So this morning my radio alarm went off and proceeded to get louder and louder (that's how it gets me out of bed because I don't want to wake the rest of the house up). I stumbled across the room to shut it off and saw that it said 4:30 AM. "Now why in the...?" I began to think...'OH! I HAVE MY TREASURE ISLAND SWIM!" I had nearly forgotten about it! So, packed up my bag, grabbed the wetsuit, made my PB&J sandwich and out the door I went. As I left the parking garage at the Embarcadero in SF, I thought "Hmmm...it's still dark. Why am I doing this again?" Strangely enough, the guy walking in front of me turns around and says "we're crazy, aren't we?" I just kind of mumbled "mmmhmm" and put my headphones back in. I don't talk to people in the morning, especially at 5:30 when I haven't had any coffee yet.
I walked into the welcoming doors of my local YMCA ("you can get yourself clean! you can have a good meal! you can do what-ever you feel!" Oh, Village People!) and was instantly greeted with directions on where check-in and bag storage was. Following my settling in, I was immediately pleased to find out that they had free Starbucks coffee there all piping hot and ready to go!! AWESOME!
Before I knew it, an hour had passed and there I was in the briefing room, being told to stick toward the Bay Bridge, because if we swam a straight line from Treasure Island to Pier 14, we'd run into a barge that was sitting in that direct line. Instead, aim for the Gap Building and once you pass the barge, turn right in toward the balloon arches. "So if you remember one thing, remember to stay toward the Bay Bridge." Okay. Sounds easy enough. "The fastest people will make it in by about 25 minutes, and the rest of you somewhere between 40 and 60." I wondered where I'd fit in.
As I looked around the room, I realized this was not a group of triathletes. These were swimmers of all ages and sizes. There would be no rushing to get out of the water and get the wetsuit off and hop on the bike. No setting up for the long stretch ahead. Just a swim! The energy was quite different - remarkably so. There was little tension in the room, and in fact, more of a subtle excitement seemed to permeate as I observed the 250-odd people crowded into this small gym. People chatting quietly, most with wetsuits, some brave souls without. Not only did people seem to be excited, but there was also a gentle calm. These people KNOW how to swim. They're not triathletes who have focused on the bike and run and squeezed in a few laps at the last minute, hoping it would be sufficient enough for an open water bay swim. Taking some deep breaths, I found myself remarkable calm as well, and in fact, began to look forward to it!
After the briefing, there was a giant exodus from the gym and down the stairs, heading outside and onto the Blue & Gold Ferry, where we would later be jumping off in front of Treasure Island! Once on the boat, I met up with two friends from my tri team, Michael and Matt, where we chatted about strategy, triathlons, and my latest forward about 'dating a triathlete.' The minutes ticked down quickly and the time had come to take the leap. They were having people go 3 at a time, so the three of us decided to jump together. It was so much more fun jumping off the boat with my friends than when I had done it alone at the Escape From Alcatraz!
The feeling of jumping into 60F water is difficult to describe. It instantly takes your breath away for a few seconds, and it is especially difficult to keep your face in. When your face hits the water, it's like your body immediately reacts to get your face OUT of the water. After a few gasps of air and dog paddles, I began to settle in a bit. Still chilly, but I took a few more chances to put my face in and try to adjust to the icebox I had jumped into. My toes began to cramp up, but I wiggled away and after about 30 seconds, the cramps began to subside as well. The one thing that wasn't happening was that my left goggle kept letting water in. Annoying. The start hadn't quite 'started' - they wanted everybody off the boat and then they would do the official start. I still had a few seconds to adjust. I kept pulling my goggles off and back onto my face, then putting my face in to check if it was right, but for some reason, it just wouldn't fix. "What am I going to do?" I thought. I couldn't swim crazily with my head out of the water. I knew it had to do with the added thickness that my thermal cap was providing, but there was nothing I could really do about it. "I suppose my eye will just get used to it," I thought. Hoped so.
All I knew was that the horn had gone off and it was time for me to start swimming. F*** the goggle, I had a crossing to swim! So, I just ignored it and started swimming. Amazing how your body can and will adjust in certain situations. I just dealt with it and kind of forgot about it. The rest is, well..not that exciting! At one point I thought "I must at least be 25 minutes in by now." Nope - 18 minutes! "Dang!" At that point I knew it was time to stop messing around and really start swimming. I was warmed up, in a groove, and hey - "I'M UNDER THE FREAKING BAY BRIDGE!!!" I breathe bilaterally, so every other breath I'd look up and see the bridge above me and think "wow, I've got a whole new perspective on this thing I go over every day."
Other random thought during the swim: "well, in the case of an earthquake and the bridge went out, I now know I could swim back!" :-)
So, as I enjoyed the sight of the bridge amidst the gray San Francisco sky, the nearing downtown skyline (which is AWESOME TO SEE FROM THE BAY!!!), the minutes ticked on and I was happy. I enjoyed the feeling of pushing through that water and seeing my progress along the bridge. There were a lot of various smells I encountered as well. At one point it smelled like diesel fuel. That went away. Then I encountered a fishy smell that only lasted for a couple minutes. Nothing for awhile, and then more diesel. Pretty soon, as I took a breath to my right, I noticed that barge they had talked about in the briefing. "So after this barge...I think I should turn right."
It was now that I realized that nobody had passed me...but I'd passed a lot of people. To that extent, there was really nobody directly in front of me to sight off of. It was me, myself, and I (as Jason M. would say!). I would have to make the executive decision of when to turn in, and realized that I could potentially be affecting anybody who was behind me. "Hope I make the right decision!", is all I could think.
Sure enough, though, as I turned in, I could see the balloon arch and the far-off splashes of swimmers up ahead of me. Great! I'm on course! As I got nearer and nearer, I began to sight a little more often to make sure I was staying on track. This isn't so big in the beginning, but as you get closer, even a few strokes in the wrong direction can really get you off course. After a few minutes, I began to hear cheers faintly in the distance. "Time to pick it up, Sarah! Move those arms and kick those legs, girl!" The balloon arch was now completely in sight and I was getting excited - so much so that I began to sprint! As I began to approach the pier, I thought "is that...BARBEQUE I smell??? No way. Couldn't be!" (Later on, both Michael and Matt said "did you smell bbq at the end?")
The cheers were louder now and despite it being so gray out, I still thought that SF skyline was a gorgeous sight. After being alone for quite awhile, I was now converging onto the pier with a bunch of other swimmers as we neared the steps to get out of the water. The cheers inspired me to keep on keepin' on and I was determined to get there as fast as possible now. Pretty soon, I looked up and there was the turn for us to make to get to the steps that would lead us out of the water. Making the right-hand turn, I picked my head up and heard lots of people cheering, clapping, and saw right in front of me people getting out of the water. "Hooray! I did it!"
Upon stepping out of the water, I raced up the steps and toward the timing mats as fast as I could. "Wait a minute. Sarah. It's not a tri. You're done!" I really did have to kind of remind myself of this, sad to say! As I stepped onto the mat, I looked left, and there was my mom and my stepdad! "HEY YOU GUYS!" I beamed a big smile as I looked back at my time - 40:29! WOW! That's awesome!
As I went over to talk with my mom and stepdad and wait for Michael and Matt, my mom immediately said "Sarah, your left eye is so swollen and bloodshot!!" The goggle. Dang that goggle! "Yeah, that would be what extended exposure to salt water can do to your eyeball," I said. After rinsing it thoroughly with bottled water, the swelling began to go down. Mmmm, just love imagining all the yummy chemicals and salt that my eye was exposed to. :-P Besides being greeted with the wonderful view of having my family there, they even had a hot cup of coffee waiting for me. They totally rock!
Pretty soon, Michael Manning was out of the water at 42 minutes, and Matt came in around 51. "What happened to you?" I said. I knew Matt's swimming had improved, so I had expected to see him sooner. "Aww, I was sightseeing for a bit. Took my time, enjoyed the view!" Fair enough!
So, normally the story would end there. But after a nice hot shower and sauna, putting on warm clothes, and heading downstairs, I paused to look at the results: 40:29, 54th overall out of 176 people. Cool! What I was surprised to find was that there was a '2' next to my age group listing. "Wow...I got 2nd?" I thought. I approached the medals table and said "Do you guys give age group medals?" They responded with an enthusiastic "we sure do! Did you place?" "Well...yes, I think I did!" Sure enough, I'd gotten 2nd in my age group!
In the end, I walked away from the Embaracadero with a whole new perspective of the Bay Bridge and City skyline, and a medal! Not bad...and onto Foxy's Fall Century tomorrow!