Back at the Hagg

Last year I signed up for the 2000 meter race at the Hagg Lake Open Water Swim. I wimped out and did the 800. This year I signed up for the 4000.

"Going for the long one," the woman at the reg counter said idly. (That's right: said. She didn't ask. These are swim geeks, these open-water swim people; 4000 was the long one today, sure, but there was a guy who did three 2000-meter loops before the races began, then jumped in for the 800, the 2000 and the 4000. He's getting ready to swim the Channel.)

"Yep," I replied. "At least, I hope so."

Well, she said, you can always get out after one loop.

Thus, the seed of doubt was planted. Would I actually swim the 4000—or would I haul out after one time around the 2000 meter circuit?

It was a gorgeous day for a swim. Last year was all shivery—chilly, windy and spitting rain. This year, nothing but blue skies with temps headed into the 80s and barely a peep of a breeze. Water temperature was reported to be 66, perfect for a sleeveless wetsuit. All of Oregon seemed to be at Hagg Lake, 40 minutes east of Portland, to enjoy the day: mountain bikers took to the adjacent trails, roadies and runners looped the lake, fishers cast from shore and boats towed skiers along the smooth lake surface.

Personally, I would rather have been on a bike, but I knew an open water swim, especially a long one, would be great for my Coeur d'Alene prep. Four-thousand meters is a pretty good facsimile of the Ironman distance. It's 2.485 miles, whereas the IM swim is 2.4 miles, a gap of 150 yards.

For the first 1000 to 1500 meters, 90 percent of my thoughts were about whether I'd go one or two loops. Though there was no good reason to cut the swim short, I worked hard to massage the bad reasons into something I could live with. But there was one big problem: The swim just wasn't that hard. It was long. It was boring. But about two-thirds of the way through the first loop I realized that my muscles weren't tired and I remained strong aerobically. Hell, my goggles hadn't even fogged up, and the high-in-the-sky sun wasn't creating a glare that made sighting the buoys impossible. Plus, there were still people behind me—not very many, but maybe 10-15 percent of the field. As long as I wasn't last, even self-consciousness couldn't stop me.

So I kept going and the second loop was as uneventful as the first. It did occur to me somewhere on the second loop that maybe I wasn't going as hard as I ought to be, that my freshness of limb and lung was largely a product of a half-assed effort. Watching the top 2000 meter swimmers finish before our race, I did notice their extraordinary arm turnover. They were swimming hard. Me? I was afraid to swim hard. It wasn't until we rounded the final buoy and had a straight line of maybe 500 meters to the finish that I had the confidence to turn up the intensity. Until then, I still feared the swim, feared falling apart in the middle of the big lake.

The shore was muddy and the footing sketchy getting out of the water, and I forgot to check the clock or stop my own watch. By the time I thought of it—20 or 30 seconds after finishing?—I had the swim at 1:27. That, as it happens, is what I swam at IMCDA last year. Of course, today's swim was 150 yards longer, so I'm calling it the equivalent of a 1:24 at CDA. That's cool, but just as importantly, the swim strongly suggested to me that I can safely go harder. Not crazy harder, but perhaps instead of a 2:10.5/100-meter pace, I can go 2:06? That would trim three more minutes off my swim and put me within shouting distance of 1:20. That's almost not pathetic.

The 19-hour week that was:
4 swims
11,000 yards

2 runs
27 miles

3 bikes
205 miles

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