How to deal (not just cope) with that OWS (Open Water Swim)!

2015 has arrived; barging its way in with loud promises of fitness, sobriety and newfound happiness for the masses. Amongst the athletes the excited whispers of upcoming races, new gear and overhauled training plans.

What’s not to love? A new year, being able to “clear the slate” and write off anything you didn’t quite love about last year. The buzz doesn’t always arrive on time for some but that’s ok, as long as it shows up!

This year hundreds, thousands (I’d love to say hundreds of thousands but I can’t quite believe that many!) of new triathletes will sign up and commit to their first race; how exciting! How daunting! How to begin? How to continue?

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a seasoned triathlete or a newbie, there will be a huge group out there that just DREAD the swim. Perhaps you avoid open water swimming and go for the pool based tris so you don’t have to contend with potentially murky waters. Not. This. Year! You can change it around, you can make that open water swim. There’s that little voice (possibly the one who talked you into signing up for your first race) inside your head, nagging you, talking to you, persuading you “it can’t be that bad”.

So how can you do it?

What are those fears that prevent you from doing it?

“I’m not a strong swimmer”

“I won’t be able to touch the bottom”

“I can’t deal with deep water, anything could be down there”

(If you didn’t have those thoughts before, you’re welcome… they’ll be circling for the next couple of hours).

How can you prepare, and overcome those fears?


Just like with the training and preparation for the race, you’ve got the physical aspect and you’ve got the mental side of it. Both require time and effort.


1. Time
Give yourself plenty of time to prepare for your race and to adjust to swimming in open water. You may want to give yourself a deadline for your goal by signing up for a race, you may want to hold off for a while until you’re more confident; whatever works for you!

2. Practice
Get yourself down to the local lake/ocean/river – wherever your local OWS train! If you’re in Houston; Lake 288, just south of Houston, are fab! If you’re a member of HRTC you can get in free on a Friday afternoon. Galveston is always an option for “choppy waters” – as I prepare more for Texas 70.3, I’ll be taking some day trips down there to bike and swim to adjust to the local waters. Take some friends with you and make an activity of it.

3. Support
Support yourself with friends/company and also with a buoy. There’s no shame in swimming with a buoy (you just tighten the strap around your waist or ankle and it tows along behind you in case you need it). If you’re a very anxious swimmer, stick to the shallows in your first few visits to allow yourself to adjust. Swim around the edge if the deep middle bothers you.

4. Imitate
Mimic your race when you know what you’re going for! Is it going to be wetsuit legal? Are you going to be wearing one? Then get practicing in one! Wetsuits give you more buoyancy so you float that bit easier. If you’re going to be swimming in the ocean, get out in the ocean more! (I’m sure you get the idea).

5. Start Small & Build
Baby steps are key – you wouldn’t run a marathon without training so why would you attempt an open water swim without training. Just go for 50 meters or 100m the first visit – whatever is best for you (it may even just be sitting in the water for 20 minutes before you try swimming). Each week add on a bit to make progress. (You should still keep up your pool sessions during the week).


(Amateur advice)

If you’re buying a wetsuit – rent one first to see what sort of fit/shape/style you prefer first (if you’re only going to use it once or twice, you may just want to rent).

My own recommendation for a wetsuit would be a sleeveless one- it might feel good to have sleeves whilst you’re stood waiting on the shore but after a couple of hundred meters you will have burnt a few hundred extra calories of your reserve battling the arm strokes in those same arms.
I wore a sleeved suit for my 70.3 relay swim last year and all I could think of in the swim was “Never again”. Needless to say I’ve gone for a sleeveless suit now (an Xterra Vortex). I’ve kept my sleeved one just in case.

You might want to see if a local Tri club does OWS practices – join them! Morale in numbers and you might meet new people and make some friends as a bonus.

The local tri community may offer OWS clinics – I’m a big fan of doing pre race practice clinics to get an idea of what the actual day will be like.

If you’re still nervy come race day, get yourself a strapped buoy – they wrap around your thigh and inflate if you activate them (they do prevent you from placing but safety and peace of mind are way more important! – You’ll still get a medal at the end!). Swim IT have USAT approved devices and there are other companies coming up with ideas all the time.


If you’re swimming in open water with jet skis, boats etc. then invest in a buoy so they can spot something in the water and hopefully avoid you! ISHOF sell one for $39.95. (This can also serve as a rest point when you’re tired – just hold on and float!).

Hang back in the crowd at the start of the race. If you’re doing a running start, just wait for the keen beans to run ahead of you, if you’re starting in the water, hold onto the dock or whatever until the last minute, or stay to the back of the crowd.

Look for open spaces – nobody wants to be pulled or kicked or crossed in the race, neither do you!

Count in your head, it keeps me calm and it gives me a rhythm when swimming. I do it when I’m running too to keep me going. It’s as simple as 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2 etc.

Breathe rhythmically. If you favour one side, stick to it – there’s no point trying to start bilateral (both sides) breathing on race day. I favour my right whether I want to or not.

Slow down. Most people start off too fast and burn out. Maintain a steady pace and remember you’re doing this for you, not for anyone else.

If you panic, give yourself a pep talk, tell yourself you’re ok. The wetsuit feels too tight, it’s ok, it’s helping you float; the water is too deep, think about crossing that finish line; too many people, slow down or hang back a bit and let them pass; can’t swim crawl anymore, turn onto your back or side and keep going.

Mental stamina is about 80% of the battle whether in training or the race.

Whatever the situation, in the race there are lifeguards watching and monitoring to help, either as swimmers, kayaks or boats.

My strongest recommendation is to enjoy it, relax and go at your pace. Visualise yourself doing it and then do it!
(and if your foot hits some seaweed, do a T-Swizzle and shake it off! If there’s anything in that water, it will be terrified of the hundreds of splashing swimmers who are invading it’s home territory!)

Best of luck for your OWS and let me know how you get on!

Twitter: @jrnytoironwoman



Gift ideas for the athlete in your life

Last minute gift ideas from various prize ranges for the athlete in your life!

Race entry
Pair of shoes
Race belt
Box of bloks or preferred energy source
Tri kit – all in one suit or 2 piece
Tri wetsuit (if in doubt go for sleeveless rather than full, and be aware you will need some personal information – height/weight etc)
Yoga mat & DVD
Flag running shorts or shirt
Flag goggles
Ice packs
Tri book
Cycle course DVD
Tri swim DVD
Training sessions with a coach
Heart rate monitor (whole kit or just strap)
Training DVD
Personalized shirt or hoody/sweater
Compression socks or sleeves
Transition bag or towel
Pair of sunglasses
A snazzy cycling helmet and/or case
Photo print of them in action (make sure it’s a flattering shot)- you could frame it or make a collage of several photos
Indoor bike trainer
Display case for medals/race numbers
Quilt made from non dri fit/non tech race shirts

Or some of these things could be cool stocking fillers!

Other stocking filler ideas :
Ear plugs (the waterproof kind)
Race tats
Gift card to the local tri shop
Socks (the sporting kind)
Swim cap
Pull buoy or kickboard (ask at a sports shop if you’re not sure)
Beanie or ear warmers
Running gloves
Body glide
Individual gu shot or cliff blok packets
Head torch
Reflective shirt or light up running strips
Pair of headphones
Race distance sticker or magnet
Alarm clock (who doesn’t want to be reminded they have to get up at stupid o’clock for training everyday or a race)

I’ll post some specific recommendations and links later. If you have questions or ideas drop me a line!

Remember there are local tri shops out there who would love your support.


Running/injury update!

Began my day with a 10k run (sadly no negative splits today) started out way too fast but managed to finish without issues. Then headed over to my favourite Yoga for Runner’s class at Luke’s Locker.
After I stopped off to check out the shoes as advised by the Doctor and lo and behold… I hadn’t even been running in the right kind of shoes. (My oldies had actually been causing the pain and problems). Doh! The guy (John) was super patient and helpful and talked me through the various types of shoes, listened to me moan and then told me exactly what I needed to run pain free!
I now proudly own 2 pairs of runners – pair A – Saucony Guide 8 and pair B – Nike Zoom Structure 18 QS. I wasn’t too sure about the appearance of the Nike’s but they fit so well that I stuck with them. Both shoes have the stability to keep my foot from over pronating. I donated my old pair to their charity pile – hopefully somebody will get better use out of them!
I’ve also bought some new socks as the magic sock monster ate my old ones. Oh and runners glide! (Yeh… These longer runs in shorts rather than 3/4 or tights are causing some unpleasant chafing (which I’m sure I’ll start to experience under the arms too at some point).




Exercising in the Winter! Hints and tips to keep you on track.


BRRR!!!! (Photo credit:

Living in the South I am usually blessed with warm (and often yukky, sticky humidity) weather. Over the last few years Houston’s climate has really begun to change.. we have had snow, ice, heatwaves, tornadoes, hurricanes etc etc. (You see my point).

In the summer it is usually blazing hot and people can’t hack the heat until later in the evening; where in normal parts of the country it would cool off – not in Houston! But we suck it up anyway and off we trot for a couple of loops at Memorial or Rice, or even THP if you’re further out like me.

So Houstonians and us wannabes (imports) have adjusted to this and embraced the sticky horrible heat and worked out regardless. What we are not accustomed to at all is the cold! It hits anything below 70 here and we start wearing scarves and boots, coats make their way out of the closet or storage (I’m not even kidding!).

So my friends (and I, yes, I too am guilty), moan about the weather “Oh it’s too cold to run”, “I can’t get out of bed because it’s freezing”, “There’s no way I can bike in this weather” and the like.

BUT…. YES, we can! The North of the Country, (Mason Dixon line if you want to be super specific/Yankee country if you’re a Texan) manage it! Some of the States for about 5/6 months a year. And let’s face it, they are so hardcore up there that even giant snow drifts and ice storms don’t phase them! Hats off to these heroes!

One of those heroes! (Photo credit:

I am embracing the cold (obviously not at 4:15am when that pesky alarm goes off and I have to tiptoe across the tiled (who even invented tiled flooring!?!) FREEZING floor to slip on my running shoes or grab my kit bag and head out for that oh so important work out). I love that I can now work out for an extended amount of time without feeling like I’m going to burn in hell or spontaneously combust from heat exposure. Yes, it is unpleasant and downright miserable when you stop and that wind hits you, but take some layers for when you stop, and grab a towel to dry off and you will be golden.

I read a fantastic article on Runner’s World this morning about 10 hints and tips for running in the cold so I would definitely recommend that you read it too! (Particularly the part about how many layers to wear depending on the temperature! This is something we have NO idea about down here!).

My hints and tips are as follows:

1. Don’t over layer during the workout but take plenty for post run/workout! Change out of your damp clothing – you will only get colder otherwise.

2. Don’t linger outside post workout longer than is absolutely necessary! You don’t want to get sick.

3. Keep a towel to hand in your car to “dry off” afterwards – you will still sweat on these workouts.

4. Set your alarm across the room if it’s a morning workout. Once you’re up, you’re less likely to curl back up.

5. If it’s a morning workout have everything ready to go and some people have suggested even wearing workout kit to bed so you don’t have to freeze in the morning getting ready.

6. Safety is key! I’m an independent female who is still going to work out on my own but there’s a limit to where and when! I will happily got to the gym near my work at 5am, running at the park at the same time; not so much! Think about where you are; who is around at that time etc.

7. Wear fluorescent clothing or bands and take a flashlight/head torch. See and be seen!

8. Pack yourself a treat of hot coffee/chocolate or tea for the end! It’s great to focus on that to get you to the end of the workout.

9. Find some indoor classes you would be interested in taking if it’s “just too cold” outside

10. If you’re a gadget/gear geek or guru struggling to get out there get yourself a jar or money tin and put a set amount of money in each time you work out so that you can buy yourself something fabulous and shiny at the end of the winter and it will feel that much better because you earned it with those difficult get ups, cold slogs in the wind and the rain.

And if you’re struggling with motivation in the cold find alternatives, set yourself some personal challenges, sign up for a Spring event, get some friends on board for a competition, imagine yourself crossing the finish line of an event you were particularly pleased with; how did it feel? Rekindle that feeling! And if you’re still struggling reading my previous post about Motivation.


Please, make sure you warm up adequately pre and post workout! We don’t want any injuries!

What are your hints and tips for Winter Workouts?

Reply here or tweet @jrnytoironwoman.

Be safe out there!

Basic gear for a triathlon.

I noticed the ‘how to’ post was getting some traffic so I thought I’d do some more 101 info for newbies and potentials.


You don’t need the fancy shmancy gear unless you are competing regularly and are concerned with your performance. I recently competed in Dallas with a girl who had never done a tri before. She didn’t have any of the kit and she came first in her age group! (Not mine!).

Things you will definitely need – a bike, helmet and shoes for running/cycling. You will want something you can swim comfortably in, goggles and then if you’re planning on wearing other items for the bike or run you will want to check that none of the items rub, stick, catch etc. This will only cause you misery by the end of the race otherwise.

You will need water and perhaps a sports drink as well for hydration. Other than that you can forget everything else until you’re sure. (I’d probably include sunglasses and a cap in my vitals but where I live in Texas it’s hot 11 months (ok, maybe 10) of the year – and by hot, I mean BLISTERING! It’s disgusting!)

For a step up from the basic, additional items that I would add:
Some sort of gu or energy blok – I personally love the 5 hour energy shots and cliff bloks depending on my race and distance. I also keep pickle juice (it’s very sharp) to hand because it REALLY helps with cramps. You can pick it up at Academy cheap or HEB (if you’re in TX).
I use some runner’s glide on my arms because I tend to get some chafing from the top I wear on my inner arms (see above).
A race number belt (although this could definitely be classed as fancy).

Anything beyond that and I feel like we are getting into proper regular competition mode.

BEAST mode (I mean give it your all competition mode).
A tri suit or top and shorts – see my links for ideas if you want to look at websites. If you have a USAT membership they have great member discounts on various websites.
Cleats and clips for your bike (road or tri).
Aero/tri bars.
A big bag to carry everything in.
A heart rate monitor and watch to record your data – I’ll talk about mine another time.

And that’s about as fancy as I’ve gotten for now – I see those super cool elite types out on the courses with their aero bars and alien style helmets, which let’s face it – makes them look pretty hardcore. They have the cool shoes which stay attached to the bike and they can dismount whilst still moving – I don’t think i’ll ever make it to that standard – I fall off without even moving (maybe that’s my problem). And then the running shoes you slip straight into,, you know the kind I mean, the 30 second transitioners… One day.. sigh!

Any key equipment you think you be on the vitals/basics list or even the BEAST mode list, drop me a line or a comment! 🙂


Tru Gem on the 290.

Tru Tri Sports is far enough out of town to be a fair drive (and for me to not bother in weekday traffic). However, this gem of a store, which opened in 2012 just off the 290 in Cypress is definitely worth the drive!
I’d gone with a friend to check out a bike that she wanted to look at buying if the fit was correct. The store is big and well stocked with a variety of goodies and has absolutely AMAZING sales!

I bought some calf compression sleeves (which I had been looking for over the last few weeks anyway) at 60% off. I also bought some Zoot Tri Shoes in my favourite colours (all in one go! – now I can be sporty and stylish!) and a pair of Five Fingered Vibrams at 70% off. Despite the recent negative press I am very excited to give the Vibrams a go and see if they will add any value to my overall performance. I shall be very cautionary in my introduction of them into my workouts as I want to give my body the chance to properly adapt without causing injury!

I shall post pics of my goodies later but in the meantime if you’re in the Houston locale, I suggest you get your tush over to Tru Tri and check out their store!