Lake Hopatcong 2-mile swim
by, September 10th, 2012 at 04:29 PM (13499 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. The corrected results put me first in the age group after all.)