Thursday, May 29, 2014

USMS Open Water Championships

As I previously wrote about, I went to Chattanooga for a training weekend in preparation for Ironman Chattanooga in September.  The weekend was built around the US Masters Swimming 1-3 Mile Open Water National Championships.  Since the organizers hoped to get a bunch of us triathletes to sign up, the distance was 2.4 miles. Shockingly, that is the same distance as the Ironman swim.  Crazy, right?
View Across the River to the Aquarium

Anyways, I had never done a swim race. I've done hundreds of running races, 5 years of triathlons, and even time trial bike races.  But never a swim.  So that part kind of intrigued me.  However the biggest thing was that I wanted to swim 2.4 miles in the open water.  I've never swam more than 1.5 miles in open water.  I've swam longer than that in the pool many times, but open water is just not the same thing.  I'm not real confident (or fast) in the water.  As I said going in, I'm doing this race specifically because I don't want to. #faceyourfears
Under Market Street Bridge

That Saturday morning of the race it was rainy and 50 degrees.  Not great weather, but as I was gonna wear a wetsuit, I really didn't mind.  Its just the before and after, that wouldn't be as much fun.
Do I look cold? 'Cause I am.

Waivers, Waivers, Everywhere
 We parked over at 'Outdoor Chattanooga' and walked across Coolidge park.  They had the packet pickup and other tents under the Market Street Bridge.  We got a nice t-shirt and a Moon Pie.  A Chattanooga original, who knew?
Every race has chip timing

We then walked over and got our chips.  The had a reader and a screen setup so that you could verify that you had the right chip.  Same as a Rev3 race.  After we got our stuff, we had some time to kill.  The race was split up into 3 waves.  Wave 1 was at 11:00 am and that was the 2.4 mile  "Championship" wave.  No wetsuits allowed.  Brad and I were going in wave 2 at 11:07 am.  Wave 2 was a 2.4 mile wetsuit race.  Or the "Triathlete" wave, as we all called it.  They also started a wave 3 at 11:15 that was a 1.2 mile wetsuit race.
The Delta Queen

We headed back over to the car and threw our stuff in.  We headed up to a coffee shop on Frazier Ave and hung out in the warmth.  Soon we decided to head back to the car and get ready.  We kinda got the wetsuits on a little early, but they were warm.  50 and rainy felt cold.  They announced the water temp at 70 degrees, so that wasn't too bad.
Pink Swim Caps are Dead Sexy

Down at the start they had a little prerace meeting where they went over all the waves and rules and awards.  Turns out that in a swim race you can be penalized for hanging onto a kayak.  Perfectly OK in a triathlon as long as you don't make forward progress.  Who knew?

Down the Ramp to the Start.

Soon it was time for the first wave to start.  They were off and we made our way down the ramp and into the water.  That part I was looking forward to because I really could have used a restroom facility.  When I put my foot in the water it felt pretty warm.
The "Real" Swimmers are off!

Looking at the course map, a good 40% of the race would be against the current.  It didn't seem to be flowing too bad.  I settled in pretty much in the middle of the pack.  A lot of people were near the shore side.  As the gun went off, I didn't start out too fast, I just kinda hung in the middle.  As the crowd cleared a little bit I made sure I was as close to the Delta Queen boat as possible.  As they said, there is less current closest to the shore.  So when I got around the boat, I angled over toward the shore.  That first stretch wasn't too bad.  I was able to draft off of people most of the way.
When I made the turn at the #2 buoy you could really feel the current.  I tried to lengthen my stroke as much as possible and have the current help my distance per stroke.  I didn't really swim too hard in this stretch, or the stretch from the #3 buoy to the #4 buoy.  We got the most help from the current there.  As I rounded #4 buoy and headed across the river, that part was more difficult then I thought.  You didn't really get much help from the current.  I finally rounded #5 buoy and then the fun began.  A half mile straight against the current!

Coming around the 'Queen'
That section was pretty tough I will admit.  There was nobody to really draft off of.  You could really feel the current.  I just tried to work as hard as I could.  I kept telling myself that as soon as I hit the #2 buoy the race was essentially over.  Well, not really since I still had a good 1,200 meters to got after that, but I had to tell myself something.  As we're swimming by these Riviera Villa Condos, they all looked the same, and it felt like you were going nowhere.  I was pretty happy when I finally made the turn at #2.

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming

Pretty much glided to #3 and #4 this second time around, and then worked again across the current to #5. My right should began to hurt a little bit (it has done this before), but I was glad that I was so far into the race before I felt anything.  Once I made that final turn, I only had like 200 meters to go, so I just pushed for the finish.  I got up the ramp and hit the finish. As someone said earlier, it was a little anticlimactic.  You didn't have to run up the ramp and try and get your wetsuit off as soon as possible.  You were just done.
View of the Hunter Art Museum under the Walnut Bridge

I looked at my watch and its said 1:15, and I thought, well that's not too bad.  It wasn't disastrous, and I felt pretty good.  In talking with some people after, and we think we might be able to get an extra 5 minutes in the IM race.  We'll be with the current 100% of the time and no turn buoys.  If I can get under 1:10 in the IM race, I'll be well on my way.  I finished 23rd out of 62 in the wetsuit wave.  Full Results Here.
Yeah! Finish!

After the race, we hung out a bit to see some of the results scrolling on the screen.  Brad won his age group with a 1:06 time.  So we decided to head back to the hotel and change into our run gear as the awards were to start at 2:30 and the IM course preview run at 3:00.   They started the awards early, and one of Brad's friends texted him that.  So we went back over and they were just finishing up the Championship wave awards.  They still had some pizza left over, so I basically ate that for lunch.  It was "included" in the race fee right?

GPS Not so accurate in the water.

Brad got his award, and we got some more pics. and then we took off as the cool rainy weather had not really subsided.  I'm really glad I did this race.  It really helped give me a lot of confidence come September.  The start at the IM will not even be as hectic as this as it's a time trial start. After this race, my whole attitude has changed on the 2.4 mile swim.  It really does help to Face Your Fears.  Sometimes it's mostly in your head.  You don't think you can do it, but you don't know you can't, either. I'm now one step closer to 140.6

Moon Pie anyone?