Sunday, April 23, 2017

My first masters swim meet recap

Today was a cool day. Today I swam in my first Masters swim meet, competing in 4 individual events and 2 events as part of a relay team. The meet was hosted by the Rainbow Trout swim club in Atlanta and took place at the pool at Georgia Tech, about 10 minutes from where I live. It was a really fun day, more challenging than I expected if I'm being honest, and I was really happy with how I did.

I had been talking recently with the coach that leads the masters workout where I swim about the idea of swimming in a masters meet. Unlike running or other sports that has a clear age definition of what is "masters" - for swimming, I believe it generally just means swimming for adults. The idea of competing in a meet was exciting and nerve-wracking to me for a few reasons.

It was exciting because I grew up a swimmer. I spent my childhood at swim meets, swimming year round outdoors in the summer and indoors in the winter. It was the one sport I competed in and it was a big part of my life. However, looking back now, at least at my high school swimming days, I know that I never lived up to any potential I may have had because I just didn't work hard enough at it. I gave up when it got tough and didn't know to keep pushing past the discomfort instead of jumping out of the pool to hide in the bathroom or rest at the slightest sign of a cramp. I was excited to go back to that swim meet environment, which in a way is so comfortable to me after years spent on the pool deck.

However, I was also nervous. I didn't know exactly what to expect in terms of the competition at this event. I wasn't sure what to expect of myself at the event. I vaguely remember my personal best times from high school and I wasn't sure how I would compare today. In many ways, I am in drastically better shape than I was in high school. However, in high school I was also training for this type of competition and swimming 5 days a week during the swim season. Although in better shape, I spend my time training for races that are 5-6 hours in marathon and triathlon world. Even a 5K is around 25 minutes for me, so competing in a race that is 30 seconds to a minute long is scary. That's a whole different kind of hurt!

Not to mention the attention and focus on those competing is completely different in a swim meet. Triathlon and road race starts I am not "toeing the line" or sprinting out the gates with attention on me. I am running across the start line in a mass and although it is a competition with thousands of people in many cases, it is a pretty intimate thing with nobody really focused on me besides myself. In a swim meet you, when you are racing in your heat - that is the attention of the crowd. Just those 8 people. Your start off the block (something I haven't done in 13 years) has the attention of anyone watching the race and is so important to how you do when the race is only 30 seconds long!

Anyways, the day turned out to be really awesome. It was really meaningful for me in a number of ways. I swam 4 individual events, starting with the 1650, or a mile swim. It is 66 lengths of the pool and I finished in 26:08:50, a time that I am really unsure of how to compare to besides my swim portions of triathlons, but that is still skewed as it is a totally different environment. I felt good about it as it is the first time I have ever swum this event and had no idea how to pace it and looking at my splits, I was pretty consistent!

It was also great to have my friends Diane and Shelby supporting by counting my laps for me! It was nice to just completely zone out and not think about how many laps I had swum. I wish I had that at morning practices sometimes! I definitely could improve if I do this in the future... for example, my goggles fell off and I stopped to fix them. 66 lengths is too far to go without goggles!

My next event was the 200 IM Relay, which I swam with my swim coach, another guy from the gym, and another woman from the gym. I was tasked with swimming the freestyle portion of it, which was the last 50 of the race and my split was about a 30.7 and it was a lot of fun to swim as part of a relay team!

The relay was immediately after the 1650 and I was pretty tired for it, but then immediately after that was the 200 freestyle. I considered not even doing it because I was still catching my breathe from the previous two events. When I signed up for the event, I signed up for all of the freestyle events and I imagined in my mind that I would have tons of time between all of them. I pictured the swim meeting being long and boring and drug out throughout the whole day because that is how I remembered meets from as a kid! I would sit and eat fun dip and play cards with my friends in tents, with coolers packed full of food, and it would be hours between events. At this event they were just ticking them off event after event. They did mixed heats, which helped speed things up, so you were swimming against men and women of all ages in your heat that had been assigned based off the times you submitted when you registered. Then, after the event, they would post the results based off of gender and age group.

I debated not doing the 200 but then figured why not and went over and hopped into my heat. It wasn't my best event and I struggled a bit but was glad I did it and glad I had a long break before my next events! The 200 is a tough event as it is a bit of just a long sprint. I finished in 2:48.30, which when the results came out, had me in first place for my age group! I had finished in 2nd place in the 1650, out of 2 people... so also could be called last place. But in this even there were 4 people in my age group and I came in first so that was pretty cool and unexpected!

The next event I swam was the 50 freestyle. This is one where you just go all out. I was surprised that I still felt tired from earlier, but finished in a time that was extremely similar to my 50 freestyle from the relay earlier on with a 30.73. It is such a different feeling to finish a race having gone all out like that, gasping for air and chest heaving. I was almost too tired to even climb out of the pool! I won my heat, which I expected when I saw how I had done in my split from the relay. I had seeded myself as 40 seconds for the 50, so knowing I could swim faster, I expected to and did win my heat. But as an added bonus when the times were posted - I had another first place finish in my age group! It looked like the same 4 people were swimming these events, so the names were all familiar on the roster but I didn't know who any of them were in real life nor did I see them swim.

Not long after the 50 free, I swam in the 100 free, another all out sprint event but a bit longer. I was getting tired at this point and I had a harder time with that, my legs were absolutely screaming at me the last 10 yards into the wall. I finished in 1:09:48, another win for my heat and for my age group!

That should have been my last even of the day, but last minute we decided to put together an all female relay for the 200M Freestyle Relay. I swam with 3 other women from the club where I swim, and I swam the anchor leg. This time my split was 30.9 and our team was able to get 2nd place in the female relay! I am pretty sure there maybe were only 2 relays teams, but I will take the ribbon nonetheless! I felt honored to be able to swim with a woman who is my new hero in life, Angela, who at the age of 76 swam in her first masters swim meet!! You are never too old to start something new.

Angela cracked me up earlier in the meet when she was telling me that she thought it was odd that the heats were all mixed heats of ages and genders as she didn't know who she was competing against. I said something positive along the lines of, "Well, it's not really about who we are competing against though, right? I always just try and go out to beat my own times and race against myself." and her response, at the age of 76 in her first meet was, "NO! I am competitive and I want to know who I am racing against so I can beat them!" I thought it was hysterical.  We had a great group of support and swimmers from the Windy Hill pool at the meet today.

I finished the day with lots of ribbons! I loved it and was so happy! But unfortunately they ran out of first place ribbons, so I had to take "participant" ribbons which doesn't have the same effect. At least the backside of the ribbons say "First!"

This meet was also meaningful to me because it took place at the Georgia Tech pool, which is the pool where the 1996 Summer Olympic swimming events took place! Most people that know me, or have been reading this blog a while, know that I love the Olympics! The 1996 Olympics is one of the ones that solidified that for me. At the age of 10, I loved watching the women's gymnastics team that year and the competitions throughout track and field, swimming, etc. totally enamored me. My birthday is at the end of the summer and I asked for (and received) the VHS tape with the "Best Of" highlight reel of those Summer Olympics, narrated by Bob Costas. I watched that over and over and over! To be able to swim in an Olympic pool is likely as close to the Olympics as I will ever get, so it was pretty neat to just be there.

The final thing that I will say about the swim meet was that I felt like my old coach, Bruce Calvert, was there with me. I am starting to cry now even as I write this, but it is still weird to think about the fact that a man with SUCH personality is no longer around. Last January, my high school swim coach, Bruce Calvert passed away from a heart attack. He had been retired as a swimming coach for a few years but was the cornerstone of our town's swim program and the high school pool. Up until a year ago, he was really the main coach I have ever had in my life. Bruce was a tough coach, a ridiculously random and funny guy, and gave his whole heart and life to our town's swim program. I wish that he could see where I am now as an athlete and I think he would be so proud of me. I thought of Bruce a lot today and hope that I honored him well in my return to competition in the pool.

[As a side note, you can read my tribute to my old Coach, Bruce here.]

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