... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The King's Swim: Many Lessons and an Amusing Surprise

On July 5th I had my first venture into non-triathlon competitive swimming. The 20th annual King's Swim, held at Kailua Pier in Kona, is a 1.2-mile open water swim that I thought sounded fun. I knew I could swim the distance, but I had never gone quite that far without stopping for a breather, and I was determined to get through this course with no water-treading or float breaks. Having just become an official member of the Kona Aquatics Masters team (that's right, three pool workouts and they brought me over to the dark side), I was really looking forward to doing a swim surrounded by the people I have met in the past month and knowing that afterward, I do not have to immediately bike 25 miles.

There's me in the purple swim cap
There were approximately 280 participants. The check in and body marking was full of laughter, smiles, and the pre-race excitement that I have become addicted to and my new coach, Steve, was welcoming as always. For the $15 entry fee we got a really nice dri-fit T-shirt, which was a great surprise. We would later discover that it also included a wonderful banquet of potluck food that hit the spot after a long swim. Basically, I was impressed with the organization of this race.

At 7:55 we waded into the water and yet again I attempted to guess where on earth I might fit into this pack. I figured that these would be an even more serious subset of swimmers than what we see in triathlons, so I started a little farther back than what usually seems to work for me. I think my choice was pretty good. I got passed by several, I passed several. I got kicked a few times, et cetera, but felt pretty good with the speeds of those around me.

I have learned many things (including that my goggles are to tight
and make it look like I had horrifically botched plastic surgery...)
The course went out at an angle to the shore, through clear blue water, yellow coral, and plentiful fish. The conditions were good and I was able to employ the corrections that Coach Steve has given me throughout the majority of the race. Head down, head down, head down. I tried to keep my stroke long, stretching my arms, abs, and obliques and focusing on the water rushing over me, which for whatever reason seems to illicit a smoother stroke for me. About a third of the way in, just before the turnaround, I really started to feel my fatigue. I kept reminding myself that I am definitely capable of completing the distance, but that I just needed to stay patient, not focus on going fast or where I was in the pack, and not think about how much further I had to go. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming... head down! Just keep swimming... When we reached the boat that marked the halfway point and turnaround, something re-set and the way back in felt much smoother and I didn't feel as tired or tense. I can't say that I'm very familiar with the currents in that area, so that may have had something to do with it.

Making the (possibly inappropriate) pass at the finish
Anyway, I kept swimming and before I knew it I was getting close to the buoys marking the channel to the finish. At the pre-race meeting it had been repeatedly stressed that we must swim between the buoys because of shallow water outside of the channel, but when I got closer I couldn't tell how to do that because of the angle of my line of sight. I had to rely on following people, and somehow I ended up taking the turn a little wide. When I realized my trajectory was off and cut inward, I saw that somehow in the confusion I had passed a large group of swimmers who I had been struggling to catch from the halfway point. Bolstered by this development (and realizing that they were right on my tail and I was about to get absorbed into the mass of kicking legs and flailing arms), I swam with all my might toward the sandy shore.
When I made it to the sand, I stood up, placed my hands on my knees and stood still to make sure I had my balance and wasn't going to topple over, then ran past someone on my way up to the finish line. I'm not sure of the etiquette of swim races... my passing someone on the run to the finish either demonstrated a healthy sense of competition or the fact that I'm a douchbag.

Anyway, somewhat comically, I actually placed third in my age group! Granted, there were only 5 people in my age group and I came in 204th overall, but it still felt pretty good to get my awesome King's Swim mug and hear my new coach say "Crystal! You placed!" as I went up to get it at the awards ceremony. It was such a foreign idea that I got really excited. I am used to being the worst at running, so being moderately okay at swimming was a nice change. After a year and a half of very humbling triathlon training, I have learned to push through the tough times and really enjoy each accomplishment, and laugh frequently. Placing in my age group allowed me to both enjoy an accomplishment and laugh at the absurdity of it. Plus, I really like my mug. 

The King's Swim was a great experience, one that I'm glad I did despite it being new territory. It motivated me to keep improving on my swim, and it made me proud to be a part of the vibrant West Hawaii swimming community. We are so lucky to have such beautiful ocean to swim in and such an enthusiastic and talented group of people who are excited about it. And, like always, the new experience was one that I will treasure. 

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