Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Barnegat Light One Mile Ocean Swim Race Report

Back in June, one of my good friends (who swam with me in college) and I started talking about trying to do an ocean swim together this summer. C had gotten back into the pool this spring and was interested in doing a race when I raised the idea. Her family has a house in Seaside Park, NJ, so I sent her a list of Jersey shore open water races that I found and she narrowed it down based on timing and location. We ended up settling on the Barnegat Light One Mile Ocean Swim, which was an evening race (6:30pm).
Some intense storms came through in the middle of the day on Saturday and we started to worry about whether or not this race would actually happen. Checking the radar and hourly forecast did nothing to reassure us. We decided that it was hard to tell what would happen and we might as well make the drive to Barnegat Light. Due to the geography of the Jersey shore, we would have to drive 40 miles to go 10. We got out to the car and some neighbors pointed out that one of C's tires was almost flat. (bad sign #1). We filled it at the local service station and wondered if it had a slow leak or if it was physically possible for the high rushing water during the early storms to have put pressure on the uncapped valve and let air out. C needed cash so we decided to drive across the bridge to Wawa and see how the tire was holding up. The tire looked fine after the 10 minute drive, but the ATM was out of service. (bad sign #2). We went back outside and stared at the very black sky for a few minutes before deciding to continue on our trip, despite the signs warning us against it.

It was still ominous looking when we got to Barnegat Light, but the race was still on so we registered. We had about an hour and a half before the race started, so we drove down to check out the lighthouse. While we were there it started to rain and we could hear thunder off in the distance.

Since we had no spectators with us, we asked the girls working the registration table what we could do with our car key and they suggested digging a hole and burying it. Helpful. We spent some time debating whether it was possible to tie it into the drawstring of C's brother's suit, but instead she ended up securing it to the strap of her suit with a hair tie. By the time we walked down to the beach to get a ride to the start, the rain had stopped. But we were treated to quite the lightning show off to the south. I must admit that I wasn't too confident that the race would actually happen, but I figured that the organizers didn't want to call it off until the last possible minute. While waiting around we started debating the security of the car key and what we would do if it sunk to the bottom of the ocean. At this point, C decided it was better to take a chance with a random stranger so we found some girl whose boyfriend was swimming and hoped she would still be around at the finish.

I feel lucky that I have always felt comfortable swimming in open water. I've never hesitated heading right into a lake or river and starting swimming. Only with the ocean do I pause slightly. The reason? Sharks. Is this a rational fear? No, not really. I'm sure the likelihood that I would be attacked by a shark while competing is far less than any host of other random (or not so random) causes of death. I haven't let this fear stop me from swimming in the ocean, but it's always in the back of my mind while I'm out there. So you can only imagine how I felt when on the ride from the finish line to the start, one of the other competitors said, "I'm not so sure about this swim. Between the lightning and the hammerheads, maybe it's best not to start." Hammerheads?!? I think someone else asked him what he meant, but I somehow managed to avoid hearing about when or where hammerheads were seen.

When the we first got to the start area, there was still lightning off to the south. However, as we were waiting, the storm moved out to sea and there was even a brief period when the sun came out. Several more truckloads of swimmers were delivered and finally we were lined up on the beach and ready to start.

It was very crowded as the entire pack (150 swimmers) headed out to the first buoy. I got bumped multiple times and swam over a few people myself. Although it looked relatively calm from the shore, there was a lot of chop. It also felt like it took FOREVER to get out to the buoy. It seemed really far out when I was on the beach and this was confirmed by the long swim. Swimming so far from shore did nothing to reduce my shark fears, but I tried to push those thoughts out of my mind and focus on racing.

Finally I made it to the first buoy and made the left hand turn to head north. In between the two yellow turn buoys there were six orange buoys, so divided the race into segments and just thought about getting to the next orange buoy. I had hoped that once I made the turn and was swimming parallel to the shore I wouldn't notice the waves as much, but it was very choppy the whole time.  If there is ever a hilly swim, this was it! I settled into a rhythm of left breath (spot the shore), right breath (had to be quick to avoid swallowing the wave), forward sighting/breath.

Although it was extremely crowded getting to the first buoy, everyone spaced out pretty quickly once we made the turn. I could always see other people, but never was able to draft off of anyone. I did, however, manage to swim relatively straight thanks to my regular left/right/sight breathing pattern. I was counting down the buoys and also tried to think about catching and passing whoever I could see up ahead of me. When I got to the fourth orange buoy I tried to start picking up the pace, but I'm not sure that I was all that successful.  I came up to the final yellow turn buoy right behind two women and made it my goal to get out ahead of them.

Like the trip out to the buoys, the return to the shore seemed to take forever. I caught one woman relatively quickly, but the other one remained slightly ahead of me. The beach patrol turned on the red lights on the top of their rescue truck that was positioned at the end of the finish chute and this was extremely helpful for spotting. There were a lot of people standing on the shore so it would have been impossible to tell where to go without the lights. I think I stood up a little early, but it was hard to judge since the water was so cloudy. I definitely didn't wait until my hands hit the bottom. The woman I had been chasing was still ahead of me at this point, but I caught up to her as we were running in the surf and passed her on the run up the beach to the finish line (thank you CAR hill workouts!)

The problem with having no spectators is that you get no photos. But I more or less looked like this. Just imagine that's the ocean is behind me and I'm wearing a silver cap.

Final time - 24:35
3rd in AG
60th overall

Afterwards we all commented about how strong the chop was and how pool swimming doesn't even come close to preparing you for the ocean. The conditions are constantly changing and there's just really no way to predict what you will get. After seeing last year's results when the first 110 finishers were 21:00 or under, I was hoping for a lot of help from the current and a pretty quick swim. That was definitely not the case on Saturday night. Still, I had a great time and would definitely do this race again. As long as there are no hammerheads.

Friday, July 27, 2012

DCRRC 2012 track championships - Mile race report

One of the things I wanted to do this summer was run some mile track races and work on my speed. Potomac Valley Track Club, a local running group, holds a series of summer track meets and I figured I would go to a bunch of them. Unfortunately, once I actually looked at the schedule I realized that most of the meets fell on weekends that I was going to be out of town. So when I heard about the mid-week DC Road Runner's track championships, I immediately added it to my calendar. As more and more CAR teammates committed, I knew it was going to be a fun event.

Since I was traveling for work earlier in the week,  I didn't really think about the race until Wednesday morning. I started to get nervous as I sat at work in the afternoon and realized that I was going to have to actually try to run fast, for the first time in a while. During the warm up I told myself (and others) that the key would be to start somewhat conservatively and slowly pick up the pace. That my target time for the first lap would be right around 1:40 and then I would attempt to speed up from there.

They ended up splitting the women's open race into two heats, sub-6:00 and sub-6:30. Obviously I went with the latter. With the real speedsters in the other heat, I ended up starting in the middle of the track, right on the line. When the horn went off I cut in towards lane one and tried to settle in. I ended up somewhat near the front of the race, not with the pack of CAR ladies that I normally run with. I could see Beth slightly ahead of me, but had no idea where the rest of my teammates were.

I tried to run at what seemed, at the time, like a hard but sustainable pace. When I came around to 400 and could see the race clock, I realized that I was doing exactly what I said I didn't want to do - starting too fast. I hit 400 at 1:29 and decided that at this point I was committed and would just have to try to hold on. At some point during the second lap I caught up to Beth and we ran through the 800 together right around 3:00.

I started to struggle a bit at this point when I stressed out over the fact that I was only halfway and things were starting to hurt. In retrospect, I wonder how much seeing the pace we were running affected how the second half of the race played out. I know that I definitely need to work on my ability to suffer in races. I've never been one of those people who could push themselves to the point of throwing up and I feel like I backed down a bit in the third lap because I was afraid to hurt/die in the last lap.

Coach George was standing at the far corner of the track and yelled at us to pick up the pace because there was only a lap and a half to go. At this point I pulled slightly ahead of Beth, but she surged back pretty quickly. I stayed with her for a little while after that, but eventually she pulled ahead. I think I went through the 1200 at about 4:37 and then just tried to hold on through the last 400.

It was definitely not the last lap of my perfect race dreams. I knew I should be picking up the pace, but just couldn't seem to get my legs going any faster. With about 200 to go I got passed by two of my better paced teammates who were flying to the finish. I kicked it in the best that I could and finished in 6:14.8, a huge PR.

I don't know that I've ever actually raced a track mile, but about a year and a half ago I did a road mile in 6:59, and earlier in July I did a 6:40 during a workout. I was thrilled with the time, but not thrilled with my race execution. It worked out pretty well in the end, but I need to focus on starting races more controlled. This has long been a problem of mine in 5ks and 10ks, so I wasn't totally surprised. Negative splits are a rarity in my races.
It ended up being a great evening of races for all of my teammates, one that ended with team happy hour and margaritas. What more could you want, really?

Thanks Dash for all of the photos!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Maryland Summer Swim Series - Meet Report

After I had so much fun swimming the mile in April, I knew that I wanted to sign up for more meets. The schedule is a little sparse this time of year, but some Internet searching turned up the Maryland  summer swim series and meet number two fit the basic requirements (nothing else scheduled that day and not too far away). Katie had some time in her packed post-Ironman recovery schedule and was up for the challenge.

The only slight complication was that the meet was being held in a 50m pool and I've only been training in 25 yds. I think I swam long course once last summer, maybe? This made for some completely random guestimated entry times. Fortunately there are time conversion calculators out there, so I made my best rough guess at what I could do in yards and wrote down what the calculator spit out at me.

The meet was held at UMBC, home of the Golden Retrievers!

We found the recreation center just fine, but wandered through the entire thing (and right through the middle of cheerleading camp) looking for the entrance to the indoor pool, which contained the exit that led to the outdoor pool. After a couple of loops around the field house, we found the right door and made it out to the pool in time for a super intense warm up and a few practice dives off the blocks before the meet started.

I was not expecting too much given my relatively lackluster swim training as of late, but was hopeful I could beat my totally made up entry times. Because that would show real improvement on my part. Or at the very least expose my total inability to judge my current fitness level and/or estimate swim times.

We both started off with the 200 freestyle and totally dominated our age group. I really have done very little speed work in the pool so I didn't want to kill myself in the first 100 (or 50) and totally die, so I held back somewhat. Definitely more of a tempo level effort than a sprint, as I wasn't comfortable going all out. I finished in a respectable 2:47 something (official results are yet to be posted), slightly off my predicted 2:45.

Next up was the 100 breaststroke. Back in the day when I was a "real" swimmer, this was one of my best events. I've been trying to get in a little bit of breaststroke in the last few weeks since leading up to the tri relay, I was only doing freestyle. I timed myself a week or two ago towards the end of a workout and used this for my entry time.

My strategy for this race was to be a lot more aggressive since it was only a 100. I felt strong, but my sprinting could use a lot of work. I finished in 1:34, significantly faster than the 1:50 I predicted. Oops. As a result of this poor estimate I finished well in front of the rest of my heat, but I really should have been in the next one. I ended up second in my age group, just two seconds behind the winner. Perhaps if we had been in the same heat, I could have beaten her!

Katie then sprinted her heart out in the 100 free, before we both lined up for the 400. Since this was the longest event of the day I approached it pretty conservatively. I tried to build my effort and get faster each 100. When I finished one of the timers in my lane told me that I had more or less equal splits for each 100. Not quite the negative split I was hoping for, but I'm pretty pleased with that. It's hard to avoid positive splits, especially since the dive typically makes the first 100 several seconds faster. I finished in 6:02, ahead of the 6:20 I estimated. Interestingly, when I convert this time to yards it works out to about the same pace per 100 that I swam for the mile in April. I know it's a significantly shorter distance, so I should be able to hold a faster pace, but I honestly thought my pace might be slower. I think I was in better swimming shape in April and May and have slacked off a bit since then.  Results weren't posted by the time we left (it was the last event) and they aren't online yet, so we'll just assume that Katie and I crushed our age group again.

All in all it was a lot of fun. Clearly I will never get back to where I once was, but it's fun to be back in the pool and doing some "racing." The masters meets have such a great atmosphere, low key but supportive. And I am always so impressed by the people in their 60s and 70s doing events like the 200 fly and 400 IM. I know that as marathon training ramps up I will be tempted to let swimming fall off my schedule, but I'm going to make an effort to keep going, even if it ends up being only once a week.