This open water swim was on the schedule for the group I'm coaching with in Boulder. I had a long series of training days with lots of early wake-ups leading up to the weekend, so when I went to bed Saturday night, I told myself if I get up early enough to make it, I'll do it; if not, I'll go to masters instead. And the sun popped up early and so did I, and I felt okay so I threw the freak in the car and headed over to the reservoir.
I got checked in pretty quickly and sat on the grass breaking not one or two but three sets of goggles, finally managing to arts-and-crafts together a single frankenstein version just in time to miss most of the warm-up. At the reservoir, they open up a closed-in area for warm-ups and everyone swims in a tiny whirlpool circle, and it always makes me laugh to watch. I was able to get in two quick laps (left arm always gets more warmed up than right in here) and that was pretty much that.
The half mile version of the race went off first, and then all the two mile people sloshed into the water. I worked my way up to the front-ish few rows, blew some bubbles underwater, and looked around. An athlete and friend of mine was standing right there next to me, and I jumped up and high-fived him once, and then again while we waited for the horn to go off. It just set the tone of the whole day so nicely for me, laughing and splashing in the open water, in a split-second I felt the joy of the day come in and then the gun went off and we were going.
And holy shit did we go (I'm pretty sure one of those arms might be mine).
I thought back, while thrashing in the fray, to the first open water swim I ever did. It was the swim relay leg of the Key West Triathlon several years back, and I was the only one without a wetsuit. It was cold and murky and there were lots of weeds and I was terrified to put my face in the water, so I did backstroke for about 70% of the swim and gasping breaststroke for the rest. The swim was a mile, and if I remember correctly it took me well over forty minutes, and it was awful and I never wanted to do it again.
So off we went. Boulder is, well, Boulder, and athletes here do not fuck around. This was easily the most violent open water start I've ever swam through. I got kicked in the gut, punched in the nose, the ears, the temples, rolled over, yanked under, it was so much worse than IMLP last summer which was the worst whaling of my life to that point. I think it's likely in part because I was so close to the front, but I wanted at least a tiny chance at getting into that front pack so I fought hard for it, off the line. And instead of being completely pissed off like I was at IMLP, it made me laugh, it fired me up, I wanted to be in there, swinging my own fists and kicking my own noses, I had an inkling that this is what it takes to race.
I swam decently hard the first few hundred meters, trying to find feet to hang onto while everyone blew apart. And for a little while, every time I breathed to my left, there was my swim start friend in his matching goggles, breathing towards me, and that made me smile (and swallow water). Once he disappeared I spent the rest of the swim wondering if he was just chilling out in my draft. We turned north for the short side and then had just rounded the buoy towards the west when I noticed that my gut was feeling heavy and rumbly. Right before we started I dug a melted disgusting and probably very old LaraBar out of the bottom of my swim bag and scarfed it down, and that was not good when combined with all of the reservoir I surely sucked down in the initial thrash. I swam hard a couple of strokes, turned my head to breathe and instead puked up a huge gush of water and slightly-used bites of bar (triathlon is so fucking classy, I don't know how I stand it). I actually felt quite a bit better after that, and ended up finding a set of feet somewhere along the way while trying to clear my mouth out. But either the feet were drunk or I was, because I spent the entire long stretch across the back getting dropped from the feet and looking up to see them way off to the left...and then finding the feet again, over-correcting, and there they were off to the right. It's pretty likely that I have no ability to swim straight but I think this was about the worst job of drafting I've done in open water, ever.
When we came back around to start the second loop, I felt pretty good. I didn't feel like I swam the first loop particularly fast but it felt solid, certainly better than the "singing Katy Perry songs in my head" effort I was putting out last month in Chattanooga. I searched the shore for the poet as we went by but didn't see him, and when we hit the turn buoy to flip north again, I decided to dig down and see who I could catch. The hard part about catching people in open water is that if you can catch them, you can probably swim faster than them. So I would come up behind someone, hop on their feet to grab an easy breath, and then see if I could go around without sprinting like crazy. As I came off the long back stretch for the second, I hopped on a pair of feet that belonged to a woman swimming without a wetsuit (beast), and I finally found my perfect match.
She stepped up the effort as we turned, and I went with her. She was swimming just hard enough that I was able to swim hard myself without touching her feet every 4 seconds. (It turned out later that this is someone who swims one lane up from me at masters on Sunday mornings so I was thrilled that I was even able to hang on). I followed her straight in, stroke for stroke, and suddenly my fingers were scraping the bottom and it was time to get out.
I ended up 7th OA wetsuit'd woman and I think 11th or 12th including the heroes that swim without their neoprene safety blankets (so brave). 54 minutes for two miles that included a bit of a chill effort and some hard swimming, and the first thing I said when I got out of the water was, I wonder if I could get in and swim another loop?
So, a pretty nice day in the water. Certainly I didn't use up one of my precious few all-out race efforts that I think we only get a few of each year, but I did feel like I swam much better than I did last month, and there's a bit of satisfaction in that. I also got to wear my favorite bikini (that has now drooped into a parachute) one more time before trashing it, I am totally in love with the freak and any day I get to rock I'm happy (me to anyone who will listen: Look! It has abs drawn on it!), and then I had brunch with my new partner-in-crime, Jenni. Excellent work for any Sunday, I'll say.