25 July was the 6th iteration of the Raslina (Croatia) Plivački Maraton, a 5K swim in beautiful and isolated Raslina, Croatia, about 80km from Split and about 5km from Krka National Park. The day was beautiful and not too hot, about 34C. Raslina lake is part of a river system that connects to the sea; it tasted slightly salty and had a gentle current. The water was about 25C, a bit cooler than the water I’ve been swimming in all week on the island of Brač, but not near as cool as I would have liked it, especially an hour or so into the swim.
The 5K was an out-and-back, which I love. No laps to count and remember, just a simple “swim yonder, then return.” The course was incredibly well marked, with huge red buoys every 500 meters or so, and strange square things (imagine 1.5m x 1.5m squares of compacted newspaper, and that’s what they looked like…they were much more solid and heavy, see below) which announced how far you’ve gone, if you had the wherewithal to stop and look. There was also a yellow buoy at 1000m for the 2K swimmers to turn around at as well as our 2500m yellow buoy for us 5K swimmers to turn at. The buoys were so well-visible that I had little to no trouble spotting them.
As I’ve said before, Croatian beaches are rocks, and I’ve got some crazy tender feet, so much so that I’ve bought scuba shoes for my swimming on Brač. That wouldn’t happen here, of course, so I wore my flip-flops till the bitter end and then handed them to Fembot, who graciously got up early while on vacation (0545!) to come with me and hold my crap. Anyway, I entered the water like a man walking (slowly) on hot coals, and lined up with the other 190+ swimmers.
Several minutes passed whereby angry volunteers yelled in Croatian to those swimmers who wouldn’t line up behind an imaginary line from the edge of the dock and the race director’s boat. I have no idea exactly when we started (1000 start) but we were late by a bit, but finally the horn went off and I let the speed demons charge forward and then I started. About a dozen strokes in I realized I hadn’t started my stopwatch, so I stopped quickly and did that. Then I put my head down and swam.
As always, the first 500-1000m of any swim is a warm-up for me. I stretch before beginning a race, but I rarely get in the water and swim. I’m superstitious in that I think all my best and fastest strokes will be during that warm-up, so why not save them? I know, stupid, but it’s my stupid pre-race ritual.
It felt SO good. My stroke felt great and I got in a rhythm very early and felt very fast. After about 1000m I came across a pod of just slightly faster swimmers, about 3 of them, and kept with them for the rest of the race. Or attempted to. I drafted off one guy for a bit until I realized he was a worse navigator than I was, and got tired of being run into (or over) by him, so I bailed on him, sped up, and hung on the side and then toes of one woman. Damn she swam straight. I drafted off of her until about 3500m.
Water was nice, if a little brackish, but I kept up my 85-90% effort the entire way. At 2500 meters, the woman and I rounded the buoy together, did our alligator eyes to spot the way home, and put our heads down. It was tough keeping up with her, and that pretty much ended at about 3500m. She didn’t pull far away, but the other two guys came up alongside me and the battle to stay straight started again. I could see the woman about 5m in front of me and I tried to stay with her, on her toes if even a bit back. That worked until I ran into one of those weird square things floating in the water.
I thought I hit a person’s head the damn thing was so solid. My watch actually hit it and I stopped to see if the swimmer was ok, and I realized I hit the square thing. I didn’t hang around long enough to see what it said as far as my progress is concerned. Better not to know. I put my head down and tried to catch up with my pod of swimmers.
And I did. And I even caught up with the speedy woman. I managed to draft off her feet for quite a while, then she took off with about 1000m left. My tank was running low. I could spot the other two guys, one parallel to me and off about 10m to the right, and the other back and to the right. The final red buoys started coming after the yellow buoy. I thought they’d never end. One had the number 3 boldly printed on the side and I remember thinking, God, I hope that doesn’t mean there’s 2 more? In my mind those buoys were spaced 500m apart each, but they couldn’t be, because I’d already passed the yellow one marking 1000m from the start/finish.
I didn’t try to see numbers on the final buoys, but suffice it to say there were 2 more. After what I thought was the last one, I saw the finish. The finish was preceeded by two red buoys, larger and less round than the others, oval-shaped. These buoys were parallel from each other about 20m apart and about 50m before the finish. The finish was one of those you see in the big races where the swimmers finish right under it and have to slap it for the timers to call their time. Very awesome. Anyway, I saw these two buoys while alligator eyeing during my sighting. I started to head to the right side of that channel made by those two buoys, knowing the finish chute was on that side. Unfortunately for me, what I was seeing was yet another round red buoy on the right, and the left-side of the oval red buoy. What this meant as I got closer was that I was about to swim to the left of one of the course buoys, when you have to swim to the right of all the course buoys! So I had to adjust my course, probably losing a few seconds.
Which was important to me, because at around what I thought was the last of the red buoys (which should have been numbered 1 if logic prevailed), I put on the gas and passed the other two guys from my pod. I didn’t spend valuable time or neck muscles to try and look back to see where those guys were, but I adjusted my path to go to the right of that last (really last?) round red buoy and head into the finish chute. Kicking like a crazy person and upping my stroke rate to something fierce (while still thinking about my form). I came through and tapped the finish sign, and my nearest competitor was about 10-15 seconds behind me. We high-fived, then I remembered to turn off my stopwatch. So I don’t know for certain what the hell my time was, but I’m sure it was under 2:00, which was my goal. Actually, after my 5K last year in National Harbor, I would have been happy with 2:00! Instead, I’m ecstatic! I guess you really can train for OW in a tiny pool with elastic straps tied to your ankles.
Getting out of the water took some doing. Again those damn rocks and my weenie feet. How the hell did my feet get so sensitive after growing up in Texas and only wearing shoes for school, church and work? Fembot had to throw me my flip-flops so I could walk out of the water. She got some glamour shots of this process.
The swim felt incredible the entire time. I felt fast and never once gave up. I can honestly say that I gave 85-90% effort the entire swim until the very end when I gave 100%. I don’t remember a swim where I felt that ready and good. When we got home and I took my suit out to rinse it, I saw that I had a huge hole in the crotch area of the suit. Wonder how long I was flashing the Croats?
Edit: Final time was 1:52.16. The guy finishing right in front of me was 1:52.10 and the guy behind me was 1:52.25. I was 62 of 83 men and 18 of 26 men in the 40-49 year age group.