It’s been seven years since my last swimming race. Seven years exactly in fact — my last race was the 2007 Canada Day Challenge (always held on Canada Day, obviously).
Since then, I’ve gotten horribly out of shape, started running a bit, started running a lot, gotten in pretty good shape, run a few marathons and ultras, and (most relevantly for this topic) started swimming a few times a week for cross-training.
The nice thing about swimming training is the lack of impact. You can go really, really hard and only be tired from it. Not physically broken like I keep discovering with running. Also I like going really, really hard. So once I decided that I’d stick with the swimming a few times a week bit, I also decided I’d do Sasamat (the lake the race is in, and the alternative name for the race) as a bit of a treat.
The evening before I thought “Okay, lets’ get ready for tomorrow!”. I threw my swimsuit, wetsuit (and body glide, for the contact points), towel and goggles (two pair, just in case) in my back pack. A minute later I thought “Oh. Guess that’s it. Guess I’m ready.” Some how for running races I feel like this ends up being more of an ordeal or a ritual. I’m more stressed about it.
I woke up early, had a typical breakfast of oatmeal, toast and coffee and headed out.
I picked up my chief cheerleader on the way out to the lake. It was great having her there, not just for the support and photography, but to see the event through the eyes of a first timer. Open water races are like running races from an alternate universe: they’re kind of the same fun feel and atmosphere, except they’re different in some bizarre ways. Hundreds of people on a beach chatting away while wearing nothing but speedos and stuffing themselves into full-body rubber suits — for example.
After check-in it was time to do the above mentioned rubber suit stuffing. Despite having done this race multiple times in my life — going all the way back to when I was about 12 — I’ve never, ever, raced in a wetsuit before. In FINA competition (international open water races), like the 2005 World Aquatic Champs that I competed in in Montreal, wetsuits are not allowed.
Beyond warmth, wetsuits also provide a substantial amount of buoyancy. Buoyancy makes you go faster. Therefore wetsuits make you go faster.
In 2007 when I last did Sasamat, it was absolutely freezing. The race is two loops of a 2km course. In 2007 I was so cold at the halfway I was seriously considering getting out — if I hadn’t warmed up in the ~25 minutes it took to get halfway there was no way I would warm up on the second loop. Ultimately pride won over and I opted to freeze my self in favour of claiming my first DNF.
I did a short amount of warm up and swam out to the last buoy to try and understand it as a sight line. The end of the loop had us swimming towards the still rising sun and sighting would be very hard.
Off to the start “line”. The line is extremely low key. We all stood around and formed a rough line. It was a gentleman’s start line. Flanking either side of me were my two training partners from the masters club I’d been training with.
My plan was to just take it very relaxed for the first loop, then turn it up a bit for the second. I stuck to this mostly. I made a few changes: First, heading in towards the first buoy I could tell I was already in the lead a little bit. I decided to hammer a bit after the turn in order to try and shake up anyone who was attempting to draft or follow. Second, there was a fairly long straight stretch on the back of the loop. For confidences sake I decided to test out whether I did actually have another gear to go into if I needed it on that second loop. I did, so I turned it off.
I swam the first loop completely alone. It was peaceful and serene. A beautiful day out in the lake.
At the start of the second loop I started running through the pack of the 2km racers who had started about 20-minutes after the 4km racers. They all seemed to be taking the buoys very wide and bowing around the course so I actually didn’t have to swim around them too much. I picked up my pace a little, mainly by adding in a 6-beat kick.
Going into the last set of turns before the final stretch to the finish, I recognized that this would be my perfect chance to see how close behind my competitors were. After one turn in particular we were heading into the sun. A few moments after the turn I turned around to look behind me — I could see perfectly well but if anyone was behind me they would be blind and couldn’t see me sitting in the water scanning for competitors.
I saw a red cap worn by a 4km swimmer 15 meters back! I turned over and started hauling ass. I really didn’t want the race to come down to a stumbling sprint finish (finish line is on the beach, you have to run out). After a few seconds of going too hard, I started passing some more red caps. What? Oh. I was lapping some people from the back of the pack. I thought about it a bit more and realized that the person behind me I’d seen I must’ve lapped too — something didn’t seem right with their stroke if they were that close to me.
I calmed down a bit but kept up the pace for a hard final push.
Passed the last buoy, turned towards the finish line on the beach, swam until my fingers hit sand, stood up and did the awkward run of the exhausted, rubber clad, swimmer.
Afterwards we lounged around the lake getting sun burnt in inflatable dingys. It was a great Canada Day.