IMAZ Recap Part 1: Underwater battle arena

aka, the swim.

So there we were, 4am on race morning. I got up, choked down a bagel with nutella spread and did my usual getting dressed thing. I actually managed to get some sleep the night before, so the day started on a good note. That’s one thing that’s surprised me the most about this adventure…I always thought I’d be stressed to the max and be an emotional mess for this race, but I had my rollercoastering and nerve wreck moments earlier in the week, then it was like I got it out of my system and from then on I was eerily calm and able to focus on the task at hand.

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Left the hotel about an hour later with the aim to get to T1 by 5:30, leaving me an hour to prepare before transition closed. I dropped off my run and bike special needs bags where I ran into Coeur teammate Jeanna! It was so great to see her and she was radiating energy and positivity. Then I went back to double check my run and bike gear bags (they were left overnight in transition), checked the tire pressure on my bike, loaded up my bike hydration and nutrition and tried to find the shortest porta potty line.

Tip #1: The ones inside transition had lines 5 miles long, and they were probably very unpleasant due to race morning athlete stress (ahem). I went back outside of transition and used the spectator/expo area porta potties. Still a line, but much more manageable.

Tip #2: Don’t forget to BYOTP race morning. Practically every stall ran out of toilet paper but luckily Norm had some tissues with him – way to save the day!!

That was pretty much all the time I had. I slithered into my wetsuit, said good bye to Norm and gave him all my morning clothes stuff. They announced at 6:30 that the swim start was now open, so I made my way to the far side, found a nice corner and waited.

Due to the nature of the lake and its limitations on entry/exit, IMAZ is one of the few races where they still do a mass swim start. Since it’s self seeded, coach told me to get in about 2/3 of the way back to avoid getting crushed (too hard). So I waited till most of the athletes had come out of transition and through the swim start. I waited till the sea of caps turned from 99% green (ie guys) to 30% pink, and was amazed the whole time at just how few women were out there. There was another lady who had the exact same idea as me, and we hung out till the crowd had thinned out enough.

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Once you get in the water via the steel stairs of death, there is a 200m swim to the actual start line, but most people just crowd around somewhere between the two. I used that short swim as a warm up, knowing I tend to freak out right at the start. The water was a little choppy, but mostly from everyone stirring it up. It took a minute or two but miraculously I got my nerves together and managed to calm down enough.

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But really, there’s only one choice here.

We still had a few minutes before the cannon went off, so I found a kayak in the mess and held on for dear life. No way was I gonna waste precious energy treading water! A few others noticed and soon we had a little island of floating people. Apparently we weren’t the smart ones though, because these guys were just chilling on the sea wall!

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I couldn’t hear very well with my swim cap on, but there was a lot of talking going on over the microphone. Were they singing the national anthem? I couldn’t even tell. After a while we heard the cannon go off, and just like in Hunger Games, so were we.

So this race has a bit of a notorious start. In addition to the mass start, the lake basically feels like a canal and is pretty narrow for 3000 athletes. Everyone’s warned me about the first part and how brutal it would be. It’s basically exactly like this commercial.

What they didn’t tell me was that it would feel like this THE ENTIRE WAY. I did find clear water from time to time and in fact, I made a game out of doing that and trying to dodge people. It kept my mind occupied and made the swim go by much faster.

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(Photo from Ironman.com)

I started out going slower than I thought I needed to, just to let others settle into their space. When I did feel my chest constrict, I’d let myself breathe for an extra split second and exhaled fully. Water temperature was perfect, I would guess somewhere in the high 60’s. Over time I passed more and more people, despite getting pushed and shoved and decked in the face (I swear someone cut my lip on that swim). Another time I looked up to sight and realized I had jabbed some guy right between the legs. Sorry guy. It was especially brutal around the turn buoys. Don’t bother actually trying to swim here, putting your face in the water can be dangerous.

Miraculously, I made it out in 1:20:50. Not bad for starting way behind the start line! I even managed to swim mostly straight.

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I forced myself to pee one last time, swam to the stairs, grabbed the loopy handrail and sat my butt on the bottom step. Volunteer helped me up and I was off to wetsuit stripping.

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Even in my frantic state of mind I remembered to tell the volunteer “don’t pull the arms!!”. I’m so paranoid because I love my Roka wetsuit and the arm/shoulder area is thinner than the rest of the suit and I’m worried about ripping it. After that I made the short run into T1. The morning was a little chilly and breezy and I couldn’t wait to dry off!

Stay tuned for more IMAZ 2014…

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