A Very Scientific Experiment

A Note from Fatty: I have an article at active.com posted today, wherein I dispense Very Useful Advice to my triathalete brethren and sistren. Read it here.

You may or may not be aware, but the St. George Ironman is now a mere four days away. Which is lucky for me, because this means I still have plenty of time to start training.

I am, naturally, kidding when I say that. I take the noble sport of Ironmanning very seriously, and intend to finish sometime before midnight on Saturday (i.e., the final cutoff time) if I am not killed by the weather.

Yes, the weather is currently a major concern. And tomorrow, I will talk about why.

But today, I want to talk about the swim portion of the event and how I arrived at my current level of confidence in finishing under the cutoff time.

The Setup to the Setup

When The Runner and I first got our Aqua Sphere Wetsuits, we went to the local rec center and swam 2.5 miles. It took about 90 minutes. I talked about that here.

What I did not talk about was that while I was really tired and overheated, The Runner was beyond overheated. She was dehydrated and miserable. She made clear, in no uncertain terms, that she would never swim in a heated pool in her wetsuit again.

As a supportive and understanding person, I nodded sympathetically. But I didn’t really get what the big deal was.

The Setup

Then, a couple weeks ago, we did our last big training day — 2.4 mile swim, 70 mile bike ride, 12 mile run — and were shocked to find that our swim time was close to two hours. Very close to the cutoff time.

And that scared us.

Looking for any possible reason why we might be so much slower, I recommended we do the swim again in the pool the next week, this time in wetsuits.

The Runner — remembering how much fun she had in a warm indoor pool wearing an insulated wetsuit — countered with a different idea: how about if I wore a wetsuit, and she wore a swimsuit, and we’d see who was faster, and by how much.

Why, I thought, that’s a fantastic idea!

The Swim

So, last week, we went to the rec center, again, planning to do our 40 laps, again. As I sat on the bench by the pool, a universal truth occurred to me: there is no way to look cool wearing a wetsuit in an indoor pool.

Fortunately this does not trouble me, because I don’t look cool, ever. So the wetsuit just makes me look uncool in a different way.

We began our swim, and the difference in our speeds was in fact startling.

Ordinarily, The Runner is a faster swimmer than I am: about 7% faster, I think. When I have the wetsuit on, though, I was lapping her every seven laps. Without trying any harder. In fact, I’d say I was not putting as much effort into swimming as I usually do.

However, I was not having fun. No fun at all.

I was overheating, and fast. In fact, I’ve never felt so hot. And that heat, compounded with the close feeling of the wetsuit, started to freak me out. All I could think about was the heat, and the constricted feeling, and this crazy overwhelming need to get out of the wetsuit, pronto.

And so — about 20 laps into the supposed 40-lap swim — I reached my limit. I couldn’t take any more. I climbed out of the pool. I climbed out of the wetsuit.

I’m an endurance guy. I pride myself on being able to put up with stuff — no matter what it is — until I reach the finish line. But here I was, sitting at the edge of the pool, drinking water and wondering what had just happened.

The Swim, Part II

After sitting for a couple minutes, I climbed back into the pool — this time in just my swimsuit — and tried to restart.

And that felt weird.

I was so used to the feeling of my legs automatically floating that to now have them back to their normal “dredging the river” position felt very strange and slow and awkward.

So I went back to sitting at the pool.

After a few more minutes — when The Runner hit her 30-lap mark — I climbed back in the pool and did the last ten laps. Trying to salvage my pride.

Afterward

“Now I totally get what happened to you the first time we swam in wetsuits,” I told The Runner afterward.

The Runner nodded, sympathetically.

So what does this mean? Well, I think this Experiment yields two very important results:

  1. It really is much, mush faster to swim in a wetsuit.
  2. It’s a good thing the swim portion of the Ironman is not in a warm, indoor pool.

And in fact, considering the water at the reservoir for this weekend’s Ironman is currently 58 degrees, I don’t think that overheating is going to be a problem.

In fact, I think I’ll be pretty grateful for that insulation.

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