Today I did my first ever open water race — except for triathlons; the 2011 edition of Randers Open Water in the local Gudenå river.
The course was 5200 m, starting at the Fladbro Kro bridge with the finish line at Randers Regnskov. We were swimming with the weak current all the way, so I'm guessing it was equivalent to a 4000 m swim or so.
I arrived early and had a very relaxed time before the start, almost no nerves at all, and spent the time talking to my club mates and just generally hanging out. Nice to be that relaxed before a race, and have lots of time to check in and get sorted out.
I had a short jog as warm-up before I put on my wetsuit, then I handed my bag to the car that took it to the finish line. I mostly just jumped up and down, swinging my arms, until 5 minutes before the start where I entered the water.
I had about 500 ml water with 4 scoops of High5 4:1 for energy about 15 minutes before the start, and that seemed to work real well for me, I had no low moments during the race, and was able to finish very strong.
The water was 16.1ºC, a little drizzle now and then, no sun whatsoever. It has been raining quite a bit for the last few days, visibility was under 1 m. I never saw the bottom after the start.
I was in the 2nd heat of the day, the heat with the really cool ultra-hot-flesh-pink swim caps.
When the starter called out “One minute!” I positioned myself on the line, and then all of a sudden we were off, and it was completely undramatic from there. Almost no contact or fighting for position.
Then I just swam. It was the usual when swimming in open water, frequent sighting to make sure you're going the right way, and just keeping to a steady rhythm. The only new thing for me was the flora in the river, mostly yellow water-lilies. I tried navigating away from them, but I quickly gave up, there were sections where I just had to swim through, and I quickly got used to that.
I swam alone almost all the way, there was a pretty big spread in abilities in my heat (around 20 swimmers), so noone to draft.
With about 1000 m to go I passed the start line for the short race where the swimmers were getting ready for their start, and I picked up the pace a little as I was still feeling really good. I had one swimmer who had stayed around 50 m ahead for the last approximately 2 km, and I started chasing him, reached him and went on to pick off the next swimmer, which I did, just as I got up and out of the water and ran to the timing mats. It was easy, because he was just walking, which annoyed me, put up a fight, dammit! It ain't over until the fat lady sings.
Looking back at my race I'd say the first quarter I worked to find a good steady rhythm, the second quarter was kind of boring, the third quarter was the annoying part with the most water-lilies, and the last quarter of the race was the chase, the best part. I tried judging how far I was, since I know the area well and I often run along the river, but from 5 cm above water level it's almost impossible to pick out landmarks. Only the bridges we swam under were easy to spot, but unfortunately I had not thought of looking at the map and memorize the distances to them. Something to remember for the next time.
I wore my Suunto Memory Belt under my wetsuit, so I have a complete heart-rate graph from about 20 minutes before the start to just after the finish line. I paced myself a little conservatively, aiming to finish strong, and that I did, judging from my heartrate. Very satisfying.
It's interesting that I averaged 170 bpm for the race, I would have guessed my swim heartrate was lower than that. Good data to have. I'm trying to sell my Suunto T6c triathlon pack, but after this I'm not so sure, at least the Memory Belt is awesome for this. So I'll probably just sell the rest and keep the Memory Belt.
As for equipment, I used my Nineteen Tsunami wetsuit, a neoprene swim hood (plus the race swim cap on top) and Zoggs Predator Flex Polarized goggles. It all worked extremely well. I had been looking forward to testing the goggles outside in the sun, but with the sun completely missing today it didn't happen. They were stil great, and not too dark for a cloudy day like today.
Oh, and I finished in 1:07'48", 15th in my age-group, I don't know out of how many. Yet. Will update when the official results come online. I heard someone say there were 180 swimmers in total for both the short (1000 m) and long course.
Randers Open Water is a great race, I had a great day. Highly recommended.
UPDATE: Official Results are out, I was 15th out of 45. And more interesting, I would have been 5th, only 34 seconds after 3rd place, had I been one year older. So, next year…