September 30, 2013

Tiki Swim Race Recap ('13)

At the beginning of the year, I set some new athletic goals for myself.  I had just finished my first half-Ironman, and wanted a new challenge for myself. As I have no interest in doing a full Ironman, I decided to focus on each sport. I set a goal to do something in each sport that scared me.  Overcoming fear was to be the theme of 2013.

For running, that meant my first trail race, which I did in February. For cycling, that meant my first century ride. Although I signed up for one in June, I did not do it, as I was advised to rest completely due to injury (which turned out to be a herniated disc; resting did nothing to help).  Although I did not do the century, I did a lot of training for it, including conquering my fear of biking up a huge hill, Scripps Poway Parkway, which I biked three times. And for swimming, that meant doing the Tiki Swim, a 2.4 mile open water swim race.

Yes, 2.4 miles, which is an Ironman distance. This would be a huge jump in distance for me, as the half-Ironman I had done was "only" a 1.2 mile swim.  Over the past few months, I kept my swim distance in the pool to my usual 2000-3000 yards until mid-August, when I bumped up to some 3500 yards swims. (For comparison, 2.4 miles is about 4224 yards).  At the beginning of September, I started to get coached by my Ironman friend Steve, who added more mileage and drills, drills, drills!  By the time race day came yesterday, I had completed a 4250 yard pool swim, as well as multiple 3500 yarders with drills, paddles, and using the pull buoy, all designed to make it tougher and to make me stronger.  In addition, I joined some of my friends for a few ocean swims over the past few weeks, all the better to get used to my wetsuit again, remember how to get through waves, and get used to swimming in the swells and currents.

I had 4 goals.  My "A" goal was to finish in under 1:45 (my 2.4 mile pool swim had been 1:50). My "B" goal was to finish in under 2:00.  My "C" goal was to finish in under 2:20, which was the official race cutoff time.  And my "D" goal was just to finish, regardless of time.

As an aside, about a month ago I was on one such a swim with my friends, when my hands and feet suddenly got freezing. The water temperature was not that cold, and I myself was warm in my wetsuit. But my fingers were frozen, and my feet weren't much better. After the swim, I bought a pair of swim booties, worrying that during the Tiki Swim I would be frozen. However, at my last ocean practice, my hands and feet were fine, so I returned the booties to the store.  During Tiki, I was sad about this.

Now, back to my race report!

The day before the race was packet pickup.  They also had packet pickup the morning of the race, but I was getting anxious and wanted to get it early. I headed to Oceanside with my daughter, A.  Big mistake.  I had forgotten that the swim was taking place during Oceanside's Harbor Days, which apparently was a two-day festival literally set on the harbor.  Parking was awful, and I had to catch a shuttle to get to the festival.  If I do the swim next year, I won't get the packet the day before. For this race, the morning of is just fine.  Regardless, I got my packet (swim cap, timing chip and velcro strap) and goody bag.  There is no t-shirt given out (they give a trucker hat out at the finish instead) but I ended up buying a Tiki Swim hoodie. I know I'll proudly wear it all winter. I got home and packed my gear and of course, got a poor night's sleep (I rarely sleep well the night before a race!)

packet pickup

My alarm was set for 4:40, but I was up at 3:30 for good. I got dressed and waited to be picked up by my friend C, was was doing the 1.2 mile version of the Tiki Swim (my husband was supposed to do the 1.2 mile swim, but since he had the brain surgery in August, he wasn't able to participate. I convinced my friend C to take his bib).  C picked me up at 5:15 and we made the half hour drive to Oceanside in the dark.  We parked in the paid lot by the pier (it was recommended to park here, which was close, or several blocks way at the Transit Center for free).  My friend Ted showed up, and the three of us waited in C's car for a while. It was dark, windy, and freezing outside!

Finally the sun started to rise and it began to warm up a bit.  We got out of the car so that C and Ted could get their packets.  They also bodymarked everyone, putting our race numbers on our hands (this was new to me....usually in triathlon you get marked on your shoulder and calf, but of course, in an event where most people are in wetsuits for the entire time, the hand makes sense!) Soon we also met up with other friends (Rebecca, Stuart, Leah and Leo). all of whom I met on Dailymile.  C left to take the shuttle to the 1.2 mile start.  We suited up and I got in the water to test out the temperature, my suit and my goggles.  Everything seemed fine!  The temperature was roughly 67 degrees---very lovely.  My goggles seemed to be leak-free, and I got water in my wetsuit to warm myself up.  I saw another buddy of mine, a man who swims at my gym and has done this race the previous two years.  Back to the beach for  some instructions from the race director, and it was time to line up!  I had been thinking of taking some Clif Shot Blocks with me in my wetsuit sleeve, as I always munch on them in the middle of super long swims. But I didn't like how they felt in my wetsuit, so decided to just stop at the aid station midway for a gel and a drink.  I had fueled myself with a Luna Bar at home before I got picked up, and a Honey Stinger Waffle while waiting with my friends in the car.

The Tiki Swim, now in it's third year, is a point-to-point swim.  The 2.4 milers start just south of the Oceanside pier. The plan is to swim out to an orange buoy, then turn right and head north, again following the orange buoys.  We were instructed not to sight off the pier, as that would get us off-course. Sight on the buoys only.  Eventually we would be joined by the 1.2 milers, who would be in a different colored cap (them in orange, us in yellow).  An aid station in the form of a boat (an outrigger canoe, I think) would be at that point too.  Soon we would all approach the harbor and head toward the right, into it, following the buoys which would now be green.  After swimming to the end of the harbor, we would finish at a boat ramp.

A man blew on a conch shell, and the race was on!  Exactly one year ago, on September 30, I did the SuperFrog Half Ironman in horrific wave conditions---the waves were about 6 feet tall.  It was awful.  Today the waves were small, about 2-3 feet.  I hung back a bit as most of the swimmers ran in, wanting to give myself plenty of space. It didn't take too long for me to get past the breakers, and soon enough I was able to start swimming.

And swim I did.  I kept swimming, and swimming and swimming, and still wasn't getting out to the first buoy.  I don't have a waterproof Garmin, so I don't know how far out the first buoy was or how long it took me, but it seemed to take forever! Finally, FINALLY, I got to the first buoy and rounded it.  I had hardly any swimmers around me on the way there, but it got a bit congested making the turn.  Once I got there, I was already tired, which didn't surprise me. Even with the mild waves, it still takes a lot out of me to swim against the tide and get out there. Also, even in the pool, it takes me a good 500 yards or so to warm up. I wasn't warmed up yet.  There were a few swells even past the break, and some currents to fight, notably near the first buoy, by the pier, and near the entrance to the harbor. Nothing horrible, but enough of a current that I had to work just a bit harder.

I decided to swim from buoy to buoy, and give myself a quick break (a few seconds) at each one to orient myself.  I was sighting during swimming, of course, but it was good for me to take these quick stops to see where I was heading to next.  Soon, my feet were cold.  Darn it, I should have worn those booties!  I passed a man who was wearing some and I was instantly jealous.  I had a brief chat with this man; I passed him and he was bobbing in the water, trying to find the next buoy.  All of the buoys were orange circles, but there was one triangle one that signaled where the aid station was and also where the 1.2 milers would be merging in with us.  He didn't see the triangle until I pointed it out to him. I asked him the time (he had a watch on) and he replied it had been 52 minutes since the start.  I was happy, as I knew we were about halfway and that was a good time for me.

One note about course support---there was a ton!  Throughout the entire race, there was always at least one lifeguard on a stand-up paddle, kayak or boat nearby. One even shouted at me to move toward the left as I drifted a bit off-course. I always felt safe, knowing they were there.  Swimmers were allowed to rest on the boats if they wanted, as long as they didn't have any forward movement. I never needed to rest, of course, but it's nice that the option was there.  And the lifeguards were so nice, shouting out words of encouragement as I passed and giving me time of day when I asked.

I kept swimming and swimming and swimming.  I wasn't too bored, which was surprising; on most of my long swims (any pool swim 2500 yards or longer) I use a waterproof iPod to keep my mind occupied.  I was thinking, racking my brain, trying to think of all my kids' past Halloween costumes from each year (this was harder than you'd think; I still can't remember one of my daughter's costumes, and thinking about it during the swim kept me busy!)  I started to get thirsty, as I had been swallowing a lot of salt water.  I looked for the aid station, which should have been near, but I had passed it!  Ugh!   A lifeguard asked me if I wanted him to get me something, but I said no.  After not bringing my Clif Shot Block with me, I ended up eating and drinking nothing on the swim! I  kicked more than I usually do.  Normally I don't kick at all, only use my legs to balance me, as I need to save my legs for the bike and run portions (it's the triathlete's way). but since I didn't have to bike or run after, I felt free to kick and propel myself a little faster.  I tried to go stronger with my arms, too, as per my race plan, but when I did I tired out easily. I decided to just keep it nice and steady.

Finally, I passed the last orange buoy and was directed to swim toward the mouth of the Oceanside Harbor. Here the buoys were green, and the water was flat and calm.  As soon as I turned into the harbor, the smell of food overwhelmed me.  The Harbor Days festival was getting underway just above me! I especially smelled something sweet, probably funnel cake. It also smelled briny too. I just kept swimming, looking through the green-tinted water, watching my hands as they entered.  This part of the course is actually the swim course of the Ironman 70.3 California Oceanside, a race that I will be doing in exactly six months I kept thinking that the next time I'm in this water it'll be during my next half-Ironman!

At last I was in the final few hundred yards. I saw the boat ramp ahead, and the lifeguards nearby cheered me to finish. There were a lot of people lining the boat ramp watching. As I am so slow (most of the 2.4 milers had already finished  [although I was NOT last at all] and I never even saw ONE of the 1.2 milers, as they had all finished already) I was the only one finishing at that time.  All I kept thinking was "don't slip in front of all these people!"  I swam until my hand hit the ground, then I stood up. Luckily there was not one, but FOUR volunteers at the bottom of the boat ramp to catch people. I needed all four to help me, as the boat ramp was very slippery and I was disoriented from suddenly standing up. I ran, or rather stumbled, up the boat ramp and crossed the timing mat.  One volunteer placed a medal and a ribbon lei around my neck; a second gave me my finisher's trucker hat.  I was done. I  was on dry land. I had finished!  Not only that, I had smashed my "B" goal by about 10 minutes or so, easily finishing within 2 hours. And, I had energy left over to boot. I was glad to be done, but if necessary could have swam further.

Stuart was at the finish, and eventually we met up with Rebecca and Leah (Ted and Leo had already left).  My husband, J, came after dropping the kids off at Sunday School, and while he had missed my finish, he was so proud of me.  Although a pancake breakfast was free for all finishers, we decided to leave and hit up a local cafe for a more hearty, and private, breakfast.

right after the race, soaked and dazed
dry and happy!

A day later, I am still in shock at how much fun I had. I love my running races, and enjoy triathlon, but didn't expect to love this swim-only event so much.  I didn't love every minute, but overall it was fantastic.  It was a very well organized event, and I thought it was pretty unique. And for me, the date (to the day, it was exactly a year ago that I did SuperFrog and exactly six months until Ironman Oceanside 70.3) was poignant. A great anniversary and a great kickoff to my next training. If I am in town next year for this event, I will most likely sign up again.  The only thing I would do different is apply glide to my neck---I never do, as I'd never chafed before, but after the event the entire back of my neck is chafed badly. Ouch!

Next up is the Mission Bay Triathlon, which I'll do next week!


  1. I knew you'd rock the swim but I'm so SO happy that you enjoyed it too! What a great day and great accomplishment!!

  2. Yay! Congratulations! I knew this would go great for you! For my 2.4 mile swim training I only did 4000 yd in the pool once. It's just not the same in the pool. I think your training for this was perfect! Plus you go in it with such reasonable expectations. Very proud of you!

  3. swim is a gift for life, enjoy it


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