Thursday, May 31, 2012

Reston Lake Swims: My Shoulders (Pretty Much) Survived

This is really a three-for-one race report, because, unlike most reasonable people who only entered one of the three distances offered last weekend during the Jim McDonnell Lake Swims in Reston, I joined 45 other lunatics distance swimming enthusiasts who took on the triple dip challenge of swimming the 5k, 2 mile, and 1 mile races, all in the space of about 26 hours.

First up was the 5k swim on Saturday morning. I got there with plenty of time to take in the scenery.
That ice cream truck becomes important later, just trust me.

Since the lake temperature is always well over 70 F for this race, I had no plans to wear a wetsuit. I figured that the fact that the lake was 76-77 F on Saturday would lead almost everybody else to the same decision. The lake was essentially the same temperature as most competition pools, and there is no need to wear a wetsuit for warmth. Unless, of course, you are scared of open water and can’t fathom the idea of swimming 5k without your security blanket.

Apparently, a lot of people needed their blankies, as I saw many wetsuits, including some full-length wetsuits, all over the start area. I hope they started well hydrated, because it was NOT cool in the water. People: just trust in your ability to swim for real, without flotation devices, and it will be easier next time around.

(I know that some people wore wetsuits to see if they could deal with being in one for over an hour before they did an ironman swim leg or the like. I still think they're all nuts. That water was way too warm for it, and you can find a colder place to test your wetsuit, leaving the 5k race open for, well, racing.)

Anyway, the Reston Masters categorize the floatation device users wetsuit swimmers separately from the other swimmers, so when it was time to start, I lined up with the group people swimming without safety blankets and waited for our heat to get called up.

5k Swim: 1:32:14

We swam three loops of a course that was just a shade over a mile. I’d been told that the course was easy to navigate, but those who told me that probably didn’t account for the fact that one could be stupid and start swimming towards the wrong buoy, which would force said person to backtrack to avoid cutting the course. Navigational issues aside, I had two other problems. The first was that I felt tired almost the whole time – not tired muscles, more like tired brain and body that wanted to take a nap. The second problem involved the goggles that, despite being just fine for Charleston and Columbia, were so tight that I started to get dizzy and almost pass out. Rather than drowning, I stopped for 30-45 seconds to eggbeater and loosen them during the second lap of the lake.

Yes, I stopped right in the middle of the race to loosen my goggles. It seemed like a better idea than blacking out and drowning in the middle of the lake. I’m pretty sure that the race director appreciated that.

My final time was pretty disappointing, not just because of the relatively slow pace, but also because I was pretty far behind many of my DCRP teammates who are about the same speed as me in the pool. This means that I either had a bad race, or am not so great at open water swimming. But, most likely, it means both.

Luckily, I had two more races on Sunday, which offered me the chance to take revenge on the course again.

This time, the water was 78 F, meaning that NO WETSUITS WERE ALLOWED. That’s right. You HAVE TO ACTUALLY SWIM FOR YOURSELF. Try to not panic, OK folks?

I ran into Beth and Jon right before the race, and congratulated Jon on his willingness to take on an open water swim like a real swimmer – no wetsuit, just man versus water. We lined up again, and I caught a glimpse of Allison right before our wave went into the water.

2 Mile Swim: 57:02

Given the sighting issues I’d had during the 5k, I decided to latch onto James, one of my DCRP teammates, from the start. Sure, there was a drafting advantage, but I mostly used him for navigational help, since he is extremely familiar with the course after years of racing it. I swam just a little behind his hip for the 500 meters or so, which basically meant I was staring at his butt. That’s OK. He’s faster than me in the pool, so it was unsurprising when he pulled ahead of me, but I was still able to follow him without drafting for another 300-400 meters, which gave me a good idea of how to navigate the course for the second loop.

THEN somebody showed up to draft off ME. I lost that SOMEBODY after one of the turn buoys, but then I found somebody drafting off me AGAIN when we started the second lap. I’m sure that Allison thought she was being sneaky, but I really DID know that it was her the whole time. Halfway through the second lap, I dropped back to draft off HER (HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT NOW?), and then lost her at the same turn buoy again. She wound up winning our age group, about 30 seconds ahead of my 3rd place finish.

We still both got medals. Rematch next year is on, though.

But in the meantime, I still had another race to swim. One more lap around the lake for the 1 mile race!

1 Mile Swim: 29:47

I was ready to conquer the course once and for all, navigate perfectly, and swim all out. About 100 meters into the race, I realized that my shoulders and back disagreed. Sore. Tired. Filled with lactic acid. But hey, why NOT do a one mile race at a slower pace than a two mile race on the same course? I still wound up third in my age group, this time just 20 seconds away from first place.

Despite being a little slower than I wanted to be in each race, in the cumulative rankings for the weekend, I managed to come in first out of the five women in my age group who entered all three races. Also, I got a certificate for doing all three races.


Which I took to the orange ice cream truck for my real prize.

Free ice cream.

The swims were slow, sometimes disappointing, but I did manage to swim 6 miles in about 26 hours, completely toast my shoulders and back, and come away with ice cream.

Also, I raided the free dried plum samples something fierce.

Now to figure out what to make with 20 ounces of dried plums. Ideas?


  1. Congrats on doing all three races - my neck was so stiff Sunday morning, I couldn't imagine doing 3 more miles. Oh, but that could also be because I don't "trust in [my] ability to swim for real," "can’t fathom the idea of swimming...without [a] security blanket" and am not a "real swimmer."

    Going to continue to agree to disagree with you on all the above ;) Just because people choose to do something that is allowed in the rules (on Saturday) and also doesn't influence your race in any way (as there were separate results)- it doesn't make swimming 5k, at whatever pace, any less of an accomplishment.

  2. That 2 mile swim really lit a fire under my ass. I am doing the Greenwich 2 mile swim in July and I am going to KILL it!!!

    Nice job on all three. Lots of swimming for ya!

  3. In general, I totally agree with you on the safety blanket thing. Remember Pequannock when people did a 400y swim in an 80+ degree lake in a wetsuit. WTF???

    I think its also the difference between a swimmer and a triathlete. A swimmer would never consider such a thing in competition. Why not pull on the lane line during backstroke while you're at it? A triathlete, on the other hand, will go for any advantage possible (wetsuit, race wheels, aero helmet, etc).

    But... its legal in tri's, so you might as well take the advantage if you can. And if that means doing a pure-swim race in a wetsuit, well, I guess that's just what you have to do.

    1. Again. Next year. Everybody. Naked.

    2. I think it's the difference between someone who treats the Jim McDonnell swim as a race versus someone who treats it as a training swim for a future IronMan. I'm up for a naked 5K next year.

    3. If it's just for training, your best bet is to find a COLD body of water to train in while wearing your wetsuit. Because swimming in a wetsuit in 76-77-78 F water doesn't help you much when your longer-term goal involves swimming in a wetsuit in sub 65 F water.

      I'm sure that the Reston Association will be VERY happy to hear about our plans for a naked 5k swim.

    4. Actually, an Ironman could be 76.1 degrees and still be wetsuit legal for age groupers, right? So, in fact, I am even more happy with my decision to wear my safety blanket because I will know I can handle 2.4 miles in it, regardless of the temperature on race day.

    5. If the lake at IMMT is pushing 76F...I feel like we have bigger problems, like, on a global scale.

      (I suppose you could further argue that unless you think you are going for a Kona slot or an AG award, you could wear one for a wetsuit optional swim with no real penalty, and therefore need to be able to test yourself in a wetsuit at 83.9 F. Ugh. I'd sweat a few gallons.)

  4. Great job on doing all three races! The ice cream def. looks like the best part!

  5. Surely those prunes can be added to chocolate in some way, yes?

  6. Yeah I'd do it for the ice cream. How about plumcakes? Would that be a weird pancake combination-I'm not too sure.


    As for the wetsuit debate, it doesn't really matter to me if other people are wearing them or not since they are scored separately. When given the choice, I'm not going to choose to wear one, but if someone else wants to and it's legal under race rules, then by all means go ahead. I'm sure I would feel differently if I was directly competing against those people and felt like I was at a disadvantage.

    1. Well, the "rules" get sort of dicey here. Per FINA rules, a race director can allow wetsutis, but those competitors are not eligible for awards - in other words, they aren't scored in a separate division, they flat out aren't scored. At most open water races that do this in the U.S., the wetsuit wearers get a "DQ" next to their name in the results, not a separate award categories with medals and the like. What the Reston Masters have done for this event probably attracts a whole lot of triathletes who wouldn't go otherwise and therefore makes the event more financially viable, so it's a good business move and might be the only way to make it possible for them to host the event.

      However, those competing in the division aren't really competing in pure open water swimming, and on principle, giving awards in that division and scoring those swimmers with anything other than a "DQ" or similar designation doesn't really meet the spirit of the FINA rule.

      Maybe everybody here should go look up what Lochte said at the 2009 world championships. And then JUST FREAKING SWIM.

  8. Great job! Can you share your real feelings on wetsuits though?

  9. Wow, that's a lot of swimming! I definitely would have gone with the wetsuit as well. Congrats!

  10. Just reading about that much swimming wears me out.
    I don't have an opinion on the wetsuit debate but the water temp at my tri was 78 (the air was much cooler though) and many people chose to wear wetsuits. I guess temps for wetsuits in triathlons are different than in OWS? A lady in the restroom wrestling her wetsuit on said "the things we do for extra buoyancy" so for her it was a safety blanket. I didn't wear a wetsuit and I thought the water was plenty warm. Despite my (very) slow pace, I enjoyed my time spent in the water.

  11. That has me itching to do a 5K swim again. Great job!