Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Great Chesapeake Bay Swim

Holy long swim!  I knew from all the training and those long hours of mind-numbing back and forth in the pool that it was going to take a while but... geez!

I spent the night before the swim at Andrea's house and we discussed strategy.  Mentally, I had to break up the swim for myself.  First, get from Sandy Point beach and into the bridge span.  Then to the first mile marker at the end of the curve.  Andrea's brother told us that mile 1 to 2 was going to be the worst - something to with the currents and the depth of the water and .... to be honest all I really retained from that conversation was that it was going to be a brutal mile.  So the second step was to get through that.  Then it was just an Ironman swim left.  Next section would be to get to the end of the bridge, and finally turn out from under the spans and make my way to the finish at Hemingway's.
Spoiler alert - I finished!  Here's the breakdown of the swim... red line is my path.
I was eager to know the water conditions that day, and was happy that it seemed calm (meaning, no whitecaps) as we drove over the bridge to the parking lot.  Later at the pre-swim meeting, the race director indicated that conditions were as close to ideal as we could get.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Not that it was going to be easy by any means.  There would be a current pushing us to our left, which we'd have to swim against to get under the bridge.  Then at some point, the current would shift to the right, which hopefully would give us a push out of the bridge and into the finish.
Nervous!  Arrived at the park & ride, about to catch the shuttle to Sandy Point
The swim course was defined as staying between the bridge spans.  If you went outside of that area, you were subject to disqualification.  You would also be disqualified for hanging onto one of the pylons, mostly because there were too many jagged rocks around those and it was a safety issue.  There were to be 2 support boats located at mile 2 and mile 3.  You could hang on to those boats, or any kayak or paddleboard, provided the boat was not pulling you along.

So there we were on the beach of Sandy Point, all checked in, body marked and timing chip secured.  Bags were checked, race number tucked under the swim cap, goggles and index card in hand (yet another safety measure because the race directors had to report everyone entering and exiting the water to the coast guard).  I spent some time with Andrea and her crew, said hello to Susan, Tom and John from swim camp, and then settled in with my Team Z-mates for the briefing.  I took my salt tabs and ginger pills, had my wetsuit zipped up and was ready to go [and get this thing over with]!
This was not an in-water start, which meant everyone lined up on the beach and took off when the gun went off.  I had no idea where to line myself up.  We had to swim out beyond a jetty and then make a right to enter the bridge.  Starting too close to the jetty might make it harder to get out there, but starting too far on the other end would mean a slightly further swim, and more against the current.  So... I randomly picked a spot.  Good choice?  Who knows... There was definite nervous energy as I waited for the signal to go.
This is actually a photo Daz took from later in the swim, once I left the bridge spans!
Finally, we were off.  I had my ear plugs in, so I couldn't really hear anything but all of a sudden everyone started racing into the water.  I hesitated so I didn't get kicked and swum over too much.  This was it, the thing I'd been training for since January was finally happening.  I'm not sure if I found a rhythm or not, but I made my way out past the jetty, fighting the current to the bridge.  It wasn't super horrible and that part took less time than I thought.  OK, time to just settle in, there was a lot of swimming ahead of me. 
It was a fight to stay between the bridge spans around my 2nd interval marker (1000yd per interval)
Once between the bridge spans, I didn't really notice the current to much, but boy was it pushing me to the left side.  I really had to fight to stay inside the zone.  Like.. really fight.  It was way too early to even consider giving up, but man this was hard.  I wanted to get closer to the middle, but couldn't. 
The first mile marker came and I was already struggling going into what had been defined to me as the hardest mile.  I was really concerned I was not going to be able to hang on before drifting outside of the west-bound bridge span and pulled from the swim. 

I looked up and saw the first support boat, a lot earlier than I'd expected to see it.  Of course it was docked closer to the east-bound span.  I thought about trying to get over there for something to drink, but there was no way I was going to get that far up the current.  I'd settle for the next boat.
That first interval was smooth sailing... then struggle to stay in the bridges...
7th interval I was really tired... and then a "dash" to the finish!
Finally, as I approached the second mile marker the current seemed to relax a bit.  I was now more firmly in the center of the bridges, which eased my mind tremendously.  Now I could just swim.  And swim.  And swim.  I looked up a couple times but still couldn't see the other side of the bay.  I could tell I was under the highest part of the bridge so it had to be halfway.... right?  I had my watch set to go off every 1000 yard interval, and knew that the swim was going to be about 7700 yards total.  It had only gone off 3 times, but the third time was a few minutes ago so I was probably at least at 3500?  I was getting a little tired of swimming now.
I took this shot after I finished but those are the trusses on the left which I *thought* were close to the end!
I noticed some trusses on the bridge up ahead and figured I just had to get there.  That was going to be my next landmark.  They didn't seem to be getting any closer.  Then I started counting the pylons, except that got boring fast.  I was getting seriously annoyed with how far away those trusses still were.  I must have missed the third mile marker and the second support boat because I knew from my watch beeping that I was in my fourth mile. 
The map kind of makes it look like I went all the way under the bridge, but that's an exaggeration.
I was barely under the bridge, not even all the way on the other side of the single pillar.
At some point the current must have picked up in the other direction because now I found myself drifting to the right.  I'd finally made it to those trusses and decided to breathe to my left for a bit to change up the muscles I'd been using.  All of a sudden the water got dark and I immediately realized I must have drifted into the shadow of the east-bound bridge span.  Yikes!  I swam furiously back into the middle and hoped it wasn't enough to get me pulled.  Luckily there were no kayaks around me and nobody said anything.  At this point I didn't even care if I was disqualified as long as I got to finish the swim and be able to say I swam across that damn bay.
Daz didn't know it at the time but I am somewhere in this shot
b/c I popped up around that yellow buoy only a min or so later!
As I got to the end of those trusses I'd been following, I looked up and was so happy I could see the orange buoy!  That must be the end where we get to turn out from under the bridge!  It was still pretty far away but it made me happy to be able to see it.  My fingers were starting to hurt, my shoulders hurt, my arms hurt, my back was killing me.  I did a few stretches swimming in the fetal position to try to ease the pressure on my back.  Come on orange buoy!
That was a LONG way from bridge exit to finish line!!
4.4 miles = 7744 yards, so the fact that I have an 8th interval marker means I swam extra!
Except, when I finally came up to that buoy, I realized it was only the fourth mile marker.  D'oh! I glanced up again and noticed 2 yellow buoys in the distance and THOSE were the signal to exit the bridge.  Damnit.  Keep swimming.  I was so tired, but at this point there was no way I was giving up.  As much as it sucked, I knew I was physically capable of doing this.  I never wanted to have to do all that training again, and I definitely don't want to have to do this event again.  One and done, but that meant I had to actually get it done.  Luckily, despite my one scare, it wasn't as hard to stay within the bridge spans as earlier when I was getting pushed to the left.
This was the final buoy, outside of the bridge, guiding us to the finish.
Made it to the yellow buoys, I was almost done!  The only thing left was to exit the bay and swim to the finish line.  The night before, Andrea was telling me that it was shallow enough there that you could stand and walk.  I knew I can swim faster than I can walk in water and dismissed the idea.  Yet, as I rounded that corner and saw just how far away the marina was, I stood up in disbelief.  You've got to be kidding me!  I have to swim THAT MUCH FURTHER?!  I was so mad.  Daz was out on the rocks taking pictures and even noted to Joann on the phone that I looked cranky. 
I swam some.  I walked some.  I did some dolphin dives.  I stayed as close to the rocks as possible for the shortest possible route to that finish line.  The end was in sight and yet it was taking forever to get there.  In actuality, it took me about 10 minutes. 
I did one last dolphin dive and started swimming to the end.  Finally, finally, finally, I was close enough to stand up and walk out to the timing mats. 
I DID IT!!  I walked up the short hill to find Joann and Paula cheering.  I paused for a picture and actually got confused where to go.  A nice volunteer pointed me in the finisher chute where I saw my mom, friends and teammates. 
My stomach was going nuts so I grabbed sprite and Gatorade, not sure which would help more?
The chute seemed to go on forever... grab a drink which I was in desperate need of... get your t-shirt... eventually Joann forced her way in the end of the chute to help me take off my wetsuit.  Her, Paula and Daz helped me collect my stuff and pick up my bag drop. 
I got hosed down a couple times and we walked over to the restaurant where Sarah, Dave and Jon were saving a table.  It felt so good to sit down!
We spent the better part of the afternoon hanging out at Hemingway's, hesitant to sit in the traffic that was building up going back west across the bridge.

Bucket list item accomplished.  I will never drive over that bridge and not remember that swim.  I will also never sign up for that event again.  So glad I did it, but it really sucked.  I hated swimming that long.
(skip to 17:30 in the video.  I stand up in the water when the clock timer reads 3:08.20)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Washington’s Crossing [and one week till the bay!]

I'll be honest.  I'm a little sick of swimming.  I woke up Sunday morning and wasn't really super excited about the idea of getting the wetsuit on again, and swimming... AT ALL.  Also, I'd done this event before - the 2015 Washington Crossing - and didn't really have a great swim, so I wasn't too optimistic about it.  I was, however, excited about having brunch with Paula and Andrea, so I gathered my stuff together, made some iced tea, and drove to national harbor.
I got down to the dock, found Andrea and Keith and checked in.  I brought salt tabs that I wanted to try out after the cramping last week at the Reston swims, and took those along with my ginger pills.  I had no trouble pulling my wetsuit on today, and remembered to liberally apply the tri-slide around my neck.  I was ready to get this thing over with!
Jenny, Paula, me, Tommy, Andrea, Keith
We met up with a few other people and all got ourselves ready and talked strategy for how to execute this point-to-point swim.  Keith is Andrea's swim coach, so we listened for some good tips both for this swim and next week at the bay.  I'm still not sure if or how I will carry extra salt tabs and/or gels... something to think about over the next few days.
After the safety briefing we all boarded that boat in the right-hand side of that photo, to be taken to the Virginia side of the river.  The website advertised this swim as 1.3 miles, and then the pre-race email that was sent out said it was 1.4 miles.  As I normally swim quite a bit off course, I wondered how far I would actually swim today? 
I haven't really found a pair of goggles that I love.  I have been using the same brand and model for years, but lately they haven't been fitting on my face as well.  You can see me about to jump off the boat, adjusting them and hoping they would do the trick - these are the ones I've selected for the bay swim also.  The water temperature was right at 70 degrees but felt fine as I jumped in and started swimming over to the start area.
And then we were off!  I hit "GO" on my Garmin and joined the masses.  The suggestion for this swim was to swim close to the bridge as the currents would be going downstream and naturally carry us where we needed to go.  I kind of listened and made a point to breath to my left to keep the bridge in my line of sight.  I was a good 50-75 yards to the right though.  Not a problem now, but I wondered if that would mean I'd end up too far downstream later.
After awhile, I was wondering why I hadn't felt my Garmin buzz with the normal 500yd interval that it's set to record.  I looked up and while the timer was going, it said I had traveled 0 yards.  ZERO.  What?  Ugh.. so frustrating.  I stopped once to adjust my goggles, and was surprised to realize I could stand up in the middle of the Potomac.  Only a 2 second stop because...gross standing on the bottom of that river.  Still nothing on the Garmin.  In fact, it only recorded 122 yards for that entire swim!  I hate not having that data!
That's Paula finishing up... her longest swim ever! Yay!
As it turns out, I never got swept downstream and had a pretty decent path to the exit dock.  I was surprised to see only 43 minutes on my Garmin and wondered if maybe the time was messed up also?  Alas, Andrea's teammate, Jenny, got out just before me and confirmed the time, and Andrea was right after me and confirmed the time also.  Yes, I needed double confirmation.  WOW!  This was literally half the time that I did this swim last time.  And even if I swam exactly point to point without any deviations, it should have been 1.3 miles.  This means that I swam under 2 min per 100 yards for the second week in a row.  We dried off (no chaffing!) and cheered in the rest of our friends.
Tommy, Paula, me, Andrea, Keith
We all did it!  Time for brunch.  The results ended up giving me a third confirmation that I did that swim just over 43 minutes (43:38.9), and even using a worst-case (but realistic) distance of 1.25 miles, which is what Andrea's watch recorded, I still swam 1:58/100yd.  The good news is that there was some decent chop on the river which is closer to bay conditions than the Reston lake, but I am trying not to get too optimistic that I'll be able to have a repeat performance.  Really, just finishing the bay swim will make me happy and I'm hoping conditions aren't too horrible.  I guess we'll find out Sunday morning.  But, I was still quite pleased with this swim and headed home for a lazy rest of the day on my couch.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Jim McDonnell 1 & 2 Mile Lake Swims

I honestly wasn't excited about waking up super early and doing this swim.  I was glad the rain had held off, but still wasn't feeling like swimming back-to-back events, especially with a break between them.  I had to park about a half mile down the road, and immediately John from swim camp.  We made the trek to the lake entrance together and settled into the long registration line.
I was already a sweaty mess when I finally got to the Team Z tents after standing in that long registration line and then another line for the port-o-johns.  Getting a wetsuit on in those circumstances is HARD WORK.  Luckily a few of my teammates and my childhood friend, Allison, were there to offer support and assistance.  Once it was on, everyone said it was time to walk over to the start area.  I will say that I was pretty frazzled going into that first event, not having a moment to myself since I arrived at the lake.  In all the bustle, I had forgotten to put on my tri-slide and sunblock, and was worried about that.  I hadn't really had a minute to catch my breath and think about my game plan. 
I suddenly found myself standing in the start line hoping that my timing chip was going to stay on, since I didn't have time to find a safety pin to secure it.  Finally after announcements and the national anthem they started moving people into the water.  I was in the 10th wave and getting impatient as we slowly made our way up for our turn to walk over the timing mats.  The water temperature was 68 degrees which felt fine on the wetsuit but provided a bit of a sting as I dove in with my bare face and arms.  I was immediately uncomfortable in the wetsuit and with my goggles but was able to make some quick adjustments as they counted us off.  Ready - Set - Go!  We were off and I thought to myself, just take it easy, get your head in the game and find your rhythm.  I avoided people the best I could and made my way into the first cove and around the buoy.  I glanced at my watch when it buzzed for the first 500 yard split and was shocked to see less than 10 minutes - WHAT??
I didn't to put too much thought into what was probably a fluke for a split, but I also didn't want to slow down.  I really tried to focus on the stroke techniques that I learned from swim camp the week before.  Remembering to keep my head down and follow through on my stroke underwater kept my mind occupied.  And then the next split showed another sub-10 minutes.  Holy crap!  As I was on the long stretch heading back to the start area I felt somebody swim into me.  I looked up and it was Allison!  What are the odds?!  I think she started to say something to me, but I was so excited about my time, I didn't want to waste a minute.  I kept going and not only was I able to keep up that pace, but I somehow got myself negative splits!  This is literally faster than I normal swim a mile in a pool.  I'll take it!  I waited for Allison who I knew was only a minute or so behind me, and the two of us had a laugh about running into each other and walked back over to the Team Z area.  Time to sit around and wait for the next event.
During the break, my body kept cramping up.  I went to adjust my wetsuit and my hand froze in a claw position.  Everytime I moved my hands, they would cramp up.  And I was dizzy, not as bad as I have felt in the past after a hard swim, but definitely dizzy.  I didn't have my ear plugs (still in the bag I took to swim camp) and I hadn't taken any ginger pills.  I mentally put both of those items on the "do not forget" list for bay swim.  My teammate offered me some food, and I took it, and had already had a bunch of water.  Not sure what to think of this other than to make sure I have some salt tabs with me for the bay.  But this is weird after only a single mile.  And I still had 2 miles to go?
I really had zero desire to swim 2 more laps around that lake, but it was time to start making our way over to the start area again.  I did remember to put some body glide on my neck and apply sunblock.  what I did not remember was that our swim coach had recommended that we practice nutrition by stuffing a gel packet into our wetsuit.  During bay swim we will be on our own for nutrition, and 3+ hours is a long time on the water.  I guess that will be a game-day situation.  Anyway, there we were back in line for the second event, and I ran into a few others from swim camp - Brian, Tom and Susan, and I think a couple of them will be at the Chesapeake Bay swim also.  More familiar faces!
I still had some cramping, especially in my left hand, but I tried to ignore it as I settled in to the first of two loops for the 2-miler.  Allison wasn't doing this event and instead walked along the edge of the lake cheering.  I followed her until the turn around the first buoy and even tried to wave once.  The next section to the end of the lake felt longer this time and I started feeling the wetsuit on my neck, despite the body glide.  Ouch, ouch, ouch, with every stroke.  Nothing I could do about that now. 
At the first split, I could tell that I was slowing down, but I was still going faster than my original predictions for this event.  For comparison purposes, the practice swim I did in Luray last month was 2:43 /100yd and just over a mile and pretty similar conditions (or dare I say this lake was even a little rougher than the condensed course of the practice swim).  I was blowing this pace away today!   And I was passing people.  A lot of people.  It really helped that everyone separated out pretty well and I didn't have to worry about getting kicked or swum over.
Finishing up that first loop was a good feeling and I just had to go around one more time.  One more time swimming into the cove.  One more time with the long stretch to the far end of the lake, which I am pretty sure felt longer and longer each time (though the map shows me turning in the same spot each time... huh).  One more long straight shot back to the drain, and one final time around the drain and I was on my way to the finish line. I was still passing people.  I felt good, though I was a little concerned with how I would feel when I stood up, given how dizzy I felt after the one more event, and I knew my body was already reacting.
I was so freaking happy to be out of the lake!  To my surprise, I didn't have any issues standing out or walking over the timing mats.  Allison was there taking pictures, so I met up with her and we walked back over to our area.  Time for that wetsuit to come off!  The cramping had eased up, though now my arms were shaking, likely a result of muscle overuse.  I didn't feel too dizzy either.  Phew, though I'm still going to make a point of making provisions for bay swim (ear plugs, ginger pills, salt tabs).  I sat around with Allison and Kim for a little bit and we helped take down the Team Z tent.  Taper time!  Only one more long swim before the bay.

Time for brunch!  These ladies, Daz, Sweeney and his friend, Dave, met us for brunch.  Then after a shower at Joann's house, a few of us went to a winery and out to dinner.  I was exhausted by the end of the day and was happy to crash in my bed.