This past weekend Gabi and I took part in the 23rd annual Maryland Swim for Life, along with several other athletes from the DC Tri Club. The event was hosted by the DC Aquatics Club and was attended by approximately 250 participants. For a $20 registration fee (plus USMS event fee), we got an open water swim (OWS), a t-shirt and a delicious lunch! I would strongly recommend this event to anyone considering it next year.
This was a great open water swimming opportunity in preparation for Ironman Louisville on August 24th. As it turns out, this is the first year the event offers a 2.4 miles distance swim, which attracted a wave of ~50 triathletes. Up until this event I felt confident with my biking and running fitness, but less so with my swim conditioning. While I have recently biked and ran close to the Ironman distance, the most I had swam in open water, continuously, was 1.2 miles. I felt uncertain as to how I would perform in a 2.4mi OWS. I saw Swim for Life as an opportunity to evaluate my swimming fitness, get a sense for my time over 2.4 miles, hopefully get a major confidence boost, and identify any weaknesses or issues to address in the remaining weeks before IM Louisville.
The event took place in the Chester River off of the Chesapeake Bay, which meant tidal swimming conditions. The participants were grouped into waves according to the 1, 2, 2.4, 3, 4, and 5 mile distances. One thing I wanted to practice at this event was drafting. I was able to do this for the first mile of the swim. There came a point when the person I was trying to draft behind of seemed to be zig-zagging too much, which was causing me more difficulties than good, so I decided to quit drafting and swim my own line. The other skill I wanted to practice was sighting off of landmarks. As it turns out, this event had buoys only every half mile (as opposed to the more frequent buoys in triathlon swims), which made them hard to see, so I found it very helpful to sight in line with landmarks.
The first 1.2 miles was an upstream swim against a strong current. I felt confident however knowing that only a handful of athletes were ahead of me. I was aiming for a total time of 1hr and 10 minutes, or about 35 minutes per 1.2 miles. At the 1.2 mile turnaround buoy, I checked my watch and was shocked to read a time of 45 minutes! Either I was swimming slow or the current was much stronger than it felt. Luckily, the return was a speedy swim. It did require more frequent sighting however due to the incoming swimmers. I finished with a return split time of 25 minutes and a total time of 1hr 11mins. One minute off from my goal time!
Having finished my swim I noticed pain in my lower back which I had never experienced before. This concerned me, as I would not have wanted to get on a bike for 112 miles with such discomfort. At this point I attribute this pain to the frequency of sighting, which required some arching and engaging of the lower back. Since I don’t practice sighting at the pool much, it makes sense for this to have been the root of the pain. For the next several weeks, I plan to add lower back exercises to my strength-training routine, and hopefully this will solve the problem come IM Louisville.
I was very pleased with my ability to swim the distance in open water for the first time, meet my goal time, and practice drafting and sighting. My swim was promptly followed by a cold beer from the awesome sand-bar on the beach, and later by a lunch feast to replenish energy. The day finished with a pleasant surprise as I checked the results and discovered that I finished 1st place in the 44 and under age group. Woohoo!