On Saturday I competed in the Second Annual Slam the Dam Open Water Swim, held in Lake Mead, Nevada. Located about 30 minutes from the Las Vegas strip and home to the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead is a picturesque setting for an 8k point-to-point swim starting at Sunset View and ending at Boulder Beach, and a 1.2m and 2.4mile course swim at Boulder Beach. In addition, you can sign up for the Grand Slam (8k and the 1.2 mile) or the Super Slam (1.2 mile and 2.4 mile). I chose to do the Super Slam, and my husband Morgan came along to paddle for me in the 8k.
Because of work/school commitments, Morgan and I were not able to leave LA for the race until 8:30pm……a four hour drive! By the time we arrived at hotel (a huge thanks to Nadine Treon!) and got ready for bed, the clock read 1:30, and I set the alarm for 4:00am (ouch). Luckily I’ve had some practice having to go to early morning practice after little or no sleep (thanks Western Kentucky University) so although I was greatly annoyed by my lack of sleep, it didn’t concern me too much.
We arrived at Sunset View at about 5:15am, assembled the Folbot Alcyone by the light of my Nissan Versa Athena’s headlights. Morgan and I had gone to Alamitos Bay earlier in the week to swim a Naples Island loop and practice feeding and support kayaking, so assembly procedure was still fresh in our mind and even in the dark we managed to get it together in 20 minutes, a new record for us! I checked in, slammed back two cans of Amy and Brian’s coconut juice to combat dehydration, and waited along with the other 8k swimmers for updates on the weather. A storm system was blowing around nearby, and the day before I saw lightning in Los Angeles for the first time since I moved here in January. When Kara said there were 5-7 mph winds and we would be swimming against a current, I did a little happy dance in my head knowing that bad conditions benefit my performance, since most people swim poorly in them and get discouraged by them. All the sudden we got word that we would be starting on time and I had to book it to the bathroom to get my suit on, apply some vaseline, and scarfed down one of my Carb Boom! Energy gels. Next thing I knew I joined 50+ other paddlers and swimmers in an odd 5 minute pilgrimage down to the waters edge through sticky weed, rocks, and dusty trails carrying one end of the kayak while wearing flip flops. I only fell on my butt once and started the race with a big red dirt smudge on my suit. Minutes later we started.
Possibly the Most Scenic Swim I Have Ever Done
Waiting to Hear If We Can Swim Or Not
Pilgrimage to Water’s Edge
The water temperature was a warm 78-80 degrees, not quite my cup of tea, but adequate. I started out smooth, trying not to go to hard too soon, confident that I had plenty of time to catch up to any jackrabbits. By the first feeding at 20 minutes, I was slightly irritated by a dull nagging pain in my shoulder, the lack of salt water-induced buoyancy, and the uncomfortably warm water (my ideal temperature for racing is mid 60s-low 70s). I had asked Morgan to keep relaying positioning information to me throughout the race, so he yelled out “6th Place!” as I gulped down my coconut juice in 5 seconds. Not worried I continued on, focusing on following his lead and keeping a good catch to avoid a major shoulder blowout. By the second feed at around 45 minutes into the race, I was dismayed when he again yelled out “6th Place!” Surely, I should have caught a person or two by now. While I was swimming I decided that I wanted to focus on winning the women’s race so in mid stroke I yelled out “Babe!” stroke stroke “Women!” stroke stroke “Pink!” stroke stroke. I was wearing a pink cap, and there were also green caps, so I incorrectly assumed Pink meant women and Green meant men, a mistake Morgan realized later in the race. Looking back, I should have expressly asked the volunteer that checked me in what the different cap colors meant. I suspect that Pink meant a Grand Slam swimmer while Green meant a strictly 8k Swimmer. At my next feeding Morgan yelled out “Fourth!” so I asked “Overall?” “No, Women, but you are tied!” he said, (incorrect because of my assumption; I was fourth pink cap) By this time I knew I was one hour in and getting a little bit cranky. I could see some splashing and saw that a green cap was neck and neck to me. Within a few minutes I had pulled ahead and was leaving the green cap behind. Even though I had pulled to into 5th place, I was still suffering a bit mentally, as I felt a bit pressured turn out a good performance. I began focusing on my technique to relieve some strain developing in my neck and did my best to follow Morgan and trust he was keeping a good line. Up until then I had been sighting too much, nervous that we were going out of our way. Trusting your paddler is an important component of any guided swim……a good or bad paddler can make or break a swim!
Just as I was fighting a little mental battle in my head, I noticed Morgan suddenly stop paddling and drift back a few yards. There, hidden on the other side of the kayak, I was neck and neck with a pink cap! This was the moral boost I needed, and I put my head down and increased my tempo a bit. As I raced I no longer noticed the shoulder pain or the neck strain, and as I left the swimmer behind I did a quick sight and noticed that a pink cap that I had been trailing by 20 meters or so was now 10 meters ahead of me. This was the critical turning point in the race and from that point on I began to enjoy myself. I also noticed that there was a right turn ahead in the shoreline, and if there is anything I have learned about swimming in open water for the last 15 years its that directional changes lead to condition changes. I was hoping that the winds I was promised at the beginning of the race would hit when we rounded the point so that I could make my move.
A few minutes later we made the turn, and behold, my winds were waiting for me! All the sudden it was like I was swimming in a washing machine, with chop throwing me and Morgan around, making it really hard to hold a rhythm. At this point I reduced my distance per stroke a bit and turned the tempo up a notch or two, and I watched as I zoomed past the pink cap. Morgan held up three fingers and at my next feed told me “First Woman!” (He had realized my cap-category error by this point). After about 15 minutes of heavy chop, the winds and the water calmed. About 30 minutes after I passed the pink cap I did a backstroke roll so I could look back and I was 40 or so meters ahead of the same pink cap. After that I never looked back. I felt satisfied by my position, knowing that it was unlikely I would catch the two men in front of me, and I focused on holding my tempo. As we closed in on the finish I resisted the urge to sprint to the finish, as I knew I still had another 1.2 mile ahead of me.
Here is the part where I explain a rather embarrasing mistake on my part. When I had been planning the itinerary for the swim, I somehow got the idea that the 1.2 mile started before I would be done with my 8k, and I very clearly remember the words “after you finish your 8k you must check in with the timers before your 1.2 mile.” Because of this, I had deducted that I was supposed to exit the water, check-in, then immediately re-enter the water for the 1.2 mile portion. However, as I was swimming I realized that I had never studied the course map for the 1.2 mile, only the 8k, and I knew that the kayaks would not accompany us on the 1.2 mile, so I was stressing that I wouldn’t know where to go. As I ran up the ramp (I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the finish was at a concrete boat launch, which made life easier for me since I tend to fall over at sandy or rocky finishes) I turned to the smiling volunteers and kept barking “Where do I go?!” and was getting slighting irrated as they casually pointed up the beach while clapping and cheering for me. I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t tell me where I had to go next! Finally, as I checked in I asked the lady at the table who told me “You can go over there and get some water and relax a bit.” “You mean, I am done for right now?” I asked. She looked at me with a puzzled look on her face. “Let me get this straight, I do not have to go right now for the 1.2.” Her face lit up and she said “No, you’ve got about an hour before the start of the 1.2.” By this time, I felt really silly and I wanted to do the finish over again, so I could high five the volunteers and thank them. So, finish volunteers, if you are reading this, I apologize for exiting the water and running around like a banchee yelling “where do I go now!?!”
As promised, about an hour later, I re-entered the water for the 1.2 mile. Because I had finished so far ahead in the 8k (yet too far behind the two men in front of me) I knew that my position in the Grand Slam was pretty secure, that it was unlikely I would move up or fall behind in the 1.2mile. I decided to take the 1.2 a bit easy and to not fight it out at the start. I knew that if I took it out the way I would normally take it out in a 1.2 mile that I would crash and burn, so I fell back for a slower start and once again spent the race picking swimmers off one by one. It was a rather uneventful race, and as I exited I asked a spectator “how many women were in front of me?” She looked at me with wild eyes and said enthusiastically, “Why, you are the first one!” I was surprised, but I was more so just realieved to be done for the day. It was a tough day of racing and I learned a few good lessons!
There were a few things that were really fun/unique about this race. The first, obviously, was the double header format. Also, it was at a lake in the middle of the desert! As we were driving to the start at 4:40am Morgan had asked me irritably “why don’t they start these things a bit later in the day?” By noon the answer to that question became quite obvious as the air temperature had risen to what I would guess to be a sweltering 100 degrees. There was an Elvis impersonator running around interviewing swimmers as they finished, and I received what was quite possibly the most awesome prizes I have ever won……..a gift certificate for a massage and a new Xterra wetsuit (for those who have asked, while I don’t wear wetsuits to train or race, I DO use them when I teach!). I saw a few of my friends, including my Catalina observer Lynn Kubasek, and I met a bunch of new people too. I can’t wait to go back again next year!
The “Oak Streakers” + Me
Unfortunately Morgan and I had a lot to do back in LA, so we didn’t waste any time getting back. We did, however, stop for lunch at Steak N Shake in the Grand View Casino, the only Steak N Shake I know of within a 4 hour drive from my apartment. It was 2pm and the only solid thing I had eaten all day was half of a granola bar at 5:30am, so I scarfed down my double mushroom swiss burger, fries, cottage cheese, and milkshake like there was no tomorrow…….hey, I earned it!
Earlier in the week I had committed to go for an ocean swim with a group of ocean swimmers at 7:30am on Sunday at Manhattan Beach, something that I immediately started regretting on the way back from Vegas. However, once I bit the bullet and went anyway, I found that I didn’t feel that bad and I enjoyed my moderately-paced 5.5K from Manhattan to (almost) Hermosa and back in gently rolling swells. The ocean is great for recovery swims, as the cold water helps reduce swelling.
The next and final race of the season is the 12 mile Swim Around Charleston on October 23rd……..details coming soon!