Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim!!! (4.4 Miles)

The month or so leading up to this swim was definitely a bit of a roller coaster ride in my personal life, and there were some pretty tough things mixed in with some pretty amazing things.  I got in a car accident that set my training back a week and a half, and had insomnia that lasted longer than the usual 2-3 week cycle and didn’t break for more than 4.5 weeks – that was tough.  But the good things in my life outweighed the bad, my coach is a sports medicine doctor and helped me through the neck pain I was dealing with and helped keep me positive (and had a lot more confidence in me than I had in myself), I spent wonderful quality time with friends and family, and I discovered that I am so lucky to have the people in my life who support me that can get me through anything and are always there to celebrate life with me. I didn’t get all the training in that I wanted to, but life gets in the way sometimes and you just have to go with it.

Sometime on Thursday night before the race I started to get insanely nervous, almost shaking with anticipation, and I wanted to hit the fast forward button.  I decided to go to open water practice on Friday night to loosen up and I was glad I did, it was relaxing and I got to swim with fun people, and every time I previously had gotten in the water that week I felt sluggish so I needed a good boost.  The day before the race, I headed back to Norfolk to see a friend get married, and then got on the road with my mom.  We got to the hotel around 10:45 and I zonked out around 11:30, using my ***new*** guided meditation for insomnia video that has helped me battle my insomnia recently, but unfortunately I woke up around 3:20am and couldn’t get back to sleep until 5:30/6 ish and my alarm was set for 7:15 – sounds pretty late for race day, but the race wasn’t until 10:45.  I ate my usual pre-race cinnamon crunch bagel from Panera, chugged some water, heed electrolyte drink, and lots of green tea, and headed on to Sandy Point State Park.  It was a lot easier to find people than I thought it would be, and in the first 30 minutes I found my coach and ran into a friend I swim with for open water practice with Peluso.  I checked out the water temperature at the beach to see how it felt, and it was a lovely 73-74 (according to NOAA), which is PERFECT since I had my heart set on swimming without a wetsuit (not a huge fan of wetsuits, they change my stroke and make it harder to kick, which is my strength).  My nerves finally caught up to me about an hour and a half before the start, and I was in meltdown mode internally, terrified I might get pulled for one of the million things you could do wrong to get pulled for, or that I might not finish, just ALL THE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS.  These didn’t go away until right before the race started and a girl next to me was super chatty and helped distract me from my nervousness a bit.  And, for the first time literally ever before any swim or race, I made the sign of the cross.  I’ve seen people do it a million times before a race but never personally felt the urge to until this race. 

Now for the real race info!  I have to say, I’ve been spoiled by Peluso races and how well Jay puts on a race.  I could barely see the buoys from shore that we were supposed to enter the bridges between.  They looked like tiny multicolored beach balls, which seems silly since it can’t be too hard to find and use the large, neon, single color buoys Peluso uses for races.  I made the mistake of starting toward the middle of the pack on the beach, so there was a lot of flailing, elbows in the face, and being swum over top of and such in the beginning of the race, and it was pretty much impossible to sight for the buoys until I was about 50 feet away from them, I just had to trust the pack knew where they were going. (I only saw one buoy so I am not even sure if I entered between them or outside them, but I didn’t get pulled so….)  Getting into the bridge was a little scary, as I am afraid of swimming through bridges, and I definitely got a little close for comfort to the pilings. I followed Coach and the race director’s advice and stayed close to the left bridge initially, but when I ended up way too close for comfort again to another piling, I bee lined it for the middle and stayed more in the middle of the two bridges for most of the rest of the swim.  Once I was between the bridges, the race started to thin out, which was good because I hate swimming super close to other people.  The first mile after that went fairly smoothly, there was a bit of chop but nothing terrible, and I had a twinge in my shoulder which worried me a little, and although it never went away for the duration of the race, it never got significantly worse either.  Swimming between the bridges wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be, it actually ended up feeling pretty cool and was a bit enjoyable seeing the bridges as long as I wasn’t too close to them.  Between mile 1 and 2 was smooth sailing, we were in between currents/tides and the minimal chop in the first mile dropped off.  I reached the mile 2 food boat and had to swim around it, I didn’t feel the need for anything at that point. 

Sometime after mile 2 the tide switched and the current picked WAY back up, pushing northwest, and we were headed southeast.  The chop started to pick up, coming at me from my right, and that is my preferred side to breathe during open water swimming.  This is something I need to work on, I can breathe bilaterally with ease in the pool but that definitely doesn’t translate to open water for me.  I definitely started to struggle between mile 2 and three, and my lower back began to feel pretty sore.  Somewhere in here my elbow started to drop, and I couldn’t seem to engage my kick, which is usually my saving grace, but it just wasn’t happening.  Unfortunately I wasn’t wearing a watch and this was where my negative thinking came in.  I had no idea how long I had been out there, and it started to feel like forever between mile 2 and 3.  Somewhere close to mile 3, I started to taste the saltiness of the water, which is interesting because until then I had been surprised at how unsalty the Annapolis side of the bay tasted compared to the eastern shore side of the bridges last year when I did the one mile it seemed pretty salty.  It also started to smell a lot fishier!  

I finally made it to mile 3 and the fuzzy part of my brain had this hope that it was mile 4 and I had just missed mile 3, because I could almost see the end of the bridge by now, and could I really see a mile away when I’m swimming??  But it was mile 3.  By now my hip flexors and lower back had really taken a beating, and my knee started to hurt as well - random.  It was kinda rough and I had to dig deep at this point.  Luckily between mile 3 and 4 I started passing a fair amount of people, so that was a little boost. I started to get hungry and regretted not eating earlier on in the race, I had some gels stuffed in my suit but I didn’t want to stop so close to the finish.  Getting to mile 4 didn’t just feel like a long time, I honestly thought that it had taken an hour to get to that buoy.  A little bit past the 4 mile buoy were the exit buoys to leave the bridge and swim the last .4 miles to shore.  Again, I ended up too close to the piling of the bridge, and this time I didn’t have anything left to beeline it out of there, so I just had to slowly fight my way away from it.  Not a good feeling at all, because this was the worst chop in the swim so far, and it was honestly a little scary. The .4 miles to the shore, with the exception of the last 400 yards or so, was insanely hard, the chop was awful, I couldn’t really see where I was headed until I got a lot closer and just followed the swimmers I could see ahead of me. The main reason the last 400 yards weren’t so bad:  I started to smell the barbecue cooking at the post race party – it was amazing!!!!  I was able to rally any energy I had left to swim as strong as my wiped out little body could – which probably wasn’t even strong at all.  There’s really nothing on this planet that can motivate me like food. I’ll do just about anything for food!!

I finished in a 2:03.14, and even though I didn’t set a specific goal time, I was hoping to do it in under 2 hours, but I am happy with this time, all things considered.

Things to work on for next big open water event:
  •        Core strength – particularly my lower back! Thank goodness Susan Teasley wants to be my gym buddy, I hate strength training, so at least it will be fun with a friend!
  •         Stop dropping my left elbow when I’m tired!  I have been struggling with this since I came back to masters swimming Fall of 2012.  Maybe strength training will solve this!
  •          Get more comfortable with bilateral breathing in open water
  •          Figure out how to engage my kick more in open water – any and all suggestions welcome!
  •          Get more comfortable in chop – lots of opportunities to do this over the summer.
  •          Sleep more! Insomnia completely wrecked my body over the last month.
  •          Hip flexors.  Stretch and strengthen. – luckily Susan is an exercise science major, putting my faith in her!

Things to remember:
  •          Wear a watch!
  •          When traveling: Bring pillows! Hotel pillows suck

It would be impossible to thank all of the people responsible for getting me to this race as ready as I could be, but I am grateful for my mom who has always been my best friend and biggest fan, my dad who was at my very first open water race last year to support me and has been so involved in my open water swimming which has meant the world to me, my coach for going above and beyond to support me and my efforts and having faith in me, my friend Rob for encouraging me to sign up for my first race last year, the friends I’ve met through training who have been so supportive and inspiring, the Chanco/Happening community that has kept me going for the last 10+ years, the St. John’s community that sent me encouragement all last week, and ALL of my friends and family that have been there for me and sending me messages, posting words of encouragement, and all sorts of other things to make me smile.  

And I’m grateful for the “Dear Kitten” video that went viral recently; I watched that at least 4 times before my race on Sunday morning to calm down.  Watch it, it’s the best!