Saturday, June 14, 2008

Fish, Fluff, and F-ing up the Course: Swimming the 5k at Huntington Miles (posted by Clara)

Yesterday, Mallory and I drove back up to Northern Indiana to participate in the 5k at the Huntington Mile today. We weren't quite sure we would make it, as it was storming the whole 2 hours to Plymouth, and there were some very dark, very ominous clouds gathering above us. At one point, we spotted a formation of clouds just to the west of us that was definitely coming down out of the sky in a vaguely twisted pattern, and we were pretty sure we were going to perish in a summer thunderstorm, but we made it to Plymouth alive, and my subsequent journey up to Granger was uneventful.

After convincing Mallory's younger sister Calley to scratch the mile and swim the 5k instead, we drove down to Lake Clare in Huntington for the race around noon. The swim wasn't scheduled to begin until 1:45, and I think we ended up starting at 2 or 2:15, so the surface layer of the water was pretty warm at that time. The course was four laps around the perimeter of the lake, so I don't think that any part of the course was particularly deep... that definitely did not help with the water warmth, but open water is open water, and in land-locked Indiana, we'll take what we can get.

In addition to being warm, the lake consisted of what Mallory so aptly described as "duck water." In other words, there were a lot of feathers and probably a lot of bird excrement around. Of course, in the Channel, we'll probably be dealing with a lot of dirt and whatever leaks out of all those shipping vessels that cross those waters every day, so dirty is definitely something to be prepared for. Along with the feathers, there was an awful lot of seedy fluff stuff from trees or plants of some kind. There was certainly a good amount trapped in my swim suit and around my goggles when I finished. Yummy...

The way the course was set up, there was a quarter mile bit with a "lane-line" (a thick, straight cable strung with multi-colored foam pool noodles) and gates, which had been used in the morning to swim the mile (and half-mile for the wee tots). I had some major issues on the straight part of the course... I think it's easier for me to follow something in front of me than something at water level next to me. I think I was swimming .3 miles for every time I swam down that quarter-mile lane-line. The rest of the course curved around the other side of the lake, and was marked with enormous yellow inflated buoys, like man-sized beach balls, with smaller tall and thin white cylindrical buoys interspersed between them. Now, the buoys are all very easy to see when you're scanning the course from the beach, but a little more difficult to pick out from the water. The yellow ones were impossible to miss, with their size and color, but the white buoys were a little harder to spot. This wasn't a huge problem, because the white buoys were mostly located along the straight lines between the large yellow ones, so if you followed the yellow buoys, you were okay. There was, however, one white buoy that marked a corner of the course.

On the first lap around the lake, I didn't see a single white buoy. After I passed the first yellow buoy past the 1/4 mile straight section, I didn't immediately head to the next yellow because the course seemed to generally follow the perimeter of the lake, so I headed in that direction. But when I saw Calley shooting off to my right out of the corner of my eye, I could tell she was heading straight for the next big yellow buoy, and I hurridly changed course before I lost too much ground. On the second go-round, I headed straight for the next yellow buoy immediately... several strokes later, I breathed to my left and saw that little white buoy maybe 20 yards away (we were supposed to keep the buoys to our right). My stomach sunk a little at that sight, but I figured I was swimming to train, not to win, so it didn't really matter if I disqualified the race. As it turned out, the course wasn't being very well-policed, so neither Calley (who figured out the mistake at the same time) nor I were disqualified. I'm not quite sure why my vision improved so much over the course of the swim, but I swear that I noticed a new buoy on every lap of the lake.

Calley was quite relieved to have just finished the swim alive, but definitely the worst moment for me (aside from puking up a little bit of my Arby's popcorn chicken every time I passed the motorized support boat and breathed in the engine fumes) was when I was literally hit by a fish while swimming. I did not hit the fish. The fish hit me. This is not to say that I'm afraid of fish or anything, but have you ever been swimming along perfectly focused, when something black and slimy swims right under your face and collides full-on into your stomach and chest? Scared the living bajeezus out of me. Full-on involuntary body shiver from that one.

All in all a good swim though. This makes the second open-water swim for me in two weeks, and the third for Mal. Keep looking for more updates, they will sure to be coming in fast and furious over the next two weeks. Especially in two weeks when we are travelling back to Boston to do our 6-hour qualification swim. Over and out.

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