Tuesday, August 11, 2015

2015 North Shore Swim Series!

Ok well I didn't manage to blog about each of the summer swims this year, but here's a little summary of all five of them together as a whole. :)
I totally look forward to these swims every summer. This was my 10th summer here on Oahu and my 10th time doing most of the swims. I've missed a few here and there over the years but I think only when I've been off island... For the most part, if there's an ocean swim race going on up at the North Shore, I'll be there!

Some people take these swims quite seriously and are really racing to WIN. Most us aren't that serious about them though. I'd say the vast majority of people who do these swims do them because it's a super fun thing to do every other Saturday morning during the summer. We swim as fast as we can on the day, of course, but we don't go up on the alternate weekends and recon the courses or anything. If you want to win, taking that extra step is a really good idea because a lot of the results can be affected by strategy. These aren't pool or lake swims! We're navigating point to point courses, sometimes without many (any?) buoys, usually either with or against a current, often also diving under head high white water breaking waves, always in awesome crystal clear water... This is like adventure swimming at its absolute best.

One little note- it always shocks me that more local triathletes don't take advantage of this opportunity to improve their open water swim skills. Here's an environment that is legitimately challenging yet with adequate safety measures given the 600-700+ other swimmers and lifeguards on duty. There are some triathletes who show up at these races but not nearly as many as one would think. I don't really get it? Here's an absolutely perfect chance to hone in on open water swim racing skills. I encourage all my local athletes to enter the whole series, because the more you put yourself out there in these types of scenarios, the more skilled and confident you'll become as a swimmer! All of these swims, maybe with the exception of #2, are more challenging than any triathlon swim... so if you can do these, triathlon swims become complete no-brainers. I just think it's interesting that more local triathletes do not take advantage of these opportunities.

Anyway, swim #1 was about a mile point to point from Sunset to Pipeline. (2ndAG; 56thOA)

It's supposed to be a mile but finish times always make it seem like it's longer than that. This year there was some legit surf to contend with pretty much along the whole way. I quite like swimming through surf but on this day I was pretty convinced that the faster line would be to stay outside the surf and just swim head down hard. So that was my strategy... Head down flat out HARD swimming. And I got my ass kicked! Too funny. I really felt like I swam quite well at this race but I wasn't even on the same results page as some of my peers who I normally swim near... Turned out staying inside and getting pummeled was the faster route on that day and I missed the boat. Such is life. I had a blast though. Really it was one of the most FUN finishes I've ever had to any swim race because I just body surfed it in on this giant wave that I otherwise never would have been brave enough to take!

Two weeks later we all showed up again to race a much more straightforward course. Waimea Bay is a 1.2 mile triangle swim around the bay and usually there's not much surf or current to contend with in the bay. (1stAG; 46thOA)

The biggest challenge at this race could have been that the far turn is actually navigating between two giant black rocks... In reality the biggest challenge for the women was that we started 5' behind the men and that gap just wasn't enough at all for some of us who swam near the front of the women's pack. We asked for 10' gap but it was too late to change this year. Hopefully next year they will make that change and give us a full 10'. At this race I felt like I swam as well as I could have given the obstacle course of men I had to swim around/through. I was pretty stoked to come away with the AG win! I tend to get top 3 in my age group at most of these races but seems like there's almost always someone faster so in years past I have rarely gotten that top spot. To be fair, there are a ton of really fast swimmers who come out and do these races. In triathlon people think I'm a 'fast' swimmer but when I'm up against real swimmers, like in these races, it's humbling.

The best part about this race was that Scott and Moana came up and we all hung out at the beach for the rest of the morning. It was a gorgeous day and the water was super warm and nice and it really couldn't have been any better!

Race #3 is usually the wildest race of the series. It's a 1.6(ish) mile point to point course from Chun's Beach to Waimea Bay. (2ndAG; 25thOA)

This one is often against some current, against some wind chop, and just generally not the easiest to navigate. But it was a mass start which is super! It's for sure one of my favorites. Funny though this year we had some weird storm going on somewhere in the Pacific that was affecting our weather and it was a random light wind day with some drizzling rain. Light wind usually means calm ocean and I don't know, I think I just figured it would be flatter/calmer than normal. To be honest, I didn't give it much thought. I should have had a heads up though because even trying to swim out to the start line I was having a really hard time... ducking under wave after wave and hardly making any progress at all over some shallow reef. Eventually I made my way to the start line but without much time to think or strategize... Horn sounded and we were off and I just sort of swam hard and tried to stay around people near me. It was weird though I felt like I just wasn't swimming strong at all during this one... like I couldn't get a good grip on the water. I should have known it was against the current from the start. Then I ended up in some giant breaking waves and I'm sure I was uttering expletives out loud as over and over I was just getting pummeled by big waves! It felt like I couldn't make my way through them, but of course eventually after diving under like 6-7x I finally did. I remember thinking that I wish I had been more mentally prepared for psycho conditions like that because in all honesty these are the conditions where relatively I can gain an advantage on many others... I'm frustrated that I allowed myself to be caught off guard on this one and wasn't mentally prepped for full battle! That said, eventually I figured out that if I was having a hard time getting through this course, most others would be as well, so I turned my brain around and made myself BUCK UP. <Just Keep Swimming> Needless to say everyone's times on this day were WAY slower than most years and I heard later that there were a bunch of rescues which doesn't surprise me at all. Funny thing though, those of us who ended up getting pummeled on the inside (I ended up inside accidentally not on purpose!) ended up swimming relatively faster than those who took the calmer outside line, so this was sort of like making up for that first race where I did it wrong. Apparently the theme of this years races was that taking the white water beating on the inside is the faster line.

So on we go to race #4! Lani's to Haleiwa 1.9 mile point to point... (1stAG; 36thOA)

I took the lessons from the earlier races here and opted to stay the inside line on purpose, even though there were some decent waves breaking along our route. The good news about this one was that we were swimming west, and I breathe right, so I could see the waves before they were going to smash over my head! Perfect. I just watched for them to come and dove under before the waves had a chance to roll me over. In all honesty there weren't too many of those today just a few in a specific shallow reef area. I wish I could say I swam well at this one but I just felt off. I could blame Ironman training for leaving me with some excess fatigue, and that might be a valid excuse, but it's still an excuse. I don't know though, I was swimming in a big pack with several other gals who looked like they could have been in my age group and we all exited the water together and I didn't contest the run up the beach just jogged it up with no competitive grit. Looking back that always disappoints me but at the time I just didn't care. Turns out those gals weren't in my age group, so I ended up winning my age group, but knowing how I didn't fight at the finish left me with a bit of a hollow feeling. It did turn out to be quite a nice day though and I really have nothing to complain about- just my own rising level of fatigue setting in that's all.

So finally that leaves us with the 5th and final swim of the series... Pipeline to Waimea 2.3(ish) miles point to point. (1stAG; 14thOA)

This last race is always my favorite. Maybe because it's the longest one? My goal going into this one was to feel proud of my effort at the end... I wanted to avoid feeling like I did after the last swim where I felt like I didn't really give it a good RACE effort. Once again I opted for the inside line- so far inside in fact that at one point a lifeguard paddled up and directed me to go out so I wouldn't end up in water too shallow. #whoops The whole time though I kept checking in with myself and asking if my effort was one that would make me happy later and every time the answer was a resounding YES. I was really working on the upper limit of my ability right from the start and I never let up which was just great! In the last ~20' or so I merged with a guy and worked hard to stay on his feet all the way into the last bay. Then, remembering how I felt last time after I didn't fight for the finish, I just buried myself in the last 300M swimming beside this guy stroke for stroke feeling like I might just puke stay on it Michelle don't give this away... In the end he beat me up the beach BUT it wasn't for lack of trying on my part! Funny too after I got done panting, I realized it had been my friend Mike that I was racing, so we had a good laugh about the max effort there at the end. Without a doubt the effort and execution of this day was the best I'd done all summer so I was quite proud of myself for finally putting one together where I wouldn't change a thing if I could. That's probably the best feeling one could have at the end of any race! 
Men and Women 40-44 Podium

Big Mahalo to Chris (race director) as well as all of the sponsors who make this race series possible for us. Summer just wouldn't be summer without these swims!

Ocean racing isn't over for me yet though... There's a 5K up on the North Shore coming up next month then the Double Roughwater 7K this fall as well... Can't wait!

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