It was, hands-down, the one of the hardest events I've ever participated in. Not so much physically, but much more mentally. It's taken me all this time to process it.
I signed up for two reasons. First, it was put on by the same people who do the Tiki Swim, a 2.4 mile that I've done the last two years. While the Tiki Swim is always challenging for me, I'm always proud of myself for finishing. This year the group added this Spring Classic Swim, and, along with their Labor Day 1 Mile Swim (something I've never done but am now signed up for) the three events add up to their new Trident Swim Series. If you finish all three swims, you get an extra medal at the end or something. I've done similar challenges with running, and thought a swim challenge would be different. Secondly, I have a half-Ironman coming up, and I thought an open water race would be good a month beforehand.
And the race looked fun! They bought rubber duck swim buoys and were using these as course markers. I pre-purchased a hoodie with said rubber duck on it (I wear my Tiki hoodie all the time). How bad could it be? Rubber ducks! And 3k was totally doable. In miles, that's about 1.9 miles----I'm doing 1.2 for my half-Ironman, and have done 2.4 a few times for Tiki, so I knew I could do the distance.
|how bad could a race with rubber ducky buoys be? Source|
After my last triathlon, I was really worried about shoulder pain in my full wetsuit. I ended up buying a sleeveless, which I plan on using at Vineman 70.3. I had only swam in it once before the Spring Classic, and was hoping that I wouldn't have any issues---that it would keep me warm enough and that I wouldn't have any chafing!
The day was to be big training day, too. After the swim, I had orders to bike 40 miles, and then do a 20 minute transition run. I had my car loaded up with everything I needed for such a big day.
Race day logistic were pretty easy. I got to the Oceanside Harbor early, found parking (and my friend Marianne happened to park next to me!) and easily got my packet (a timing chip and swim cap, plus a cute bag with the duck logo) and also picked up my hoodie. The organizers were doing some sort of aerial shot for promotional purposes, so they had us go out to sand and sit in certain places while a drone overhead took pictures. I also got to meet Lisa, another local triathlete, for the first time. After that, it was time to suit up. I went back to slip on my wetsuit, swim socks, and timing chip----and realized I had left my new Garmin 910xt in the car! Oops! By this point there was only 10 minutes to start time, so I literally sprinted to my car, which wasn't very close (but not super far). I didn't have time to put my shoes on, so I sprinted in just my swim socks. I made it back to the beach with just a minute to spare...found Marianne for a last hug, put on my cap and goggles, and was ready.
The horn blew and we ran into the ocean. At least, I walked in. Those that read my blog know that big waves scare me, but luckily the waves were not big at all. Small as they were, I kept getting knocked back, but was finally able to get through. The water didn't feel cold at all, and I was happy to be in a sleeveless. My goggles kept leaking, though, so once through the waves I had to keep stopping to adjust. I finally got out, with a lot of effort to the first buoy (ahem, rubber duck). It's always hard for me to swim out in the ocean, with the waves and current pushing me back.
Once out at the first buoy, I turned south. As you can see from the course map, it's a clear shot down, turning right before the Oceanside Pier, then turning again to come north and end the race.
It seemed to take forever for me to reach the turnaround buoy, even though according to my Garmin (with my new waterproof watch it was the first time I was able to see time and distance in the water!) I was making good time, at least for me. I was in the back of the pack, but there were still other swimmers behind me. I am not a fast swimmer, ever, but the pace I was keeping here was consistent with my usual pace. I was in an ok place. I started to get cold, though---especially my hands. They started to feel like frozen blocks.
I finally made the turn around and started to swim north. I was getting tired, and just wanted this to be over. The buoys looked so far away, and I started to feel hopeless. A lifeguard on a surfboard was by me, and told me I had to move east. If you look at the picture above, you can see the line of duck buoys I had to swim. I was swimming in the right direction (north) but the buoys were so far too my left, I wasn't by them. He told me I was heading in the surfers' zone, and would be in danger, so to keep swimming north but to head northeast (to my left). I tried, but kept going straight.
I stopped for a break to orient myself when something happened to me that has never happened before--I got a cramp. Two, actually---first my right calf seized up and immediately after, my left calf. I've heard of other people getting cramps in their legs and feet while swimming, but I had never experienced it before. It was, to say the least, excruciating. I was in so much pain that I literally started screaming and had to hold onto the lifeguard's surfboard. The pain is hard to describe, but if you've ever had a muscle seize (like a charley horse) you know what I mean. Now imagine both calfs at once. In the middle of the ocean. During a race.
Yes, I was scared.
My lifeguard called another lifeguard, who came in on a jetski. It had a boogie board attached to the back, and he ordered me to get on it and hold on tight. He wanted to move me, as I was in the line of surfers (due to my poor sighting). He took off on his jetski, and moved me to the buoy line. He didn't move me north, he just put me back on course. I'd estimate he moved me about 1/10 mile or so. He told me to use this opportunity to stretch out my calfs, which were still screaming. I did what I could (flexing and extending them) but I was limited, as I was hanging on to the back of a jetski! I was crying, sobbing loudly. I was so embarrassed. I couldn't believe I had to get rescued by not one, but two, lifeguards. I am not a fast swimmer, but I am a strong swimmer----and I was humiliated. I knew no one else cared, but I cared.
When we got to the buoy, the lifeguard asked me if I wanted to finish the swim or for him to take me back. Of course I wanted to finish! I don't quit. He warned me to make the right decision, as he was worried about me swimming in the ocean with cramps. But the cramps had subsided a bit, and I knew I could finish the race. My original lifeguard (whose name I found out was Ryan) stayed with me the whole way on his surfboard, talking me through it and encouraging me. I finally made it to the last buoy, body surfed a few wave in, and trudged in to the finish line. My friends were at the finish line and yelled at me to run it in, but I just walked across. I was done. I got my "medal" (a cute rubber ducky on a ribbon) and burst into tears.
My Garmin read 2.3 miles (4100 yards). This was way further than the 3k advertised. Yes, I had extra mileage because I was off-course (and then minus some mileage with the jet ski ride) but another girl there, who swam on course, said her Garmin read 2.2 miles. So I'm pretty accurate there. I can do an Ironman distance swim (2.4 miles) but I wasn't planning on it that day!
|My swim. You can see how off-course I was--and where the jetski set me right|
What were the tears about? I think it was a mixture: humiliation that I needed rescuing, frustration that I cramped up, exhaustion from the efforts I put forth, and fear that I wouldn't be ready for my upcoming half-Ironman. But also some pride. Yes, I had rescues by TWO lifeguards. Yes, I was freezing and exhausted toward the end. Yes, I almost came in last place. But I did almost an Ironman-distance swim. More importantly, I didn't give up. I finished the race.
|post-race, feeling every emotion imaginable|
After drying off, crying on both Marianne's and Lisa's shoulders, and taking a few pictures, I felt better. I did end up going on a strong 40 mile bike ride (rode from Oceanside to Del Mar and back, along the beautiful coast) and did my 20 minute transition run.
On my bike ride, I decided I really don't like ocean races, and don't want to do them anymore. I will do the Labor Day 1 Mile Swim, and the Tiki Swim again (mainly because I'm doing it for my friend Leo, who registered but then got deployed to Afghanistan, and he asked me to take his place. If he can serve our country, I can do a freaking 2.4 mile ocean swim for him). I will finish the Trident Swim Series. I will finish what I started. And, of course, never say never. But at this point, I think I will stick to open-water swims triathlons only in bays----and save ocean swimming for fun with friends.
Final thoughts on the race---my wetsuit was great! Even though I ended up being cold toward the end, I had no chafing and it fit great. And I'm wondering if my leg cramps were due to the sprinting I did before the race to get my Garmin. Running in just socks couldn't have been good for me---and I wonder if I messed myself up. I ended up with calf cramps for a few days after!
Personally, I will not do this race again. But I have to say the organizers did a great job, just like they always do for Tiki. Great course support, lots of lifeguards, etc. The only issue I have it the measurement of the course, as I don't believe it is only 3k.