Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Deer Point Lake Race Report




I never realized how painful a 40K bike time trial could be. Holy Cow! But I’ll get to that in a different post – this is the Deer Point Lake Open Water Swim Race Report! Enjoy!

Race morning dawned early and not-so-bright. It was still dark outside as I pulled onto I-10 at 4:45 am.

There’s something so wonderful about only packing for a single-sporting event, and it took me a mere 10 minutes the night before to throw my bag together.

Bathing suit? Check.

Goggles? Check.

Swim cap? Check.

Towel? Check

Okay – good to go!

Arrived at race site by 7:15 and noticed an abundance of tri bikes with their race wheels. My eyes grew bigger as I parked next to a pickup with a Litespeed and HED tri spoked wheels. Strapped to the car directly across from me was a Cannondale with Zipps.

Did I miss something?

As I registered, I discovered that most of the local Panama City Area triathletes had decided to bike and run after the swim. Additionally, there were a few from Okaloosa County and a few others from Tallahassee. I figured they must be serious, race wheels and all.

Oh well. Maybe they were overcompensating for their lack of swimming ability? The through briefly flickered through my head as I walked down to the lake’s edge.

With about 20 minutes until race start, I jumped in and began my warm-up. I briefly contemplated swimming out to the first buoy and back, but then thought better of it. Even though this was “just” a lake, I had always been told to “swim with a buddy”.

I looked around.

Everyone seemed to be talking, gathered at the water’s edge, their heads bent close in discussion. I felt a little awkward and shy; it’s not in my nature to approach a large group of strangers and ask if any want to be my “swim buddy”.

Eventually I approached a bikini-clad girl who confessed that this was her first open water swim race ever. Somehow, I convinced her to warm up with me, and we quickly set off into the lake.

The water was wonderfully clear, and I could see the sand and smooth pebbles on the bottom. I saw a few small fish dart in between the seaweed and I hoped that they were the only Marine Life I would be seeing all day. Then we hit the seaweed.

It was everywhere. And it reached up to just about 12 inches below the surface. Perfect for wrapping around shoulders, brushing torsos, and making one feel as though Unmentionable Marine Life was lurking and hiding in its depths.

I pulled some of the vines off my shoulders and consulted my Swim Buddy. We decided to head back for shore, and I completed my 15 minutes warm-up by swimming parallel to shore. There was one gentleman who ventured out and I briefly followed him, until he stopped and commented, “We had better go back before we become bait.”

I pushed the thought out of my mind and swam for shore, doing my pickups with super efficiency.

Race start was in the water, just past the finish-line banner (also in the water), in about 2 feet depth. I decided to be confident in my ability, aggressive with my swimming, and focused on the task ahead: swimming a straight course and strong all the way. I lined up right at the start, front and center, next to a fast looking-guy in a speedo and Swedish goggles. The gal to my right looked serious as well, and I thought that I would try and hang on to the leaders for as long as I could.

The horn sounded and immediately Speedo Dude took off, and the gal to my right edged ahead. Within 100 meters she had crossed in front of me and I hung onto her feet, working hard to stay in her draft. Suddenly she veered far left, apparently off-course. The course was set up counterclockwise, and I couldn’t figure out why she was going so far off course. A quick peek while sighting confirmed she was following the Speedo guy.

I quickly decided to set off on my own, and swim as straight as possible. What was the point of conserving energy in someone else’s draft if they were going to swim way off course?

So I continued on, long fluid strokes, and enjoying the feeling of power from my lats. I made sure to keep my hips up and rotating, reaching with every stroke. Additionally, I tried to focus on good head position, chest pressed down and neutral. Much to think about, I know – but technical improvement has been a major theme of my swimming as of late.

Glances to my right and left while breathing confirmed there were many swimmers behind me and on my sides, and I felt a familiar tapping on my toes. At least I hoped it was another swimmer enjoying my draft.

I could see the first pair of swimmers way out to my left, substantially off course. So I put my head down and kept going. For the first time in my life, and for the first 800 meters of the course, I swam straight and true. Every sight seemed to confirm that I was actually going in a straight line. Holy Cow! A few small corrections here or there, and I was back on course.

I rounded the half-mile buoy, made sure to kick and pull hard around the mark, and promptly crashed into another swimmer who had kept going straight past the buoy. I saw stars, was briefly stunned and took a few seconds to shake out the ringing in my ears. Weather or not we exchanged pleasantries, I have no recollection. I just put my head down and kept swimming.

The two people on my feet passed immediately, and I worked hard to get back into their draft.

The girl ahead of me dropped back and I moved up to the guy in the lead, enjoying his draft. His course was a bit more zig-zag in nature, but every time I made a move to swim around him, he sped up. So I dropped back and bid my time.

200 meters later we rounded the backstretch and entered the final 600 meters of the race. In my mind, I broke down the distance: 2 X 300. Simple. Easy. I had done it a zillion times in practice. I could be done in as little as 8 minutes.

Every few strokes I would site the course, ensuring that they guy ahead was on tack. For the most part, he was. I could still feel the slight tapping of the girl behind me, brushing against my feet.

Another few minutes passed and I felt the pace slow. This was not what I wanted; I wanted to keep pushing, keep the pace up, keep hurting the entire time (per Jen’s instructions). I wasn’t content to sit back and wait, so with 400 meters left, I made my move.

I swung out aggressively to the inside and made my pass. Momentarily, the drumming on my feet abated and I kicked out hard to increase the tempo. Head down and adding more strength to my pull, I passed the guy ahead of me and aimed straight for the 300-meter buoy.

Keeping the tempo up, I vowed that I would maintain this pace through the buoy. I promised myself that it would all be over in a few minutes, and that I COULD do this. I could do anything that I put my mind to, and nothing was impossible if I believed. And I believed that I could do this, could maintain my pace.

At the 300-meter mark, I felt the familiar tapping on my feet, and realized that I was towing another swimmer with me. I was pretty confident that it wasn’t the guy I had already passed, which left the girl who had been on my feet for most of the race.

I vowed that I would do everything in my power to keep her behind me, and rationalized that if I was a betting man (not that I am) I would bet on me – the person ahead.

And then the pain hit. Good feelings were gone. My lats were screaming, triceps seizing up, lungs begging for air. But I knew that it was only temporary, the discomfort could be controlled by my mind. And my mind was strong, filled with determination to succeed to push through and beyond. There was less than 4 minutes, I reasoned. And this was nothing in the grand scheme of things. I put my head down and redoubled my effort.

If I could climb Paris Mountain - at 18-20% grade for 2 miles and 35 minutes of climbing - I could do anything. And I could withstand pain beyond belief.

If I could get back on my bike after breaking my back and ride home for 25 minutes, I could do anything...

With 100 meters to go, the tapping on my feet suddenly stopped. And before I saw her on the right side of my body, I knew what she was trying to do. The girl who had sat on my feet the entire race, was going to pass me at the end.

NO! I screamed, unable to tell if it was just in my head or if I had actually yelled out loud. I was determined to do everything in my power to keep my lead; I had lead for the first 1500 meters already, except for a brief 400 meter stretch, and I would be damned if I let some freeloader pass me at the end without a fight.

I took a quick glance forward, confirming that I was on course. The girl next to me moved aggressively in my line, and I felt myself move left, slightly off course. I responded with my own kick, correcting my line and moving back over to my right.

We were neck and neck, stroke to stroke. She sped up and I responded with my own surge, and she matched me. I could feel the edges of my vision begin to cloud from lack of oxygen. My limbs were beyond pain, I was beyond feeling. All I could focus on was getting to that line, and getting there as fast as possible. I was dimly aware of the figure to my right, but I was quickly loosing all sensation.

I sighted one last time, corrected my line and put my head down to sprint. I asked my body for one last surge, but literally had nothing left. Even though the girl on my right and I were completely even, we were approaching the finish line at an angle. I realized – to my horror – that if we crossed exactly like this, she would get the win by virtue of the angle.

With one last Herculean effort, I pulled and kicked. It felt as though I was tearing my lat muscles out of their sockets, that my quads were about to combust.

And before I knew it, we powered through the line and it was over.

It was all I could do to keep from passing out; my lats and triceps immediately seized and I gasped for breath. I didn’t know who had crossed first and at that point, didn’t care. I was focused on myself, on making sure that I didn’t die at the finish line.

Somehow I managed to stop my watch twenty five seconds after I finished. I looked around, and the guy who had been in our pack of three was just commenting, “Wow – you gals really picked up the pace at the end!”

No shit Sherlock! What did you expect? For us to just swim in? Sheesh!

But I just nodded, still gasping for breath.

Duh, I thought. I didn’t want someone who had drafted the entire race to beat me at the finish! But I kept my thoughts to myself and tried to smile. It came out more as a grimace.

I turned towards the girl who finished with me and told her good job.

She breathlessly replied, “You too! You took a really straight line the entire time! It was great!”

I didn’t know if wanted to laugh, cry, or simply deck her. Lucky, my body felt oddly incapacitated, and physical violence was not pursued. Instead I just nodded, replied, "Glad you enjoyed it!" And turned away.

What else was there to do? She had done the smart thing; conserve energy and kick hard at the end. She had swum a very smart race, and I couldn't blame her one bit. Did I think it was chickenshit that she didn't take any pulls? Undoubtedly yes. But a part of me also wondered if I would have done the same thing in her situation. Would I sit back for an entire race and then outsprint someone at the end?

Hopefull not. Then again - I've never been in that position, so I really wouldn't know. And perhaps she wouldn't have been able to swim at that speed on her own. Tactically she swam a great race.

But that wasn't my focus for today. I wasn't concerned with my place, with whom I could outsprint at the end. I wanted to swim hard, take a good line, and gain open water experience. And that was accomplished! Deep down, I was proud of myself, proud of my race. And it wouldn't have been the same had I sat back and drafted the entire time, and then outsprinted the person who had done all the work at the end.

I watched and cheered for others finishing, and when enough people had gathered at the water’s edge who wanted to swim a cool down, I set off with them. At this point, I had many swim buddies! And though we went slow, I enjoyed the peace and tranquility, the feeling of accomplishment that came from a hard effort. My body protested as I tried to lengthen my stroke, and I ended up breast stroking and shortening my reach on free.

Eventually I made it back to shore, grabbed my towel and spare goggles and headed for the car. I still didn’t know the finishing order or even my exact time. But I really didn’t care: I was happy with my effort and pleased with the nature I had swum my race.

After a quick change, I headed over to the refreshment table, devoured a few cookies and diet sunkist and then made my way over to the timekeeper for the final results.

I know, I know, very nutritionally sound. But the cookies looked much better than the cole slaw or pigs-in-a-blanket. There is something just so wrong about hot dogs at 8:45 am. Ick.

In the end, she confirmed that I finished 4th overall, 3rd woman. And one second behind the girl who I did battle with at the end. She could see my disappointment and commented, “It was really close! And you guys were okay – you didn’t get eaten!”

I thought it was an odd comment, so I asked about it.

“Oh, we’ve got quite the alligator population in the lake. And just last week, there was a shark caught near the dam. A small one, though. Only 6 foot. There have been larger ones, you know?”

No I didn’t, but think you very much.



So that was the reference that one of my swim buddies made before the start. Great.

But I was no worse for the wear, happy that I finished, and only slightly disappointed with the results. I was really please with how hard I worked, happy that my line was solid. And even though I was beaten in the end by less than a second, I was happy.

A really good experience, a great effort, and solid performance on my way back from recovery. And the best yet? I didn't get eaten by the local alligator population and didn't become shark bait. How cool is that?


Beth said...

Great job Marit!! Way to duke it out at the end and give it your all. The whole drafting and then just sprinting at the end? Yeah - that's why we are triathletes and not cyclists! I could never take that all the time!!! :) Regardless - great to hear you had fun and swam hard and didn't get eaten by any alligators. Mission accomplished!! :)

Mel said...

I wish someday I will be even slightly fast enough to draft off of someone or even better, someone to draft off of me...any takers:)Great job on sticking it out.....you should have flashed her your scare and said OH yeah you cheater you think you are tough...look at this!!! This is just the beginning of you coming back...EVERYONE better watch out:)

Greg Remaly said...

way to go, marit!

you know, as someone who as led a number of packs 95% of the way just to have a few guys beat me into transition b/c they saved their energy drafting off of me, I feel your frustration.

On one hand, swimming out in front is so much more satisfying and it's great being in control of your pace and direction.

On the other hand, you don't want to give the advantage to someone else on a silver platter. So what I will do one of two things if the drafters are bothering me:

1) stop. veer sharply off to the side, turn on my back, and let whoever is directly behind me take the lead for a while.

2) SURGE! changes of pace really work if you're going slower than you could before surging. otherwise you're too tired to up the pace for very long.

But it sounds like you're well on your way to becoming a great open-water swimmer on your own - great job!

Steve Stenzel said...

I'm proud of you for not decking her...

And yuck, seaweed.

WAY TO GO!!! Nice swim!

kerri said...

Way to go!!! MCL. Loved that race report was a nail biter the whole read. How good did that feel to race again???? YAHOOO.

Courtenay said...

great report marit! i have been checking your blog like 50 times a day since saturday, hoping for good news and good reportage... thank you for not disappointing ;)

Damie said...

Way to take control over your own destiny. I love it!!!!

Wes said...

Sharks and gators? Not listening... {fingers in ears} nah, nah, nah :-)

Nicely done, Marit!!! Shame on you for making me go look up your time ;-)

Leanna said...

Marit! I am the "bikini-clad girl" -Leanna! I googled deer point lake to find the results and up popped your blog! You're amazing with all that work out stuff. Crazy!

You know, if it weren't for you, I would've drowned, becuase I wasn't planning on warming up (to save all my energy for the swim) but after that breif warm-up with you... I relized that it was important and really helped! So I want to thank you for that!

Also, that girl who beat you by one second was in a different age group. So she doesn't count. You got 1st in your age group! If you would've stuck around, you would have gotten a trophy and a medal!! I got a medal too, for 3rd (we're in the same age group). So, you are awsome!

You were right not to eat any of the pigs in blanket things! Gross! I'll be looking for you at other events in Panama City! Glad you made it out.

Sarah said...

OOOOOHHH MARIT!!! I was hanging on to every word...just hoping it was going to end the way I wanted it to...which was for you to have beaten her in the end.

Still...it's like they always say...you learn so much from the races you don't win at. I've no doubt you are on your way to being an incredible open water swimmer, and i can't wait to see how your future events go!