Sunday, August 6, 2017

Final Thoughts: 2017 Swim Across the Sound

The 2017 Swim Across the Sound was yesterday, and while it was a nice day out on the water, I have to admit that it was also a tough day with a lot of hard swimming.  I'm more sore than I was when I did this event two years ago, despite the fact that I've been swimming much more this summer than I had been prior to the 2015 event.  I wasn't expecting that.

Team Snappers.  From left to right: Me, Dillon, Tom, AnnaCaroline, Jill, & Jess.
What can you do?  In the words of the late, great Yogi Berra, "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes it rains."  We had all of that yesterday, including some rain.  At least we got the event off.  For awhile there, it looked like they were going to have to cancel it altogether.

I led off our relay yesterday, and to the extent that I'm disappointed with my swim, it's because of the way that I did it.  Marathon swims are really about swimming smarter, not harder, and in this I didn't do myself any favors.

The team on Concentricity. 
Our boat captain, Carl.
We met at Captain's Cove in Bridgeport around 5 am.  We caught buses from there to the Bridgeport Ferry and across Long Island Sound to Port Jefferson.  It rained almost the entire time we were out on the water, with most of the folks anxiously checking their phones to see if predicted thunderstorms were going to scrub the Swim.  We caught a break shortly after we debarked the ferry, however, and after just a half-hour delay, we boarded our new friend Carl's boat Concentricity to head over to the race's starting point.

We got to the beach a little after 9:30.  The tide was still coming in at that point, but it was closer to slackwater than it would have been if we'd started on time.  In that we caught something of a break.  However, it was chilly, and with the concentration of boats and the current effects of the tide, the Race Directors recommended that we put our best swimmers in the water to lead off.  This is how I wound up on the beach at 9:35.  Concentricity was actually the first boat to the start point, and I thought nothing of this, but in the event, I wound up shivering on shore for nearly twenty-five minutes.  Carl pulled the boat to within maybe 25 yards of the beach, so I didn't have to swim far to get to the start point.  I was wet when I got there, though, and the air was not warm at all.

Obligatory selfie aboard the Bridgeport Ferry.
Sunrise off the Bridgeport Ferry with heavy clouds looming.
Dramatic entry into the water.  From here, I swam to the beach
for the start of the race.
Whatever.  I met my fellow swimmers, eventually we got the word, and we hit the water.  There were just nine guys around me, but I still managed to get tangled up with a guy, which was bad at the outset of a long day of swimming.  He wound up cutting across my line--and really pissing me off--so I put the hammer down to try to drop him before we got to the boats.  This was not smart, however, and it also wound up taking every second of thirty minutes of swimming.

The key to a long day of swimming like this is to swim at a steady, sustainable pace.  Instead, I took that first leg out in an honest-to-God blaze of glory.  Oops.

Just off the beach.
I was actually racing this sailboat, trying to keep ahead of the swimmer I can't
see who's on the other side.  After a full half hour, I had maybe 200 yards on the guy.
My friend George Hunihan does the Swim every year, and he is a master at pace and distance in a race like this.  No matter the conditions, George swims a steady 2 mph.  He has a long, indefatigable stroke that eats distance at an even clip.  We've discussed this at length, and yet, every year I seem to put down at least one leg that's great, sure, but that also leaves me struggling through the rest of the day.  This year that leg was the first leg, and okay, it got our group off to a strong start.  When I climbed out after that first half hour, though, I was already stiff and sore all over, and I still had more than an hour of swimming ahead of me.


I wound up going just over 1.1 miles in that first 30 minutes, which was somewhere between 3 and 5 minutes per mile slower than that effort level should have produced, though standing around on the beach before the start probably didn't help either.  Regardless, we wound up fighting the tide/current for the rest of the day, and as the wind and chop on the Sound increased, this only got worse.

Tom went next, followed by Jill, Dillon, Jess, and finally AnnaCaroline.  Different folks took different lengths for their pulls, so before I knew it, I was getting ready to get back in the water.

Swimming critique:really need to work on keeping high elbows on that left side.  That little bit of windmill stroke is throwing my body out of rhythm and keeping my stroke from being even, though it's made a little worse in these clips by the water's choppiness.

I felt better the second time out, but I was stiff and had to make a conscious effort not to push.  That was smart, probably, but my second pull only took me just .93-miles, and Tom, who went after me, made it a mere 1200 yards in a full half hour according to his watch.  Clearly, we were still fighting the current, but unlike that first pull, I haven't the faintest clue how to correct for that in terms of swimming distance-per-effort.  I know my basic race-pace in still water, but swimming at a more modest pace makes estimations a lot more challenging, especially when you're already tired.  All of this got in my head a bit.

By the time I got in for my third pull, I really wanted to push through and do better, and I did.  I really pushed it.  When I got out after that third pull, I was dead.  I mean, I felt well and truly smoked.  By this point, too, we'd been out on the water for hours.  Nevertheless, my last pull took me a mere .88-miles, and I'm still not over it.  With current and chop both increasing, it was as if we were standing still.  Towards the end, we had maybe eighteen inches of surf out there with occasional white-caps.  These were definitely not easy swimming conditions.

Open water swimming with a bit of chop.
Marker 2A.  There is also an actual buoy.
I took a final pull after we passed Buoy 2A and got towards the harbor's entrance.  My friend Jill relieved me after just a bit, however, and she took us the rest of the way in.  We then swam the last 100 yards as a group and finished together.

All in all, it was a good day on the water and certainly a good day of swim training, but I'm not pleased with my overall result.  I wound up with something like 5900 yards total.  That's a good 700 yards less than I put in two years ago despite my being in the water almost twenty minutes more this time.  I also feel like I worked harder this time to accomplish dramatically less, and I know that I'm swimming better on average now than I was two years ago.  All of which is frustrating, though it was almost totally outside of my control.

Aside from that, we raised a lot of my for a very worthy charity, and I have every intention of doing the Swim again next year.  Next year, however, I'm not racing anyone.  I'm going to be like George and swim a slow, steady pace that leaves me with enough energy to put in a strong, steady swim and a happy finish.

* * *
Post-Script: We made today's Connecticut Post!

This was on page A-10.
Close-up of my close-up.
Go Team Snappers!

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