Race Report: Swim Miami 2011

My second visit to the Nike Swim Miami went much better than the first, even if my time (2:27:51) didn’t really reflect it. I felt strong from start to finish and held my stroke rate consistently in the high 60’s / low 70’s. Even accounting for slight navigational errors, 2:27-high seems way off - even more so considering the favorable (if somewhat warm) conditions and buoyantly saline water.

Pre-race with college roommate and swim team-mate John

Pre-race with college roommate and swim team-mate John

The course was probably a bit longer than 2K - and then compounded over 5 laps. But that’s just the nature of the game in open water. Who knows what times mean. Even, apparently, with a closed-loop course under neutral conditions.

So how else to judge my swim, if not by time?

  • My “2K” splits were consistent - 27:49, 29:37, 30:02, 30:07, 30:17. Almost certainly my best-split 10K OW.
  • I nailed my nutrition: 150-calorie carb drink at 2/4/6/8K, supplemented with 90-calorie gels at 4K & 6K. Plenty of energy throughout (thanks to my wife who spent 2+ hours sitting on a dock in UV-Index-10 sun with a bunch of coaches).
  • The 10K field was almost identical to last year’s. 62 swimmers, split about 50/50 between USA-S and USMS. 6-8 super-elite / professional / national-team types at the top.
  • Last year, I finished 27/62 overall and 9th among Masters swimmers. This year, I was 14/62 overall and 1st among Masters. (A 32-year old guy finished 3rd overall but didn’t swim with the Masters wave. He’s also a 4-time Olympian).
  • Last year, I was 34 minutes behind the winner. This year, I was 22 minutes behind.
mmm, delicious sugar and electrolytes

mmm, delicious sugar and electrolytes

Did I forget to mention they separated USA-S and Masters swimmers into different waves? Last year, everyone started at the same time - which is a big part of this event’s appeal. When else can you race (or get lapped by) the likes of Alex Meyer and Eva Fabian?

This year, they announced 5 minutes before the race that USA-S men would start, followed by USA-S women, followed by Masters swimmers (men and women). The division was based purely on registration. So if I had registered with USA-S the day before the race, then signed up for the 10K using my USA-S number, I could have swum with the USA-S wave. And had I known, I would have.

But alas, I’m only registered with USMS! The result? I led the Masters wave from the start, swam by myself for about 9K, and finished almost 4 minutes ahead of the next person. Am I the only one frustrated by this decision? Would Eva Fabian have preferred to swim with the men? Who knows. But I didn’t come to Miami to swim a time trial.

Let’s see, what else… I got some great navigation practice. There were moored boats everywhere - often blocking lines of sight to the buoys. These boats tended to drift slightly with each lap, so the “sighting landscape” was constantly changing. Not a big deal if you’re making 90-degree turns (as indicated on the course layout posted on the web). But on race day, the course had all sorts of strange angles, while still being vaguely four-sided. I assume this was due to boats obstructing the pre-planned path. I guess that’s what happens when you decide to hold a swim race in a marina.

An only slightly exaggerated representation of the course layout

An only slightly exaggerated representation of the course layout

When I crossed under the finish banner for the 5th and final time, I checked with the nearest race official to make sure my timing chip had registered. When it fell off my wrist in the first 500m, I had stashed it down my suit (basically in my butt crack) rather than trying to re-affix it while treading water. Ordinarily I’d prefer to wrap a timing chip around my ankle (and the person handing them out pre-race had said this was OK), but the starting official insisted on wrists. Anyway, when I explained this to the official at the finish, his response was, “If this were a FINA race, you would have been DQ’d. If the chip falls off you have to stop and put it back on.”

Really? What if the chip fell off and I couldn’t find it? What if I stashed it in my suit at the start and then put it back on my wrist after the finish, but without telling anyone? How do you enforce something like this? As it turned out, the chip (despite sitting in my butt crack) registered all 5 laps.

(Incidentally, I heard others had problems with their timing chips falling off. I’m guessing this is because the straps were designed for ankles, not wrists. The wrist-chips I see in photos of FINA races are much sleeker.)

On a different topic, I heard the “live feed” was an epic failure. Sorry to those of you who tried to watch, especially those who may have gotten up early on the west coast to do so.

That evening, my wife and I had a wonderful evening in Coconut Grove with some friends we don’t see nearly often enough. I had succeeded in baiting John (an attorney with the Coast Guard) into swimming the 10K, despite minimal recent training. He has a knack for these things, though. He and his brother Matt completed a 60-mile circumnavigation of Lake Tahoe a few years ago.

On the flight home I caught a glimpse out the window of Tampa Bay. Even from 30,000 feet, it fills an airplane window. I could easily spot Pinellas Point, the St. Petersburg pier, the Gandy and Frankland bridges, and Rocky Point. And I wondered what they look like from the water.