10 mile swim

It isn't far to swim when you have friends waiting at the end.


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Race Report: The Upstate Splash 2015

Saturday I swam at the inaugural Upstate Splash in beautiful Lake Jocassee. I think of Jocassee as my lake — without any justification other than I swim in it — so I take a proprietary interest in any race that happens there.

There were two distances offered at the Upstate Splash, 1.2 mile or 2.4 mile, on a simple out-and-back course. The water was choppier than I expected, given my past experiences in the lake, but that was fine with me; I feel that if you want to swim in perfectly smooth water, you can go swim in a pool. It was rough enough, though, that I worried about my daughter, who was swimming in her second open water race, but she told me afterwards that she didn’t have any trouble.

You can just see one yellow and one orange buoy in this photo. My photo. August 2015.

You can just see the first two buoys of the course in this photo. And look at those mountains! My photo. August 2015.

As so often happens, the problems I faced in the swim had more to do with the people swimming it than the natural conditions. The first was something that had never occurred to me before in the four years I’ve been open water swimming — a head-on collision with another swimmer. The course was set up as a straight out-and-back along a line of buoys: swim out on the right side of the buoys, make a U-turn at the designated buoy (the half-way point), and then swim back on the right of the buoys again. It was like circle swimming in a really long lane. I had made the U-turn at the farthest buoy and was swimming back when a man who was heading in the opposite direction crossed the line and barreled right into me.

As I’ve noted before, if your head is in the proper position when you’re swimming freestyle, you’re looking down, not ahead. I had no idea this man was coming until he hit me straight on — BAM! It was a shock. We looked at each other. He muttered something. I said, “Buddy, you’re way off course.” He muttered something else. Then we set off again. I suppose these things happen, but this was the first time such a thing had happened to me.

On the other hand, my second problem was one that happens frequently: drafters. Drafting is the practice of following closely behind another swimmer to take advantage of his or her wake, and I’ve talked about it before too. If people were drafting off me in such a way that I didn’t know they were back there, it wouldn’t be an issue. But I had two different men at two different points of the race poking at my feet, and nothing pisses me off like a man at poking my feet. I kicked harder, but they stuck with me. So I took evasive action, stopping completely so that they had to swerve to avoid me. With the first drafter, I moved laterally away so that once I was ahead again, he was unable to catch up with me. With the second, I swam next to him for a while (we were close enough that our arms tangled, but I was not inclined to give way) until he tired and I shook him.

Let me tell you: I am not going to pull grown men through an open water race. They can swim it under their own power, or they can find some sucker to draft off, but I’m not putting up with these people poking my feet. I am contemplating writing “BACK OFF” in permanent marker on the soles of my feet before my next race.

In spite of those complaints, I had a great time at the Upstate Splash. The water was the perfect temperature, and the scenery can’t be beat. For the first mile or so I was swimming along with another woman who didn’t try to draft off me or mow me down, and I was filled with a sense of camaraderie. As is usual for me, I was a little confused about where the finish line was, but I’m sure it will be clearer to me the next time I swim the event. The volunteers were competent and friendly, and the muffins were homemade.

The start (which was also the finish), early in the morning. My photo. August 2015.

The start (which was also the finish), with the sun coming up behind it, before the race began. My photo. August 2015.

I plan to swim the Upstate Splash again. The turnout was fantastic, especially for the first time: 200 swimmers, which is more than we had at Lake Lure two weeks ago. And the money earned is going to a worthy cause: swimming lessons for low-income children in the area who otherwise wouldn’t learn to swim. The Upstate Splash is an event I hope I can support for years to come.

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On Drafting

Drafting is the technique of closely following another swimmer so as to take advantage of his or her slipstream and swim faster with less effort. I have swum many open water races, and I have read about drafting, and once I even went to a one-day clinic on open water swimming where we discussed and practiced drafting. I have one key piece of information for you about drafting:

Don’t draft off me.

In all that I have learned about drafting, theory and practice, I have never heard anyone explain how to do it without being annoying as hell to the person you are drafting off.

In theory, when you are drafting, you are simply following behind (or beside, for side drafting) a slightly faster swimmer. But in my experience, when you are drafting, you are repeatedly poking my feet.

Look, if you are an Olympic athlete swimming the 10K in Rio for the honor of your country or if you’re a pro competing for huge monetary prizes, then go ahead and draft (also, hey, thanks for coming by the blog). But if you’re in races with me, you’re just swimming for fun. There are no big awards. The last race I swam, a race in which someone tried drafting off me, I won the old women’s division (I didn’t know that there was an old women’s division — they called it “masters female”). My prize was a drawstring bag, a tube of Body Glide, and a $15 gift card. It was nice to win a prize, but there was nothing there that made me think, “I’d be a jerk to a fellow swimmer to win this stuff!”

These women are practicing drafting in a pool. The one in pink is planning to drown the one in black.

These women are practicing drafting in a pool. If I were the one in pink, I would be planning to drown the one in black. Image from FeelForTheWater.com.

Most articles I have read on the topic (see this one) emphasize that drafting in swimming is “100% legal” and “something ALL the pros do.” In contrast, drafting is not always legal in the cycling portions of triathlons, and one online commentator suggests that drafting in swimming should be considered cheating too.

I don’t know that drafting is a form of cheating. Open water competitions are not like pool competitions: in a pool we endeavor to make sure that the competitors in a race swim in nearly identical environments, but in open water we cannot control the conditions. The swimmers take different routes. They hit different waves. The varying conditions are part of the joy of open water swimming.

What I do know, however, is that drafting is annoying: it’s annoying to have someone hitting your feet while you’re trying to swim.

Deep in the core of my being, I am a ten-year-old swim team kid who swam packed in a lane with four or five other swim team kids. Swim team kids are taught to space themselves out in a lane, leaving five seconds or so between each swimmer and letting the fastest lead the lane. But kids don’t always do this. Sometimes a swimmer goes first, and the next swimmer doesn’t wait; instead, he leaves right after her and pokes pokes pokes at her feet until she outswims him or kills him with her bare hands. Ask any swim team kid: repeatedly poking at someone’s feet is an act of aggression.

And I don’t just hate people drafting off me; I also hate drafting myself. Why would I want to swim with someone kicking bubbles in my face? In the beginning of a race, when people are often boxed in, I’m most interested in getting out of the pack and swimming clear. I want to swim in open water, not on top of your feet.

If you know how to draft in such a way that you enjoy your swim and don’t annoy others, please tell me in the comments; I’d love to know. In the meantime, I have learned how to take evasive action when someone is drafting off me. I can get you off my feet if I need to. But why should I need to? We have a great big body of water to swim in.