Race Report: Catfish 2.4 Mile Swim

I’ve been whining so much about pool problems that I forgot what this sport was all about: open water! So, when I happened to get an email from USA Productions about the Catfish Open Water Swim, and noticed it was the next day, I registered right away.

I really like swimming in bay area lakes. The water is clean and calm and the temperatures tend to hover in the high 60s, which is wonderful. This swim was supposed to take place in South San Francisco, but they moved it to the Quarry Lakes near Fremont, which are a gorgeous spot, and–as opposed to some South Bay reservoirs–open for swimming even when there’s not a race going on. Good to know!

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I’m really glad I went; it was a glorious, sunny morning and the lake was glassy and crystal clear. There were about 300 people there, but only 12 of us swam the 2.4 mile course without a wetsuit. This is what it looked like:

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As can be seen in the map, you can’t really see the turnaround point from the start (plus, we were a bit misinformed about what the buoy situation out there was going to be like), but it all turned out to be fairly self explanatory once we swam around the bend. As is frequently the case with lake races, they ran security using SUP paddles, and while the kids were not very strict with enforcement (folks cut around the buoy line and were not penalized), they seemed to have fun.

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It was fairly clever of the race organizers to let the wetsuit folks go out five minutes before our wave; there were 40 of them and 12 of us and the assumption was that some violence could be avoided. But there were a fair amount of slow wetsuit folks, and so, by the time we got to the turnaround buoy I’d overtaken several folks from the previous wave. And I started out in the back behind everyone else!

This probably calls for a bit of commentary about the psychology of these short races. In the last few years I’d gotten used to very long races, in which I already know I’m going to be, by far, the slowest swimmer in the group, and so I abandon all hope and just swim at my leisure and pleasure, keeping a lot of stamina and energy for the end and watching my stroke really carefully. These shorter affairs are a completely different story. The pool of competitors is much larger, and since many of them are triathletes (this race, with the 1.2mi and 2.4mi distances, catered particularly to that group), you can’t assume that swimming will be their forte.  And so, I found myself doing something I haven’t done in ages when racing: Competing with, and overtaking, other people.

When I saw the 10k Olympic race in London, I was fascinated by the strategy the different competitors employed. Many of them, probably Thomas Lurz included, were counting on drafting behind Ous Mellouli and overtaking him at the end. Ous, like a real champ, just forged ahead the whole time and finished first – much like Keri-Anne Payne did a few years earlier. I have a lot of respect for people who don’t play the drafting game (even though it’s perfectly kosher and legit to draft), partly because it’s never worked very well for me. Most folks I swim shorter races with are not TI folks; they kick and create bubbles and commotion around them and it’s just not worth the trouble. But I’m pretty proud about how strategic I was in this race. I pushed to reach a group ahead of me, drafted a bit at someone’s thigh, then overtook them. I got to overtake at least four wetsuit people this way in the last quarter of the race. It felt good to swim strong. One person clawed me a bit after I passed him, which is a known occupational hazard; I retaliated by shifting to a 6-beat kick and creating a ton of bubbles around his head.

I was rather pleased with myself as I got to the very last buoy, and then encountered a somewhat complicated finish line: the lake has permanent lane lines in it, and we had to cross under or over them to get out.

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As you can see in the picture, at the very end of the race you basically have two choices: cross under or over the lane lines. I opted to swim under them, continued to stroke till my hand raked the bottom of the lake, and ran out on shore.

I did pretty well for an old, undertained, injured lady.

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My Bia has me at 1:40 or so, which makes sense given that I started the GPS when the wetsuit wave started. It also has me at 2.6 miles, which means some sighting snafus but not nearly as bad as in previous escapades. I tended to veer toward the left, but since it was a counterclockwise course, that actually worked in my favor, as I took very tight turns around the buoys and sighted frequently.

Most importantly, I had fun! And even though the distance is roughly a quarter of what I’ll be swimming in Vermont in mid-July, I know that the aggressive push I put in at the last quarter of the race means I had a lot more endurance and fuel in me, which could last me for the few hours that the race will take. I’m estimating a finish anywhere between 6:30 and 7:00 hours, depending on lake conditions.

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At some point earlier in the year, I registered for a trans-Golden-Gate -Bridge swim, which apparently happens next week. I’m still undecided whether I want to get into the bay, but if I am, I’ll report from the field. Meanwhile, the priority is to actually get this ass back in the pool and put in some serious yardage, so I’m fit and comfortable come Kingdom Swim.

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