Little Red Lighthouse Swim
by, September 24th, 2012 at 08:52 PM (1713 Views)
This past weekend I swam the 10.2K Little Red Lighthouse Swim. It was a very pleasant early-fall day, and a great way to mark the end of the summer open-water season. A ton of CIBBOWS buddies and TNYA teammates were out swimming and/or volunteering, so it felt like an end-of-the-season social as much as a race. This year the swim start was within easy walking distance from my apartment, and the 10:30 start let me enjoy a leisurely wakeup before ambling over to the 79th Street Boat Basin to check-in. I then got to hang out in beautiful Riverside Park for an hour or so before they started lining us up for the start.
This year the race went from south to north up the Hudson (the direction of the river changes every 6 hours with tidal cycles, so you can swim either way in it as long as the timing is right). This event has tended in the past to swim very short—the winning times in last year’s 10K edition was 1h20. This year the race director warned us to expect a longer swim (the length is largely determined by when tidal cycle the swim is started, and how strong the tides are on race day). But he’s said that before when the swim has proved short, so I didn’t really know whether low long to expect to be in the water. I tucked a couple of gels into my cap just in case I needed them.
The first waves were scheduled to start just as the current was changing, with the current would picking up throughout the race. Before the start, I could see that the tide had not yet shifted in our favor—the boats in front of us were still being pushed to the south of their moorings. But as they marched the first of 9 waves down to the starting dock, I could see the boats slowly drifting towards their buoys, and knew that the tide would soon be heading north.
I was in the 8th of 9 waves—we were starting slowest to fastest—and I finished up a sports bar and downed a bottle of water while we were lining up and marching down to the docks. Waves were sent off about 5 minutes apart. Finally it was our turn. We jumped off the dock in numerical order---NYCSwim events are very organized--and lined up in the water to await the start signal. We would be making our way gradually out into the river, then swimming roughly parallel to shore, trying to stay fairly close to the buoys that marked the course—it didn’t matter what side of them we swam on, as long as we stayed close to the buoy line and didn’t wander over to New Jersey. I thought the early current might be fastest nearer shore, but even so I moved all the way to the left of my wave before the start, just because it seemed less crowded over there, and also because I find it easier not to run into other swimmers when they’re on my right (my favored breathing side). We started, and there were no problems with crowding as we maneuvered ourselves out into the river.
The water was comfortable (70 degrees), there was a slight to moderate trailing wind, and the swimming felt easy. I enjoyed being able to see Manhattan on my right, and swimming by landmarks that I often pass by when walking. It was sunny and clear, a beautiful day to be out in the river. Soon after the start I could see the eastern stanchion of the GW Bridge in the distance, and as suggested I sighted on it rather than on the buoys. (The latter were orange, as were some of the swimcaps, so that was occasionally confusing). Sometimes I found myself out a little far and being herded back in by the kayaks, but I never got close to the boats that patrolling the western edge of our allotted swim space. I could see lots of other swimmers in my wave around me, and we occasionally passed through some dense clumps of swimmers from earlier waves—it reminded me a bit of how groups of cars cluster together on the highway. Unlike highways, though it always felt very free and spacious, with plenty of room to pass.
Around the Columbia neighborhood the wind seemed to pick up, making some bigger waves. It grew harder to see other swimmers if they were more than a couple of yards away. I swam for about a mile without being able to see anything around me—no buoys, no other swimmers, no kayaks. (I had seen the kayaks that were herding the left side of the course cross over to herd in some swimmers who were following the shoreline inward at this point). I felt a glorious sense of freedom, and part of me wished that swimming in the Hudson could always be like this—just me and the river. I didn’t worry about getting too far off course, because the stanchion in the distance was very easy to sight. However, after a while I began to get uneasy about being so alone out there—the river felt very big, and I began to feel very small. I turned over and did a few strokes of backstroke while looking around, and was reassured to see some swimmers and a kayak trailing along behind me. So I turned back over and enjoyed the sweet solitude a bit longer.
Around Riverbank I saw a couple of swimmers up ahead of me. One of them had black swimsuit straps and a recovery than looked a lot like Hannah’s. We had started in the same wave, but I hadn’t seen her since the start. I speeded up a bit to see if it was her. It was! It took me a bit to pull even with her—I had to get around the other swimmer who was nearby—but eventually I did, and we stroked together for a bit, smiling at each other when we breathed. I was hoping we would swim the rest of the race together like that, but we got separated when passing a swimmer ahead of us. We eventually got back to a place where we could see each other while swimming, though, and it made me happy to be swimming with a friend out there.
It seemed to take a long time to get past Riverbank, but soon enough I had passed it and the GW Bridge was looming up ahead. I did backstroke under it, and enjoyed looking up at the massive span, and over at its little friend for whom the race is named.
It knew it was about a mile from the GWB to the finish at Dyckman Street, so after the bridge I picked up the pace. A few hundred meters from the finish I was chasing a couple of swimmers when I felt the ankle band holding my race chip coming loose. At first I ignored it, but I was worried that it would fall off, so I stopped to fix it. (Not sure how the velcro undid itself, but it started out tight and ended up loose enough to have almost slip over my foot at this point). That ended up being a good, thing, though because I got a good look at the finish while I was stopped and saw that I was a little too far out and needed to correct course. (This intuition was confirmed by a nearby boat screaming “Turn in NOW!” a few strokes after I started up again). The finish was just past some roped-off debris; once past it you needed to make a sharp right-hand turn to finish at the boat ramp. A couple of swimmers who had judged the finish better than I got past me at this point, but the two swimmers ahead of me, who seemed intent on racing each other, had gone even further than I had. One of them got back past me on the finishing stretch, but I narrowly beat the other to the ramp. (They were both from the wave after me in any case, so both ended up with significantly faster times, but it’s always nice to have some reason to sprint to the finish in races!)
At the finish I got to see all my pals and swap race stories. The Dyckman Street area was a good place to hang out—we sat on some boulders by the river and watched the rest of the finishers come in. My sense during the race was that the course was swimming relatively “long” this year, and that was confirmed at the end. The fastest swimmers finished in 1:48, still short for a 10k, but significantly longer than last year. My time of 2:06:46 put me 38th overall (out of 299 starters / 284 finishers), 8th woman, and first in my age group. During the awards it was fun to see how many youngsters had done the swim, and how many competitors had travelled from far away.
I ended up not needing the gels I had packed in my cap—I got hungry with about a half mile to go, but by then it didn’t seem worthwhile to stop. I was very glad to get some food and water when I finished though. I appreciated the longer swim this year, in part because it made things less stacked up at the finish, and I thought this year’s course was a good one. All in all, it was another great race put on by NYCSwim, and I enjoyed the day immensely!