This morning I made my way down to Long Beach to take part in the Naples Island Swim for the 3rd time. This race was my first ever Masters and Open Water event and I’ve really come to enjoy coming back to this race to see where I’m at and how far I’ve come since making my return to swimming. So even though these days the 3 mile swim is more in line with what I’m doing in other events, I chose to race the 1 mile swim as part of my annual how’s-my-swimming check up.
I got down to the beach entirely too early and I think I was the first person there that wasn’t actually working the event. Normally I stay in Long Beach the night before (it’s about 4 hours from my house), but I couldn’t get a room in town because of the Jazz Festival. Instead I split the distance and stayed in Thousand Oaks then drove the rest of the way down in the morning. I got into a drag suit there on the beach and got in the water really early just to get comfortable and swim just a little bit since I hadn’t been able to swim since Wednesday. The water was pretty cold for Southern California, my guess is 62-63ish. With no sunshine overhead it felt pretty chilly but once you got all the way in and floated around for a bit it was nice.
When I came out of the water the beach was starting to fill up a little bit. It was fun to see everybody come out. I haven’t been to an SPMA event since early May because I’ve been traveling and swimming everywhere else so it was great to catch up with all kinds of people. I had a little contingent from my team in attendance as well, along with a guy I swim with in Santa Maria and a lady who swims with me in Avila Beach. Around this time my buddies Chris and Chuck from LiveSwim.net hit the beach as well. They were out to do some livestreaming of the event as a beta experiment. Best I can tell no one has even attempted to livestream an open water race from on a boat so this was a little bit of swimming history in the making! Talking to the guys after the race they learned a whole lot of what it takes to do this kind of event and how to shoot for it, I look forward to seeing more open water livestreams in the near future!
After doing a brief video interview with the LiveSwim guys I had to run up the beach a little bit to get to the start of the one mile. I didn’t realize that this year the start was going to be in a different place, I was so busy talking and running around I kind of neglected to look at this year’s course map. So quick protip… always look at the map even if you think you know exactly what’s going to happen at the race!
Once at the start line I found Julie from my team and lined up with her to my right. She’s a real strong swimmer (first woman out of the water last year!) and I wanted to try and hang with her for as long as I could. When they let us start we all dashed out and I took off way faster than I normally do. Oftentimes in open water races I start with a lighter pace and let other people do their little sprint/thrash for about 200m before they gas out and then swim around. Today I decided that I was either going to be one of them or at least get out in front of them :) On the way around the island to the mouth of the canal I kept Julie pretty close. I’m predominantly a right side breather and all the navigation points are to the left so I navigated off the pack and made sure to look forward on occasion to make sure I didn’t hit a boat or a dock or something. As we got nearer to the canal someone cut me off and separated me from Julie. Through that corner the pack tightened up and I had no where to go for a little bit so I had to just hang on this new person’s feet until there was a little more room to move. In all fairness Julie was probably going to drop me at some point anyways, I was just hoping it would be a little later in the race.
Inside the canal I got a little more room to breath and I took a line more along the right side of the canal. Even though the left side would have been a tighter line to circumnavigate the canal, the exit is a right hand turn which would give me a little bit of an advantage on the way back to the finish. As I was chugging along through the canal I had a little flotilla of kids on paddleboards around me. I kept hearing yelling from the kids but I knew it wasn’t for me but it was like right at me. Turns out I had one of the younger kids in the race right on my feet. I don’t know if they were savvy enough to be drafting off the big guy in front of them who is about 3x their size, but about 1/2 around this kid pulled up along side me and then took a little bit of a lead. Being passed by a teenage girl wasn’t real high on my list of things to do today, but it’s good to see kids getting a chance to race open water… I never got the chance and I wish I would have been exposed to it as a teenager.
At the end of the canal I was right up against where the turn was and I think I clipped a few people since I had the shorter line out. Once you’ve swam for just a little bit past this point it’s basically wide open back to the beach. I think this is where spending lots of time in the ocean started to come in handy. I could see the white pop up tents on the beach and tried to aim as straight as I could for them. I saw lots of other people who were faster than me zig zagging a little or even stopping to try and sight the beach. Somewhere in here I passed up the kid you passed me in the canal. Being a wily old guy has it’s advantages I guess :)
I tried to pick up the pace a bit on the way in but it wasn’t easy since I had gone out so much harder than I normally do. I swam in until I could touch the bottom with my hands and then jogged in the rest of the way. I have no idea what my time was, but I did win my age group after 2 years of placing 2nd so I was pretty stoked with that!
After my race I got dried off and did a little post race talk on camera with LiveSwim and then got changed into some dry clothes. While we waited for the 3 milers to finish their swims I spent some more time on the beach catching up with people. I’m normally in SoCal like every other week most of the year so it felt weird to have been gone so long. I don’t feel like I got around to seeing everybody I wanted to, but the good news is I’ll probably be down south the next two weekends as well making up for it! Around noon I finally had to split. There was a long drive home in front of me…. plus I was out of quarters for the parking meter!
All told I had a really good time as always down at the Naples Island Swim. I had a good race, got to see lots of my friends, and finally won the 25-29 age group right before I age up out of it… so next year, 30-34 year olds beware… I’m coming to getcha! :) Also, high five to Merritt and Shore Aquatics for picking up this event this year. We started 2010 with no host for the Naples Island Swim and Merritt and her team stepped up to make sure this swim kept going. I’m highly appreciative of their efforts and hopefully they decide to run the event again next year!