Sunday, July 29, 2012

Swimming Long: 10K National Championships

The only thing more fun than swimming several miles around a beautiful lake on a sunny day is doing it with a bunch of your good friends. And once cannot have better friends than the Aquaducks, my Masters swim group.

I have never swam a 10k in my life, nor can I say that the thought of doing so ever crossed my mind. But the Aquaducks have been venturing to ever greater distances and events, and this year the 10k National Championships came to a lake within spitting distance of my hometown, so how could I resist??

How do you pace a 10k swim? I had no idea. I asked around the more experienced competitors, some of whom had traveled from the other side of the country to compete. The consensus seemed to be "Go out slow on the first lap (2.5k), go a little faster on the 2nd, a little faster on the 3rd, and on the 4th lap, give it what you have left." Sounds like a good plan. My personal goal was to finish feeling strong, so I planned to pace the first lap accordingly. I hoped to finish under 3 hours, but had no idea how reasonable that was (or wasn't).

Most triathletes would run screaming at the thought of swimming 10k, especially when the words "No Wetsuits Allowed" are appended. But swimming in lakes is what I love best, and I'm always sad in a triathlon when I have to get out of the water. My only real worry for this race was my left arm, broken twice at the elbow in the last two years. The elbow especially tends to fatigue, and the wetsuit acts as a sort of neoprene brace that holds it together for longer. Not having swum this far without a wetsuit, I was just hoping it wouldn't give out on me before I was finished.

The swim start was a dream, especially after the mosh pit of Ironman Coeur d'Alene just a couple weeks back. As it turns out, open water swimmers are quite polite compared to triathletes. They all swim straight, kick neatly behind themselves (instead of doing big scissors kicks that knock the triathletes to the left and right) and pace themselves correctly. So the swim start goes off without a hitch, everyone just surging forward at the appropriate pace. I concentrated on swimming smoothly and evenly, with a good steady but non-aggressive pace. The first 2.5 loop went great. Water temperature was ideal, probably about 76. The loop was an odd shape, following the shoreline and had many turns. This kept it more interesting than the standard triangle or rectangle that I'm used to. It also meant you had to be good at sighting, and at distinguishing which buoy you were aiming for.

At the end of the loop, you're back near the swim start and you have your nutrition out on a table, so you swim up and take your drink mix or gels, then swim off again. First loop time was 41 minutes for me, but I had a pretty good draft from the big group at the start, so I figured the next few might be slower. As it turned out, the next 3 loops all took me 44 minutes and change, leaving me with a time of 2:56. I was very happy to have broken 3 hours, and my left arm held up through the whole thing with no problems. My only regret is that I didn't strategize and get into a good drafting group. There was a big group that finished just a few minutes ahead of me, but I let them get away from me in the first loop. Considering the time difference wasn't that great, I should've been able to hang with them. As it was, I swam almost the whole thing by myself. Next time I will strategize better!

Overall, my time was 2:56: 35, good enough for 15th overall in the women's field - at the National Championships! I'm happy with that, my first time at the distance. I will definitely do this again, it was much more fun than I anticipated, and strangely easier than I had imagined it would be. It was great fun camping out by the lake with our group, and you can't beat the scenery and camaraderie of this event. Highly recommended (if you don't mind swimming a long long ways without a wetsuit, that is).


Kristin said...

Yikes at 10K swim!! Congrats!!! :)

Marv said...

That sounds like so much fun. I have never swam that far but my goodness, why not? I love open water swimming and the temp sounds about right. No wetsuit: that sounds good too. For me, I seem to always regret the end of the swim during the triathlon.