Another year, another race. It’s just a two mile swim, what’s so important about that? It was my first time! That’s what’s so important about it! I’m here to tell you I swam and I survived it. I actually did pretty well, considering all things, my performance met all my goals (Praise God!). As I was saying, it may not seem a big deal to most folks, but I trained for seven whole months and most of another to get ready for this race.
Let me just give you a small list of obstacles that you have to “Hurdle” in order to get ready to swim a race like this. First, you got to be fit. OK, so only working out in the pool for better than 7 months is not going to do that for you, I was pretty well fit before I started. I’ve spent many years walking anywhere from 8-20 miles a week, and I try to bicycle, my wife and I used to take our canoe out regularly, I climb mountains, I’ll do anything outdoors in order to get away from the indoors and the stale air that makes life so boring!
Next, you need to be a decent swimmer. Although this is not a prerequisite, there were many who swam this race just to finish, as I initially set my target as well. The race is physically demanding, and if you’re not at least a moderate swimmer, able to swim for an hour or longer without getting excessively tired, then you will not finish this race. Many finished in over an hour, and quite a number were closer to the 1.5 hours mark. My time, while not great met my goal of swimming around 1:30 average per hundred meters. My initial goal was extended by the way to finish in under an hour, and towards the end of my training I figured I’d do it in around 50 minuttes (my time of 52:02 was very satisfactory).
Third, you have to be determined not to quit. Determination plays a large role in these endurance events. Not only do you have to have such determination and will to do this thing, but that must play out in your training, and you must make time to get used to the cold water and such. The mental preparation alone for this type of race is intense. You must know you can make it before hand, nobody comes into this kind of race cold (no pun intended!). Which brings us to the 4th and perhaps most important point: Preparing for race day.
In preparing for race day, you have to do all of the above things, get fit, train for long-distance swimming, mentally prepare for the grueling distance challenge, and you must prepare in a myriad of other ways that you’d never think of. Probably the hardest thing to actually deal with is the cold water. Even swimmers who are spending in excess of 1,200 calories / hour just swimming are apt to get cold in colder ocean waters. You can sit in ice baths like Mallory Mead (a SCAQ long-distance swimmer), or you can just train endlessly in the cold ocean (Mallory does this too). I chose a bit softer route, simply going down and swimming each Saturday, and a few other days in the ocean to prepare myself for the cold water. I also swam the pier to pier both ways the final two weeks before the race to perhaps give myself a mental edge, knowing that if I could swim 4 miles, then 2 would not feel so bad, and it would be likely that I could swim hard the whole 2 miles as well.
You’ve got to get your body used to spending that much energy as well – without going into exhaustion mode. Training solid for better than 7 months helped me get ready for that. I don’t work out really hard usually, only 3x per week, and an hour workout each time, but it’s amazing how difficult even that can be when your body is not used to it. The first couple months, my calves would complain and cramp up by the end of the workout. I recognized the symptom as lactic acid buildup, pooling in the extremities because of lack of physiological ability to process that much toxicity in the blood. You have to build up that type of capacity in your system as well. You must be diligent, and you must learn to listen to your body. After a hard morning workout at 5:30 – 6:30 3x a week, it often was necessary for me to go home and just crash for 1/2 hour before getting up again and heading to work. Some people prefer evening workouts as a consequence.
Whatever your preference, you must sacrifice to get in shape, mentally prepare, physiologically prepare such that you can be ready to swim in an open water swim such as the Dwight Crum Pier to Pier. All in all I count it a very positive experience, one where I was able to say that in spite of my giving up my swimming career at the age of 17 when I got to college, I can still swim, and in fact enjoy swimming on into my later life. It’s a fun team sport, our SCAQ team (Southern California Aquatics coached by Clay Evans, a former team mate from Lakewood Aquatic Club) had many swimmers in the race yesterday, some of whom did quite well overall (Mallory finished 7th I think and Rosella Pescatori, my coach got 10th in the women’s). I recognized many of the names down there, some of whom I swam with in High School, and many whom I’ve met in just the short time I’ve been back in swimming.
It’s very encouraging to know that when all is said and done, as there were a great many in the race who, like me, are past the 1/2 way point in life, we can still be in shape, pushing ourselves to the limits for the sheer pleasure of it, and for the camaraderie and the knowledge that we are maybe being an inspiration to those who will come after us down this road. Maybe that’s pushing it a bit far! One other thing I did notice is that after about month 6 of training, my metabolism had definitely changed. All of a sudden, I was eating the same and a pound a week started coming off the scale. I was astounded at first, but then I realized that it is just a natural reaction by the body to expending so much energy on a regular basis.
Another side note, my wife Cheryl got so excited about it that at the finish of the race when she saw me running up out of the water, she yelled out “That’s my husband!” and went running in the water. She was in up to her knees in the water before she realized it, and then they had to shoo her back out of the water and back behind the ropes. Too funny! My final goal for the race had been to finish in the top 250. I made that goal too, I came in 191. I don’t think they count the wetsuit folks in with that number though, but I still accomplished all my goals and had a good time doing it. I’m looking forward to next year to see if I can maybe make it into the top 100! With a full year to train between then and now, I might just make it! I’ll start making some goals towards that very soon and I’ll keep you all posted.