One of the best things about open water is you never get the same race twice… even if it’s the same course… today’s Big Shoulders swim was totally different from last year! We had wind, rain, chop, and 62ish degree water. I had no idea Lake Michigan could get this stirred up and gnarly inside the breakwater off of Ohio Street Beach. Needless to say I totally dug this version of Big Shoulders :) Not to say I wouldn’t have appreciated a little sunshine on my back, but I think overall this was a great experience.
I started my day with a walk from the hotel to the beach. As I neared the lake front I could feel the wind really kicking. I started to smile to myself because I knew the water was going to be a mess which would make the race exponentially more interesting. This year I made sure to be there right on time to speed up the standing in line portion of the morning. With 800 people registered it can take some time to get everyone checked in and marked up. While I was getting numbered, and they were really thorough in their marking this year… both arms and both legs… I ran into my friend Ben who is the guy who has been doing all the great video editing for USMS. He’s the one who put together my open water video a few months back that was on the USMS homepage for a couple weeks. We caught up a little bit and did a little pre-race interview so hopefully you guys will see my smiling bearded face in a new video sometime soon :)
After hanging out and talking with folks on the beach for a bit I decided to go get wet. No one else had really gotten in that I had seen so I figured I might as well be “that guy” and break the ice. I swam out a couple of buoys and messed around with my new camera to make sure it works underwater and figure out how everything works. The water felt great, it was a touch colder than yesterday but good for me. A lot of the other kids swimming today didn’t really share my opinion however. I think the wetsuit rental tent was doing some pretty brisk business today!
Once I got out of the water pretty much everybody I passed asked me about the water temperature. The stock response was something along the lines of it’s plenty tropical just like Hawaii… I don’t think anyone believed me :) Around 10 minutes later they pulled us together for a race briefing and then sent the first wave off into the water. This year started with an “Elite” wave that was supposed to be the 50 fastest swimmers in the race. There were definitely some legit people in the mix this morning… this has got to be one of the most competitive masters events in the country (don’t read that as fast people only btw, if you’re not super fast don’t worry you’ll still have fun too). I hopped in the water for the start to get some video and take a couple pictures…
The rest of the triangle course is pretty easy to navigate since you can use the Chicago skyline as your guide. I never really saw buoys 2 and 3 until I was right on top of them. Once I got going with lap 2 I had plenty of room to do my own thing but I could always see somebody to make sure that I was on course. Once I came around the 1st turn buoy for the 2nd time I decided to take a quick photo break. I figured I was in no danger of winning anything, a minute wouldn’t kill me, and if I had a camera in my swimsuit I might as well get a little use out of it! I moved myself far enough away that I wouldn’t impede anyone’s progress and started to take pics/video. I think some of the lifeguard types in one of the rowboats started yelling something at me but I have no idea what they were saying. In case it was “are you ok” I flashed a thumbs up… but I don’t think that’s what they meant because they kept yelling something. After a minute I was back on my way, but in the meantime here’s the only video of the race from way out in the water!
I ended up finishing around 9:44 which would put my time around 1:41 which is waaaay slower than last year. Luckily everybody was way slower. They announced that the winning times this year were something like 12 minutes behind the year previous! A lot of people I talked to added 15-20 minutes to their previous times.
I hung out on the beach for a while afterwards talking to people in the drizzle. Apparently it had rained pretty hard while we were in the water and the jacket I used to cover up my stuff was soaked! Luckily I didn’t have anything water sensitive in there! Even with my jacket as cover my shirt got wet but my race tshirt didn’t so I wore that on my way home… only to get that soaked on the way there!
Eventually I went back to the hotel to wash the lake off me and then venture back into town. I went back to Michigan Avenue to do a little shopping and then hopped a cab to the Shedd Aquarium. It’s pretty good, worth the trip. From there I put some mileage on my flip flops… I walked up the lake front to the Navy Pier and then back to the hotel. I finished up my evening with dinner in town with my buddy Evan and his wife. Now my big internal debate is what to do tomorrow morning before I split town… sneak in one last swim or sleep in? I really want to do both, we’ll see which one wins out :)