Sunday, April 24, 2016

My First Swim Meet!

I participated in my first ever swim meet last weekend, the Michigan Masters State Championship.  The club I swim with (Ann Arbor Masters) has a lot of people who go to it each year.  I considered it last year but had a conflict, but this year I had no excuse (other than fear!) so I went for it.   I was partially inspired by Caitlin at Fit and Feminist who is one of my heroes, and her recent swim meet venture.

This is also the shirt design. 
I have gotten a lot stronger as a swimmer over the past two years, but most of the people who go to these events are SWIMMERS, not triathletes, and I'm nowhere near their level.  I'm talking collegiate athletes and Olympic qualifiers and people who have been competing in swimming since they were 6 years old.  So that's scary in and of itself, but add to it the fact that I rarely flip turn during practices, never dive off the blocks, and have never even seen a swim meet before, and I had quite a lot of nervousness over the thing.

The swim meet registration was kind of weird; I had to pay $60 for the meet, and $60 for the national masters membership for the year.  The $60 for the meet covered anything from 1 event to 7 events, same price no matter how many events you do (individual events; relays are separate).  The meet was at EMU and took place over 3 days, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.   I registered for events on Friday and Sunday, and skipped Saturday for four events total.  Friday I registered for the 1650 yd freestyle, and Sunday I signed up for the 50 free, 200 free, and 1000 free.  Freestyle is the most forgiving in terms of not many things will get you disqualified, and obviously it's my best stroke since my primary focus is open-water/triathlon events.  Next year I'd like to do at least one non-free event; I'm thinking maybe the 200 fly or back.

My Friday 1650 yd event was in the evening, which was weird; I almost always swim in the mornings.  There weren't a lot of people there for the Friday evening events, which I kind of liked because it was more chill and not super stressful.  Coach Don was there along with a small number of my teammates.  It was great to have people there, otherwise I would have been super confused.  I didn't know any of the details about how heats and starts went, or about lap counting, or the timing mats, etc.  I learned a lot that first night!  Unfortunately I didn't know beforehand that I was supposed to supply my own lap counter person, but luckily Don was able to find someone to do it for me.

You have to pay really close attention to what's going on at a swim meet apparently; they don't announce each heat.  You have to know which heat and lane you're in, and then pay attention and make sure you don't miss your event or heat.  For example there were 7 heats for the women's 200 free, 6 lanes per heat, I was heat 3 lane 2.  I had to watch the board and go line up at lane 2 when heat 2 starts.  When everyone in heat 2 finishes there is just a buzzer that means the heat 3 people can climb onto the blocks, then "swimmers take your marks", then another buzzer that means go.  Not much in the way of announcements!  One of my friends totally missed one of his events on Sunday, even though he was sitting right there, because he didn't realize how fast they were moving through the events.

During the warmup time they opened one lane for sprints and dive practice, so I did one practice dive before my event.  It went well so I decided not to jinx it by doing another one.  My main concern with the dive is not getting water in my goggles, but Don taught me trick that helped that a ton: pulling my swim cap down over the top edge of my goggles!  Works like a charm.  The other trick he taught me was to use my upper arms to kind of press my goggles to my face but I found that less effective and more difficult to implement.  A coach at a master's practice I went to in Colorado Springs last week had told me to tuck my chin way down so I'm blocking my goggles with my head, but I felt that that somehow caused me to dive too deep and not enough forward.  So cap trick wins.  :)

When the time came for my heat of the 1650 I was still nervous but it was time to go.  My dive went well and I started swimming.  The lap counters actually have signs that count LENGTHS that they hold underwater for you to see every other length.  1650 yds is 66 lengths in a 25 yd pool, which is an annoyingly high number.  I of course started out too fast and had to pull it back a touch.  I was definitely ready for it to be over when my lap counter showed me the all red sign that  meant "one length to go".  My final time was 28:10:01 or 1:42 per 100 yd average, which is faster than my seed time (my estimate during registration) of 30 minutes.  I was happy with that!  I also got 2nd place in my age group, (there were only 3 of us!) which earned me a medal.  I did all open turns (no flips).  My main goal before next year is to get comfortable with flip turns at any speed/distance, and use them during the event.  Right now I can only flip turn at a moderate effort; if I'm swimming too fast or slow I mistime it or my momentum is weird and I end up all catywompus and sideways and crashing into lane lines.  (Which is why I opted against trying them at the meet...except once....more  on that later!)

I wish I would have registered for the 100 free Saturday morning, but I thought I had a conflict and didn't realize there wasn't a penalty in no-showing for an event you registered for, but you can't add a registration day-of.  Next year I'll definitely register for 7 events!  So Saturday was a no-swim day....I drove to Toledo to do a "long" run (8 miles, last run before the Glass City Half) with my friend Michelle who lives in Cleveland.

Sunday!  Sunday was a long day at the pool.  I had events in the morning and afternoon sessions, and there was a lot of downtime in between.  I got to the pool around 7:45 am for the 8:30 meet start.  My first event was the 200 free.  It was a lot busier at the meet Sunday compared to Friday.  I was also way less nervous, now that I knew what I was doing.  My seed time for the 200 was 3:40.  I dove in and destroyed my estimate with a 2:58.12.  It was painful.  200 yds is a shitty distance.  It's like a sprint, but for a long time.  I was happy with my time though.  I got 4th out of 5 in my age group on this one.  (ie next to last!)  Still good for a ribbon.

While I was waiting for my next event I had planned to go to breakfast with Justin, but as I was leaving Coach Don told me put me in on a relay team.  Oops.  I still had time to go to breakfast but I didn't eat because I didn't want to be too full.  The relay was the Women's 200 yd IM, and I was doing the freestyle leg (the last 50 yards). I think the order is back, breast, fly, free for the IM relay.  Normal IM order is fly, back, breast, free, but in the relay back goes first since they have to start in the water.  Once I again I was nervous about the start since I now had to time my dive off the girl coming in instead of off the buzzer.  Justin came with me after breakfast so I actually got video of this one! Coach Don is standing beside me on the left so he could yell at me when to go.  It was super helpful.

My time for the 50 free in the relay was 34.9 seconds, which ended up being my best time of the 3 attempts I had at 50 yds at the meet.  (Two more coming up...!)

After the relays, the race director came around looking for volunteers to do the 1000 yd free during the break, instead of as the last event of the day.  I jumped at the chance since that would mean I could be done and home much earlier.  Also it freed Justin up earlier, since the main reason I brought him (other than moral support) was to be my lap counter for the distance event (after I learned my lesson by not bringing one Friday night!)  After another successful/uneventful dive I got in my groove on the 1000, not starting out quite as fast as I did on the 1650.....learning!  This one is 40 lengths, and I ended up being pretty dang tired by 35 or so, and I got mad at Justin because he was yelling something every time I turned at his end.  I thought he was saying "swim faster!" or "kick faster!" or "go faster!" or something like that, and my lungs and arms were burning and I was getting really frustrated so on one turn I looked back at him and yelled "SHUT UP!"  lol.  Turns out he was saying "You're getting faster!" since he could see my splits.  Oops.  Sorry babe.  Love you.  :)  Anyway, my time for the 1000 free was 16:45.35 or 1:41 per 100 yds.  I kind of thought I would do a faster pace for the 1000 than I did for the 1650 but it ended up being dang near the same.  I guess that's just my distance pace.  Once again I got 2nd in my age group, out of the exact same 3 people that did the 1650.  Good for another medal! Distance events don't seem to be super popular among the pure swimming crowd.  In the 1650 and the 1000 all three of us in my age group were endurance multi-sport athletes, not "pure swimmers".

At this point I was tired,  Justin was mad, and I seriously considered calling it quits and heading home, skipping the women's 50 free, especially since I had already tried my hand at a 50 free during the IM relay.  I ended up waiting it out a bit and feeling a little better and staying.  Since I felt bad about being mean to Justin when he was there to support me, I decided to try his advice (that I had initially rejected) on my individual 50 free event.  His advice was to glide longer off the dive instead of rushing into my stroke, and also to flip turn.  (He was on a swim team in middle school).  So as a conciliatory effort, I got in the practice pool and worked on my flip turns while I waited for my event.  They all went really well so I decided to give it a go.  My heat time came and I dove in, lingering on the glide like he said, and then approached the wall for the flip.  The problem I think was that I was coming in a lot faster than I had on my practice laps so I think I probably waited too long to start the flip.  I'm not sure.  All I know is that it didn't go well.  I ended up sideways and only got one foot on the wall and stayed under way too long at the wall in my disorientation and lost a lot of time.  He got this one on video too.  I'm in the 2nd lane from the left.  You can't really see the details of the bombed turn, other than that you can clearly see how much time I lost vs the other swimmers.  My final time clocked in at 37.99 a full 3 seconds slower than my 50 free relay effort with the abbreviated dive-glide and the open turn.  Or maybe it was just because I was tired from the 1000.  Who knows.   This effort was good for last place in my age group (4/4), but that was still good for a ribbon!  They're very generous in their depth in their age group awards.  :)

So now, technically, I should be done, but two of my teammates needed lap counters for their 1000 yd event at the normal later time, so I agreed to count for them.  I kind of felt like it was part of the swim meet experience and one of the things I should learn to do, so I was glad to get the chance.  Then, of course, since I was there and available, I got on ANOTHER relay team.  This one was a mixed 200 free.  2 guys, 2 girls, each doing 50 free.  I was the second swimmer in terms of order, and the last swimmer on my team in terms of time, but only by a few tenths of a second.  I came in at like 35.7 or 35.9 or something.  I am pretty much over the 50 free event at this point.  I suck at it.  I think I'll pass on it next year.  Distance is my jam.  :)

The nice thing about this being my first ever swim meet was that I had basically zero expectations, and everything is a guaranteed PR!  It is nice to have an "official" baseline from which to (hopefully) improve over the next few years.  It also gave me some motivation to work on non-triathlon swimming skills such as flip turns and other strokes than freestyle.  All in all I'm very glad I went and excited to do some more!
My individual results (web)
All results (including relays) (pdf)

My age group winnings!  Two 2nd Places and two 4th Places.  Or....3 next-to-lasts and one actual last!!  Perspective.  :P 
Note:  No, I didn't forget that I still owe you the rest of that Ironman recap.  It's just such a big project...and so long ago....blah.  I also ran a half marathon today so I should probably write about that too.  We'll see.


  1. Look how speedy you've gotten!!!! Congratulations! This was like the best post I've ever fun! That's a really good time for a mile/1000! And to be honest, your flip turn didn't look too bad, but like you did get stuck on the wall for a second. Keep up the great work!!!

  2. Hey, congratulations! You really captured the whole environment of swim meets - how relays are just tossed together, how everything happens so quickly - really well in this post. And also you are way fast. I didn't end up doing any distance events but after reading your post I'm thinking that maybe I should have. I just didn't know what to expect and wanted to make all my mistakes in events that would be over in a short period of time. :D

    (I never ended up writing the follow-up because I got side-tracked with other things, but I really appreciate you letting me know about yours. It reminds me of how much fun i had that day.)


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