I signed up for the Bay Swim lottery because I was trying to cheer up my friend who was told that she could not do triathlons anymore. Her foot doc said that she needed reconstructive ankle surgery and that she should not expect to be able to run more than three miles. Since she was a swimmer in college, I thought it would make her feel better if we tried a new challenge together and signed up for the Bay Swim. This would be a much bigger challenge for me since I have never been a competitive swimmer outside of triathlon and even in triathlons, swimming is my weakest sport.
Like most, my initial reaction when I got the congratulatory, welcome to the Bay Swim e-mail was, “Oh crap, I really got in! Now I have to train for this thing!” I asked my Master's swim coach, Sue Mangan, about how her other swimmers had trained and she gave me the program they used. Basically, I swam with the Masters group two days a week. After one practice, I would go and swim an extra 1,000. Our practices usually go about 3,500 yards. Another day during the week, I would do a progressively longer and longer continuous swim beginning with 1:10 and ooching up 10'/wk to 2:40 or so. I did a couple of extra 2:30-2:45 swims just for the heck of it, hoping that I wouldn't be in the bay much longer than that. My friend and I did the Naticoke River swim this year which is normally 3 miles, but it was shortened to 1.8 because of the wind, waves and overall poor conditions. Since that was going to be my big confidence builder, I was really disappointed that we only got 1.8 miles in and my time for that swim was really terrible.
I was not very confident going into the Bay Swim. I knew I had the fitness, just not the good swimming background that most of the successful swimmers I know have. I figured that if the conditions were good, I would be OK, but if not, I would struggle mightily. I know several very good swimmers who have not made it, including my cousin who was pulled several years ago.
We got off to a late start because the race director began the pre race talk about 20 minutes late. He told us about the tides and the feed boats and that there was a painting barge under the bridge that we should avoid as well. He told us that Anne Arundel County had issued a warning about the water quality being unsuitable for playing around in the water and recreational swimming, but since we were swimming competitively, most of us assumed that it didn't apply to us. Anyway, it seemed that the best way to the other side was to swim, so I didn't see anyone backing away at that point. Seriously, I know that most of the water we do triathlons in is not that clean, so I was not going to consider backing out because of the warning. He did give everyone the option, though.
We started on the Sandy Point beach and began to swim immediately towards the bridge. After getting under the bridge, we were told to stay between the inside edges of the spans. If we went under either span, we would be DQ'd. I had no idea if this would be easy or difficult to do, so that was a point of concern for me. Driving over the bridge, I noticed that the bridge curves significantly towards the north for the first 1.5 miles, so being the tangent runner I am, my strategy was to hug the north span as closely as I could. The current was pushing us in that direction anyway for the first half, so I just had to keep from getting too close and going under the span. This was not as hard as I thought it would be.
I got to the first mile in 27 minutes, which is really good for me so I did the math and came up with a finish time of just under 2 hours, so I was thinking that I was a total rock star and this was going to be easier than I thought! After passing the second mile mark, I hit my watch, but didn't look at it since I still felt really good. I pulled up and did some breast stroke to take a good look around and to appreciate how cool it was to swim under the bridge with just a bunch of other swimmers and no big boats. Seemed to take a long time to get to the third mile and after that, I was getting tired and wanted to be done. I lied to myself and said that I only had 45 minutes to go, so I tried to lengthen out and get some distance per stroke. At this point, the tide began to push us south, which was where we wanted to be anyway, so that was fine with me. The tide was pushing me kind of close to the pilings, but others were closer, so I figured that I was OK. When we got the to end, we headed under the south span and back east again to get to the Hemingway beach. The water near the jetty was shallow and many were walking the last couple of hundred yards to shore. I didn't train since March to walk across the bay, so I found some deeper water and kept swimming. When I got the beach, I found my legs and ran up to the timing mat and I was done! It was nice not to have to pull off my wetsuit for time, so I kept it on until I got to the showers. Ouch! Lots of chafing! I was hoping to be done in under three hours, so my 3:08:xx was a little disappointing, but I'm so happy that I made it across, I don’t care. My friend, by the way beat me by over 30 minutes, had bad cramps, was dizzy, nauseous and hated most of it. She never wants to do it again, so it's good that she got some PT on her foot and is back to normal running again.
I can attest that you don't have to be a great swimmer to make it across the bay on an “easy” year, but I am in awe of those to do it every year, regardless of the conditions. They are amazing. The winner was a 17 year-old boy whose time was almost twice as fast as me! Yow!