|Sorry for the poor quality photo, but in the immortal words of Kenny Rogers: |
"you never take selfies with your chip stack, when yer sittin at the table"
For those of you who can't wait, the official results are here (spoiler alert).
I woke up without my alarm at 4:00 a.m. The lights from the parking lot made it appear like I'd overslept and I couldn't get over the sudden adrenaline surge. So I took my time doing final prep work and headed out to the pre-race meeting at 6:30 "ish". The conditions looked perfect and spirits were high. I snapped a pic decked out in my SCAR swag. Did I mention that I finally answered the "why are you here?" question? For the swag! I saw Kent sporting Birdwell Beach Britches (the original "board shorts," circa 1975) at Swim the Suck. He said these would be part of SCAR 2016.
|The finish line is the dam in in the background, left side.|
But more importantly: check out the sweet SCAR beanie and embroidered Birdwells!
When we arrived at the staging area, I saw my kayaker, Steve "Ninja" Shearin, for the first time. Not the first time ever, just the first time for this trip. Ninja is doing double (triple) duty this year. In addition to kayaking for me, he's also in charge of all the kayaks and kayakers. He missed the pre-race dinner and meeting because he was camping out with the boats for loss prevention. Here's a shot of the staging area with the Ninja in the foreground:
|The clown-faced photo bomber to Ninja's right is two-time SCAR competitor Stefan "the Dominator" Reinke. This was the last time I saw Stefan before the finish line (where his face paint looked EXACTLY the same)|
"Not one dime, punk!" as he grabbed me be the ear and hurled me into the icy waters of Saguaro Lake. That's no hyperbole. Well, perhaps the punk and ear part. Not the cold part. It was as if I'd ventured out onto a frozen pond, clad only in my speedo and half a tub of Vaseline (because that's how I normally venture out onto frozen ponds), and the ice had cracked and I'd fallen in. I tried to start swimming as fast as I could to warm up. But I'd waited too long and was already partially frozen. I thrashed about like a drowning old man until I got to the buoy line, where I desperately tried to shimmy my greased-caked body all the way on top of a buoy to escape the torture. Like a cat in a bathtub. Just as I miraculously achieved my objective, Kent snarked: "Welcome to Arizona! Starting in 3, 2, 1: GO! Ugh!!
Wave 2 exploded off the line. I think everyone wanted to get warm quickly. I struggled to find my stroke. I could feel nothing except pain and the delirium of hyperventilation. I dropped back dead last within 100 meters. While Kent and his peeps held fast to the party line of "65 degrees," there was universal consensus among the experienced cold-water swimmers afterwords that the temperature was well into the 50's. In all honesty, it was the coldest experience I can ever recall, swimming or otherwise.
But the water was also crystal clear, making for some spectacular underwater beauty below us. Saguaro is a dammed up canyon. At times, you could see beautiful, undulating rock walls fading off into the abyss. In shallow areas, there were fish everywhere. And colorful, mossy rocks. The father we got from the dam, the warmer the water became. Eventually, it was quite bearable. Pleasant, even.
It took almost exactly 40 minutes to warm up enough to get my stroke in a rhythm. I know this because right as I got dialed in, my feed alarm went off. I ignored it. I felt good and I didn't want to stop and get cold & stiff again. I also noticed that New Zealander Katrina Price (together with her husband, Garth) was keeping perfect pace with me, stroke for stroke. I knew this but she didn't, since I was behind her trying to catch up. But I could not gain a meter on this Kiwi. I noticed we were on about the same feed schedule, so I figured I'd stretch mine out a bit. After the first couple of hours, it seemed the only possible way to get ahead of her.
I felt surprisingly good for the first two hours. But around the three-hour mark, I got nauseous. It happens sometimes on long swims, not sure why. I switched to my new feed: trail mix. I've been experimenting with different mixes during my long pool swims. Works great in the pool, not so much in the open water. First, the chocolate melted a bit in the kayak, which clogged up the opening of the container a bit, making it hard to shake into my mouth while treading water. Second, a fragment of sunflower seed got lodged in the back of my throat. I spent 10 minutes trying to hack it up like a cat swimming in a cold bath with a fur ball.
It didn't solve the nausea. For about an hour, I stopped every 10 minutes or so, shoved fingers down my throat to try to remedy the situation. I couldn't manage a fully satisfying purge. I slogged on as best I could. Team Kiwi passed me and I was sure that battle was lost. I was also feeling the effects of my reduced training. I didn't have much left. And I knew we still had 2-3 miles ahead. Boat traffic (and wakes) picked up quite a bit. I began to question my ability to finish. I started counting strokes to distract myself. I added a reward at the end of each set of 100 well-executed strokes: 5 easy, stretched-out breast strokes. It worked. Breaking this down to just 100 strokes (instead of 3 more miles) improved my spirits immensely and my body responded. I started feeling better. I reeled in Team Kiwi and 2 or 3 others the last mile. One of them, triple-crown earner, Courtney Paulk, responded with undeniable authority. I don't suppose they "give away" the triple crown to just anyone.
We rounded the final corner and Kent's boat was right there in front of us. Oh the glorious sight! I high-fived Courtney for her dominant finish after touching the buoy and offered to kiss Ninja on the face, but he declined.
Although I definitely worked harder on this stage than last year, my time was a full 17 minutes slower!! And I felt more exhausted afterword. I fully expected to be 8 or 10 slots down on the finisher's list, and delightfully shocked to be dead middle of the pack in 21st place. Exactly where I was last year at this point.
Back at the picnic area, I heard from several veterans that they had to work harder this year and ended with slower times. Not sure what that's all about. The conditions weren't that bad. Perhaps it was the cold...