What does the well-dressed triathlete wear these days? If you guessed a full-body suit made of .5mm thick neoprene rubber, you’d be right.
It’s not the sort of thing you’d wear on the red carpet, but it does help keep you warmer in cold water and provides some very welcome buoyancy. Plus, it’s very slimming.
I received my wetsuit as an early Father’s Day gift (I’m assuming they were all sold out of Old Spice). Lynne and I went into our lake to get used to it.
Getting into the suit itself was an interesting experience. Sort of like rolling really puffy Saran Wrap onto your body starting at your feet. Nothing slides and you have to slowly hoist the suit on, inches at a time.
Once suited up, I was aware of how incredibly snug it was. Even breathing was noticeably challenging. Moving my arms also felt restricted.
I jumped into the lake and the water rushed into the small openings in the back of the suit. But, otherwise, I noticed that I was almost floating. I started to swim and that’s when the panic attack began. Every time I tried to swim, bringing my arms forward, I felt the suit resisting, pulling them back. I couldn’t swim freestyle. Plus, visibility in the water was very limited. I could see my finger-tips, but nothing further. The rays of the sun shone down into the water, making the particles of silt sparkle like glitter, but that didn’t help me know where I was going.
The quick, racing thoughts that accompany panic started ping-pong-ing around my brain. “My arms aren’t free” “I can’t breathe” “I’ve got to get back to land”. My breathing accelerated, I started moving too quickly I told Lynne I wasn’t comfortable. I floated on my back to try to calm down. I swam a few, hesitatnt strokes and decided I had to stop. “How was I going to swim 1/2-mile in this thing? How could I swim without it in the ocean?”
Once on land, we talked about the experience. Lynne suggested I spend more time putting the suit on, pulling all the available slack to my upper torso and shoulders to get more movement into the suit.
A few days later, the team met at an outdoor pool. It was an evening workout, the sun had set and the pool was cold. Many of us wore wetsuits to continue getting used to the experience. I took my time getting the suit on and was able to hike it up higher, gathering more materials around my shoulders.
When I jumped in, I was immediately aware of the suit fitting better. My arms, while still restricted, were able to move more freely. My freestyle felt, well, free-er. I was able to focus on the drills and not on the sensation of wearing the suit or how silly I felt.
By the time the workout ended, I was noticeably more comfortable swimming with the suit on. That comfort was a welcome relief. Getting out of the pool was not. As I climbed out of the pool, all the water in the suit quickly drained down my legs and out the ankle cuffs. For a moment I thought, “is my blood draining out of my body?” That was quickly replaced with the realization that the strong breeze was rapidly cooling me off. I hustled my compressed keester to the locker room.
Getting the suit off was an adventure. The wet rubber suit was sticking to my skin, refusing to let go without a fight. I had to roll the suit off and wrestle it off each of my limbs. This is a surefire “fall on my ass” situation at the race. It was like having wet taffy stuck to my hands and feet and trying to get them off at the same time..
The next test came on early Saturday morning at Coventry Lake. It was overcast. Actually, it was raining a little. And chilly. We stood on the beach at the lake’s edge and listened to Janice and Lynne talk about what the start of a race feels like. And then we started. Over and over. Running into the lake, turning left and swimming parallel with the beach and then turning left towards the beach. We started in front, in the middle and back, seeing what it’s like to be in the lake with all the other bodies thrashing around us. The wind was creating waves, sending water into my nose and mouth as I swam parallel. Sadly, all I heard was Dory from “Finding Nemo” saying, “Just Keep Swimming” as my arms turned over.
Next we swam out into the lake to practice swimming a lengthier distance while sighting to keep ourselves on course. The added float the suit provided was reassuring, but keeping myself on course was very tricky. The limited visibility in the water and the waves were challenging. I ended up counting ten strokes and then poking my head up to see where I was going. Not terribly efficient, but it kept me from going way off course and ending up in Barbados.
I swam back to the beach, swimming right to the point that my belly scratched against the bottom of the lake bed and hauled myself up to stand, lurching out like the Creature from the Black Lagoon., cold, tired and relieved.
I don’t think that I had ever contemplated wearing a wetsuit in public (or in private for that matter), but am glad that our coming out party had, after an initial bump, gone rather swimmingly.
Published June 14, 2013