Anyway, it was a tough race, but still enjoyable in places. The first four miles were, I think, the nicest stretch of a race I've ever swum. The current was so fast that I knocked off the first two miles in about 30 minutes (twice my normal speed!) and it was really neat to swim past those tranquil-looking islands and under the huge Long Island Bridge. Apparently Boston Harbor and its islands are actually a protected state park, which I didn't know, so everything was very clean and nice to look at and swim through. I didn't keep checking my watch and obsessing over when it would be time to stop for a feed, the way I often do - I just wanted to keep on going. And Mike, my boater, was absolutely great all day long. I hired him less than three days before the race, but he turned out to be perfect - showed up early, kept a sense of humor all day, never complained about his difficulties with the boat, and had nothing but positive things to say to me. I honestly could not have asked for anything more. (Ha, see, he thinks I'm only saying that because I know he's reading... but he'd be wrong! ;))
Anyway, those first few miles were great, but things got tough once we passed under the bridge (the halfway point). The wind kicked up again full force, choppy waves were breaking over me, and Thompson's Island just didn't seem to get any closer, no matter how hard and long I swam. My morale was flagging, and when we got almost to the edge of the island (to almost the six-mile mark) Mike said to me, "This wind and current are so strong that we're not going anywhere. You might have to zigzag - maybe swim into that shore," he pointed to the shore of Thompson's Island, "into about four feet of water and see if it lets up a little over there." I did as he said, but I could tell by gauging my process on the rocks that I still wasn't really moving. I could see the bottom, vague and misty beneath me, and it was going by so slowly that I might as well have been swimming on a treadmill. I was getting really frustrated because I'd felt so good through the entire race - the first long-distance race in which I hadn't been even the slightest bit seasick - and now it looked like I wasn't going to finish because of the damn wind and current - exactly like what had happened in Key West in June, when we were swimming through the beginnings of the tropical storm. I really, really didn't want that to happen again, but it was out of my control.
After another half hour of swimming, alternating between halfhearted and furiously determined, we rounded the island, out of the worst of the chop. I still wasn't really moving, but at least I could see the Boston skyline across from me, and even glimpse the building I was supposed to finish at. I couldn't decide whether seeing my goal helped or just frustrated me more. Then I saw two male soloists, who'd been sharing a boat, climb out of the water and cling to the back as the boat headed toward shore. "Are they quitting?" I asked Mike, a little surprised.
"Yeah, they're heading in," he confirmed.
Can't I go with them? part of me wanted to beg. My shoulders were starting to hurt. But I kept swimming.
Once I was nearly centered on the L Street Bathhouse, able to see exactly where I was supposed to be going, I felt like we had no choice but to try for it. I knew the tide was going to turn in a little over an hour, and I had to make my best effort before it did. "We're going to have to try something," Mike agreed, sounding as frustrated as I was, and we moved out into open water.
Somehow, miraculously, the water loosened its grip. The wind slacked off. We started moving again, the way we were supposed to have been all along. I knew the faster swimmers would have long been into shore - they wouldn't have been caught in this. The water temperature dropped again, down from 64 F to about 61 F (but still not quite the frigid 59 F it had been at the start). I kept looking back at Thompson's Island to confirm that we were, in fact, still moving away from it. The Coast Guard came up to Mike at one point - to check on me, I'm assuming - then went away again. "Did they say how long we have left?" I called.
"About a mile, mile and a quarter - mile and a half at most."
"Can I have one more drink?" I asked.
After slugging back some plain water, I 'got the bit between my teeth', as they say, and took off. I stopped lifting my head to see my goal, stopped doing breaststroke every few minutes out of sheer boredom, stopped checking my watch. I started counting breaths - stroke, stroke, stroke-breathe (one), stroke, stroke, stroke-breathe (two), and so forth. Every 50 breaths, I allowed myself a peek at the mainland. And, lo and behold, it was getting closer! Stroke, stroke, stroke-breathe. I think I repeated those 50 strokes about 12 times (by my calculations, about 1800 yards). Stroke, stroke, stroke-breathe.
Finally, finally, the beach was there in front of me. My shoulders hurt, my back hurt from picking my head up, and I just wanted to be done. I thought, As soon as I finish this race, I'll be on my way HOME! The pain in my shoulders started to dissipate. Then, floating a little ways below me, I saw the outline of a jellyfish. Yikes. That certainly made me pick up the pace!
"Come on, Jess, bring it in, swim in!" Fred was hollering from the beach. I saw the bottom below me and tried to stand up. I felt wobbly, like a toddler just learning to walk. "Come on!" he yelled again. I dropped back down and swam a few more strokes, marveling, after eight miles, at how much more natural swimming felt than standing on my own two feet.
And then I was in, and it was over. I tried to smile and raise my arms over my head for the camera. Then I got to take off my goggles and my cap, drink some water, attempt to eat a cracker, marvel at how difficult it was to chew and talk properly through my shivering and salt-water-mouth... and take a long, blissfully hot shower. The moment I shut off the water, I started shivering harder than ever, and the walk back into the thigh-deep water to climb back aboard the boat was excruciating - but once I was on the boat, out of the water, with a warm jacket on and a towel around me, I felt great, really proud of myself for finishing. I'd wanted to do this race for two years, and I'd done it!
(...And then I got to drive HOME!)
The other highlight of my weekend was meeting Robin and Lillianna. We met at a mall in Boston on Friday afternoon and did all the usual mall activities - lunch, shopping, chatting, etc. Lillianna showed me the Build-A-Bear store and the pet store, and since all three of us are big readers, we spent a lot of time in the bookstore, too, reminiscing over books we liked. I had to leave around 17:30 to go to the prerace dinner, but I met up with them again at their apartment and spent the night with them. (I actually got lost on the way there... I think the only time I didn't get lost, throughout all my Boston driving, was when I was leaving it!) I had a great time with them - I've been in touch with Robin for almost three years and have been hearing about Lillianna since she was just six years old, so it was really neat to finally be able to put faces with the names and online personas. A lot of our Internet contacts do know each other in real life, but Robin and I aren't among them. ("You're our first 'real person'!" she told me excitedly, making me laugh.) I also brought Lillianna's 'Flat Lilly' home with me, and she'll travel around with me for another week or so before heading back to Massachusetts.
All in all, a great weekend. (I caught a cold from my cabinmates at Laurel, but we'll ignore that.) And now... I have three more days until the next 'life chapter' begins, and I go to Chapel Hill! Good times.