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.