*Editor’s note: This report was filed from Florida, where I’m spending a week visiting my parents. I’ll have spotty Internet access, so don’t be alarmed if my blog posts/Twitter use/communication in general are a bit sporadic.*
I don’t want to brag or anything, but I sorta kicked the Chesapeake Bay’s butt yesterday.
I set out to break 30 minutes (I finished in 31 and change last year), and to place in my age group (I placed third last year) in the 1-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Swim Sunday. I finished in 29:54, placing second among 24-29 year olds.
More importantly, I had set out to swim harder than I did last year, when I finished smiling, happy and feeling like I had energy and muscle power to spare. This year, the guy in the medical tent asked if I was OK as I stumbled across the finish line. Mission accomplished.
The start of an open-water swim of this size will always be a bit jarring, I think. The roughly 600 swimmers competing in the 1-miler are broken into four waves, differentiated by cap color. Swimmers start in the water, and spend the first a third of a mile accidentally kicking, scratching, groping and smacking each other as they angle for position – or try to get out of the way. Last year, I accidentally grabbed someone’s butt (ha!). This year, someone accidentally kicked me directly in the right goggle (ouch!).
Then, the writhing mass of bodies thins. The cap colors start to change as you creep into the wave in front of you.
For me, the best part of the triangle-shaped swim course is after the first turn, when a glimpse of the buoy ahead is accompanied by the sight of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The sight of the bridge looming over the silver-blue glitter of the Bay is as powerful a symbol of my love for this region as the monuments, memorials and museums in Washington, and has come to represent the most comfortable and euphoric part of the swim for me.
Except this year, I made a point to not get too comfortable. I swam the crap out of it, actually grunting into the water from the exertion. I felt like the waves this year were a little bigger than the ones last year, though that could just be selective memory. At one point, I was startled to see a swimmer a few feet below me when I took a breath at the crest of a swell.
Only one swimmer passed me from the wave after mine, and I’m pretty sure he won the race in a time of 23 minutes and change. I drafted him for a good minute, effectively using up any ounce of juice my triceps had left. By the time I finally lost sight of him, the shore was in sight, and it was just a matter of hanging on for the finishing kick.
After the awards ceremony, we sat on the deck of Hemingway’s and watched the swimmers competing in the 4.4-mile swim inch across the Bay – a reminder of my goal for next year.
But that’s next year. For the moment, I was content to dig into my crab soup and chill out.