A LONG OVERDUE report on this past summer’s Chris Greene swim. But maybe the timing is just right, to keep us motivated going into these long winter months.
The event: 2 Mile “cable” swim at Chris Greene Lake outside Charlottesville. The Web site is CableSwim.org. On alternate years (2008 was one of them) Chris Greene also serves as the USMS National 2-mile Cable Swim Championship. (On the off years, you gotta go to Lake Placid.) This year, a 1 mile swim was added also; while it does not qualify as a National Championship, should you set a national record, the record counts.
The Course: The “cable” is actually a rope stretched between posts over a precisely measured 1/4-mile distance. (The header photo for this blog is from the Cable Swim, FYI.) You swim out on one side of the rope and back on the other (which means an about-face turn at each end). For the 2-mile event, that means 4 loops. There is both a clockwise and counterclockwise heat, proceeding in waves from the fastest to slowest-seeded. This year, each wave had ten people in it, and we went off in 30-second intervals. The finish is at the same end as the start, between two inflatable buoys.
USMS sanctioned event? Yes, which means you need a US masters swimming license to participate.
Wetsuit legal? No
Qualifying time/swim required? No, but you do have to be able to complete the 1 mile within an hour or the 2 mile within 2 hours. You seed yourself in your race entry form by entering your 1650 time.
Novice-friendly? Yes, particularly with the addition of the 1 mile event. Because it is a USMS event and because it is NOT a wetsuit event, it attracts more swimmers than triathletes, so you can expect some real competition. However, with wave starts of only ten people each, in a sheltered lake setting, with relatively easy sighting, this is a good swim for OW first-timers (I met a few there last year).
What you have to contend with: Very flat conditions. (I suppose if there were a strong wind there might be some ripply water, but it’s a fairly sheltered area). The cable makes sighting easier (see the detailed race report below for my comments on sighting, however).
This race takes place in July, so the water can be warm.
Nice features: Even in a championship year, this is a very friendly, low-key event. Chris Greene Lake features a pleasant sandy beach, plenty of parking, and a bath house with running water. Following the races, there is a “social” at one of the picnic pavilions, with good food and beverages, where the awards are presented. This is your chance to meet some amazing swimmers who are also really nice people.
Race report, 08: Last year, I volunteered at this race, keeping track of the order of the finishers as they crossed the finish “line.” So I had a feel for what I was getting into. Because it was a national championship this year, there was a larger turnout, which means around or just under 200 people (there were some no-shows, of course, and some people swam both the 1-mile and the 2-mile).
You get a “psych sheet” when you sign in (also posted on the Web site) and your race number inked onyour arm, to show what wave you are seeded in. Before the race, there is a briefing going over race details. This year, Jim Miller assured us we were all national champions just for showing up, but the fact is that our ranks did include some current national champions (including the delightful Richard Selden, current record holder for the 85-89 age group).
Following the briefing, swimmers are lined up according to their waves, and then each wave wades briskly to the start, chivvied along by Jim Miller on megaphone, there’s a brief countdown, then they’re off, soon followed by the next wave.
I was seeded 77th, or in wave 8 of the clockwise heat (trust me, no one’s record was in danger from me). I’d been feeling a bit under the weather most of the week, with result that my appetite hadn’t been up to the robust carbo-loading that is the key to performance success. So I figured I’d have to see how I felt once the race started and pace my effort accordingly.
With only ten people in a wave, the start is not quite the brutal melee of flailing limbs that some OW swim starts can be. Still, it was clear that different strategies were at work from the start. Some of us cut a quick line to the cable to try to get as tightly on course as possible from the start. Other swimmers simply followed the general line without necessarily trying to get right on the cable. There was one other swimmer in my wave who would turn out to be a well-matched opponent for me; usually my fellow swimmers are a blur of people I pass or people passing me, but this one swimmer and I played cat and mouse throughout the entire race, first one getting ahead, then the other. So, right from the start, the two of us fought each other to be first one to the cable. I don’t mean it was an elbows-out slugfest, but we both swam aggressively. She won the first round, however, by swimming right over me. It was a fair tactic, and an effective one, but as heretofore mentioned in a previous post, my nice-girl reticence holds me back from quite that level of determination. If I swam over someone, I’d feel the immediate need to stop and apologize, which would lose me any ground I’d gained anyway. Perhaps this will be the Achilles heel of my OW racing career, but ah well.
There was a long period in the second half of the race when I did not know where she was, but I suspect she may have been sitting right behind me, though I never noticed. I was just trying to swim my race and hold as steady as possible. I was somewhat concerned that if I went hard, I’d fold up before the end of the race (do they say “bonk” in swimming? I betray my bicycling roots…), so I tried to hold a steady but not perhaps full-out pace.
So, about the sighting. I figured with a big rope stretched pole-to-pole down the course, swimming straight would prove very easy, just like swimming along a lane line, and I really wouldn’t need to sight at all. Right? Wrong. I’m a bilateral breather, and every time I’d turn back to the rope side after a few strokes on the non-rope side, I’d find myself either practically on top of the rope or surprisingly far away from it. How was this possible in only three strokes? After one turn, I took a few strokes and surfaced under the rope! (Another swimmer said the course wobbles a bit from pole to pole, and this may have been a factor too.) Finally–and why did this take me about 1.5 loops to figure out?–I realised I would need to sight after all. Which, on the positive side, turned out to be a relatively easy task as, instead of squinting for a distant buoy, one could simply sight along the rope itself. Which I did, and after that, no more wobbling about like a drunk just stepped off the Magic Teacup ride.
As I was swimming the return leg of my 3rd of 4 loops, the lead swimmers were all blasting past, lapping the rest of us. I made one or two attempts to try drafting on one of these other species of human, but the differences in speed were too great for me to hang on. (Note to self: winter of 08-09 to be dedicated to speed work.)
As I was swimming the return leg of the final loop, the other half of the cat-and-mouse made her move, and started to pass me. It was perfect timing for me. Closing in on the finish, I might have just kept jogging along, but now I had motivation, and I knew I only had to do whatever I had to do for a quarter mile, and I figured I could manage that even if in complete carbo deficit.
I dug in, and the two of us charged down the last leg neck and neck. We probably swam the last quarter-mile faster than any of the other legs. I would say this was where all that distance work I did last winter paid off. Still relatively fresh off my Bay Swim training, I had 2 miles in me easily, even on an off day, so I managed to hold off my competition and finish seconds ahead of her.
Final result: I was 8th out of 11 women in my age group, and came in under an hour, which won’t have the US Olympic committee knocking on my door, but I was happy with the results, given I’d gone in feeling something less than ready-all (and this was the national championship, after all). But how’s this? I beat ALL the men in my age group. (I’m telling you, whether it’s triathlon or OW swimming, those 45-49-year-old women are tough.)