Last month seemed unusually cold, yet gradual and related changes that define spring—an increase in the amount of daylight and a wider and higher arc of the sun in the sky—apparently generated enough solar gain to override the cold air temps and slowly warm our shallow harbors and bays.
When a pod of swimmers gathered at Accabonac Harbor on May 1 for its first open water swim of the year, the water temperature registered a reasonable 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Although it was quite a dramatic difference from the 78- to 81-degree water at their winter training site—the East Hampton YMCA pool—the water that day was not much colder than what is experienced during the season’s first triathlon: Mighty Montauk. Scheduled for June 11 this year, participants often encounter sub-60 degree temps in Lake Montauk, where the one-mile-long swim leg is held.
Last weekend’s Accabonac Harbor swim was also a mile in length. Everyone finished the loop around Wood Tick Island in approximately 30 minutes and everyone was comfortable in the cool water. Everyone wore wet suits, of course, and knowing that a warm head is key to a warm body, each had their favorite cold-water swim headgear.
Most of the group is training for triathlons, as well as the local open water swim events hosted by East Hampton Ocean Rescue that have grown in popularity over the past two years.
There are several aspects to open water swimming that cannot be easily duplicated in the pool. One is swimming in a wet suit. Many triathletes and open water swimmers use them in all the events on eastern Long Island, no matter what month they are held. Wet suits provide extra buoyancy and, for some swimmers, this changes the position of their body enough to enable them to make key adjustments in their stroke. The ability to slow stroke turnover, get longer glides and greatly reduce kicking can save energy on long swims without sacrificing speed.
Without the black line on the pool bottom, the ability to sight easily and accurately is important. Weaving along the swim course can add significant yardage, resulting in slower times and, in the case of tri events, wasted energy that will impact the bike and run legs. And while it is often tempting, the “follow the crowd” strategy can end just like the story of the lemmings: in disaster.
Speaking of crowds, another aspect of open water swimming events that differs from pool swimming is the possibility that you might find yourself swimming shoulder-to-shoulder, and head-to-toe, in a crowd of hyped-up, water-churning bodies. This can be very uncomfortable, so uncomfortable that few of us even consider replicating it in a training workout. Yet, everyone agrees that it is best not to experience that for the first time on race day. YMCA swim coach Tim Treadwell is one of the few people I know who includes this scenario in his open water swim programs.
If you would like to join an informal group of open water swimmers for some training this month, contact Paul Frediani at PFrediani@aol.com. Tim Treadwell offers open water swim training through the East Hampton YMCA starting in late June. Check www.ymcali.org in mid-May for dates and registrations details.
And please consider joining one or all of the open water swims sponsored by East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue this summer: July 2, July 23 and August 13. Proceeds from all three events go to great local causes. Information on the July 2 swim at Fresh Pond in Amagansett can be found at www.swimacrossamerica.org/site/TR/OpenWater/NassauSuffolk?pg=entry&fr_id=1250. Registration information for the July 23 Montauk swim is available at: www.active.com/swim-meet/montauk-ny/montauk-open-water-swim-2011. The August 13 swim will be held at Fresh Pond Park in Amagansett and information will be available at www.active.com soon.