5k is just a really long way to swim, no matter who you are.
I am starting to see why most triathletes prefer the bike over everything else. Running is the hardest on the body, in terms of recovery. Cycling is something you can do every single day. You can swim every day too, but it’s not as enjoyable as a bike ride. You don’t see much. You don’t take breaks. It’s just you and the water. But for some reason, I want this to be the beginning of a long life in distance swimming. Maybe it’s because fewer people do it, maybe it’s because my technique is still so bad and I am so slow, I want to achieve at something that was hard for me.
Friday morning I was able to watch the last 40 minutes of the men’s Olympic 10k swim, streamed live on my new phone. The winner was Tunisia’s Ous Mellouli. He is the first olympian to medal in the pool and the open water at the same games. He took 3rd in the 1500 free, a race which saw Sun Yang break his own world record.
This was good inspiration for my next day. I was “only swimming half as far.”
I was up before dawn for the three hour drive to Keystone State Park. I arrived very early, with plenty of time to get mentally ready, or to psych myself out. It could go either way.
OK, this is a real thing, there are other people here. I didn’t just make this up in my head. I checked in with the volunteers, and met Karen from the foundation. My fundraising efforts were definitely appreciated. I also talked to Darren before the race. I didn’t chat much with other racers like I usually would at a triathlon. I needed to stay inside my mind as much as I could.
The simplicity of an open water swim race is nice. No transitions, no shoes, no bike. Just a swim cap, suit, goggles, and one timing chip. I couldn’t help myself as a triathlete, so I wore my garmin 310xt. This became a source of mixed emotions for me.
The air was cold for August, so I was glad I showed up with a sweatshirt and long pants. At first. I thought I might regret the lack of a wetsuit. As it turned out, the water temperature was a few degrees cooler than the air, so the water was very comfortable. There was a breeze blowing, so prior to the race it looked like a current on the water, but by race time it was calm. I really could not have asked for more ideal conditions for a swim.
It would be nice to swim in perfectly clear water, but this lake was pretty nice compared to other swims I have done. We waded into the water and gathered around the first buoy, ready to go. The countdown was on, and at 10:15, we swam.
I couldn’t see the end of the course from the start, but it didn’t really matter. Just do five laps, each one a kilometer. Easy enough, right?
From the outset, I was in the back of the pack, which was no surprise. I veered off course about halfway to the turn. It would not be the last time that happened.
I had none of the panic or worry that I felt last summer in my first 5k swim attempt that ended in a DNF. I had no wetsuit to strangle me, and I knew I could make the distance. I funded the end buoy and checked my watch. 18:00. Wait, that’s not good. That’s only 1/10th of the distance. At this rate, I will take 180 minutes which is 3 hours. Maybe I just haven’t found my rhythm yet.
After the return trip I checked my time for lap one. 38:00. This is not good. I am getting slower. Now my rate means that I will take 3:10 or longer. The course has a cutoff of 2:45. If you’re still in the water at 1 pm, they will assess how close you are to finishing.
I started to get worried at this point. I did another length, now 30% done. Checking my watch, I was now at 58 minutes. I was no faster than the last length. This was very bad. I was beginning to think the course was long. I thought about the reality of another DNF. It would be my third this year, and second in this kind of event out of two attempts. It’s one thing to plod along slowly. It’s another to be chronically unprepared.
I decided to follow my own advice I had given on a forum once. It is advice I have failed to follow myself on a previous occasion. I decided I was going to keep swimming until someone told me to stop. Whatever that meant, so be it, but I was not quitting by my own decision.
I approached the start buoy to complete my second lap, with three to go. Such a long way left. Darren was in the water now, not on a boat. He called me by name and said “4 laps today.” For a moment I was sure this was just information for me. I thought my pace is already so bad, they know I won’t finish. Then Darren continued: “we had a course marking problem.”
I have never been so relieved at another’s error. This meant I was not crazy, or slower than my usual slow. I could finish this thing. I had more spring in my kick, and headed out for lap three. When I got to the turnaround, I told the girls in the kayak “see you one more time.”
I still had a lot of swimming to do. I have had this problem before where once I make it past the halfway mark on a new distance, I slow down and lose energy, since I mentally think I’ve gone the whole way. I forced myself to get back in the groove for lap four.
Once I rounded the turn for the last time, the two girls in the kayak paddled beside me halfway back. Darren was on my left. Eventually the girls went ahead and docked, and it was just me with Darren paddling on my right, shooting some video with his GoPro. At one point I paused and said “no offense man, but what happened to the two hot blondes?”
When I finally made it to shore, there was a crowd of people cheering. Most of them had already finished their post-race sandwiches and changed clothes. I slipped on the rocks getting out, which is extra embarrassing when that many people are watching.
This is the face of a tired man. 2:55:31. That would be a long time for a 10k swim. It was a crazy long time for a 5k. However, there were two relay teams over 2:30 as well as two other individual swimmers. It’s not like I was an hour past the next place. Checking my garmin, it’s clear I went off course a lot. The garmin can exaggerate in the water, and it had me at 3.8 miles, but with the remastered course at what most say was 3.2, I’ll split the difference and claim 3.5 miles for the day.
I had very little time before the awards. No expectations here as there were five in my AG. Fifth of five, 43rd out of 43.
However, I was the top fundraiser for the event, with a grand total of $1,111.11.
I had to get my picture with the kayak girls. Bless them and all the volunteers for sitting firm in their places on the course for three hours.
The story of this swim is not over yet. As I raised over $1000, the incentive prize is dinner with Darren. Since we’re pretty far from Pittsburgh, this will take some co-ordination in the near future.
I want to thank all the people who donated to the cause through my participation. It was great to combine a personal goal with a fine charity fundraiser.