The current ain’t no joke

Last Saturday I was down in Richmond, VA for a 5k swim with the SwimRVA folks. Peluso Open Water puts on several swims throughout the year. This one was a new one, designated the Virginia Masters Open Water Championship. It was held in the James River in Midlothian, VA.

The course was four laps, 1250m each.

Start was in the middle of the course, so we started against the current, then a nice long 650m with current, then turn buoy and 650m against the current, repeat.

There were about 25 of us, I think, in three waves. I was in the second wave, based on my self-reported 31:00 for 1500m. Before the start the RD reported to us that the (right) end buoy “disintegrated.” They moved a small yellow buoy, which originally was in the middle of the course down to the end. It was a slightly different shade of yellow with a number 8 on it. This will come up later.

Swim felt fine for quite a while. I was the slowest, of course, and the third wave came up and passed me. At the turns I saw others behind me, so I knew I wasn’t last. But damn was that current brutal. The first turn came and went. With the current I swam so fast. I decided during the second lap to count my strokes between buoys. The RD mentioned that the yellow buoys were about 100m apart. So with current I counted 100 strokes between buoys. And that kept pretty consistent for the entire half that was with current.

The far buoy was fun to turn around. The first time I started my turn as one would with normal current or current-neutral, and zoom that buoy passed me by and I had to swim like crazy toward the shore to start working my way back “up” to the other end. So for the second time around I started my turn early. I figure I probably looked funny, swimming perpendicular to the current before I even got to the buoy. I got better at that turn as I swam on.

So anyway, the stroke count between buoys against the current was a bit over 300 strokes. After the first turn my shoulders were on fire, it was nice to swim with the current for 600-odd strokes. But then 1800+ for the against-current side. Ugg…

Then it got interesting. Halfway+ through my fourth lap, a kayaker stopped me. “Sorry to stop you, but there’s only 10 minutes left.” “Thanks,” I said, and put my head down and really pushed it. I was swimming with the current and already swimming my balls off, but I found more speed. Then 30 seconds or so later another kayaker saddles on up to me and keeps motioning to me. After a minute or so I stop and she said “Sorry. But there’s only 8 minutes left.” “Yes,” I responded. “Someone already stopped me. Thanks.” And I kept my head down and swam like the devil. The kayaker kept up, adding a hand signal where she was describing a circle in front of her face. My God, why do they continue to bug me. I’m swimming as fast as I can. After a couple minutes, I stopped and said “I don’t know what that sign means.”

She smiled at me and said “We need you to stop and turn around. The course is closed. Great effort but we have to start the next event.” I felt so bad. The first time with the 10-minute warning I thought they were giving me a heads-up, as if to say “Speed up!” But it turned out they were trying to get me realize I didn’t make it.

I asked this kayaker for the time and she said 10:39. How in the world could that be? We started at 8:30. There’s no way I’ve swum for more than two hours. It didn’t feel like it. Frankly, I thought I might even hit my target of 1:45. How in the world have I been swimming for over two hours.

I swam back in, with my tail between my legs. Feeling like shit. Swimming back in with a few others. When I was checked back in I was asked “Did you finish?” Sigh…

My daughter found me and gave me my towel. We went to see if any t-shirts were left over (I had registered so late I was guaranteed one), and got some food. Only after we were in the car and I recounted the last lap did my daughter tell me what she heard from the radios:

Volunteer: Swimmer 175 refuses to stop.

Uh-oh, dad is swimmer #175.

Apparently they thought I was ignoring them. I felt so bad. When we got back to northern VA, I immediately wrote to the RD and asked him to apologize to the kayakers for me. I offered feedback that they be more direct and say “Hey! You’re done. You’ve run out of time!” He wrote me back the next day:

In all honesty, no volunteer wants to be responsible for pulling someone and frankly neither does the race director. It’s an awful job and one I wish we didn’t have to do. Some swimmers prefer the approach you’ve suggested. Others prefer a more subtle approach. Some don’t want to hear anything we have to say, regardless of the situation.

While it sucks to DNF a 5k, I must say I learned a lot from this swim. I should have learned it last year after 20 Bridges (those currents in the East River killed me too). I’m integrating particular interval sets that mimic an easy set followed by a hard set, like these loops in Richmond. I’m also looking forward to joining a team in Boston, or swimming with others. I’ve lost lots of speed swimming by myself for the last four years; I could use some fingers tapping my toes during laps.

Bottom line: I can highly recommend the swims put on by SwimRVA and Peluso. Richmond is beautiful and the organizers and volunteers are wonderful. Come visit!

2 thoughts on “The current ain’t no joke”

  1. “Where’s Mike?”

    “In the Chesapeake.”

    What a bummer…but at least you were able to provide some constructive feedback.

  2. Oooh. I would have also interpreted “there’s 10 minutes left” as “you have 10 minutes to finish.” If they wanted people out of the water by 10-minutes-to-close then they should have been more up front about that. “Course closes at 16:00, exit water by 15:50 or it’s a DNF.”

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