Big Shoulders 5K Swim
Lake Michigan, Chicago Illinois
September 8, 2007
A year ago Josie and I started thinking about swimming this race. When May rolled around I started to increase my swimming distances. All summer long I worked on swimming endurance. Swimming 3.1 miles in Lake Michigan was my goal.
Wednesday the week before the race I got sick (allergy/cold.) I rested, took OTC cold medicines and hoped I would be better by Saturday morning. Thursday night Josie phoned me and said "You know if your not feeling well we don't have to go, we can still get our money back from the hotel for the deposit." No, I still wanted to go. Friday morning Josie drove and I slept a bit on the way. Josie had arranged to get us a lake view room at the W with the nice discounted corporate rate. We could see the beach where the race would start from our room. It was fabulous. Unfortunately I didn't feel fabulous. We did a little shopping on Michigan Avenue, had some dinner and then I puttered out. Josie says I fell asleep around 9.
Saturday morning got up around 5:30 and I felt marginally better, so keep that in mind as you read my race report. I am sure that this magnified the difficulty for me. We watched the race officials and volunteers setting up for the event. Around 7 Josie and I walked over to the start. Tanya and Gary Crews were already there and we were introduced to some fellow St. Louisans Theresa and Ed Telford. Josie and I went to get our timing chips and race stuff. I would be in the 45 and over wave and they gave us these ugly silver-grey caps. I guess because we were the oldies. During the pre race announcements we were told that the water was 72 degrees.
Here is a picture showing a buoy being boated out to mark the course. They
are quite big close up, yet they seem small when you are
out in the water looking from one buoy to another.
There were around 670 people in this race and we started in 6 different waves 5 minutes apart. Here is how it went:
8:00 - 34 & under 5K non-wetsuit
8:05 - 35-44 5K non-wetsuit
8:10 - 45 & over 5K non-wetsuit (Tanya, Gary and me)
8:15 - 5K wetsuit and race day registrations (Theresa - think she used it as a practice session with her wetsuit)
8:20 - 44 & under 2.5K (Josie)
8:25 - 45 & over 2.5K
I was in the third wave with Gary and Tanya. Josie would
follow behind in the 5th wave. The start was in the water and yikes was it
The first five minutes my body felt as if it were frozen and would not move. The
water was surprisingly clear and it was disturbing to skim over this tall
seaweed that practically touched my body. I
started on the outside of the pack and soon we all spread out. I never had to
worry about anyone hitting me and knocking my goggles off. That is my only fear
while open water swimming because I do not want to lose my contact
lens. I rounded the first buoy started towards the next. The course was
triangular shaped. I figured the swim out
would be hard with the waves pushing you in to shore but actually it was all
hard. I tried to figure out the pattern of the waves and there really wasn't
one. They just sort of beat you from one side and then pummeled from the other.
When I swam in the ocean the sand on the bottom was in a wave pattern, here it
was a waffle pattern. Later I read the online race report and here is
what it had to say:
Who can really guess what we'll find as we round turn one and head down the long stretch of the hypotenuse towards the white condo and churn corner? Churn corner has earned its name for behaving in a perpetually choppy manner as swimmers round the orange buoy for the long straightaway along the concrete retaining wall that melds Chicago's towering architecture to our waters.
I made it to the second buoy and then swam towards the shore to complete my first lap. The last leg of the course is alongside of the Lake Shore Drive seawall. The arrow points to the buoy on picture. I don't know why but I had difficulty moving here. I was pulling hard going nowhere. The water bullied me saying "Try all you want but I'm not letting you go anywhere." like some wicked water witch. I rolled over on my back and did a few backstrokes to see if I could figure out why and it just didn't make much sense. I plowed on and made it to begin the second loop. I'm swimming to the first buoy again and I realize that I have not warmed up. My hands are cold, my feet are frozen numb and my head hurts. I remember this guy we met on the shore before the race. He had on a Big Shoulders 1991 shirt and told us that when Bill Mulliken ran the race he would never let people in the race wearing wetsuits, if they wanted to wear a wetsuit they could swim somewhere else in the lake. I could tell he thought people who wore wetsuits were wimps. I though about him and I started singing that song in my head by the Fabulous Thunderbirds titled Tough Enough. "Ain't that tough enough...ain't that tough enough" I remembered all those long boring 5000 yard swims to get ready for this. I am tough enough, I am tough enough I keep repeating to myself. I make it around the buoy and a police boat goes by agitating the water and filling the air with this noxious fuel smell. I retaliate by singing the chorus of that Kayne West song Stronger..."ttthhhat, that, that that don't kill me can only make me stronger... " The waves were shoving me from all directions and I felt insignificant in the water as I made it to the second buoy. One last section to swim and it is that nonmoving witch section along the seawall. This is it, I increased my kicking and gave it all I had left on that last leg of the race. At one point I looked up to sight and saw the big Ferris wheel on Navy Pier and I thought to myself "this is what you do for fun?"
I finished in an hour and 43 minutes. When I reached the shore I saw Josie and asked her how it went and she said "I hated it!" She did not like it at all. It was so rough that she stopped a couple times and this annoyed her. Josie also experienced some nausea. Nope she did not like it. Tanya finished after me and she is a faster swimmer than me. Unfortunately she had suffered the nausea too and had thrown up during the swim. Afterwards she had the hardest time getting warm. Tanya and Gary had just completed Ironman Louisville two weeks ago and I hope they are now taking a much deserved time of recovery.
Later Josie and I sat in the sunshine on the seawall. We cheered for the last few finishers as they came in. As I sat and looked out over the course I was filled with gratitude. I thanked God for allowing me to have the capacity to do it. I thought about the prosthetic leg I saw lying on the shore at the finish. Some swimmer in the heat before me swam the entire race with one leg. I pondered the experience. Was it fun? Not really, but that wasn't why I did it. I faced the challenge, raised the bar. This race took me out of my comfort zone. I gained experience and confidence. I conquered Big Shoulders.