Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Twin Cities
JG: I arrived at the park around 6:30 am. Telling someone that you will “meet them at the start” always sounds like a good idea at the time, but never seems to work out so well. Roaming the grounds were nearly 1,400 participants and hundreds of spectators and volunteers. I did a quick check of the port-a-potty lines and came up empty. As mentioned above, PG and I once missed each other at the start of a race we intended to run together, so I guess you could say we did not learn our lesson.
Well, I knew he eventually would have to get in the water, so I just walked to the beach and figured he would show up there. Sure enough, about ten minutes before race time, I spotted him coming out of the water after a pre-race swim.
I excitedly greeted him and asked him how he was doing. “Nervous,” was all he said. When I asked him what had him the most nervous he said, “The swim. It isn’t so much that I am trying to meet a certain time goal, but rather just being around all those people and trying to follow a straight line.” PG then gestured to the lake and sighed, “Plus, look at how far it looks.”
I told him that it didn’t look that far to me, but then caught myself and confessed that was easy for me to say as I didn’t have to swim the distance. “Yeah, and it looks a lot further once you are eye level with it in the water.” I reflected on the length of the swim a bit more, as I occasionally swim laps in my backyard pool. A “there-and-back” from a corner in the deep end to the opposite corner in the shallow end is about 25 yards. So, PG basically had to do 85 there-and-backs, in the open water, without a wall to hang on to when he is tired, and surrounded by hundreds of other swimmers. No thanks.
Shortly thereafter, we ran into PG’s aunt-in-law, Jodi, who would become my best friend for the next several hours. Before the two of us left PG to focus on the task ahead, I asked him one final and critically important question. Can you go to the bathroom in your wetsuit? “You can go number one,” he laughed, “and I just might need to tread water for a bit and do that.”
Jodi and I said goodbye to PG, listened to the announcer’s ten second countdown, and watched him disappear into the water. Within seconds, he was lost among 99 other green-capped half-triathlon hopefuls who departed in the third wave.
PG: At 6:32 am, I walked toward the beach with my transition-area neighbor and we exchanged some nervous small talk. He’d done this race twice before and assured me that it was a ton of fun. I turned to reply but he had already gone the other direction. He waved at me while saying he had a “last call” at the porta potty, and I was solo again.
I stopped on a hillside overlooking the beach to put on my wetsuit. People were everywhere. The water was filled with swimmers warming up, lifeguards paddling around in canoes, and boaters waiting to spectate the swim with front row seats.
The timing chip for this race was held on by an ankle bracelet. This was the cheap plastic type of bracelet that one would wear at a water slide, amusement park, or all-inclusive resort. Hmmmm…plastic with sharp edges that will be moving around repeatedly on vulnerable and sensitive body parts over several hours. I had trouble getting my wetsuit over it, but eventually I prevailed – although another encounter with the bracelet was yet to come.
The start time was 7:00 am sharp. As I was suited up by 6:45, I decided to do a warm-up swim out to the first buoy. I squeaked on my pretty neon green swim cap and goggles, and waded into the water. People were all over with no rhyme or reason, so most of the five minute swim was spent looking up with each breath to watch where I was going. But, I was able to get the heart rate up a bit and got comfortable in the water again.
The water temperature was announced as 78 degrees - two degrees higher and they would have required no wetsuits due to the risk of overheating. I’m not sure how I would have reacted if that was announced. I’d like to think I’d feel okay given that I trained with a couple open water swims sans wetsuit, but in hindsight I’m glad I didn’t have to find out. The water felt great; typical lap pool temperatures, but with the early sun on our shoulders, it was perfect.
I was back on the beach by 6:52, and I walked toward the starting funnel gates to mix in with my wave. Right away, either I found JG or he found me and we quickly caught up a bit. Talking helped calm the nerves a lot, even if it was just small talk. I stepped over the barriers to mix in with my wave. Just then, Jodi walked up and I greeted her with a big, wet hug. We talked a bit and she snapped a few pics. More calmness.
At 6:58 am, the announcer gave the two-minute warning to wave 1 – the elite group. I was mixed in about 20 yards back from the water with my feet in the sand. I synced up my watch, bid farewell to Jodi and JG, and began the nervous shoulder-to-shoulder shuffle forward with everyone else.
At 7:00 am, we sent off wave 1 with a loud cheer. The starting gates immediately turned into a scene from the airport where everyone who just heard their row called by the gate agent shuffled forward. We moved inches at a time until all 100 members of wave 2 were knee-deep in the water waiting for their 7:04 start time.
Before I knew it, wave 2 was off and we were moving further into the water. I got a sudden sensation of warmth and tunnel vision set in. I was consciously focusing on each breath as I defogged my goggles and sealed them to my eye sockets. As I watched the mass of wave 2 swimmers rhythmically splashing along out to the buoy, it looked like they were crawling slowly just a few feet behind wave 1. My depth perception realized that I was now nearly eye level with the water and everything was skewed.
The ten second countdown began and everyone crowded together and inched even deeper into the water. Bang – we were off! Those at the front immediately started swimming. We in the middle kept wading deeper and deeper. Slowly people in front of me started nosing down into the water. I kept wading since there were kicking feet directly in front of my crotch. That person was swimming with their head up and I could keep walking at their pace, so I did so until I reached the seaweed.
Into the water I went. Arms and legs were everywhere. I swam with my elbows out a bit to claim my space and protect my face, while doing everything I could not to panic. I followed my breathing plan with one-breathe-one-breathe and kept my pace. As tempting as it was to swim fast to get out of the mess, I focused on not going too fast. Given that I was surrounded by people, there wasn’t much need to focus on going straight; I had no choice on which direction to swim. One-breathe-one-breath-one-look-one-breathe.
We reached the first buoy of the triangle swim; the point to which I swam during my pre-race warm up, and things started spreading out. There was no turn yet, so we continued straight out into the lake. While still a bit crowded, it became increasingly comfortable to plane out and swim my pace. I switched to one-two-breathe-one-two-breathe, and the sun was in my eyes when I breathed to the left. I lifted my head to look every 4th or 5th breath and I was holding a very straight line. The second buoy was visible but looked so far away. No paPGing…just count.
JG: Back on shore, the excitement level stayed high as every four minutes, the announcer would send off another wave of 100 triathletes. In between waves, the announcer would provide such colorful commentary as “If you have ever done acid, don’t look at this guy’s shorts.” It begged the question of how he knew that, but I declined to ask.
Jodi and I killed time while PG was swimming by plotting where to stand so that we could catch him both coming out of the water but also run up to see him at the transition area. Jodi strategically decided that she would stay on top of the hill and allow me to catch the first shot of PG exiting the water (meaning that I would be the one who would have to run up the hill). Once our plan was in place, we had a few minutes to spare, so I paid my own visit to the port-a-potty’s. Wow. If you take nothing else from this article, remember this one thing: don’t use the port-a-potty’s after 1,400 athletes.
PG: We must have passed over a shallow point because suddenly we were in a floating seaweed patch. One strand of coontail got caught on my goggles and wrapped around my shoulder. I kept going but had to break my count to pull it off. I feel it slide down my body and catch on my timing chip, so I had to stop and tread water for a second to get rid of it. This gave me a moment to gain my bearings and take in the sight; I was in the middle of the lake surrounded by hundreds of neon green caps. Everyone had their own rhythm. A few people were swimming on their backs, a few were doing the breaststroke, and a few more were treading water. After this brief moment of serenity, I put my head down and continued onward.
By this point, it felt like we were swimming single file. We turned right and I spotted the next buoy in the distance. One-two-breathe-one-two-breathe. I made it a mental goal to not stop at all on this stretch. Everyone had their own pace at this point. I overtook a person here and there, and I was passed at times. There was an occasional swimmer that turned sideways, and I endured elbow to the back and knee to the shoulder collisions, but nothing interrupted the mantra.
After a bit, I peeked up and found that I was approaching the second buoy. It’s funny, but the quote from Finding Nemo’s Dori “Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!” popped into my head. I became extremely comfortable and felt myself glide through the water without any urge to panic. So, I decided to pick up the pace for a few strokes, switching to one-breathe-one-breathe all through the next right turn.
I went around the buoy the pace slowed as a few people had stopped to tread water or breaststroke through the turn. I peeked up every breath until I straightened out, and then I was back to the mantra again. The final stretch had small buoys strung out regularly to help guide us back towards the beach. Turning my head to the right I could see that the sprint triathletes had started on the shorter swim course in the middle of the triangle and were headed back to shore already. And with each stroke, that shore grew larger.
Next Up: Transition One
PG and Jodi
The last smile of his life?
Where's my acid? (joke)
PG is the one in the green cap
PG claims he swam in more of a straight line and that the zig-zag effect is a result of his watch only working sporadically in the water. It is your call whether to believe him or not.
Last edited by January Guy; 08-09-2012 at 10:42 AM..