Finish Line 70.3

Finish Line 70.3
Finish Line 70.3

70.3 Finisher!

70.3 Finisher!
70.3 Finisher

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay: Race Recap; The Swim

Otis Redding lent a sweet sad sound to this classic song, and I'll bet you that most Boomers have Sittin on the Dock of the Bay on their iPods somewhere. It was just a classic, and remains so despite the passage of time.

The 70.3 is over, and I am glad I don't have to do another one say, tomorrow. I'm tired and sore and so happy to be across that finish line, 8 hours and six minutes after my swim wave started; not the kind of race time that inspires but well ahead of my 8:15 goal and very much ahead of course closure time. I came in 30 of 39 in my age group, and four of those DNF'd, so I did not come in last, as I was thinking I might.

I'm going to recap the race in three segments because each one had its own challenges, enjoyments, and interesting moments.

The Big Swim is always the thing that lurks in your head as the intimidation factor. We all know we can do the bike and the run, unless something or someone breaks down, but the swim...well, anything can happen out there in waterspace. I was actually feeling fairly confident about the swim, and I really like to swim, but the back of the brain nagging keep mentioning thoughts of waves, wind, and not making cutoff time, as well as whether 650 younger women were going to run over me like a speedboat over a rowboat.

The morning alarm went off at 4:45 and woke me from a sound sleep. I had slept amazingly well the night before, which I normally don't do before a race, having hit the sack around 9 p.m. I immediately went to the window of the hotel room to check the wind, and it looked like a bloody hurricane outside in the semi dark, with palm trees whipping around. Eeps. Not what I had hoped for, but what I expected. The day had been given to me, and it was time to quit worrying about it. At least I saw no sign of rain or thunderstorms.

I choked down about 2/3 of my oatmeal laced with lots and lots of honey and brown sugar, and chugged down 12 oz of Gatorade with it, while I took a fast hot shower (to loosen muscles and wake me up), stretched a bit, and got into my tri shorts, sports bra and tri shirt, after Bodygliding up underneath. I fixed myself a bagel and peanut butter snack, grabbed my gear, double checked it, and a full 24 oz bottle of Gatorade and we headed out into the darkness and wind to transition. I was a bit nervous but not terribly so, felt focused and ready. Here we go.

I had a great transition spot (so did Patient Spouse on the sprint) being at the very end of my row, which gave me lots of room and of course made it easy to find. Make up karma for the 25 mph winds. I got bodymarked and nearly forgot my age when asked, this was pure Pre Race Mental Overload Syndrome.

Once into transition, I quickly set up my towel, shoes, helmet, sunglasses (still in a soft case as it was so humid I was afraid they would fog), race belt, number belt, run visor, etc. I loaded my bike Bento box with the cut up PBJ sandwich in a baggie (with a small rock for weight), some cut up Luna bars in a baggie (and another rock), and scattered candy corn at the bottom. I attached my full gel bottle to its holder next to the seat post, checked to make sure I was in pretty low gear, added the hydration bottle to the areo bars and another to the cage, set the Garmin on the bike mount, turned it on, and set it to bike and zero. A double check of my set up and going through pretend T1 and T2 showed me I had forgotten to set out my socks and gloves, so the mental practice saved me. Patient Spouse suggested I move my number down a bit on my helmet to open up more air vents, but when I tried it, the humidity would not let it restick to the helmet. Always prepared, I used a bandaid to attach it. My bike photos will show a wounded helmet number.

Finally, I applied Bodyglide to my legs and ankles, and sunscreen to every place I thought I needed it (I would be wrong on this, but didn't find that out until later). Legs, arms, shoulders, neck, ears, face. I had written the 2 Timothy 4:7 verse on my inner forearm for inspiration with a waterproof Sharpie (it stayed on long after my race number and age melted off my legs).

I double checked my wetsuit bag for my suit, swim cap and goggles, and checked that my race chip was securely fastened on my right ankle (I have an irrational fear of losing it, and would check it several times during the race). I grabbed my bagel, my Gatorade and my spouse who was toting the wetsuit bag, and we left transition about 6:40 a.m. and I visited the portapots for the last time pre swim.

We went to the swim area to watch the pros go off at 7 a.m. and I got my first look at the water, the wind, the sky and the bouys. Although the first turn bouy looked a LONG way off, I knew it really wasn't; it was only about 600 yards away from the start. The entire swim course had yellow marker bouys every 100 meters which was awesome and they were so easy to see even from the shore. The only thing that got my heart knocking was the wind, and the slight chop in the bayou. I figured the chop would be much worse as I got farther from shore, and in this I would be right.

We stood for the national anthemn and the pros were off with the cannon shot (thank goodness for the age groupers they blew a horn instead). I ate about half my bagel and drank another 12 oz of Gatorade and tried to sit while I could. I was ready to get this show on the road, or on the water, as the case may be. The sun was now starting to rise and it looked like a clear, warm day so I choose my tinted goggles from my bag.

Around 7:30 I started the process of wiggling into my wetsuit. It actually went on easier than I expected, although I needed Patient Spouse to help tuck me in and zip me up in the back. I tried to spit in my goggles and rinse them out with a bottle of water, but my spit looked suspiciously like Gatorade.

Around 7:45 I started to make my way to the pier for my 8:15 swim wave. I wanted plenty of time to walk there and relax, although no pre warm up swims were permitted because of the rough bottom of the bayou. I did swing my arms around to get the blood flowing and did some minor stretches. I decided to put on my cap and get my hair tucked up nicely, and then I realized I had forgotten my earplugs. So a quick fast walk back about 200 yards to where Patient Spouse had been and he fortunately had not moved more than 15 yards from his original spot, grab the plugs, and a quick walk back to the spot where the nice volunteer held up the W45+ sign--a good warm up for me! We were slowly moving our way up the pier area with each wave that went off every five minutes. Our group was the first of the women to go off.

I spit again in my goggles and put them on to be sure they fit and nothing was going to break. They seemed a little bleary but I decided not to worry about it, and truth be told, they were awesome for the entire swim, never fogged or leaked or hurt. About five minutes before we were to get in the water, I put them on for good. I didn't want to be messing with them in the water.

The only time I had felt the water was when I put one toe in on the way to the pier, and the temperature felt reasonable to me. It allegedly was 71.9 degrees, okay for age grouper wetsuits but not pros. It actually felt a bit warmer to me.

Finally it was our turn to enter the water, which was done by jumping about five feet off a pier into the water (no ladders). I have a fear of dislodging my goggles, so I sat down on the edge of the pier, counted One Potato Two Potato in my head, and jumped in. It was cold but not shockingly so, and I didn't go down very far before I popped up, goggles perfectly in place (I had put one hand on their front when I jumped). I got out of the jump zone and did a couple of warm up strokes towards the start bouys. I positioned myself at the rear center and listened to the countdown and thought THIS IS IT. This is what it has been all about. Let's have some fun.

Once the horn went off, I started swimming immediately. It was quite crowded and we bumped and pushed a bit before we all found our spots, and then I actually enjoyed the swim for about 300 yards. I was swimming pretty easy and sighting every six strokes and seeing the next yellow bouy clearly when suddenly the water got a lot rougher and a bit roly. My first thought was, crap, I'm going to get seasick, and then I told myself, don't be silly, you've never in your life been seasick even on a boat, and after that, I didn't have any real issues with the waves and chop other than the occasional one that smacked me in the face.

Right after that, the first hard going 18-15 woman ran over me with a smack despite my kicking out like a kung fu artist. Then it felt like the water was full of churning arms and legs and it was very hard to keep swimming form while either being hit from behind or running into someone's feet or legs. The water was not murky and I could actually see about 5 feet in front of me which helped, but apparently the hotshots behind me didn't bother looking; they just plowed on. I did have to stop and regroup quickly a few times when I was battered hard, but I never felt panicky, just irritated that these people were interrupting a pleasant swim.

I finally reached the first turn bouy in 18 minutes (I checked my watch) which was 2 minutes ahead of my goal time, and I turned from heading north to heading west, which was exactly cross current with the waves and wind. The chop was harder to deal with here on this long leg (about 1000 yards) and it took longer to get to each marker bouy without the wind at my back. I just started to roll over more to breathe and really only swallowed the Gulf once on a freak wavelet. I could see the sun each time I breathed, and the water was great temperature and my wetsuit plus the salt water kept my nice and bouyant, and even though I could see how far away the shore was, I never once felt scared or worried about it. I even stopped to thank a paddle board volunteer but he looked at me as if I had lost my mind, and maybe I had.

I kept swimming, always doing freestyle and now sighting every 10 yards because on this leg I had a bit more time between bouys because of the cross current. I occasionally would find myself drifting out to sea a bit too much and would correct. I tried to stay away from the marker bouys themselves as there always seemed to be a crowed resting around them. I passed a few swimmers but a lot more passed me. I know there were some DNFs in the water but didn't personally see anyone have to get picked up and I just kept swimming and counting the bouys.

Finally I came to the last turn bouy and then it was only 500 yards home, but it seemed longer. First, it got really crowded on that final turn, and second, we were now headed smack into the wind and waves which slowed us down. It seemed to take forever to get past the big party paddleboat parked at the pier and now I could see the finish area. I kept swimming even past where some were already standing and only stood up when I knew I had to climb up on the lowered pier. They had put carpeting down on the bottom so you didn't cut up your feet as you got out. Both volunteers that were to help you out were busy so I just climbed out on my own and started my trot down the long area to T1. I remembered to yank off my cap and goggles, and undid my wetsuit and slipped out of the sleeves. I stopped at the strippers, who were primarly female, and pointed to the lone male and got a laugh; they stripped me quickly and I was now on my way into T1 and I had survived the long hard swim. My watch showed an hour, which was my swim time into T1.

Next up: The long and windy bike and lots of interesting things I saw on the way.


  1. The swim is what gets me too! I'm really working hard on it this year though. I'm not going to get the best of me!!!

  2. I would have drowned long before the first buoy. Good job. Lora

  3. The wounded helmet number detail made me laugh outloud! :-) It was fun reading your posts! Thanks!