Rip currents…can be nasty…or just another current

I’ll preface todays post by saying, that I’m not talking about casual swimmers, or folks that are just wading out to splash in the water a bit and get knocked over, and caught in a rip current…they, my friends have a _severe_ problem

I am, as usual, taking things from _my_ perspective…standard disclaimers apply to any advise that follows

Almost too funny that one day after I added a post about rough water swimming:

…my new lifeguard friends closed the beaches to swimming because of the rip currents in advance of Hurricane Irene…and did apparently get wet in a great job pulling 6 swimmers out of the water that were being swept out to sea…which goes to the fact that there were rip currents even on a lifeguard controlled beach…so as conditions get rough, can develop at any time

As it turns out, after my swim on Wednesday, I did have a chat with my new local lifeguard buddy…both to check in…wrote down my vitals…name, room number etc…call me…no no that’s a joke…well at least the ‘call me’ part 🙂 …my ‘vitals’ now part of the permanent record…my wife is known to read my blog from time to time…sometimes humourless about the tri-bunny-anything-associated-with-it thing…

…and then again when I got out of the water an hour later…where I did discuss that the southbound current parallel to the beach was _really_ strong, and could be a setup for rip currents…although I wasn’t affected by any…like southbound with the current took me 8 minutes past the last beach chair, northbound 22 minutes back against it…so pretty significant

As you can see by today’s diagram, a rip current (you’ll sometime hear ‘rip tides’…it’s not a tide…it’s a ‘current’ that isn’t associated with tides…tides can have current as well however…something else though) is fast-moving water that carries you out to sea

…as you can imagine it’s a bit of a jarring experience to swim into a rip current…as it turns out, I’ve only been in a rip current once…it was a couple of years ago, when I was a lot less of a swimmer than I am now…swimming by myself in the ocean off the east end of Isle of Palms…no lifeguard area…the swimming-by-myself-thing I’ll write about in a separate post 🙂

I will tell you this…it happens _really_ fast

…at the time it’s a bit jarring…the good news was that I ‘knew’ about rip currents, I also knew that they have a finite end…and that you should swim parallel to them…so you don’t actually get swept to France…usually a few 100 meters at the most…of course, a 1/4 mile…4-500 meters off shore can be a little disconcerting if you didn’t plan it

…so I did find my way back to the beach again…eventually…and walked back

…after I wrote this post, I looked it up in my training log…it was Friday, October 23, 2009…so a couple of weeks prior to my 3rd Ironman…here’s the exact entry…a bit long, but I left it in unedited…I’d _totally_ forgotten that I finished my swim in the pool…but decided to keep it in…goes to my mental state after ‘rip current adventure’:

well, I should now be ready for anything now…rough ocean today, as predicted, although I’m thinking probably marginally still swimmable in a race, so thought that I’d give it a try and see how it turns out

…largest ‘hazard’ in these BIG swells is typically a predisposition to rip currents, due to the large number of sandbars along the shoreline, and just off shore…figured that I was good for at least an hour of swimming, so I should be able to make my way back onto land within that time period somewhere, so waded out into the surf as far as I could…then diving through overhead breakers, to get to the other side of the main break…once out of foot contact, headed southbound, with the swells

– very rough and choppy, so focus on _every_ stroke turned to getting an over-rotation to a clean breath…actually turned out pretty well…breathing left, meant looking out to sea, and sighting was virtually impossible without coming to a stop, and bobbing up on the next big wave, so a bit eerie swimming in a rough ocean without view of land, but just stroking along, comfortable pace, focusing and breathing…trying to maintain alignment with the wave direction and sun, and stopping to sight from time to time…any lack of concentration for even one stroke was rewarded with a face full of water

– 17 minutes down the beach, and decide to turn around and see how it was going back…thought that if I couldn’t make progress, would just swim to the beach and walk back

– very different into the waves…largely crashing into waves with each few strokes, decided to just stay within myself, focus on breathing, and just swim…after a few minutes could see that I was making progress…breathing left, I could see the houses along the beach between swells, so although I couldn’t sight forward without stopping, I had some loose frame of reference…by 30 minutes into the swim, 13 minutes going back, I could see that progress was slow, but I was still going

…next sighting in a few minutes, around 33 minutes, I realized that I was a _long_ way out from shore, getting swept out to sea…well if not _swept_ out 🙂 but definitely a _much_ longer way from shore that I had been…so ‘that’s a rip current’…too funny…the spot is marked by a significant HR jump, as I have a little anxiety ‘moment’…I guess I’m just fundamentally a wimp

– anyway got that under control, by just thinking about ‘the plan’ and went to plan B, which was to head back southbound, swim perpendicular with the swells, and keep on swimming until I hit the beach…within a few minutes, I could see that I was indeed heading towards land…the swells were running at about a 45 degree angle to the beach, so I knew that I would eventually get there, barring anything kinky happening…once to the break line, a few minutes more, feet were back on the ground in waist deep water, but still too deep to walk against a strong current coming off the beach, so caught a couple more breakers going in, and was finally landed

– how fun was that 🙂

…walked back up the beach to my water bottles, and decided to call it a draw with the ocean today,and finish up a few minutes in the pool

– kept on the wetsuit, although air temperature was 82F, and pool about the same, a few lengths to get in a rhythm, then 500M in 11:27, 117HR max, 111HR avg, so about 2:20/100M, pretty easy effort

…getting hot though, so took off the wetsuit & HR monitor, swam a few 100’s in 2:20 – 2:30, mixed with drills to run out the clock, admiring the ‘stroke’ of a couple of young ladies in the lanes beside me

When it’s all said and done, swimming is swimming…the water that we’re moving through, if there is a current…and there certainly is in Ironman Florida…typically sideways across the course…stronger last year than I remember from years before…and especially on the 2nd lap…or even in a  lake with the wind…determines to a large degree which direction that we’re going…and we’re always adjusting when we’re in open water…my last Vancouver Half, I did a poor job in adjusting to the current…but another story

…but a rip current, is nothing more than a side current pushing you in a seabound direction…the jarring part is if you don’t expect it…non-swimmers getting pulled from the shoreline aside…thanks for the lifeguards…but it is just water moving…and ‘reasonably’ narrow typically…unless you have the bad luck to run into another one…in which case you’re really having a bad day, and in for a _really_ long swim

…having said all that, there’s an old saying in flying that applies to the decision to swim in rough conditions:

better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than in the air wishing you were on the ground

…oh yeah…worth mentioning…do not try to swim back to shore directly against a rip current…you’re not going to make it…the current is faster than you are…you’ll expire in the attempt…and like, why not just swim to the side, and come back in where there is no outbound current…unless of course, you want to just try it out for a while…when you’re ready, swim to the side, back to shore…done.

…it’s largely our response to the ‘stuff that happens’ that defines the outcome…panic is the killer…my initial response was a bit of a panic attack…well maybe a bit bigger than that…although right behind that…since swimming was so challenging for me…I was well practised on calming myself down just to get into open water…usually standing on the beach, so this was a bit different…I was bobbing up and down as land was rapidly leaving my field of vision…but enough to be able to start swimming again…and able to breathe…so all good.

Two days ago on Wednesday, I was swimming in some pretty rough conditions…even rougher than we would be swimming in, in Ironman Florida without closing the race…particularly since I was swimming for an hour at the surf break line to reduce the anxiety of my new lifeguard friends.

…here’s what I’ll tell you…last year, 2-300 meters into the swim in Ironman Florida, the zipper on the back of my wetsuit split wide open…I swam over a mile with that open wetsuit to the halfway turnaround on the beach…in pretty rough water…before I was able to get it re-zipped for the 2nd half of the swim

…in all seriousness, if you have ‘trouble’ in open water conditions…like you sometimes ‘freak out’…put on your wetsuit, don’t zip it up, and swim for a mile…it can be done…I know…I did it, and I’m not much of a swimmer…okay, try it out in a pool first…or beside the shoreline with a couple of your lifeguard buddies in kayaks, until you warm up to the idea…I dunno…I didn’t have a choice…it was suddenly thrust upon me…I think primarily because Fortuna, the goddess of fate, was tired of my snivelling about swimming

…if/when you survive…I bet you’ll _never_ be afraid of open/rough water again 🙂

…whenever I’m now faced with any type of challenging conditions in the water, I now have the luxury of thinking about that Ironman swim…and the rough conditions that I’ve been in…’is that all you’ve got’ I laugh, as I’m being turned sideways by the surf…which I did on Wednesday…a few times…since the wetsuit thing, I fundamentally ‘know’ that whatever the ocean is going to throw at me, I’m still there

…and then I run this scene from Forrest Gump through my head, until I’m back into my quiet, center, 1.20 stroke rate…following the beeps of my TempoTrainer 🙂

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