Race Report: 2015 Chesapeake Bay Swim

What can I say about the 2015 Chesapeake Bay Swim, other than hot damn

I knew it was going to be trouble when at 0630, I opened the back door to let the hooligans out and felt like I was stepping into the pool locker room after the age groupers have used up all the hot water in the showers. When it’s that steamy that early in the morning, things are only going to get worse.

We left the house later than planned, so by the time I got to the beach at Sandy Point, shade was at a serious premium. I was able to wedge myself in under a tree with some other L4 swimmers (thanks guys!), munched on a PB&J, and tried to stay hydrated.

Sandy Point

View of the race course from Sandy Point State Park

At 11:30, about 45 minutes before the start, the air temperature was 80-something and rising, and the water in the bay hit 76 degrees (officially – my internal thermometer pegged it a degree or two warmer). I sat through the pre-race meeting, watching numerous other swimmers yanking themselves into their wetsuits, and waited for the announcement that due to the warm conditions, wetsuits were either discouraged or not allowed. It didn’t come. There’s an interesting discussion on the MSF forum about this; there are arguments for and against the safety issues involved, but let me just say here that following Fran Crippen’s heat related death in an open water swim, it stuns me that such a well-organized, safety conscious race would allow wetsuits in those conditions.

Eventually, after much bullhorn-amplified yelling, the first wave minced their way over blazing hot sand, through the cattle chute, and to the water line. The start seemed to take forever to come, and I cringed for the wetsuit wearers as they stood in the sun, wrapped from neck to ankles in their layer of black neoprene. Once they had waded their way into the bay (literally – I was surprised at how many people didn’t actually start swimming right away) it was the second wave’s turn to blister our feet on the way through the chute. More than one person had to sprint for the water, me included, to cool a nasty case of hotfoot.

I chose a spot along the shore that was relatively close to the stone jetty, but not so close that I would end up jammed up against it if I were pushed to the right by some large steamroller type guys. As I stood there, trying to choose my line to the buoys, a group of about five young teen boys crowded around me and started to edge in front of me. They were clearly competitive swimmers, and completely confident that they were faster than me. I tried to refrain from rolling my eyes too loudly, because that’s just not polite. But I did take note of one of their numbers –easy to remember because it was one up from mine- figuring that they would all be in the same age group, so I could check their results after the race. Not because I’m competitive. I was just curious.

The countdown started, the bullhorn blared, and we were off. I’m proud of myself, because I actually managed to stay relaxed and not sprint too hard in the first 100 meters. The water felt warm at that point, but not unbearably so. The scrum wasn’t too terrible either, with only a few mild knocks here and there, in spite of the crowding. What wasn’t so good was the fact that my goggles started leaking almost immediately.

We rounded the buoys, turned under the north span, and started the long trek between the bridges to Kent Island, and for once, I managed to tuck myself in behind someone of a similar speed at catch a bit of a draft. The first mile went pretty smoothly, with the pack strung out in a bit of a line that hugged the northern span due to the curve the bridges take to the north before straightening out. I had forgotten exactly how long it takes to get around that curve, but once we straightened out and were pointed directly at Kent Island, I told myself that that was just a warmup, and now the race was beginning.

I didn’t see a buoy marking the first mile, which didn’t bother me too much that early in the race. What did bother me were the swarms of little stinging things I swam through. I’m not sure what they were exactly. They weren’t big enough to be jelly fish, but they sure got my attention, especially when several ended up down my suit. Thankfully, they thinned out and disappeared after a couple hundred meters or so, but they had distracted me enough that I realized I had drifted southward toward the other bridge span. The next two miles were spent nervously eyeballing that span to make sure I didn’t drift away with the outgoing tide. It wasn’t until after mile three that I finally felt like I could swim more straight than diagonally.

Once past the 3 mile buoy, it became a mental game – I knew I had less than 25 minutes to swim until I hit mile 4 and the turn to go beneath the southern span and out towards the beach. The water was getting bathtub warm at this point, with a few jolts of cold water at random intervals. I saw a wetsuit swimmer ahead of me and tried to put on some speed to catch him, but at that point, I didn’t have much speed to put on (which is really not much different than usual). On the other hand, I saw a few red caps from my wave about 20 yards off to the left and realized that I was steadily creeping past them. Once we hit mile four and headed toward the finish, I wasn’t able to see much of anything anymore. My goggles had leaked the entire race, and my eyes were stinging and watery. I relied on the stone jetty to stay in a straight line as I worked my way the last 700 meters or so from the bridge to the beach. I gracefully exited the water in an almost straight line, without falling over (I thought about it for a minute, though), at about 1:46. I was a bit surprised – I’m not sure what I was expecting  for a finish time, but I also placed better than I expected, especially considering the conditions.

There were a few surprises during the race this year. Unlike any other year, I not only saw but was in a good position to stop at the two feed boats they positioned near miles two and three. I got a shot glass worth of warm water at each one, unwilling to stop any longer, but it seemed to be enough. I also was surprised to not have any sort of a bonk throughout the entire event. I had tried that weird superstarch stuff, drinking about 16oz of it 30 minutes before the start, and I was shocked to not need either of the gels I had stuffed into my suit. There was no intestinal agitation, either, which was a huge bonus.

Finally, when I changed out of my suit after the race, I found this lovely surprise in the lining of my suit:

unnamed

Why you should never wear a light colored suit for an open water swim.

 

It was a difficult race, which it always is, but the hardest part was waiting around in the heat for the awards ceremony. At that point, my northern European heritage was thoroughly mad at me for spending so much time in decidedly non-northern European atmosphere. I’m hoping two things for next year – first, that the race organizers decide to finally split the results between wetsuit wearers and non-wetsuit wearers, and second, that they order up some non-stifling weather. A rain storm would be nice too, as long as we’re making requests…

Oh, and those teenage boys who crowded in front of me at the start were only 14 years old. And I beat all but one of them. Not that I’m competitive, I swear.

So, the 2015 GCBS is in the books…next up, the 5K Steelman in Pennsylvania.

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Stalking the Chesapeake

In the weeks and days leading up to the Chesapeake Bay Swim, I can get a little bit stalker-ish. I start obsessing about the weather, water temperatures, sea nettles, and now, thanks so much to a recent report, I have started stalking sharks who may or may not have casually wandered many miles into the Chesapeake a few weeks ago.

For the record, the GCBS vital signs are currently looking something like this:

Air temp: Forecast for June 14 is 86 degrees and sunny

Water temp: 70.2 degrees currently, and rising during a week that will be hot as b#lls.

Sea nettles: Why does this chart show them congregating around the swim? This isn’t helping.

Sharks: There are several of them out there. And, just in case one of them gets a random urge to send a ping from the middle of the Chesapeake… I am SO not wearing a wetsuit.

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Recovery is a Bitch

Note to self: Recovery days should be for recovering.

I took the day off from swimming on Saturday, and I had intended to sleep in, but my dual hooligan alarm clock went off at 0530, almost on the dot.

Hooligan 1

Hooligan 1

Hooligan 2

Hooligan 2

There is no ignoring a dual hooligan alarm, especially when the reserve alarm kicks in.

Reserve Alarm; will happily become primary alarm as required.

Reserve Alarm; will happily become primary alarm when necessary.

So I got up, let them out, made coffee (strategery error #1 – any hope of sleep is lost for good) and got us all a bowl of cereal. After an hour or two, the fog cleared, the caffeine kicked in, and I decided it was a lovely morning to take the girls for a walk. Both of them. At the same time (strategery error #2 – they are called hooligans for a reason).

Everybody in the car…around the lake…in the lake…back in the car. By the time we got home and I had dried us all off, I had decided I was frisky enough to go for a short run. This is a big deal for me with my crappy joints and bum ankle. Then, because for some reason I still felt like an underachiever, I decided to do some lifting at the gym. I started out mostly focusing on my legs, but I got bored, said what the heck, and did my core and arms as well (strategery error #3 – ow.).

My legs were fried at this point, which made for an interesting drive home in a car with a manual transmission and a rather stiff sport clutch. My arms were fried after being hauled around the lake by two hooligans, and then lifting. So, instead of staying home and getting some rest, I decided it was a good idea to go to a classic car cruise-in in 90 degree weather, in a friend’s no-door-having (read, no-AC-having) ’78 Jeep.

Aaand now all of me was fried. And dehydrated. And decidedly un-recovered.

But, hey, at least somebody got some rest:

2013-01-28_06-39-22_979

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Things I Need to Work on Before Swimming 10 Miles: Part 1 of 2

Yes, this is part one of a two-part list. I’m kind of getting the feeling I have my hands full here. Without further ado, Part 1 of the things I need to work on before swimming 10 miles:

  1. Nutrition: What will I drink/eat during the race? When? How much? I’m considering trying coconut water for hydration purposes…anyone out there with experience with this? I’ve also heard a lot about superstarches and am girding myself to try one of the more popular brands. The consistency isn’t something I’ve encountered in a beverage before, but if it works well, maybe I can get used to it. Solids aren’t something I’ve ever used in a long race before, even way back in the dark ages when I was racing 25Ks. I can be stupidly competitive sometimes, so I would hate having to take the time to stop and chew… but on the other hand, the longer the race, the less the time impact, and possible the greater performance boost. We’ll see.
  2. Leaning up: I don’t want to blow out my shoulders by dragging around non-functional padding. This is difficult for me, however, since the harder I train the hungrier I get, and dammit, I get cranky when I’m hungry.
  3. Core strength: 10 miles means a lot of sighting, which puts strain on the lower back. My back has already expressed displeasure with me on various occasions, so I will definitely be working on this. Planks, weights, and more planks.
  4. Goggle fit: For some reason, I have a ridiculously hard time finding goggles that either don’t leak or don’t feel like daggers in my eye sockets after five minutes.
  5. Peeing while swimming: I felt gross just typing that, but when you’re swimming for four hours at a stretch, it kinda has to happen. Unfortunately, it takes some serious concentration, and I’ve never gotten the knack. (For the people that swim in my lane, don’t worry – I won’t work on that one while training in the pool).

I will leave you to ponder that last entry while I go ponder some weirdly viscous energy drink and try to get up the nerve to try it.

Not sure I can.

Not sure I can…

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Race Report: 2015 McDonnell Lake Swims (Or; if I Ignore it, Maybe it will Go Away)

The morning of the McDonnell Lake Swims in Reston was a chilly one – 52 degrees, according to my car’s thermometer. I had under-prepared for the weather by wearing only a light jacket, so after arriving at the lake and checking in, I spent a good chunk of time in the car listening to some Audioslave (Gasoline is a great pre-race jam, in case you wondered) and reveling in the comfort of the seat warmer.

Eventually I had to extricate myself from my cocoon and wander down to the grass near the race start; I toyed with the idea of hopping in the pool for a quick warmup, but as cold as I was at that point, I didn’t think standing around in a wet swimsuit waiting for the start would be in any way helpful.

1 Mile

The one miler was a single loop of the course and was the first race of the day.  The race director lined us up by wave, and then, when we thought it was almost time to go, we waited. Then waited some more. At that point, I was really glad I hadn’t gotten in the water beforehand. After a bit more waiting, the first wave got in the water. I was in wave two, and in a move that was different from previous years, we were told to cross the timing mats and wait at the edge of the water for wave one to leave. I’m guessing there were enough people entered that they were concerned the first wave would hit the finish before the last wave left, so we were sent off almost surprisingly quickly once the first wave had started. (More than one of us were caught with our suits down; part of the surprise came from the fact that there was no bullhorn or PA system used for the start. I think most of us didn’t even hear it and only started swimming once we saw the others jumping off).

The normal race start scrum ensued. I managed to keep both my goggles and my temper, and I only swam over one person’s legs after they took a sudden hard turn to the right in front of me. I managed to pull into some clearish water by the time we were halfway to the first buoy, and once around that, I focused on maintaining a high cadence but efficient stroke. I think I may have even (wait for it…) kicked a little bit.

It took me until about two thirds of the way to the second turn to really get into a good rhythm. Once I did, my stroke felt great, but at about that time, my stomach decided to rebel a little. I willfully ignored it and focused on catching as many people from the first wave as possible. By the time I made the third turn and was heading down the backstretch, my intestines had given up their ploy for attention in disgust, and I was able to fully focus on grinding out the last part of the race.

When I crossed the timing pad, I actually felt pretty good for having almost sprinted (I use the term loosely) the entire mile  – until I staggered further onto dry land. Once the volunteers grabbed my timing chip and I started walking, my lungs started to ache and my equilibrium wandered off somewhere more interesting. I stood for a moment waiting for it to return, not willing to wander around looking like the drunk chick who needed to be cut off after a long night at a bachelorette party (get that lampshade off your head, Grappledunk. It’s not cute. Not cute at all.).

Once I felt a bit steadier, I did a 500 warmdown in the pool, then quickly got my clothes back on because, although the air had warmed a bit, I was still freezing.

Result: Well under 23 minutes. Hey, where did that come from? Looking good for coming close to a 46 minute 2 miler!

2 Mile

The turnaround from 1 miler to 2 miler was faster than I expected – I managed to stretch out some, drink some juice, and down a part of an energy bar before the RD started calling for swimmers to line up by wave. By that time, I realized my lack of warmup for the one miler may have resulted in a bit of a strain on my right triceps. I decided I would ignore that the way I ignored my earlier intestinal distress in the hopes that it would get bored and go away.

So, lined up at the two mile start, we waited through the pre-race briefing, then waited some more, until, after a bit more waiting for good measure (more than one person around me was shivering and grumbling at that point) wave one entered the water. Once again, I was wave two; I was listening hard for the start of our wave this time, so it didn’t sneak up on me the way it did in the one miler.

As soon as we started, my immediate thought was, “Oh crap. This one’s going to hurt.” I didn’t have the punch in my stroke that I did at the start of the one miler, and I ended up getting a bit more bogged down in the early race flailing. My arms ached, and I had to force myself to lengthen my stroke out in order to give them a bit of a stretch. The first bouy felt like it came a bit slower this time, but soon after, I passed someone in a full wetsuit, which gave me a mental boost. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long, because he latched onto my feet and wouldn’t let go. I mean that almost literally; he was up my butt for the rest of the two laps around that lake like burr in a cat’s britches. Almost every other stroke he would tap my feet. Stroke, stroke, tap. Stroke, tap, stroke. Stroke, stroke, stroke, TAP, TAP! It got so f^@#ing annoying that I had visions of coming to a full stop and driving an elbow into his face.

Of course I didn’t do this; I’m way too competitive to ever seriously consider coming to a full stop in a race. It’s something I almost never do (except this one time, but we don’t talk about that anymore). Whoever that foot-grabbing neoprene warrior was, he can thank his lucky stars for that, because I have some damn bony elbows.

Anyhoo. Ridiculously violent fantasies aside, the race felt like two miles of 30 grit sandpaper; kind of rough. I tried to keep a good cadence but not push too hard on the first loop, then put a bigger effort in on the second loop in the hopes of dropping my cling-on.  No luck. By the time I hit the final backstretch and was headed toward the turn at the big drain, I was hauling as hard as I could. Tap tap tap on my feet. By that time, I had decided through sheer force of will to ignore that as well, and I sprinted (or some approximation thereof) toward the finish.

Result: Much closer to 45 minutes than 46. Hot damn! Apparently I averaged a faster 1 mile time in the two miler than I did in the actual one miler. Go figure.

I always enjoy doing this event; it’s well organized, the lake is usually quite nice, and it’s a great location for spectators. This year, it doubled as a good tune up for the Bay Swim, and hopefully as a good kickoff to a strong open water season.

Next up: 4.4 miles across the Chesapeake.

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‘Tis the Season!

The open water season is almost underway! At least, mine is almost underway. My first open water race of the season will take place tomorrow, and I’m not sure yet how I expect it to go. I’ve been training better this spring than I have in a few years, so I’m hoping for a decent race.

Reston JMLS

JMLS, here we come!

I’ll be doing the one mile race as a warmup for the two miler (because you know how we distance swimmers are – it takes us a while to get the blood flowing). Ultimately, the first goal of any open water race is to finish – but all things being equal, I would like to finish in as close to 46 minutes as possible. I think that would set me up fairly well for a good race at the Bay Swim in June.

Race report to follow…

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Signs you are No Longer a Lapsed Swimmer

There are a lot of us out there – the lapsed swimmers. Former club and college swimmers who burned out after all those years of before-dawn practices, missed social opportunities, dry skin, enormous appetites, and general exhaustion. We walk away from the pool that last time, thinking “thank God that’s over.” We’ll never go back to kick sets or goggle marks, suit hickies or bashed in fingers from your paddle-wearing lane mate with the wingspan of a California condor. No more coaches hollering at us from the deck, and no more lungs burning from devilish hypoxic sets.

But for many of us, as we go about our daily lives at work and at home, the call of the chlorine is too much to resist. Before we know it, the pull of a former addiction has overcome us, and we’ve drifted mindlessly back to our old ways. If you’re afraid that you may have a problem and that you’ve been sucked back into the deep end of a lap pool, here are a few warning signs to look for:

  1. Your chlorine reddened eyes cause your boss to ask oblique yet probing questions about your feelings towards recreational drug use.
  2. The person in the airplane seat next to you idly wonders who got carried away with the bleach on their last load of whites
  3. You start digging up old meet results to see exactly what your splits were in your best events. Not that you’re comparing.
  4. The guy you’re dating casually sends you an email with links to chlorine removal products for hair and skin
  5. Your coordination returns to aquatic-based default settings; i.e., you bounce off of doorframes, run into corners of desks, trip over trash cans, and walk into plate glass windows (this didn’t actually happened to me recently. Please ignore the swollen lip and bruised ego…they aren’t relevant here.)

If any of these sound like you, I’d like to say there’s help out there for your recovery, but honestly, I can’t be bothered to help you find it. I have to go to bed early so I can get up before dawn to go swim.

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