This past weekend, my mom and I headed up the coast to Santa Barbara for the Semana Nautica 6 mile swim. Semana Nautica is an awesome ocean sports festival that takes place over several weeks and includes many events including swims, runs, and paddles.
This was my third year participating in the 6 mile race and the swim presented new challenges for me this year. In past years, this swim has been fairly cold (59-62 degrees) but also rather calm. This year, the conditions were reversed with warm (67 degree) water but chop, currents, and swell. These conditions definitely added a new layer of interest and challenge to the swim.
The swim started off at 9 in the morning with sunny skies, wind and a current pushing north. We entered the water just north of the Goleta Beach Pier and battled considerable swells to meet up our individual paddlers. My paddler was Arlette Godges and she did a fantastic job despite the less than ideal conditions. As in the beginning of every race, those of us at the front of the pack sprinted around the pier, but I knew that I could not beat my competitors in the initial sprint and my best hope for victory was to rely on my distance training and pass them later.
Arlette and I rounded the pier and headed south into the relentless wind and current, at this point in 5th place behind two women and two men. Though this was expected to be a relatively short training swim (<3 hours), I had planned to simulate my Catalina feeding plan and feed every half hour. Once I saw how choppy the water was and also once my competitive nature kicked in I was temped to skip my feeds all together so I didn’t have to stop at all. I had to take a moment to remind myself that while I wanted to achieve success in this race, I needed to keep my focus on the real goal: my upcoming Catalina Crossing. Despite the chop, I was really glad I decided to stick to my feed plan because I certainly needed the energy for the final sprint and it was a good confidence builder to know that I can feed in rough conditions.
Throughout the course of the swim, Arlette and I caught and passed all but one competitor, putting me in 2nd place, with each kayak ahead of us serving as motivation to keep my tempo and effort level up. I don’t consider myself a super competitive person, but this swim showed me that I can harness my competitive side to help motivate myself. It also certainly helped that my kayaker, Arlette, is a very competitive person and hates to lose; I knew I couldn’t let her down.
One of the unique mental challenges of this race is that competitors are instructed to “head to the V in the cliffs” and then site a small orange buoy, but this geographical marking is not easy to definitively see from the water, so that as I was swimming, I could site a dip in the cliffs but I was unsure until the very end whether I was indeed nearing the finish. This situation means that the swimmer must trust their kayaker to lead them correctly. Luckily, I knew Arlette would lead me correctly!
When we were about a mile from the finish, Arlette yelled to me that another woman was creeping up on me from behind. I had not seen her but immediately put on a bit more speed so that I did not get passed. When I could finally see the tiny orange buoy, my competitor and I both began to sprint. I rounded the buoy just before she did and sprinted in to the beach and through the finish chute to cheers from the crowd! I finished 4 minutes behind the overall winner and 9 seconds ahead of my competitor. The race director placed a shell necklace around my neck as I took a moment to celebrate my victory.
After I had recovered a bit, two reporters from local publications came up to me and asked me about how it felt to win the race and other things about my race strategy. This was so cool because I have never been the female winner of a race before, so I really enjoyed all the attention. I learned a lot throughout the course of this swim and it is fitting that exactly two weeks later I will be preparing to swim from Catalina.