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Home » aquathlon » I Survived the Aquathlon (which was also my first ever open-water swim)

I Survived the Aquathlon (which was also my first ever open-water swim)


(Yes, I fully realize that this is the lamest race report ever, since there isn’t a single photo of the race posted.
But at least I gave a brief recap near the top so you can avoid reading all of the words).

Not only was yesterday my first ever aquathlon (swim/run), it was my first open-water swim (OWS).  Yup, because it only makes sense for a non-swimmer like me who is terrified of water (when I can’t see the bottom) to make my first attempt at an open-water swim: a) during a race, and b) 750m.

Here’s the short recap, in case you don’t want to read the whole thing:

Positives about the swim:
-I didn’t die
-I finished
Negatives about the swim:
-everything else
Positives abut the run:
-I didn’t die
-I didn’t get passed
Negatives about the run:
-Had horrible side cramps for the first half
-Mindlessly followed another runner off course (brief detour)
-Had my slowest timed 5k ever

And now for the long recap:
I originally signed up for this event because registration was cheap, and they were including a free OWS clinic the week before the race.  Unfortunately the clinic was canceled last weekend, and I traveled for work this past week and didn’t have the opportunity to get in the lake before this race.  Before I signed up, I looked through the photos from last year’s event, and took some solace in the fact that it was a small event with a standing (waist deep in water) start with only about 20 people in each wave.   Seemed like a good intro event for me.

Maybe I should back up a little: The real reason I signed up for this race (and the triathlon next month) is that I wanted to face my fear of water.  With the impending adoption, I’ve been more cogniscent of the type of parent I want to be.  While there is very little that I do know about being a parent, one thing that I’m certain about is not wanting to pass along my (many) fears on to our kids.  There’s just no need for me to pass along my fear of water (and social situations, and heights, and peeing next to someone else, and ….) 

Race check-in was quick and painless, and I was able to secure a decent spot in the transition area (translation: a spot where I would remember where I was).  About 15 minutes before the race, I noticed a couple of people starting to trickle into the water for a warm-up.  I waded in, put on my goggles, and took three strokes – just enough to know that I wasn’t going to completely freak out when I started swimming.

I made sure to position myself well for the pre-race briefing, in a spot where I could see both the course and race director giving instructions.  I wanted to make sure I knew where to go and what to do.  And then he dropped the bomb (for me anyway):  we would be doing a treading water start this year.  My heart rate spiked.

I was in the second wave, and the waves were five minutes apart.  As soon as the first wave started, they started telling us to go out to the starting position.  I purposefully waited to be towards the back of the swimmers heading out to the start.  Luckily I didn’t have to tread for very long before the start, but my heart rate was already sky-high.

I managed to avoid getting kicked/punched/swam over.  I didn’t have the fear issues that I was expecting (since I am afraid of water monsters), but I really struggled to swim in the (very small) waves.  I tried freestyle, but just couldn’t catch my breath.  I tried breaststroke, but kind of felt like I was drowning.  So I ended up backstroking almost the entire course – I think my mind just went into survival mode (literally).  I would regularly roll over to my stomach and swim for a few yards breaststroke in order to see where I was going, but then I’d feel like I was drowning again and roll over onto my back again.  I haven’t done the backstroke in 25 years, but it’s what got me through (thank God for childhood swim lessons).  If I didn’t do that, I’m pretty sure I would have had to grab on to a kayak somewhere along the way (that thought crossed my mind numerous times anyway).

When I finally made it back to the shore (took me 19:47, or about 2:40/100m), my legs were shot.  I had spent the entire swim using my legs more than I should have.  My spirit crushed by the swim, and my heart rate still incredibly high, I fumbled through transition and out onto the run course.  Didn’t take long to get a major side cramp, but I managed to keep running through it.  Not much else to say about the run, other than I felt rather demoralized.  I did pass a number of people on the course, but I wasn’t running my best – partly because my legs were shot from the swim and partly because my spirit was deflated.  My 5k time was just under 22 minutes, a personal worst in terms of timed 5k’s for me.

I came home, and complained (probably too much) about the race to my wife.  She did her best to give me perspective, but I didn’t really want to hear much of it.  I just wanted to mope.

Mid-afternoon, Natasha saw that the race results had been posted.  And despite my abysmal swim and sh*tty attitude about the run, I somehow managed to win my age group (out of an enormous field of 5).  Guess I should have stuck around after the race to find that out, instead of going home to complain.

Total Time: 43:35 (13/48 overall, 11/26 male, 1/5 age group)
750m swim:  19:47 (29/48 overall, 4/5 age group)
Transition: 1:51 (13/48 overall, 1/5 age group)
5k run: 21:56 (4/48 overall, 1/5 age group)

A highly accurate rendering of what it would have looked like had I actually stuck around for the awards.

A highly accurate rendering of what it would have looked like had I actually stuck around for the awards.  Yes, they gave out frisbees for awards.



  1. Congratulations! Even though you weren’t comfortable on the swim and had a poor (for you) run, you survived!!! OWS aren’t easy and can be downright terrifying. I”m thinking you did pretty well considering!
    Now for the next time, you’ll know what issues you had and can work to rectify them!

    • Thank you! I think one of my main issues (besides not ever doing an OWS) was that I did all of my pool swimming at a pretty low heart rate. When my HR spiked before the race, I just didn’t know how to swim/breathe with my heart pumping so hard. I’ll definitely need to be training harder, if nothing else so that I can learn to breathe while under more stress.

  2. Gina says:

    “Spirit crushed by the swim” – damn, I know how that feels! Sorry you didn’t have a good one, but it’s a learning experience, right? And your 5k time is hella impressive. Congrats on winning your age group!

    • Thank you! I know I shouldn’t complain about my 5k time, especially since it was my first multi-sport run. But I do struggle to change my perspective from what I know I’m capable of doing.
      I’m thinking that perhaps I should consider duathlons instead of tri’s. Then I won’t need to worry about spirit-crushing swims!

  3. Awesome job on completing your first official OWS…and you didn’t die! 🙂
    It’s in the books, now that you’re over the fear you can focus on technique and endurance.
    By the way, my 5K run is double your time so well deserved age group win!!

  4. Brittany says:

    Nice job on the win! OWS takes a long time to get used to, so hang in there! Running after swimming is also difficult; a hard swim can leave you dizzy and quite exhausted. Plus, often times I drink too much water while swimming and feel it sloshing around in my stomach. Great work though, I’m sure this experience will help for the next sprint tri.

    • Thanks! I definitely drank too much water on the swim – which made me burp like crazy on the run! I felt mildly bad for those around me, since it always seemed to come out as I was passing another runner. Pure classiness!

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