Friday, November 3, 2017

Gansett Half Marathon

I swear, this sounded like a good idea when we all signed up!  Heidi W needed to find a race in Rhode Island (on her way to all 50 states).  It had been awhile since I'd been to visit Heidi T and she agreed to the fall race also.  It was mid-summer when we registered but planned on a nice crisp fall day come late November in New England.  Wrong.  I joined Heidi W for a few long runs, but ran into some achilles pain in one of our last training sessions and we ended up taking uber back to our cars (part b/c of my achilles... part b/c we mis-judged the circumference of the lake...would have been over 20 miles!).  This meant my last meaningful run was a full month before the race.  Then I made the rookie mistake of taking brand new running shoes out of the box and putting them in my weekend bag without even trying them on.  Bad idea.
The weekend started out well enough.  I had an uneventful flight into Providence and hung out with Heidi T for a low key afternoon and evening.  Heidi W arrived Saturday and we did the trip to packet pick-up, ate the most amazing pretzels in Westerly (yep, if the afternoon snack makes it into my blog, you know it's good!) and got ourselves ready for the event.  A 10am start meant no early alarm clocks - yay!

Race morning, we lined up at the back of the pack and were literally the last people to cross the start line.  It was a position I would be well familiar with for the entire race, less a couple minutes here and there.  Heidi T went ahead to semi-join her pace group and Heidi W decided to run the first mile with me.  I jogged most of that first mile until the right turn which I knew was a pretty big hill based on our driving course preview the day before.  I have a pretty fast walk though and stayed with Heidi. 
We noticed the sweeper cyclist right behind us - like literally right on our heels - and Heidi asked him if he intended to stay that way the entire course.  "Yes, unless somebody else falls behind you" - Ugh.

When we made it to the top of the hill, which was a little longer than I had thought it would be, Heidi decided to pick up her pace a bit.  That left me all alone with the cyclist who was still maintaining less than a car length of space between us.  He was also announcing, rather loudly, to each volunteer that I passed, "this is the last runner, you can finally go home..." -- umm, I can hear you!!  There were a handful of people I could see in front of me and my goal was to keep pace with them and not fall too far behind.  I spotted Heidi T on the first out-and-back portion and she seemed to be running at a pretty good pace.  I kept trucking along, jogging and walking, not in any particular interval set.  We were on the shaded part of the course and I was trying to enjoy it....for a late October day in Rhode Island, it was pretty hot!
I was getting a little [more] irritated with the cyclist right on my ass, so when we got to the downhill section, I let gravity take over and picked up my speed.  I passed about 3 people and was feeling pretty happy to have finally lost my escort.  We made the turn onto Ocean Drive and I knew I had to try to keep up a slightly faster pace because these people were not too far behind me and could easily catch up and pass me again.  Normally I don't care about my position in a race, but that cyclist was so annoying!  Of course, about a mile later I heard the familiar sound of tires on gravel right behind me... "You really picked up some speed and passed a bunch of people......but they all dropped out so now I'm with you again".  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!! 
Hard to see but the cyclist is in this photo!  He's so close to me it looks like I'm the one wearing a bike helmet!
The cyclist also mentioned that I was doing OK with my pace and was likely ahead of the cut-off limit.  Uhh... the cut-off limit???  I had scoured the website before signing up (like I always do) and never found anything indicating a time limit.  I was at a 14:30(ish)/mile pace and wasn't super concerned, but I was less than halfway and the fact that he mentioned a limit made me nervous.  He told me that his direction was that anybody not at mile 10 at 2:45:00 would not make it.... oh.... ok..... no problem.  Why did he even bring it up?  I was WAY ahead of that limit.  What's weird was that he kept mentioning it, which made me glance at my watch a lot more than I'm used to.  At one point, a volunteer started jogging with me telling me she was going to help get me through the upcoming intersection.  It seemed super nice, but the sense of hurriedness that everyone imparted on me was concerning.

I made it to the turn-around and saw Heidi W.  I was last by a decent margin so I didn't feel bad taking extra water at all the water stops.  Heading into the halfway point, I realized I had not taken in any salt or nutrition.. D'oh!  Stupid, stupid, especially considering how warm it was.  I grabbed the gel out of my race belt and chugged it, but it was probably too little too late.  My hands were really swollen already with about 6 miles left to go...and it was getting hotter.  There was plenty water on hand at all the water stops, but I do wish there had been some Gatorade or other non-water option.  I heard later that there had been something, but they must have run out by the time I made my way through.
My calves started cramping up pretty bad whenever I was jogging, and my left achilles was really bothering me, so by mile 8 I decided to [speed] walk the rest of the way.  One volunteer actually told my cycling escort that he didn't need to stay with me, that there were a bunch of people walking just ahead of me and it was fine for him to go see how they were doing also.  So he went ahead, chatted with the person about 50 yards in front of me for a min... and then came right back to me!  Seriously.  I actually worked my way past another woman, but wouldn't you know...she ended up dropping out also.  The cyclist kept telling me to try to catch the man up ahead so at least I wouldn't be the last person, except my position among other people couldn't have been further than anything I cared about. 
At mile 10, I took out my phone and my hands were so swollen that I could barely operate it to send Heidi T my pace, so she'd have an idea of when to expect me to finish.  I remembered I had my salt tube, and shortly after a volunteer came driving by offering us BOP'ers a full bottle of water which I used to wash it down.  The mile markers actually seemed to come and go pretty fast, and it probably helped that the race had half mile markers for ever mile.  I really thought it would be more windy along the coast, but the sun was burning down on the back of my neck and I wanted to be done.  I finally gave in and started up a conversation with my cycling buddy.  My pace slowed down considerably, but I did enjoy the company to get me through that final part.  Turns out he is a swimmer and thinking about doing the Save the Bay swim next summer.  
So happy to be finishing... and there's Heidi W in the green shirt, proof that she was actually there!
Finally I was at the seawall which indicated the final mile of the course.  There were a bunch of cars parked and I wasn't sure if I should hop on the sidewalk or stay in the road...but there were a lot of pedestrians on the sidewalk and the racer (I use that term loosely) in front of me - who had his own volunteer escort - stayed in the road, so I did too, even though there were a bunch of cars passing us.  I was hot and swollen and very uncomfortable.  Heidi T popped out from behind the parked cars and kept me company for the final part.  There were actually a bunch of people at the finish line cheering which was quite impressive, especially for a smaller race.  I'm used to desolate finish lines... it was nice.  And I was done!  Yay!
This is Heidi T's medal and her photo that I stole cause I think it looks really cool
The Heidi's and I made our way over to a bench so I could rest for a minute.  Both big toes were extremely bruised thanks to my poor shoe decision.  Sitting was probably a bad idea though... when we stood up, the hot spots on my feet made for very painful steps.  Heidi T offered to go get the car, and Heidi W gladly volunteered to wait with me.  A shower, lunch and lounging around were on the agenda for the rest of the day.  It was an early bedtime, and Heidi W and I had an early flight (4:15AM alarm!) home...straight to work and back to reality. 

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.