Skip to main content

Lake Michigan swim report

There's something about walking into our bathroom (or, in the case of some triathletes, opening your car trunk) and seeing a wetsuit there drying. It's a very specific--to me, pleasant--unnatural neoprene smell. It smells like summer and activity. I love how the sand looks if you haven't washed it out like you're supposed the suit "went somewhere." The Mama saw the wetsuit hanging there post-swim and said it made her happy to see it getting some use. We often talk about how things are meant to be put to intended function. Cars are meant to be driven. Toys are meant to be played. Bicycles are meant for riding.

I was one of only a couple people in our group wearing a sleeveless. Everybody else had on full sleeves. It's currently all I own as I'm in the market for sleeves, as it were. For those who think this whole idea sounds crazy, Lake Michigan is already up to 62.6 degrees around downtown Chicago. I definitely wanted those sleeves at first. But it's not knives-stabbing cold. We spent an hour swimming and I didn't come out of the lake shivering or anything. It was a sunny day without much wind though only 58 degrees air temp when I left the house.

It was my first time at Ohio Street Beach and first time in water of any kind since probably a year ago when I was training regularly. So I felt a little silly from both lack of open water comfort and lack of swim stamina. The terrifying part wasn't the water, but swimming with other people watching and evaluating. That's the part that makes me nervous.

It's obvious why so many people flock to that particular spot for long distance swimming. First, it's gorgeous. Maybe the most beautiful spot in the city in the shadow of the John Hancock with Lake Shore Drive and the Lakefront Path below it. The water on Saturday was clear, flat, and inviting. They'd raked the beach into fine powder and it's sandy and shallow forever along the shore wall. So you swim parallel to the city.

We started by working on sighting and our instructor split us into (for me dreaded) groups of 4 where we separated into 2-and-2 about 20 swim strokes apart. Two people would swim past each other to a partner who was standing and waiting to give a little feedback.

Then we had a couple people act as "buoys" where we practiced swimming out, around, and back in a pack to get a feel for group swimming. Which involved some bumping. And I learned some stuff about myself here. I really do best when I can relax, have plenty of space all around me, get into a rhythm, and do my own thing. Of course, that sucks for race conditions with a mass start where you're going to have people swim over you, past you, etc.. In the same way it's taken me 5 marathons to figure out how to slow down in the first miles of a race, it's going to be a learning curve for me about finding open water lanes, taking the right line for me that may be a little wider and outside or to the back. Maybe I need to be that person you inevitably see at Ironman Wisconsin who waits until the entire field is gone before they begin? Ha.

We were on the shore for a little bit talking about the right way to enter and exit the water from the beach. How far to run in, what techniques make it easiest, when running is more/less efficient than swimming. The same applies on the way back in, too...swim until you feel bottom. If you have to shorten your stroke too much then running would be better. But what if there are rocks?

The instructor wanted us to get some experience with a mass, floating, in-water start like you find at the Chicago Triathlon or Ironman Wisconsin. How to not waste energy treading water when the wetsuit keeps you up with no work. How to get horizontal quickly with people splashing all around you. Of course, we had someone over 6 feet in our group. So to get to water over our heads we had to go pretty far out into the lake. By the time we swam back to the beach, my arms and shoulders had gotten a fair workout though I'm sure everyone else thought it was a fun session of splashing around. Some even went back to do their "real" workout. Ugh. I'd have a lot of work to do before I'd be ready for even a sprint swim again. Which is making me rethink doing a tri this season. Yes, I could do it, but it wouldn't be my best effort...and don't you owe your best to the race? So I'm torn.

I had a great time at the clinic and it put me in a great mood for the rest of the day...even if it made my allergies horrible for the rest of the weekend. I'll definitely be heading down to swim again. At 7am there were plenty of other swimmers around and I'd love to swim down closer to North Ave the next time. There are buoys (actual ones) at the quarter and half mile mark. Probably better start with 400m, eh? Plenty of orange safety ladders along the wall though if you just can't make it back.

The rest of my Father's Day weekend was superb, but I won't cover it all here. I got a cake with coconut-covered buttercream frosting. We played at the arboretum. We picked strawberries. The weather was nice. No complaints here.