Monday, August 21, 2006

Open Water Swimming: Tougher Than It Looks

I did my first open water swim competition yesterday, a US Masters event. The lake is about 30 miles from my house, so like a true Ironmom, I decided to get up early in the morning and bike up there in my tri suit to do the swim. Unfortunately, I didn't take into consideration the fact that the sun is rising later and later. It didn't get light enough to set off until almost 6:30, and the registration closed at 8:30. The lake is up in the hills a bit, so that gave me about 1:45 to make 30 mostly-uphill miles, with a climb up and over a local ridgeline to start off. I really had to hoof it to get up there in time, and I pretty much toasted my legs even before the swim.

I've never done an open water swim that wasn't at the start of a triathlon before, so this was all new to me. At first, it felt pretty much the same. I got in the water, scoped out which set of feet I wanted to follow, and we took off at the horn. I got a good draft for awhile behind a fast guy built like a tank, but he was zig-zagging too much and so I took off on my own. As I rounded the last buoy, with about 500 yards to go, that's when things got strange. As a triathlete, I'm used to cruising in to shore, trying to relax and warm up my legs for the bike, and stretching out my arms and back. But in an open water swim, things are different. People started speeding up, really speeding up. The realization slowly dawned on me. This it it! There's no bike or run coming up. I have to finish strong. I started to kick it in. Then that bike ride came back to bite me. I had no kick to kick in. A woman passed me, leaving me 3rd woman back. Then another passed me, leaving me in 4th. That was too much, so I tagged onto her toes and did the old Nascar slingshot maneuver at about 75 yards out, swam all the way up the ramp (as other people got up to run/slog through the water) and beat her out at the finish line. So I was 1st in my age group and 3rd woman overall, with no legs to speak of.

A couple of hours later, a memorial race was held for a local woman triathlete who was killed by a logging truck earlier this year. She had a terrific sense of humor, and was a super strong butterflyer, so they put on a 500 yard open water IM (medley of all the strokes) in her honor. I don't know about you, but swimming 125 fly in the pool is tough. Swimming it in open water, in the afternoon when the waves have started to kick up. Damn near impossible! After drinking half the lake, in the first 50, I started alternating one-arm fly so I could breathe to the side. Then, the backstroke was hilarious. We are all over the pond on that one, with people swimming breaststroke back from the second buoy weaving around the backstrokers. It's hard to laugh while swimming, you get water up your nose. All in all, a great time, and a great way to remember a friend and fellow triathlete.


restless said...

I can't believe you swam again after that first swim! Holy crow. I'd sure like to know more about how you trained to be able to do that.

Toni said...

Wow...that's great! Your last paragraph made me smile. What a nice thing to do! :-)

traveljen said...

Hey, Robin -

You're awesome!
I'm writing an article for a national women's magazine about women age 40 and over who accomplished major athletic feats. I'd love to chat w/you! Please email me at (I think your friend Jody is also giving you my other addy that I check more often.)