Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Winter '10 Edition

Yes, technically it's Spring. But apparently the weather doesn't know that. So, as far as I'm concerned, it's still Winter.

The Good: Drove down to Santa Cruz to swim in the ocean for Easter.

The Bad: The water was cold and choppy -- both the coldest I've swum and the choppiest. The first 20 minutes, we only got out to the edge of the pier.

The Ugly: I haz had hypothermia. I managed to scare myself and a bunch of other people too.


I arrived at the pier right on time. There was quite a group out to swim, which made me  happy as it's easier to site with more swim caps around you. But most of them only wanted to be out for 20-30 min. My original plan was to swim for 1.5 hours or 1.5 miles, whichever came first. I cut it back to one hour and the big group swimming for half that time told the little group who wanted to swim all around the pier that we were nuts. Turns out they were right.

The water was about 53-54 F and I had swum in 54-55 F before -- my very first Open Water Swim, in fact. I had had a lot of trouble catching my breath and putting my face in the water but I'd managed it. So I didn't think anything of swimming in that temp today.

I didn't even realize it was that cold, at first, as I wasn't having near as much trouble breathing or putting my face in the water as last year. This is probably how I got tricked.

I got to experience swimming in really high waves, swimming over kelp and swimming with sea lions. All for the first time.

The waves were annoying because I kept getting slapped in the face and drinking salt water. Okay, I probably didn't actually swallow any, but it was still annoying choking on it.

The kelp wasn't so bad. I think, if I hadn't been in the beginnings of hypothermia, I might have panicked because it does sort of feel like the kelp is trying to catch you and drag you underwater. But, I just kind of swam on top of it and thought of my swimming as shoving it down and back and I got right through it.

I did think of my friend Seht and how he doesn't like Open Water Swims in general as I was stroking through the kelp. Seht, if you are reading this... don't try ocean swims until you are comfortable in the lake!

We regrouped in two spots. At the second, we were even with the end of the pier and I couldn't feel my feet. I also felt really calm. I now know this was a sign. A bad sign. But I didn't know it then. Then, I just felt exhilarated because I'd made it through the choppy waves!

We talked about just turning around and going back and I was up for that, but we'd only swum 20 min. at that point. So I thought -- what the hell -- and agreed with those who wanted to continue around the pier. I figured, 10 min. around the pier and then the choppy waves that annoyed me so on the way out would be pushing me towards shore for a 50 min. swim total. I could do that -- I did it all the time last year.

As we swam across the top of the pier, we saw some sea lions in the water with us. They kept their distance though, so I didn't have time for my sea lion fear to activate. (I have this irrational fear that I'll be swimming around the Santa Cruz pier and will be attacked by a band of angry sea lions who have become sentient because of pollution and are trying to take over the world one triathlete at a time.)

Then we rounded the pier and headed for home. This was when things started to go really wrong for me. First, my left calf started cramping. I had to swim without kicking for a while until it calmed down. Now, I don't kick much to start with, especially in salt water. But it was still scary and still slowed me down.

Then, I couldn't control my hands any more. So I was swimming with my fingers open. This also slowed me down. Then, I was tired so I was letting the current pull me about a bit more than I should have, lengthening the distance I had to swim as I zig zagged all over.

But I knew I could make it to shore. I knew if I had to, I could just kind of float in really. And I still had the energy to swim actually. It was just that I was cold and couldn't control my hands. So I wasn't making good time, and I was a bit fearful of what might happen if I continued to slow down, but I was sure I could make it and would be okay eventually.

My friend, Crazy Dave, stayed with me the whole time, which made me feel better too. He offered to let me hold his shoulder for a while but I found that it was less tiring to swim than to tread water. So I just kept going.

I got the beach and was surrounded by people who were worried about me. I guess you could tell I was in trouble even from shore. My fingers were PURPLE! And like claws. And shaking. I was shaking. Everywhere. (But my hands weren't white like they are in the ends stages of hypothermia so I guess I had that going for me, right?)

They got me some coffee and it was a sign of how little oxygen was getting to my brain that I drank it and it was okay. (Normally I hate coffee. I was prepared to drink it because I knew I needed something hot in me, but I thought I'd have to force it down and I didn't.)

Eventually I recovered enough to realize I was drinking coffee, so then I went to change into something dry. I couldn't get my tri top off though. My fingers were better but still not working well. I ended up putting my dry top on top of my wet top and running to the car to turn on the heat and the heated seat. I stayed there and shivered for about 20 min. before I felt like I could drive home.

I also called Mr. Mac and made him stay on the phone with me in case I got worse. When he got bored of that, I had Mini-Mac call me and do the same. We chatted until I got onto Hwy 17 and started to feel better.

When I got home, I took a HOT shower and ate a Clif Builder bar and then some eggs. Now I'm typing this up and then I'm going to take Mini-Mac shopping for some things she needs for her Disneyland trip. My fingers are still not 100% but the rest of me is doing much better.

Something I tell myself when my workouts aren't stellar is: It's all experience. The idea is that it's better to have these kinds of disasters in training rather than in races.

Now that I've had this experience, I know that, like my friend Ms. Old-timer, I can't deal with that very cold water for long lengths of time. From now on, if the water is under 60 F, I will wear the cap and booties some people have and/or get out after 30 minutes or when body parts lose their ability to feel, whichever comes first. Luckily, it should be in the 60s for my next two races.
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