James River Splash

Well, this report is more than a little tardy, but then again, you still have 11 months to prepare for next year’s “Splash.”

The Event: 1 mile swim in the James, at Robious Landing Park in Chesterfield County. The event is part of the James River Adventure Games/X-Terra East Championship weekend. There is also a 400 meter youth race.

The course: 1/2 mile upriver, 1/2 mile back. The “up” leg this year followed a slightly curving route, marked by a series of buoys. For the “down” leg, we were told to swim as straight a line as we wanted to the finish.

What you have to contend with: The current rounds a bend in the river above the 1/2 mile turn point, pushing you towards the south bank (on your left as you are swimming upriver). As we shall see, I didn’t really take this into account, and as a result, I went further to the left than was ideal.

Wetsuit legal? No, but you wouldn’t want to wear one, at least not this year. The water was bathtub warm. Last year it was colder. In fact, my toes went numb last year.

USMS membership required? No

The 2007 “Splash” was my first open water swim. Ever. Had no idea what I was doing, and I’d only swum a continuous mile for the first time a week before, just to see if I could do it, since I’d signed up for this race. But I enjoyed it anyway, notwithstanding that I came in dead last in my age group.

The 2008 race took place six days after the Bay Swim for me, and I can’t say that I was 100% recovered from the previous week’s exertions, but I figured that I could swim a mile even if I was tired, which shows you that in a year you can go from “Can I swim a mile?” to “Pshaw, it’s only a mile.”

The race has an in-water start, in waves, according to your expected swim time. At Endorphin Fitness’s spring open water camp, Michael Harlow advised us to prepare for the start by being in a horizontal swim position and sculling to stay in place–so you don’t have to switch from treading water to swimming when it’s time to start. Unfortunately, I forgot that advice.

There were maybe 20? 30? people in my wave? Enough that the start did involve some degree of body scrum. Allison and I were in the same wave, and had decided we’d try to draft off each other, but in the starting melee I lost track of her. Fortunately, I was wearing a suit that would have been visible from 50 miles in a heavy fog, so Allison managed to keep track of me, and at some point on the upriver swim, after we’d shaken off the crowd, I realised that she was right there with me.

I was pressed between a couple of swimmers right at the start, and the swimmer on my left and I were shoulder-to-shoulder for what seemed to be almost the entire upriver leg. Unfortunately, as far as my sighting went, I didn’t pay as much attention as I should have. I was looking upriver, but then I looked over to my right and realised that we’d veered fairly far to the left of the buoys. I cut a diagonal course to the turn buoy, but I probably could have improved my time if I’d kept closer to the buoys on this leg. Oddly, I didn’t think about that in my pre-race mental preparation, such as it was. Next year!

Despite being less than a week out from the Bay Swim, I reached the turn buoy feeling pretty good. Last year, it had seemed to take several forevers and a few eternities to get to the turn. But this year–well, I won’t go so far as to say I was there before I knew it, but that first leg seemed to go by pretty quickly.

The return leg was with the (admittedly sluggish) current. We learned in OW swim camp to have a faster turnover swimming against the current, and to stretch out your strokes when you’re swimming with the current, to take advantage of its push. So I did.

Allison and I continued to hang together, drafting off each other on the return leg. This is one event in which the drafting seemed to work out–because presently we caught up to another swimmer, and I stayed on his toes for a while. When the finish buoys came into view, I started cranking up the speed, determined that I would pour it on as much as I could for the end.

Result? I knocked four minutes off last year’s time and came in third in my age group, O happy me. (In photo, at right, with Elizabeth.)  I’m going to have to savor this one, because my next scheduled OW swim would be Chris Greeene Lake, the 2 Mile Cable Swim National Championship.

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