I Swam in Open Water!

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I did it! It happened! My Garmin watch died, so there's no Garmin proof or Strava proof. But I swam in open water for a total of about 750m. Two weeks ago, Wiehan and I took a two-hour drive out west to the Shenandoah Mountains on Friday afternoon for some hiking with family, as well as to attend a Lake Arrowhead Practice Swim. We stayed at the Skyland Resort, for the 3rd time in the last 3 years. Sadly, we were pretty disappointed in the lack of cleanliness in the rooms, so we probably won't be back, despite enjoying it so much in previous years.


We did a short hike on Friday night, the Lower Hawksbill Trail, which is about .75 miles out to a beautiful overlook at Byrd's Nest Shelter #2. Later, we ate dinner at Skyland's Pollock Dining Room. The next morning, Wiehan and I headed off to Lake Arrowhead. I'd packed a cooler full of food and ice packs for the trip. For breakfast, we ate homemade egg, rice, bacon and blueberries, wrapped in sushi rolls. I'll do a blog post with the recipe soon. We arrived a little early to the lake, so we took out our stretching mats and did our morning stretching routine up at the camp ground. It was a beautiful morning, cool and windy at the top of the mountain, but warm in the valley down below at the lake.

The swim began at 10:00am and there was a great turn-out for the event. I ordered a New Wave swim buoy, to strap around my waste for visibility in the water, as well as an emergency float to hold on to in case I panicked or anything happened. We attended a practice swim at the same lake a year before, featured in this blog post, in which I list all the rational and irrational fears of things that could go wrong during an open water swim. During that swim, I felt confident until I got in the water and actually put my head down to swim. When I saw a bright green hue, instead of the clear pool water that I'm used to, I freaked out! I managed to do two 100m laps that day, with Wiehan swimming next to me. But otherwise, it was pretty disheartening that I felt so uncomfortable in the water.

This time around, I've had a full year of swimming regularly at our gym's pool. I've successfully completed a 400m pool swim during a sprint distance triathlon, and I've watched my husband and our teammates kick butt in much less ideal swimming conditions, like the very cold and choppy waters of Lake Anna for Rumpus in Bumpus, the ultra murky Colonial Beach, as well as the rough Lake Eerie waters for Nationals in Cleveland. The water at Lake Arrowhead is calm and warm, in the 76-degree Fahrenheit range during out last visit. It's treated to keep away high lake grasses. And while I do appreciate the cleanliness, I also wonder what kind of chemicals are in the water. But otherwise, it looks and feels as clean and comfortable as you can get for open water in our region of the country, and therefore an ideal location for beginner triathletes.


All of these factors played into a much more successful swimming experience this year at Lake Arrowhead. I first splashed around a little bit in the shallow area, but was actually eager to get out into the open water. I did two laps out to the first buoy and back, with a break in between. Feeling strong and confident, I decided that I was ready to attempt the full 300m loop around three buoys. Between the first and second buoy, some fearful thoughts tried to creep into my head, but I immediately pushed them out and powered on. Before I knew it, I was at the second buoy, two-thirds of the way through and then I was back to the shallow water, with Wiehan cheering me on! I took a short break to drink some water on the shore and then went for a second lap. It was a lot of fun!

Although this was a big breakthrough, it doesn't mean that I'm ready for just any race. I'll still be very picky about which bodies of water in which I’ll race. But there is both a sprint distance and olympic triathlon each year at Lake Arrowhead in August. Let's see - I think I might just be entering for the 2020 sprint!


After the swim, we dried off, but unfortunately couldn't use the facility's outdoor showers, as they'd already been winterized for the season. We had lunch at Gathering Grounds in Luray. Rather than going straight home afterward, we met up with family at the Panorama Lower Parking Lot at Thornton Gap to hike part of the Appalachian Trail, to Mary's Rock Summit. It was a steep and rocky climb with a beautiful view at the summit. On the way back down, I lost my footing and balance on a sandy, loose section. Falling forward, I hit rocks with both legs on the way down. Ouch! It was incredibly painful and it took several minutes to catch my breath. Fortunately, I wore jeans that day, so cuts were minimal. But bruising was definitely a concern. I stood up and despite throbbing pain, I could put pressure on both legs. My brother and sister-in-law each had walking sticks that they let me use to steady myself. This helped a lot, with the difficult feat of hiking over a mile downhill to the car. I washed the scrapes in the bathroom at the parking lot and fortunately we had those ice packs in the cooler, which I applied to my legs during the drive back home. In addition to the scrapes, I had some swelling the next day, and one small, purple bruise on a spot that I hadn't iced, because I wasn't aware it has been hit as well in the fall. But fortunately I'm already back to cycling and running.

The trip out to Shenandoah was an experience with both highs and lows! And how ironic that I was completely safe throughout the swim, the activity that usually has me anxious, while hiking was the activity that brought on cuts and bruises! It just goes to show that while preparation and realistic expectations are so important in life, worrying about the unknown or the possibilities of harm is often a waste of energy. The other lesson that I took away from the day was that a hike in the wilderness should be approached with just as much respect and awareness as swimming out into open water. Check out our video from the experience here!

- Christin

Tell us! Which do you prefer, swimming in open water or hiking?