Rockland 1.6 mile OW Ocean Swim Race Report or, Am I nuts?
Generally speaking open water swim races are canceled when storms pass through.
Not this one.
Tropical Storm Danny hit on Friday night, and though Alina and I had decided we'd make the trip to Rockland no matter what (no way were we wasting a Daddy Duty day!!), I was sure the race would be canceled. When I woke early on Saturday morning and went down to the beach to check out the surf, I became even more sure the race wouldn't go off. The waves were 6-7 feet and the ocean looked ready to play hard ball with anyone who dared take her on. The storm swirled around me as I looked out to sea, spitting hard, cold rain and blowing my hair into my mouth.
I'd go to Rockland, but I was NOT swimming in this.
We got in the car, turned on the lights and the windshield wipers, and headed off. Alina wasn't so sure they would cancel the race. The swim was to take place along a breakwater, and she remembered it being very calm water there the year before. I scoffed at that. It would be insane to hold an ocean race in this weather, breakwater or not. They'd have to get the Coast Guard, a billion EMTs, a dozen lifeguards, extra insurance. No way was it happening.
When we got to Rockland two hours later I didn't even want to get out of the car. It was in the low 50s, wet, cold and well, just plain shitty outside. Still, upon arrival it was clear that YES, the race was on. Oh God. Turns out they DID get the Coast Guard, EMTs, extra lifeguards, the Rockland Police and the Marine Guard to come on out. All this for a SMALL race. There might have been 40 participants, total.
As Alina had predicted, the water along the sheltered side of the breakwater was remarkably calm (on the right). On the other side (the left) it was all waves and rough chop. We wouldn't be able to do the whole course, which extended beyond the breakwater and around the Rockland Light House, which you can barely see in the picture at the end of the breakwater. Instead we would swim to the lighthouse, touch the dock, and return, making it approximately a 1.4 mile swim rather than 1.6. Many swimmers had signed up to do a 3.2 mile swim, and they would do the up and back twice.
At the pre-race meeting the race director did his best to scare the shit out of us, making sure we understood all of the risks inherent in competing in this race, detailing the early signs of hypothermia so we could save ourselves before we needed to be saved, and explaining that the closer to the breakwater we got, the safer we would be. Oh boy.
Alina and I went to the car to put on our wetsuits. We then tiptoed gingerly out on the wet, cold rocks to the dock (pictured above) to start the race. I wasn't sure I was going to actually do the race until I was in the water swimming. My feet were white and numb the moment I got out of the car, and I was chattering and turning blue instantly. Jumping into the water was actually a relief. It was 60 degrees to the outside's wet and cold 53 degrees, and in the ocean we were sheltered from the harsh wind and pelting rain.
The race director set us off, and I went out hard. I got on the feet of John, a Mainer swimmer I know through Alina, but he was way too fast and I only held on for a few minutes before I lost him. Then I was alone. This was, I would learn, the theme of my weekend: racing alone. The pack was behind me and the super speedy folk (Alina and a few men) were ahead of me, too fast to catch. I settled into a rhythm and tried to stay focused. It took FOREVER to get to the lighthouse. Actually, it was more like 17 minutes, but it seemed an eternity. When I got there I touched the dock, took a breath and headed back. Still alone.
The way back was annoying because by staying close to the breakwater you had to dodge a gajillion lobster buoys. Still, the way back seemed to take less time then the way there. Soon I was swimming up to the dock and saying hello to Alina and the few guys fast enough to stay up with her. She was third to finish, and the first woman. It took me a minute to realize that I was the second woman. Wahoo! Not bad for competing against REAL swimmers!
The Next Day: Kennebunk Fireman Olympic Tri: My Day as an "Elite"
When I signed up for this race I noticed they had an elite division. To enter said division it was suggested one be able to go faster than 2:30 for women, or 2:20 for men. Hmmm. I could do that. I had gone 2:20 At the Lobsterman Oly the year before... Ange had signed up for the race too, so I could race in her wave if I signed up for the Elite division. Why not? It would be fun!
Ummm. What was I thinking?
Let me say up front that I did just fine in this race. My time placed me second overall for women, second only to Catherine Sterling, who is definitely elite. (Case in point, she placed second to Cait Snow last week at the Timberman Sprint--but only lost to her by two minutes--and beat her out of the water (and everyone else) by a minute and a half. Right. Still, I did not belong in that wave, and I will never enter as an elite again. Catherine beat me by like 16 minutes. Conversely, the age grouper just behind me was only 10 seconds behind me. I may be at the top of the heap of age groupers, but I ain't no elite...
Sigh. Live and learn.
There are, of course, some super fun parts about being in the elite wave. You get to rack your bike in an ideal location, and it's far less crowded then in the age group section of transition. Plus you get to schmooze with the super fast folk. The down side of this would be that you feel like a tool for placing yourself with the fast folk... I chatted with Kurt and a few other "elites" and tried to enjoy that my race number was #11. I noted that Catherine and one other woman were the only other women in the elite wave. Fantastic. What the hell was I doing here??? (I forgot to mention that Ange decided not to do the race, so that whole aspect of the fun was blown...)
I am not elite, but at least I held my own in the swim. Catherine beat everyone (including all of the men) out of the water by almost three minutes. Three other elite men (including Kurt) beat me out of the water, but I was the fourth to finish--and I was only about 30 seconds behind them. So, at the beginning at least, I kind of looked like I belonged. My swim felt relatively strong, but it was very strange to be in a wave with so few people. I am used to battling it out for a position and then having to dodge people in previous waves.
There was a long run across the beach (they said 200 meters--I say more like 400). Anyway. I got to transition and just fumbled about. I was definitely NOT smooth. I finally tripped over to the mounting line and climbed onto my bike. Good-bye crowds!! It was the last of people I would see for the next hour.
I did that WHOLE DAMN BIKE BY MYSELF. Why? Because I was ahead of all the age groupers, having started in the first wave and having had a fast swim, but I was way, way behind the elite men (and Catherine) on the bike. So it was me--and well, ME. Occasionally an elite man who I had beat out of the water or an age grouper who had caught up to me though he was in the second wave would pass me as if I was standing still. Several men shouted out, "Hey! Great swim!" as they passed.
(code--how the FUCK did you get ahead of me, woman?)
My quads were burning and I was discouraged. I just wanted off that damn bike. Then I would remember that I was, in fact, racing, and that just because I was alone, my time still mattered, so I needed to HTFU.
I tried. I really did. But my bike split was still LAME. Not so lame as to cost me second, but lame all the same. I was so relieved to ride into transition and start the run. Finally there were people! A sprint was going on con-currently, and so the sprint athletes were already on the run course. Thank God. I passed people. I ran hard. I passed more people. I ran harder.
I had a great run. Though not screamingly fast, it was the fastest I've ever run for a 10K after swimming and biking. Yahoo! Finally some success!
23:17 swim, 1:09 bike (the course was a little short), and 43:58 for the run.
2nd Overall. 1st AG.
Of course, I wasn't first Ag really, because I raced in the open division. But whatever. I'm still counting it.
Because I am an AGE GROUPER! Wahoo! I know who I am...and that feels good.
I am Mary: IronMatron and Age Group Extraordinaire and I like it. I completely missed riding with my PEEPS. No more elite for moi!
Still, thanks for making me feel welcome, Kurt.
And I missed you, Ange!!!
This is Kennebunk from Ocean Drive, site of the race.