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Thursday, July 16, 2015

A great 10K swim - one where I learned a ton

I just returned from a fantastic weekend in Long Island, NY.  Last Friday (July 10th), I pushed off from Fairfax, VA toward Long Island after a quick swim with my friends at the Old Keene Mill pool.  I felt really sluggish and tired in the warm pool water and wondered if this weekend would be any different.  The week's practices were getting harder and harder - perhaps because I am really starting to tire out from the repeated 32km weeks of training.  Regardless, I headed off with great hopes that this swim would teach me something about my feeding.

Friday day and night were fun and relatively uneventful.  The drive up to Long Island went by quickly because for some odd reason, everyone decided to stay off the road.  I never saw I-95 (our highway up the east coast of the US) so empty.  No complaints here, just happy that I could get up to NY in about 4 and a 1/2 hours.  I stopped by my aunt's house, picked her up and headed to my other aunt's house with her.  We had a great time for a few hours but then the drive and early wake-up started to weigh heavily on my eyes; it was time for bed.  Off to bed at 9pm and I slept like a log until 6:30am on Saturday - race day.

Race Day

I drove from Port Washington, NY (where my aunts live) to the south shore ports for the Fire Island ferries.  The race organizer setup a special 9:30am ferry for us swimmers.  
Waiting for the ferry - trying to avoid the sun as best I could
The pre-race setup was extremely well organized.  The ferry ride took us to Atlantique - a small beach area within easy reach (25 min ferry ride) of the Bay Shore Ferry Terminal.  
The first level on the ferry where I stayed out of the sun.
Once the ferry got us to our destination, we walked to the Atlantic Ocean side of the island - roughly a 300m walk along a nice paved pathway.  
The path between the ferry terminal and the beach.  It was a nice walk.
The race organizers had tents setup and quickly handed out the timing devices and marked those who were not marked prior to hopping on the ferry.  All of this took minutes instead of the often laborious hour-long registration that most events put us through.  I was quite impressed.  

Pre-race Preparation

I managed to jump in the water and warm-up for about 10 minutes prior to the mandatory pre-race meeting.  The meeting was quick and informative.  We learned that the course would head west from the start and parallel the shoreline for 2.5 km where we would turn around and head back.  The 10 km swimmers would swim 2 loops around the 5 km course leaving all buoys to the left.  I felt confident that the swim would go well because the conditions were simply perfect.  There was no wind at the start and the swell was negligible.  According to surfline.com, the waves were .5 to 1 foot; I think they exaggerated.  If they were 2 inches, I would be shocked.  So I felt great and was ready to swim.

Feed testing...whoops!

One slight problem with my preparation was that I packed food in bottles to be handed to me at the 2.5 km places.  Unfortunately, the paddlers would not be able to provide feeds in specific locations so I needed to either carry my own food (not practical) or abandon the feed tests.  I chose the latter.  Most if not all the 10 km swimmers had the same restrictions so I had to think quickly about how to tailor my swim to the restricted food intake.  The race director said there would be plenty of water provided on the course but no food unless we had our own.  I was down for a new test.  My new feed test was how well would I do for about 3 hours with only water.  A new test!  Turn lemons into lemonade.

Let the race begin

I started the race kicking only slightly to keep my feet up and not drag too much behind.  My rationale was to conserve energy for the first half and then see how I would perform for the second half after the conservative first-half.  I began the swim at a deliberate pace that put me well-behind the leaders who seemed to start out at about my 100m pace.  My focus remained solid and steadfast on a slow, deliberate pace.  The conditions allowed me to easily breathe throughout the first 2.5 km leg and I felt extremely relaxed.  

When I turned around and headed east, the waves kicked up a bit and the tide turned against us.  I felt the going a bit more difficult on the return and noted that for my second loop.  When I swam back, I started thinking about the salt water sloshing around in my stomach and wondered if it would make me sick.  So far, so good.  I felt very relaxed but as I neared the 5 km turn-around, I started to feel a little bothered by the choppy conditions.  Bothered might be an over-statement.  My feet felt like bricks because I stopped kicking to preserve as much energy as possible for the second half.  When I reached the turn-around mark, I noticed the first 5 km swimmer come up alongside me and pass me like I was sitting still.  That feeling is not one I like but it was good for me to realize that I only gave up 10 minutes to the fastest 5 km swimmer even without kicking.  I was refreshed and ready to start kicking.

Second loop comeback

The second loop started with an expectation that I would drink a little water to relieve a little cramping in my feet.  Salt water tends to make me dehyrdated rather quickly but this time around it seemed to take much longer than usual.  My mouth wasn't affected like it usually is with the salt water swishing about as I grabbed each breath.  I swigged about 10 ounces of fresh water and started my leg with my usual kick and immediately felt the difference in my body position.  Before, I felt sluggish and low in the water where now I felt like I was on top of the water and surging with each stroke.  I felt great!

Slowly but steadily I raced up to the swimmers in front and I started to pass them.  There were only 10 km swimmers now ahead of me and a few lingering 5 km swimmers but they would be done before I reached the finish.  I passed one swimmer after another and started feeling better and better with each stroke.  To keep my mind busy, I focused on my stroke and all the tips my friend Stu and my coach Cheryl reminded me of during swim practices.  I felt faster and stronger as I went along.  The beach flew by and in no time, I rounded the 2.5 km mark to head back to the finish.  

The first return trip I felt extremely sluggish and slow going against the tide and slight chop; this second return trip was entirely different.  I was on course, rarely wavering from a straight line track toward the finish.  Each time I looked up, I saw another cap ahead and then the cap was behind me.  I gained more energy by passing them and continued to kick hard and really focus on my stroke.  Beating people was not my aim; I just wanted to test how I would feel after 7.5-9km without eating.  At this point, I had an answer - I felt great.  I kept surging ahead with each stroke and felt so confident I could catch the last remaining swimmer in my sights but then the final buoys came up to us and the first-place swimmer turned just ahead of me and finished right in front.  

What a race!  I felt great and felt confident that a proper feeding schedule would enable me to hold a strong pace for much longer than 10km.  It was a wonderful lesson and one I shall not forget soon.  Pacing withing my energy level limits is important.  


A great trophy with a cool towel backdrop.
Post-race thoughts

I really enjoyed myself at the race and met some fantastic people.  If you are a swimmer, please consider attending next year's Fire Island Open Water swim.  I hope to get some of the LOST swimmers down and my GMU teammates up to fill up the 10 km race.  Expect a big showing next year guys.  Thanks to the Open Water Swimming Long Island group for putting on a fantastic race on a beautiful beach.  Rest assured I will be back again to enjoy the water and company of my new friends.  Thanks to the OWS group and the volunteers for creating a wonderful event.  See you next year.

My next post focuses on my feeding routine.  Oh, and I will have a full post following that one on my cold water immersion machine.  Stay tuned.