Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Buoyancy vs. Freedom

This morning I met my friend Patty out at Foy's Lake at 6am for a swim to the island and back. I noticed on the way there that the air temp was 57 degrees-- a few warmer than my first time swimming at the lake. Once I hopped in, though, I noticed what a difference a few months can make. The water was just plum pleasant. Not yucky I'm-going-to-catch-some-funky-disease-in-this-bathtub-water warm, but not holy-crap-I'm-nearly-hyperventilating cold, either.

I wore my wetsuit because I want to get more practice in it. I'll be doing the Whitefish triathlon in a few weeks, and wetsuits are legal for that race. I'm not sure what the temperature is in Whitefish Lake these days, but it's definitely a larger, deeper, cold river-fed lake, so most likely it's still a bit chilly. But I've seen kids out there swimming around for extended periods of time with nothing more than shorts or bikinis, so it can't be that bad, right?

So the big question is: should I wear my wetsuit for the Whitefish tri or not?

I've heard that wearing a wetsuit increases your buoyancy and thus helps your time, and so if it's legal to wear one, you should. But I'm having a hard time believing that my suit makes me faster. It always feels like I can't reach as far as when I swim in just a regular swimsuit. And it seems super slow if I try to sidestroke or breaststroke. And I feel so big and bubbly.

Which, I guess, is what the suit's supposed to do-- add a little extra layer so that you can trap a layer of water between you and the suit. Which in turn makes you more buoyant. Which in theory helps you stay higher in the water and thus be able to swim faster with the same amount of effort. But, oh, it just feels so odd.

Can the wetsuit really make a difference? Maybe for the pro's and top-of-the-pack age groupers-- those folks who have like 2% body fat and thus don't float worth a darn on their own. Those folks to whom a 20 second increase can make or break their results.

But what about for little ole me, who has plenty of "bouyancy" around the mid-section, and to whom 20 seconds doesn't mean much at all. I mean, heck, it takes at least 20 seconds to get the darn thing off once I get out of the water.

So is the wetsuit really worth it? Worth feeling weird to gain that much more speed? Or should I ditch the suit and go all natural (er, I mean, with just a swimsuit!)?

Being the good scientist that I am, I've designed an experiment. I'll mark out a 200 yd portion of lake shore and, after warming up a bit, swim it twice-- once with the wetsuit, once without. I'll record my times for each, then extrapolate to what my 880 (1/2 mile) time would be. It'll be interesting to see how much time difference the suit may or may not make. Once I see the results, I'll decide whether or not it's worth it to wear it.

Stay tuned...

No comments: