It's been awhile since I've done an ocean swim, and I'm gearing up for IM Santa Cruz 70.3 in September, so Tri Santa Cruz International seemed like a good warmup.
The swim start was located just to the right of the boardwalk and the pier, and though many people had commented that the water was unusually warm and calm (relatively speaking), it was a bit of an adjustment from the comfortable pools and lakes I've been in all summer. Water temp was in the low 60s but I was immediately struck by how cold it was on my face. Eeee! How do the surfers stand it? I needed a little extra time in the water to warm up, which turned out to be fine since the race start was delayed.
This race had an interesting approach to the wave start times. There were just three waves and participants seeded themselves. Wave 1 was for those who would swim 1500 meters in under 24 minutes. Wave 2 was for 24-30 minute swimmers. And Wave 3 was for the over 30 minute swimmers. This would make for a much cleaner start with people being matched by pace, but since the course was two loops, it was still likely to get crowded on Loop #2. When I registered online, I hadn't yet achieved my 23 minute swim PR, and so I figured I was right on the cusp of Waves 1 and 2. I thought about some of my previous ocean swims, many of which didn't go so well, and decided Wave 2 would be most realistic for this race.
As we lined up on the beach, I realized that without all the sub-24 swimmers in my wave, I was likely to be in the unfamiliar position of leading the swim. On the one hand this is great since it means a clear and unobstructed path, but I've become so accustomed to following feet in the water, it was a little disconcerting to have three of the front four guys fall away within the first few minutes of the swim. Wave 1 had a five minute head start on us, so they were no longer in view, and soon there was only a single set of splashing feet a half a dozen yards ahead of me, and no one else to be seen. The course had just two turns, but for some reason, I had trouble keeping count. Alone out there in the morning grayness, I began to second guess myself. Had I turned around two buoys already or just one? Did I miss one? I couldn't remember. Meanwhile the gently rocking ocean water and the aggressively salty flavor in my mouth were starting to make me feel just slightly nauseous. After what seemed like an eternity, I emerged on the beach to run around the beach buoy and return to the water for Lap #2. I glanced at my watch as I ran, and between blurry droplets, I made out what appeared to say 16:30. WHAT?! I was certain I had held a good line out there. And I was certain no one had passed me. Somehow I was headed for a 30+ swim, yet I was at the front of my 24-30 wave? None of us would even come close to the 30 minute mark, I was leading our entire wave to failure! I tried, but couldn't persuade myself to believe that perhaps the second lap would somehow be shorter than the first, so I resolved the issue by convincing myself that I must have just read my watch wrong. But sure enough, when I emerged from Lap #2 and headed toward transition, my watch definitely said 33 minutes. Argh! Why do I suck so bad at ocean swimming?!
(Post race I found out that the reason for the horrendously slow swim times was a mismeasure of the course. The race officials later claimed it was 1800 meters instead of 1500, but I also heard rumors it ended up being 1.3 miles, which is nearly 2100 meters! Oops)
Well, fortunately the swim was over and I had nowhere to go but up, starting with the long run to transition. I had stashed a pair of shoes (legit running shoes, with speed laces, none of this flip flop business for me) near the beach and leveraged my run speed on that T1 run to pass a lot of Wave 1 folks.