Chessie Currents beatin' me down

I tried to rally up my enthusiasm for swimming across the Chesapeake Bay on a humid summer day, but it just wasn't there. I love swimming; it's my daily detox from work and bike-commuting through DC traffic. However, swimming 4.4 miles into currents that cut into you sideways and head-on was not how I wanted to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. This was just going to have to be one of those races that you push through despite its monotony and length.

The race director announced that the Chesapeake Bay waters had reached 78*, and half the swimmers chose to go sans wetsuit. I, however, love the advantage that my dimpled Xterra Vendetta wetsuit gives me, and wasn't about to sacrifice my wetsuit for a bit of overheating. Would I rather be hot and suffering for 2 hours plus change or suffering for 2 hours and 30 minutes? I chose the former.

I chatted with Snapple teammate Katie Davison while we waited for our Wave 2 to go off - we were following her fiancee Matias Palavecino's status in Eagleman 70.3, and he had just entered T2 with a bike split of 2:14. As we made our way across Sandy Point Beach, the race director's voice boomed over the megaphone: "You! With the red caps! You need to be in the corral in 7 seconds! The entire Coast Guard is waiting on you!"
Katie and I ran across the scalding beach sand as well as any bare-foot petite girls with goggles in hand and wetsuits only half-on can. I felt like I was in the military with my drill-sergeant yelling at me to not hold up the entire assault on the Chessie Bay waters. "Go! Go! Go!" Katie and I giggled as we ran toward the beach start.

The race director had announced earlier that today's race was the first time in 21 years that the current was coming north in the morning - which meant that the swimmers needed to counter the outgoing-current by staying to the left of the span between the Bay Bridges. At about Mile 2, the tide would shift and we were advised to shift our positions towards the right bridge to counter the inward current.

Swim Start:
Horrible. I didn't like the position I was in: surrounded on all sides by flailing elbows and violent kicking. I fought back with fists of fury and white-water kicks, but this only increased the attacks from all angles. After about 200 meters, the waters calmed as the swimmers spread out and found our grooves. I saw Katie's red cap and pink goggles a bit ahead and scrambled to catch her bubbles, but weaving through the 3 bodies that were blocking me off from her feet prevented a Snapple-Snapple train.

Mile 1:
I caught some bubbles from a dude with dry and scaly feet - every time my hands touched his feet, I felt like I was touching sandpaper. The water was a perfect temperature, the currents weren't too strong (yet), and my strokes felt solid and effortless.
Hi Kayaking volunteers! I'm still in a good mood and thank you for being out here!

Mile 1.5:
I lost feet to catch and the swimming mass became chaotic - I couldn't swim a straight line because the damn currents were unpredictable and stronger than I could handle.
Why am I doing this? Why did I break my promise to myself from last year to never do Chessie Bay again?
I already couldn't wait for dry land. The great thing about swimming is that it's calming, soothing, almost therapeutic. The bad thing about swimming 4.4 miles across the Chesapeake Bay is that it's boring - and the only thing worse than staring at the tiled line at the bottom of a pool is staring at green-brown water and steel poles as your sighting mechanisms.

Mile 2:
Shoulders feeling fine, it was time to get a little more kick in my swim. Focus on keeping my extension and pulling through.
Saw the aid station boat with yellow caps from Wave 1 clustered around like baby birds being fed bananas and gels. I just wanted to get this swim over with - we were only 1/2 way there!!?!?

Mile 3:
Want to know what's been going through my head for the last 90 minutes?
F*^# these currents!
I'm never doing this again, I'm never doing this again, I'm never do-...oh, hello seagull!
Has Matias finished Eagleman yet? I wonder if he crushed it...
Pizza. I want pizza.
That red buoy for mile 4 is no closer than it was 15 minutes ago!!!!

Mile 4:
Only 0.4 miles left! I can say with certainty and a touch of bitterness that this was the longest 0.4 miles ever. The currents were no longer coming from all angles, but just hitting me straight-on, causing my tired shoulders to scream for mercy.
I just want to get to those flags! I just want this next 600 meters to be done! Why am I not moving?
I tried to focus on something other than the never-ending home stretch: my stroke had gotten lazy since Mile 3, so I focused on extending and staying on top of the water. Don't let my hips sink, keep the cadence up, strong pulls, Mindy!
Finally! I'm getting closer!

Land, Sweet Land!

Oh, how I missed you, Sweet Soil!!!! I stripped out of my wetsuit that was suctioned to me, grabbed some Propel water and turkey subs, and was asked about 5 times by various attractive ladies whether I wanted Muscle Milk.

Bay swim 2011 conquered! (PS: no, this is not a picture from Chessie, but I put it in here for people who like pictures (Lucas!)!)
Final time: 2:09:36
7th in my AG, 36th overall
- makes me realize how talented a field Chessie Bay brings. The first female swam a 1:47:10!!! That's probably faster than a kayak!!

Big congrats to Katie Davison, who crushed the swim in 2:02:34 and placed 2nd in her AG!

Post-race conversation with Katie:

K: "I'm never doing this again."
M: "Oh, and this time I mean it: I'm never doing this again."
K: "Oh my God, that was endless."
M: "The last 400 meters? No joke, it took me 10 minutes."
K: "I threw a temper tantrum. I kept standing up and being like 'Why the hell is it not any closer!??!!'"
M: "Buoy 3 was the worst."
K: "I thought it was Buoy 4."
M: "But it was Buoy 3."
K: "Ugh."
M: "Never again."
K: "I KNOW!!! Never again. I'm not swimming for a week. I'm only doing hot yogs and biking."
M: "I'm not swimming for a week either."
M: "Well, I'll probably be back in the pool by Wednesday."
K: "Yeah, but we won't be back here next year."
M: "No."

Thanks, Chessie Bay swim, for a wonderful 2 years of swimming from shore to splendid shore. I might grumble and complain, but really, both years had their own highlights.
2010 was an accomplishment because it proved to myself that my mental toughness could overcome 2 hours of strokes, sighting, and seagulls. And of course, the first time conquering anything always holds a special spot.
2011 was more fun because I actually had someone to banter with before and after the race. It's never fun to go to a race alone, and it's somewhat depressing to cross a finish line without familiar faces to congratulate you. Although Katie and I fed and encouraged each other's "eh" attitudes towards the swim, it wasn't all negative - it made us hungry to go biking and running!!!

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