Jul 18, 2010

2010 USMS 10K Championships Start & my race experience

Start of the Race, those that know my stroke will notice where I am, Ha, Ha!

Swimming with the Big Dogs, what an experience! U.S. Masters National Championship for the 10k marathon race was a solid success for me and a wonderful experience participating with 200 plus total marathon swimmers from 22 states some of them former world record holders, a number that have already done the English Channel and other large marathon events. 

I placed 5th in my age group (45 - 49, they break down every 5 years) and 51st overall. It took me just over 2 hours and 50 minutes to complete the 6.2 mile course (2:52.26 to be exact). This is a personal best for me and I dropped 14 minutes from my previous 10k just 3 weeks prior.

Here is the sun rising just before warm-ups! what a beautiful view:

The event was held at Morse Reservoir in Noblesville, Indiana in very warm (hot by my definition these days) of 84f. The water was so warm that dehydration and heat stroke was as reality. The water being so warm of course had algae blooming very thick (...think very diluted split pea soup, I could barely see my hands as they entered the water and pulled beneath my chest). The air temperature was also in the high 80's when the gun went off at 7:00am. So the total thermal heat load was some 160 degrees which is huge almost comparable to the Hawaii Iron man. In the end, everyone was safe but seriously dehydrated. I have probably drank the better part of 1-2 gallons of various fluids since then Saturday after the race until Sunday evening.

The race for me was my first ever national level event so the nerves were a bit rough, didn't sleep very well the night before waking up at 3am two whole hours before I was supposed to wake up. Tried to go back to sleep but found myself, dreaming about big lochness water monsters. So perhaps someone out there can tell me what that meant? Jennifer, my wife was so gracious to follow me on this trip and get up early as well braving the non-Starbucks start of the day. We arrived at the event and lots of folks were already in swim suits chomping at the bit. You could cut the excitement with a knife as folks mulled around preparing themselves with swim caps, Vaseline (we use this where needed to prevent chaffing), goggles, etc. As start time neared, folks were in doing there warm up swims of a couple hundred yards. You could already smell the safety boats engine oil and gas wafting in the air and taste in my mouth. We did the usual national anthem which was really something with the sun coming up and 200 folks standing in their swim gear. I found myself thinking about the movie "Apocalypse Now" and the part where where the Colonel says something along the lines of "I love the smell of Napalm early in the morning...Its, Its, the smell of victory"! 

The first wave started at 7am and the second wave, which I was in, at 7:05am. So about 60-80 people per wave went tearing off in a wild frenzy of arms and legs, climbing over each other, bumping, etc. I was pleased to not feel much of this as I usually like to stay away from the fray so as not to expend extra energy but also to mentally allow myself to get into a rhythm. For me it takes somewhere up to a mile or so to begin to settle down into what feels good. But in this hot water, it was very different this time, the heat load came on quick and I could tell by my breathing my body warmed up and it was going to be really important to "listen to my body" and work through the different feelings of stress, pain and aches.

The course is a two lap circuit each three miles (5k) around. The course was very comfortable for me to navigate, I prefer long open stretches rather than circling around buoys. Each way up or down is about 1.5 miles. We started at the bottom of the picture. At each end I stopped for a very quick (10-20 seconds) gulp of water and a GU pack. At the half way point, I gulped down an 8 oz. bottle of my usual Maxim energy drink. 

My first laps were pretty consistent time wise ranging anywhere from 40 odd minutes and seconds to 46 on the third lap and then negative splitting back down to 40 minutes on the last lap (this was really tough however).  I began to feel either cramping or the cumulative affects of the dehydration in my arms half way down the third lap or it could have been the slug of carbohydrates I had just consumed 20 minutes before at the half way point? (I need to learn from this as it was a challenging period). My stroke shortened and I had to really focus on staying calm and to relax during this segment but as the next several hundred yards passed so did this feeling. After hitting the last turn I knew I was doing well, I felt better and as I pulled away from the turn buoy I felt my longer relaxed stroke come back. As the yards ticked away, I got stronger, I could see people in front me and slowly worked to pass as many as I could. I was a mental rush seeing someone splashing away 100 or 200 yards up and then a few moments later passing them. The last turn buoy before the finish I was in all out sprint, it hurt like hell but I was in the zone. I drove to the finish and popped up just across the line with a cheery Hi, that was fun comment to the race officials as I backstroked over to the beach. Of course moments later the endorphins came crashing down and it was then I realized I was hot and tired. I didn't stay in the water to warm down like usual because it was so hot. Everyone was happily talking and sharing there experiences, young and old. 

Everyone finished up and we proceeded to have a lunch and awards. I was astonished to see the age groupings, there was a small group of just out of college kids then very few later 20's to early thirty year old's. The bulk of these talented swimmers really started in the late 30's, then my age grouping but the biggest group was the 50's. there were a number of 60 year old's as well. This was truly remarkable to see.

About the time we finished up with awards for the top eight in each age group, one older guy came in and finished 4 hours and something seconds. Everyone stopped what they were doing and began to cheer with thunderous applause. In that moment I discovered why I love swimming, but more to the point the people that swim with you. This is a very small fraternity of very, very talented and in some cases world class athletes that are caring and engaged with their competitors and their families. 

My training partner, Doug McConnell and Coach Marcia cleveland were there as well. Marcia won her age group and yes, she stomped my butt again swimming something like a 2:40 race. Doug had a great swim, he has been coming back from spine surgery earlier in the year and had missed three months of practice. He finished 6th in his age group 50-55 in with some real fast guys around 2:50 minutes. 

One fun note for the Goshen, Indiana folks! I Dave Oplinger (swam in the late 1970's with the Gibsons, Neff and company) was there in a relay. I hadn't seen Dave since high school and it was really allot of fun to see him again and share great memories and laughs. He did well in his relay and also swims Masters in Indy, still cranking out the butterfly.

In the end it was a great experience and very different from my larger goal of swimming across a large open water distance like the English Channel. Hey this was the US Nationals! 

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