I swam the 4.4 mile Chesapeake Bay Swim today and I gotta say, this is a great event! Fun, challenging, and well run. Me and my buddy David got into the parking area on the Eastern Shore around 6:30 this morning and hopped on a bus back across the bridge to the start. On the beach we got our packets with timing chips and caps and then proceeded to get comfortable and hang out with the other people that were already there. I finally got to meet Glenn Mills from GoSwim in person, Alina from Maine who writes Swimming for ME, and I ran into my friend Abby from NYC out in the bay before our wave started racing. It’s nice to be on this side of the country and know so many people. I recognized some folks from the 1 Miler I did in NC, but I didn’t see Coach Patty and her SwimMAC swimmers although I knew they were out there somewhere.
As race time drew nearer I got my suit situated and decided to wear my rash guard to keep the sun off me during the swim. I figured like 85% of the field was wearing wetsuits (in 71 degree water!) so I could wear my rash guard. I made sure to spray down all my contact points (neck, back of head, armpits, suit seams) and for good measure applied some bonus body glide on the back of my neck/head. All this over lubing seems to have worked since I walked away chafe free.
I spent about 10 minutes just floating around in the water getting used to the feel while waiting for my wave. The water in the bay isn’t salty at all and if I didn’t know better I would have said it tasted like a lake. The first wave was made up of the slower half of the swimmers and they were in neon green caps. My wave had neon pink and went 15 minutes later. Most of the races I’ve done recently send off the fast guys first, but this one did it the other way around for a couple of reasons, tides and cut off times. To do this swim they need to temporarily shut down a pretty major shipping channel so we only had so long to clear each mile marker before they would have to pull you out to let the boat traffic get back at it. The race itself was timed pretty well as far as the tides were concerned, but we were warned that towards the end it would pick up and be a major thing to contend with and keep in mind as you chose your line.
When it was finally my time to start I picked a thin spot to the outside of the big clump of swimmers down on the edge closest to the bridge. This race is pretty well known for the craziness of the start and I didn’t really want to get pummeled right at the beginning of a 4.4 mile race. I did get knocked around a little bit in the first 500m but not too bad. Once we crossed under the bridge we all started to separate out. There are 2 parallel bridges that marked the course. Essentially as one guy stated it on the beach, they’re the biggest lane lines in the world. I aimed for the middle of the course and hung there as much as possible. If you passed underneath a bridge you were DQ’ed and I didn’t want any part of that.
I got into a rhythm during that first mile and was pretty content with my swimming. I could tell I wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire speed-wise, but I was swimming my own race and that was basically my whole plan for the event. The water itself was pretty active. Lots of waves from boats and chop from just being a big body of water. I felt pretty at home in it, but I can imagine a lot of people that trained in lakes and pools for this were pretty uncomfortable with it. At mile 2 they had a boat set up where you could stop and get something to eat or drink to keep you fueled up. I was still holding a line dead center inbetween the bridges and had no desire to swim out of my way for a snack. Instead I stopped and ate the GU packet I had hidden away in my suit before the race. I also took the opportunity to snap a couple pictures really quickly. The view from down there between the bridges is pretty surreal and I figured a picture would spell it out a lot better that I could in writing. I started to cramp up a little bit in my left hamstring while treading water and decided that was a good sign that my break was over. I put my head down and started to make moves towards that 3 mile buoy.
After I passed the buoy marcating the end of the third mile I heard a nearby kayaker yell at me. I picked up my head to figure out what was going on because frankly I wasn’t really expecting to have a conversation right now. Here’s how our little chat went…
K: hey you want some banana?
M: huh? (thoroughly confused)
K: banana, you want some?
M: hell yeah I want a banana!
The kayaker broke off half a banana and threw it to me, it’s fair to say that was probably the most delicious banana I’ve ever had in my life :) Mile 3 had another support boat, but again it was too far off my line so this was a really nice accidental encounter.
Mile 3 to 4 was a bit of a grind, we were officially passing into the furthest I’d ever swam in one pass and my body was starting to protest a bit. I had random almost cramps in my legs and the back of my left arm just above the elbow. Nothing was failing, but a few pieces wanted to let me know they weren’t fond of what was going on here. A little ways past the mile 4 marker is where the current picked up and became a player in the swim. It was pushing pretty hard to the right and my line was now much closer to the bottom of that bridge. I was swimming at an angle to the left in an effort to keep it straight. Intermittently I would pick it up a bit to get further away from the bridge and if possible I would try to keep another swimmer between me and the bridge as a buffer. Eventually the plan was to pass under the bridge (on purpose at a buoy marked spot) and make our way towards a beach finish, but those last 300-400m got progressively harder to not get swept under early. The current wasn’t overpowering, any reasonably good swimmer with the appropriate amount of perseverance could get past it but having that thrown in at the last minute of a very long race was a pretty good test of what you had left in the tank. If you wanted to finish legally you had to earn it, no free rides after crossing mile 4!
I ground out the last leg of the swim to the beach and made an effort to pick a few people around me to beat in to the finish. I had some people taking some really squirrelly lines and criss crossing back and forth in front of me and decided I didn’t want any part of that. I picked up the pace for a while and tried to aim as straight as I could for the beach finish once I figured out where it was. I managed to drop the people I wanted to beat (because I had to feel like I raced somebody after 2 hours of swimming in my own little world) and crossed the finish line in a time yet to be determined. I have a really bad habit of not looking at clocks when I finish races so I still have no idea how long the 4.4 miles took me.
At the top of the ramp I got my goody bag and grabbed some granola bars and Gatorade that they had set out for us to eat for free. My buddy David that did the swim with me had a weird fluke injury during the race and was waiting for me up there. After I got all my stuff together and talked to a few people around the finish we split to get him taken care of. Later in the evening I ran off to have dinner with Glenn from GoSwim and talk shop for a while. Monday morning I’m back on a plane flying home to California. Overall I had a really good time in Maryland and I’m glad I decided to come out and won a spot in the lottery for this swim. A big thank you to the crew that put on the Chesapeake Bay Swim and David for putting me up at his place for the weekend! Next week, 6k in Colorado!