Some pools require different strokes
Dunk-N-DashWhat: A swim-run event in Avon with 800 yards of swimming in Nottingham Lake and a 5-kilometer runWhen: 6 p.m. Aug. 24Info: $13 pre-registered or $15 race-day. Registration is available at http://www.active.com. For more information, visit the Avon Recreation Center or call 748-4032.AVON – No danger of shark attacks is one bonus open-water swimmers have in Colorado. Not to mention no fear of hurricanes, tsunamis or serious undertow. Still, open-water swimming in Colorado poses some challenges, especially for triathletes in the High Country.”There’s not really any place to practice around here,” said Heidi Trueblood, who is coaching a group of women in Homestead who are embarking on their first triathlon Sept. 3 and 4 in Avon. “I started doing triathlons when I lived in the Bay area. In the Bay area, you can open-water swim all the time. It’s hard for people from Colorado. You don’t grow up swimming in the open water.”Nobody knows that better than resident pro triathlete Lisa Isom, a Colorado native. In the Vail Valley, the nearest place to swim in the open is in the frigid waters of Piney Lake, where Isom trains regularly during the small window of late July and August, when the water isn’t dangerously cold.Isom, who will compete in the Xterra Triathlon at Keystone Sunday, will be the first to admit that the open-water swimming leg of every race is the weak link for her by a long shot.”My fear of open water sometimes gets the best of me,” she said. “At times, the water has taken my race right out from under me. The big thing that happens with me is, when I get out there, I say, ‘I can’t see the bottom. I can’t touch the bottom. What am I going to do?’ A lot of kids grew up on a lake. They don’t think twice about it. A lot of us didn’t, and it’s pretty paralyzing.”Of the 20 or so triathlons Isom has competed in as a pro, her phobia of open water has compelled her to quit her race twice, most recently her last Xterra event in Milwaukee, Wisc. Fortunately, she has no fear of the swimming portion of the Keystone Xterra, which takes place in Keystone Pond. At 1,000 meters, the Keystone swim is about 33 percent shorter than the usual Xterra distance, and the shore is visible and nearby from every angle. (It is just a pond, after all). Isom, who had her best pro finish ever with fourth place last year at Keystone, is hoping to land on the podium this weekend.”The nice thing about Keystone is that the swim is short,” she said. “I know it’s going to be cold. But there are no waves. I love that race. The swim doesn’t bother me at all. If I can get my butt out of the water, I can get on the podium.”Fellow local pro triathlete Josiah Middaugh also has no reservations about the Keystone course. In fact, he won the event last year. “This is a course suited to me,” Middaugh said. “The swim is a little shorter than usual, the bike has the steepest climbing of any course, and it’s all above 9,000 feet. All of those things favor me.”Of course, visiting competitors find the icy water temperature to be one of their biggest obstacles in the Keystone Xterra. For anyone thinking about taking a dip in a lake in the Rocky Mountains, a wet suit is highly recommended if not essential. Not only does a wet suit keep hypothermia at bay, but it helps swimmers stay afloat.”For people who are not great swimmers, a wet suit makes it a lot easier,” Trueblood said. “It makes you a lot faster and a lot more buoyant.”Still, regardless of attire, the high-elevation water temperature will give anyone pause, especially those accustom to pool-swimming in 82-degree water.”When you get into 60-degree water, whether you’re in a wet suit or not, it’s the same feeling you get when you’re gasping,” Trueblood said. “It takes your breath away. You’ve got to get in and swim around. For me, it takes five or 10 minutes of swimming to be able to breathe normally. A nice warm up in the water is important. People who just dive in at a race, sometimes they’re gasping the whole time. Another thing people should do when they swim in cold water – wear swim caps. It works just like a ski hat. You can put two on. It keeps you much warmer.”Middaugh also trains at Piney Lake, riding 13 miles up the dirt road to the shores on his bike with a wet suit in tow.”I make sure I do it on a warm day,” he said. “Even then, (the water temperature) has got to be below 50. On the warmest day, I’ve still got goose bumps.”Lake swimming in AvonPiney Lake is no longer the only local training option for triathletes. For the first time in the Avon triathlon’s eight-year history, the event this September will feature an open-water swim in Nottingham Lake, which has an average late-summer temperature of 60-65 degrees. In years past, the swim has taken place in the Avon Recreation Center pool. But any swimmer will say that swimming in a lake requires a whole different technique than swimming laps in a lane.”When you’re in a pool, you can’t have the mass start,” said Fraidy Aber of Town of Avon special events, which is organizing the Dunk N Dash, a two-part series of swimming and running events that kicked off Wednesday and wrap up Aug. 24 in and around Nottingham Lake to help competitors prepare for the September triathlon, which now goes by the name of the TriAmerica Avon to Vail Triathlon, with the biking portion taking racers from Avon to Ford Park in Vail.”It’s a totally different scale,” Aber said of the swim in Nottingham Lake, which, in the 1980s, was used as Avon’s drinking water. “The hardest thing about open-water swimming is swimming straight. You have to lift your head up, out of the water to see, and people around here are used to using their markers in the pool.”Although Middaugh grew up in northern Michigan, he didn’t start swimming until he moved to the Vail Valley in his adulthood. Although he is one of the top pros on the Xterra circuit, like Isom, swimming is his Achilles’ heel. “I’m usually about three minutes back,” he said of the Xterra swim leg. “Most of the pros I swim against were high school or collegiate swimmers.”While pool-training is beneficial, pro triathletes say it doesn’t take care of all of their training needs to compete in open water.”The pool is the best place to learn technique and stroke, but once you have the basics down, it’s great to get some open water experience,” Middaugh said. “It’s very different. The sighting is different, and just your feeling under the water. Someone good at sighting can look up just enough for their eyes to look straight forward above the water, without their hips and legs sinking.”Watching the pro swim leg of an Xterra can look something like a road cycling event. The mass breaks into small peletons as drafting comes into play.”That’s the ideal sitiuation – to get on someone’s feet who’s just a little faster,” Middaugh said. “Usually the race evolves into packs. It doesn’t slow you down unless someone’s drafting off of your side.” Another difference is the close quarters. In the open water, swimmers in triathlons can typically be seen splashing in and out of each other’s personal space.” If you do triathlons, you have to embrace a certain amount of contact and know that people are not intentionally trying to hit you in the head or grab your legs,” Middauh said. “There’s a lot of contact.”Vail, Colorado
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