Tuesday, December 01, 2009

IMAZ Race Report: Race Morning and the Swim

I got a few hours of sleep but it ended quickly with a chorus of alarms at 3:30 am. I had a big smile on my face before I even opened my eyes. It was like Christmas morning! I hopped up and went upstairs to eat my breakfast. Two instant oatmeals with raisins and milk, an english muffin with peanut butter and jam, and some coffee. After I ate as much as I could (all but a couple bites of the english muffin) I headed down to change. I body glided myself head to toe and put on my tri shorts, sports bra, and tri top. I used the restroom and gathered all my final pre-race bags and items (Special Needs bags are dropped off in the morning, plus I had nutrition to put on the bike, and I had my wetsuit and everything too).I dressed in warm up pants and a sweatshirt and light gloves which would all be shed before the start. We headed out the door promptly at 4:30 am just as planned.

We drove to Tempe and found the athletes-only parking lot on Ash St. I showed my wrist band and we parked. We walked over to transition with tons of other athletes and their families. First stop was my bike. I put two bottles of Perpeteum in the cages (one frozen solid, one just cold) and four power bars in the bento box. I opened the power bars so that it was easy to eat them on the bike. Right next to the bike racks was body marking. I found two super friendly faces who waved me over. It was two older ladies, very motherly! They asked me if it was my first Ironman and how my training went. They were so sweet! After I was all marked up they each gave me a big hug and wished me luck. :) Next I took a cold bottle of Ensure to my T1 bag and a PB&J to my T2 bag. It was a good reminder of where my bags were and how to find them in transition. Finally, I turned in my special needs bags. My bike SN bag contained a soft cooler with two frozen bottles of Perpeteum, a PB&J sandwich and pretzels, two spare tubes, and a little bottle of sunscreen. My run SN bag contained a PB&J sandwich (the goal was to have the sandwiches available every possible spot) and a long sleeve shirt in case I got cold. I used the porto potty and went back to find Zach outside transition. He was wearing a bright orange sweatshirt so that he was very easy to spot. I took off my warm ups and put sunscreen on everywhere. I knew there would be more sunscreen later but wanted to start with a nice base. I knew my pale Oregon skin would burn easily in the Arizona sun. Zach put my timing chip around my ankle and then I decided it was time to say goodbye. I took my wetsuit and cap and stuff from him and gave him a huge hug and kiss.

I walked into transition and found a spot along the fence near the exit (we were required to walk through the exit to activiate our timing chips). I put my wetsuit on along with my ear plugs, goggles, and swim cap. The goggles were under my swim cap to keep them safely on my head. I held my nose clip until the last minute. I had a spare nose clip on my watchband. I still had a few minutes so I nervously watched the other wetsuit clad athletes. I noticed no one else still had their Morning Clothes bag which meant I was supposed to have dropped it off somewhere already. I was just going to leave it where I was since I had intentionally worn throw-away clothes, but a nice volunteer told me he'd take my bag over to the drop spot. So many great volunteers there!

Finally the athletes started making their way toward the exit arch and toward the water. I stood aside until I was about in the middle of the pack and then walked into the mix. We all stood near the water's edge stalling until the last minute. We wanted to delay getting in the cold water so we stood around anxiously. It was pretty quiet except some nervous chatter. The announcer was urging us to get in the water and slowly people started jumping in. I was surprised to see we had to jump in - I thought we went in at the stairs where I'd entered the water for the practice swim on Friday. But no. Jump in. I wanted to keep waiting since I saw there were still so many people behind me. I knew I needed to be farther back in the pack. But at the same time, I was watching the clock and listening to the announcer and knew I had to get in. Finally, I walked up and sat on the edge and pushed off into the water. It instantly took my breath away so I breaststroked away and toward the bridges. I knew there were only a few minutes so I kept moving toward the start line. People were making very casual progress so I also kind of took my time. At one point I turned back to scope out the scene behind me and suddenly WHACK. A passing swimmer's arm caught me square in the jaw. My head was ringing, it felt like a closed fist punch, although it was probably just an elbow or something. I instinctively ran my tongue over my teeth to see if they were all still there. I was a little shaken up but fine. I'm fine, I'm fine. Keep swimming. I made it all the way up to the mass of people and looked up, knowing Zach was going to be watching the start from the bridge. I spotted him instantly in his orange sweatshirt. "Zach!" I waved! Hi!!! Too funny. We just smiled and waved and he took my picture. I tried to keep an eye on the swimmers around me and keep a bit of open water around me if possible. In retrospect, this was hilariously optimistic. As the start time drew near everyone crowded further up. Without much warning I heard it- BOOM. The starting cannon! It was ON!! I smashed the start button on my watch and watched the water begin to churn.

The Swim

Yikes. Everyone surged forward and it was an open water mosh pit. I moved my arms and legs but I wouldn't call it swimming. I wasn't scared, I was focused. On not getting punched again. On not getting kicked. On not getting pushed under the water. I moved forward, surprisingly. I was amazed to see people actually swimming by me. Really? I was in no position to put my face in the water for more than one single stroke, let alone string several strokes together. It was madness!! I continued swimming with my head up and watching the chaos around me, hoping it would subside soon. It had to, right??

Nope. It continued like this for a very long time. At one point there was a gap of open water and I was relieved. But, it was just a random gap and I immediately swam up on another traffic jam. This was made even more challenging by the fact that my goggles were completely fogged up so I couldn't even see the flailing limbs around me. I just kept moving forward, waiting for some free water. It's hard to say how long that took since I had no gauge of my distance or time, but it had to be at least 15 minutes or like 500-750 yards? It seemed like forever.

Finally, FINALLY, there was enough room for me to actually swim in an actual freestyle technique, rather than the panicked-doggy-paddle I'd been doing. But it was still very crowded. And I had the new challenge of the rising sun being the one and only thing in my field of vision. The fact that my goggles had fogged up again was inconsequential since i couldn't see crap anyway. I sighted on the swimmer to my right and just tried to ignore the other swimmers near me since I couldn't even see them. I wasn't cold; I hadn't even thought about the temperature since the start. I could vaugely see the Rural Road bridge ahead and knew the turn around was a few hundred yards past that. It seemed far away, but I reached it quickly now that I was actually swimming. The turn around seemed a good distance past that, but I was excited to reach that point and head back.

There was more chaos at the turn and I took a good kick to the arm and felt a long scrape from the dude's toenail. Yuck. I made the second turn (it was a rectangle, not a 180 degree turn) and swam up over a girl and kind of wrenched my shoulder. Youch.

Thankfully, after that turn, it was clear sailing. I was way outside toward the wall, and nice and alone. There were only a couple swimmers to my right. Most were swimming along the buoy line to my left. I got a good look and it was actually really crowded. I guess that's the shortest distance but I would rather have the clearance. There was a kayak right along next to me so I just swam along side of him. I was watching the Mill Ave bridges up ahead but they didn't seem to get any closer. I was taking 30 strokes and sighting, and every time I looked it seemed just as far away.

My arms started to get really chilly and it became difficult to hold my form. My arms were actually aching and sore, and a little numb. As I kept swimming, my hands became very numb and it became impossible to close my fingers. With every stroke my fingers were uncontrollably wiggling through the water since I couldn't hold them still or together. So I just focused on using my palm and forearm as my paddle and kept swimming. I still had so far to go! I had no idea how long I'd been in the water or how much longer was left, but I thought it couldn't be good. I convinced myself that if my swim time was much slower than I'd planned that it was OK and not to worry. I finally got closer to the bridges and swam underneath them. It was a neat view as I breathed and saw the underside of the large bridges. I peed in the water one last time (I'd gone a couple times already through the course of the swim) and sighted on the red turn buoy.

I made the last 90 degree turn at that buoy and swam toward the exit stairs. I could hear the announcer and the cheering crowd. I was so excited to be finishing the crazy swim!! It had been much harder than I thought and I was glad to be safe and dry. As I got closer to the stairs I watched where the other swimmers were exiting and tried to place myself in an open slot on the stairs so I could get right out. It felt a bit like Plinko, if that makes any sense. I got there and a volunteer was waiting to pull me out of the water. I found the bottom stair and planted my feet on it and the volunteer eagerly hoisted me up. I noticed instantly how cold the air felt and as I climbed the stairs I started shivering. I looked down at my watch and lapped it for the first time of the day and was absolutely shocked and thrilled to see 1:33!! WOW! Amazing. I had 1:35 as a best case scenario! I saw Zach and waved, wishing I could tell him all about the swim but all I could do is smile and wave.

Swim Time: 1:33:26 (2:28/100 m or 2:13/100 y)


As I ran toward the change tent I took my cap, goggles, nose clip, and ear plugs off, and unzipped my wetsuit. I found an available volunteer and he peeled my wetsuit down to the waist, then I sat down and he yanked the wetsuit right off my body. He hoisted me back up enthusiastically. He seemed to be in a much bigger hurry than I was! I walked at first but knowing there was quite a distance to the change tent and feeling myself growing much colder with every second I finally started jogging. I grabbed my T1 bag (easy to find at the end of the row and with green tape on it) and ran toward the change tent.

I didn't run IN the change tent though, because it was full. Completely crammed full of cold, wet, partially-naked ladies. It was crazy in there! Since I wasn't changing clothes I just posted up along the wall in the entry way. I wanted to hurry but I was SO cold. I heard a volunteer ask "does anyone need help?" and I signaled her over. Thank goodness for that girl's help, because I was shaking and frozen and couldn't move my fingers. I toweled myself off while she did basically everything for me. She got my feet wiped off and into my socks and shoes. She buckled my shoes. She helped me put my gloves and helmet on. She shoved my Gels into my jersey pocket. She opened my ensure and I chugged some of it while she piled all my wet swim stuff into the bag. The one thing I did was squish some Chamois Butter onto my hand and stuck my hand down my shorts and wiped it on the crotch of my shorts. I think she was grateful I took the reigns on that one. I put my sunglasses on, thanked her, and ran out. The volunteers at the exit of the change tent put some sunscreen on me and I jogged over to the bike area. It wasn't as though I was concerned with my time, I just needed to jog to warm up. I ran up to my bike row and a volunteer brought me my bike. Then I ran toward the bike exit and spotted Zach again. I lapped my watch and saw that my frozen T1 was very slow indeed. Whatever! I was looking forward to getting dried out and warm on the bike.

T1 time: 11:05

Picture time:

Alarm clock on the nightstand reads 3:34. We recall that Arizona is one hour later than Pacific Time, meaning this is 2:34 am in Oregon.

All my race morning stuff- Special Needs bags, morning clothes bag, and Zach's backpack for the day:

Ready to leave the house at 4:30 am. Zach borrowed his cousin's sweatshirt which came in very handy for spotting him in the crowd (and for wearing after the race!):

Bags in transition- T1 bags are in the distance to the right, this is the T2 bag area in the foreground:

Lots of people, Mill Ave bridge in the background:

Body marked and ready to rock and roll:

Team Barnes! (and my pre-race bottle of Ensure)

Zach's view from the bridge- bikes in transition area and change tent in foreground:

Making our way to the starting line:

There I am, in the white cap. Men are red caps. There were a lot of men!

Start of race. Chaos:

Making our way down the lake. The course continued past that bridge you can see about a mile away and then back.

Sunrise (and still chaos):

Here I come, heading to finish of swim:

Very happy with that swim time! Looking for a wetsuit stripper:


Running to change tent, freezing cold!

Bike report coming tomorrow. Remember you can check out the video from two posts ago for lots more swim pictures and a video of the start.


Anonymous said...

Awesome swim report. You looked so relaxed and confident in the pictures!!

John said...

I also had to change in the entryway of the changing tent because it was so crowded - I think the good people of Tempe saw a lot more of 'ol John than they ever imagined (or wanted) that day!

Great report, Jen! Keep it coming!

Carolina John said...

very cool Jen! can't wait to read the rest.

kelsalynn said...

YAY! That looks so far- I can't believe you can swim that distance! You are crazy.

The swim terrifies me. I'm glad you conquered it!

Susan said...

I can't imagine how that swim is...the video at that start looked insane!

Alisa said...

(This might sound a little familiar but still holds true...)

What an f'ing ZOO! Despite the total chaos you rocked the swim! Hello--1:33!!!!! My arms feel like jello just thinking of how far you swam, whoa! It never occurred to me that a race start would be so chaotic that you couldn't physically swim for a few HUNDRED yards, that is crazy.

So sorry about the jackass that hit you in the head that must have been scary before the race even freakin' started.

I will have to remember the orange sweatshirt and make sure to tell any future spectator I may have that they are required to wear bright clothes.

Way to go Jen! The pictures Zach took are so awesome. It's like a huge mass of swimmers---crazy!

the gazelle said...

great swim report! Brad & I watched the video and were awestruck by the number of people in the swim and all the churning! Way to get through that so fast!

aron said...

ahhhh LOVING these reports. there is SO much detail that goes into these tris, ESPECIALLY an IM. its very imformative - thank you for that :)

wow that swim sounds so intense!! you are doing great :) cant wait for the next part!

Marathon Maritza said...

Love how you're breaking this up! Because I wanna hear about EVERY second!! Can you break it up, second-by-second please? Just kidding....I can't wait to hear the rest!!!! I'm actually ESPECIALLY excited to hear your post-race thoughts.

You are my hero, dude. ♥

Amy said...

Omg, so excited to read your prerace report and see the video! This one made me all teary. I did laught at the chamios butter though (I remember talking about that w/ you earlier). You rocked that swim, congrats!

PS- Zach is the best.

Mel said...

I think I would have had a panic attack in that water. I figured it would be crowded but that sounds insane!

I was nervous about the logistics for a 1/2 Marathon, (silly, I know) I can't even imagine the prep you had to go through for this!

You thought a toenail was gross?! What about all that pee you swam through :)

Can't wait for the rest of the recaps.

Sean Lemecha said...

Wow, it sounds like everything was pretty crazy up until you made the turn, and then you were able to settle into a rhythm and knock out an AWESOME swim time!

I got to the point where you said you peed again for the 3rd time and then went back and saw your perhaps subconscious use of "relieved" at earlier parts of your RR and had a good laugh. Three times though, dang! What do people do if, errr, they have to, uhh, you know...

That could've been a brilliantly awkward moment when your volunteer was helping you out with everything. Next time, just nonchalantly toss the tube of udder butter to the volunteer and wait for a reaction! Hah!!

KK said...

LOL at this: "I think she was grateful I took the reigns on that one." Also, totally got the Plinko reference-accurate description and funny. I am feeling several very distinct emotions while reading these: excitement and happiness for you and then throw up making it's way up my esophagus. That swim start sounds like the seventh circle of hell. Way to stay strong and shatter your goal time.

Ewen said...

Funny about you looking for some space in the water. Lucky you have an iron jaw! Fantastic swim time considering all that agro.

Good that bright orange Zach could easily spot your pale Oregon skin ;) Sorry, but that was a very amusing frozen T1 report.

Jo Lynn said...

HOLY CRAP! That is a crap load of people in that lake. Gah! Looks way frightening to me. I would have been scared.

Joanne said...

Certainly a delightful event to look in pictures. you have really enjoyed it a lot. I too like swimming but not a professional swimmer, I'm a hobbyist and like to swim in my community pool wearing my swim suit and wrist water bottle. Its a great fun for me.