READY TO PLAY
That’s what I was thinking as I opened my eyes at 3:45am this morning, I awoke before the alarm, I always do, I have some weird internal time clock that senses it is time for me to kick it into to gear, today as usual I am fully awake and alert well before the ring of my alarm. No time to spare, I leap out of bed and go about mixing my 6 servings of Maxim, then pull the “Potato Bomb” out of the refrigerator and into my feed tub, from there I choke down a banana sandwich, a Lara Bar and bottle of water, I also toss 2 peanut butter sandwiches into my swim bag, one for Jeff and one for me. By now Jeff has also stirred, he has a ” is it really time for another swim”, look on his face, but as always is a terribly good sport about it, he heads off to find coffee while I suit up, next a generous dosing of sun lotion and warm clothes, there ready.
4:45am we leave the hotel, I fill my thermos on the way out the door, into the car, 10 minutes later we are at the Boston Harbor Yacht club. As we walk towards the dock it is still dark, other swimmers and crew are milling around, there is a buzz in the air, I feel the energy and anticipation, I am EXCITED.
Brrring Briing, at 5:15am my phone shouts out, ” Hey Charlotte answer me, come on answer me, I think it’s Frank, you know your boat driver, Brrring, Bring”, ” Hi, this is Charlotte”, I answer, my demanding know it all Blackberry is right, it is Frank, ” Hi it’s Frank, where do you want me to go”, “where are you?”, I ask, as I am waving my arm, Frank sees me, ” pull into the dock, we will meet you”. Frank pulls up and ties up his fishing boat, he jumps onto the dock and grabs my outstretched hand, ” Hi, I’m Charlotte and this is my husband Jeff, thanks for being here and being up for the adventure today…and I am SO pleased you know the Boston Harbor well”, I say, Frank replies, ” I don’t know the Harbor that well, I just moved from Alaska”. ” Oh Dear”, I think as I walk up the plank to check in and get my race number.
I go about checking in, there is a line of swimmers, all chatting about the upcoming dip…, ” what is the farthest you have swum?”, ” what temperature do you train in?”, ” what was your last race?”, all sorts of questions are coming my way, I quietly reply as accurately as I can…. my last big swim was last week, it was around 17 miles of swimming, the few swimmers listening look rather wide eyed, then the subject turns to water temperature,” have you been in water this cold?”, “well yes some”, I reply, I talk a little of the Irish waters in the 50s and then decide it might be best to keep quiet, and I do.
Race numbers go on, mine is number 14, then I get handed a dive flag for the boat and a race number, it is a white flag with the number 14, off down the plank I go to bring the flags to Frank and Jeff.
We load into the boat and begin to motor away from the South Boston Yacht Club, the other boats follow suit, what a pretty site as the sun is rising, we swimmers are preparing for battle.
I am pleased about many things this morning but the things I am most pleased about at the moment are:
1. That as we motor from the finish line to the start I will be able to study the landmarks in the harbor to look for during the swim
2. That during the 45 minute ride I can down some Advil, swallow my 500 mls of warm Maxim and stuff down the best part of my peanut butter sandwich, a busy little boat ride!
3. That I can share with Frank my plan of feeding every 30 minutes and which side I prefer the boat when I swim
We head out towards the harbor weaving through the Boston Islands, I begin firing out my plan of attack to Frank, ” I like the boat on my right side, I feed every 30 minutes, it is great when the boat is right alongside me, tougher when it is in front, when I sprint I tend to pull left, don’t follow me I will adjust back to you”, as I am rattling away Frank has a ” and what are you going to do if that plan goes up the creek without a paddle”, look on his face, he politely says nothing, I slow my speech and say with a smile… ” of course that is just the plan and things rarely go to plan, as a backup we just roll with it”, his face relaxes, so does mine and I find out he was joking about just moving from Alaska, he knows these waters like the back of his hand, I like Frank and I trust him.
Not only does Frank know the boat and the harbor well, he is also armed with the best tidbits of history about the area, he knows each and every island, Jeff and I are treated to a tour, that little pile of rocks used to be an island, legend has it that they gibbeted a pirate there and he cursed the island causing it to sink. How strange, pirates? Yes, Pirates, there were numerous pirates in the New England area, in some instances Pirates caught were gibbeted, this means they were hung in chains on an Island in a cage, sending a message to other wood be pirates, ” this is what awaits Pirates in the waters of Boston Harbor, BEWARE PIRATES BEWARE!”
We motor on, throughout the journey Frank is pointing out the 8 Islands we will pass by on our course, and then we approach the Boston Light on Little Brewster Island, even from a distance the light house commands a presence, breathtaking…
One by one other boats begin to arrive, I glance at my watch 6:25am, time to grease up and apply another layer of sun lotion, I put my cap and goggles on, then sun lotion, finally Jeff smears me with lanolin, ” an extra hit on my neck please”, I request, during the Champlain swim the left side of my neck rubbed raw and I don’t want a repeat performance. All done and still 10 minutes to spare, I decide to down one of my feeds while I wait, I have already had the 500ml pre swim serving but figure I will slide down another 300 mls for good measure.
So now I wait, the 5 minute warning horn sounds, I complete on last check, ” oops I can’t believe I nearly forgot my earplugs”, I grab them out of my bag and push them into my ears, until last year I didn’t wear ear plugs,but once the cold water swimming started I found them to help reduce the heat loss in my head by keeping the cold water out of my ear canals, even if just by a bit… I found it to make a difference. Ear plugs in CHECK, READY TO JUMP.
SWIM, SWIM FAST
All the boats are asked to move back parallel with Boston Light and the red buoy for the start, Frank is already there, a few boats edge back, there is a 50 to 75 yard gap between the first and last boat, we are the last, Greg talked about this during the race meeting,” unrealistic to line up over 20 boats side by side, jump in where you are, 50 yards is nothing over 8 miles”, all the same we are by far the last boat in the pack, Frank turns to me and says ” would you like me to move forward a bit?”, he edges forward a few yards and then the horn blasts and I am gone…OVERBOARD. ” Here goes”, I think as I hit the water, it feels GOOD.
SWIM SKINNY PENGIUN SWIM
” The current will be with you for the first mile or so”, said Greg in the race meeting, ” the water will be coldest at Boston Light and will get warmer when you near the shore”, ” the fastest swimmers will reach the bridge at around 1.5 hours”, ” tell you family and friends to come to the beach to cheer you in, swimmers will finish after 3.5 to 5 hours”. I have all the race information stored in my head, I have the pictures of the islands and the bridge in my head, I armed with all I need for a terrific swim. I pull hard with every stroke, long strong strokes, my body feels toasty warm, including my hands and feet, ” this is very good”, I say to myself, very quickly it becomes clear that I will have to do some weaving in and out of other swimmers and their support boats, we have been told that the swimmers and boats in front have the right of way, so I sight to lay out a clear path, a pick up of speed and I move past the swimmer in front, Frank and Jeff follow me, I am having fun, it is like being at a race track. Soon the pack starts to disperse and with that the boat wakes lessen, Jeff waves my feed bottle at me, it is time to eat, ” wow how can 30 minutes be up already’, I think to myself, I am in such a good rhythm I really don’t want to stop but I know keeping fueled is important, it will help keep my speed up and keep me warm. Down goes the Maxim, a quick gulp’n go, no talking and I am off.
Off I swim once more, I can feel the speed due to the generous push of the current behind me, ” I have to maximise this as much as I can, as soon as I cross under the bridge there will be a cross current pushing me away off course, time to make hay while the sun shines”, I swim on, feed number 2 down, I am aware of boat wakes around me and a small chop in the water, but for the most part to Harbor is calm, “how lucky am I”, I feel grateful and peppy.
1.5 Hours, my feed time once more and before me is the bridge, “this is very good”, I think, we have been warmed that the bridge is very shallow on the sides and the boats will not fit, they will need to leave their swimmers and motor under the third column out, swimmers are best to cut the corner tight and go under the first or second column. On I swim and edge closer to the bridge, Jeff and Frank motor away and I swim on ALONE. There is another swimmer up ahead, I set my sights on him and swim hard to catch him,” I am going to swim by him under the bridge”, I pull up parallel to swimmer and am ready to settle in but notice that he is cutting the island closer than I am comfortable with, I pull ahead and swim a little wider, a good thing too as I slice my fingers on the sharp rocks under the bridge, OUCH!
Out I swim from under the bridge, I kick it up another notch, this is the cross current stretch and where the commuter boats buzz to and from, on I swim, pull, pull, pull, breathe, pull, pull, pull, breathe, where are they, where is the boat, I feel vulnerable being unmanned, like a sitting duck, ready to be run down by the next boat. What I don’t see is that Jeff and Frank have me in their sights along with a strong presence of the police and coast guard, any time a boat comes in the direction the siren sounds and the load speaker blares out ” Swimmers in the water, stop your vessel”, I swim on oblivious to all the commotion. The one boat that does not head the caution is the lobster boat, they are pulling up their traps come hell of high water and they do, right by me, tossing the small lobsters back in….” think Charlotte could toss us a few in the boat?”, Frank says to Jeff, we all motor on.
Feed number 4 is the “Potato Bomb”, true to form this homemade concoction pumps me up, I feel GREAT, I feel STRONG, I am going to make it, I can see myself feeling the sand on the bottom and striding up the beach to the finish line, I know I am going to make it. 2.5 Hours and I am already well past the 2 Islands nearest to the beach, I remember studying the map, 2 miles to shore from these 2 islands, that means I am less than about 1 to 1.5 miles from the finish, there is still plenty of gas in the tank, I imagine I am racing the 1500 meters in the New England Championships, long, steady, strong strokes….it’s all on. As I breathe to the side I see moored boats and yachts, close now, I want to look up in the worst possible way, ‘ head down and swim” I command my mind, ” Jeff’s getting my feed ready, must be close to 3 hours, maybe I’m not near the finish after all, maybe one quick peak, NO, head down and swim” I command myself again. Jeff signals a feed, I sight ” if I can see the orange finish buoys I ditch the feed and sprint HARD”, I raise my head slightly as I stroke, “YES,the finish, 500 meters maybe a 1000, GO, GO, GO, DRIVE, DETERMINATION….NOW!” I swim on, Frank looks excited that we are going for it. Pull, Pull, Pull, Breathe, Pull, Pull, pull, Breathe, past the buoys, turn towards the beach and there it is, that feeling of the sweet sand under my hands, the stand I had been visualizing in my head, YES!
Not over yet I still have to get out of the water, often after hours in the water when you go to stand up your legs don’t quite want to respond to the instructions from your brain, today I get my feet under me and stand up first try, not bad, I clear the water and relax, everyone on the beach is shouting, Greg the race director shouts ” up here”, oops I don’t have to simply clear the water, this is a race with a finish line, RUN!” Up the finish shoot I run, ” first women in”, I hear and my time, 3 hours, 6 minutes and 50 seconds, next thing I know there is a medal around my neck and I am being lined up for my finish photo, I smile ” CLICK. Check out the race photos here……. https://picasaweb.google.com/117623331366365790793/BLS2011?authkey=Gv1sRgCKHL7O7pqryA6QE&feat=email#slideshow/5640462403067850514
ON THE BEACH
On the beach is a wonderful spread of drinks and snacks, I chat to the first finisher Matthew McKay, he swam in in a time of 2 hours, 41 minutes and 17 seconds , outstanding. Then I rinse off under the cold outdoor shower and cheer on the swimmers as they arrive on the beach. One by one the swimmers land, one relay team of 4 swimmers arrive together and put on an impressive show by swimming butterfly in for the last 20 yards, it looks rugged. I get to welcome in Dave, he is the swimmer who connected me with Frank, my boat driver, Frank and Dave’s driver are fishing buddies, I later hear from Jeff that they jockeyed back and forth during the swim…..” Hey where are you guys?’, Frank would ask, ‘ What are you doing back there, we are done”, he would joke, we weren’t done, Frank was just winding him up, ” hey we didn’t come out here for a boat tour you know, we are racing”, Frank would gab them again, the phone rings, it is Frank’s buddy ” what do we have to do to drive Charlotte next year?”, they all laughed.
There is one more story that made me laugh, after I jump in at the start of the race, Frank turns to Jeff and says ” now that she’s out of ear shot it’s safe to tell you my buddy pulled an eight foot shark out from here a few days ago”, if that made Jeff nervous, he didn’t show it, he knows me I would have jumped in anyway, ” the only use I would be to a shark would be as a tooth pick”, I tell Jeff.
The swimmers are all back except for one, and then we see the last swimmer, he stumbles up the beach like he is drunk, over the finish line and wrapped up in an emergency blanket,” the cold got him”, I think to myself. He is helped into a chair, I can see the involuntary shaking of his body and ashen color of his face, he looks awful, it looks very familiar, me less than one month ago, I know he will be OK, but all the same I feel for him.
I visit with swimmers here and there and meet a terrific swimmer originally from Ireland, ” what top rate people and place” I tell Moria, we chat about open water swimming and soon it is time to say farewell, ” I’ll just be a minute”, I say to Jeff and with that I dash off to thank Greg the race director and after that quietly over to the heroic last finisher who is still battling with his hypothermia, ” Great job today, you were awesome, well done” , and with that we were gone.
One who has heart has hope, one who has hope has everything
– Arabian Proverb
What’s Coming Up: Back to Vermont, recovery and then prepare for…..could it be another race? YES August 20th Lake Willoughby, Vermont 4.75 Miles in a narrow, deep Lake, how will the preparations go? I’ll keep you posted