Monday, June 14, 2010

2010.06.13 - Great Chesapeake Bay Swim

 4.4 miles across the Chesapeake Bay, most of it between the spans of the Bay Bridge.  Race proceeds to benefit the March of Dimes.

Why I wanted to do this race:  One of my long term goals is to do a long endurance event, like an Ironman Triathlon, for my 30th birthday.  My best friend did this race a few years ago, and for several years I've done the 1.1 swim.  I decided to upgrade, entered the lottery in January, and made it in.  Go me!

The Prep:  I had a detailed training plan that increased yardage and time in the water with weekly long swims.  This would be supplemented by masters' practice 2-3 times/week.  I didn't adhere to this well, but I did manage to get a long, continuous swim in every few weeks.  The last two were 2 hours long.

The Taper: We took a trip to Vegas the week before.  The timing wasn't really intentional.  I did one workout while we were there, and a lot of walking.  This wasn't a great pre-race plan, but as my goal was just to finish the event, I tried not to stress about it.  And I did have a lot of fun.

The Gear:  My sale-special Xterra wetsuit (sleeveless), the numbered race cap, and my trusty (aka ancient) speedo goggles.

Race Morning, pre-race:  Still on Pacific Time, it hurt when the alarm went off at 4am.  Stumbled around in the dark for a few minutes, made sure I had packed my wetsuit and goggles.  Matt took care of the dogs while I made breakfast (yummy smoothie with fruit, yogurt, and lots of ice), packed snacks and my post-swim bag, etc.  Felt good, just nervous and pretty tired.  Sixes showed up around 5am, and off we went!

Arrived at the park and ride just before 6.  The trip over the bridge was somewhat nerve-wracking.  The trip BACK over the bridge on the buses provided by the race was moreso.  It was a beautiful morning to sit and wait at Sandy Point, though.  Hydrated, checked in, and got my stuff into a trashbag so it could be shipped back across the bridge.  I was too nervous to eat my granola bar, so I nom'ed some cliff shot blocks and drank water.

Pre-race meeting was informative.  The water was warm (71 degrees), but because of the recent rain, there were no jelly fish (YAY!).  Based on the tide, we were given instructions to stay right for the first two miles (because the tide was pushing left).  After the 2nd mile marker, we were to stay left (because the tide turned to push right, and the flood tide was extremely strong).  Learned that similar tides had led to 100+ DNFs in a field of 800, last year.  Hm.  Ok.  Stay right until you have to stay left.  Got it.  Race director made it clear that we had to stay between the spans of the bridge (a distance of about 100 yards), or we would be DQ'd and pulled from the water.  Strict instructions to comply with volunteers.  Race support was impressive.  Dive teams, coastguard and private boats, and medical boats.  Plus aid boats at miles 2 and 3, equipped with water, bananas, saltines, and nilla wafers.

Then it was time to go!  Wetsuit, check.  Bodyglide, check.  Sunscreen (for what it would be worth), check.  Put my wetsuit on, realized my goggles, cap, and tag were still inside it, had to pull my arms out and get them.  Gah.  I was so nervous.  Lost Cindy and Jeff even before we started.

Goal:  Finish under the 3h 45m cut-off time.

Concerns:  I was worried about the things I couldn't train for, like chop and the force of the tide. I was also pretty worried about sighting.  I don't practice it enough, and in the past lifting my head has left me pretty tired.  And I was worried because I didn't put in enough prep time.  :(

The Race:  This was intense.  I'm incredibly grateful to the account from two years ago, provided by Cindy, as well as to other race reports I read online.  That helped me prepare for what it was like, to be out in the water.  Here's the mile-by-mile breakdown:

  • Start to Mile 1 marker:
    • The race went in 2 waves, of about 400 people each.  This was the largest start (in water) that I've ever experienced.  I knew that if I lost my goggles I'd just quit (I'm not as hard core as some people who were out there), so I hung back and let people rush forward.  The water was cool, but comfortable.  By the time I got horizontal, I just had to watch for overzealous kickers. There were a few people swimming at sharp angles across the wave.  I just let them go, until I had room to move.
    • We were aiming for a pair of buoys right past the jetty.  It was pretty easy to keep them in sight, and get under the bridge.  Once beneath the bridge, I tried to stay center.  The bridge curved left, but it was easy to kind of center myself between the spans.  Hit the first mile buoy sooner than I thought I would, still feeling good.
    • I realized sighting would be ok.  Once I was between the bridges, I could gauge my distance to either span when I breathed.  Picking up my head, all I had to do was look up and make sure I was centered.  That was awesome.
  • Mile 1 to Mile 2 marker:
    • This one felt long.  There were places here where the water felt choppy - even though I know the conditions were pretty fantastic for swimming.  I can't imagine how it would be to swim all 4.4 miles in heavy chop.  Even for that little stretch, I just felt beat-up.  Tried breathing both sides, didn't seem to matter much in terms of water hitting my face.  So I varied it just to keep myself entertained.
    • I spent a lot of time in my head in this one.  Thought about writing, and about my family, and about Matt.  It was some nice quiet time, broken up by the occasional reminder 'Stay Center'.
    • I saw the aid boat before I saw the buoy.  They were pretty close together, and the aid boat was smack in the center between the spans.  Awesome.  Hung on the boat for a minute to catch my breath and grab a cup of water.  I felt a little light-headed when I went vertical, so I decided to forego food.  I hadn't trained with food anyway.  Joked with some other swimmers, then pushed off and started swimming again.
  • Mile 2 to Mile 3 marker:
    • My right shoulder started to hurt just after the mile 2 marker.  I'd sort of expected this, based on how my body felt during the long swims.  Tried to pay attention to my stroke, and breathe on the left side periodically.  Wished I could have done some fly or backstroke, but I didn't trust myself to keep to the center/keep a good pace with either one.  Occasional breaststrokes felt good though.
    • There were some huge swells/waves in this part, the center of the channel.  I actually felt a little motion sickness - had to pick my head up, do a breaststroke or two, then swim again.  But I could see the other side!  Motivated myself by focusing on the next set of pilings.  Thought about how running 4 miles is much more fun than swimming it. 
    • Around this time, the pink caps (second wave) started to catch me.  I was ok with that.  There were huge sections of the race where I was all by myself in the middle of the spans, and that was a little unnerving.
    • One thing I hadn't expected, though Cindy had warned me, was realizing how much water is out there.  I mean, it makes sense.  But I really felt it, out there in the middle of the bay, knowing how much water was beneath me and around me.  It made me feel tiny.
    • The spans were far apart, and seemed to go forever.  I was tired, and couldn't let my thoughts wander as much.  Had to pay attention.
  • Mile 3 to Mile 4 marker:
    • Really wanted some water and saltines from the aid boat at mile 3.  I was looking for it.  And there it was - ALL the way to the right side, far from the center.  It was a moment of panic.  I knew I had to stay left, because of how the water was moving.  I knew if I swam to the aid boat, I'd have to swim perpendicular away from it before I could get going again.  I decided to skip it.  Good thing, too, because....
    • The tide got intense here.  I had been in the center, but all of a sudden, I was close to the right span.  Not good, not good at all.  I couldn't remember how the pilings were labeled, but they were closer together here.  So I swam, diagonal for 1-2, then straight for 1-2.  I had no intention of getting pulled at this point.  
    • Reminded myself that I was into this because it was a long event, and it would be cool if I finished.  Yet, also wondered why anyone would actually ever want to do a race like this.  But it was going to be ok.  Had a chat with my body.  We were going to get through this.
    • I was so glad to see the mile 4 marker.  There were still people behind me, so I knew I wasn't going to get pulled for time.  I began to wish I'd worn a watch.
  • Mile 4 marker to finish:
    • All I wanted was to be out of the bay.
    • Still was getting pulled to the right by the tide - tried to stay just far enough away that I wouldn't get pulled off-course.
    • Finally saw the pair of buoys that signaled we were supposed to cross.  But it wasn't like the race director said... there wasn't a group of people waving us through, just a guy sitting on a jet ski not really moving at all.  What were we supposed to do?  Where were we supposed to turn?  The swimmer beside me was just as confused.  We swam to the second buoy, then cut across between two pilings.
    • The water instantly got warmer, and I could see the shore.  As soon as we reached the jetty, I could stand - it was about 5 feet deep.  Took a minute to fix my goggles, then started swimming again.  Nearer to the finish, I stood up a few times, just to make sure I wouldn't pass out when I finally got out of the water.  Ran a bit, swam, ran, swam.  I didn't really care, I was done swimming.  Stumbled out onto the beach, ran past someone and over the chip mat.  Felt pretty good!

The Results:  I came in 472 out of 599 finishers, 17/21 in my age group (F 25-29),l and 135/179 overall females.  My final time was 2:33:02 (avg mile split: 34:47).

Post-race:  Water first, then some donut peices, a piece of subway turkey sub, and an orange wedge.  I was starving, all I wanted was sugar and salt.  Then all I wanted to do was sit down.  Felt a bit nauseous when we were done, but by the time I got back on the bus, I felt better.  Caught lunch, a shower, and a nap, and woke up sore and hungry.  Carbs and salt fixed that.  Got home and slept for 11 hours.  Still sore, and my shoulders hurt, but nothing that feels like an injury.

Thoughts on the race:  My goal was simply to finish beneath the cut-off time.  And I did.  I'm happy that I felt as good as I did, and I'm very happy with my time.  I do wish I had prepared better, because I think that I would have had a stronger race.  If the conditions had been poor, I would have been screwed.

My wetsuit was awesome.  Fit well, was buoyant, kept me nice and warm even in the cool spots.  I could kick and stretch in it.  Minimal chafing, I didn't really notice til I got in the shower and got soap on my neck.  Goggles held up well, but I'm going to go for a bigger set where I can see more... sort of like an aquamask... for future open water events.  Finally, based on Cindy and Jeff's advice, I stuck the chip/band beneath the leg of my wetsuit.  It was a big chip, and there was concern that the water would drag on it and it would be lost.  This was great advice, and completely comfortable.  When it came time to take it off, all I had to do was fold the neoprene back, and I didn't stress once about losing it during the race.

Will I do it again?  I'm not sure.  The race was hard, and I'm psyched about finishing.  The fee was expensive, but it seemed extremely well supported (except for the issue with the aid boat at Mile 3).  But it also made me aware of how much harder it is to swim in the ocean (versus lake, etc).  I would have been miserably on a choppy day.  Next year I'm going to try a similar distance in the Chester River, and see how they compare.

Thanks to Matt for coming along to cheer us on, thanks to Cindy and Jeff for the great training motivation, thanks to the Columbia Masters' program and Sue for the great workouts. Thanks to Suzy for the supportive texts! :)
Thank you, everyone, for your support and encouragement leading up to the event.  Knowing there were people cheering me on really helped motivate me when I was out there, tired.  You guys rock!