One of my biggest hesitations about returning to this race was not that in 2013 I was in a bike crash and broke my arm and in all my finishing pictures I have a great big bloody handprint on my shorts. It was that there are jellyfish in the sea. I've been told plenty of times that they don't hurt, they are little no-see-ums but when I escaped the first go-round at this race without being zapped, I considered myself lucky and vowed never to return because I was sure my luck would run out.
Last time I was here we stayed in an all-inclusive resort, and for a lot of reasons I don't think that was the best logistical decision. This time, there were six of us staying in a huge VBRO that we found just blocks away from packet pick-up/the grocery store/T2/the finish line, and it made the whole trip much easier. After we landed, we picked up our packets, went for a shake-out run and got bikes built, ate dinner and were off to bed.
On Friday we rode pretty early, down to T1 and back, and my legs felt solid. I got a chance to push into the wind a bit and it all felt relatively effortless. The rest of the day was pretty relaxing, the non-racing athletes went off to play golf and I stretched out and caught some vitamin D on our roof with my book and girl talk. Saturday morning we headed down to the practice swim and it felt so good to stretch out and be warm. I think the two days between my Wednesday workout and getting in the water Saturday morning was the longest I've gone for quite some time without being in the water (because I am a giant nerd that loves to swim every day). Getting to swim a few minutes did more to center me than anything else in the few days leading up to the race.
We hung on the cages for a while and watched the dolphins play and then headed back home to get through all the pre-race drop-off logistics. It all went pretty smoothly, a little bump when we were done walking everywhere and starving and the breakfast place was closed, but we eventually filled our bellies and tucked in for naps. I slept about 2.5 hours and then sat on the roof in recovery boots, watching the sun go down, chatting with some girlfriends and thinking about nothing more complicated than how much I like salty buttered toast the day before a race.
I didn't sleep very well that night, which is unusual for me. I was awake and in the shower as soon as my alarm went off, got dressed and we were on our way. Getting in and out of T1 and onto the shuttle buses to the start went quickly, we had just a few minutes to visit the portapotty, slather on another layer on sunscreen and suit up.
In 2013 the current was very strong and the swim was quick - I felt like I was laying on a conveyor belt running north-south for most of it. And it looked like it was fast last year as well, so I wanted to take advantage of that to put up a silly swim time. I lined up about seven rows back from the start, bumping into a fellow Smashfest-er in the corral. We chatted for a minute and the first little bit of nerves popped up. I always hate the waiting around in the crowd, I just want to get going into the day. It was probably only a couple of minutes before the horn blew and we started the slow stumble through the start. Looking back, I should have hustled it through but I walked over the mat and then it was probably almost two minutes before I worked myself to the end of the dock (which I found out under the race was actually collapsing under us) and hopped in.
I had clear water right from the start. I was expecting a current so I didn't fret about finding feet especially since I suck at drafting. There was no kicking or thrashing or dodging, I just settled into the effort and I actually spent almost the entire swim completely alone. I noticed that a woman that was standing next to me in the corral was swimming off to my right when we started, and I was happy to get out of the water at the end with her and a couple of men that I recognized from the start as well, because it meant I had seeded myself properly.
The first half of the swim, I didn't feel like I was moving well, and I couldn't really puzzle out why until I started watching the debris and fish under me and realized that it was pushing against us ever so gently. I reset my expectations of how long it would feel until I got out - although it still felt long - and kept right on stroking. I felt a few stings as I started, but I thought it was the salt water against my freshly shaven legs until I got zapped a good one under my chin and realized that I was bumping into jellyfish. The one under my chin hurt for quite a while, it felt like something was stuck there and I kept trying to pull it out between strokes, and I got a few more on my arms as I went, but to be honest I was relieved to find that everyone was right and these stings weren't really a big deal.
The docks where we would exit came up slowly, and it got a bit more crowded as we turned to head towards shore. I blew a tiny bit wide after the turn and had to swim back over and correct, and I paused just for a few seconds to pee one last time before climbing up the stairs to get out. Without having any idea of what my swim time was (I never wear a watch in the swim or look at the clock if I can help it), I was fully thrilled with my effort and felt like I had executed it perfectly. I've been having swims like this in triathlon all year. I swim harder/stronger than I have in the past and then I realize that I didn't die from swimming hard and I probably have a stronger effort in me, so the next time around I swim a little bit harder. And repeat. That's exactly how I feel about this swim. I moved more consistently and steadily through the water than I have ever before in an ironman swim, but based on how I felt running into the transition tent, I think there's still a lot more in there for next time.
Swim: 2.4 miles, 1:01:50, 3rd AG
I heard the announcer saying there is still another hour and twenty minutes until the swim cut-off as I was getting changed so I knew I swam somewhere around an hour and that was plenty good enough for me. There was only one other woman in the changing tent when I blew through, and we gave each other good swim! verbal high-fives. I sprayed on another round of sunscreen (maybe the fifth layer so far the day, for those keeping track at home), wrestled into my long-sleeve sun top, pounded most of a bottle of OSMO and got moving. My AWA status (which I kinda think is just silly gold star crap) gave me a baller rack spot for the first time ever, so I had a very short trot to grab my bike and head towards the mount line. I could hear my husband yelling over the crowd because he is the loudest person on the entire planet and I knew he could see the huge smile on my face as I rolled on out.