Of course, I had to do some research before committing to the swim. First of all, what would my wife think? Would she support all of the training that I would put in and be ok with the distance of the race? Indeed she was - what a blessing I have in Lena. Next, could I put the time in to complete the race without the aid of medical intervention? I worked at getting into the pool 2-3 times a week, and also started to meet with the Bennington Area Masters Swim Club. It also so happened that I had the weekend off from work, and after consulting with the Browns the weekend was free on their end to host us. Of race requirements, Bob has a kayak and volunteered to be my wing man through the course, and my friend Jon from the Masters club happened to have an extra wetsuit that was a bit too big for him and just right for me that I could borrow for the event!
On Friday, the night before the race, I checked in at the Portland YMCA on High Street to pick up my racer packet. I found my required swimmers cap and flag to attach to the kayak, along with a tee shirt and some granola. We headed over to the Browns and saw their car in the driveway with the kayak loaded on top. Bob wanted to bring the kayak down to the East End Beach to test it out and get a lay of the area. We followed behind them on the short drive from their home to the beach and watched with excitement as the kayak paddled out a hundred yards or so from the shore, between the moored boats and buoys. After a 20 minute splash (we spent the time combing the sand for sea glass), Bob came back to the landing and reported that everything looked ready to go for the big event just 12 hours away.
We headed into the city for a stop at the park overlooking Fort Gorges, where Val planned to make our base camp in the morning. With the aid of binoculars, we spied the route from in reverse, to the right of the fort to the dock across Casco Bay to Peaks Island. The Ferry was slowly advancing from it's home port to the dock on Peaks, and we joked that it did indeed look a far distance away! After making some notes (which helped us in reviewing the course map and some current info the Browns found online), we zipped to the Old Port to buy our tickets for the morning (a great idea to avoid the hassle in the morning), the we headed towards home for a some pizza and a stop at the store for supplies before we turned in for the night. I didn't have much trouble sleeping, due in part to being tired from the long ride to Maine, the late nights during the week from work and trying to get preparations for the event all set, and my secret weapon - Ambien. Minutes after hitting the bed I was off to sleep, a bit anxious for the big swim in the morning.
5:45am. I am not often up this early, but the alarm ringing heralded in the dawn of race day. Having already packed the wetsuit and other swim gear, I slipped on my trusted green speedo and some warm ups, and joined together and loaded into the cars to head over, making our goal of leaving the house by 6:15 to catch the 6:45 ferry to the island. Typical Maine morning, overcast and foggy. I mean really foggy - couldn't see more than a mile or so in front of yourself. We boarded the ferry and headed to the Peaks, without being to see the city from across the bay.
|Kayaks stacked on the bottom of the Ferry - three high in some spots!|
We unload the kayak and headed for the beach - I registered and picked up my timing chip (which I wore around my left ankle), then Bob and I took in the sounds and excitement of the event. It was strange to see some of the other yakers paddling in (they opted not to take the ferry, or perhaps they missed it!), almost like the scene from Pirates of the Caribbean where the pirates walked out of the water, as they seemed to just appear through the fog.
|Ferry returning to Portland. Note the kayaker coming in to the left of the shot.|
Bob left with the other kayakers after they had a brief meeting, and I found myself on the beach for about 20 minutes. I hopped in the water (as others were doing) to warm up - that ended up being more like freeze off! I decided after a short swim to the end of the pier and back that I would wait on land. We swimmers had a brief meeting as well, where we learned that instead of a mass start we would be leaving in "waves" of 50 swimmers to avoid the usually frenzy at the start of an open water swim. I was ranked 33rd (based on my one mile timed swim for qualification) and started in the first flight. We walked as a group over the blue mat that activated our chips, then floated in the water next to a lobster trap about 50 feet offshore and waited for the starter to send us off.
The start came and we went. I started to the right side of the group, close to the pier, in order to avoid being run over. Two swimmers were just in front of me, so I wedged in between them just a few inches behind and allowed them to escort me out of the starting area. The water was cold, so I kept my head out of it for the first 300 yards or so, until I was too tired by this hydroplane-style of swimming. As we made our way out into the bay towards the kaykers, I tried to follow the feet in front of me, and found myself drifting to the side of the other swimmers. The kayakers appeared and I saw a bunch floating together, then it seemed like they were lined up making a channel to swim through. Bob spotted me as I made it almost through the flotilla, and patted his head to let me know that he found me. Later, Bob said he was nervous I might miss him, so he looked for the swimmer with the whitest arms! Haha - there I was!
I lined up to the left side of his boat and we headed out together. I joked "Are we almost there yet?" and Bob almost fell out of the boat! I focused on lengthening my strokes because my arms were cold and I knew that they were falling short. Bob was very encouraging and it was a great help having him lead the way through the fog towards the finish. I used the time in the water to do a lot of praying, especially for ourupcoming missions trip to Nicaragua. As we rounded Fort Gorges, the sun started to zap away the fog, and Bob threw me my water bottle for a fill up. I commented, "Is that the second wave?" as I looked back and saw a group coming out of the fog. "It's time to rock and roll," said I, and after getting a good look at the finish area I started to increase my turnover and headed towards the beach. We could see the park where Lena and the family set up the cheer camp, and I reeled in a swimmer in front of me - the extra effort paid off as I was able to draft off her for a bit.
|Portland coming into view to the right.|
The finish was fast and I tried to not leave too much left in the tank. Bob kept me from many obstacles, but I did manage to brush against on the rather large buoys that the Y had dropped - it as not the most pleasant! At the two red buoys I broke to the left and Bob headed right with the other yakers. I spied some swimmers to my right, so I stroked harder and took a straighter line to the balloon arch that stood on the beach in front of the finish. I had hoped to bound from the water like 'the Hoff' but my legs were too weak and my wetsuit too heavy - I fell over twice and into a race worker the third time. I decided that a slow walk to the blue mat in the finish was in order, so I finally made it there! My son, Preston, was the first face I saw, and then my wife came round the corner and gave me a big hug. I checked my watch and saw a time in the 52 minute zone, much better than the goal of finishing under one hour that I had set for myself. Val and her parents also shouted congrats from the beach, and I headed to the tent for some water and orange slices.
My first open water event was a success! I think we all had a great time coming together and helping the YMCA raise some funds (in all, over $15,000 was raised by all the swimmers), and spending a great weekend together in Maine with our great friends. We are planning to swim again next year, and hope to add some surprises for then as well :)
26th of 192 Overall in 52 minutes 20 seconds.
10th out of 33 in Age Group (M 30-40) <-- these guys were fast!