islands but instead a sedimentary island that appeared and was pushed up over time giving its coral beds a different reason for being there and a distinct shape with valleys and caves. Unique I like :). 

So this open water swim competition was something new for me as it was just swimming nothing more. It was a 5 day open water swimming festival where the first 3 days they offered guided practice swims of 2000m at a different beach each day followed by a little party and then the last 2 days were competition. The first day was 1500m and the last day offered 3 options…3330, 5000 and 10k competitive swims done in a loop (2,3 or 6 laps). 

I did one practice swim at Miami Beach (yes they were creative in naming this beach :P) which was with 60 swimmers, an out and back. We swam 1000m in the ocean’s somewhat choppy waters and not too clear just before sunset. At 1000m we stopped and waited for the last swimmer and then returned. Quite the cool experience because we literally went from 1 beach to like 3 down the coast and all while swimming relaxed in the OCEAN. It was funny and interesting to me that we got to a point and just stopped and waited with all 60 swimmer’s heads bobbing in the middle of the ocean, but also very cool and special, and then returned with a beautiful sunset. This was followed by a party at Oistens, a big fish market or rather area with good street side type restaurants with entertainment, to eat. This was different than my individual practice swims at the beach close to our airbnb because our beach had a reef and it was choppier so i just went back and forth looking at fish along the reef until time was up, another swim totally relaxed. 

Sunday was the competition 5000m in Carlile Bay, a beautiful calm water bay where I would swim 3 laps to make my first 5000m open water swim. I arrived in the morning not nervous at all (surprise, surprise) and ready to complete the challenge. We started in waves based on distance (shortest first) some 250 athletes. Over the 5 days more than 350 athletes participated in swims from over 35 countries. My group was the biggest with +120 swimmers and at the buzzer all began their journey. Nothing seemed to bother me or get in my way and I swam without stopping, happy that there were plenty others to help guide me to the bouys which were 4 red on each side of the loop plus 2 yellow at the ends. As I swam I watched the turtle below and fishes, also I spotted a starfish and sand dollar :). The first lap went by well with me trying to recall how many bouys and reminding myself that there were 3, yes 3 laps…on the second lap my arms were tired and one leg was bugging me but then on the third lap I decided to up the rhythm the whole lap like a crazy person, the last half I was on par with another girl so I became super competitive…the last few meters we ran into another 2-3 swimmers and of course this made me even more competitive going into a sprint in between them, passing all and exiting the water running. I finished in 1:54 which was a huge surprise because I anticipated 2:10-2:20 so under 2 wasn’t even in my mind! I felt great, very happy to have set and completed my goal, happy for having chosen Barbados as it allowed me to return home quite relaxed. After the 5000m I spent nearly all day at the beach (Anca was very happy with that plan, as was I), I entered the water every now and then between my celebratory drinks ha ha. Getting in the water after the race felt amazing, literally amazing, just floating there in the water with no worries thinking about the achievement and all that it took to arrive there. I didn’t win anything at this race except with myself and I did leave the water curious about the 10k swim…hum until I congratulated a 10k swimmer and felt his pruned hands…

Curious side thought: I remember on the plane looking around and thinking who else might be swimmers, how could one distinguish a swimmer?…this was curious to me because as a runner when you fly to a big race they are easy to distinguish because we wear running shoes and gear and we are thin and runner looking ja ja but for swimmers this is nearly impossible. Swimmers come in many more shapes and sizes, I thought maybe looking at arms you could tell but not really.  Turns out that swimmers like runners also travel to other races in the world so it was cool to be a part of it and learn that this sport also has its culture, something new to me and just as exciting.

What I learned from the experience (the major things not mentioned above):

  • I was taught how to really kick in the water, which I did incorrectly. (It’s below the surface)
  • I learned how to flip in the pool and continue instead of grabbing the wall which was probably also affecting my arm. 
  • I learned how to travel far underwater and kind of relax instead of wanting complete control (a major struggle for me in water). 
  • I learned that I was doing back stroke completely wrong (although this was toward the end) and it is now the swim style nearly just as fast as freestyle for me…odd right. (Also doing it correct I freak out less but it is still the hardest stroke because I feel all the effort to do it)
  • I learned that I hate the snorkel because it requires using only your mouth to breath (whole nose is exposed in water) and to me that is loss of control and not fun. 
  • I became more flexible, maintained muscle swimming, nearly got a six pack, felt like I could dance better with all the daily mobility of the hips and shoulders, I started to express myself more since my coach was my best friend, that stretching after is super important, and understand that my mind is really really strong and can pretty much accomplish anything i set it to do. 
  • I learned to respect myself, water, and others a bit more. 
  • I learned that on a static bike that I love reading

And, above all: this time period focused on swimming fell perfectly into my life plans. I was injured and couldn’t run and this didn’t bug me at all as my goal did not include running, while at the same time swimming made me more fit while maintaining muscle, and increased my lung capacity for my eventual return to running. Just another thing in life showing that everything happens for a reason at the time it should…so relax and give it some time.

Time to plan some new goals :D!

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