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This past Saturday I swam the Hurricane-Man 2.4 mile Rough Water Swim hosted by the St. Pete Masters & St. Pete Aquatics.
When my alarm went off at 4:30 in the morning, I was starting to question my sanity. What the hell was I thinking? I haven’t raced 2.4 miles in the water ever, but more importantly I haven’t swam 2.4 miles in a practice since I was like 17. My master swim practices average between 2,700 and 3,000 yards. Perfecto! And if I’m feeling adventurous, I might bust out 3,500, but that doesn’t happen much.
( FYI 2.4 miles = 4,224 yards )
I seriously contemplated going to pick up my shirt and then heading home. I was having a wee bit of a pity-party. Dave had to work the whole weekend which meant I didn’t have my biggest fan to cheer me on, nor did I have anyone to hold my car keys or bag. Also, I hadn’t a clue how I would get from parking to the start of the race 2.4 miles down the road. I didn’t really feel like walking my ass down there before the race.
One thing is for sure though, I’m pretty good at making friends.
So while standing in line for the packet pickup, I saw a girl wearing a Tampa Metro Master’s shirt. I just joined the United States Masters program at the beginning of the year, but my master’s team is a poser team and not sanctioned. When I met some TMMers at a swim meet a few months ago, they convinced me to change my status from “unattached” to “Tampa Metro Masters”. Let’s just say, I was recruited. (No one has to know what for.)
So I explained to my soon to be new friend – Sheila – that I was concerned. How do I get to the start, who can hold my keys (can’t really stick that sucker in my swimsuit and expect it to still be there an hour later), and where do I stash my bag? She told me her hubby will hold my keys, to just leave my bag at the finish, jump in the back of any random person’s car headed to the start, and most importantly find her after the race to celebrate with mimosas.
Well it appears I became friends with the right person!
After getting my body markings, pawning my keys off to a complete stranger, and hitting up the bathroom one last time, I got in line for a ride to the start. There was a bus, but it was no where to be found, so random people were loading up their cars and taking us down the road. I sat in the back of an Explorer, with the boot open with 4 others. As long as they didn’t slam on the breaks, we would make it to that starting line.
When we got to the start I was talking to different folks who had swam this before. It appears to be one of those hometown races that draws a repeating crowd each year. I was having fun already.
I was given some good advice on what to spot for (“the two sets of trees”), and then one guy starting talking jibberish about tides and currents and advising me to look at the bottom and see how the ripples were in the sand and get into the current. I looked at him totally confused, but I figured I had at least an hour to try to figure out what the hell he was talking about.
The Under 18 year olds started first right on time at 7:15. I was once a feisty age-grouper, though in my day and age it wasn’t cool to have your Speedo cover less of your body than your bikini does. Seriously, I saw quite a few girls whose swim suit bottoms were literally up their ass. Don’t make me do a google search for this please.
Speedos aside, I was very impressed to see so many of these kids out there. When I swam growing up I tried my hardest to get out of distance races. The 200 was my max. My coach was onto me though and tried to get me to swim the 500 at least once each season.
Next up, 2 minutes later, were the men. They appeared a little lazier then the youngins because some hadn’t even passed the first buoy and were already standing up and walking. All the women had a good laugh watching them.
The women were the last heat, 2 minutes after the men. I lined up at the front, on the far left hand side so I could easily get out first to the buoy. When the starter was counting down 10-9-8-7, this old lady started walking in front of us with her walking sticks. Seriously? There were 100 women lined up for the start at the edge of the ocean. Didn’t it look like something important was about to happen? Oh, Florida Snow Birds.
The starter didn’t see this lady. We had to hell, “hey. hold on.” while “Ms. Where The Hell is My Brain” took her time across the sand.
Finally, she passed and the countdown continued 6-5-4-3-2-1.
I was off. I had a good start and got around the buoy as one of the first women without getting kicked in the face or shoved from the side. There were a handful of speedy women who immediately passed me after the turn at the first buoy. I was just hoping none of them were in the 25-29 age group.
I never did quite figure out this tide/current BS that guy was telling me about. I just kept the shore on my left, the buoys on my right and powered through it. When you are swimming for 2.4 miles you don’t really want to spend a lot of time spotting. It will tire out your shoulders, and it requires lots of energy. So my head was down, and I was swimming my heart out.
Your mind has a lot of time to wander during a swim race this long though. I spent most of the swim singing repeats from the only lines I know from these three songs – Chariot by Gavin McGraw, Rolling in the Deep by Adele and King of Anything by Sara Bareilles.
Pretty soon I was passing the Don Cesar so I knew I was less than half way there. I checked my watch and I was around 20 minutes when The Don came into sight.
Pretty soon that old pink building was behind me, and I was ready for the finish line to be in sight. It was farther than I wanted it to be at that point, not because I was physically exhausted but because my mind stopped singing and was in that hyper-aware mode. I had no idea where the finish line was so I kept fixating on that.
I stopped quickly 3 or 4 times to clear my goggles which were getting foggy. It was so nice to clear them out. A whole new perspective on the swim came to focus. I could see the bottom of the water and often times thought I saw a jelly fish pass by me. Turns out it was just an air bubble. Good thing cause I was seeing a lot of those suckers!
I kept my mind busy by guessing how many yards I had left, and counting down. 1,000 yards, 900 yards, etc. etc. Giving myself a distance that I knew I could do in X amount of minutes gave me something else to focus on. The mind seems to be half of a successful the race.
When I hit the last buoy I was a little uncertain as to where to go. I actually had to clear my goggles really quick with a lift of the head to see where on earth the finish line really was. I stood up and started to run in, when I realized I could swim a lot easier. So back down I went until I was scraping the sand with my hand and then to the finish line I ran.
The girl who handed me my finish card commented, “you got a little turned around there at the finish.” Um, where was the “good job?” Not quite the encouraging words I wanted to hear when I finished.
I guzzled some water, grabbed my bag (it was safe and sound at the finish!), and headed to the community shower – Swimmers Style. Just like the old days, complete stranger-swimmers gather around and bathe. It is very weird to outsiders but completely normal for swimmers. Yes, we still had our swimsuits on.
I searched for my new friend for some mimosas, but decided food was more important. A hearty breakfast was served at Hurricane Bar and Grille, though all that was vegan was some fruit. I grabbed some snacks and met some Tampa Metro Master swimmers outside on the patio to eat. (Free) Beer was already flowing and it wasn’t even 10 am.
I had no idea if I placed, but I felt like I had a strong race. Awards started and rubber ducks were the prize. How fun is this race?
I was excited to know that I won second in my age group 25-29 in a time of 1:04:47. And not only did I win second in my age group, but later I found out that I set a new team record for Tampa Metro Masters.
After our awards ceremony I finally got to enjoy that mimosa Sheila promised me.
Why the hell not?