12 June 2007

The Great Chesapeake Bay Challenge

A few months ago, I began a specialty blog that was doomed to failure: a training blog for an open water swimming event. Why was this doomed, as I say? For several reasons:

  1. It's a special interest blog. Prospective audience becomes much thinner.
  2. If my friends are my readers.... it's even thinner than that.
  3. How interesting is it to type workout after workout?
  4. And of course.. I'm lazy, so regular workouts are really a thing of myth.
In any case, my whole purpose was to train for a one mile, open-water swim called The Great Chesapeake Bay Challenge. The Teach did it a few years ago, fresh out of college swimming, and described it as a good (if difficult) experience. But open water swimming has never really appealed to me. I used to swim as a kid when we went to the beach, but the current always made me feel like a weaker swimmer than I was, and I was nervous in the cloudy water. Even in the Caribbean, I couldn't really relax (except during SNUBA but that was just cool, even though I knew I'd be fine. Which I regret, actually. I have no good reason for being uncomfortable.

So I decided I would do the swim, push myself through my fear. Pool training dropped off, however, as I got into the spring, and I got out of shape, but I wasn't going to bag the race. I got a wetsuit (kinda) from a friend: it was a little big, and had short sleeves, stopped at mid-thigh, and was mostly foam. But the water was in the low seventies, so I didn't really need it for warmth. The worst thing I worried about was not finishing: I didn't want to be one of those people who has to stop at a rescue boat and be brought in. And there were people who had to do that (one guy only made it fifty yards, according to spectator HalfDozen).

As part of the first wave (a group of one hundred people, the first of four), I ducked under the green mesh fence with the rest of the group, padded my way barefoot across grass, then sand, then some slippery blue plastic they'd laid down over the start/finish pad. As each person crossed the line, the microchipped ankle-bracelet caused the machine to record their passing with a resounding, nasal whoop, reminiscent of the start of a police siren. We stood in the murky water (ew, that was trash) for a good ten minutes while they waited to start, officials trying to reign in people not willing to forego warmup (a disqualifying effort, they announced in the pre-race meeting).

Finally, it was time to go. I let myself hang back, not wanting to be in the front (where I knew people would just swim over me) or in the middle (think of what happens when that many people, all standing together, suddenly dive into the horizontal: I didn't want to get kicked in the face either) and the start was ok. After about three hundred yards, though, I was too tired to sight the bouys: I had to resort to sighting fellow swimmers, and throwing in a few breaststrokes every so often. I'm not sure if mixing my strokes helped me or hurt me: it was slower, but more comfortable with the gentle waves that were rocking the bay that morning. After that, it was just comfortable: I didn't panic, I wasn't dying (I wasn't swimming fast, either) and I wasn't afraid. Just.. swim around one buoy. Swim around the next. Kick the bottom a few times. (Whoops, shallow there) Swim the last. Drag myself up the beach.

I was tired. The Teach passed me and was waiting, so she was the recipient of my first "I never want to do that again." But I didn't really mean it. It was ok. Even the occasional mouthful of diesel (clean up the bay, assholes) could have been worse. And I did something I didn't think I'd be able to do: I finished. And in the top half.

It was a good day. And I had a good night's sleep later. Next year, now that I know what to expect.. there'll be more training.

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