This whole summer I have been building my open water yardage and experience in order to be ready for my six mile race last Sunday. I knew I could handle the distance, but I was slightly worried about the cold water. Because of the extra navigational challenge associated with a long swim such as this one, I was accompanied by a paddler to provide support. My friend Tess did an incredible job helping me navigate as well as keeping me to my feeding plan.
There were 44 swimmers entered into the race but the start was not as crazy as I expected. We were instructed to Left-shoulder the pier at Goleta Beach in Santa Barbara and meet our paddler before heading 6 miles down the coast to a buoy in front of Arroyo Bolsa Beach. Originally, my goggles fogged up so badly that I could not even see the pier, let alone Tess, but she called my name really loudly which helped me find her. After my goggles cleared, we headed down the course while I tried to find my pace. Every 45 minutes or so, Tess would stop me and toss down an energy gel or my water bottle.
As I generally train at the beaches in Santa Monica, where visibility is poor, one of the most mentally challenging parts of this swim for me was the 15 foot or better visibility throughout the entire race. Not only could I clearly see the paddle board next to me, but I could also see whole kelp plants and giant schools of fish, both of which spooked me continually throughout the race. At one point about 2/3 of the way through the race, I noticed that the water was beginning to get really cold, though I couldn’t tell if this was just my perception or if the water really was colder. I was very happy when the water began to warm up again!
Tess did an awesome job navigating my swim, but at one point we got stuck in the middle of a kelp forest and I had to crawl over some of it to get to a less dense area. We turned straight out to sea and I swam for about 200 yards over the kelp bed to get out of the forest. I was just glad that this adventure helped desensitize me a little towards kelp (did I mention how much I hate it). Around the same time, (luckily Tess didn’t tell me until after) a large Sea Lion popped up near us and swam around. Tess told me she debated warning me, but decided against it as she knew that even the little fish were freaking me out!
Another tough spot in the race came when Tess and I both began to wonder when we would see the buoy that signaled the end of the race. We had no idea if we were even still on track! Yet suddenly Tess told me she could see the bright orange, albeit too small, buoy and I sprinted the last 500 yards to the buoy, turned left and sprinted into shore.
When I finally saw the flags signaling the finish line, I sprinted into shore and after crossing the line was told that I finished in 2 hours, 17 minutes, and 5 seconds, which is way faster than I thought I would swim! I finished 10th overall and was the 4th woman finisher, meaning I had to wait around for the award ceremony but I got a cool glass fish trophy! Over all this was a great experience and it has encouraged me to continue to pursue distance swimming.