Monday, August 3, 2009
Tour of the Buoys Race Report
Does anyone else find it ironic that Discovery Channel's "Shark Week" just had to commence on the same day as my 1.5 mile "Tour of the Buoys" Ocean Swim race?
And, we all know how I feel about Ocean swimming. Well - not so much the swimming part. More like the 'I-know-what-is-potentially-in-here-but-I-don't-want-to-think-about-it' part. But in my build towards IM Hawaii, open water swimming without the wetsuit is critical, and I'm willing to do what it takes to improve. So, without further ado - my race report.
I had promised Nathaniel a quick stop at our favorite donut shop before the race. No - I didn't eat donuts before my race, but yes - one was waiting for me on the beach after I completed my swim. Its amazing the selection and variety available before 7:30 am, and he seemed a very happy camper after making his purchase.
By 8:10 we had arrived at the La Jolla Shores, parked in the maze of streets behind the beach, and made our way towards registration and body marking. The beach was packed with scuba people, families enjoying the morning together, and plenty of spectators and swimmers for the 1.5 mile and 5 mile swim races.
After getting body marked (right arm, right leg, and right shoulder - that was a first), I made my way back to Nathaniel and waited. I watched the 5-mile swimmers and their kayak escorts line up on the beach and listened with mild interest to hear what their brief entailed.
The noise from the crowd made it difficult to catch everything, and soon I found myself chatting with one of Nathaniel's friends from flight school who was doing the race. A few minutes later I spotted one of the swimming gurus from Carlsbad Masters, and we talked strategy and race sighting.
"Make sure you sight between the blue lifeguard tower and the edge of the hotel when you swim back in," Jon warned. I heeded his advice and made a mental note of the area. It was one that I was a little familiar with; having swam in this direction with Reid and Eileen (and our seal friend) only a few days previously.
After a quick, 10-minute warm up, I made my way to the starting area and listened for final instructions. I gave Nathaniel a quick kiss, made sure that everything was good-to-go (and really, how much was there to think about - right? No bike...no running shoes...no nutrition...no flat tire worries....nothing except swimming from point A to point B....)
The water temperature was extremely warm, and though wetsuits were permitted (in a non-regulation division), I oped to go without one. I know what it feels like to swim longer distances WITH a wetsuit, know the aid that it gives. My main purpose and goal for the day was simply to work on my OW swimming, sighting, and non-wetsuit long distance swimming. Anything else was just icing on the cake (or donut!)
Instead of lining myself up towards one side or the other, I put myself smack dab in the middle. I wanted to get used to the feeling of being surrounded by other people - which I know WILL most definitely happen during Kona. A few last minute instructions by the safety director and suddenly, we were OFF!
I ran as fast as I could towards the waves, pushing aside thoughts of bat rays and sting rays that love the shallow waters of the shores. I started picking my knees up as fast as I could, as high as they would go - but found myself cursing my height and short stature. Some of the tall guys who had lined up behind me went flying past, their long limbs making their wave-hopping ability seem effortless.
A few dolphin dives later, and some strong kicks to get past the small waves of the surf, I found myself swimming towards the two orange buoys that marked the entry towards the course.
I knew enough to expect a bit of chaos going around the first buoy - maybe 100 or 200 meters from shore - and did my best to relax while swimming through. I angled slightly towards the right and tried to distance myself from the main tangle of people fighting for space.
I found a small group of swimmers heading towards the right - and made a quick decision to follow. Because of the swells, it was nearly impossible to sight the orange buoy at the first Chanel marker, just over 1/2 mile away. But I trusted the pack that I was with - figuring that we were headed generally in the proper direction.
I mean -really? How hard can it be? You just swim....towards that general area...right?
I felt a bit of panic when I noticed towards my left - MOST of the swimmers taking a different line. The lead kayak seemed to be over with them, but the distance at this point seemed too great to make up. And besides - the LAST thing I wanted to do was to make my way a few hundred meters towards my left....alone.
I thought briefly of the lone gazelle getting picked off by a heard of hungry lions - and figured that the safety of my swim pack was assurance enough. If I swam a little longer, well, so be it. At least I wasn't alone in the ocean (a BIG fear of mine.) Don't sharks sense fear....?
But I still thought about the difference between my little pack and the heard of swimmers over to the left. Oh well - I had already made my decision and was sticking with it.
A few minutes later, I was happy to see a kayak escort glide by, and realized he probably felt sorry for how far off course my little group was. I did my best to sight off of him as he lead us towards the "A" buoy. A few strokes later confirmed that not only had we totally missed our mark - but that MOST of the people from the far left group had already made the first buoy and were working their way towards the second. It seems as though my group had been sighting off the "B" buoy all along.
Well - you live and you learn.
I'm not really sure how far I swam off course - and it doesn't really matter in the end. I learned a really great lesson: go with your gut. IF your sighting is OFF, you WILL swim A LOT further. End of story.
Instead after (finally) rounding the A buoy, I figured that I would have the opportunity to pass other swimmers. Yea!
I quickly bridged from one gap to another, doing my best to swim through a few kelp beds. The clarity under water was such, that I could see way down deep below - green kelp stretched endlessly into the deep blue and gray gloom, and I was rewarded with the occasional glint of silvery fish or bright orange Garibaldi fish. I saw a few larger shadows, but felt no fear. Now that there were plenty of other swimmers and kayakers around, I knew I was safe.
Besides, I was on a mission: to catch as many people as possible.
Rounding the B buoy felt awesome - I knew that most of the kelp beds were behind me, and after sighting I could see several clusters of people ahead. I had already swam most of the race without drafting - tactically not a great move on my part. Then again - taking the wrong line wasn't so smart either.
But I put my head down and worked.
The water grew increasingly chopping, but I focused on good form, riding the swells, and sighting off the hotel and distant shore - just over 1/2 mile away. I finally felt as though I was swimming the way that I was supposed to - fast, hard, and with the assurance that I was going in the proper direction. I guess that alone increased my confidence and I felt my stroke getting stronger as the race got longer.
I quickly found myself with a small pack of five or six other swimmers, swam four strokes on one guy's feet, and decided that they weren't moving fast enough.
Hell, I thought, if I can catch them, I can definitely keep going...
So I did just that.
A few minutes later, I came upon a group of two swimmers, took a brief rest on the back of their train, and then sped around them. With each stroke the shore became closer, and gradually I was able to see the pair of buoys that I had swam through at the start of the race.
I upped my tempo as I plowed through another group - not wanting anyone to jump on my draft. I had gone most of the way alone, and at this point, didn't want to give anyone any extra benefits. I came up to one girl who suddenly stopped and put her head out of the water.
"Are you okay?" I asked, concerned momentarily about her safety.
"Yeah - I thought I saw something," she said.
I didn't really know how to take this - but I'd like to think I said something positive. But I'm not really sure. In that moment - I think my brain clicked off and my sole purpose became making it back to shore. I was just glad that she was okay and not (seemingly) in trouble.
Passing through the two bright orange buoys was great, and I fixated on the finish line - 250 meters away. Very quickly, the ocean floor came into view; the sand forming beautiful lines by the ocean's currents. I caught myself marveling at the beauty of it, while at the same time pushing myself to SWIM HARD. I could feel my lats and triceps protesting my effort and I was fearful that swimmers whom I had just passed would latch onto my wake and out sprint me at the end.
I made it my mission to make them suffer if the were on my feet, and did my best to sprint in. Within a few moments, the bottom was close enough to touch and I took one last look behind me to make sure a colossal wave wasn't approaching. I've been knocked over in the surf plenty of times before, and I wasn't interested in doing it in front of spectators. Again.
Very quickly I stood up and half sprinted, half galloped through the shallow waters. Long-limbed people be damned! I'm not letting you out sprint me at the end!
Through the chute - and I was done!
In the end, I had a great time and an even better experience. Its been a while since I did a pure OW swim race, and the benefits that I get far outweigh the suffering or race fears.
In the end I got second in my age group - and was actually pretty excited about it. I didn't expect much, especially after my circuitous route, but was happy. Nathaniel and I stayed around for the awards, cheered the 5-mile swimmers in, and enjoyed the rest of our morning.
As for "Shark Week"? I think I'll take a pass for this year...perhaps next. We'll have to wait and see.