Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I'm No. 11! I'm No. 11!

You read right: Out of 80 male swimmers ages 45-49 without wetsuits, I finished 11th in total points for the 2011 Northern California open water race season.

(This was going to be a mercifully brief update on my obsession over open water swimming, but now it's become a whole big thing. As with most matters involving me, it is awash in controversy.*)

As a matter of fact, my feet do look like
Don Martin drew them …
Eleventh place, all to myself! I didn't have to share it like so many others. Five people have to share 27th place, for example. Nope, I stand alone.

My wife says I shouldn't even tell people that the first place swimmer in my age group earned 118 points to my 32 points, and that the next three swimmers earned 88, 88 and 80 points respectively before the points total drops precipitously into the 30s. So I won't mention it.

The Pacific Masters Swimming organization, which sanctions these open-water races (making sure they're run right, with paramedics and lifeguards and regulation distances, etc.) just posted the season's results online.

But right away, I'm confused. So, there are two at second place in points, but no one is listed in third place. The next guy is fourth, instead, and two guys after him are fifth in points. No one gets sixth place. The one after that is listed as seventh, then three in eighth before the list gets to me at eleventh. Huh, no ninth or tenth place?

If we're sharing rank by points, I should be seventh, shouldn't I? I guess the three dudes at eighth area really eighth, ninth and tenth, and by happenstance of heritage or fate, sub-ranking goes to whoever's last name comes first in the alphabet. Pacific Masters directs me to the email of someone to contact in case of disputes.

Eh, forget it. I never thought I'd be on any such list at the end of the season, let alone be that high on it.

Now I know a few things that'll help me next year. One is that I don't have to find the race results after every event, don't have to politely fight a crowd joined in reading tiny type in long columns as the results are stapled on a wall or tacked to a bulletin board; usually, the data alongside my name usually disappoints me anyway ("How could I swim that slow? How did that guy swim so fast?")

Now I can be disappointed all at once in the privacy of my office, because the Pacific Masters breaks it all down for you! I can tell at a glance that I swam four of the 14 sanctioned events this season (that comprises multiple races at eight different venues; some places allowed you to swim a half-mile, mile and two-mile race consecutively, if you are lunatic enough). I swam a few other unsanctioned races as well during the summer.

* I can also establish the benchmarks on which to improve my times, and use strength exercises, drills, running, maybe even learn the backstroke to strengthen my upper body. But here's where the  numbers cause me real problems:

All told, according to the season's results, I swam 6.7 miles (can't dispute that) for an average of 24 minutes and 37 seconds per mile. Impressive (for me anyway: At least I'm faster than seven-year-old Elsa Woodhead, the Marin County girl who last month was the youngest to swim the 1.5-mile Golden Gate span; neener neener!), but troubling:

I never swam faster than 27 minutes and change per mile in any of the four races, so how could I have averaged faster than that for all the races combined? Even my math-benumbed mind could sense a discrepancy. What's going on?

Careful sleuthing that could otherwise have been productive worktime finally revealed the hard truth: Results from the last race of the season indicate I swam two miles of Keller Cove at Point Richmond in four minutes, 51 and five-tenths seconds. I think that would have made international news and put me under intense scrutiny about performance-enhancing drugs, cleverly disguised jet propulsion or mysterious mastery of time travel. Since it didn't, and I wasn't, I have to conclude the results lopped an hour off my total time. Which is what happened.

Over the season, I really averaged a bit over 33 minutes per mile. Which is slower than the Elsa Woodhead, who swam the storied Tiburon Mile — actually a nautical mile, longer than a landlubber mile — in 30 minutes. My apologies for any needless aspersions I may have cast her way.

But now what do I do? This is junior high all over again, when I told the PE teacher my fitness test results did not earn me the coveted red gym shorts, contrary to his interpretation of the data. Must I revisit that trauma, and alert the Masters Swimming organization to this discrepancy? My PE teacher berated me. Will Pacific Masters Swimming discredit me, make me admit my slothful shame and obsessiveness over my race times? After I sent out all the invitations to my Eleventh Place Extravaganza: Take That, Haters! party?

This asterisk is going to hang around my neck for a long time. I hope it floats.

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