Monday, November 16, 2009

Ironman World Championship 70.3 - The Swim

Race Day – Nov 14th 2009 - The Swim
Sunrise on Race morning
The swim exit for the early starters
Swim exit getting more congested
Swim exit when I got out - Congested
Heading over to the strippers

I got a decent amount of sleep, made my final preparations and got a lift from my Mom and Stepfather down to the race site. On the way to the car I stopped to capture a picture of the moon and the sky and the light just breaking over the horizon; it was a beautiful morning. Near the race site, triathletes were scurrying in all directions in the pre-dawn light in anticipation of the start. We could only get so far in the car so I got out and walked over to the transition area to set my bike up by clipping my shoes in and laying my helmet on my handlebars. The rest of my gear had been set up the day before, but I was warned that shoes would fill with sand and the helmet would blow away had I set them up yesterday; so I heading the warning and waiting until morning.

The Transition was almost empty when I arrived. As I entered I was warned that the area would be closing in 5 minutes; no need to panic I have become used to these types of time constraints. I guess that I prefer to arrive later and have less time milling around, but sometimes that strategy kind of bites me in the ass. I was also leaving in one of the last waves so I had I little more time than most before my race began.

I felt composed and calm as I made my way out of transition and over to the swim start area which was located just a few blocks south. I was intent on taking in the whole experience of the start and ultimately arriving at the start line prepared and relaxed. Just as I neared the crowded area surrounding the water entry, a starter’s pistol fired and the pro women were off first. Next to go would be the elite men who were also making a water start a few minutes after the women. The age group athletes were lined up according to wave start number in a long line heading north from the start line. I spent a few minutes watching the women navigate the course so that I had a good sense of how far I would be swimming before taking the important left hand turn at the end of the harbour. Once they made their turn I found a spot where I could lean up against a car and get into my wetsuit. After getting some assistance with my zipper, I and breathed in a couple sprays of nasal decongestant to mask what was left of the cold that I had been fighting over the past week. I then dropped off my green race bag with my shoes and stuff that I had worn that morning at the designed area and joined the queue along with the rest of the people in my wave who were wearing purple caps.

I positioned myself at the very back of my wave start thinking that it would be nice to know that all of my competitors were right in front of me where I could pick them off later on during the bike leg (hopefully). As we steadily move closer to the front of the line, I was surprised to discover that the waves were not going off at the designated times; instead all age of the age groupers were leaving one after the other in a non procession. I thought that we were supposed to leave 2-seconds apart within our wave start time, but the race officials decided not to break up the waves. By not leaving any gaps in between the waves the start times were condensed and we must have begun ten minutes earlier than planned. At the time I did not think anything of it, but upon reflection I realize that this was a mistake on the part of the race organizers. The impact of the condensed time for the swim start had the following effects:
1. More congestion at the swim exit; fortunately this was not that big of a deal.
2. Tighter groupings out on the bike course which helped to contribute towards the rampant illegal pack riding that took place.

I had envisioned that the Time Trial swim start would mean that a single line of swimming dove off a dock one after the other separated by a few body lengths. I figured that the faster swimmers would pass by the slower ones and that the spacing would remain somewhat consistent; that was not what happened at all. As I approached the start archway a race official warned us that the start would come quickly from this point and that goggles should now be put on. As I approached the arch I tired to leave as much room in as I could in between me and the guy in from of me, so I hesitated for a second or two before the officials ushered me through. I proceeded quickly to the end of the short dock where more race officials were helping people into the water. The dock was wide enough to fit three people across and that is exactly how people were stating; three people wide not 2 seconds apart as advertised. An official yelled out no diving just as I was contemplating my entry. I hoped into the water feet first wondering how deep it was.

The water was a little too deep for duck dives so I began swimming right away and I felt good. I made a decision to keep to the outside of the course based on the design that had us veering to the right at the end of the harbour before taking a big left; as I noted from having watched the women pros. Visibility in the water was zero as the silty bottom of the Bay had been stirred up along with the salt water from 1000 or more swimmers in front of me. The surface was very calm and the temperature was ideal for a wetsuit; I did not feel too cold nor too hot. Even though I established an even swim pattern right from the start, after about 100 meters I felt the sensation that I needed to check my pace. There is no way to avoid that initial adrenalin rush that made me feel like superman for the first 90 seconds and then not so super after that.

When I practice swimming I focus intently on my technique, trying to apply what I have learned and be as efficient as possible. In the race I spent most of my time focusing on my breathing and what direction I am headed in. I stayed away from others for the most part until the turn buoy near the half way point. After the turn, I noticed some reeds at my finger tips and then saw another competitor walking up ahead. I touched my feet down discovering that it was shallow enough to for duck dives; and proceeded to do many of them which seemed faster that swimming. I felt a little guilty like I was cheating by doing the duck dives, but I kept thinking about what Ayesha Rollinson (swim instructor and pro Triathlete) had told me about the swim; there is a start and a finish and it is up to you to make it from point A to point B as fast as possible. I decided to start swimming again after a bit even though it was still shallow enough to keep duck diving.

After about 150 meters running parallel to the shore, I made the left turn for the final 900 meter stretch in to the swim exit. After the turn I stayed on the inside keeping the buoys directly to my left. As the channel narrowed, it started to get pretty congested for the final 250 meters. I decided to stay in behind a swimmer in front instead of working my way around him. I figured that this could be my opportunity to take advantage of some swim drafting and conserve energy; if I could only figure out how. With the zero visibility I had to focus on finding moving water in front of me in order to follow the swimmer. This proved to be challenging as the guy in front seemed to zigzag all over the place. After a while I lost the moving water in front of me so I picked my head out of the water to have a look around and wouldn’t you know it, the guy was nowhere in sight, but the final 100meter yellow buoy was on the wrong side of me. We had been specifically instructed to keep the buoys to the left and this one was on my right. I stopped and swam back around on the other side of the buoy and rejoined the seemingly endless flow of swimmers moving towards the exit.

For the final 50 meters of the swim you just had to follow the swimmers in front of you and await your turn to get onto the makeshift exit ramp. Members of the race crew were making every effort to ensure that no one got hurt while climbing the relatively steep ramp. I cleared the ramp then stripped the top of my wetsuit down as I ran to the strippers mat to peel off the rest of my wet suit. It looked like the champagne room was booked as all of the strippers were preoccupied with other customers. Fortunately I found one near the far end who seemed to be paying attention to another competitor but not really engaged. I set up right in front of her and started to peel my bottoms off. This seemed to get her attention and she instructed me to lean back, so I flipped onto my back and stuck my feet up in the air while she pulled off one leg as I pushed off the other. I popped upright as she handed me my wetsuit then I began a careful jog into transition. Once I felt my feet securely under me and had my heart rate was under control I sped up. I had prepared myself over the final 200 meters of the swim by slowing down and mentally preparing for the next stage; as I result my transition time was competitive and I was ready to begin attacking on the bike.

I finished the swim in 30:47 which was ranked me 465 out of 1438 competitors. My pace time was 1:36/100 meters, which almost met my goal of 1:35; I have some work to do in the pool over the winter.

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