The Hawaii Ironman - Swim
I wake in the morning trying to remind myself there are 1300 athletes that qualified and therefore faster than me and expecting to finish anywhere but in the last 200 with the other lottery winners is merely a pipe-dream. I assure myself I have done enough homework, footwork, eating and tapering. I then say a prayer about being powerless, grateful and grant me the courage and head out the door.
The air is filled with the excitement as I leave the Hotel before dawn. Many people are filling both sides of the street on their way down to the pier. I grab some free coffee from the lobby of my hotel and stash my hula-skirt for the photo finish, in the bushes in front of my room. I have officially been told not to wear it before then. There are people around but I am sure nobody that cares sees me do it. I am staying 4 blocks from the finish line at the resort called Uncle Billys and luckily I will not need to rely on someone holding it all day for me.
I am wearing just my suit under some shorts and sandals and holding my cap and goggles. In Hawaii you never need to wear a shirt for warmth. I have just enough money to buy one last cup of Joe on the way down to get marked, and put a couple more leis on my bike for my race attire. I have decided at the last minute to wear leis on my neck, wrist and ankles during the run. You just cannot keep a clown from being a clown, it is in his nature. I have had a breakfast of Cheerios, banana and muffin, my usual high calorie pre-race fodder and so now I am ready to find a John as well. My body knows it is going to race and is preparing itself for a long day.
As the whole check-in process has been all week long, there are 4 volunteers for every racer and regulations for every move. There is always 1 person to tell you what to do and 3 watching . I want to check my bike but cannot until I am marked, areas are marked for this and that. I get to the markers and there are four people tending me, as I get up on a step ladder. One marks the right, the other the left. One man keeps repeating my number and pulls a tag from a metal loop. Another woman checks me off the list and checks my name against my number. The organization and structure is so intimidating and serious, it feels like it might be at the Olympics. Everybody is nice though.
I notice 5 port-o-potties for 1500, the lines are long and I end up going half way back to my hotel to use a coffee shop. Because I need to get marked before putting on oily sunscreen I forget mine. The sunscreen that was free all week is nowhere to be found and I look for someone putting it on 15 minutes before the start.
I score some from a stranger but only enough for face and shoulders. I am sure to get burned on my lower back which will be exposed all day and I prove to be right.
It is day 10 here in Kona for me and all but two have seen me in the water. Once I swam the whole course and being out there alone was scary except that there was a kayak at the turn around and several other points along the way. It is hard to get used to seeing the bottom and all the beautiful fish. My only redeeming self-assurance is that if I go down, they will see me resting on the bottom. When I swim in the ocean in San Francisco, you cannot see your hand in front of you and therefore, not much to dwell on. When you can see the bottom 20-90 feet below you and all types of wildlife, there are plenty of things to worry about.
I put my sandals and trunks in my pre-swim bag and toss it on the pile. There are 1500 swimmers either in the water or trying to get in down a single set of stairs. I notice Cowman in his horns and wish him luck. He says something but I am too nervous to hear I guess and enter the sea. I warm up with some strokes and slowly building momentum. The start line is only 200 yards across, from a boat to the wharf with sections for the fastest swimmers in front. I am worried to death about being run over and as soon as that fear begins to mount and begin a life of its own, the cannon goes off. And all my fears are unfounded. I fall in behind a swimmer and never even feel anyone else touching me. I veer to the left of the course and find enough room feel comfortable. I start to draft but feel guilty and swim on my own.
After awhile I decide to draft and relax. I follow some nice legs that belong to a female and then she loses me. I watch some fish and the bottom pass by and catch another short lived ride drafting and before I know it, I am already at the turn around boats. I choose not to splash the spectators like in other races for fear of getting in the way of swimmers behind me so I decide to just make the hang-loose signal with my fist as I stroke. It turns out there was a photographer that caught it and it showed up on the slide show at the awards banquet. It even got a couple of cheers.
On the way back I could not find anyone to draft and having checked my split, knew I could hit a PR for the swim if I picked up the pace. Not wanting to swim someone too slow and miss my mark I pushed my pace and felt someone behind me touching my toes. At first it was annoying but then I took it as a compliment and carried on. Whoever they were, they followed me all the way home like a little puppy, nipping me every minute or so. I was not rewarded with a PR however but I wasn not dead either. I felt great with a 1:17, I had swum long and relaxed and it was over before I knew it. I just knew it was going to be a wonderful day ahead.