On July 13th I signed up for my first open water race. I have competed in several triathlons now with an open water swim leg, but never an open water “swim only” event. The distance I signed up for was the 4K (2.4 miles), which is the full ironman distance swim (I figured why not add it to my list of endurance challenges?) I trained months in advance at lake Arcadia, putting many miles in to be prepared. And finally, the day had arrived.
I showed up on race day, at Little Elm Park at Lake Lewisville, TX. There were numerous swimmers there — all looking like professionals. Thankfully, my brother and nephew were there to cheer me on. I would need their support. I told my brother he would easily be able to find me out in the water among the other swimmers. I just know I would be the one in the back. After all, I was competing with master swimmers, trained to swim well and trained to swim fast. I would be going at my own pace to finish, and looking to take away a sense of accomplishment.
The gun fired, and off we went! With the lake levels being low, the first 50 yards was an awkward, wobbly run in the water. Once there, I just started swimming and trying to find some kind of rhythm and pace. I am usually short of breath until I settle into the swim, which can take me up to 10 minutes sometimes (especially when my heart rate is up during a race).
This race was a four loop course. I wasn’t happy with that… it can lead to lots of sighting errors. If you haven’t done an open water swim, you must “sight” where you are going. In a pool, you can see the line and easily swim straight. In the lake, however, you have to take quick glances as you breath to focus on where you are going. Sighting too much will slow you down considerably, and sighting too less can easily get you way off course — causing extra distance in your swim.
I finally found my rhythm, as swimmers passed me left and right. “No worries,” I thought to myself, “just keep swimming.” After all, I felt good. Coming around to start my second lap, I swam by the shore. I looked for my brother and nephew every time I took a breath to the left. I finally saw them! I treaded water for a moment and yelled my nephews name — “OWEN!!!” He stood up and gave me an emphatic wave. He looked adorable wearing one of my swim caps (trying to fit in).
I didn’t see them on my third lap around. I figured he got hot or bored. He is only two, so I figured he may also be at the playground. I remember thinking to myself, “I wish I was at the playground.” But just knowing they were near, even just at the park helped so much. At that point, my body started to ache. My back hurt, my neck hurt, and I was getting tired overall. I really focused on my form. There’s so many minor details to swimming that can help make me more efficient in the water. But the more tired I got, the harder and harder it was to keep good form.
Finally, I was on my fourth and final lap. I didn’t see too many swimmers around, and I got a little paranoid. I treaded water momentarily to check my distance on my watch. I saw a guy beside me doing the same thing. He gave me an exhausted but encouraging smile and said “we have one more lap don’t we?” I just laughed and said “yep, lets do this!” I was really glad to not be completely last.
At that moment, I noticed there were even more people behind me. This really gave me encouragement to keep up my pace. “Last lap, last lap…” I kept telling myself. I felt like I’d been out there forever…and I was really hungry. I began to imagine bananas and chocolate milk at the finish line.
Finally, I came to the last buoy, and the final turn to the finish! I couldn’t even get myself to sprint because I was so tired. Closer and closer… can I touch? Nope…swim swim, can I touch? Nope, dang! Swim.. swim.. okay, I can finally touch. I ran across the sandy beach to the finish line hearing my brother and nephew cheer me on!
Final result: I finished 47 out of 53. I wasn’t last and I finished! Looking at my watch, I actually had a faster pace than I did in training, I had a 2:20/100 yd pace. And after downloading my garmin gps tracking, I found out I swam 2.75 miles instead of the 2.4. This means my sighting was off. I ended up swimming 800 more yards than I needed too. A little off here and there over a 4-lap loop ended up causing me quite a bit of time (you can see my red line zig-zagging in the photo below). Can you imagine how well I would’ve done minus those extra 800 yards?!
Sighting is definitely something I can work on, but I am very happy with the swim overall. It was a fun race and I will be coming back next year!
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