Sunday, July 27, 2008

Wetter than I thought

Saturday morning was the Aqua Challenge - my very first open water swim race. Well, my very first swim race of any kind. The team was doing the race in wetsuits, for practice and to see how we'd perform under race conditions.

Claudia and I carpooled to Lake Del Valle in Livermore. Neither of us had been there before and being the compulsive little things we are, we planned to leave my house at 6:15 am to be there at about 7:00. That was the plan until Claudia overslept. Ooopsie! She called and offered to meet me at the park but I figured we had built in enough time that even running late we'd be on time.

And then some. We were among the first people there so at least we had no problems parking. Some of the team had arrived and we joined them to pick up our bibs (which were really little strips with our numbers) and get marked. Marking was a challenge since we were all wearing long sleeved wetsuits, so our numbers went on our hands in red permanent marker (and several showers later mine is still there).

We waited around, had a team meeting, waited some more. Most of us were registered to swim the 1 mile, but those doing the sprint tri were signed up for the 1/2 mile. The 1/2 mile swim started at 8:30 (a little after actually) and we had to wait for all those in the water to finish and get out; some people were doing both races. While we waited we squeezed into our wetsuits and then went into the water to wait some more. It was already too warm to stand around in form-fitting rubber. Finally, it was almost time for the 1 milers to start.

We were shown the course, with big, bright orange float/buoys as markers. We were to go out straight, hang a left at the first buoy across the lake, head way out to the last marker, turn around and head to shore. It looked pretty far away and I started to get apprehensive.

The race started and although I had tried to seed myself at the back, there were others who had the same idea and got behind me. Although the water wasn't freezing, and I was certainly warm enough in the wetsuit, my body freaked out. My breathing was rough and rapid, fast heartbeat, mind frantic. Wha?? People were swimming into me, over me, kicking and hitting me and although I continued forward, I was doing very poorly.

One of our coaches behind me kept saying things like "good job Amy" and "looking good Amy" and I wanted to bop him upside the head because it was truly obvious that I wasn't doing a good job, nor was I looking good. I did some side stroke, some breast stroke, but when I put my face in the water I just couldn't get it out fast enough to breathe. My thoughts were along the line of "maybe I can switch to the sprint tri" and "maybe I won't be able to do a tri" and "what the hell was I thinking" and "I'm going to have to get a ride back to shore in a boat" and "the doctor was right, I'll have a back spasm and drown" and so on. Not quite the positive thinking that gets you going. Righteously freaked out.

On the other hand, my sighting was pretty good (since I couldn't get my face in the water), I was moving forward in a straight line, and headed for the right place. I firmly told my brain to just shut the hell up, and was surprised when I reached the first big orange buoy, the left turn (about 300-400 yards from the start). I made the turn around the buoy and forced myself to try to swim, even though I had to take a breath every single left arm stroke. That was fine, I was moving forward.

I had more trouble sighting in that direction; the lake was way the hell long, and I don't see distances that well. Compound it with the sun in my eyes and watery goggles and it was tough. While focusing on figuring out where to aim I managed to get my stroke under control; one two three breathe left, one two three breathe right. I saw one of the guards on a surfboard and sighted on him, then when I passed him I saw the big orange buoy off in the distance.

I was a little confused that I might be going off course since there were people waaaay over to the side of me. Yup, they were off course, not me. I was headed in a mostly straight line, that I'd straighten out when I sighted every fourth or fifth breath. It had thinned out back where I was and I didn't care if I was last because very few people were in my way or obstructing me.

Finally I reached the big orange buoy, got ready to scoot around the side and realized that everyone else was still going straight. Oh holy crap! There was that other big orange buoy, way the hell out there, that I had forgotten about. Here I thought I was doing great and I still had a hella way to go. Oh well, at least I was in a groove.

When I got to the buoy and turned it got more crowded; I was catching up to a few people in front of me and all those people swimming way off to the side had closed in. Also, the placid smooth lake had developed quite a chop. That was a surprise, something I hadn't expected in the least. I started getting water up my nose, into my mouth and decided that it was excellent training for the tri which wasn't going to be in any smooth lake.

I sighted on the buildings that I thought were at the finish line and swam swam swam. Then I passed the building because the finish line was farther away. Darn. I kept swimming. There were few enough people that I was able to hug the line and cut the final corner close. We had been told to keep swimming until our fingers touched the sand and I kept thinking it would be any minute. The water was clear there and I could see the bottom, but it was still deeper than I thought. I was kicking (which I hadn't been doing much of during the swim) to get some circulation back in my legs, moving forward quickly, and finally scooped up some sand. I got my wobbly legs underneath me and ran for the beach. Ran, hah! Staggered, more like. I was trying to unzip my wetsuit, trying to run, smiling like a fool because I was thrilled to be done, and finally crossed the finish line in 48:04 by my watch. Since that included almost 400 yards of dog paddling, I was happy.

There weren't too many of our team who finished after me, but since some people were doing the 2 mile swim (hello IronTeam) there were still people in the water. I walked back to where we had staged and stripped out of my wetsuit, glad to have it off. It was very warm by then, and in fact several times in the water I had cooled myself off by pulling out the neckline to let water in.

After the swim we were scheduled to do a trail run and, yeah, I was almost happy that I wasn't joining the rest of the team. I didn't mention that my doc told me no running for now. No running, in fact, until 3-4 days have passed pain free. Since I'm not up to pain-free day 1, it'll be a while. I didn't mind too much, I don't really like running on hilly fire trails in 90 degree heat with blazing sun and no shade. Instead I changed into dry clothes and waited for the team to drag their sorry, dehydrated, tired asses back. No, not sorry at all in that instance that I was benched (but I'll be singing a different story when I can't run Monday night).

I'm glad I did the race and realize I have to work on my body's reaction to swimming in open water in a crowd. Since Pac Grove is a double loop course, there will be people around me and over me the entire swim. I'm glad I have a couple of chances to work on that. Heh, maybe I'll ask all the coaches to swim close to me and keep kicking and hitting me for practice.

Saturday night was Pam's goodbye dinner. Sob. Denial isn't helping any, she's moving in a couple of weeks. Dinner was supposed to be Pam, Bree, Anita, Sandy and me but Sandy had to hare off to New York to find somewhere to live, so it was the 4 of us. We met at Stanford's in Walnut Creek, a central location with lots of choices of food and drink.

Anita was running a little behind and the rest of us sat at the table, chatting and checking out the menu. We were all hungry and everything looked good. After Anita arrived we ordered our drinks and continued talking up a storm. The waiter brought the drinks; ice tea for Pam, draft beer for Anita, cocktail for me, cocktail for Bree oh careful lookout watch it oh shit! Bree's entire drink, about 10 ounces of cold booze, mixture and ice, right in my lap. Soaking, drenched, cold.

After the initial horror I actually found it pretty funny. In retrospect, I find it hilarious. But my pants, and the bottom of my shirt, were dripping wet. Luckily I was wearing black, light weight cotton capris that were easy to sponge off. Not dry off, mind you, but I could get the drips off and squeeze out the excess water. The poor waiter was horrified and scared and probably thought I'd clobber him and pitch a fit. I just wanted more towels, more napkins, and when he kept asking what I needed I kept saying "dry pants." Right. At least I insisted on his bringing Bree a drink to replace the one I was wearing.

One hostess came by and was pretty ineffective, then the waiter again, and finally the manager. She asked me what size pants I wore and was going to run next door to Macy's and get me a new pair. Bwahahaha! If I were that easy to fit I'd have a lot more clothes in my closet. I told her it wasn't necessary. She insisted that I send them the dry cleaning bill. Again, bwahahah! As if I own anything that can't be thrown in the washer and drier. She asked what she could do for me and I said comp our meal. She agreed to comp my meal, and buy the table an appetizer. which we weren't going to have anyway, but what the heck. I think she would have bought me cocktails all night long but because I reeked of alcohol I didn't want to take the chance of being stopped on my way home and arrested because I smelled like a distillery.

Despite that little incident, or maybe because of it, the night went very well. We had a great dinner, a nice send-off for Pam. I'll at least get one more run or walk with her next week, so it wasn't a final good bye. But I'm really going to miss her. Our Monday and Thursday night runs were always high points of my week and I looked forward to resuming them when my knee healed and tri training finished. Pam's a great friend, a good therapist, and the perfect running buddy. Good luck, Pam!

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