Monday, November 06, 2006

Short Race Day

Well, I knew that the two-lap 2.4 mile IMFL swim segment would be the biggest challenge for me having only about a year of serious swimming experience under my belt. I’d practiced swimming the distance in a pool many times before but was very slow (usually took me about 2:00-2:10 to swim 4000 yards) and had NO experience swimming in really rough water conditions. I just hoped race day would not be too bad.

No such luck!

Mother Nature produced a very cold race day morning with temperatures dipping into the 40’s and winds starting out around 12-13 mph. From the shore, the water did not look too bad because the off-shore wind flattened the waves out. But further out, and particularly after rounding the first buoy marker, the water conditions were the worst I could have imagined: heavy chop, large swells and a strong current.

I completed the first lap in 1:07 and thought hard about whether I should head out again. I’d swallowed much more seawater than I should have and had a lot of difficulty sighting and staying on course on the first lap. The water was too rough to resort to much breaststroking or backstroking if I got tired doing freestyle. The forecast was for the winds to get even stronger in the second hour and, for some reason, I didn’t see many water craft out there to help swimmers who might get into trouble -- not good.

On the bright side, I still felt pretty fresh after the first lap and had no seasickness symptoms (earplugs, ginger and motion sickness pills really help!). I also felt like I’d sort of figured out how to deal with the rough conditions (breathing to the side opposite the waves instead of the usual bilateral breathing, timing my sighting with crests and, above all, not panicking). No faster swimmers would be overtaking me on my second lap so I didn’t have to worry about trying to stay out of their way. There was a chance I could meet the 2:20 cut-off.

So I decided to go for it. Before getting to the first buoy, I saw one guy turn back (hmm, perhaps he was smart?). I later noticed that some of the buoys had appeared to have moved off line from the rectangular course. After rounding the first turn buoy for the second time, I was relieved to see a few kayakers out there watching over us slower swimmers.

On the final stretch home, I saw a couple jellyfish swimming below me but none got close enough to sting me, fortunately. About 400 yards from the finish, a guy on a jet ski came by to tell me I’d better hurry if I wanted to make the cut-off. I told him I was going as fast as I could and he gave me a thumbs up. Truthfully, I just wanted to make it back safely at that point; making the cut-off was totally secondary.

I finally came onto shore around 2:26 and shortly afterwards a guy took my timing chip. I should have been very disappointed that my race was over but I wasn’t. I had just swam 2.4 miles in very rough conditions, a huge accomplishment for someone who could barely swim a ¼ mile a year ago.

A total of 23 people did not complete the swim segment in time. My husband saw a person drop out after the first lap. I saw one turn back. He also saw some others hauled back in by the jet ski and, unfortunately, one person brought back in by the boat on a stretcher (Barney Rice died a few days later, very sad.). Five people, including me, were too slow to make the cut-off.

No, I was happy ... happy to have gotten my first full-fledged rough water swim experience, happy to have trained for this race and gotten into the best shape of my life, happy to have toed the start line and met many wonderful people along the way, happy to have gone out for the second lap to see if I could make the cut-off, and happy to have survived to tri again in the future.


Cliff said...


Short is all relative. You swim longer in this 'race' than ppl who finish sprint tri.

Tri-Dummy said...

I'm glad you're proud of your accomplishment. You should be. In my opinion, the hardest part of a triathlon is signing up. The rest is fun. Your great attitude is contagious. Thanks.

marathonchris44 said...

Congrats on toeing the line and finishing the swim!!! I can't even imagine how tough that must have been. You'll have another chance soon!

Baun said...

Sorry to hear about your day Shirley, but congrats on at least toeing the line and finishing the swim!!

You have a great attitude, and you're totally right - live to fight another day! You'll rock next time!

Iron Pol said...

The 2.4 mile swim is the biggest concern I have for Ironman Louisville. Not fear, just concern. Like you, I could barely swim 200 yards in February of this year. I can now swim 1.5 miles no sweat, and 2 miles when training calls for it.

And like you, my pace puts me somewhere around the 2 hour mark for 2.4 miles (in the pool).

Great job, particularly for keeping at it until they took your chip. You could have called it quits after the first lap, but chose to put in 100%. That is a lot of improvement in a short period of time.

Flatman said...

Wow. What a tough swim. I have heard from many that the conditions on that swim were horrible. Congrats on taking on the challenge and starting. You are to be commended.

TriFeist said...

Good job, girl! It was a rough swim and you swam it safely. Well done.

Ellie said...

This is a very well-described account of a difficult task! You are right, it was hard, there's no understating that. You did us all proud.

Stef said...

Soooo glad I came back to read this! I thought I was the "only one" who learned how to swim at 38/39.

Of course I "know" that I'm not but had never read anything like this before. BRAVO!

Hope you don't mind, I am going to link to you.

Emily said...

Leaving a comment over 2 years past the post is a new record for me! I love reading your blog and as I'm about to embark on my first tri this weekend this is very inspiring. (Sidenote: I've done one before but it was about 7 years ago and not very serious!)

I am also very sad about the swimmer who passed away. I can't imagine his family's grief.

Thanks again for the inspiration.