My alarm woke me up at 4am after 5 hours of good sleep. My race morning checklist went into action immediately - shower, dress, eat breakfast (oatmeal, 1/2 banana, peanut butter, 1 egg, hot tea). My stomach was a little nervous and it was hard to eat all this. I was feeling full already from eating extra the day before. This morning, however, it wasn't about what I felt like eating, it was about getting the fuel in my body. We left the hotel at 4:40 and were down at the race site with a good parking space by 5am. Next was to get body marked, pump my bike tires (they had special volunteers for this), put my food on my bike, and put chamois butter on my bike shorts. I was done with all of this early and was able to go sit on the beach wall for a while to sit and relax. There was a bit of a chop in the water but not too bad. My stomach was still nervous and I tried to calm myself by remembering that this is just another day of long workouts, something that I do all the time.
At 6:30 I made my last trip to the restroom, put on my wetsuit and caps, ate a Powergel, and walked to the timing mat to cross and enter the swim start area. I wasn't sure where to place myself, but I wanted to be fairly close in with the buoy line. The start was a running beach start and I didn't know how it was going to play out. It wasn't very crowded where I was standing so I thought this would be a good thing once I got in the water.
The cannon went off and we all ran into the water, taking maybe ten steps and then diving in to start swimming. The water temperature was 61 degrees - cold, but not terrible. In practice, I was fine in my wetsuit and neoprene cap. When I dove in I didn't feel particularly cold. However, it was less than 30 seconds and my lungs started to close up and I couldn't get enough air. I didn't think I was going that hard so it must have had something to do with the water temperature and sudden entry of it. There were people everywhere around me kicking and pushing and pulling, trying to get ahead. I couldn't continue my stroke and had to stop to try to catch my breath. People continued to battle their way around me as I struggled to stay above water. I remembered what EN Coach Rich said about if you have to stop during the swim, you should backstroke so that you don't look like a buoy to the other swimmers. I flipped on my back and did backstroke while taking as deep of breaths as I could. At least I was moving this way. I was not even 5 minutes into the Ironman and I was already backstroking.
I kept alternating backstroke and freestyle until I was able to swim freestyle continuously again. It probably took about 5 minutes. Ugh. The whole rest of the way out on the first lap was super congested with people. Someone kicked me hard in the top of the head and my jaw slammed down. It was more about survival than about swimming. When I slowed down, so many people passed me that I was now in the middle of slow swimmers and it was hard to get around them. I couldn't stretch out on my stroke because I was running into people.
I thought things had already gotten ugly but when we all reached the first turn, that's when they really got ugly. It was a major crush with 2500 swimmers converging on too small of a space. The rescue boats were too far in and there was nowhere for anyone to go. We actually all STOPPED in the water and everyone had to stay still treading water for probably 15 seconds until we could move. We started moving and then 100m later at the next turn, this happened again. I was aiming for 16 minutes out to that second turn buoy and my watch said 21 minutes. Ugh. I was getting so mad at all these people for being in the way. I'm sure they were all just as mad at me.
After the first lap, my time was 37 minutes (goal 32 min). Again ugh. I was hoping I could get some clear water and decent drafting on the second lap. I didn't sight well and went too wide as I headed back out. I had clear water there, but I ended up swimming much more than I needed to. When I worked myself back onto the course, it was packed with people again and I never got any space to myself for the rest of the swim. Second lap: 39 minutes (goal 33 min). At least it was over. I needed to let it go and just focus on the rest of the day. It was disappointing and maddening but I knew the extra time it took could easily be made up with a good bike and run. Time to get my head on.
Swim time: 1:16
Goal time: 1:05