Children’s Hospital Open Water Challenge 5K

“There’s a 5K swim tomorrow- you should do it”

Usually people who have not swum in over a year do not agree when people say something like that. I am unusual.

I was chatting with a local endurance athlete before bikram on Friday when she found out I had no races scheduled and invited me to swim 5K. I haven’t swum in easily a year but the course was a 1K loop so I could always bow out early. It was wetsuit legal in a lake and the proceeds benefited Children’s Hospital. She touted the RD, Darren Miller, as the “Lance Armstrong of swimming” in that he was exceedingly accomplished and very dedicated to philanthropy. Upon googling Darren I realized that he has swum the English Channel, is planning to swim the “Ocean’s Seven” and his races benefit a charitable fund for Children’s Hospital (if you want to feel like an underachiever, he’s also 27). I shoot him an e-mail and we hit it off and suddenly I’m in. I’m swimming 5K. With less than 24 hours notice. And NO training. I’ve never swum more than 2,000-ish meters. This will only be my fourth open water swim. This could be a very bad idea. But Ray says that endurance is “90% mental and the rest is all in your head.” I’m wondering if maybe training should account for some part of the equation, and realize I’ll be able to test that hypothesis the next day. I call The Boy:

Me: I might have a really bad idea. I think I’m going to swim a 5K tomorrow. It’s in a lake an hour outside of the city.

Boy: Cool. I’ll bring the dog and we’ll go for a hike while you swim.

And like that, I realized the downside of having an exceedingly supportive boyfriend: they don’t talk you out of doing dumb stuff.

We get to the lake and am greeted by my yoga friend and Darren. I’m introduced to other triathletes and endurance athletes. It’s a really friendly environment and I am again reminded why I love endurance sports. I reassure everyone that I will be last out of the water and I’m only in this for the experiencing of doing it. I liken it to running a marathon with no training and being ok with walking and finishing in 7 hours to say you did it and get the medal. I’m not sure if this technically counts as an “ultra” swim, but if Ironman race distances are the markers for endurance, this is longer than an Ironman swim by nearly three quarters of a mile. I have no time goals. I’m the only person who dons a full wetsuit (I dub it my security blanket which is true). The water is warm and the day is perfect. The dog is swimming and chasing sticks and I tell a local news station that it is the perfect day to test our bodies to do good for our community.

Beautiful day for a swim

The race starts and within the first 500 meters I decide that this was a bad idea. My shoulders feel tight and I’m second to last and I’m having trouble sighting. I readjust my goals to swimming 2K for training. As I finish the first 1K Darren is in a boat at the turnaround buoy and is being the best cheerer! Alright! I can do this! I go out and swim another 1K. As I reach Darren the second time he continues to cheer and asks if I need a Gatorade. I tell him I’m good and keep swimming. The rescue boaters are cheering for us, and I continue to keep the last woman behind me at bay. One of the things I like less about swimming than running is that it’s harder to thank the volunteers and cheer for the other athletes!

One of the amazing volunteers

The only thing I can think of is finishing my 3K and getting a Gatorade and having Darren do more cheering. But by the time I round the buoy at 3K Darren has moved to the finish line and there is no cheering and no Gatorade. It sucks a bit but I figure I’m already 60% done and I want to finish the whole race. As I finish my fourth lap the girl who was behind me goes to the finish line. I’m not sure if she’s quitting early or has miscounted the laps but it doesn’t matter. I’m thankful that because the field has thinned out I no longer need to differentiate between the orange buoys and the orange caps of other swimmers while I sight (it took me a lap or two but man did my sighting improve!).

Orange caps and orange bouys! So hard to figure out what to swim towards!

As I finish the last 500 I see another cap in my view. The stubborn competitor comes out in me and I decide that my new goal is to beat this guy and not be the last out of the water. I push it a bit, beat the other ultrarunner and am greeted by a smiling Darren who tells me my time and takes a picture of me smiling and bobbing in the water. I get out of the water and am greeted by what seems like every swimmer and volunteer cheering for me and the other last swimmer. It feels so good and I am so proud of myself that I finished the longest swim I’ve ever done without any training.

Three Pittsburgh triathletes. Me, yoga buddy who finished first in her age group, and the very modest overall winner!

We stick around for a nice picnic and the award ceremony where I find out that I placed in my age group! Yes, there were only four people in my age group and I was number three, but that does not matter. In fact, the girl who cut the course and her mother get very upset when she did not medal because her time was faster than mine. True, but her course was shorter. It doesn’t matter as everyone had a safe, fun day and $9,000 was raised for Children’s Hospital! So awesome!

Darren and I are going to set up a pow-wow to see if we can team up to help the children of Pittsburgh. I learned from this experience that endurance really is all in your head. I’m not sure I should take home that message, but as a result I’m running my third annual Annie’s 6 hour run next week