Hoo boy. You guys, oh man. That was the hardest race I’ve ever done, including the tri with the son-of-a-bitch hills. This is the first race I’ve done where I gave long serious thought to quitting in the middle of it (which is inconvenient, given that the middle of this race was also the middle of Lake freaking Superior).
But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
On Thursday I drove up to Wisconsin, an 8 hour drive made much easier by the company of my friend N. who is married to my friend E. whose parents have a lovely place in Bayfield, right on the water. The next day E’s dad took us out on Lake Superior and I took my first ever swim in my wetsuit. The wetsuit was an interesting experience as I have a bit of a tendency toward feeling claustrophobic (I don’t even like turtlenecks) and the wetsuit felt both sleek and heavy. I splashed around for a little while, swam back and forth to the boat, decided that 2 miles didn’t really look like all that long of a swim. Ha.
That night I did my usual pre-race routine: had some carbs with dinner, had the nervous poops, laid out my gear, had the nervous poops, went to bed early, had the…well, you can guess the rest. I slept pretty well and woke up nervous but energetic on Saturday morning.
My race morning routine: have an English muffin, have the nervous poops, take an anti-bad poops pill, have the bad poops, pray that I’ll be done with the bad poops before I have to put on the wetsuit. I know this is a poop-centric recap so far, but really, the nervous stomach thing is very big part of my pre-race routine, much as I wish it was different.
At the race site I got suited up for the race and went to the pre-race safety meeting where the two biggest pieces of information were that the water was unseasonably warm (69 degrees) and that there were buoys every 1/3 mile in the lake. I strapped on my watch and formulated a plan. I’d time myself at every buoy, making sure I was under 20 minutes so that I’d be sure to finish in under 2 hours. I looked across the lake. The water was still and glittering in the morning light. The men’s wave took off and then I entered the water.
I positioned myself near the back. I’m a strong swimmer but under trained and I didn’t want to get run over. After a quick ” 1-2-3 GO!” I pushed off the soft sand and started swimming. Almost instantly I felt like the neck of my wetsuit wasn’t laying quite right (yeah, I didn’t warm up first, which was dumb) but I started stroking, trying to find a rhythm. My goggles started fogging and I had to try very hard to stop asking myself “why am I doing this?”.
The song going through my head at that moment? A U2 song with the unfortunate lyric “stuck in a moment that you can’t get out of”. Helpful.
I continued to swim, desperately seeking flow, a rhythm. After what felt like a very long time I let myself sneak a peek at my watch. 10:24. Shit. I’d been swimming 10 minutes and was already ready to be done.
I looked up, spotted the yellow balloons at the finish, spotted the first orange buoy off to my left, put my goggles on my forehead (I was getting pissed about the fogging) and did some side stroke and breast stroke as I caught my breath. As I watched the crowd swimming away I rolled back to my stomach and starting swimming again. About 5 minutes later I finally saw the blessed buoy. 15 minutes to do 1/3 of a mile (which takes me about 8 minutes in a pool. Open water swimming is a whole nother beast).
I kept swimming, looking up from time to time to spot the yellow balloons at the finish. I started counting my strokes, counting to 20 and then starting over. I was trying to ignore the mild sense of panic I was feeling, the constriction of the wetsuit around my neck.
I turned my head for a breath and saw a kayaker waving their paddle to get my attention. I looked up. The yellow balloons at the finish line were nowhere to be seen.
“You are going the wrong way!” The kayaker was stating the obvious. I was totally turned around. I don’t know how long I’d been swimming the wrong direction but it did nothing to help soothe my frazzled mind.