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Lake George Open Water Swim 10K Race Report (or: Why am I doing this again?)

August 26, 2014

When I signed up for the Lake George Open Water Swim 10k, I did so with about 2 months of training under my belt following a long 2013 of swimming an average of once or twice a month. I had some legitimate and some not so legitimate reasons for my lack of physical activity that year, but the bottom line was that I was way the hell out of shape. To add to that, I hadn’t raced a real, non-current assisted 10k since, well, college. And let’s not go into how long ago that was. I figured that signing up for a 10k would force me to suck it up and start training like I meant it. And, for the most part it did. I even managed to squeeze in a 5k race and several long LCM swims during my several months of training, including a 9,700m swim that, while infuriatingly short of the full 10k, gave me confidence that I would at least be able to go the distance.

However, I had some strategery issues that will require some work if I’m going to do this race again next year. Since central New York is an awkward place to get to, in my infinite genius, I decided the best thing to do was to save a vacation day and drive the full 7 or so hours to Lake George the day before the race. In other words, a long-ass road trip.

Lesson Learned #1: Do not do a long-ass road trip the day before your 10k.

By the time I arrived, drove 45 minutes past the hotel to check out the race course (which was already marked, thankfully), then drove 45 minutes back to the hotel, I had been on the road for almost 9 hours. I was exhausted and cranky and almost dreading the race the next morning. When I woke the next morning, I was still exhausted and cranky and dreading the race. How would I finish the damn thing if I couldn’t stay awake for it?

Lesson Learned #2: In the Lake George area, hotels go quickly. Make reservations early so you don’t end up staying 45 minutes away from the race start.

#2 meant that I had to be up about an hour earlier than I would have otherwise. Following the long-ass road trip, this was no bueno. Once I shoehorned my way out of the covers, I ate my pre-race PB&J, had some truly terrible hotel coffee (seriously…worst ever), and headed out to the lake for check in and warmup. I use the term “warmup” loosely, here, since the air temperature was probably in the low 60s and the lake water was barely in the 70s. Perfect temperature for racing, but somewhat bracing when you’re only jumping in for a few minutes to loosen up. However, while unpleasant, it did have the effect of waking me the hell up.

The organizers worked hard to keep the event moving on time, so following a safety briefing, we were immediately shepherded into the water in numeric order. We waded out to the start buoy and waited for the start, most of us shivering uncontrollably in the chilly water. The mood among the swimmers was congenial, however. The quotes of the day occurred when one lady, while wading up to the group, said “Oh, hey, I found a warm spot!” We all burst out laughing (she realized what she said and looked horrified), then I heard someone off to the side pipe up with “Don’t blame me, I’m just busy enjoying my own warm spot.” Open water swimmers…we’re all really just a bunch of mental 12-year-olds.

Lesson Learned #3: Do not sight off of kayaks.

After what felt like fifteen minutes (probably only 5) of standing in the cold water, trying not to think about what caused that warm spot, the starter eventually hit the horn. We took off on the first loop of 4, and I managed to keep myself from sprinting to the first buoy like a startled rabbit. Somehow, I ended up way on the outside, which is generally not where I like to be. At one point, I got clobbered in the head by an overly friendly swimmer and had to flip on my back momentarily to pull my goggle strap back onto my head. But by the end of the first half of the first loop, I’d worked myself into a good rhythm and was (I think) the leader of the chase pack that was just behind the lead pack. And then at the first turn, disaster struck. I went around the turn buoy and spotted the red buoy that marked the return side of the course. Or so I thought. It turns out that the buoy was in fact a kayak of a strikingly similar shade. I had a feeling something wasn’t right, but I continued to follow that damn kayak until something told me to stop and look around. And damned if the course wasn’t almost 50 meters off to my left. I swore mightily for a moment, then proceeded to haul ass back on course. It took me a full loop and a lot of effort to get back to the group I had started with.

Once back with the pack, and rather frazzled, I spent the rest of the second loop tag teaming two guys and a lady who were irritatingly similar in speed. One of us would pull away, then the rest would catch up and pass…back and forth, repeatedly. I decided that I would put on a big push on the third loop to try to drop them, then hold them off on the fourth.

Lesson (partly) Learned #4: Don’t bonk.

Did I mention that they were irritatingly similar in speed? I stopped at the feed station at the start of lap 3, and the lady I was swimming with did not. She pulled ahead, but I was hauling as hard as I could and caught her before the far turn. But then, I couldn’t drop her. She and one of the guys from our foursome stuck with me like a burr in my britches almost the entire way around that third loop. The two ladies out front working hard, the guy most likely taking a nap or putting together his grocery list as he drafted behind us.

And then, the piano fell. The hammer dropped. I hit the wall. Whatever tired cliché you want to use, it happened. I felt my blood sugar plummet, my arms got weak and shaky, and I had nothing in me that could keep up that pace. I’m not sure whether it was a nutrition or hydration issue, if it was a training issue, or if it was a combination of both. Whatever it was, I couldn’t keep my stroke rate up, and every pull I took was a weak shadow of what I’d been doing just moments before. Needless to say, I got dropped by my mini-pack. I stopped longer than usual at the feed station at the start of the fourth loop to see if more calories would help pull me out of it. It took until the far turn on the fourth loop before I started to feel normal again. By then, though, the damage was done. I picked up speed, but the group I had been with was long gone and I swam the last loop entirely by myself – I couldn’t even see the swimmers on the course in front of me. Occasionally I would lap a slower swimmer, but that was all the company I had.

As crappy as I had felt just a half a lap earlier, rounding that last green buoy and heading for the finish was a huge relief. It was a combination of “Holy crap I’m glad that’s over with” along with “hey, I did it” and some “why the hell did I think this was a good idea?”

I staggered inelegantly across the finish line somewhere between 2:30 and 2:40 – my goal had been to get under 2:30 – positive this would be my last 10k for a very long time. Now, a few days later, I’m not so sure. I really think that if I can train consistently for longer than a few months at a time, and if I can manage to tell the difference between a buoy and a kayak, maybe next year I can hit the 2:20s. And this brings me to my next point.

Lesson Learned #5: Oh, I remember now. This stuff is addictive.

 

Pool Stress

August 17, 2014

I’m not sure why, but I suck at swim meets. Maybe it’s a holdover from the stress of competing as an age grouper, but when I show up at a Masters meet and get that swim meet vibe, I get all tense and stressed out. My shoulders turn into bricks and my calves try to cramp on flip turns. Whee.

I did the 1500 at Nationals last week, which was intended just to be a bit of a speed warmup for the 10k next weekend. It went about how I expected it to, which is to say, not nearly as fast as I would have liked. But, I did split it pretty evenly, so thats something. And at least this time I was in a middle lane and one of the faster swimmers in the heat, instead of on the outside lane getting my butt whooped in demoralizing fashion.

So. Last event before the 10k is done. Starting to get a bit nervous, especially since I just realized I’m procrastinating on all the planning I need to do to get myself squared away for the road trip up to Lake George and for the race itself. Maybe I’ll just go to bed and worry about it tomorrow at work.

Submerging Myself

August 10, 2014

After a full year of doing exactly nothing athletic – I barely swam, and I trained BJJ maybe once every month – I decided in the spring of this year to sign up for the US Masters Swimming 10k National Championships. I needed something to break the inertia, and there’s nothing like a big race to get me moving again.

What I’m getting myself into.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And hey, no biggie, right? I can whip my flabby ass into shape in time to swim 6.2 miles at the end of August.

To that end, I have been focusing almost entirely on swimming and am on hiatus from BJJ until September. I have discovered that I am ridiculously impatient about how long it takes me to get back into fighting shape. I made some maybe not entirely realistic goals for myself regarding how fast I would go in that 10k, all while not having swum more than 3,000 meters in a practice since…well, probably the ‘90s.

My first real test came at the Steelman 5k swim, a choppy lake race that totally trashed my arms. I came in at a time that, if I split evenly, would just about meet my goal time for the 10k. I placed second in my age group, but I was toast, and I know realistically that I wouldn’t be able to hold that pace for another 5k.

Then, I did a training swim in a 50m pool . I came within 300 meters of meeting my goal of swimming 10,000 meters in 2.5 hours. I would have finished the last 300 if they hadn’t started switching the lane lines from long course to short course. It was just too much for me to start dolphin diving between them. Once again, arms were toast, this time extra crispy.

We’re now coming in to the final stretch of getting ready for this thing. I have Masters Nationals (of the pool sort) this week, and the 10k is the following weekend. I’m hoping I can find some speed in the pool and still be able to crank it out for hours in a lake a week later.

But whatever the result, it’s good to be back.

Old and Broken…

June 25, 2013

…is how I feel lately. Just as soon as I start to get back into the BJJ swing, I end up with further structural issues wholly unrelated to the previous and still unresolved structural issues. In other words, I fell down the stairs, and I now have a bad ankle.

No, I wasn’t drunk! Sheesh.

But its bad enough that it has been uncomfortable to walk or put weight on and unpleasant to do things like lock my ankles in guard. After a visit to two doctors (the first of whom was simply too busy to let me finish a damn sentence – never went back to him) I am embarking on physical therapy and bracing methods to manage the issue. If this doesn’t work, it’s surgery, baby.

What is this Grappl-ing you speak of?

June 3, 2013

I have not trained BJJ at all for a year and a half due to structural issues, but I have decided to make a comeback. It’s not that I’ve really healed, it’s just that I missed it too much.

I have realized in my first few classes back that quite simply I don’t remember half of what I learned before I stopped training. Is there such a thing as a belt revocation ceremony? Urgh. This is not going to be easy.

Stay tuned…

Into the flood (tide) again

June 13, 2011

After a year of exile, I once again claimed a spot in the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, the annual aquatic trek from Sandy Point State Park to Kent Island. I was really excited for the race this year because of my enforced absence last year, and the nerves kind of kicked in a bit the day before.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t really interested in helping me out. I’m a serious pansy when it comes to hot weather, and hot weather combined with really warm water temperatures in the bay (78 degrees! Holy crap!) combined to make the day a huge challenge for me. The first problem came when I failed to keep water with me during the wait for the first wave to start. I’d already sent my bag (with my water) off to the other side of the bay, so there I sat for at least 30 minutes in the heat, waiting for the first wave to get started. Then, after crossing the timing mats, the wait for the second wave dragged on and on… I was dehydrated before even getting in the water. The first 2.5 miles were terrible. I felt weak and listless and had no energy.

Due to the really warm water and the long wait on shore, I stopped for water at both aid boats on the course this year. That’s a huge change, since I usually trek on through without stopping at any. Around mile 2, the current really seemed to kick in, and a lot of swimmers were fighting to avoid getting swept under the southern span. I did my share of diagonal swimming until about halfway through mile three. I think the tide was turning at that point and bringing in some cooler water from the south. The water never got anywhere close to cold, but the temperature seemed to ease up from ghastly hot to somewhat warm, with a few fabulously cool spots that made me want to stop and tread water for a while.

By the time I reached mile four, the energy gel I’d tucked in my suit and the water I’d gotten at the aid boats had kicked in, and along with the cooler water, I was able to put in a bit more of a push. By the time I got to the turn out from the bridges, I was actually feeling somewhat strong and was able to sprint in to the finish ahead of another swimmer. I wasn’t happy with my time, but I’m glad I finished (the first goal of any open water swim), and that I was able to finish relatively strong. I also managed to place second in my age group and finish in the top 15 overall for women, so it really could have been a lot worse.

So, lessons learned for next year…and here’s hoping for water temperatures in the 60s!

 

 

 

Potomac Sharkfest Race Report: Crab, anyone?

June 11, 2011

My first open water race of the 2011 season came in the form of the Potomac Sharkfest, the inaugural Sharkfest race in the DC area. This race is a 3k swim across the Potomac, starting in Maryland and following the 301 bridge to Virginia. The organizers are the same ones responsible for the Alcatraz Sharkfest, a hugely popular “escape from Alcatraz” swim in the San Francisco Bay, and their experience with open water races seemed to hold them in good stead.

Inaugural races usually have their share of challenges, for the organizers as well as the athletes. In this case, any issues the organizers may have had were relatively transparent to the swimmers. We met in a designated parking area and took a school bus to the other side of the river for the start – our bags were transported back to the finish for us.

The course was a straight shot across the river. The water was is the low 70s, with almost zero chop, and the ebb tide made for an easy crossing. The only concern we swimmers had was the preponderance of crab pots dotting the river. Thankfully, I didn’t have too much trouble avoiding them, and the big river boat the organizers thoughtfully parked near the finish line made for easy navigation.

Potomac Sharkfest course

A few observations on this race – the organizers and volunteers were friendly, cheerful, and helpful. They had someone walking through the crowd, picking up bags for transport to the finish, so that the swimmers wouldn’t have to lug them to the collection point. There was a bit of flotsam collected in the water near the start, and I think I saw a kayaker cleaning it out so we wouldn’t have to swim through it. There were no bouys to mark the course, but the bridge and the riverboat were enough to keep almost everyone on course (you know there’s always one or two who can’t swim straight to save their life…).

This was a really good race, especially for a first time event. The course was long enough to be a bit of a challenge if you wanted it to be, but simple enough to be accessible to swimmers who are not as strong. The atmosphere was laid back, the organizers competent, and the venue provided a nice place to relax after you finish. There were only about 80 swimmers this year (although that’s pretty significant for an inaugural event), but I expect that next year it will pick up considerably. I highly recommend this race – give it a go before it becomes so popular they start a lottery!

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