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.
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!