I signed up for the Chesapeake Bay swim lottery as a joke, never thinking I’d actually get selected and have to do it. Its not that I thought it would be a problem to swim that far, I just figured it would be boring, and to be fair, I used to be a sprinter (200m was a really long race way back when!). But I got selected, and I love doing things that most people think are absurd, so off I went at 5am to go swim across the Bay.
I didn’t want to drive across the bridge and take the bus back, so I got my dad to drive me to Sandy Point State Park. We got there around 6, but it turned out the schedule on the website was a bit optimistic and they didn’t open registration until closer to 6:30. At least I was first in line. To the great amusement of the other earlybirds, I taped my neck with kinesio tape to avoid chafing (learned that lesson at IMTX). I put on my wetsuit at 7 so my dad could leave and drive to the finish. A wonderful girl with the same wetsuit as me zipped me up (I have one with an annoyingly difficult zipper) and we hung out with a man who’d done the swim many times before. He was full of advice, most of which I didn’t pay enough attention to.
I tend to go into races not knowing much about them, and this was no different. I just knew I had to swim 4.4 miles across the Bay. Everything else would sort itself out as it happened. I have to say I was much more prepared than usual thanks to all the advice Missie gave me (for which I was very grateful).
I was in the 2nd, faster wave. I hate beach starts so I hung back and started at the end of the pack, which I promptly regretted as I spent the first 500m or so swimming through people who were clearly much slower than me. Oops, I guess you have to start at the front even when its not Ironman. Fortunately, once in the channel between the two bridge spans, there’s plenty of room and I swam a lot of the way completely alone.
I felt fine most of the way across. There were places in the middle where the water felt pretty cold, and it was choppier in some parts in the middle than towards either shore. I started off at a pretty easy pace, not sure if I’d get tired swimming so far. Mostly though, I just got bored. I sprinted past a few people just for a change of pace (bet they weren’t too impressed). I did my best to stay in the middle of the channel. I had a go at doing half-Ironman pace once I passed the 3 mile buoy (I was probably way slower than I thought I was), and finally I turned out of the channel towards Hemingway Marina. I tried to swim faster, mostly because I wanted to be done, not because there was anyone to catch (there was no one in front of me for 100m or more) or because I saw anyone chasing me.
It was an interesting experience, but not one I’m likely to pay $250 to repeat next year. I think I could have pushed harder for the first 3 miles, but I probably still would have been 4th in my age group, since 3rd was 6 minutes ahead, and I probably wouldn’t have gone that much faster. Since I’ve never done an open water swim that wasn’t followed by a bike and run, and I’ve never raced swimmers in the open water (only short sprint races in pools), I didn’t really know what to expect. Since I don’t want to do it again, I’ve decided that 4th is pretty good and I’ll stick to trying to win the swim in triathlons for now.
Thanks to everyone in the club who gave me wetsuit advice (I went with the sleeveless), and especially Missie who gave me all kinds of advice and made me far better prepared for this swim than I ever intended to be! Oh, and if anyone was wondering, kinesio tape prevents chafing on necks, but you should really put the body glide in the right places on your arms, else you just get chafed there instead ☺