Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ironman - The Swim

July 12, 2009 -

I had a rough idea...but really no clue what to expect for the 2.4 mile, 2200 person mass start swim for Ironman Coeur d' Alene. Although I have been getting faster and more confident with every triathlon swim start, I still have remained fairly timid with my approach. Usually starting in the the middle to back of the pack hoping to avoid the bulk of the kicking and clawing cluster.

I think my ignorance as to what happens at the Ironman mass start worked in my favor as I just kinda moseyed my way up toward the front rather than slipping to the back of the pack. Not that I thought I was the fastest, but I just thought I was gonna go for it. I could either get trampled at the front and leave all the slower people there, or get trampled at the back and have to fight crawling over the slower people. I guess it was the confidence that I wasn't the slowest person anymore, and I had a place somewhere up there in the middle/front.

Then.....the cannon.....BOOM!

"And the 2009 Ironman Coeur d' Alene is underway!"

It was the only time I would stand next to Yukon for the rest of the race. We ran into the water and took an awkward diving plunge in, trying to avoid the mass around us....but as I quickly found out...there was no avoiding it.

For at leas the first 100 yards there was no real recognizable stroke of swimming. If there was, it was a this bobbing, head out of water freestyle. The only goal was to move forward and try to find some space to swim freely because if I could just do that, I would be fast, I could finish in my goal time. But there was no opportunity for this, for me, at this point in the swim. There were people everywhere, kicking, clawing, swimming in diagonal lanes across you, stopping and was chaos.

It was at this moment when I learned the real trick to triathlon swimming. It's not sticking in the back of the pack, it's not timidly swimming your way along and it is definitely not stopping every time someone claws at you, reorganizing yourself and starting again. In this race, there was no opportunity to do that. The real trick, in this mass start race, with 2200 athletes all trying to swim in the same place you are, is to swim aggressive. Not to fight against the people swimming around you per se, but to fight for your swim. To not let people grab your feet and ankles but rather to give big kicks to shy others away. To not let people into your swimming space by using big aggressive strokes to let them know that it's your space.

I learned as I practiced this that the people that swim this way through the crowds are the ones who get to swim the race they practiced for. Everyone else has to swim timidly and shyly letting everyone else by until they get to swim last. I was a lion out there fighting through all the lambs clobbering back, kicking big and trying to do what I had practiced so long to do...swim my 2.4 miles in Ironman.

The swim was a two loop swim and the first loop was pretty much a struggle for most of the loop. I used a ton of energy trying to fight off all the people knocking. I got a heel in my calf turning in to a charlie horse and an elbow to the goggles jamming them into my eye socket. That was about the worst of the contact, the rest was just a lot of grabbing and small kicks.

The first turn turned into this crazy bottleneck where all the swimmers who were 50 yards wide converged on the turn where it became a standstill. Hundreds of swimmers stuck in a traffic jam trying to kick and swim, but so jammed in there was no room to kick or swim. It was the only point on the swim where I felt a little nervous at the chaos. Eventually, I got around it and on the way back on the first loop, it opened up a little and we were with the choppy waves so it was a quick trip back to shore.

First loop: 39:43 (I was shooting for 40, so happy about that)

After a quick 10 yard jog out of the water and over the timing mat, I plunged back in for loop two. The second loop was nice the field had cleared out enough to get a swimming lane, however the drawback was that there were not as many swimmers to break up the chop. It was a windy morning, which meant the chop was active out there. That leg out to the first turn was taxing; the waves kept coming. You would catch one wave at the top of your stroke breaking your power coming down, and sometimes you would catch one wave at the bottom killing the opportunity for a full stroke. Eventually, I got some sort of cadence to it, but I could tell this leg was slower.

Fortunately, this next turn was only half the bottleneck as the first time so I was able to pretty much swim right around it and the next one, and head back into shore. I was getting tired, but had a clear swimming lane and was going with the waves so I just had to get back to shore. I could feel myself slowing down although I still had plenty of strength to power to that beautiful Ironman arch on the shore that was slowly getting closer with every stroke...and then....I was there. I had just finished the 2.4 mile, 2200 person mass start, choppy water swim of my first Ironman.

Second Loop: 45:02 (I was shooting for 40 here too, so I could see a definite decline)

Overall Swim 2.4 miles: 1:24:45

I walk/jogged out of the water passed hundreds of cheering fans through a gradually narrowing shoot into the transition area. Immediately, two women approached asking if I would like help with my wetsuit and I was all for it. I had already committed to taking full advantage of all the help the Ironman volunteers had to offer. First, the arms and then on the ground while the ladies yanked the legs off. They handed me my wetsuit and I ran toward the transition bags where I encountered the next volunteers. They asked what my number was and upon hearing, ran to my bike transition bag handing it to me and off into the men's changing tent I went.

I had decided in my plans that I would really take my time during the transitions to adequately prepare for each leg because I was sure that the few extra minutes preparing in transition would not have any damaging effect on my overall finish and I was more interested in being comfortable and prepared, than I was in being quick on transition.

I dried off, threw on the socks and bike shoes. Ate a goo, peed, strapped on the helmet, threw on the shades, stuffed my jersey with a peanut butter and honey sandwich and a pack of power tabs and headed out of the tent leaving my bag stuffed with my wetsuit, goggles, swim cap and towel for another volunteer to take back to its rightful place.

Outside I encountered yet another set of volunteers waiting to grease me up and slather me down with sunscreen. Rather than take that offer however, I quietly stood aside and applied my trusted spray-on sunscreen and face lotion. From there, I headed over and stuffed the sunscreen into my run transition back and then....finally....after the eternally long transition...I headed to my bike.

T1 Time: 11:23 (I was shooting for 10 mins or under so this was pretty slow)

After winding my way through the maze of slowly disappearing bikes, I found mine and prepared to set out on the next leg of my Ironman journey....the 112 mile bike.

To be continued.....

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