My swim training this past year has gone well, and was looking forward to this race as a measure of how much I've improved over last year. And last year was a pretty good race for me, taking 8th place in my age group. I set my alarm for 7am, as my race start was to go off at 8:45am and I figured it would be about 1 hour to get to the start line at Stevens Creek Reservoir. I was out the door at 7:12am and parked on Ricardo Drive just below the dam, then biked the last mile to the starting line. I watched the swimmers for the 1.2 mile race line up from my view on the dam. Then looked around and - no helmet, and no battery in my camera. Doh! How'd that happen? Did I really leave both back at the car? I biked back and sure enough, there they were. Hurried back, and was still able to photo the start of the race, which was behind schedule. Got some shots below as they rounded the first bouy up against the dam.
From the finish line now. The far bouy is the yellow one, then a zag back into a bay before zigging back to the middle of the lake bouy
Then headed over to the starting line. Got my bike locked up, took some more photos before registering.... but what's this? I'd forgotten my checkbook too! Doh! Too late to ride back to my car and get it. Oh well, I had last year's (wrong color) cap stuck to the bottom of my swim daypack at least. No one seemed to mind, and I managed to get into the water 2 minutes before the start gun. A warm 72F, and once again I did it w/o wetsuit as I did not want to overheat. I hyperventilated before the start, got a good start, and got into my stroke, starting on the extreme left side figuring to take the first bouy against the dam on the outside left, like last year. I didn't feel very energetic, but I kept a long stroke and good form and waited to get into my stride. It's a 2-lap course which follows the ins and outs of the coastline of the reservoir and on the first lap I focused on staying well within my aerobic limits. The first half of the field shot out in front quickly, but I was ahead of the "rest of the pack" which increasingly spread out behind. Velocity sorting did its physics and soon there was no more danger of running into anyone. I hoped I'd be attacking the course, as I often feel at the start of a good race. But I never did, so instead tried to make good time by keeping good form. I settled in - long reach, snap the hip, pull that armful of water back, reach far for the next one, letting the shoulders angle to shed water. Keep the head down and legs up, keep the turnover slow to conserve energy on this first lap. Don't kick; stabilize only...
Second lap, I started to slowly increase my turnover and concentrated on not letting my form go south. Focus on that next swimmer. Yea, you, little miss wetsuit. Slowly reel in. Gotcha! Then the next; another wetsuit'r. Gotcha! I was going as hard as I could and felt I could maintain it for the rest of the race. I really did the best race I had in me at that time, but I could also feel that the brimming w/ energy feeling just was NOT there. I was pushing it, rather than containing my energy strategically. So I'm thinking, ok, who really knows? Maybe this perceived effort means I'm going faster than I think. I was still optimistic that I would at least match last year's time. Usually when I do poorly on a swim, it's because my form went to hell, and I did not let that happen here. One more guy up ahead, a non-wetsuit. Tried to reel him in but he was too fast and actually put some distance on me around the last bouy. But lots of people behind me so maybe I'm doing ok Pull yourself forward hard and fast for the last leg to the finish arches. Go all out now! Hands hitting sand now, struggle up and look at my watch -
1:21:59. Huh?! What!!? That's 5:23 minutes SLOWER than last year. Yet I'm sure I'm a better swimmer. Bummer, and no smiles as I walk up the boat ramp. What happened? I see a lot of other frowning faces too. In fact, just about everyone. Did they also post disappointing times? Overhear another swimmer who was also 5 minutes slower than last year and he felt he was swimming well. "Yeah", I tell him, "Me too. 5 minutes. Could the course be off?" I looked again. No, the bouys looked the same (although the farthest bouy, who knows?) But not likely off by THAT much either way. ...Right?
I talked to another swimmer (Yung, was his name), who was doing Ironman Florida later this year. I said "I'm not happy with my time; 5+ minutes off last year". Yung: Did you get enough sleep? Uh-oh. Strike one. "Well, not really. There was this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to Oak Ridge Observatory and video-record the aftermath of a planet-killer-sized comet that just hit Jupiter this week. So I only got 3 hours sleep the previous night". He looked at me, impressed I was an astronmer, but not with my pre-race planning I'm guessing. Well how about your pre-race rest day. You rested well after that, right?. "Er", I said, "not exactly. See, on the way down the mountain from the observatory I came across all these cyclists. I rolled down my window and talked with one; it was the Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge. Man, I wanted to do that ride; I didn't realize it was THIS weekend. I end up doing all my bike training alone. Wow, it would be so fun to join these guys and feel the comradry of a good ride. I got home, and before the buzz faded, got my Serrotta out, and joined up with the riders at Boulder Creek, then up Jamison Creek to the top of the mountain, and down and... Wait - you did Jamison Creek road and the toughest part of the SC Mtn Century yesterday? I have to say, I hadn't biked Jamison Creek for 30 years and it was pretty tough on a road bike without low gears. 20% grade on many sections, according to the staff. I admit I was wiped when I got home. Strike two, I figure. Well, what about your nutrition. You got your calories this morning, right? "Er", I said, "I'd heard that on short races you don't really need to eat beforehand, and it might just mess with your stomach". How much did I have? "well, I did have something. About 100 calories". (less than a half-glass of my usual morning smoothie). A hundred calories?? That's all? That won't even get you around the first bouy, especially after yesterday's ride! You always need a big breakfast, regardless of the distance. He said he had had 1300 calories before the race, with no stomach problems. We were about the same height, but he was pretty beefy and solid. OK, so you didn't get any sleep, you did the toughest bike stretch in the county on your rest day, and then you didn't eat. I'm not an astrophysicist, but I think I can logically connect points A and B here. Point B being - you tanked your race. Strike three! OK, I blew it! I admit it! Rookie mistakes! Maybe I need to make out a list and then staple it to my forehead before a race.
1:21:59 was still good enough for 6th place in my age group (out of 10), which is actually 2 spots better than last year, and 42nd overall in Men. Mathew Gilman won the race in 53:13. Pete Kain was 2nd. Here's another bummer - unlike last year, I didn't see anyone at all that I knew.The Santa Cruz Masters swim club had other plans. So it was kind of an anti-climactic finish to a race I'd looked forward to.
Post Script: Race directors REALLY should make sure their courses are consistent from year to year, and accurately measured. It's the least they can do in return for their rising fees, from competitors who will not be winning any trophies, and who mainly want to monitor their own progress. But it's all too rare. I averaged the times of the top 11 male finishers in the '08 and '09 2.4 mile non-wetsuit category. The '09 times were 7.7% longer. Using competitors who did both races, same non-wetsuit 2.4 miles, their times were 6.4% longer, not including my own (which was 7.0% longer). Conclusion - the course this year was about 7% longer, which must've been mostly due to the placement of the far (yellow) bouy. So now it all makes more sense. I'm better trained and my pace was the same as last year - the course-corrected '09 race time I calculate is 1:16:36 with a competitor-weighted average. This is exactly the same as my '08 time. And would've no doubt been faster if I'd rested and eaten properly. Case closed. USA Productions - next year get your bouys right!