WHILE SOME OF US MERELY TOLERATE OPEN WATER SWIMS IN ORDER TO GET TO T1, OTHERS ACTUALLY ENJOY IT. FOUNDER OF BORN TO REIGN ATHLETICS AND TRIATHLETE KRISTA HENDERSON IS ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE. SHE HAS KINDLY SHARED HER TRAINING INSIGHTS AND EXPERIENCE AT THE TORONTO ISLAND LAKE SWIM.

I became a triathlete in 2004, and immediately became hooked on the sport.  I got into it by first doing a stand-a-lone cycling charity event, and came away feeling confident that I could do a triathlon.  I prefer the shortest distance called “Super Sprints” which entails a 400 m swim, 10km bike, 2.5 run, but have dabbled in Sprints, and stand-a-lone single sport races for walking such as 5 km, 10 km and a Half Marathon. However, I have never done a stand-a-lone open-water swim race mostly because there are not many around my area (Toronto, Canada).  But, a few years ago, an organization created the Toronto Island Lake Swim and partnered up with Lake Ontario Waterkeepers, to brining awareness to how important it is to keep our fresh water lakes clean.
So earlier this year, when I thought about which races I wanted to do, I added this one to my list – my race 750 m on August 28, 2106.   It had been a long time since I did a 750 m race distance, plus I hadn’t been in the pool for a while but knew I could quickly build up my endurance.  Training began in June 2016 with 2 swims a week.  My training strategy was to swim at lunch when the master swim group was there.  Without a car combined with a busy life, it wasn’t easy for me to find open water swimming opportunities.  The master class created choppy waters which was the perfect simulation for the real thing. I subscribe to the philosophy of train how you race, just like Wes Hobson in the infamous Cliff Bar commercial.
“I think of everyone as a racer, more than a participant because I believe that everyone is out there to give it their best.” 
TRAINING.

Generally, training entailed 2 x 100 for Warm Ups and Cool Downs with kicking drills mixed in. My main set started at 500 m and I slowly built up to 1000 m mixed in with some speed work. I also practiced sighting every 8th stroke.

Sample Sets: (WU = Warm Up, MS = Main Set, CD = Cool Down)
WU: 2 x 100
MS: 5 x 100;  20 second rest in between
CD: 2 x 100
WU: 2 x 100
MS: 100, 150, 200, 150, 100;  30 second rest in between
CD: 2 x 100
WU: 2 x 100
MS: 2 x 100; 20 second rest in between; 4 x 25 as hard as I can, repeat 3 times
CD: 2 x 100
WU: 2 x 100
MS: 3 x 300; 45 second rest in between
CD: 2 x 100
WU: 2 x 100
MS:  50 hard as I can, rest 45 seconds, 50 , rest 15 seconds, repeat 8 times
CD: 2 x 100
In hindsight, I wish I had started training earlier.  I took a summer vacation and had full intentions of keeping up with my swim workouts.  But the summer had been extremely hot and humid, hovering around 40 C the weeks I was off.  I had no interest travelling on an un-airconditioned street car for an hour, both ways to do it.  But the minute I was back from vacation, I did the 750 m straight through as a confidence builder and to get over the guilt I was feeling for missing 2 weeks of workouts.  Especially since I was only 2 week away from the race.
My race goal was simple, to successfully complete it, be flexible and remain calm to the conditions of the day and have fun. If I could, do it in 35 minutes, even better.
RACE DAY

Finally, race day came and as I crossed Lake Ontario on the ferry and arrived upon my race

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Source: Krista Henderson

site, there was a buzz of energy in the air.  Music was playing, we had gorgeous, clear blue skies, a water temperature of 22 C (thank goodness, as I don’t own a wetsuit) and relatively calm water.  Or so I thought, more on that later.

This is a smaller event with just under 300 people signed up for 1 of 3 races: 3.8 km, 1.5 km and 750 m. I immediately noticed a range of body shapes, sizes and ages. I loved it.  Compared to my first triathlon race many years ago, there was so much more body diversity and I hoped that was a reflection of the global work of many key individuals (including Editor, Leah Gilbert) have been doing in advocating for body acceptance and body diversity in media and sport.  It’s always been my philosophy that you’re shape and size are not barriers to unleashing your inner athlete.
Once I checked in, I oriented myself with everything, washroom, water station etc. then chilled and talked to the other racers.  I think of everyone as a racer, more than a participant because I believe that everyone is out there to give it their best.  When I enter a race, I go in with the mindset of racing against myself first, then others, second.  In one race, I tried it the other way around even thought I took home home 2nd place in my division, it was an ego driven, stressful race. I did not enjoy it and never made that same mistake again.
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Source: Krista Henderson

I’ve had many pre-race moods of the last few years. From feeling lighting and free, to intense with full on dry heaves. Today, I was feeling confident, semi-social but focused. It wasn’t like I  sitting in the waiting area with that intense Michael Phelps stare we all came to know in this year’s Olympics, but I do prefer to be inward focused, quiet and visualize my race.

About 20 minutes before my race, I got into the water and started warming up.  The funny thing about being in the water, is my mood dramatically changes as I emotionally revert back to the child-like feeling as a kid,  staying at my Uncle’s cottage.  I naturally wanted to breakout into handstands and summersaults.
Finally, it’s my time to race, playtime in the water is over.  The horn blows and I’m off, even running across the small rocks (I have the tenderest tootsies and don’t like stepping on any kind of rocks).  I know my pace and consciously choose to stay pack of back.  The course is 1 loop but you need to swim further out before you begin swimming the length of the course.  As soon as I reached the first buoy, the water changes and it is much wavier, perhaps coming from boats in the distance.  I continued with my front crawl but was having a hard time staying straight, feeling like I was being pushed around.  I even tried shortening up how often I sighted the buoys, going from every 8 strokes to every 4 strokes but each time I looked up, the buoy was never in my line of sight.  What was going on, why couldn’t I get it together and keep it straight?  It was clear that front crawl wasn’t working for me, and the thought of not completing the race my way, didn’t even occur. I was still feeling calm, my breathing was under control so I changed gears and adapted to the situation and began breast stroking, knowing full well it was a slower stroke for me. I got myself into a nice rhythm and made head way and whenever the water felt calmer, I’d switch back to the front crawl to try and make up some time.
It didn’t take long before no one else was in front of me.  About 3/4 of the the way through, my neck started feeling sore. I wasn’t use to swimming breast stroke this long.  I had lots of support around me with various people in kayaks and paddle boards.  As I came up for a breath, I heard one of them yell out “keep going you are almost here”.  I appreciated that I was starting to feel a bit grumpy with the sore neck.
As I came close to the finish line, I saw the big inflatable sign deflate to the ground.  My immediate thought “WTF?” I’ve had this happen to me in walking races, where they start tearing things down before everyone is in.  I don’t know why this happens, is it because of poor communication with those at home base and those on the course?  There is nothing more disheartening than seeing your finish line torn down right before your eyes just as you are about to cross it. It’s why I prefer to choose races where the time to complete, is longer than my projected race time. In my case, I was told something happened to the generator, it wasn’t intentional.
Finally I reached the shore, and I could hear my friend Lila cheering me one. I mentally prepared my toes to run across the rocks again and crossed the timing mat at 40:08.  It was also really nice to see Suzanne there, a fellow racer whom I had met earlier in the day who did the 3.8km. This is what I love about the community of sport, everyone is so supportive of one another.

I was awarded my medal, snapped a few pics and basked in the glory of another

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Source: Krista Henderson

successfully completed race. It didn’t matter that I didn’t make my race time, I was on such a high and so proud of myself for setting the goal, training for it and being flexible to the situation.  I also need to give credit back to my Mom and Dad who put me in swimming lessons as a kid.   I wouldn’t be the woman and athlete and I am today, without that foundation.

I had a great time at this race. The location was beautiful, well organized, easy to get to so I will definitely go back again. Between now and then, I will be looking to strength my swim and maybe get some professional coaching help in conquering open water swims so I front crawl the whole way.
If you love the water like me, doing an open water swim race can be a lot of fun.  But there is more to prepare for a race like this, than just the swimming.  Be aware that things can change on the day of and have a plan of how you will adapt to them. For me it was a different stroke, but it could also be breathing on the opposite side.  Be mentally ready for different situations and you’ll be sure to have a great time, no matter what.
Krista Henderson is the Founder of BornToReignAthletics.com ,
a website dedicated to motivating, educating and celebrating plus size women who
unleash their inner athlete. She is an award-winning plus size athlete in triathlon and
indoor rowing, is recognized as a global leader in plus size athletics and as a sought
after speaker and writer. Follow Krista on Facebook at fb.com/borntoreignathletics or
Instagram @borntoreignathletics
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