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
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.