Results posted here.
The third USMS Open-Water Championship of the season – this time, for 6K – was held in a man-made lake in Windsor, CO (near Fort Collins). It’s one of only two races on my schedule in which I’m truly “flying solo” – that is, not an excuse to take a semi-vacation with the wife (Charlotte, Noblesville, Madison), to see family (California, Oregon) or friends (Miami), or take a dip in my local lake (Big Shoulders).
So, though it was my first time visiting Colorado (excluding airports), I didn’t stick around to sightsee: I flew in Friday afternoon, raced the next morning, and flew back the Columbus the same evening in time for a late dinner and episode of ‘Mad Men.’
I awoke Saturday morning at 6 to the soothing sounds of the “strumming guitar” iPhone ringtone, and got in 1000 yards at the Longmont Recreation Center in the pleasant town of Longmont, where I’d spent the previous night. Admission: $4.50; getting properly warmed-up: almost priceless. From there it was an easy half-hour drive north to the race venue. The final approach to the lake included a stretch of dirt road that made me glad for my Ford F-150 rental – Colorado-speak, apparently, for “compact car.”
With only 80-some swimmers in the race, registration went smoothly. One nice touch: a stencil for number marking! After strapping myself into my magic B70 swimskin in the dirt-floor changing tent, I did another few hundred yards in the lake – officially recorded at 70F, but likely a couple degrees cooler.
The race started from a rope in waist-deep water: men 44-and-under, followed a minute later by men 45-and-over, followed a minute later by the women. Given my lack of experience racing at altitude, I had hoped to take it out conservatively – but alas, it wasn’t meant to be! A few speedsters took an aggressive pace out to the first buoy, so I went right along with them.
Most people exercised better self-control, apparently, because after 500m there was one guy out front (the eventual winner) followed 25m or so behind by myself and two others. Everyone else was a similar distance (or more) behind us. I tried once or twice to reel in the leader, but soon thought better of it. The race was too long and too high, and I didn’t want to risk blowing up.
The course was a 1,500m loop around what appeared to be an island green on a golf course. We were to complete 4 laps of the course (for 6K), though I have no idea if/how the officials verified how many laps each swimmer actually completed. The loop itself was a sort of odd-angled, odd-sided quadrilateral.
It looks straightforward enough from the satellite view, but at water-level it was not at all intuitive. The first buoy was a comfortable sight, so no issues there. The problem was the ~850m between buoys #1 and #3. First, buoy #2 was not visible from the start, so there was no way to scout the angles & sight lines beforehand. Second (and most annoying), the distance between buoys #1 and #2 was way too far. I have excellent vision, and buoy #2 was not even close to being visible until about halfway through the length (near the island). Nor were there any obvious geographical features to sight (race officials mentioned a nearby radio tower, but this was very difficult to see from water level). So, even by my 4th lap around the course, I was still guesstimating on the right line to the second buoy.
An intermediate buoy would have been really helpful here.
The stretch from the second to third buoys was also a bit far, but the sighting was further complicated by the sun which, especially during the first couple of laps, was shining directly in your eyes. The last leg, from buoy #3 to the finish, was a welcome relief: the course passed under a large bridge that was easily visible even from far away.
Back to the race: There’s not really much to report, actually. The leader continued his fierce pace and ended up winning by 3 minutes. I dragged two guys in my draft for about 2000m. On the second trip between buoys 1 & 2 I went a bit off course, which allowed one of my draftees to pull ahead. I gave brief chase, which was unsuccessful but also put a few bodylengths between myself and the other guy. For the rest of the race, I swam mostly alone, aside from brief encounters with people being lapped.
A steady wind buffeted the lake all morning, which created some chop and “current” in some places, but nothing too bad.
I started hurting a bit during the third lap, but I kept plugging away and held my pace and stroke rate surprisingly well. My fitness has definitely improved, even since my 10K in April. The final lap was a breeze – I could almost smell the finish, which numbed the pain.
I navigated under the bridge for the final time, through the two yellow buoys marking the finish, and walked up the beach to shake the hands of my two fellow competitors. It’s a nice feeling, to stand on a nearly empty beach at the end of a long race. I ended up third overall, and first among Men 30-34. My time was surprisingly fast given the altitude and navigational difficulties – 1:19:27, for a pace per 100m of 1:19.5.
After replenishing my fluids and for the first time successfully unzipping my B70 by myself, I changed back into my street clothes, watched people finish, and took a few pictures.
Looking out toward buoy #1:
The finish (nice suit, buddy!) :
Swimmers coming in from buoy #3:
Under the bridge (and through the woods?):
Before heading back to the airport, I checked in with Rob, my fellow open-water tourist. He was pretty sore after last week’s 4.4-mile Chesapeake Bay Swim, closely followed by this high-altitude 6K. Yet still, he ended up finishing 2nd among Men 25-29. Congrats, dude! You can read Rob’s race report here.
Thanks to Karen Reeder and the folks at Air Force Aquatic Masters for putting on such an enjoyable event!
For now, it’s time to go destroy myself in the gym. Only 26 days ’til Noblesville!