Thursday, July 5, 2012

Morning-after bluishness

Even distribution between skins and suits. Two wetsuiters had already taken off 10 minutes before.
Walking the dog this morning, I counted on one hand: "If I can swim a mile in 35 minutes, then I could do two in an hour and 10 … and three in an hour and 45 minutes … so four miles in two hours and 20 minutes. Which makes four-and-a-half miles in two hours and 45 minutes or so …

"So why did it take me three hours and 40 minutes to finish four-and-a-half miles yesterday?"

See, I can't help picking at the time scab.

I should be thinking about having been able to swim that distance at all, on a beautiful hot day amid all that green water, dense oaks and willows and pines growing on the east shore, tall clay bluffs on the west shore, my wife and family friends Lisa and Jenny Garner paddling nearby.

Though it has been documented I can swim 35-minute miles, that's on relatively short courses in races. Bracing myself for the July 4 Firecracker 8k swim, I tried to swim at a steady relaxed pace.

Besides, I swam it at least 35 minutes faster than I had last year, so I'm doing something better.

Safe swimmer buoy, runner's belt with water bottles … I look like Harrison Bergeron.
For one thing, I know my home water much better than I did last year, when I rarely ventured more than three-quarters of a mile from the south end. In the ensuing year, I have swum both ends of the lake many times, and occasionally in the middle. I knew my way around this time, knew the landmarks, and didn't waste psychic energy wondering where I was.

For another, I had been swimming the lake nearly every day. For yet another, I had done the Firecracker once before, and didn't worry whether I could do it again.

Independence day sprang calm and warm, the lake fairly glassy. Fifteen or sixteen swimmers showed for this unsanctioned event. The water at the start was 67.2 degrees, according to my friend Stacy's thermometer. By the first turn, it had dropped to 60 degrees. At the finish, he said it was 61. All very comfortable, a few cold spots here and there, but water temperature was not my enemy.

I decided, based on nothing but my gut, that I would swim 2,000 strokes, before stopping for a drink or gel. Three-quarters into the first leg, I wanted to quit, just get out and walk. I had tried; but I was counting strokes and knew I could do this. Eventually I swam 2,200 strokes to the rowers' 2,000-meter buoy, and stopped. My right calf entertained the flutter of a cramp. I daydreamed of a banana.

"I'll take a banana now, please," I called to my wife in the canoe. They looked around. I had not packed any bananas. I downed a gel and kept swimming.

Nancy and our friends would say later they thought I was mad at them, because every time I stopped I started off again before they could reach me. But I knew from last year that if I stopped to talk, my legs would cramp into 90-degree angles.

The second 2,000 strokes felt great — so great I kept going 300 more strokes to the small Texas Island in the middle of the lake. Another fueling. The next 2,000 strokes felt OK; I talked myself into another 200 strokes after completing 200.

Somewhere along the first leg, proving once again that swimming has to be the least photogenic sport.
Negro Bar lay up ahead. My pool. I knew it well, and felt relieved to round the final bend opposite the beach.

That's when it all fell apart. The current was palpable at this point, and got ever stronger the closer we reached the finish. Instead of finishing one more set of 2,000 strokes, I found myself stopping every 20 strokes, felt my legs cramping all the way up to my hips.

Joe Dowd, who started the Firecracker seven years ago, really needs to call it the Salmon Run. That's how I felt, fighting the current with my last energy.

Slowly, slowly, slowly, I crawled under the new Folsom bridge, out from under its shade back into the sun … and wondered if I'd make it to the finish.

My wife and friends, thinking I didn't need them, paddled onto the finish. I'd swim 30 strokes and find myself in the same place, bobbing uselessly in the water. Eventually I scratched over to shore and swam in the swift shallow water, but at least saw that the lake bottom was moving below me.

Swim friends Jim and Kathy and Doug and Brad and Dan and Tom finished well ahead of me. Stacy came in behind me, towing his awesome customized boogie board/food stash, festooned with the U.S. flag, about 20 minutes later, just as he predicted.

Feeling good enough to walk the dog today, and even dink around in the cold water this morning, I'm thinking, when's the next long swim. And how fast could I go?

I think of Penny Palfrey, who last week was pulled from her attempt to swim from Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Florida, and had made it more than 80 miles in 40 hours — two miles an hour! — and buckle at the magnitude of what she'd done.

No comments:

Post a Comment