Monday, July 30, 2012

Lake Minnetonka Challenge 2012

Saturday, July 28, 2012
Lake Minnetonka, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Water, 81 degrees
Air 60, rising to low 80s, sunny
No wind, calm water, a few swells from boats during miles 3 and 4. Patches of millfoile about 20 inches under the surface in several spots, most notably at the finish for about 300 meters.

Perhaps open-water distance swimmers live inside their own goggled, muffled heads too much to get ruffled by a swim race. The swimmers we talked to on shore before this event had a calm spirit. "Find your pace and swim, don't race," said one. "I swam the five-mile last year," said another. "Why not swim ten this year?" Normal people, just having fun.

This was the Twenty-sixth Annual Lake Minnetonka 5-Mile Swim Challenge. And, this year Minneapolis also hosted the National USMS 10-mile Championships. It drew swimmers from around the country.

Safety meeting on the start beach on the evening before the race. Most of these folks are 10-milers with escort paddlers. Linda, my Minneapolis sister and kayak escort, is in lavender on the right. Fellow swimmer Rayo is in jeans. Pale shore in upper right holds the finish. We were told the tiny blip along the far skyline is a water tower and to follow it.

Pre-race: sorting gear, snacking, wondering where the bathroom is.

The ten-milers quietly started first. Four waves of about a dozen people each, a beach start, no timing chips, no cannon. The race organizer wrote down athletes numbers and said "go!" We watched them jog into the water, dolphin dive, swim. They looked so relaxed as they glided along, but they were moving faster than I ever will, wet suit or raw.

Then, our five-mile wave at 7:05 AM. We were the self-seeded-slowest-swimmers; about 25 people in our wave. Three more waves followed to make a total of about 55 swimmers for this distance.

Only Rayo and I wore only wet suits. Was I self-conscious about the aid of a wet suit? a bit, but only for a moment. I was happy to swim that lake, whatever it took. Besides, champions can't have all the fun to themselves.

Connecting with Linda, our kayaker, at about 70 feet from shore went smoothly, not too crowded, cooperation pretty much all around. What's the rush, after all? 

The swimmers and their boats turned into a sort of parade across the lake. Twice swimmers swam between Rayo and me, and once a ten-miler on the return route headed straight for Rayo, but the only obstacles were the ones we carried within us : ) and a bit of floating seaweed. 

Linda took this picture from the kayak somewhere around mile four.

Race rules stated that we need to stay within 20 feet of the escort, and, when two swimmers share an escort, within five meters of each other. We mostly traveled in this arrangement: Linda in the kayak to the left, Rayo center, Lorraine on the right. I could see Rayo and the kayak as I breathed and could often see Rayo underwater. I learned zebra mussels make lake water very clear.

The pace was relaxed; we were going for distance not speed - goal was just to finish. I tried to take in the event: looked around, admired the colorful assortment of kayaks and swim caps ahead and behind, noted islands we passed. I questioned Linda about the buoy at mile four. Really, we're that far? Sure it's not mile three? The calm water allowed for a long glide, the temperature was so comfortable I only gave it a thought when I noted a little warming on my sun-side shoulder.

We had decided before the swim to minimize breaks because training swims showed us we felt stiff after; I think we had about four quick snack/water stops and a few shouted-out words to check pace along the way. Linda and I shared some thumbs-up as we went along without breaking rhythm.

This is from the kayak as Linda moved off the race route. That's my elbow. I'm heading for the buoy.

Predictably, the last mile felt the longest. Plus, this is a big, busy lake (the busiest in the state of Minnesota according to the race director) and I was confused about precisely where the finish was - there were non-race related orange markers on the water. I got this sorted out before the buoy that denoted where paddlers leave their swimmers near the finish. When Linda left the route I decided I was tired of being a waterbug over the weed field and speeded my way across the millfoile to the sandy shore. As I jogged under the finish banner my watch said three hours, 44 seconds. Don't know the official time, but I'm good with that.
I finished swimming far to the left of the finishing chute - that's where the buoy was and I couldn't see beyond that. There's a guy in blue directing me toward the finish.
Here's Rayo about to cross the finish line (see that line in the sand?)

Mile one, about 33 minutes (don't have exact start time)
Mile two 35:30
Mile three 38:03
Mile four 39:33
Mile five, about 34 (don't have exact end time)
My total unofficial time: 3:00:44

The route was straight across Lake Minnetonka from Excelsior to Wayzata beach, heading northeast. The Garmin map of our swim shows how beautifully my sister, Linda, escorted us in an ocean kayak.

 I asked myself along the way, could I go farther than five miles? At mile four, the answer was, yes, for sure. At mile four-and-a-half, my left shoulder was feeling it a bit. At mile five, I was glad I didn't have to turn around and go back. A ten-miler? maybe not. A 10k? Yeah, probably, next year. Gotta love a wet suit.

Linda's Story
As a dry participant in this Minnetonka Challenge, I have a new respect for athletes and perhaps a different perspective.

My perspective:

I had several sleepless nights prior to this event, due to several "stressors."
Am I in good enough shape to kayak 5 miles--what if the wind is bad, the waves too strong? What if Tommy doesn't show and I don't have a kayak. What if Lorraine or Rayo have a serious cramp, go under and don't come back up, what if I smack one of them in the head with my oar. What if I don't connect amongst the gaggle of swimmers coming in. Will I keep a straight line, will I remember to veer to the right at the end and not run another swimmer over. Will they hear me when I hollar go left or right. Will I tip in my Kayak and not be able to get back in. Will I pee in my So many thoughts....

I left you two on the beach, had Bob to hold my hand and push my kayak in when the race official hollared "First wave of 5 milers, get ready." I rounded the corner of the beach—chatting briefly with fellow kayakers who wondered "what wave are we on?" "oh no , my kayak feels tippy," said another.

But as I approached the first buoy I spotted you both on the beach thanks to the wetsuits!! The man behind me chatting with a fellow canoer "I don't see yellow, she said she was wearing yellow!"

I spotted Rayo first, she looked up and gave me a smile and nod—we are connected.

Off we went. At first I struggled to keep a pace, avoid hitting swimmers and other kayakers. Then things opened up a bit. Lorraine reminded me to slow a bit. Eventually we hit a stride. Before I knew it we had already spotted buoy one; one mile down. Couldn't see the next buoy yet, but followed the main flow of swimmers and kayakers. Several times I held my paddle close, to avoid smacking Lorraine in the head, but again we found our stride.

Things bottlenecked at the buoy markers but seemed to open quickly. Other kayakers chatted—most seemed in good spirits. Only a handful of overheard negative remarks: "why didn't you tell me I was crossing those swimmers?"

By marker 3-mile, my neck was asking "aren't you ever going to look left?"

By marker 4-mile, my ASS was asking "why aren't you getting up?"

The lake opened up to a bigger bay, the wind kept my kayak at a constant angle to counter the waves. OH JOY! I see the beach and marker 5!! Lift my butt to catch some blood flow. Wait...I need to PEE!!! I can make it!!

4.5 miles: Lorraine starts to catch a few views above water--I'm guessing she's either delirious or she wants to bask in the "can't believe I'm doing it" moment.

50 yards from the finish: I veer to the right and race for the beach. Grab Lorraine's camera to catch the two swimmers coming in. And then...BATHROOM!!!

We made it. No worries, no tipping, no smacking or running into swimmers, fairly straight line, remembered to veer right, Bob and the kids found the beach...PERFECT!!

Let's do it again.

Rayo's Story

For SOME unknown reason, that swim was easy. It didn't ever seem hard. I think all of Heather's workouts, her encouragement, her little pearls of wisdom were literally floating along with me on that swim. I'd add our long swims with Bob, my long swim with Charlie, and Lorraine, your unwavering faith in me, to that list. I think, for me, focusing on one mile at a time, keeping our pace extremely even and limiting our breaks was a good strategy. During practice we took too many long, unnecessary breaks, so the suggestion of limiting them to perhaps half as many and slowing down the pace was very helpful to me.  
Lorraine, you probably would have liked to go faster and probably could have, but that would have been very difficult for me. Again, during our practice long swims, I had trouble keeping your fast pace/long breaks strategy so thank you for graciously accepting mine.

It was a wonderful, warm, calm day. Linda, you were a champ. Bone-straight navigating, expert water bottle throwing skills, and a cheerful, watchful eye. So cool. Thank you.

I think I'd like to do this again but focus a little more on swims without a wet suit. This would be a BIG step for me...I'm a little fearful on long swims without it because of my tendency to cramp. It's a mental crutch too because I'm convinced I'm just too slow without it (which I am btw). So, something to work on for the future.

The only complaint I have (there's always something) is I got cut off by a rogue kayaker at the end and I'm pissed that my time was slower than yours Lorraine. I was doing my best to keep up with your sprint finish, but then out of no where, there was a man in a kayak right in front of me! I'm really hoping young, sensitive ears didn't hear my expletive-filled rant. I was confused and then stood up too quickly because of it so wound up trying to run through water instead of swimming it.

Thank you for your planning skills and encouragement, Lorraine. I did not think I could swim 5 miles after that 4.46 practice swim when my shoulder completely seized up. I'm grateful for Mellissa's strong massage hands and for the healing power of tapering. I'm grateful to my family for their constant love and support and for the their willingness to accept horrible suppers cooked with me still in a bathing suit and dripping wet. We are all truly blessed.

Rayo was thrilled with our
three-hour finish.
Let's do it again!

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