Monday, July 8, 2013

Independence Aquathlon Race Recap

This was my first ever swim race of any kind.  I decided I should do an open water swim race as practice for my first triathlon which is coming up in just 3 weeks.  I discovered the Howell Independence Aquathlon and decided it fit the bill perfectly.

It is fairly close by (about a 30-40 min drive).  The cost was only $30, ($35 for me since I signed up race day), and for that cost you got a T-shirt, a swim cap, and you could do the 1-mile open water swim race, or the Aquathlon (2K run, 750m swim, 2K run), or BOTH.  That's a really good deal.  I'm noticing really quickly that even sprint triathlons are very pricey (like, half to full marathon price, $60-$90!!)  I wish I could have done both events, but I opted for the swim only, for the sake of my knee.

As I mentioned yesterday, I scoped out last year's results so I'd have an idea of where I'd fall.  I've only really done two one-mile timed training swims without breaks, in the pool.  (I've gone the distance plenty more times, but either as part of longer workout, or with intervals and rests included).  The first time was back when I was still building my distance and wanted to try to see if I could even swim 1 mile, and how long it would take.  That time was about 44 minutes, and I considered it fairly leisurely at the time.  The second time was more recently, when I had this Howell race on my radar and wanted to do more of a time trial to see what kind of time I could expect at a 1 mile race.  That time was 40 minutes I believe.  Definitely not "race effort", but not leisurely either.  Of course, both of these swims were in the pool, which isn't really the same as open water!  When I looked at last year's results, 95% of the times were in the 20s and 30s, only a few in the 40s, so unless it was a short course last year, I knew I was in for a big serving of humble pie.  I was just really really hoping to not be dead last.

Cute shirt, right? 
The swim started at 9 and the Aquathlon at 10.  I got there at about 8am.  Registration and check-in was easy and quick, but the only shirts they had left were L, XL, and XXL.  I know that's my fault for not registering earlier, so I'm okay with getting stuck with the large.  It seems big even for a large though.  It won't be good for anything but a night shirt.  Too bad, because I do like it.  I love non-white cotton tees to wear with shorts in the summer (not for workouts, but just as my normal outfit).

I was 1057.  :)

Check-in volunteers inking the participants with their numbers on their right arm and right calf.  Wetsuit wearers had to have their numbers on their hand. 
I had time to kill so I sat in the car for a bit and gathered my things, soaped my goggles in the bathroom (to prevent fogging), and set up shop at a picnic table to wait.  I was apparently at the "good husbands" table.  There were guys sitting there with laptops and cameras who were not participating but were there to spectate/support their wives.  Guess whose husband was notably ABSENT from said table???  I'm trying to get him to agree to at least come to my triathlon July 28th.  (The best I've gotten so far is "we'll see".)

Here are a few photos I took while I was waiting.

The transition area for the Aquathletes (?), some of whom are setting up their milk crates that they were given for their things.  Next year I'm definitely doing this race.  Yay for no biking!!!  
I was nervous, especially as they took out the buoys to mark the course.  They put them really far away, and we had to go around them TWICE.  I never really had to see how far a mile swim was, when I've only done it in the pool.  I just count laps.  I don't have to see them all laid out together!

I couldn't even get them in the same photo, and in the photos I did get, they were too far away to see!  So this is two photos side by side.  The pink markers mark the same buoy in the two different photos.  We started at the shore behind the pink one, swam out/around the blue one, then to the yellow one, back to the pink one, and then repeated it.  So two counter clockwise triangles at 1/2 mile each lap.  (Of course all three of the buoys were actually orange!).  
I got in the water at about 8:45 am, to get wet and get my goggles on and warmup a little.  I didn't really end up doing a warmup.  I decided to save my energy! I was chatting with a couple other terrified ladies until the start.  The three of us hung back after the horn and waited for the gunners to go.  I finally walked in and started swimming.  It wasn't terrible at first, though I quickly realized my sighting skills weren't as good as I thought.  That's one more thing that's easier to do in the pool than in a lake.  (I had been practicing lifting my head to look in the pool, but it didn't translate well).  I also noticed fairly quickly that the lead time I had given the other swimmers was widening, not narrowing! Ruh-roh!  It was about halfway through the first leg that I had my first panic which resulted in sucking water and stopping to tread for a second.  I forget what it was that scared me there.  Probably a fish or a tire or something.  It was also at about this time that I started checking behind me to make sure I wasn't dead last!!  (I wasn't.)

Nearing the first buoy (blue) and all the way to the second buoy (yellow) on the first lap was the worst part of the swim.  There were giant tree stumps under the water and these weird black patchy areas on the bottom that were really creepy looking.  It was like swimming through an underwater haunted forest.  I was seriously freaking out for most of that 2nd leg of the triangle.  The first leg was much nicer because the water was super deep and you couldn't see or touch the bottom.  I tried just keeping my eyes closed while my head was down but that wasn't any better.  Then I was just afraid I would crash into something.  I decided it would be better to see it coming.  At one point rounding a buoy a lady near me said something like "Be careful.  Watch out for the lady breaststroking.  I have a broken arm."  I don't really know what point she was trying to make, but all I took from it was that I'm barely keeping up with a chick with a broken arm.  Nice.  On the third leg (the last leg of the first lap) I thought about just heading to the beach and calling it quits.  I stuck with it though.  Halfway there!

The second lap was much better.  I knew what to expect and actually passed a couple people.  Like, literally, two.  Still counts.  The underwater terrors weren't quite as scary this time around.  I saw lots of fish on both laps, but they didn't bother me as much as they used to, and not nearly as much as the unknown giant black octopus patches, the random metal things, the giant haunted tree trunks, high heeled shoes (I'm pretty sure I saw one!), etc.  The 6th leg was basically like a normal swim, finally, except I didn't know what to do at the finish so I was keeping my head up a lot to see what other people were doing.  There had been a guy at the start announcing directions, but all he had said was two laps, keep the buoys on your left, go counterclockwise.  Unfortunately most people had already finished, so there wasn't a lot to look at for guidance!  I saw some cones set up for a finish chute (that weren't there when we started) and some guys standing there so I swam toward them and then got out and walked through, past the guy recording numbers and times.  "1057, 44:xx".  We didn't have to go through the big red "Finish" arch that they used for the Aquathlon.  I guess I did it right.

There was a photographer there too, unfortunately.  My photo will either be of me sticking my tongue out in dramatic exhausted effect, or pulling at the crotch of my suit to make sure I didn't have some kind of indecent exposure going on.  (I just wore a regular swimsuit, since there was no biking or running to worry about).  Even if he missed both of those maneuvers, there's no avoiding the fact that I was plodding out of the water in a swimsuit, which is bad enough for a photo!

Here's a map of what I swam (from my Garmin) which should be much clearer than my earlier description!

I had hoped that either last year's course was short, or that I would be much faster in a "race" than training in a pool, but alas, neither were true.  The times from this year were just as good as last year, and I did, in fact, come in last place in my age group, though not last overall.  (Small wins!)

I'm 29, not 30 dammit.  I know I wrote it right on the form!  Also, note that I wasn't even CLOSE to not being last in my age group.  They smoked me!  Haha!  Here is the full results page.  My overall position was 74th out of 86. 
I swam slightly long, just like I would run long in a race, at 1.12 miles per my Garmin, so my mile pace was actually 39:20, which is more on par with what I have been doing in the pool.  My splits do show a little speed increase on the second lap, but not quite as much as it felt like it increased to me!

The full data from the swim is available at Garmin Connect if you're interested.  If I hadn't been so traumatized from the event, and if I didn't have to get home to get to bed (I was supposed to work at night), and/or if I wasn't there alone I would have liked to say to watch the aquathlon to get a feel for the transition experience, but I opted to trudge downheartedly to my car and drive home immediately instead.

As it turns out, I couldn't fall asleep and ended up going out to lunch with Jeff anyway, and then took downstaffing from work so I'm off tonight anyway, so I should have stayed.  Oh well.

Overall, I thought the race was well organized.  It was a nice small event, and a great price.  I'm glad I did it, because I clearly needed the experience!  I was terrified and panicky through at least 50% of the swim, but I'm hoping that will resolve with more experience and practice.  Hopefully I got the worst of it out of the way before my tri in 3 weeks.  This was a lot different than any other swim I've done.  It was the only one where I couldn't stop and stand if I wanted to, since we swam the whole way across and it was too deep (vs swimming parallell to the shore where it stays shallow).  I'm actually looking forward to the swim at my triathlon.  It turns out that I like the deep parts better than the shallow parts, since it's seeing and potentially crashing into things planted in the bottom that throw me into panics, more than the actual swimming.  I'm not actually worried about drowning or anything, except when I get spooked by something I see and suck in water when my head is under.  My triathlon swim is only 400m and it's in a quarry, so the water should be nice and clean and deep.  It's also an individual start, so that will be nice.

My only regret is that I didn't do something smaller for my first one.  I feel like most beginner swimmers probably don't show up to a one-miler for their first event.  I think I was "competing" against Olympic and greater distance triathletes, and seasoned/dedicated swimmers, not newbie swimmers or 1st time triathletes.  On the other hand, anything else will probably seem easy now!

After I slept today, I went for another walk/run, only this time I used my IT band strap.  It definitely makes a HUGE difference!  I can't believe how much it helps.  I still feel my knee, but nothing at all like it is without it.  I'm up to (3:30 walk + 1:30 run) x 6 today, and it was less painful than the :30 or 1:00 runs I did the last two times.  So I'm going to stick with the progression until I reach 30:00 continuous running, and then I'll just stay there until I can get rid of the pain and ditch the strap.  I've been doing some heavier lifting that is leaving my legs quite sore afterward, and I'm optimistic that the improved strength is going to take care of my knee.  Here's hoping.  I also discovered a couple days ago that it is a lovely 25 minute bike ride from my house to my gym, so I expect I'll be doing that more often! Easy way to get a little cardio in on my lifting days. (45-50 minutes round trip).

New triathletes (@reidphotography, @DetroitRunner1, etc) : did you pay for the annual USAT membership yet?  Or are you doing daily memberships for now?  Do you know of any cheap triathlons?  Anybody interested in being my partner at the He Tried/She Tried/We Tried event July 21st in Grass Lake?  I am thinking about registering for the Aquabike.  If I don't have a partner they'll just pair me with somebody.  (Which is fine, because the pairing is just for scoring, it's not like a relay or anything.  They just combine the times of the partners and rank those).  I'd be a lot more inclined to register if it wasn't $85!!  Sheesh!.  They do have a relay option though too.  I'd be interested in biking and/or swimming if somebody wanted to take the run.


  1. I am very impressed that you did that swim! Like you said, it's probably a lot of hardcore swimmers and not many people doing their first open water race. You're very brave for making that your first one. :) Were you competing with a bunch of people in wetsuits? It sounds like over longer distances they can be very helpful with the buoyancy. How was the visibility of the buoys when you were in the water? Could you see them enough as you were sighting? The swim during your tri will seem like a breeze now because it will be so much shorter.

    As for the USAT membership, I just bought a one-day pass. One of the tris that I did didn't even require it. I'm not sure how many I'll do yet, so I figured if I decide to sign up for a bunch more, then I'll use that one pass to contribute towards the cost.

    I had looked at the He Tried/She Tried/We Tried event, but I didn't see anything about relays. I saw the part that you mentioned where each person does the whole event and the times are combined. Where is the info on relays? Not sure if I'm up for that one yet, but I'm curious.

  2. I don't know any cheap tri's. they are all expensive even when you sign up fairly early. I won't put myself as a triathlete just yet. One Tri does not make a triathlete and I'm not sure if I'll do another one. As your husband says, we'll see.

  3. Great swim time. You will do great in your triathlon. I am trying not to use the H word again. And yes, triathlon is a crazy expensive sport - from the race fees to the clothing and all the gear you convince yourself you HAVE to have (Garmin) it eats up way more money than running.

    My husband doesn't go to my events either. My first triathlon I invoked the "I order you to go" clause in the marriage contract. I can only think of one other time I have invoked it, but I needed someone to haul my stuff. He was a perfect jerk all morning, but I am still glad I made him go. The closest we have ever been to a divorce was when I did my first half Ironman. That story could be a whole post.

  4. I like that you are always up for an adventure, Ty! I wish I could find some swim only events in my area! I'll just have to keep searching.

    If you do an aquabike, let us know how it goes. I'm assuming awesome because it's like a triathlon, but you're done early!


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