I’ve been going big this summer with ambitious events. It was pretty intense doing both my first 50K and a 10-leg adventure-style triathlon. Swimming a 5K this past weekend is right up there. Although I did Swim to the Moon once a couple years ago, it was still intimidating and quite an undertaking. I had trained properly for the other big events but I knew I didn’t do enough to prepare for this one.
I took a lot of time off of swimming due to the pandemic. Gym hours were limited for quite a while so I couldn’t swim before work like I usually do. Even when the hours went back to normal, I didn’t feel comfortable going to the gym very often until I was fully vaccinated. I finally got back to my swim routine in May and basically had to rebuild from scratch. I resumed my routine of swimming 2,000m a few mornings a week but only did a handful of slightly longer swims. Training for a 50K in mid-June was the first priority, then I jumped into marathon training right after that. I also found myself racing most weekends which didn’t give me many chances to do longer swims during the weekends. Racing and marathon training were similar distractions leading up to 2019’s Swim to the Moon but at least I swam 3,200m a couple times, which I didn’t do this time.
I can give a bunch of excuses but the bottom line is that I didn’t train like I should have. My entry was deferred from 2020 and even though I wasn’t fully prepared, I knew I had to go for it. If things got ugly maybe I’d just have to mix in some breaststroke to get through it. I was confident I could at least finish.
On Sunday, August 15th I went to the Pinckney Recreation Area in Gregory, MI, which is a little northwest of Ann Arbor. I’ve been getting up too early too often lately and it caught up with me a bit during the drive when I left at 5am. No worries about falling asleep behind the wheel but I was uncomfortable and the hour and 20 minutes just dragged. I figured I’d wake up more when I hit the water!
The sun was just barely coming up when I got to Halfmoon Lake. I loved looking at the steam above the water as the sun rose. The water was calm and said to be around 78 degrees while the air was more like 60 degrees. I hung out near the beach and watched the 10K swimmers start around 6:40. Their swim was an out and back while the 5K was a point-to-point swim.
I have a hard enough time sighting the buoys in normal conditions. I can only imagine what it’s like through the fog!
After the 10K race began I caught a shuttle bus with other 5K swimmers where we all masked up because the pandemic has gotten problematic again. We were dropped off at Patterson Lake Beach where we would start our swim back to Halfmoon Lake. We had a number of porta-potties available and a picnic area near the beach where we lingered as we waited for the start.
I am thankful that they allowed us to have drop bags that they bused back to the start. It was a little chilly and it was helpful to wear warmer clothes until we were ready to go. We waited until the first couple 10K swimmers arrived and turned around before the 5K “speedsters” started our race. People who expected to finish in 1:10-1:30 were asked to line up next, and gradually other times were announced. With so many people gathered at the beach it was hard to know where to place myself since we went off one-by-one every few seconds. The race took me 1:50 in 2019 so I knew I would let plenty of people go ahead of me. Around 8:15 I finally headed out.
Despite looking at a map of our route and scoping out the buoys from shore, I was still a little confused about what direction to go beyond the first couple buoys. I didn’t know exactly when I should veer off after I got to the second one. Enough people were ahead of me so I could kind of follow them, but people were pretty spread out and it was hard to know who was following the ideal path and who was straying off-course. Eventually I settled in. Then it was usually a matter of getting to the next buoy and trying to spot the next one to aim for after that. Like many of the people, this time I used a small dry bag/swim buoy that was tethered to my waist. It didn’t bother me at all and it helped keep me visible – in case our bright yellow swim caps weren’t enough! I had my phone, keys, license, extra goggles, etc. in the buoy. The race encouraged the use of them and it made it easy to avoid running into people.
There are always bound to be a few moments when people get too close for comfort. One woman kept veering my direction which was pushing me further away from the best path to the buoy. I got annoyed enough to stop, let her go by, then I swam to her other side. It kept her out of my space and I was back on track with where I wanted to go.
Early in the race we went through a short tunnel. It’s a narrow spot that could get congested since some of the 10K swimmers are still going the opposite direction of the 5K swimmers. In 2019 I remember that it was a slower spot but this time there was a decent current there that moved us along pretty good. I only wish the current had lasted longer!
The water felt fine at 78 degrees but I had goosebumps at times. I’m sure the cool air temperature played a role in that. I’d rather err on the side of being a little cool rather than being too warm. Otherwise it was a perfect day to be out there. Greg Sadler Photography did a great job documenting the day, although I failed to mug for the camera and wasn’t especially photogenic!
Aside from simply finishing, one of my main goals for the day was to avoid cramps. I nearly made it to the finish in 2019 when I had a major cramp in my calf. It was agonizing and I had to tread water until it faded. I realized how important hydration was and knew dehydration had caused the issue. Last time I’m not sure if I missed the first aid station or if I just chose to skip it, but this time I made a point of stopping at both aid stations. The first aid station was a mile into the race and was on a raised surface. Since it wasn’t shallow enough to stand I hung on with one hand and drank a couple cups of water with the other. My legs started to drift under the platform and I scratched my right knee on it. I was thankful that the 2-mile aid station was in a shallow spot where I could stand. I had one cup of water there and two cups of Gatorade. That must have been enough because I didn’t cramp at all! Last time I also got pretty hungry by the end and hoped I could avoid that this time. I had a Clif Bar at home, a Picky Bar while I was driving, and a second Picky Bar just over an hour before the race. That combo seemed to work as well. I also had some of an electrolyte drink in a bottle leading up to the start.
Despite my lack of training for the distance I felt surprisingly good. After a while I noticed that my hands and wrists were stiff from swimming continuously for so long. I formed fists a few times to try to loosen them up and could really feel it then. Luckily it didn’t bother me too much. At times it felt like the swim was dragging on for so long and I wondered how much I had left. It was pretty much a straight shot for the last mile in Halfmoon Lake but I couldn’t see the finish. I kept trying to track the big orange buoys or the crowd of people ahead of me when I couldn’t see the next buoy. Eventually I got to a point where I saw people in different colored swim caps swimming the opposite direction. People could swim a half mile or 1.2 miles and it must have been some of those swimmers. I kept looking for the big blue Epic Races finishing arch!
Somehow I was able to keep swimming strong even at the end. I tried to put a little more power in my stroke and kept hoping a cramp wouldn’t hit.
Eva Solomon (the race director) made a point of saying that we should try to smile for our finishing photos. Finish line photos for running races usually look fun and exciting and the swim photos…don’t. Many of us look pretty wiped out as we trudge out of the water, half wobbling after standing up when we’ve been in a horizontal position for so long. I tried my best not to look like a disaster. Keeping my goggles on to hide my raccoon eyes was a very conscious decision! I didn’t know where the finishing photos would be so I’m glad I happened to spot Greg Sadler who gave me a thumbs up. That made me smile for a couple of his photos! This is my fourth race with Epic Races this summer and Greg Sadler and his team have always done an amazing job. I don’t especially like swimsuit photos but he did the best he could based on what he had to work with!
Goal achieved – I finished and I didn’t cramp! Once again I had made it through the three lakes.
I finished the race in 1:57:43. I had finished in 1:50:00 last time so I was a little bummed about that.
I reminded myself that it was quite an accomplishment to even complete this race. I shouldn’t have huge expectations considering how I had barely done half the distance during training. If I want to do better, I have to train smarter. Although I often place fairly well during running events, running is clearly more of a strength for me than swimming. I was never a fast swimmer as a kid which is what led me to quit the swim team by the end of middle school. It was all about competition and my times were not competitive so why do it? Despite my initial disappointment in my time at this race, I told myself that I approach swimming with a new perspective as an adult. Now it’s more about how it makes me feel strong and gives me a personal sense of accomplishment. I DID feel accomplished.
Epic Races always has great post-race food. I had some pancakes, mac and cheese, an egg and cheese wrap, and a peanut butter and granola wrap. They also had an ice cream cooler where I got an ice cream sandwich, then a bomb pop later before I hit the road.
Somewhere around 500-600 people participated between all of the events. One of the most impressive feats of the day had to be a guy who swam butterfly. I heard the announcer say a guy was approaching the finish who swam butterfly the whole time. The real kicker? He did the 10K! Amazing.
The day after the race my neck and obliques are a little sore from rotating to breathe and I have some general arm soreness. Between that and my slower time hopefully I will be motivated to train properly and improve next year. I definitely want to keep returning to this race. It’s very likely that I’ll be doing a bunch of races and training for another marathon next year too but I really need to find a way to squeeze some longer swims into my training schedule. For now I’ll be satisfied that I successfully pulled this off and that I felt pretty good while doing so.