Sunday, May 9, 2010

Race Report: New England Season Opener - The Swim

(Note: I had planned to do the whole race report in one post, but it just was too much. I hope you'll read the next couple days as I tell you about ocean spray on a lake, a sunken rescue boat, surprise hills, and a good walk spoiled.)

5 Months of training. 20 pounds lost. Improved technique in all 3 disciplines. Better equipment (Ok, new goggles and a rear wheel that doesn't fall apart after 5 miles) And an actual training plan.

I was ready for a race.

Unfortunately, the race I was ready for wasn't the race I got.

The forecast called for wind. I was prepared for wind, with a windbreaker and 3 layers to wear on the bike and run. But this early in the season, not much can prepare you for wind that blows hard enough to turn a placid lake into ocean like chop.

The swim was to be broken into 6 waves. To account for the weather, as we all stood on the beach, the swim was shortened slightly from a box swim around a set of buoys to a triangle that attempted to have the swimmers cut across the chop. As usual the elite men (the red caps) hit the water first, and while these are easily the strongest swimmers among the field; it soon became apparent that trouble was brewing. The wind was blowing the buoys around so much that even the advanced swimmers were continually having to reset their swim lines in order to make it around the course.

Rachelle's wave (the yellow caps) was next into the water. As they waited in chest high water for the start, my wave stood on the beach. The first of the red caps had made the turn around the buoy when Rach's wave started swimming. I really didn't notice much at first after Rach hit the water because it was so hectic. The winds were getting worse and we were being called to wade in.

Standing in the cold water made me appreciate how truly cold the wind was; the water actually felt warmer. At around 55 degrees, it probably was a bit warmer than the air temperature. We got out to the starting point and waited for the air horn. As we stood there adapting to the cold water, I saw a couple of the yellow caps starting to have trouble already, not even halfway to the turn around buoy. The typical chatter and false bravado of the big guys wave died down pretty quickly as we saw a couple of the yellow caps abandon the race before we even started swimming. I hoped Rach wasn't among those who had packed it in that soon.

The horn went and I started swimming. I knew it was going to be a challenge but I had no idea how much so. Even with goggles, it was difficult to see. The wind was blowing the water into a spray on a lake and as I breathe on my right, it was blowing into my mouth as I swam. It felt like the ocean swim I did back at Nantasket Beach in September, except with more overall motion.

Swimming straight in a pool is easy. You point yourself at the other wall, and steer yourself with the line on the bottom. There are no lines on the bottom of a lake, and unless you've done a lot of drinking before swimming; pool walls don't move. It was hard to tell for sure if I was swimming straight because every five or six strokes I'd look up to spot for the buoy and it would be in a different spot than I last saw it. Eventually, I just decided I was headed as close as I was going to get to the right direction, and would adjust as I got closer. As I closed in on the buoy I saw several people together holding on to a life preserver, swimming their way towards land.

Once I hit the turnaround things got easier for a little while. The spray wasn't hitting me in the face. While I was sighting for the second buoy, I was pointed towards shore so I knew that it'd be easier to figure out my lines. Unfortunately, this is when I really started getting cold. My feet had long since numbed and my hands were getting close, but even with heat of my suit, I still hadn't adjusted to the cold water. Between that and my sinuses I had to stop every couple of minutes to catch my breath.

As I rounded the last buoy I took a quick look back and saw that about a dozen folks were still behind me. Knowing I wouldn't be last helped me pick up some steam for the closing 100 or so yards. Swimming in, I saw the ambulance making it's way onto the sand by the launching area, and I assumed someone had succumbed to the cold. I also saw and heard that the rest of the swim waves following mine were being cancelled and the rest of the waves taking running starts back into the transition to do the bike.

I made my way onto shore, and walked as fast as I could up the rather long path to transition. I managed to pass a couple more guys from my group on the way up the hill right before we hit the timing mats. I headed over to my bike and that's when I really started to panic.

Rachelle's bike was still there.

She was in the wave before me, and usually in the pool she manages to do her first 400 about 30 seconds faster than me. Of all the things I expected in this race, it wasn't to see her bike sitting there in transition, at least without her next to it. I stripped off my wetsuit and started drying, all the while screaming for one of the volunteers to come talk to me while I dressed. None of them were listening, as it was mass chaos at this point. I dressed and headed over towards the closest official when I saw Rach come walking up into the transition area.

When we started the effort to do these races together, we also started ribbing each other about who was going to have the worst time. Rach is very competitive and she likes to talk trash. Her acting all big and tough gets me going, and I talk it right back to her. Never more than that moment when she came walking up did I care less who won that day. I was so glad she wasn't the one in the ambulance.

Only later did I find out she almost was. Rach had trouble getting her breathing under control and about the time she reached the turnaround buoy, she had decided to abandon the race. She talked to one of the lifeguards in a kayak and had been given a life jacket which she was sharing with a couple other swimmers who were also in difficulty. Rachelle and the other swimmers near her swam towards the rescue boat.

And that's when the rescue boat sank. Yes, sank. It made the news even.

I hope they don't send me the bill for this.
Evidently, as the firefighters were pulling some swimmers out of the water, other swimmers were pulling themselves onto the boat. The weight balance shifted, and the boat started taking on water and sunk in the matter of a couple of minutes. Though Rachelle had technically waved off the race, because she didn't accept any assistance that wasn't available to everyone else on the course, and didn't actually get onto the boat, she was allowed to continue.

So as happy as I was to see her when Rach finally walked into transition, I'm guessing she was even happier than I was.

My swim goal: 12:00
My actual swim: 18:58
Rachelle's swim: 25:33

My time in transition 1: 6:32
Rach's time transition 1: 3:51

Tomorrow I'll pick up with the start of the bike and finish the rest of the race details (yes, it kills the suspense but I did finish). Hopefully, I'll get the call from Tyler Wright and I'll have some news to share about something more important that just my daily struggles with my weight and training.


  1. Glad both of you were safe after the swim. Hopefully the rest of the race was easier.

  2. Wow. Epic. Can't wait to read the rest. Congrats on a finish!