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.
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!
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.