Friday, August 21, 2015

Timberman 2015: Starting with the Swim (Part I)

There’s something miraculous about first races. I think it must have something to do with exploring the physical limits of your own body. What will it do? How will it react? Will it team up with you to get the job done, or will you be fighting tooth and nail the whole way?

I still remember my first marathon like it was yesterday: the anticipation, the nerves. I remember the ankle I sprained the month before the race—how mad I was, how stupid it felt. And I remember the smile that I couldn’t keep off of my face from mile 1 to 26. I was so happy to be alive. I think that must be what true pride feels like.

In many ways, this past Sunday's Half Ironman—Timberman, as it was called—was very much like my first marathon. I had no idea if I was prepared, I had a very stupid setback very close to the race, and the experience itself felt surreal. I smiled for a lot of it. Not all, but a lot.

Let's rewind to taper week. At that point, I had averaged approximately 1 bike ride, 1-2 swims, and a handful of runs per week. This preparation felt like a joke compared to the time and energy I had put into marathon training the past few seasons, and I was really beginning to wonder how I would even finish 70.3 miles (1.2mi swim, 56mi bike, 13.1mi run), let alone “race” them.

Thusly, I set out my A, B, and C goals. In order of descending importance:

A – Finish the race
B – Don’t walk during the half marathon
C – Finish sub 6:30

Kate and Tara apply our specially purchased race tattoos
Goal A became virtually irrelevant as soon as I started the swim. This may sound cocky, but the moment the gun went off and I dove beneath water, with bubbles and feet and arms exploding around me, I knew I would finish. Of course, the moment I started to swim was also the moment that all the potential catastrophes I had been envisioning for the past two weeks—thunderstorms, bike crashes, exploding tires, heart attacks, vomiting, heatstroke—vanished from my mind. I was in motion, and the only place to stop was on the other side of that finish line.

Stroke, stroke . . . breath. Stroke, stroke . . . look for the buoy! That was my swim rhythm, and I stuck to it.

Now, in all honesty, I did not have the greatest swim. For starters, I procrastinated far too long in buying a wetsuit, which ultimately left me “high and dry” on race day. My only real consolation was that although swimming without the added buoyancy of a wetsuit probably added a few minutes to my race time, I also saved myself $100-150 on a piece of gear I won't wear again for at least another year.

The next hurdle was my start time. The field of athletes was broken up into waves by age and gender: similarly aged men started with one another, and the same for women. My age group (25-29-year-old women) was scheduled to start second-to-last. This meant that after waking up at 3am in order to drive to the race grounds for a guaranteed parking spot, we then had to wait another five hours to actually get in the lake and start swimming. (The race itself started at 7:00am; my group didn’t get into the water until 8:07am.)

Oh, and then there were the hundreds of other swimmers ahead of us . . . if you could call all of them “swimmers.”

Learn how to f-ing swim, I shouted inside my head as I tried to get around a man doing what I can only imagine was his best impersonation of a sinking windmill.

I'm in there somewhere fighting for space....
If you kick me, I will drown you, I thought as I veered around a woman doing some combination of breast/side stroke.

I would have felt sorry for the man doing elementary backstroke, except as you may have noticed, I get a little bit mean when I swim, so instead I tried to tamp down my annoyance and gave him an extra-wide berth. After all, he obviously wasn’t going to avoid swimming into me.

All of this nonsense, combined with my failure to swim good tangents (i.e. close to the buoys), resulted in a swim time that was decidedly less impressive than it should have been. However, my own personal race plan was to “cruise” the swim, and if I did nothing else, I stuck to the race plan: not too much effort, but not too little, either. When I reached the shore, I felt just the slightest bit fatigued but mostly eager to get on with the next part of the race. It was time to get on the bike.

Click here for Part II: Bike Course  >>>

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