Saturday, September 01, 2012

Racing Underground 1.2 Mile Swim

Trying to squeeze in the last little bit of open water swimming left at the Rez so I decided to take advantage of Racing Underground's Open Water Swim race this morning.  Mostly I wanted to get some confidence for Nationals for the mass swim start.  I've never done a mass swim start, always had waves.  The Stroke and Stride a few weeks ago was a mass start with about 91 people but last year there were 255 people at Nationals.  And while this is nothing compared to an Ironman mass start of perhaps over 1000 people (you can check out photos here if you want to see how scary that is and huge kudos to Molly who just finished this Ironman and threw herself into the fray of the swim) to me 255 people all at once is an intimidating proposition.  So I wanted some practice to build my confidence.  I also wanted to experiment with pacing and pushing myself a little harder in the swim than I normally do.  Plus I love swimming in open water and last week is the end of swimming in the Rez for the year.  It was such a gorgeous morning, so glad I went.

This photo is from practice a week or so ago but you get the idea.

I'm at the Rez by 6:20 a.m., plenty of time for the 7:00 a.m. start.  I watch a beautiful sunrise over the Rez and pull on my wetsuit.  As I'm squeezing into the neoprene I see a father helping his 11 year old daughter put her wetsuit on for the first time.  So cool to see such a young girl at an event like this and she does indeed finish the 1.2 mile swim, her dad swimming with her.  Can't imagine doing something so intimidating when I was 11.

The race has a total of 198 people and is a mass start, sort of.  There are no waves but it's chip timed and you can pass over the timing mat whenever you want so there's no advantage to starting with the pack and people can wait for up to 15 minutes if they're nervous of swimming in the pack.  But I'm here to practice swimming in the pack so I seed myself where I think I'll be at Xterra Nat's., about 2/3 of the way back in the pack.  My plan is to swim the first half of the race easy then pick up the pace for the second half.

The course looks intimidating from the shore line - one large 1.2 mile loop.  I can't even see all the buoys at once from a single spot on shore.  You can do either 1.2 miles or 2.4 miles, the distance of the swim for the 1/2 and full Ironman.  And Racing Underground is so well organized and accommodating that you can change your mind about what distance you want to swim during your race, you just have to tell them what you swam when you get out.  I've chosen 1.2 miles since it's closer to the 1500 meter distance that I'll have at Nat's.

I start the race feeling confident.  No jitters or panic-y thoughts.  It's crowded but not too bad and I find myself on the outer edge of the group.  We're swimming directly into the sun so I can't see the buoy at all and all I can do is follow all the splashing.  I have no idea where to position myself in the crowd for a straight line to the buoy so I fall into the group as best I can but somehow keep finding myself on the outer edge.  I get jostled around a little, a few light kicks and slaps but nothing scary or crazy.  Best part is that I'm totally confident, no worries or panic at all.  The water is warm-ish, probably 70-71 and with the morning sun there's no chill to it at all.  Average temp. for Nat's. is 65 degrees, similar to what I had at Mountain Champs.  Cold but do-able.

I pass a bunch of people for the first half of the race then when I make the turn for the journey back I find myself mostly on my own.  I can see a pack of people up ahead and try to catch up but they're out of reach and if anything moving ahead of me.  Despite all the people I'm never able to catch much of a draft and the rest of the race is a bit lonely.  I pass a few people, a few pass me but mostly I'm alone with my thoughts.  I shift around focusing on various aspects of my stroke, especially pulling hard and getting the most out of each stroke.  I pick up the pace as planned for the second half but the buoys seem to take forever to pass by compared to the first half.

The course sits on a funny angle in the Rez and when I come around the second to last turn I can't see the finish line and I'm completely disoriented.  I've been battling to keep ahead of someone coming up behind me but I stop to tread water for a moment and get my bearings because I'm wondering if I've swum past the finish and started a second lap.  It takes a few moments but I finally spot the finish and get going again but the person has passed me and another has caught me up.  Oh well, I'm here for practice and the lesson here is to follow the buoys and don't doubt the course.  If I'd kept going for another couple minutes I would have seen the finish after the next turn.

Finally I see the finish and it can't come too soon.  I can't figure out why I'm so tired though, I've been swimming 3000 meters/3281 yards for a good chunk of July and August and only in the past weeks went down to 2000 m/2187 yards.  At this point I'm very glad I don't have another lap to do.

I get out and immediately see 2 people I know from masters, one of which was at the Stroke-n-Stride a few weeks ago.  It looks like they've been done for a while and I'm surprised to see them out of the water so long before me because at masters we're pretty close in pace and I was only 9 seconds behind one of them at the Stroke-Stride but I figure maybe they started well ahead of me.  I'm wrong though, their times are about 4 minutes faster than mine.  In the end my time is 44:05 for an amazingly slow pace of 2:05/100 yards.  I'd almost think the course was measured long but I came so far behind people who normally swim close to my pace so I'm sure it was me and not the course.  On the plus side I came in 2nd in my age group out of 9.

I can't believe I was so slow, I really felt like I was pushing myself the last half of the race and especially at the end when I was fighting to stay ahead of a couple of people.  I think it's a sign that I'm not yet recovered from my race last weekend.  I've also had a bit of a hard week physically and the fatigue yesterday was terrible.  I'm feeling better today but obviously not all the way recovered yet.

Came home and dug up/re-seeded the lawn.  Exhausting work, I don't even want to know what my back will feel like tomorrow.  And oh yes, I have an agility trial tomorrow.  Gotta love summer.


Water temp. approx. 70-71 degrees, air temp. high 60's

1.2 miles/2112 yards

44:05 (2:05/100 yards pace)

2/9 Age Group

21/53 women

36/84 overall


  1. Definitely a sign of being tired from racing last weekend. And sometimes with swimming, you (well, I) have those bad days that just don't make much sense. Better to have it now, on a practice day, than at Nationals!

  2. Beautiful sunrise! Probably like agility, the best thing about getting up at o-dark-thirty is the beautiful skies and lighting as the sun comes up.

    Congrats on your 2nd place in your age group; I think you must be right about not being fully recovered from the previous race, but it's great that you felt confident so you didn't have to worry about feeling not confident at the next one. Funny the things one has to practice sometimes!