Thursday, May 14, 2015

Open Water Season

Open water swimming season is finally here! The first race of the season is in the books. Once again, the Jordan Lake Open Water Challenge did not disappoint. Well, the weather and the organization kind of did disappoint, but it was still a great race.

Vista Point race location

Sunday morning I made the 40 minute drive out to Vista Point. This is the same swim location used at Ironman Raleigh, coming up in a few weeks. Turns out there was also a SUP race going on before the swim race, 1.2 and 2.4 mile swim races, and an organized bike ride of the IM Raleigh course going on too. So with all of those events, there was about 400 people out there, and 6 port-a-lets. I found a really bad parking space because the main lot was full. After taking my second cup of coffee on the way over there, I was very surprised to see the park's restroom doors locked! ARGH.

I get my packet and get into the longest line I've ever seen. Then I realize it's not moving fast enough. Sure enough, I spot my buddy Tom about 15 people ahead of me.  I found out later that Tom did make it into the crapper, but was putting his wetsuit on after the official checkin start.

the "standing in line" selfie

Longest por-a-john line ever!
It wasn't exactly warm either. All week we saw heat in the mid 90's, but Tropical Storm Ana came through the coast that same Saturday, and brought temps back down into the 60's that morning, with very strong winds. That made the water pretty choppy, which would come into play later. After I realized that I just wouldn't have time to wait in that line, walk back to my car, get my wetsuit on, and make it back to the start on time, I had to abandon my plans to be comfortable. Also my eye doc didn't want me swimming open water with my contacts in, so I wore glasses out there and had to leave them in the car.

I made it back in time to find my friends on the beach before they checked us into the water. After we were in the water waiting on the starting gun, Tom got his wetsuit on and found the rest of us. The water had about a solid 6" chop coming in thanks to all of the wind, it was enough to make it pretty uncomfortable just floating around treading water in the wetsuit.  Also, apparently my wetsuit has a leak in the general crotch area, water was getting in where it shouldn't be. Not bad, but not comfortable.

Once they screamed GO we took off. The 6" chop wasn't nearly as difficult as the 2' chop I had to deal with at Lake Erie last fall in Rev3 Cedar Point, that kept going through my mind as I had to fight my way through. I had to really convince myself that I was the stronger swimmer, and there was no way that weaker swimmers could handle those conditions. It was a bit crowded, but I didn't get too much of the washing machine effect. Got kicked around some, swam into some other people. They started everyone in the 2.4 mile race at the same time, then separated the women and men doing the 1.2 mile race a few minutes after we left.

Getting out to the first turn buoy was going to be a milestone. I figured it would be the hardest part of the course for both laps and I was right. I took the turn wide and did the standard open water turn technique of throwing in a single back stroke. If you're not familiar with the technique, you roll onto your back in the direction of the buoy, and pull that arm into a backstroke, then continue the roll so that the other arm comes down on the same side. The result is a 90* turn. In this case the buoy was on my right, so my right arm pulled face down, then my left arm backstroked face up, then my right arm pulled face down again all on the same side of my body as the buoy.

Unfortunately, the wind changed this 90* turn into a 180* turn. All of a sudden there were other people swimming towards me, which is never good in an open water race. There were other people in front of me going in my direction, and other people behind me going in my direction. So I assumed that a few people missed the turn and had to double back. When the pack got bigger, I headed for open water inside of the triangle course and stopped to tread water until a paddleboarder made it over there to point me in the right direction. I was completely un-oriented to the course and that was very frustrating. I told the guy that there were lots of people swimming the wrong direction on the course and he went over to straighten them out. I'm just glad I wasn't the only one who did that.

Swimming parallel to the chop was much easier, then the third leg of the triangle was uneventful as well. Then it was time to head out for the second loop. Fun times in that cold choppy water again, but at least I was mentally prepared for it now. And this time after making the turn I stopped long enough to locate both sighting buoys to be sure I was heading towards the correct one. Still kind of upset that I lost at least a minute to just treading water searching for sighting buoys, but what can you do, right?

The second loop was uneventful. Of course most of the time I was motivated by poop. I tried to focus on my form, keeping a fast arm turnover and pushing through my stroke. I knew there was not going to be a line for those port-a-lets when I hit the beach.  Sure enough, I gave it all I had before hitting that finish line.

My time goal was to break my current open water (non-current-assist) PR of 1:14 from Ironman Florida in 2011. I crushed a 1:12:58, so my goal was met. At the finish line, I stopped the garmin and started trying to unzip my wetsuit. These two girls must have thought I was about to puke, they offered to help me out of the suit but I politely declined and started walking towards the bathrooms. Sure enough, I found my hidden flip flops, and made my way into the port-a-crappers before I finished catching my breath. Needless to say, it was the most comfortable I had been in quite some time.

Back at the car, finally

Me, Tom, Kevin, and a friend of K's hanging out waiting on the awards.
Turns out about half of the RAM swim team was out there. I saw a lot of friends that swim in the mornings, or haven't been to practice in a while. I figured I would have to break 1:10 to qualify for an age group award, and I was right. Finished 4th place (out of 5) in my age group, 1:09 took the last award. Tom and Kevin both won their age groups and finished right around 55 minutes. We swim in adjacent lanes in the evening practices. KC, a friend I'm coaching through her first Ironman, also won her age group and Laura, one of our coaches, also won her age group. Dani (who is now a morning swimmer but did the Swim Around Charleston last year) took 4th place overall. It's also worth noting that they were also all scholarship swimmers in college. It sounds like I'm the only one of my friends who didn't take an age group win, but that's ok because I just hang out with a bunch of badass swimmers.

It rained some at the start, some while we were swimming, and again it rained heavy while we were waiting for the awards. But we didn't find out about the worst part of the day until later on.

Brian Goldman, the coach who started these wonderful noon practices and was the most effective at changing my form, passed away sunday morning. He had colon cancer, and leaves behind a wife and two sons that are still in high school. He was also a very well respected doctor and founded/coached a kids swim team as well. For someone we all cared about so much to pass on while we were in a swim race is incredibly tough, but I know somehow that's how he would have wanted it to happen. His funeral was Tuesday, I couldn't get out of work to attend but Tom did and he said there was over 1000 people there. Cancer has already affected too many people that I care about. This is not an easy loss. He was still on deck coaching us a month ago.

So I'm very happy with my performance in the race, wish I had done a few things better, very proud of my friends, and very sad about the loss of my coach. Who plans an event (or 4) like that on mothers day? Brian's parents are still alive so his passing on mothers day has to be extraordinarily tough. And yes, I still have to write a separate post about what the kids and I did for Kelley for mothers day.


Abby said...

Great job on your performance, so sorry about your couch.

Lora said...

Wow, I am so impressed! This is coming from someone who can't swim at all. :)