View Full Version : quickie open water prep

Philip Arcuni
June 25th, 2002, 08:52 PM
Next month I will be swimming Lake Tahoe with a relay. Expected conditions are 55 - 60 F and wind and chop, with no wetsuits allowed. Fortunately we will be swimming only 1/2 hour shifts separated by 2.5 hr (6 person relay.) Also, there will be a boat that I hope is big enough to see with by bad eyes and close enough to pull my frozen carcass out of the water.

But I am very nervous. I am a pool swimmer who likes his water 79 +/- 2 degrees, and this will be my first serious open water experience (without fins, mask, and snorkle in the Carribean). Is there a chance of cardiac arrest if I don't prepare correctly? Will it help if I hop in the Pacific ocean a couple of times (the temperature is comparable right now, I think.)? Or will I only be making myself uncomfortable? Am I better off not knowing what I will get into?

I know (in theory) about earplugs and cap, but what is the grease that I hear people talking about? What kind and where should it go? I don't have a lot of insulation. Will those big(ish) mask/goggles keep my face warmer?

Is it better for the boat to hang on my breathing side, where I can see it, or well ahead of me where I can lift my head up to sight it (no drafting allowed, of course). I know I wander if there is no line under me while I swim.

My brain tells me that an in-shape swimmer will not become (seriously) hypothermic after only 30 minutes, but I would like someone with experience tell me that, too.

[What have I done!!:eek: ]

June 25th, 2002, 11:08 PM

Sounds like a great event. Here are a few thoughts:

Yes ear plugs and a swim cap (silicone is best) will help to keep you warmer. Grease -used by almost everyone because of its long history of being caked on every English Channel swimmer will not really help -once it gets cold it remains cold -and right on your skin. It can be useful for areas that rub - so I'd use a little.
The BEST thing you can do to prepare is to "hop in the pacific" a few times (or as much as possible!) -don't worry if it is only for a short time at first, you will find that it gets easier each time.
During the event have some warm fluids on the boat. I would also keep the boat next to you if possible (making sure the exhaust fumes don't blow your way) so you can see it while breathing naturally. Looking up and ahead can cause neck problems.

Have fun!

Rob Copeland
June 26th, 2002, 09:13 AM
And a couple of other suggestions Ė

In addition to Randyís suggestion to take a couple of hops into the Pacific prior I would recommend that for these training swims you enter the water slowly letting your body adjust to the cold water. Get waist deep or beyond before completely submerging.

When you get to Tahoe, take a couple of training swims to get used to the water. Make sure that you are bundled up and warm before and after these swims. If you are arriving only the day before the race, swim when you first get there and then again in a couple of hours. Each time swimming for 5 or 10 minutes, longer if it feels comfortable.

To your statement that ďMy brain tells me that an in-shape swimmer will not become (seriously) hypothermic after only 30 minutesĒ. For cold water, you are better to be 40 pounds overweight and out of shape, than in shape with 5% body fat. That said, being in shape will allow you exercise longer and at a higher level, which will generate internal body heat. The harder you swim, the more heat your body will generate. As for seriously hypothermic after 30 minutes, most people racing in 55 to 60 degree water will not become seriously hypothermic. However, many will become mildly to moderately hypothermic. The race directors should brief the teams on signs, symptoms and treatments. If they donít make sure to ask.

Come race day, if you are starting from the boat (2nd Ė6th swimmer), prior to your dive take a deep breath and hold it through the dive and first 4 to 6 strokes, the natural tendency when the body hits the cold water is to expel the air in your lungs, and itís tough to swim when you canít breath.

At the end of your leg, get out, get dry and get warm. Bundle up and have plenty of hot fluids. Stretch and loosen up to generate some internal heat, and to return the circulation to your arms and legs. Remember, you may need to get back into the water and the second time can be worse if you allow yourself to tighten up or remain cold.

As for the boat. Wind and current will dictate where it can be positioned, you donít want the wind to blow engine exhaust or the boat into your path. The ideal location, as Randy said, is on your breathing side and 5 to 15 yards away - depending on boat size and weather conditions and your comfort level. In bad conditions, the boat should take a position ahead of you. Typically the boat and crew set the direction and the swimmer setís the speed. Make sure that you and the team have a way to visually signal the swimmers if they are swimming to far away from the boat. A pool lap counter can be a useful aid to let the swimmer know how long they have been swimming and you can show the red if they are swimming off course. The other thing to realize about support boats, is that no large boat can easily travel at 2 to 3 MPH. It takes an extremely good captain to hold a steady line and pace, so be prepared for the boat to do odd stuff to stay with you. Many experienced escorted swim swimmers, will enlist a kayak for navigation. They can easily direct and pace the swimmers for the entire swim. In fact the previous post is from one of the worlds best escorts. Randyís escort services are legendary amongst the marathon swimmer community, but thatís a story for a different forum.

Randy also made good points about grease (typically Vaseline petroleum jelly or a mixture of Vaseline and lanolin) . The other caution about slathering up with grease before you swim is that after your first swim on the relay, you will be bundling up in clothes to keep warm and most of the grease you put on will end up on your clothes, the boat and your friends. For Tahoe I would suggest either skipping the grease all together or a light coat of Vaseline around the neck and under the arms. If it were a salt water swim or a longer duration, I would suggest a heaver coating and also apply some to your thighs.

And to echo Randyís sentiments Ė HAVE FUN!!!

Leonard Jansen
June 26th, 2002, 11:33 AM
Two additional things:
1) Right before it is your turn to jump in, lean over the boat and splash some water on as much of your body as you can without getting everyone else wet. I find that this helps prepare for the plunge and, for whatever reason, keeps the shock of jumping into the water down.
2) Once you are done, get back in the boat as fast as possible, even if you are feeling good. You are still losing body heat.

Enjoy it - I did the Manhattan race last weekend as a relay and had a great time - a special day with special people.

Sally Dillon
June 26th, 2002, 07:27 PM
Hi Phil,

You've received some great advice from a couple "veteran" and expert long distance swimmers. I'd like to give you some advice from a Trans-Tahoe "veteran".

Don't get too stressed! I've swum that race many times and don't recall the temperature ever getting to 55 degrees. There was the year it snowed . . . but wisely the Olympic Club canceled the swim. In 1997 there was wind coming from the East (a "Tonapah") at the crack of dawn. It made getting to the race start unpleasant but the race went well for most once it was started.

If it's below 60, you'll get a bit of a "face freeze" that lasts a few minutes. The scenery, competition, excitement is so invigorating you'll get through the 30 minute leg and love it! Watch out for that team that likes to "swim naked".

Be sure someone has a lap counter on board so they can indicate how many minutes you've swum. That makes it easier on the 1st leg. Remember, your 2nd, 3rd (how slow is your team?) swims are for shorter durations. When you change swimmers, usually the boat pulls forward so the swimmer can get in, warm the water (unless you have a deluxe boat with a head), get the goggles set. A tag must take place so start swimming JUST before the person reaches you so they don't have to chase you (they're tired, you're freezing and invigorated).

By all means, wear a thermal cap and ear plugs. Grease only where you traditionally get rub spots. This is fresh (the freshest!) water so it's mainly a stroke or swimsuit thing. The grease is pretty messy for getting in and out of the boat and frequent clothes changes. Bring warm sweats/parka, extra towels and change suits if you can (not too important if you wear a skimpy Speedo). Also, have a thermos of hot liquid.

I remember when the course used to go from Glenbrook to Chambers Landing. That was a long swim and the slower teams (like mine in those days) swam so many 10 minute legs we lost count! Plus the afternoon wind from the West would invariably get us. The waves would make some people feel a bit "puny". The course is shorter and more protected now as it follows the North shore from Incline to Tahoe City.

Unless you have lousy weather (almost never happens at Tahoe in July!), by the time you finish your 2nd leg you'll be sunbathing and should be more concerned with your skin! Don't forget a hat to protect you from the sun! The air is pretty thin up there.

I envy you - I sure miss that race. One of these years I'll organize a Northwest team and come down for it again. Hmmmmm - maybe we should duplicate this event in Lake Washington. Now that would be fun!

Feel free to ask for more advice but I'm guessing you have plenty of "veterans" on your team who can share their experiences. You're gonna love this!

Sally Dillon

ps - if you have really low body fat my advice is to eat more! Right Rob?

Philip Arcuni
June 26th, 2002, 09:29 PM
wow, this is better advice than I could ever have imagined. Thanks all! What a great news group.

My team is fairly good, and I don't expect to swim more than two or three times, and yes, there are several "veterans" on my relay, and my team itself is submitting five (or six?) relays, with lots of veterans, also.

But several of these veterans told me that this was "the best experience of their life." which led me to consider doing this, but also makes me take their advice less seriously - they must have been damaged by the cold, I think ;)

Before I got to your post, Sally, I was somewhere between nervous and terrified. Now I'm just nervous. Thanks for reminding me about the sun - I was skiing there this winter and wouldn't go anywhere without sunscreen, but I suspect I would have forgotten it and a hat this time. I doubt I would have brought a thermos, either, but some hot chocolate or coffee sounds like a very good idea. I'll be sure the boat has a counter, and I think I will skip the grease.

Is the altitude an issue, or does the cold overwhelm all senses? Is it very crowded, and do boats or swimmers get in each other's way?

June 27th, 2002, 02:44 PM
Phil, Phil, Phil,

Why are you so nervous? You are such a strong swimmer and you've got a great relay. Just relax and enjoy it.

A veteran swimmer on our team (Judy) said she actually gets in the water about two minutes before her swim starts to get over the initial shock of the cold water. Two years ago, I heard another team mate describe her Trans Tahoe experience as "better than sex." I'm not joking! So get ready for a fun time.

I'm wishing now that I signed up!


Philip Arcuni
June 27th, 2002, 03:17 PM
Said GuppieGirl:

Two years ago, I heard another team mate describe her Trans Tahoe experience as "better than sex."

See? If (when) I do this, I will permanently lose all rational perspective; I could become a certified swimming loony!

And you wonder why I am nervous?

June 27th, 2002, 08:07 PM
OK, this is weird.
I swam a 5 mile open water swim last Sun. First time.
Nervous as hell.

It was great (but not as good as sex!).

Here is the surprise--

I took warm Gatoraid and Red Bull juice.

After 1.5 hours, that warm caffeine/sugar rich Red Bull

Worked for me.

Sally Dillon
June 27th, 2002, 08:29 PM
Hi again Phil,

"Is the altitude an issue, or does the cold overwhelm all senses?" - it's my experience that the altitude is more of a factor for sprinting. Having lived at Tahoe for 20 years, the altitude never bothered me for this swim or the Donner Lake Swim. But even in 1998 when I swam Donner after living at sea level for the previous year, I didn't get bothered by it. When I used to run the SCY meet at the Truckee pool it was my observation that the sprinters were more bothered by the altitude than those who did the 500.

Try to resist blasting too hard when you first start swimming; swim "long and strong" and build your speed during your swim leg. I doubt you'll notice the altitude.

"Is it very crowded, and do boats or swimmers get in each other's way?" - at the start of the race it's a good challenge to get 75 or so boats coordinated with their swimmers who start from shore. If you are not going first then you will not encounter any problem with other boats. It's amazing how quickly everyone gets spread out. I neglected to mention in my other post that I think it's always best to keep the boat to your breathing side - not ahead. You should look at the boat and let them guide you. Presumably they will go straight! It's up to you how close you'd like to be but don't get too far away because it is easy to angle off unnecessarily.

You're making me very envious - I may have to stop reading this thread! Have lots of fun and watch out for Tahoe Tessie - she might bite!


Leonard Jansen
June 28th, 2002, 08:05 AM
Fisch -
Congratulations. You are now ready for assimilation. As to it not being better than sex, well...

What on earth is "Red Bull juice"??? Reading that put The Fear into me.


Philip Arcuni
July 22nd, 2002, 04:41 PM
Thanks again to everyone that provided advice.

The actual event was somewhat of an anticlimax, given how nervous I was about the cold. Two weeks earlier I took a swim in the ocean and spent about half an hour riding the surf - that temp was about 55 (according to the park ranger) and that was cold! (but convinced me that I would survive my lake swim.) Lake Tahoe was downright pleasant. I would have guessed about 70 but others said it was in the low 60's. Anyway, temperature was not an issue for me at all. A couple of team mates did shiver for a few minutes after getting out, however.

Conditions were perfect - sunny and calm all morning. It felt good to hop in the water for the second time, after getting roasted in the sun. It was a great swim and I would recommend it to anyone as a great time and a good opportunity to bond with your team.

My boat did not go slow very well, so I could not use it for direction. Sighting was difficult for me for several reasons. First, I am not very experienced at it, second, I am pretty nearsighted, and third, it is difficult to see the shore when you are 10 miles away. I ended up swimming toward mountains that I could (fuzzily) see in the distance. This worked fairly well, except when I was shooed away from one boat that crossed my path (they were unwilling to change direction, because "We have GPS"!!) I may have had the right of way, but I know when to yield!

I missed a warmup, as we would hop off the boat and start swimming. I got pretty tight during the first 10 minutes, and that half hour swim seemed long - I was ready to get out (did I mention that I try to keep my competitive events to 200's or less?) The second swim (15 minutes) was a blast; I felt really strong.

This was a well-attended event. There were over 100 teams of 6 swimmers each, and 6 individual swimmers. Working around swimmers and boats was an issue for the entire race. Also, I saw enough naked men (one gut had a bunny G-string) to last me a while.

August 13th, 2002, 11:06 AM
If you have done the Trans-Tahoe, then you need to do the Maui Channel Swim. Its a very similar 6 person format except that the swim is from Lanai to Maui--which has some obvious appeal. Including warmer water, of course.