The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim 4.4- 2015

I have never been so tired after a race.  I don't remember the 2013 Bay Swim being so difficult, but I gave it my all, and that's all you can do!  Want to hear the story?
I swam the 4.4 mile Great Chesapeake Bay Swim once before, then didn't get selected last year as a competitor, and was beyond excited when I saw my name selected this year.  I immediately signed up (you have to, otherwise you lose your spot) and in 6 months I would be swimming from Sandy Point State Park on the Western Shore to the Hemingway's Marina on the Eastern Shore.  I'd need to train, mostly by adding some long swims during the weekends, on top of my usual master's practices.  
I did well at Nanticoke again this year, despite feeling tired beforehand, so when I still felt tired going into this one, I just had to shake it off baby, shake it off!  So let's get a break down of this race, and what was going on inside my head for 4.4 miles of awesomeness:

It was a late start this year, around 12:30 for my wave- full sun, heat and humidity.  I should have been chugging water, but I was too nervous wondering if I was going to wear a wetsuit or not.  The water was warm enough to go without, but I would really want the buoyancy.  It was finally Eric who convinced me that I could make it without one, and the other swimmers who were going without that helped me trust him.  Problem was, I just threw on a practice suit, since I figured it would be under a wetsuit, so next time I'll think ahead...  We listened to the pre-race meeting, telling us there would be a weak tide pulling us south for the first half of the race, we'd have a slack tide for a bit, but then the second half we would need to pay attention to the tide trying to pull us north.  I figured out where I should be at what part of the race, and all too soon it was time to line up.  The first wave went off, and we all activated our timing chips and lined up for our wave to start.  Sarah and I managed to stick together and started closer to the bridge, but when the horn went off to start, I quickly lost her in the sea of people pulling and kicking us.  I hate the start, I just want my bit of open water, but I know you have to jockey for position at this point and not give up or lose heart.  I got out into a bit of a front pack and didn't look back.  When we entered the bridge span, I was still in a pack of people.  I settled in behind a group of 2 or 3 and let them pull me for a bit, before I made my pass and sighted the next group of people to catch up to.  I settled into a nice pace that I felt would last me for the duration, and kept certain swimmers in my sight to make sure I wasn't losing ground by accidentally slowing down (very easy to do in such a long and monotonous swim).  After what I think was about a mile, or perhaps 1.5, I looked up to breathe and saw the south span directly over me.  I had no recollection of being pulled, pushed, or losing track of where I was, and when I looked up again, I saw that a huge pack of swimmers were with me, and they were all fiercely swimming directly towards the north span.  I realized that first tide current must have been stronger than they thought it would be, and I fought to stay between the bridge spans (being swept outside of them means disqualification).  I aimed a bit to the left to continue to swim straight, and when I kept being pulled south, I started swimming nearly directly north.  I passed one boat handing out water, and thought I should have stopped to get some, but wanted to get out of the current first, so I forged ahead, but the current was taking a toll. 

As quickly as I had discovered I was almost outside of the bridges, I looked up and saw myself in the middle of the spans again.  I can't explain how I knew, but I just knew the tide was done.  I tread water for a second, enjoying the lack of pull, then set my sights directly down the middle, and kept going.  It wasn't that easy though, my arms were exhausted, I was hot and dehydrated, and I was essentially only halfway through.  I made a deal with myself that I would stop at the next water boat, even if it meant sacrificing time to do so.  The center span had wonderfully cool water to swim through (meaning deep water, eeek), and I loved being cooled after a hard 2 miles.  I swam through a few patches of hot water, and kept moving forward, but was getting a little disillusioned with the race.  I was actually starting to worry about being able to finish.  My arms were heavy, I knew I was dehydrated, and I estimated I had about 2 miles to go.  I did a few dolphin dives to keep moving forward and to give my arms a rest, but after a few I got dizzy and flipped to my back, just kicking for a little to get my bearings again and still rest my arms.  I knew I couldn't finish another 2 miles by doing dolphin dives, so I actually stopped and looked around for a boat to flag down and pull me out of the water.  I saw one, but it was pretty far off, I didn't think they would actually see me waving them down, and the effort of waving them down actually seemed like too much work.  I decided just continuing to move forward was my best option, and I made another deal with myself that the next kayaker that went by me, I'd ask them to pull me out, or at least see if they had water I could have some of.

"Just keep swimming" and "Just make sure you won't drown" were constant refrains going through my head, and I don't mean that lightly.  I'd promised Eric I would make it to the other side ok, and so far I seemed to be making poor decisions (too tired to flag down a boat 100 yards away so continues to swim the 2 miles to shore? good life choices) in that regard.  I saw the next water boat, but it was much too close to the north span, and based on the pre-race swim instructions, I feared that I'd get caught in the second tide and I'd never make it back to the south span to keep swimming to the other shore.  Count em- one more poor decision!  I just kept moving forward, and the water kept getting warmer.  We were clearly in a shallower area, and the water was bath-water hot.  I continued to do dolphin dives when my arms cramped up, but I was still moving forward.  I finally got to the exit of the spans, to swim along the jetty for another .5 mile to the marina.  Luckily, I spotted some swimmers ahead of me struggling to get out of the bridge, so I suspected there was a tide right at the edge of the jetty and aimed correctly to not get pulled into it.  I was sooooo close to finishing!  I was in a pack of people, but I was positive it had to have taken me about 2.5 hours to get to where I was.  I saw a guy stand up in front of me (that's how shallow the water in the jetty area was), so I immediately stood up as well.  Glorious relief filled my arms when my legs could take over.  If all else failed, I could walk the .5 miles, I had made it!  But please note- standing up in waist-deep water is a HUGE deal for me.  I can enter open water and stand for a bit, but once my feet have left the sand they don't return.  I don't know what's down there, I don't want to step on something, and for some reason floating on the top feels so much safer than the questions below.  I don't stand up again until my hands are pulling at sand and there's no more room for me to be submerged anymore.  THAT'S how tired I was.  I was willing to stand up in unknown open water.  An old guy made fun of me for being so tired, so I did a few dolphin dives, pushing off the bottom, before walking again.  I walked a few times during that stretch, but swam a bit too, and kept moving forward all the same.  I was finally able to stand for the last time and run over the timing mat, officially done, and so ready to sit down.  There was my mom, dad, and Eric, cheering me on from the spectators, and so happy to see me finish!  I grabbed a bottle of water and chugged it.  I grabbed another water and a gatorade and drank too much too fast.  Oops.  But I was done!  I finished around the same time as my friend Hannah, who had started in the first wave, and based on her time, I discovered I had gone under 2 hours, 1:56.57, only about 5 minutes slower than my swim in 2013.  I honestly was in shock.  For how exhausted and completely beat up I felt, I was sure I had been swimming for much longer.  I cannot describe to you the disbelief I felt at the time I had swum and how I felt in that moment.  I gave it my all, completely- I've never been so exhausted, especially to the point of quitting.  I was elated, but couldn't stand up.  No really, Eric wanted to get me to the car quickly, but my parents didn't think I could move (hence the sitting pose below of the Columbia Masters finishers we could round up). 
Despite the currents, my exhaustion, the warm water and not wearing a wetsuit, and being dehydrated, I managed to get 3rd in my age group.  I was sooooo happy!  All of the pain was worth it, and having a bit of hardware means I don't have to swim it again next year for "redemption". 
Also, I had a watermelon shaved ice before the awards were handed out.  It was the best thing I've ever eaten in my entire life.  The ice and the sugar were so completely what I needed to give me enough energy to walk to the bus and be shuttled to my parents car.  Luckily, they were driving me home :-)
So tired but so happy.  I think I've earned a year off :-)

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