Thursday, September 3, 2015

Toronto Island Swim Race

What, another race report? Why don't you post about your Pan Am Games experience?

Don't worry - that one is coming. But it will be another epic report - so in the meantime, I thought I'd throw this little report up.

The Toronto Island Swim Race - 3.8km

The Toronto Island Swim Race is a fantastic little race on Toronto Island (You would never have guessed that, right?). It's the only open water swim race I've done outside of a triathlon - but it's really well organized and local. Perfect if you want to see what you can do at either the sprint, Olympic or Ironman swim distances (750m, 1500m or 3800m).

Last year, I did the race on my birthday (August 17th) as my longest swim ever. I finished in 1:24 (although my watch says 1:22 - so I don't think they took off the two minutes between Wave 1 and Wave 2).

This year, I signed up for the race so I could have a 3.8km swim in open water before Ironman Arizona in November. I knew a bunch of friends would be doing it as well, so I figured why not.


My only real goal was to see what I could do - and still feel good when I got out of the water. Last year, I felt exhausted at the end. I was also quite dizzy and had to sit down for a while before I could actually move around. This time, I needed to feel like I could tackle a bike ride right after...which meant I had to keep a steady pace pretty much the whole time and not push too hard.


For some unknown reason, swimming is my best triathlon sport (at least when it comes to my placing in my age group). Maybe that's because I learned how to swim when I was in high school and university and, while I was a mediocre swimmer back then, I learned the right technique. Now that I'm more fit (and weigh less), I'm pretty decent - at least compared to triathletes in my age group.

All that said, because swimming is my strongest discipline, I don't really do a lot of swim training. This year, it's mostly been twice a week - with sessions focused on technique over speed. Coach Mark has really been working to get me to use my arms more and to use my legs more to keep my form right than anything else. It's been a slow lesson - but I'm working on it. I've also been doing a lot to make sure my stroke is even and when I enter the water and pull, I push straight back and don't zig-zag my hands/arms (that evil "S" stroke taught to me as a kid tries to sneak back into my stroke every now and again).

Given the lack of emphasis on swimming - I really had no idea how I'd do going into this race. But I've had some excellent results at various shorter races this year (my speed is still creeping up - thanks to the bike training I expect), so I figured I could at least beat my time from last year.


I was in the first wave this year (so no worries about weird timing) - and more accustomed to open water, so I started right at the front, if a bit right of the main pack. I started off quite strong, although went out of my way not to take the first hundred meters too strongly. 3.8km is a long way after all.

The course was 3 loops...but the buoys weren't in a straight line (at least it didn't feel that way to me)...they were in more of a rounded course which made it a bit hard for me to figure out the right line to swim. I did better than last year (when I swam over 4km), but I still swam way too wide at times.

For the first lap, I was neck and neck with a few other swimmers. I got a little bit of a draft here or there but kept on drifting mostly I just kept them in sight as much as I could. One guy kept getting ahead of me ( he was swimming a way better line than I was)...but I would slowly catch up...and then draft a bit....then lose him again. This pretty much happened for the entire race. I know it was the same guy because he had a sleeveless wetsuit with yellow stripes on.

I swam a better line on the second lap. On the third lap, the waves were getting quite rough. On the way back from the turn buoy, I was trying to time my sighting for the top of the rolling waves and had some success. But mostly I was just trying to swim in the right direction and not drink too much of Lake Ontario. This is where sleeveless wetsuit guy lost me for good. He seemed to swim right along the buoys and I kept being pushed too far afield by the waves and needing to cut back.


Despite the challenges of the last lap, I felt pretty good as I came to the end of the swim and turned in to the finish. I got out of the water expecting my time to be pretty slow given the rougher conditions compared to last year.

Instead - my watch read 1:15:28! Wow! Talk about a massive personal best compared to last year. And it only took me a few seconds to get my  balance. I actually felt good. Exactly the way I wanted to feel.

Shortly after finishing, I found out that sleeveless wetsuit guy was someone I knew from the Toronto Triathlon Club. So funny. Thanks for letting me use you as a guide-post Scott!

My finish time was good for 4/20 women (wetsuit category) - although 3rd was 7 minutes ahead of me - so I have a long way to go before I could actually "compete" in one of these races.

Big congrats to all the people I know from the Toronto Triathlon Club who made it out to the swim and did awesome! Got to love doing fun events with great people!

Photo credit...stranger using my camera
Finishing thoughts

In terms of lessons learned - it was good to get experience 'racing' in choppy water. I found it a bit hard to sight at times before I figured out how to time my sighting for the top of the rolling waves (a process somewhat hit or miss - but I did okay).

I also learned a lot about how much waves can affect where you're going and got better at correcting my line as I went. I ended up swimming too far outside the buoys several times - but always seemed to get back to where I wanted to be after a bit of work. I could definitely swim a better line next time though!

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