I stuck a toe in to find the water was nearly as warm as the 85° temp of the senior pool where I trained. I opted against warming up in the pool because it was crowded with swift swimmers doing just that, and swimming really wears me out. Shimmying my hips and shoulders and swinging my arms around would have to suffice.
We were instructed to line up by the pool in numerical order by our bib numbers, which were supposedly seeded by the estimated swim times we entered at registration but became quickly apparent were not, which was confirmed by a relay participant sitting nearby who told me the relay racers had been thrown in willy nilly with the rest of the mix. We instead waited on the bleachers for 200+ athletes to go ahead of us and jumped in line with the last dozen. The race website had said swimmers would be spaced out by about 10 seconds each. I counted 5 seconds between starters. Watching the swift swimmers in the water and the traffic jams when many tried to pass the swimmers ahead of them was chaotic, a bit scary, and intimidating. Boom! Did you see that? One guy just got punched in the head while trying to pass.
Diving was forbidden and I’d never practiced a jump start. It wouldn’t have mattered because my training pool is shallow and the race started in the deep end. I jumped in, held my nose, and began kicking, disappointed to see how deep I sunk and how long it took me to recover, reach the surface, give a weak kick off the wall, and get going. I tried to remind myself to slow down and go strong and steady. I struggled to align myself in the lane with the deep end strip dropping away and spent many strokes sliding against the ropes and hoping I wouldn’t kick anyone in the next lane or get hit with a penalty for it.
I paused briefly for a breath after each length, having never learned the flip turn, and checked to see if anyone needed to pass me. For three laps the space behind me was all clear. But suddenly at the end of the third lap, four guys were piled up behind me and I stopped for several seconds to let them all pass, preferring to lose time over the thought of otherwise being kicked or elbowed.
I struggled and swam several lengths on my back, trying to catch my breath. I don’t know why I feel so good in training laps and yet flounder at races. I didn’t count the lengths, only my strokes and breath: one, two, breathe, one, two, breathe, one, two, breathe. . . . This was probably the first time my goggles didn’t fog up. Eventually I reached the end of the 12th length and pulled myself up the ladder out of the pool, slowly walking where everyone before me had jogged out, even though I would like to have enjoyed the short stretch of barefoot running if I’d had the energy for it.
What I didn’t see was the photographer shooting me on the ladder, hunched over, dead-tired, without an ounce of pep or joy. I’m pretty disappointed at how remarkably terrible these race photographers were since I happened to care about my time and didn’t stop to take any pictures at this event. Oh well, no race pictures for me.