Monday, June 9, 2014

Great Chesapeake Bay Bridge Swim 2014

I was fortunate to compete in the 2014 Great Chesapeake Bay Bridge Swim yesterday. The event is a 4.4 mile swim across Chesapeake Bay, under the double spans of the bridge. The event has been running for over thirty years and is a benefit for the March of Dimes. 600 swimmers compete each year and must enter a lottery and then submit a qualifying time to participate. After several years of getting shut out of the lottery, I finally got in this year. My MIT Masters teammate Rafael also got in, so I had a veteran of the race to guide me, along with all my other swim friends who have done this race in the past.

I soaked up advice from coach Bill and the others who participated. Two themes emerged: One, have fun during the swim because it's long; and two, when you think you are done and reached land, think again. Both proved to be worth heeding!

The day was warm (80) and so was the water (74-75 at start and finish, 72 in middle). My training plan included a wetsuit, and the race directors recommended a wetsuit, but a wetsuit did not seem necessary given the warm temps. Still, I didn't know how cool it would get in the middle so I opted for my wetsuit. Many others did as well but there were quite a few who did not, including Rafael. At the pre-race meeting the race director said that the conditions were ideal for the day, and looking out at the water it was hard to argue with that. The race went off in two waves, mine being the second with about 300 swimmers. It was a scrum for the first 30 minutes but once we got under the bridge I was amazed at how much room we had. Driving over the bridge it looks like the two spans are nearly touching, but under the bridge it seems like a mile!

I tried to follow the advice of the director with regard to the currents and stayed to the left initially, then in the middle, then to the right. But the truth is it was much rougher than I ever imagined, and at certain points I felt like I was surfing the waves, and not always riding them in the right direction! I wasn't able to pick up a group but tried to draft off of a couple of swimmers when I could and helped others when they needed a draft. This is one thing I love about open water swims, that the swimmers are conscientious of other swimmers and, in my experience, do not try to swim over or purposefully elbow other swimmers.

Toward the end of the race as we left the bridge I expected it to be tough and it was. It almost felt like swimming in an endless pool and it was a struggle to get through the current and towards land. I was dizzy upon exiting the water but it was all worth it to see my sisters, brother in law, and niece and nephews there to greet me. I was very happy with my swim and met my goal, finishing in one hour, fifty eight minutes and six seconds. Full results are here.

Yet there was tragic news from the race. A 58 year old man died during the competition, someone who had done this race dozens of times. This was not the case of an amateur getting into something too much to handle. It sounds like he had a medical incident and was unable to be revived. I am sure the race support did everything they could. I'm so sad for his family and they are in my prayers.

This was a very well run event, from the initial lottery entry to the race execution. The support on the course was unparalleled, from the coast guard, private boats serving as rescue boats for tired swimmers, kayakers, feed stations, even a helicopter. They shut down the shipping channel during the race as well. I recommend it as a destination race to all open water swimmers. Most thanks goes to my family for being there, which made the experience so much more fun!
My swim wave

Awesome support crew!

Rafael and me relaxing at start

Hot times in the wetsuit!