Monday, September 5, 2011

The 83rd Annual Pageant Swim

This past Friday morning I woke up a bit late and was feeling a bit sorry for myself. Not being able to run is really starting to get to me. I wanted to just roll out of bed and get in a quick run before going to the beach, but no, I couldn't. Instead I had some coffee and sort of just slumped around a bit, thinking that I'd like to go for a bike ride but didn't have enough time. At some point my Mom yelled from the front door that she'd be back in an hour (what?! I had just put on my bathing suit for the beach!) so I took a look in the mirror and said "that's an hour on the bike- GO!" So I did, I got in a 40 minute ride or so and felt much better for doing so. It was no run, but it helped me feel a little more productive before lounging on the beach for the rest of the day. I can't even walk on the beach with Mom because last time I did my ankle swelled up and was sore. Lame.
Anyhow, sometime during my moping and whining that morning, I got a tweet from a fellow NJ ocean swimmer and Chesapeake Bay swimmer, Sarah (@rosemarymint) suggesting that I come down to Atlantic City on Saturday morning for a 1.5 mi ocean swim. I thought about it and instantly knew that it was exactly what I needed to snap me out of my funk. I somehow convinced my Mom and husband that it would be a fun day trip and we all piled into the car Saturday morning for the ~1hr drive down to AC.

When I got to the beach on Saturday the ocean looked lovely and gentle, like it was just waiting for us to get in and kick some butt. I was excited and nervous about the swim, so I wasn't thinking about the tide or the current much at all, but in hindsight I should have known that the tide was coming in quickly. I met up with Sarah and another friend of her's before the swim and we chatted and laughed until they finally blew the horn. We were to swim way out from the shore, far enough to clear the Steel Pier just to our south, and then continue on south parallel to the shoreline until we passed 2 other piers (one small, one very large) and turn right to swim back to shore. I was cautious during this swim to really give myself plenty of room to clear the piers because the waves had already doubled in size and let's face it, no one wants to get washed under the Pier in the surf. I probably swam closer to 1.75-2.0 miles because of that, but I didn't care because I'd been warned about the underwater pilings at the 3rd pier and definitely wanted nothing to do with those.

The actual race was pretty wild and really, really fun. The current was pulling us south from the minute we touched the water so I was really grateful for that. As I swam out from the shore I could see the Steel Pier on my right and the vast sea on my left, I stayed pretty far north for a while because the current was so strong, but I probably didn't need to be that far away from the pier.

Better safe than seagull food. When I reached the end of the pier I had allowed myself to drift closer to it and I simply turned my body to swim parallell to the shore for the main part of the swim. It was BEAUTIFUL swimming out there, the towering, glittering casinos along the shore were shining bright in the morning sun and the water temp was perfect. I was happily churning along, mostly alone but occasionally I'd encounter another swimmer and make it my mission to pass him. The waves were pushing me all over the place, up and down and side to side, but I just kept on moving. A few waves started out so far that as they rolled over me I was worried that I was in too close to shore, but I was way out there and the waves were just getting bigger. At some point I passed one of the lifeguard rescue boats that was trying to stay straight in the surf but nearly (or did) whack a swimmer with his oar. They were trying to keep us from swimming too close to shore, but their intention wasn't entirely clear to us in the water. It was hard to see and nearly impossible to hear, so I just tried to steer clear and stay out as far as I felt I needed to. It was really fun seeing the casinos and the boardwalk every time I took a breath on the right side, but less fun getting clobbered in the face by a wave every couple of breaths on the left. Oh well, I was having a blast. Someone asked me after the race if I ever get nervous or panic in the ocean, and thinking about being out there far from shore in the rolling waves makes me anything but nervous. There's a sort of peace and calm out there surrounded by the sea. That said, I'm well aware of the dangers of the ocean and don't recommend that inexperienced swimmers go out in search of what I'm talking about here. Respecting the power of the ocean is of the utmost importance whether you're floating in the waves lapping at the shore or if you're half a mile out.

As I approached the last pier, a looming glass structure, I was passing a few more guys but I seemed to be swimming stroke for stroke with a woman in a pink cap and suit. Despite my very wide turn around the pier, I found myself right next to her again on the way in to shore, both of us swimming hard to get to the beach. I had the good sense to take a glance behind me with every other breath to look for oncoming waves to ride in and I caught a sweet ride. I bodysurfed a great wave from halfway out to the point where I could stand up and gained a lot of ground. I always forget how painful it is to stand up after a long swim and I winced a bit as I tried to run up the shore. I know I'm not supposed to run on my sore ankle, but I had to run through the finish line! I looked back and saw that I'd put about 3 guys between myself and the other woman in the pink cap. Victory! I crossed the line with a smile on my face, seaweed in my suit and tucked in my watch, and a tingly tongue from the salt water. Just like everyone else who crossed the line, I had a "sea beard" from the sand and sea water gunk. Thanks Mom for wiping it off for me.

I crossed the finish line in 42:30 ish (results aren't up yet) which was 89th place out of ~185 swimmers. I was 5th out of 8 in my age group. I was really happy with the results, especially given that the waves ended up being 6ft high and very choppy. Sarah's friend Hillary put it best when she said "Now I know how my clothes feel in the washing machine!" Ha! Sure we got tossed around, but I remember at some point actually thanking the ocean for giving us such an awesome day with a current and tailwind in our favor, despite the big waves.

It turns out I was right, that swim was a nice kick in the butt for me. I was really sore and tired the next day, a type of exhaustion that I haven't felt since I had to stop running. I'm really motivated by this swim to start looking for a swim in the early spring (someplace warm) so that I have something to train for over the winter.

Finish photos coming soon...

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