2018 Season Opener

Yesterday I had a great day out in Reston, VA, at lake Audubon for the Jim McDonnell Lake Swim, the 31st iteration of this great event. My first time doing the JMLS in 2010 was my first ever open water swim. Back then I did the 1-mile, and I still remember to this day sitting on the boat ramp, watching the 2-mile swimmers line up, thinking Damn, I should have done the 2-mile swim.

This time I did. I signed up for the swim shortly after we got booted out of Russia. I figured no matter what the future holds for me and my family, we’d be here in northern Virginia over Memorial Day weekend.

A couple of days prior to the event a FB friend mentioned she would be doing both the 1- and 2-mile swims. Never even occurred to me. Dang it. By that time it was too late to add the 1-mile event to my day. Sigh. Perhaps next time.

My wife joined me for the early morning wake-up and drive over to Reston. Rolling Thunder was here in town for their annual event, so I checked their routing online before we departed to make sure I didn’t have to make allowances in my routing. All good on the way to the swim.

We got there early, parked far away, had a nice walk in to the lake area through gorgeous trails. Lucky people living there. And then beautiful lake Audubon.

We got there as swimmers were competing in the 1-mile. The pyramidal yellow buoy is on top of a huge drain, and that marks the last turn of the 1-mile loop. The two cylindrical yellow buoys you can see to the right of the drain are the lining-up buoys. They are also Minions, which was cute. While we’re talking about the route, let’s take a look.

You can spot the drain in this map to the right, the little 3-leaf clover looking thing. North of that were the start buoys, the Minions (not on this map). (See the pool above that? It was open for warm-up, which was nice. Had a couple showers and bathroom, too, although it was chock full of way too many people.)

The course was counter-clockwise, which I love since I breath predominantly to the right. The views of the homes on the lake were wonderful. It really was difficult to stay on task! The course really was easy to follow. We had to turn around four pyramidal buoys; the intermediate round ones were solely for sighting. The 2-mile swimmers did two loops.

There were two options for the 2-miler: The 2-mile non-championship swim and the USMS Middle Distance Open Water Championship. I signed up for the Championship.

Right where the word Finish is on the map there is a boat ramp, and that was where we got in and out of the water. These guys really know what they’re doing. There were letters painted into the ramp, A through S (I believe, maybe T). I was in group G. Championship heats lined up first, all of us in yellow caps. Non-championship behind us; they were all in purple caps. Heats were based on self-reported one mile times. I put down 31:00, purely guess work. I’ve not been doing much speed work lately, and my 100 yard time has slowed down to about 1:55, so 31:00 was a fast estimate.

The organizers do a great job with getting swimmers in and out of the water. Each heat walked over the timing pad and into the water. The next heat would line up past the timing pads and wait till the water was clear to get in. Heats went by, about 45 seconds between each.

My heat went off somewhere around 4 and 5 minutes after the start. I committed the inexcusable sin of wearing goggles I hadn’t pre-checked. I warmed up with my clear goggles, but then the sun made an appearance, so I pulled out my new, dark goggles, put them on my head and lined up. Knew I’d screwed up within a few strokes as my left goggle cup filled with water. Had to flip over to my back at least twice in the first 300-400 yards to fix it. After the first buoy turn (very top of the map above) I had to stop to remove my goggles, tighten them, put them back on. From then on it was okay, till the end of the last mile when I had to clear it again. From then on, I was good. What a dork move though.

First mile hurt a bit. Been a while since I’d gone long without stops. I was also pushing it quite a bit, too. I mean, it was a race after all. The lake is so beautiful I was also really enjoying it. Lots of pushing and shoving, which frankly I love. But I also know others don’t like it, so a couple times when I started to get squished between two swimmers, I let them pass then came around them on one side or the other. Passed some, got passed by others. Felt pretty good to be in open water again.

The water was officially 78-something degrees, which meant no wetsuits for the swimmers that usually wear them. I heard one guy on the pool deck before the swim mentioning to his friend that he’d done 6 or 7 of these swims but this was the first one w/o wetsuit. He didn’t sound too worried. Water felt great overall in the lake. Some hot spots, some cool spots. Never a worry about the temperature.

Mile number two felt incredible. My shoulders felt loose, pull felt great. I decided to kick it up a notch. Started counting strokes. 20 fast, 20 normal. Perceived effort 8 or 9 out of 10 then 5 or 6. Then went 25 on 25 off. The lake was really flying by now. The far two buoys came quickly then the long straightaway.

The drain and the last turn buoy showed up quick. By halfway there I gave up the normal set. I went fast then almost fast, 9/10 then 7/10. I felt I could just keep going. So I did. I really wish there were lap splits. I think I did the second mile 3 or 4 minutes faster than the first. It really felt good.

Came in and ran up the timing pads. Volunteers took off my timing chip and I glanced at the timing clock. 1:15-ish. Figured I swam it in about 1:10. Happy with that. Still wasn’t free to go dry off till I checked out through two more volunteers who made sure they had my number.

I asked my wife to take a picture of me at the edge of the lake, and when we were done, another volunteer asked me if I’d just gotten out of the lake. He’d had a clipboard too and was ready to right my number down till I told him I got out of the lake the proper way.*

Final times came out today: 1:09.46, 15th of 16 men aged 50-54. Happy with that.

*I am stressing here how great the organizers were with safety cover due to news shortly after the wife and I left that one swimmer never made it out of the water. At the time I publish this post, the authorities had dragged the lake Sunday night unsuccessfully, but Monday afternoon they found the body of Kevin Ruby, a swimmer from the first wave of the 2-mile championship race. My family’s and my prayers are with the family of Mr. Ruby. RIP.

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