This past weekend I continued on with what’s become a personal swim tradition, the Santa Cruz Rough Water swim around the Wharf. This was race number 4 for me and it’s still fun. I split the 3 hour drive up to Santa Cruz with my girlfriend that morning which was nice since I got to sneak in a little bit of a nap from SLO to Salinas. We got to the beach right around 9:30 when registration was supposed to get going. We hopped in line and waited… then waited… waited a little more… turns out there was a poorly timed computer glitch they had to work out to get the preregistered folks taken care of. Usually it’s the race day entries that have the big unwieldy line, but this year it was the pre-reg-ed people. Oh well, no big deal, I got to make new friends in line while we waited.
Since everything got about an hour behind the race directors moved the start back about half an hour to 11:30am which ended up working pretty well. I got checked in, numbered and chipped quickly and then went to get changed on the beach and chat up some friends I hadn’t seen in a while. While getting ready I realized I totally forgot my swim lube… I had put it in the mesh bag on the kayak during Friday’s partial swim for reapplication in the middle and forgot to move it back into my regular swim bag. Luckily I managed to bum some from someone else while my buddy Walt taunted me with “so this is your first open water swim huh Rob?” :)
A few minutes before 11:30 we made the made the march under the pier and down the beach to the start. It’s always a weird scene I’m sure for regular beach goers. A bunch of be-speedoed people suddenly emerging from between the pier pilings. On the way down I tried to get a little wet and walk through the water a bit. Normally I get in the water early and float around to get my acclimating out of my system but the earlier events of the day threw me off my game a little. When I got to the start line I had about 3 minutes to go so I splashed some water over my head and went to stand in line.
I lined up towards the outside partially because I had some friends over there and partially because I didn’t want to be too in the thick of things on the start because I was wielding a wrist mounted GoPro that would wreck somebody’s day if I punched them in the face with it. Although it garnered some cool shots of the beginning of the race it sucked for the rest of it… lots of water and bubbles… the timing of the pictures was fairly amazing, I do this all the time and have never struck out so hard.
The minutes ticked down and eventually the green flag went up and the siren went off. All the 39 year old and unders ran into the ocean. I tailed my friend Walt but I can only hang with him for a little while, he’s too fast for me. It took a little bit for me to relax as I swam out since I didn’t go through my usual pre-dip ritual, but after 300-ish meters I felt like myself again. Throughout most of the swim I felt like I was pretty much by myself. I could see a large pack in front of me but no one to either side of me. As per usual I just did my best to settle in and swim my own race.
Out at the tip of the wharf things bunched up temporarily as I came alongside a handful of other swimmers but we all separated on the other side. The thing with this swim you need to remember is that the wharf isn’t straight, there’s a bend to it but it’s so long it’s hard to realize what’s going on until you’ve wasted a lot of effort. While some swimmers held tight to the pier I kept a line further out and sighted for the yellow arch at the finish while trying to ignore the wharf itself because following it would just result in a longer swim.
I didn’t really have a goal time for the swim but I did want to hold off the second heat, or at least only get passed by a few of them towards the very end of the swim. No such luck today. Some dude steamrolled me less than half way down the side of the pier en route to the finish. I don’t know who he was, but he was hauling ass! Later on a few small packs of faster older swimmers streamed past me as well. So much for not getting caught. I’m blaming the drag of the beard and the GoPro for this one… yeah, that’s it :)
At the finish they have lifeguards waiting for you. I smiled at them and said hi then hopped through all the kelp on the beach to get to the finish. From the arch you walk down the chute and volunteers strip the timing chip off your ankle and let you go on your way. When I was free I caught back up with my girlfriend and talked about the race and how everything works. This was the first mass participation race she’d seen and was very intrigued by the whole process. While I dried off we watched the rest of the swimmers roll into the beach. My two favorite finishers included a dude that swam the whole thing in a tuxedo complete with shoes and no goggles, and a little kid who must have been one of the last people to finish overall but slugged it out in just a jammer and had a rather triumphant jog up the beach when he finished.
I had no real idea where I finished or in what time until yesterday when I found the results. I was 88th out of 167 men and 8th in my age group with a swim of 25:38. While I was looking at results I decided to peruse the other years I swam. I started pretty fast with a 22:20 in 2009, added :55 in 2010 to go 23:15 and then another :50 to go 24:05 in 2011. I’m kinda going in the wrong direction… but I also lost the use of a speedsuit after 2010, switched to drag suits, grew a huge beard, and have focused more on swimming long instead of 1 mile sprints so I guess it’s ok. Rob from 2009 might be a faster miler but would have never been able to pull off 10k swims in low 50′s degree water! I’ve got one more race coming up in August, my annual Naples Island excursion, and then a series of channel swim crew gigs. I’m stoked to keep my summer rolling!