For those of you who know me, you know I have a major fear of open water swimming. I know, it does not make sense since i am a swimmer. But I can swim in a pool for hours, no issue, just put me in open water and I panic. I have been trying to get into the Bay swim for 3 years now through the lottery so I can concur my fear. Well, of course i got in this year! I have had some issues with my shoulder the last few years so I knew I had to be smart about my training. This was the perfect year to do this since I am turning 40. Cool thing is even though I raced two events already this year in my new age group - in swimming events, it is based on your age so I was in the 35-39 age group still! Nothing like feeling young before the event starts!!
I was swimming 3 to 4 days a week to get ready for this and was careful to be sure not to push my shoulder too much. Since I was training for IM at the same time I had to fit it all in together. I did one longer swim each week and ramped up big time the week following my IM race - Did 5 swims that week that totaled 16 miles:)
The day before the race they sent a note to everyone that Anne Arundel County was recommending no open water swimming due to water quality so it was really swim at your own risk - lovely!!
This year was an early start so you had to be on the buses before 7am for the 8am swim start. I was in wave 1. We got to the park-n-ride lot near Hemmingways at 6:20. The buses were slow but we were on the bus and at Sandy Point by 7am. Check in went fine, body marking, check your bag and get ready to go...the waiting begins. The water looked calm but I have learned from the open water swims I have done that you can't be sure of how strong the current is until you get in the water.
I have learned not to eat much before I get into the water to avoid getting sick so I only had a cup of coffee, banana, a few peanut butter pretzels at 5am and then drank a fizz (electrolyte drink on the way).
The start is a mass start but only about 300 people in each of the two waves. It is a beach start (which I had never done) and since I really can't handle the contact of a start, i stayed back and that way I could set my pace and work around people. I started to the far left. you swim towards the bridge and eventually end up between the bridges. They set the start times to take advantage of the slack tide and make it as easy as possible.
The real issue I had with this entire swim is that there are really no markers to tell you how far you have gone. Once you are in between the bridges, sighting is not an issue but you feel like you are swimming for days and really not getting anywhere. They said there would be markers at miles 2 and 3 but I never saw them.
The start was no real contact and I swam around people to get my spot. Once in between the bridges you just have to be very careful about where you are to avoid being pulled under the bridges - if you get pulled or drift under one you are DQ'd and get a boat ride home. I new I could do the distance if I did not freak out but was very worried about staying close to the middle so I could shift as needed since I have friends who have been pulled.
The first section between the bridges is curved and it feels like forever before you get to the straight section. I did stop many times and just float on my back for a minute to enjoy the view - I mean how many people have the privilege of getting to enjoy that view of the bridges - as an engineer - it was really cool!!
The first two miles felt ok. I had cramps in my one calf as we started (I guess I did not hydrate enough the day before and that morning). I had to just not kick to avoid the cramps really bothering me. Without having an idea of how far I had gone, I had to just remember to keep swimming. I always have my friend Mariana in my head singing "Just keep swimming" like Dori in Finding Nemo:) I had issues with my googles fogging but I just cleared them each time I took a break to enjoy the view.
About the second shipping channel, you could start to feel the current pulling you much more towards the south bridge (bridge that takes you to the beach). I was in the middle and before I knew it I was much closer to the bridge than I wanted to be. This was also about the time I really started to see the red caps (2nd wave) speeding by me like I was not moving. I spent a lot of time fighting the pull to try and get back towards the middle and avoid getting too close to the bridge piers. I probably wasted a lot of energy on this and did a lot more breast stroke to try and get back where I needed to be.
You swim almost to the end of the bridge and then make a sharp cut under to get towards the open area towards Hemmingways. I got caught up in a group of big guys at this point and was fighting the pull and took in a lot of water. I have to say it was gross!
The current shot you quickly under the bridges and then you swam along the jetty to the finish. It was a long way. It was very shallow - your hands would hit the bottom and many people were standing and walking. Since my leg was still cramping I stopped at one point and stood up and walked a few steps just to catch my breath. Since it was still 500 or more yards I started swimming again.
I finally got to the finish after drinking more water than I care to remember and made it across the finish line and proceeded to throw up several times.
While my time was not great for me, I am very excited about this finish. I am most proud that I did not freak out at any point during this swim. It was very hard (I think harder than an IM race) but I definitely put the Cougar in the car and faced my fear. As Ricky Bobby did in Talledega Nights (Right CHIP!)
Now I get to enjoy my summer! Still debating the next event but going to enjoy some real recovery time:)
Few key points: There is a lot of support out there so you never feel like you are alone. Swimmers are much nicer in swim events than in Triathlons:) Stop and enjoy the view (Thanks Sergio for reminding me to do that). It is well worth the trip. Lastly, this is a bucket list event!! How many people really get to do it! Swimmer or not, it is worth the effort to do this event at least once!
And I agree with Deborah, this is not the best way to get across the bay!