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Lake Hopatcong 2-mile swim

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by , September 10th, 2012 at 04:29 PM (12947 Views)
I had a really fun time at the Lake Hopatcong Open Water Festival yesterday. The 2-mile swim doubled as the USMS 2-mile OW championship, so I had been seeing the announcement for it on the left of my flog entry screen for the last few months. The lake is only an hour west of here, and many people had told me about how nice it was to swim there, so when it turned out that I had the weekend free I decided to sign up.

In contrast to Saturday’s storms, Sunday dawned gorgeous and sunny, with a hint of fall in the air. Kenn and I drove out from the city—gotta love Zipcars!—and arrived around 7am. The air temp was in the high-50s, making me glad I’d packed my swim parka. We were assured that the water was warm, though, and it was, around 75. After registering and getting marked I warmed up with almost a full loop of the one-mile course which we would circle twice. The water was flat and the buoys were easy to see. There were plentiful lake weeds that sometimes got stuck on my hands and arms for a stroke or two, but they seemed harmless. One thing I did notice was that the low sun was very glaring when coming back towards the start, so I switched to some mirrored goggles for the race. I’d been carrying a pair around in my bag all year, but this was the first time I felt like I needed them. Here’s to being prepared!

This race featured an in-water start and finish. We wore chips on our wrists, and at the finish were to swim to a low dock where a mat had been placed, and get our wrists close enough to it so that our chips would register. It was the first time I’d used this system, and it reminded me a bit of the open-water finish at the Olympics, where the swimmers got to smack an overhead board to register their finish. Cool!

We were instructed to line up by race number to receive our race briefing. This seemed like it was going to be a lot of time standing around in cold air in a wet suit, so I kept my parka and flipflops on, and was glad I did. Finally we headed down to the water. The 2-mile race was divided by speed into two waves of 50 swimmers each. I was in the first one, and was glad to finally get back into the water to await the start.

My goal in this race was to actually race others, not just be off in my own JanetWorld communing with the pretty water while the rest of the swim went on around me. I’d only done longer swims so far this year, and I was a little worried that my tactical skills weren’t up to snuff, and that my competitive instincts were a little rusty. But I was inspired by reading Patrick’s accounts of his races, in which he always seems to know who and where his competition is. I had looked at the start list before the swim, and noted that in my age group there were no superstars showing up for the event, just a bunch of us area swimmers who were of roughly similar ability. It seemed like a good opportunity to go for an age-group win, and also a chance to get back into competitive mode and really relish racing others.

The hardest part of that for me was the start—I’ve grown to dislike the contact and chaos of mass-open water starts. I really prefer to start far off to the side and build gently into my swims, when a better strategy would often call for going out hard in hopes of finding clearer water (unlikely, and probably unnecessary here where I was seeded around 20th out of just 50 in our wave), or at least some faster person to draft on. I did a pretty good job with my start on Saturday, nudging over towards the far left side of the imaginary starting line (which gave a slightly shorter route) to avoid too much crowdedness but taking it out at a decent clip. Instead of the dozen people that I generally pass back by after the first 100m of a race, I only passed a couple. And happily, one of them was Lynne, the woman I expected to be the toughest competition in my age group—we started near each other, and I had managed to keep an eye on her as we got underway. We ended up swimming side-by-side for a few hundred yards on the first leg, before I pulled ahead so we could go around the first buoy single file.

On the back half of the first loop, I managed to bridge up to the two swimmers ahead of me, and settled behind them for a bit to get some draft. Soon they started to separate, so I passed the woman I was immediately behind and got behind the guy in front of her, who had a notably robust kick. Unfortunately I wasn’t drafting as efficiently as I would have liked off him—I didn’t trust his sighting and set my own line, which put me behind him sometimes but off to the side at others. Still, he stayed ahead of me, and as we finished the first loop I rolled over on my back to confirm that Lynne and the other woman I had passed were still right behind me. They were.

I picked it up slightly going into the second lap and got a bit of separation from the folks behind me, but was still unable to get past the hard-kicking guy in front, and in any case there seem to be anyone close enough ahead of him to bridge up to. I had really gotten into whole racing thing by this point, and wanted to beat whomever I could. That meant staying ahead of the swimmers behind me, and saving up enough to outsprint them to the line if they tried to come around me, all while trying to find a way to pass they guy in front of me before the end of the race. I was feeling a little fatigued, but also very energized and excited—this was fun!

About midway through the last ½-mile leg of the swim the guy in front of me veered to the outside, I took a better line, and once he corrected course we ended up swimming alongside each other, and pushing each other to the finish. I was about at the limit of how fast I could swim without totally selling out, and we were still too far from the finish for that—my hope was to hang on beside him until we got within spitting distance of the dock, then put in a kamikaze sprint to the mat. Unfortunately for me he had other plans, ticking it up a notch with about 150y to go, and I just couldn’t keep pace. He went right by me, and I stayed on his feet the best I could, summoning up all the speed I had, and ended up finishing about a body length behind him. Right on my feet was Lynne—she had put in a good finishing kick too, trying to catch me. We all thanked each other for pushing us to swim our best, and lolled around in the shallow water for a while watching and cheering on others as they finished. That was nearly as fun as the racing!

Between the finish and the awards there was plenty of time to hang out, enjoy some hot chocolate, cheer on the participants in the other races (a 1-mile and ¼-mile were also offered), and watch the K-9 demonstration that had been arranged. (There was a charming doggy theme to the whole event—the t-shirts and medals featured a dog’s likeness, and chocolate paw-print lollipops were in the goody bags).

And when the awards came, it turned out that while Lynne and I had beaten all the other 45-49 women from our heat, we were both bested by Bridgette in wave 2. So I got second overall in the age groupl.* Despite not getting the win, I was very pleased with my swim. I felt I had done a good job racing, and was reassured that I haven’t lost my competitive spirit—or my ability to sight for myself--by doing so many long events. (I realized somewhere during the race that it was the first time all summer I hadn’t had a kayak or boat to guide my course).

*(But there’s a postscript: It turns out that there was a timing snafu with the second wave, and that some swimmers had too much time deducted. I think this was only discovered because Bridgette started her own watch and noted the discrepancy between her official time and what her own watch recorded. So now she, as race director, has the unenviable job of sorting through the results provided by the timing company and trying to fix them. Not sure if this will affect my placing—it sounds like it will take a while to sort it all out!)

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Updated September 10th, 2012 at 05:34 PM by swimsuit addict

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  1. aztimm's Avatar
    I'm surprised you don't wear tinted goggles more often. You didn't wear them for the Provincetown swim?

    It's funny how that competitive nature gets a hold of us and pushes us to at least keep up with--if not pass that person in front.

    Too bad about the timing issues. With a group that small, I wonder if it would have made more sense to just have one wave? And I hope you gave that other woman a hard time for sandbagging
  2. qbrain's Avatar
    I’ve grown to dislike the contact and chaos of mass-open water starts.
    Is it a boy thing? I kinda like the crush as long as I am breathing air not water.

    I got second overall in the age groupl
    Congrats! That is really awesome.

    So you are a super elite OW swimmer with only one person in all of America better than you, I have a question that was posed to me earlier:

    Quote Originally Posted by chowmi
    Question: How do you KNOW you did good in an OW swim, other than overall place? How do you find meaning in an OW swim if you don't know how fast you are going?
    I would love to hear your answer since I have pretty much adopted JanetWorld as my mental home during OW racing.
  3. rxleakem's Avatar
    My goal in this race was to actually race others, not just be off in my own JanetWorld communing with the pretty water while the rest of the swim went on around me.
    Excellent swim, SA! Glad that you seemed to put a different strategy into play and then rock it out!
  4. tjrpatt's Avatar
    Good post. It was good that they went in waves of 50. Plus, since the open swimmers had different caps, it was easier to keep track of green caps. Hopefully, they will have more National Champs there. It was a nice location. Philly people can get there without tolls!
  5. swimsuit addict's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by aztimm
    I'm surprised you don't wear tinted goggles more often. You didn't wear them for the Provincetown swim?
    I wear lightly tinted goggles--usually either orange or pink lenses. Generally I find the mirrored ones too dark--I like seeing what's in the water, as well as looking around when my eyes are out of the water. For the Ptown swim, I had mirrored ones on hand just in case, since I knew we would be swimming into sunrise, but it was overcast enough that I didn't need them. Also, I didn't have to sight straight ahead there; I was mostly watching the boats, which stayed more or less beside us.

    Quote Originally Posted by aztimm
    It's funny how that competitive nature gets a hold of us and pushes us to at least keep up with--if not pass that person in front.
    I guess my goal with all the swimming--whether pool or open-water--is finding a way of staying absolutely in the moment, and relishing the experience. Focusing on competing well is one way of doing that--and yes, I found it came absolutely natural once I directed my thinking that way!

    Quote Originally Posted by aztimm
    Too bad about the timing issues. With a group that small, I wonder if it would have made more sense to just have one wave? And I hope you gave that other woman a hard time for sandbagging
    I've never been inclined to be the sandbag police! And in this case, Bridgette did enter a legit seed time that would have had her in the first wave, but then placed last in the second, presumably so she could perform her duties as race director before getting in and swimming herself. (She was recording numbers as we entered the water for swimmer accountability purposes, among other things). I have absolutely no problem with that, and admire anyone willing to deal with all the hassles and worries of race directing, particularly for national championship events!
  6. swimsuit addict's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by qbrain
    Is it a boy thing? I kinda like the crush as long as I am breathing air not water.
    I'm not sure if it's a boy thing. I know I used to enjoy the aggression more, and also enjoyed sprinting out quickly at the start more. I've played water polo, so it's not like physical contact is somehow new to me, and I know how to mix things up. I just prefer calmness these days. Maybe it's a having-lost-all-my-twitchy-sprinty-muscle-fibers thing.

    Quote Originally Posted by qbrain
    I have a question that was posed to me earlier:

    Originally Posted by chowmi
    Question: How do you KNOW you did good in an OW swim, other than overall place? How do you find meaning in an OW swim if you don't know how fast you are going?

    I would love to hear your answer since I have pretty much adopted JanetWorld as my mental home during OW racing.
    Glad you are enjoying JanetWorld.

    That's a good question!


    First off, there are certainly execultion keys you can focus on in OW swims, just as in pool swims. You know in a 50 or a 200 whether you stayed under too long on the start, whether you nailed your turns, whether you timed your finish up just right. Similarly, in open-water swims there are skills you can do well or badly:
    • Did you have a good strategy for the start, or did you end up getting stuck behind a pod of slower swimmers and lose time trying to get around them?
    • Did you sight well, and swim reasonably straight from buoy to buoy, or did you somehow find yourself 30 yards off course being chased down by a sherriff's boat?
    • Did you make good decisions about when to draft on other swimmers, and when to surge to try to lose swimmers behind you or catch swimmers in front of you?
    • Did you put yourself in a good position to go around course bouys, or find yourself on the outside of a group as you approached and have to swing wide?
    • Did you time the finish well, catching a wave in if you can, or standing up at the right spot to start the run into the beach (in some races)?
    • Did you react well to unexpected things you might have found on course? If the buoys were not aligned well, did you zigzag with them or have sense to just sight on the final one? If you found strong currents out there, were you able to correct for them by aiming to the left or right, or were you constantly having to correct course?
    Answering questions like these can go a long way towards giving you a sense of whether your swim was a good one, and give you some keys for improvement in future races.

    There's also the issue of pacing, and just like in pool swims, I think most people end up with some notion of whether they started out too fast, ended up with too much left, or were able to maintain that fine Goldilocks balance of working just hard enough, consistantly, the entire time in the water. When you finish the race, do you think "That felt great--but I could have gone faster!" or do you feel like you got about the best performance you could do out of your body, given your fitness and readiness on race day? Gauging the proper pace during the race is the hard part--upon finishing I think most of us know whether we managed to do it.

    And finally, there's the question of a more objective "good" performance. You can hit these execution and pacing keys whether your fitness level is excellent or just fair--so is there a way to correlate OW results with a really great performance, the way you can look at a 1650 time and see that it's close to your best, or top-ten worthy? That gets trickier. There are a few sensations that I associate with swimming really well in the open water--I can feel more of my upper back out of the water, I can change my stroke rate more easily--but for the most part I rely on my pool workout times as a guage of when I'm fit and swimming well. Then I just assume that races I do during times when I'm swimming workouts fast are probably objectively "better" than those when I feel somewhat unfit, even if the times don't confirm that. OW times can vary so much, even on the same course in different years--not just because of conditions, but also because of slightly different buoy placement or other factors.

    It's also possible to look at where you stack up with others in the same race. One or two data points are useless, but at local races I find that I generally know several dozen swimmers, and have a good idea where I should finish relative to them--not just people of similar speed to me, but those who typically finish 10 percent or so ahead or behind me. I like looking through results and have a general sense of who has swum especially well, or who has had a bad day, just because I'm familiar with their past swims. That's one reason I get annoyed when wetsuit and naked swimmers are combined in results without any notation, because I can't make sense of whether someone had an especially good day, or whether they were just having a wetsuit-buoyed swim.

    So, there's all that to consider. But the simpler answer to how I define a good OW swim is: I generally set a (measureable) goal or two for myself, and consider it a good swim if I achieve them. For this race, my goal was to compete well with those around me. I did that, so it got checked off as a "good" swim. Things are simpler that way!
  7. swimsuit addict's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by rxleakem
    Excellent swim, SA! Glad that you seemed to put a different strategy into play and then rock it out!
    Quote Originally Posted by tjrpatt
    Good post. It was good that they went in waves of 50. Plus, since the open swimmers had different caps, it was easier to keep track of green caps. Hopefully, they will have more National Champs there. It was a nice location. Philly people can get there without tolls!
    Thanks Mike and Tom!

    I agree, I like going in smaller waves--I'm willing to trade off not being able to swim with all my competition for easier starting conditions. (Dividing waves by gender would solve both problems, but would mean either the fastest men or women having to swim through folks in the previous wave). And I hadn't realized that Lake Hopatcong was so close to the city--I've looked at this race for several years, but thought it would be harder to get to. I would be inclined to go out for future races now that I know. Glad it's a good commute for you too!
  8. qbrain's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by swimsuit addict
    Glad you are enjoying JanetWorld.
    I don't think I can call it JanetWorld anymore My JanetWorld includes pretty water, sandy beaches decorated by bikini clad babes and a mosh pit. The real JanetWorld is more advanced than what I even put myself through for pool swimming.

    Your answer was excellent and thanks for taking the time to detail it, but it makes me glad that I am still in the infatuation staging of OW where there is still enjoyment without logic. I am just there to splash around in the ocean for an hour or so, then head in and build sand castles.
  9. swimsuit addict's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by qbrain
    I am still in the infatuation staging of OW where there is still enjoyment without logic.
    I think that definition of a good open water swim is at least equally valid!
  10. Sojerz's Avatar
    Thanks for posting the thoughts on what constitutes a "good" OW performance. I'm going to paste them into my swim file. The coach who sponsors our OW swims asks us to focus on at least one of these or similar points during each opportunity to swim OW. But, I agree and believe that it's fun to just swim for enjoyment too, taking it all in, even in a race. Between my swimis and the pointers and information people post up, it's been quite a learning experience both OW and pool.

    Also thought you might enjoy a pic of Cape Cod Bay fish caught by their tales a few years back south of Ptown. Took some really fast swimming to catch these guys. Striper far right and the others are blues.

  11. swimsuit addict's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Sojerz
    Thanks for posting the thoughts on what constitutes a "good" OW performance. I'm going to paste them into my swim file. The coach who sponsors our OW swims asks us to focus on at least one of these or similar points during each opportunity to swim OW. But, I agree and believe that it's fun to just swim for enjoyment too, taking it all in, even in a race. Between my swimis and the pointers and information people post up, it's been quite a learning experience both OW and pool.

    Also thought you might enjoy a pic of Cape Cod Bay fish caught by their tales a few years back south of Ptown. Took some really fast swimming to catch these guys. Striper far right and the others are blues.
    Thanks! My list is hardly exhaustive, just the things I could think up when typing my reply. One of the fun things about open water is that there are a lot of skills you can work on improving--it's sort of like a 400 IM that way! And once you move up to long distances things like optimizing your feeds, communication with crew, etc. come into play. There's always something to make better next time around!

    Love the pic! That's a lot of fish--I'm imagining a wonderful feast followed!