Rockwell, Texas - These race reports can get out of hand in length so I’ll attempt to be brief. There is only one thing I need to report. I completed my first event with an open water swim! It was only 750 meters in Lake Ray Hubbard, but it was in a lake nonetheless.
This is an excellent race for a first timer in open water. PlayTri conducted a swim clinic on Saturday that concluded with an opportunity to swim the course. They supplied a few lifeguards in kayaks and said “have at it.” I did exactly that. This allowed me to practice sighting turn buoys and gain some confidence along the way. This practice run made Sunday’s race so much less stressful.
The other beginner friendly feature was the Swim Stream Start. Rather than a mass of people all starting at the exact same time, they had us line up in order of skill level and sent us across the timing mat one by one. It was similar to a pool based swim other than not inserting a 5-10 second delay between participants. It was still tight quarters at times, but you could generally maneuver into an open spot. The only time I encountered chaos was in the last 100 meters or so. The tail end of Olympic distance swimmers were still in the water so the quicker Sprint racers had to pick their way through these slow Olympians. Had I been fast it would have impacted my race much more than it did.
In retrospect this was a good development. The direction of the finish area after the second turn had us looking directly into the early morning sun. There was zero chance of seeing the buoys intended to guide us in. Rather, I looked up and saw a wide field of swim caps and swinging arms. I soon gave up looking for the finish and just made sure I was moving toward the middle of the scum up ahead. It is a cool sight and my visualization brings a smile to my face.
Having people around you has another benefit that I hadn’t thought of until the race clinic. You can use other participants to help you sight. Rather than raise your head out of the water every few strokes in an attempt to spot the turn buoy, you just swim along with the others. If everyone is sighting occasionally, it is unlikely you are all swimming too far off track. There was a stretch in the middle of the race that I felt alone. I panicked briefly, but some extra time looking for the next buoy reassured me that I was on course. I went pretty wide coming out of the first turn so I must have gone outside the direct route. However, my GPS shows a fairly straight line between the two buoys. This was not the case in practice on Saturday.
I’m always amazed at how gassed I am at the end of the swim. After the first several events, I have gotten comfortable and relaxed in the swim. I try to go easy since a hard effort would only yield a minuscule reduction in overall race time. Yet, trying to get out of the pool up the ladder is no small task. I assume it is a mix of adrenaline and high heart rate that diminish simple motor skills. This event had stairs you walked up to get out of the lake. The problem was that the clarity of the water prevented me from seeing the stairs so one had to guess where a step might be. I must have banged my shin or something because as I was finally getting up the stairs a volunteer asked me if I was ok. So, I either looked in bad shape or she saw an expression on my face during the exit that triggered her response. It didn’t cross my mind again.
From there it was on to transition, a ten mile bike loop, transition, and a 5k run. Both the bike and run courses were hilly. I found the bike course particularly challenging with some sharp downhill turns that are always a touch hairy for a new cyclist like me. The course was also spectator friendly with the small 1.55 mile run loops. These events can be pretty lonely, but the crowds were quite healthy.
This is a wonderful event that I will have circled on my calendar in 2016.
Run in Peace, Rest in Grace