It’s hard to believe with the Philadelphia Escape Triathlon coming up on June 24 that this was my first open water swim of the season. Weather rolled in and scheduling changes prevented me from taking the plunge in May and earlier this week, but I’m fortunate to live in an area that offers all kinds of open water swimming opportunities. This is the first year that I’ve tried one of French Creek Racing’s open water swim races: 800 meters in the Schuylkill River north of Philadelphia. I signed up for the whole swim series and plan to go to most of them along with a few at Marsh Creek Lake with Mid Atlantic Multisport. French Creek Racing has some awesome swag though, and after the swim is a BBQ, which I highly recommend.
The water temp was around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the river cast for pollution was green due to a lack of rainfall and runoff, and the current was moving at over 3000 cubic feet per second (cfs). I have a sense of what that means for swimming since I’ve been in the ocean currents before and a few lakes with a current, but I didn’t fully appreciate the power of the Schuylkill that creates world class Olympic rowers from the famed Boathouse Row.
I have a better idea of what 3000 cfs feels like now.
The swim started from a small dock with the course running clockwise around the buoys. Swimmers were told to keep the buoys on the right and to swim on the far left in order to stay out of the strongest part of the current, except for the end when we all had to swim between two buoys before slapping the timing board. Kayakers and lifeguards were out and had to keep paddling to remain in one place. I got worried when I noticed that.
I started my swim with the current for 25 meters and rounded the first two buoys, breaking out ahead of all of the swimmers in my heat except for two men who kept up with me the whole time. As soon as I rounded the second buoy, it was into the current for all three of us. The water was frigid and numbed my hands and feet. I tried to sight the two buoys in front of the 422 bridge, but I couldn’t see them with the setting sun. I looked towards the shore where we started to get some sort of visual and then took about ten to fifteen strokes before glancing to the shore again, but I was in the same spot in the water. What is this? A water treadmill? Am I swimming uphill? I took another fifteen strokes and had the same view on my right. Another fifteen strokes reinforced the fact that I was going nowhere fast–literally. I headed for the opposite shore even farther left and finally hit some warm water, which meant it wasn’t moving as quickly. Then, and only then, did I start making progress after five to eight minutes of swimming in place.
The kayaker and buoy up ahead started to appear closer as I drafted off the feet of the guy in front of me to save some energy. When I rounded the third and fourth buoy, the current helped carry me to the finish.
Wetsuit or not, the power of the Schuylkill is no joke. I plan to swim here again and swim smarter, and I’m relieved that the Philly Escape Triathlon is a point to point swim with the river’s current.
To sign up for any of the French Creek Racing Open Water Swims, click on this link: