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A Swimmer's Perspective

(written for 207 Coaching's blog)
When Katie Dwyer asked me if I wanted to do the swim leg of a relay at the Challenge Maine Half Iron in Old Orchard Beach, I was excited.  Not because of the swim and my role, particularly (because the 1.2 mile swim is so short and seemingly insignificant compared to the bike and run), but because of the people I would hang with and watch race.  I wasn't disappointed.
My relay partners would be Ian Tovell as the bike and Lynn Larsen as our runner.  I already knew Lynn and had, in fact, given her a swim lesson this summer.  My impression of her was that she is super sweet, takes instruction very well, and is extremely focused.  I hadn't met Ian until packet pickup, but we talked online and he seemed very laid back and had a great sense of humor.  They had both been training and racing with 207 Coaching so I knew I was in good hands.  This was going to be fun!
I had been experiencing a menacing little tweak under my scapula all summer that tends to flare up right before a race, probably due to unconscious tension building.  I have had some pretty serious back issues so the warning pain can be a harbinger of something much worse to come, as in a debilitating spasm that can knock me out of the competition altogether.  The thought of letting down two other people weighed heavily on my mind and consequently I begged off any yard work, bending and heavy lifting that week that might end up putting me out of commission.  As suggested by my chiropractor, I used a lacrosse ball to mash the shoulder blade a few times per day and swam easy leading up to the race.
The relay was a last-minute decision and we were a late registration, so I had boating plans with friends the day before that could not be changed.  This made the 4:15 AM wake up call a bit rough.  Ian and I carpooled to OOB from the park 'n' ride and let Lynn sleep in, since it would be quite a while until Ian would pass the figurative baton signaling her half marathon run.
Ian and I got marked and dropped our equipment in transition.   I began to see a bunch of familiar Kennebunk tri folks.  "Kirsten are you doing the whole thing?"  I was asked many times.  "Of course not!"  I said, laughing, secretly wondering if some day I will.  Before I ever really consider triathlon, I must be ready to a)  train a lot more and b) eat a big slice of humble pie.  I must say that watching everyone race does get the competitive juices flowing and make me wonder what I am capable of.  Time to work on penning that Bucket List.
But I digress.  It was time to say goodbye to Ian and make the long walk down to the swim start with my friend, Joanne.
The Race:   1.2 Mile Swim.  Time:  23:36     Swim gender place:  1    Swim overall place:  7
6:30 AM.  I use a sleeveless wetsuit (because I haven't found a full that comes close to working for me) and my arms were already cold standing on the beach.  I decided that shivering after warm-up would not be a good idea so I skipped it.
Scheduled in the fourth wave, I took this opportunity to watch how the first three waves handled the swim start with such a low tide.  It was very shallow and quite a ways out before one could actually begin swimming.  I am not a runner by any stretch, so I avoid using my legs as much as possible.  I decided that dolphin dives were the way to go for me.  
When our wave was called down, I positioned myself on the far left of the pack.  I usually try to be on the left side, as I am primarily a right breather when racing.  We lined up and the countdown began. The starter signaled us to go.  I prefer in-water starts, as this pre-swim strategizing is a moot point.  Dolphin dives take substantial energy but they are a very effective alternative to trying to run in knee-deep water.  I probably performed around six dives,  carefully timing the dives with the surf rolling in.  When I finally began my swim stroke, I was relieved that the dolphin dives had paid off and I was one of the leaders.   I could see one guy on the outside of the pack to the right, who moved ahead of me.  I was quite anaerobic at this point but knew that I would settle into a groove soon enough and recover from the excitement of the start and unconventional water entry.  I did my best to keep up with the other blue cap in front of me, but we began to catch the previous wave by the first turn buoy and I couldn't discern him after that point.
I had worn clear goggles, which was a very good decision, as there was still no sun and visibility was tough.  Luckily the caps ahead of us were colors other than orange so the orange buoys stood out.  Some of them had blinking lights on them. The only problem was distinguishing blinking boats from blinking buoys.   I tried to keep all the way to the left and hug the buoys so that I could pass swimmers on the left.  Other swimmers weren't packed too densely and my visibility was good enough that I could strategize my passing routes ahead of time while sighting.
The course was quite easy to navigate, and the only part I was dreading was the run.  Later in the day a buddy from Portland Y swim texted a photo of me exiting the water.  I texted, "oh, you recognized my stroke?"  "No, I recognized a swimmer trying to run," he answered.  Ouch.   It was advertised as 1/4 mile run to transition and this was no lie.  We ran barefoot through the sand, on bricks, on pavement, through street and finally saw transition.
Transition felt like a party because Ian was looking for me and there were many cheers and shouts as I ran by to loop around and run in the entrance.  It didn't take Ian long to switch the timing chip and take off on the bike for his PR 56-mile split.
Suddenly I noticed superstar Lucas Pozzetta fly by and jump on the bike course.  I knew my swimming buddy and local pro from the Portland Y group, Mike Caiazzo, would be coming through soon so I waited to cheer him on.  These guys make it look easy.
It would be over 4 hours before my partners finished so I used the time to mingle, cheer and take photos.  The swimmer from a competing relay that ended up beating us by less than 2 minutes (with the fastest bike on the entire course that day) came over to me and we began a friendly rivalry that lasted the rest of the day.  The Maine Challenge announcer said the three top half relay teams had the closest finish in history!  Ian and Lynn both had super fast splits and gave their all.  In fact, if Lynn (despite warm temperatures and cramping) had a bit more road to run we would have won.  No matter, second place felt great and I think we were all proud of our relay!
Three's Company Relay, 2nd Place
Swim 00:23:36.370
Bike 02:33:22.250
Run 01:45:10.903
Final Time: 04:46:56.890
1. For me, camaraderie is the main advantage to doing a relay.  I have so much respect for triathletes and the discipline and training that they must employ to reach their goals.  Being a swimmer, this was a great chance for me to participate in an event that I couldn't do by myself.  It was an opportunity for Ian to concentrate on putting up his fastest bike split ever after just completing a half iron himself and for Lynn to rock the run after working on her triathlon this summer.  Katie Dwyer and Renee Durgin were recovering from their recent super iron man races so they opted for the OLY relay.
2. Worlds collided for me and it made me realize how many roots I have put down since moving to Maine 4 years ago.  Transition and change are very hard for me and I have missed my friends and team back in MA.  But seeing friendly faces from 207 Coaching,  Kennebunk Tri Team, Great Bay Masters swimming, Six 03, and even my old stomping ground in MA,  I realize that I have come a long way from knowing no one.
3. Lastly, I was happy with my swim.  Although I have done some of my longest goal swims (6-mile race and 10-mile Sebago Lake crossing) this summer, I haven't trained more than 3 or 4 times per week and generally average between 2000 to 5000 yards per workout.  Weekly yardage is around 14,000 which is low compared to some swimmers.  I can truly say that coaching technique to others has helped improve my own swimming, as being mindful about stroke mechanics every time I get in the water makes for a much higher quality workout.