Carter Lake Crossing: “Race Report”

This event recap is about a month old now, and I wasn't going to share it here, but then the journal voice of the blog won out for the sake of posterity, in case swimming happens to slip back into the lowly ranks of "extra" again.  ;) What kind of reluctant swimmer signs up for a 3-mile open water swim race on a whim and with enthusiasm? That would be me. And, it was lovely. Really, truly enjoyable, in so many ways, from the scenery to the conviviality to the personal attitude.

This is not a race report. That would be a dishonest description, since it was never my intention to “race”. It’s more of an “event description”.

Coming from a running background and lacking in swimming talent and motivation, I tended to count swimming as “extra” or even “rest” when training for multisport, even when an attempt at swimming hard resulted in rubbery whole-body lethargy and searing lungs. But when, last year, my avid ultra-running husband was handed a devastating blow in the form of complex injuries that meant he would have to give up running permanently, something changed. I didn’t transform into a “swimmer”, but I made the decision to start swimming like I meant it, to support him and also to safeguard my own active options for the unseen, inevitable future.

Two swim sessions bursting with incredible pointers from the brilliant Eney Jones and I felt gifted with a new perspective on moving through the water. I soon had to acknowledge that enjoyment for the sport was creeping in on me, on just two one-hour swims a week. I even found myself inspired to sign up for swim events, completing a few one-mile, and one two-mile, races. There was a peaceful friendliness to those morning swims that made me hungry for more. It was strange being motivated by something I was floundering at. But I loved the shift back to finding satisfaction in “complete” versus “compete”. The anonymity and finding your own groove oblivious to whose feet were creating the bubbles and waves around you felt somehow really great.

I signed up for the Carter Lake Crossing because after a year of healing a glute injury, I hadn’t challenged myself with event goals for awhile, and I craved something different. I’d ridden many times along the lake, but had never dipped a toe in the water. Three miles of swimming seemed an awfully long way to go, but at the same time a logical step up from 2.4, my longest to date as part of a tri.

Leading up to the race, I felt more relaxed than I deserved. Knowing it was a foregone conclusion I’d be closer to the back than the front made it hard to really stress. The day before, however, I started to panic, dreading: a) how early I was going to have to wake up, then b) the possibility that I really might actually drown.

As it turned out, not only did I not drown, but from the moment I arrived with a friend at registration to the second I stepped out of the water, things couldn’t have been more relaxed considering it was officially a competition. I bumped into friends, and everyone I met or brushed wetsuits with exuded laid-back, cheerful energy, whether they expected to be first out of the water or carried back on a jet ski.

Since the race is point-to-point, we were shuttled to the start line. Race briefing was concise, casual but clear on safety. The water was perfect and generally still, save for the odd pulsing wave from nearby boats. Sighting was easy as could be, with the shoreline to follow parallel to the bright orange and yellow buoys.

Maybe if I was a stronger swimmer I’d get caught up in thoughts of where I might be in the “pack” and my ultimate time. Sometimes not being near the top of your category has its benefits, I’ve discovered. Swimming, I felt on my own but in touch. I did my best, and was happy with my 1:37:17 getting from start to finish. But best of all, it was the ‘during’ part of the experience that was most rewarding. In fact, I even fell into a sort of meditative zen at points, appreciating the opportunity to just stretch my body and turn off thoughts. Until this year, I never would have imagined that I’d sign up for a swim event like this without being goaded somehow, but I did. What’s more, I will surely do it again, and relish the prospect.