by Karla Rees
As if once wasn't enough, I decided to swim the renowned Pier to Pier swim hosted by Santa Cruz Masters, this years 10K Open Water National Championship. Just to scare us off this year, Joel Wilson, the race director, sent out a meet flyer to most entrants, which included a nice map of the course and directions, plus the local attractions, you know the boardwalk, the lighthouse, the hotel, the harbor, and lets not forget, the local HOSPITAL, with 3 separate directions on how to get there. Just for kicks (and full disclosure) a couple of shark fins on the race course path, gee thanks for the warning.
After learning several lessons from last year (see my story from 2002), I arrived at 6:45am, my new escort, John, and cameraman (boyfriend), Andy, along with me. The kayaks arrived at 7 and I had them carry it to beach a big plus on taking 2 guys, is they carry the heavy things.
John loaded the kayak with my hot energy drink/gel, water, extra goggles, and bodyglide. Pre-race instructions started at 7:50, going through the standard signs of hypothermia: slurred speech, excessive stopping, complaining of cold water, slower stroke count: yadda yadda yadda. 15 minutes later, the kayakers headed out. I started getting nervous and had to use the bathroom. With less than 10 minutes I raced up the stairs and opened the door. Yep, somebody didn't lock it, too bad (or luckily) he was facing the other way. I used the next one, adjusted my suit took care of business and ran back to the start.
About 8:15am we were set, everyone very cheerful over the announcement of the water being 63°. The whistle blew, I jogged a bit, waded out, and plunged in. I swam a few hundred yards, and choked, "63, HA!" My estimate was 61° by the time we past the end of the pier. I've done proper training this year (only 7 cold swims in 2002) I hoped 8 were enough this year.
My goggles fogged up in less than 20 minutes, so I could only see kayakers about 100 feet out. The buoys were strategically placed to keep us out of the "kelp beds", more like "kelp rainforests" if you ask me. I managed to dodge most of it and John didn't have to toss me his knife to cut myself out better keep that handy in case Jaws is near. About 20 minutes later John disappeared, I stopped to see where he'd gone and a swimmer crossed my path heading 90° the wrong way, to Monterey, 3 seconds later her paddleboarder passed by chasing her down, I guess John didn't want to run them over.
Ahoy there! At 1hr 6minutes, I rounded the Xanthippe the first checkpoint at 2.2 miles, a lot of swimmers were stopping to feed, I swam by at least three, I past through a some warm water, stopped and thanked the stars "Ahhh, warm spot", I looked to my left and saw a kayaker in the water, a realized he was either cooling off (not likely, no sun out yet), or taking a pee break (hmmm) . I swam up another couple minutes than took some in hot energy drink in colder water, John opted to hop in for break, but I found out later that it was just too cold to go.
We all started swimming again (four of us) and were at comparable speeds, so for a good 40 minutes I was able to draft off a few and thinking to myself hey keeping up with somebody this year, as opposed to last year when nobody was in goggle-sight after 90 minutes. Realizing I was near people, I yelled out to John (more like ordered), "Take a pic." A few strokes later, "Please!". I stayed behind two green caps until my second feeding at 2 hours. I recognized one from the swim the day before, we had chatted a bit Saturday an older gentleman from Florida.
Feeling fatigued, I took my feeding needing the energy as my stroke count was slowing quite a bit. The Florida guy was up at least 100 yards on me now, and the only one other mystery gender remained, vision impaired by water clarity and those new fastskins/aquablades. I drafted off this person for another 5 minutes or so, then realized I could move faster after feeding, so I past the swimmer and concentrated on catching Mr. Florida again, after all he hadn't trained in cold water, where is there cold water in Florida anyways?
The green cap kept getting farther away, oh well I'm tired, I'm just going to focus on swimming and keeping the yucky salt-water outta my mouth. At about this point swimmers were getting a free ride, the currents were pushing us, (in the right direction luckily). And by the time I took my third feeding at 2 hrs 40 minutes, I spotted another swimmer, in a red cap 50 yards up. I informed John that was my last feeding, through blurry goggles I could see that the pier wasn't far away. I tried reeling in the red cap, not knowing gender, you never know the person could be in your age group I rounded the last buoy at 2:57 and could see the hotel on the beach up ahead and the red cap wasn't too far ahead.
For those who competed in the "Rough"water swim the day before , there was a lot of surf at the finish line. The red cap was still ahead of me at the end. I thought, if I could body surf, like I had the day before, I might come out ahead I peered back for a wave, increased my speed to hitch a ride to no avail, twice. My hand touched ground (Yahoo, Land!) and tried to gain my footing, I looked up to see the red cap jogging up the beach "thank god, male, definitely not in my age group." Then half a second later..CRASH!! A wave smacked me from behind and carried me up the beach. Unfortunately, I'd already exhaled, I had no air, it felt like the longest time I'd ever held my breath. Feeling air exposed on my back, I rolled over and sucked in some oxygen. After the wave subsided, I rolled back over, found my footing and ran up the beach to the finish line, 10 seconds behind "Mister" Red Cap.
First thought: water, water, and food. I grabbed a towel and started rinsing my mouth with a bottle of water. I got dressed as the shakes started, then headed for the hot chocolate, which they had on gas grills that I stood next to a bit to warm up. Somebody asked me my time, I hadn't thought about it, I knew it was less than last year and figured around 3:15 based on the time I had passed the last buoy. I went back to my gear and looked at my unofficial time 3:12:31 whoa!
What sprinter can utter these words? "I dropped over 27 minutes from last year."
I had a mind-set on the race this year, being near other swimmers, but never thought I'd break 3:15 with helping currents. Another repeat offender dropped 25 minutes, the conditions last year allowed most to drop a lot of time, others ranged 1min-12mins, though some took longer, all work and no training during the season for one individual I know (Laura Colette). Not only had I improved my time, I passed 2 people that beat me last year.
After warming up, I exchanged stories with other swimmers, and congratulated and cheered for the final finishers. I found that the results were posted, Mr. Red Cap was 68 years old, ughhh, can't believe I let over somebody twice my age beat me. Later, I caught up with Mr. Florida, (Robert Beach hmmm) he inquired about my time and replied, "you let a 73 old man beat you?" (Doahhh! I thought) and said, "I figure it didn't matter since I let a 68 year old beat me." A real nice guy, I wished him safe traveling back at his car in Capitola later in the day.
Awards were presented a few minutes after the final swimmer exited the water and my new and old friends headed over to a BBQ in Willow Glen. I decided to go for a dip in their pool to get the salt water off me and to soak in their hot tub.