My alarm went off at 545 AM. I got ready, double and triple checking to make sure I wasn't forgetting anything. I had my infinite Mud with some whole foods bread for breakfast. I mixed my Hammer Perpetuem and filled my other two water bottles and got my suit on. I made it down to my car around 630 AM, loaded everything up and hit the road. The drive wasn't bad, about 25-30 min. Check-in was from 7-8 AM. Tom, my pilot, planned to be at the beach by 7, so I wanted to get there around then so we could chat and hang out a bit before the pre-race meeting. I arrived around 7:05, parked and headed down to check in. I ran into Tom as I was headed to the check in table and he was helping carry a kayak. So, once I got my packet and his I headed to the beach to meet up with him. It was beautiful there. A perfect day to be at the beach. Not too sunny, not raining (yet) and a perfect temperature. His kayak was green and he had an orange flag with a white slash on it so I could spot it easier. It also helped that he was wearing a yellow shirt. He really did a great job making sure I'd be able to spot him. He introduced me to his wife and her relay teammate, along with another relay team he knew. We took talked a bit about what I'd need from him and that sort of thing, then we headed to our cars to get what we needed. I put my race shirt in my car, then got rid of my clothes and grabbed my nutrition, dry bag, and sunscreen and met Tom at his car. We figured out the cooler situation, then I went to get body marked. My race number was 116 (they went alphabetical and men had the lower numbers). In addition to my number being on my cap, it was also put on my arms and back. I saw Lisa while I was there, and Fred was floating around too. After body marking, I went back down to the beach to put my sunscreen on and take some pictures with Tom and friends before the race meeting.
Before I knew it, the meeting was over and all the swimmers were lining up as the pilots made their way out into the Gulf. I was starting to be glad the male solo swimmers went off before the women, it would be easier to find Tom once the pilots thinned out a bit. It's weird, I wasn't nervous to swim this race, not even waiting on the waters edge for the race to start. I was excited. I was ready. The officials counted us down and away we went. I didn't even notice if the water felt cold, so it must have been a perfect temperature, not too cold and not hot either. My initial face plunge into the water my goggles got a little water in them, so I quickly corrected them and set out to find Tom. I think it was just that the sunscreen on my face kept them from suctioning to my face, cause even though they slowly got water in them, it got better throughout the race. No biggie. In the picture you can see me fixing my goggles. I'm the super white one near the front.
I found Tom faster than I thought I would. I may have even seen him before he saw me. Once we met up and got going the pack thinned out a bit, which I was grateful for. There were more waves than I thought there would be, and Tom's kayak even flipped at one point, along with a few others. It was early on and there were still a lot of people kind of close together, so it was hard for him to get perpendicular to the waves without running over me or into someone else. He was alright though. I slowed down a bit and kept an eye on him to be sure. He caught back up with me fairly quickly and since everything was attached to the kayak, nothing got lost. My stroke felt smooth and before I knew it he was waving at me at the 30 minute mark to get some nutrition. That went by really quickly. I took a swig of my nutrition and a swig of water. I emptied my goggles and went on my way. The first few miles went by quick and I felt really good. No pain anywhere, I was having fun. There was a short stretch that was fairly calm and Tom was able to take a short video of my swimming, which was awesome of him. He posted it to his Facebook page and tagged me in it, so you can find it there. (https://www.facebook.com/tom.dougherty.12177/videos/1330601980361737/) Here's a picture of me swimming behind Tom in his kayak.
Tom was a super awesome pilot. He knew the course from having swam it a couple years before. He was observant of the conditions and let me know when I should fuel early or late, and he stayed close by so that I didn't have to site forward much. He was great! Here's a picture of him I think his wife took from her kayak before the start of the race.
The race went really smooth and easy until about mile 5 or 6. Then it got hard. It seemed like I wasn't really moving much. I don't think it was the tide as much as the waves making it difficult. I kicked a lot more in that section just to feel like I was making progress. It was rough. By the time I got to the last mile I was looking forward to finishing. It was hard to see the finish because of the waves, so I had to rely on Tom. I felt like I was swimming out into the Gulf the entire mile, but it was just because I was swimming parallel to the waves so I had to swim into them a bit. I skipped my last nutrition stop which wasn't bad. It would have been rough to stop at that point anyway. I did stop to ask Tom how far at one point, he said about a quarter of a mile. 400 meters. About 500 yards. That means about 7 minutes or so. I got this. I put my head down and stayed with Tom until I saw the final yellow buoy. Game on! There were two other pink caps nearby. I wasn't about to get passed at the end. I wanted to do the passing. I sprinted through the white buoys and when it was shallow enough, stood up and ran across the finish line. Here's a couple of picture of that sequence thanks to the race photographer Mike Carbonaro. I'm the pink cap on the right in the first picture. You can see how close it was. Time-wise, I beat the other two women by 2 seconds.
I have to say, the volunteers were pretty great. They handed the finishers a bottle of water and their medal as they crossed the finish line, and removed the timing chips. One woman also helped Tom carry his kayak the rest of the way to his car when she saw me carrying it with him afterward. Here's a shot Tom got of me as I was walking over to him right after I finished. My eyes were closed, but I was happy and tired. You can see the finish line arch in the background. It was pretty awesome!
This race was a huge success. I had a blast, my pilot was awesome, and it was run really well. It helps that I finished in under 3 hours and placed in my AG, but those were secondary to having fun. Tom was an amazing pilot and better than I ever expected! I could not have done this race without him and that's no exaggeration.
Once Tom got his kayak to his car, I went back to mine to grab my towel and go change my clothes. No deck change with a tech suit. There was a bathroom/changing room near the parking lot so it was quick and easy to change. Afterward, I made my way back down to the beach for more festivities.
Now, the other exciting thing about this race was that I got to see my friend Angel, who I hadn't seen in 15-20 years. She lives in Bradenton, which is near Sarasota and when she saw I was going to be there she came out to see me. It was great to see her again! It was a running hug kind of reunion. Those are the best kind. We were able to sit and catch up after the race while we were waiting for the awards to get started. I was also able to get some food in my system too. Fred and Lisa joined us as the table. It was like I was at a local race with friends, which I enjoyed so much. Angel and I didn't miss a beat, and we fully intend on getting together more often with Chris and I visiting Disney so often there will be ample opportunity. Here's a picture of Angel and I that Fred took of us before she headed out.
On to the awards. I ended up 9th overall female, so the race to the finish was definitely worth it! Top 5 got trophies, and the trophies were really cool. Only one of the finishers ahead of me was younger than I am and that's the woman who won. That same woman also beat all the men, which is awesome! Okay, so for the final results. My final time was 2:55:34 (1:24/100 yd pace or roughly 25 min/mi). I got 2nd in my age group. Here a picture of me with my USMS National Championship second place medal.
Now, after I got back home to Raleigh and was looking at things a little closer, I realized that the age determination rules had changed for 2017 and since the woman who got first in my AG (she was second overall) ages up this year, technically that means I placed first in my AG. What that will mean as far as awards goes I'm not sure, but USMS will apparently be sorting that all out soon. Now, if I am correct, then not only would I get first place points toward my goal of making the All-Star Team for 2017, but I would also be the All-American in my AG for the Marathon Distance Open Water National Championships. An unexpected award that is really pretty cool. I hope that all works out that way, but we will see. I don't want to get my hopes up too much yet. Who knows, maybe I'll even have to send in my medal in exchange for a patch! I honestly never expected to get first place in any of the National Championship races and the hardware doesn't really matter as much as the points do, but it would be nice.
So, for anyone looking to do a marathon swim, this is a fantastic one to do. It's well run, beautiful, and just a lot of fun. I hope I get to do it again in the future.
Followup: USMS results are posted and I'm the National Champion of the 30-34 Age Group for the Marathon Distance race! Results here: http://www.usms.org/longdist/ldnats17/7miresultssolo.pdf