Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Aqualung Race Report

The plethora of emotions associated with this race are too great to even begin to write about. It was my first race since my crash, and as such, I was very excited. To even be able to compete, to be allowed to swim, to race in the open water was special beyond words. I would be lying if I said I didn’t care about my place or time – certainly I wanted to do well, to have a “fast” time.

But for the first time in a long while, that wasn’t the main focus, or what was driving me.

Instead, the fact that I COULD race, that I had this tremendous opportunity, this wonderful SECOND CHANCE left me emotionally charged.

Race morning: the alarm chirped at 3 am. Early, early early. Luckily, the night before Nathaniel had ground coffee beans and made me scrambled eggs. So all I had to do was flip the coffee switch and make my oatmeal.

Donna arrived at 3:15 am, made a bowl of oatmeal for herself, grabbed a thermos of coffee and we were soon bumping along the road, heading West on I-10 towards Bush, LA (have you found it yet?)

After a quick 3 hour drive, we arrived around 6:30, registered, found the race director, and promptly signed ourselves up to be chaperones for the 800 meter youth swim.

I don’t know which I was more excited about: assisting out with the kids swim OR my own race. Tough call, but as the day was a celebration of my return to racing, it didn’t matter. It was wonderful to simply BE there in the first place.

The first event of the day was the Aquathon – an 800 meter swim followed by a 5k run. It was neat standing on the shoreline, watching the racers take off. For the first time since my accident, I didn’t feel bad OR sad while watching another race. I knew that my time would be within an hour or so.

Next up: the youth race.

After slathering on the SPF 45 and unwrapping my new goggles (Speedo Women’s Vanquisher!), Donna and I headed down towards the water’s edge.

The water was still calm, the 400 meter course a simple out and back straight line. The starting line was between 25-50 meters from shore and in deep water. Treading water would be necessary!

For the Youth Swim, we would be completing one loop. The Master’s 1600 meter would be a two loop course.

In addition to chaperoning the Youth, I figured the first 800 would serve as a great warm-up.

After dawning the pink chaperone cap, I entered the water, situated myself at the back of the pack (with Donna and a few other kids), and kicked out when the starting horn went off.

Even though it wasn’t MY race, I couldn’t help but smile. Here I was, swimming away, voluntarily, assisting with an open water swim.

The kids took off, and eventually spread out. Donna and I remained at the very back of the pack, assisting a young girl. Later I discovered her name was Karis, and she hadn’t been able to practice as much as she wanted. She had a difficult time sighting, but I was so impressed with her steadfast determination. Even though she was in last place, she refused to give up, refused to swim breast stroke or stop. She simply put her head down and swam.

The most challenging part was holding a straight line – and Donna and I did the best that we could without interfering with her race. Donna remained on one side of Karis, and I on the other. If she drifted too far in one direction, she would “bump” into one of us. And we would do our best to set her straight.

However by the end, it wouldn’t surprise me if she ended up swimming 1,000 meters or even 1200 meters. Boy – sighting is very important!

Next up: The Master’s Aqualung 1600 meter Swim!

After splashing out of the lake, tearing off the pink cap, grabbing the blue cap and replacing my new set of Vanquishers, I ran (because I could) back into the lake as quickly as possible. I noticed that many of my fellow competitors remained close to shore or even (gasp!) on dry land.

And there I was: treading water right at the start, watching Donna make her way towards me. I put my head back, let my legs and arms drift upwards, and just watched the beautiful blue sky overhead. I thought about how excited, how lucky I was even to be here. 11 weeks ago, I never would have imagined that I would be at this point. This race was more about the celebration of life, a celebration of recovery than racing. The ability to race itself was just icing on the cake.

Soon, the race director used the bull horn to coax the rest of the 40 or so swimmers into the water. I just treaded away, ready and waiting for the start to finally begin.

As I lined up (towards the front, but not anywhere close to where I could be potentially swum over), I let one big-looking guy with Swedish Goggles go ahead of me. The last thing that I wanted to do was to re-injure myself with an errant kick or push by a fellow competitor.

The countdown began. I could hardly contain my excitement. I looked straight ahead, thought about my kick, remembered my technique, and reminded myself that this race was a great opportunity to work on open water swimming, sighting, and drafting techniques.

And then the start!

Quickly, I take off, feeling my legs kick hard out from under me – just like Jen has had me do in the pool. In a surprisingly short amount of time, I find myself swimming fast through the water, feeling the flow of the water over my head, arms, back, and legs.

After several powerful strokes, I look up only to see my Swedish Goggle friend in my way. I try to pass him on the left, but he moves left. I go right, and to my annoyance, I see his bubbles coming from my right side. I put on a quick burst of speed and pass Swedish Goggle Guy, and see a few brightly colored caps right ahead. But to my surprise (and delight), there aren’t that many.

In a few minutes, I pass another swimmer and correct my line. After a few strokes, I feel a bit of tapping on my feet, and I know that someone is enjoying my wake. I sight some more and a few minutes later I see that I’m quickly approaching the 400 meter turn around. A purple capped swimmer makes the turn ahead of me, and I decide that I’m going to play Liz’s favorite game of “bridge the gap” and catch them within the next 200 meters.

I am at the buoy, and instinctively I remember the drills that Jen has me do in the pool. Without missing a beat, I swim aggressively around the orange ball, kick hard, and pull with all my strength. Before I know it, my stroke smoothens out and I am on the backstretch, past the buoy. This is the first time in my entire life that I’ve rounded a buoy without doing the breast stroke.

I still feel the tapping on my feet, so I know that the person behind me also knows how to round buoys. Or else they were able to catch up quickly.

My line is straight, and I use the purple caps in front of me to pull me along. About half way back to the Start Buoy, I take the inside line on the purple caps, and pass two people. I grinned in spite of myself: here I was, doing an open water swimming race – and I had JUST passed two swimmers in the middle of the race.

I looked ahead and saw one yellow cap in the distance. They were far ahead, but I had confidence in my endurance, knew that my body could handle what I was demanding of it. A few more taps on my toes, and I knew that I was still pulling someone along. Apparently they were enjoying my line just as much as I was.

After another great rounding of the 800 meter buoy, I found myself starting the second lap. My lats and triceps were beginning to feel the strain, but I focused on keeping my pull strong, getting a solid grip on the water, keeping my hips up and rotating, and ensuring that my heels were at or near the surface with every kick.

Very quickly, I noticed a swimmer at my side and then pulling ahead of me. Flustered, I sped up in attempt to keep them for passing me. For 200 meters the two of us played this game: and as I didn’t feel any more tapping on my feet, I figured this was the swimmer I had been pulling along.

Then it dawned on me: I should get in HIS draft, and he could pull me along. It felt as though we were working together! As soon as I thought this, I dropped back on got on his feet. For the first time in the race, I was drafting off another swimmer. He pulled strongly for the next 200 meters, although I didn’t like the course he took. On several sighting attempts, I noticed that we weren’t taking a straight line. But I was unsure of weather or not I would be faster swimming my own race – at least this way I was IN someone’s draft, even if they weren’t going on the right course. I was conserving energy. If I was on my own, I may not be swimming any faster and I would be using up more energy.

We quickly rounded the 1200 meter buoy, and that’s when my new drafting buddy lost his line. He veered way left, swimming far off course. For a brief moment, I was torn. Do I go with him or stay on my own?

I decided that I could hold a better line than he, and went back on course, on my own.

And then I felt the work of the 1200 meters already covered. My lats were screaming at me, my triceps ready to give way. The rush of water over my ears and the sensation of water on my skin was unlike any other. I was all by myself in the middle of a lake, swimming my heart on in the last 400 meters of my first race back.

After sighting twice, I corrected my course and ensured that my hips were up and heels at the surface. I could feel the fatigue hit my body, so I used every means possible to ensure that my swim technique wasn’t falling apart.

The final 200 meters were exhilarating, hard, but incredible at the same time. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched my former draft buddy cut a sharp right and veer in front of me. I did my best to find his feet, and managed to feel a small bit of draft, but after rounding the final buoy he took off. It was all I could do to keep him in my sights.

As I neared the shore, I noticed not one, but two yellow caps directly in front of me. I was unaware that there was another swimmer so close: during the 400-800 backstretch, the only swimmers I had seen were the purple capped ones, so I’m assuming that I was gaining? But I can’t really be sure.

As soon as I felt my hands scrape the ground, I stood up. I could hear the cheers from the spectators, but felt the slippery mud between my toes. The last thing I wanted to do was to loose my balance and 1) re-break my back or 2) embarrass myself beyond measure. So I took a quick peek behind me, noted that there was no one else within sight, and half galloped, half walked, and half ran (I know, mathematically doesn’t make sense – but trust me, it looked funny) out of the water.

I ended up either 4th or 5th overall, 1st female. My time was right around 25:11 or so – but I’m not sure as I haven’t seen the results AND I heard this time as I was trying to get the water out of my ears.

The swim was 1600 meters, in addition to the length to shore. So perhaps 1700 meters total? I’m not sure.

All I knew was that when I walked out of the water, I had completed my first race since the Crash. The sense of overwhelming emotions was too much, and it was all I could do to not start crying. A volunteer handed me a red Popsicle stick with the numbers 1 and 1600 on it, and I was instructed to hand give it to another volunteer.

On my way back, I saw Donna emerge from the water, a huge grin on her face. She mentioned that she had just finished, and came across in 2nd! In the end, she had re-passed the gal who sat on her feet for the first 1200 meters and then made her move over the final 400. I was so impressed with Donna for hanging on and for out sprinting this girl out of the water!


Overall, it was a great day. I’m not sure what I had more fun with: the Youth Swim or my fist Open Water swim race. It was so odd, not packing the assortment of gear that you normally would for a triathlon. I came out of the water half expecting to see my bike or running shoes – but I resisted the urge to run, and instead handed in my popsicle stick.

After chatting with other participants, cheering people on at the award’s ceremony, Donna and I drove to New Orleans, had a great afternoon, and made it back to Pensacola before 5:30 pm. Great day for a race, for a road trip, and for making a return to the sports that I love.


rr said...

Hooooooray!! You are an open water swim racer.. isn't it crazy not having to hop on a bike when you're finished??? And you won your first race back. I know I already said that, but it is so awesome I have to say it again. You're a star.

BreeWee said...

Oh my gosh, I needed a book mark for this long post, but it was well worth reading to find out you are such a super swimmer! Way to go and glad you liked it!
Hey, the Hawaii open water swim season is just about to start, sign up for one out here!! We have all distances from .5 mile to 2.4 mile to a 6 miler!

Happy swimming, and when is your first tri back? Have you picked one yet??

Anonymous said...

It is great to have you back to racing, Marit and to nearly 100%! Great job at your race! And, glad you had fun too! Jen H.

Danni said...

Great job Marit!!!
I am so excited that you got to race again. Congrats!

kerri said...

There you are again. Eveytime I come back here--you have conquered the quest of overcoming a terrible injury. GEEZ, you are amazing. That had to be the best feeling ever. CHEERS

Pedergraham said...

Sounds like the perfect day. All of it. I wish I could have been there. FWIW, I always have a hard time choosing between following a bad sighter and swimming straight but on my own. BUT, I think the fact that you have gotten to that point means that you have become a REALLY GOOD OPEN WATER SWIMMER and completely in tune with race tactics. Let me know when you want to go to Hawaii to do some open water swimming. I know a four-year old that would love to have you chaperone her in the water!!!

Ryan said...

"I found BUSH!!!!"

Marit, I am soooo sorry for that lame joke, but I just couldn't resist.

Tell Donna I said "Hi" and "Great Job" on her well earned 2nd.

I am proud of your swimming success and welcome back to racerville.

I love the part of you letting the girl "bump" into you. I would have done the same :)

Sorry for the joke, but I'm mentally a 14 year old boy!!!!

TriGirl Kate O said...

You're so awesome!

Beth said...

Great race Marit!! First race back and you pull out a victory. I think you are going to be undefeated post-crash!! :) Glad you had so much fun. Welcome back!!

Ashley said...

YIPPEE for you (and Donna, pass along my congrats)!!! So excited to know you're back where you belong: RACING and Kicking @ss. The bike/run are not too far away. Go Marit Go!

Cy said...

Way to go Super Star. Fist of all, I can't believe you got up at 3am, and still pulled off the stellar race.

Keep it up!

Bob Mitera said...

Will you chaparone me on the Chicago Triathlon Swim? Maybe Nate can fly me in a helicopter on the run?


Bob Mitera said...

Oh...hey, email me will ya?

robertmitera at comcast dot net


Eileen Swanson said...

Super SWEET!! This is awesome. You are well on your way back. So happy to hear. It's great to hear you so HAPPY! Congrats on your first race back and your super duper swim!


Sarah said...


Why am I SO not surprised you pulled a win on your first race back? :)


I'm so happy for you and it was so great to read the joy in each word of that race report.

Here's to many more excellent races...

Katie Weaver-Jongerius said...

Way to go Marit!! This is just the start...ROCK ON!

tri-dogmom said...

Welcome back!!!!! Fastastic swim :-)

sue said...