Julia’s Bali & Balaton 5K adventures

The beginnings

I realized that I should learn how to swim when I was 29 years old and inside of a kayak in the South China Sea. My friends quickly jumped out of their kayak’s to swim in the beautiful lagoons along the coast of Vietnam. Unfortunately, my intense fear of the water paralyzed me and I was stuck watching them from inside the safety of my boat.

Surprisingly, I grew up on the water. Michigan is famous for its thousands of lakes, including Lake Huron, where I spent my summers as a child. My family had a boat and a jet ski so we would spend every sunny weekend on the lake. Even so, the only formal swimming lessons I ever took were toddler swim classes with my mom.

As a child, I was not afraid of the water. It wasn’t until one summer day when I was riding on the jet ski with my dad. Somehow, we hit a wave and I was tossed from the back and into the cold water. Luckily, I had a life jacket on and I was completely fine apart from the intense fear I felt during the whole ordeal. 

As I got older, I started to realize how unpredictable water can be and became more and more uncomfortable. I began to wear a life jacket when I would go on the boat to help me feel more relaxed. I also started skipping trips to swimming pools with my friends because I was simply too afraid.

Julia was afraid

After my trip to Vietnam, I realized that my fear was causing me to miss out on some great opportunities. I decided it was time to start swimming lessons. I was terrified the first time I went to Podoli. The water was too deep and too cold for my liking. Thankfully, in my first few lessons, I was able to stay close to the edge of the pool so I could reach out and grab the side when I was nervous.

During the first lessons, I swallowed a ton of water and always left the pool coughing and sneezing. I was completely uncomfortable but I could also feel myself progressing. I was quickly becoming less nervous and after about 10 lessons I was able to swim a basic crawl. I have now been swimming for about two years.


Bali adventures

I have achieved a lot of my goals including snorkelling and surfing for the first time when I was in Bali on holiday. I have also set a goal for myself to swim in a 5K race. I hope that accomplishing the 5K will help me feel more confident in an open water setting and in my strength as a swimmer. Even after the race, I plan to continue with my lessons to keep building up my courage and endurance in the water. I still have areas to improve, like holding my breath for more than 10 seconds! 

After training with Lukas for 1 year I was quite confident swimming crawl and no longer had any nerves in the pool. A friend of mine told me about the Lake Balaton 5K race which occurs every summer in Hungary. The race seemed very well organized and popular with international swimmers. Lukas agreed that it was a great goal and in the fall of 2016 we started training towards it.


The 5K Race

Of course, my main worry about the 5K was the distance. In each of my lessons with Lukas, we worked on increasing distance and building endurance. Some of our lessons were focused on swimming quick sprints and other lessons were focused on keeping my pace over longer distances. We also worked on sighting in the water to prepare for lake swimming. One of the most helpful exercises was swimming laps with my eyes closed in order to prepare for the low visibility in the lake.

The 5K was scheduled for 1 July 2017, however, due to poor weather, it was postponed twice. Luckily, I was still able to attend the race when it was finally held on 9 July 2017. The race started in the town of Révfülöp and finished on the side at Balatonboglár, Platán Strand. The distance from the start point to the finish point was 5.2 kilometres.

When arriving at the starting point, the race organizers arrange for a medical check to ensure the participants are fit for the race. They also have great facilities to hold bags so that when the swimmers arrive at the other side of the lake they will have access to their clothes, towels, etc. Since there were 8,277 participants, the organizers allow swimmers to start swimming anytime between 7 AM and 11:45 AM. The only rule is that the swimmers need to be finished by 4 PM at the latest.

The registration and medical check went very quickly so I was ready to start the race around 10 AM. There was quite a long line to the starting point and I was in the water by 11 AM. I was nervous and uncomfortable during my first few strokes. The lake seemed deeper than I thought and the visibility in the water was zero. Lukas warned me many times about the visibility, but I was still very surprised when I took my first look under the water! There was also a lot of sand and seaweed which took some getting used to. I realized quickly that lake swimming and pool swimming are very different. I took a few deep breaths and continued on.

Along the race route, there are boats every 100 meters. Swimmers can stop alongside the boats for water or sugar cubes. I stopped after about 500 meters to rest and regroup. I was struggling swimming crawl as the water was quite wavy. I noticed most of the other swimmers were swimming breaststroke so I decided to continue swimming alternating between crawl and breaststroke. I was also very thankful for the sighting practice in the pool as it was really important, not only to see the other swimmers but also to keep myself swimming straight in the water.


In the end, I finished the 5.2K in 3 hours and 15 minutes. The race was very challenging but also extremely rewarding. I was able to overcome my nerves during the first 1 kilometre and remembered my training which helped me finish. I am very proud of myself for overcoming my fear, sticking with my goal, and training hard over the last year. Even though the race is over, I will still continue to swim and set new and challenging goals for myself!


About the author

Trenér a zakladatel plavecké školy Swimtime pro aktivní životní styl dospělých a dětí. Trénování se věnuji od roku 2010 a moje aktivní závodní období trvalo 16 let. Studoval jsem Karlovu Universitu se specializací na sportovní plavání. V rámci Swimtime se věnuji výuce dospělých začátečníků se strachem z vody a pokročilejším plavcům pro efektivnější techniku a trénink.