Let’s start from the end
1.6km, final time 23’14”, 1st in the 30~34 years old category, 4th male overall.
How I got there: the pre-race
Just to avoid doing something completely different on my first meet day, I woke up at my usual time, which is 4:30am (it’s getting similar and similar to that of a buddhist monk). Then I had my usual lemon juice with a sprinkle of salt and I drank my usual coffee. After that, I did my usual stretching and pre-workout routine. You can see, everything quite as usual. I also did some foam roll and loosen a bit my back and shoulders with two semi-hard massage balls. Sweet. While stretching I also tried some “visualization” practice: things like watching myself walking into the water, being ready for the start, doing the first 500m, feeling well in the water. I think this kind of exercises helped me a lot at during the race. Maybe too much. The line separating courage from incoscience is quite thin and I think I put a step on the wrong side, but I will talk about this later. After stretching and visualization, breakfast: oat porridge with dates and dried apricots, and also banana and mango with a bit of honey and half a spoon of double cream (give this mix a try, trust me). With this breakfast I considered closed the carb up started the day before. My swim bag was already fully packed from Saturday evening, so we left as soon as my wife was ready. The trip to lake Leschenaultia took around 50 minutes. Light warm up as soon as I arrived: the water is refreshing, 20C degrees, dark. It was amazing watching my hands reflecting the sunlight and becoming the same colour of amber, then suddenly disappearing into the dark just beneath the water surface. You simply cannot imagine this happening in a swimming pool. I finished the warm up at the same time the registration opened. My race number was 56. Good news: they wrote it on your shoulders with a marker easy to clean, not a sticky tattoo, impossible to erase.
How it happened: the race
It was not only my first race after 13 years, it was also my third open water appearance overall. This translates into virtually no experience with regards to open water events. I knew just one thing: you must start fast if you want to stay away from the group and avoid being punched, pulled or pushed under water. And so I started fast. After 100m I was surprisingly first. I couldn’t see anybody else and I wasn’t prepared being there alone. The truth is that others were just following me from behind. My balls out start surprised first of all myself, but I thought…”if I am here now, let’s try to stay here and see what happens”, so I didn’t slow down too much. I was feeling quite good at the start, then a bit more heavy toward mid race, but when I reached the turning buoy…or should I better say when we reached the buoy, because after swimming around the buoy (how do you turn effectively around a huge pink buoy? Can somebody tell me?) I was suddenly overtaken by three swimmers, and shortly after by at least other two or three. Well, my balls out tactic was now working against me. I was trying to follow from behind, which was still fine, but I was about to hit the wall now, which was not funny at all. I was feeling the air heavier and heavier in my lungs, my arms shorter and shorter, and my shoulders like marble. There, in those minutes, I felt my only four miserable months of training. I finished by following that small group ahead of me, trying to avoid being overtaken by more, only wishing to finish as soon as possible. Anyway, it was lots of fun.
Good and less good feelings
Being first for almost half the race felt good, hitting the wall felt less good.
Starting fast without fear felt good. Realizing too late that it was a bit too fast felt less good.
Being able to go balls out felt badass. Later, thinking that you want to finish as soon as possible felt miserable.
Going straight and being able to see the buoys felt good. Realizing that you are not good at turning around buoys felt less good.
Leading the race until almost half felt great. Being suddenly overtaken by a group of 4~5 people didn’t feel good at all.
What to take home from today
- My goal was to win my category, so I reached the goal. I wanted to do a better time, but I accept that after 4 months of training and without experience in open water races, this is what I am able to do. At least now I have a reference timing for something.
- You don’t win long distance meets with the heart alone. You also need some brain. Starting an open water meet balls out is great only if your condition is great. If I don’t start slow the 5km next week, it will turn into a nigthmare.
- The water was 20C degrees, but while you are racing, you don’t feel it at all. So, no more fear of cold water now.
- My pre-race nutrition seems to be ok. Let’s have another check next week with the 5km at Champion Lake.
- I am not good at swimming around buoys, must learn this skill.
At this point, I am satisfied with my placement, I am also satisfied that now I know what my condition is. I am not satisfied with the final time, and I am also not satisfied with how I (technically) swam and with my (complete absence of) strategic intelligence. More than strategy, it was reckleness.