Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Eel Lake Open Water Swim

This past summer has been quite unusual in that I haven't been training (not swimming... not running... not lifting... ) as often as I have in the past. In the month of August, I swam just 3 times before the open water swim at Eel Lake on the 22nd. It is no wonder things didn't go as planned.

We drove over to the coast on Friday afternoon. Still not yet recuperated from the previous weekend in NYC, DH and I were on edge and we started out with a nasty argument over my planning skills - er lack thereof in his opinion. I'm usually on top of things but on Friday, things fell apart as I was trying to do too much. Therefore, everytime I recalled something I had forgotten, he'd poke me again. Come Saturday morning, my mental preparedness was simply sour.

DH drove me up to the lake and dropped me off (he and the kids would come back a little later for my swim - no sense hanging out during sign-in). I arrived in the midst of the 3000m swim. It was a little intimidating to see the swimmers come in after the first loop and then continue out again for the second and final loop.
I checked in right away and my number was written on my shoulder (the only moment I thought to take picture). While I waited on shore, I talked with Coach a little - he gave me a few pointers about sighting (as from the water surface the first buoy wouldn't be visible). I was increasingly nervous though I didn't know why. I just didn't know what to expect, I guess.

A moment later, a man approached me and asked, "Eva?" I knew immediately it was Jon, a friend from grade school who I hadn't seen since college. We both attended OSU and ran into each other a couple of times - but otherwise our circles didn't cross - I had moved after 9th grade and we'd lost touch. Facebook had brought us back together and the swim meet sealed the deal. We talked for a little while - not long enough. I hope to get together again next time we're over.

My girlfriend arrived a little later and we discussed strategy... not that I had any. She, on the other hand, planned to stick to another lane mate. They are both stronger swimmers than I - I knew it was in my best interest not to even attempt to do the same.

The first swim was a 500m mystery swim. My plan was to use the 500 as my warm-up for the 1500m. This worked out well and it definitely helped get the nerves out. We lined up in number order - this meant I swam 9th - with 10 seconds between each swimmer. A couple swimmers thereby passed me but I wasn't concerned. The 500 was in a little cove of the lake and we began by swimming parallel to the shoreline to the first marker - a pole on which a cow bell hung. We were to stand and ring the bell loud.

We then proceeded to the second marker, a cooler, in the middle of the cove. From there we were to retrieve a lanyard with a number marker - not to worry, all the lanyard float - and then to the finish where we would exchange the lanyard for a grab bag prize. My lanyard was #46 and my prize (as was everyone's) was a couple of coupons and a Cranberry Sweets lemon pie candy. My girlfriend was #12 and she finished right behind me - I knew then I wasn't having a good swim day.

The 1500m was a mass start... across the lake to a buoy 700m out. Round the buoy on our left side, swim around the point (or, if we chose, we could walk across the shallow area - so long as we were splashing / stayed wet) and into the cove to the second and final buoy. The start was good - there were about 60 swimmers so there was a comfortable space between each of us. At first I was behind a young man with fins - I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be sweet if I couldn't stay in his wake?" But I knew this would have been foolish, "He's got fins for Pete's sake!" There was no way I was going to keep up with him.

I wanted to stay in the middle of the pack. I'm comfortable there. As we got farther from shore, however, and as I was passed by more and more swimmers, I soon realized that I was far from the middle of the pack. I was lucky if I wasn't the last swimmer. This really bothered me.

The wind had really picked up as well and it was very choppy. Many times I took in a mouthful of water. I started to get disoriented and felt a little dizzy. I was zig-zagging all over. I panicked a little and turned over to do back stroke. "Calm down! It's just a swim... you can do this!"

Just before the first buoy, I swam into a wall of lake weed. It was about a foot below me and I panicked again. I started to breast stroke. I was concerned my freestyle stroke would cause me to touch it. "Calm down! It's Elodea! You use this in science... nothing to be afraid of."

I rounded the buoy beside two other swimmers - an older man I didn't recognize and an older woman on the COMA team who swims in Lane 1. After the buoy, the both picked up the pace and left me in their wake. My competitive side kicked in and I thought to myself, "There is no way I am going to let her finish before me. I can't. It would kill my ego." I thereby did my best to pick it up as well.

At the point, I was just 10m or so behind her. I opted to jog across the shallow point - hoping to shake out the legs and make up a little time. It was muddy and very slippery. I couldn't run as much as I had hoped. I dove back in and as I did so - I felt the water wash off the frustration and anger. My kick had not forsaken me. I rounded the last buoy and managed to pass her just 10m from the finish. When it was too shallow to swim, I stood up and ran in under the banner to the finish.

DH was there with a towel. I covered my eyes and allowed him to hold me as I shook off my tears and allowed myself to gain control of my emotions. I was very disappointed in my swim. I don't yet know my time - and I really don't care. This swim was a HUGE learning experience for me.

On the drive home DH said to me, "If you were so scared and panicky, why didn't you just turn around?" "Turn around?! Quit?!" There was no way I was going to do that. I had to finish. I described to him the scenario that all little kids experience - "When you fall off your bicycle, do you simply walk way? No! You get back on and continue forth. You try again." There is no way I am going to let this be my final open water swim. I know I can do better.
Photo courtesy of Toni Brown

COMA won the Large Team Oregon Association Open Water Championships. Coach says, "Although our fastest swimmers present scored some big points, this was a truly a team triumph—this win really belonged to the swimmers who usually swim in lanes one, two, and three; who showed up in force, swam great races, and provided the difference between first and second. Brava and Bravo! Thanks for being there and making it happen again!" Okay. That makes me feel better. Lane 2 rocks! :D


  1. I go through that every time I swim in open water :-) Next time, don't tell yourself you are having a bad swim day before the race. Wait until you've "done your best"!

  2. You finished, that's the important thing. All that stuff going wrong would have freaked me out! Way to go. And we do learn from our "failures."


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