XTERRA Saipan Race Report Chapter 2: The Swim

Photo Credit: Saipan Sportsfest's Official Album

Like many of the world’s best XTERRA athletes I now know that the swim is always going to be probably my weakest discipline. As a result, not only do I accept this but I also accept like these guys and girls the need to work really very hard on the bike and run to try and compensate for this weakness.

As well finishing inside my target time of 3:45 I also wanted to finish as close as possible to Yuji Ono who I was tipping to take our age group (the 55-59 age group).

This might sound a bit defeatist but I’d remembered seeing his name in the results of last years’ XTERRA World Championships where he had come 5th in the 50-54 age group versus my 19th position when I raced in that category as a ‘young’ 50 year old. As a result, I was really grateful to be in the same race as him as a means of pushing me hopefully to new limits and to assess how much better I have become compared to the best in the world for my age group in the last five years.

The swim course was not set up until the morning of the race so none of us knew much about this. We did know it was low tide so I knew like everyone else that the start of the swim was going to be shallow for at least the 1st 50 metres.

As a result, my strategy was to run as hard and as far in the shallows as I could then and then “dolphin” as much as possible to get to the deep water as fast as possible. What I - and I think every other racer - had not anticipated though was that the water depth did not get much deeper than mid chest height and before we knew it we were all still “dolphining” as we approached the 1st buoy.  

At this point, I realized that the strategy thus far e.g. the 1st 200 metres or so, had paid off as I was at the head of a small group that was almost drafting the Pro’s!!!

As we neared the buoy and the turn I started to ready myself psychologically for the faster swimmers to start passing me as the depth after the turn to the next buoy would surely prevent “dolphining” from continuing to be an option until we rounded the 2nd buoy, some 400 metres away, and turned for the beach again on the 750m triangular swim course.

That turned out to be mostly an unnecessary thought though as the water’s depth remained pretty consistent along this stretch of water too and, as the Pro’s (who I could still amazingly see!!) were only having to swim occasionally. As a result, I also only occasionally swam and, as a consequence, thanks to my “dolphining” technique clearly being stronger than my swimming technique, I remained in the chase pack immediately behind the Pro’s.

This situation persisted on the turn back to the beach and in fact, given the rhythm that I was now getting into I had started to sense that I was in a smaller group of racers chasing the Pro’s and even nibbling away at the gap of the Pro racers in front of me. As a result, by the end of the second lap the last swimmer in the leading group ahead of me (turns out that was Carina Wasle, the eventual Ladies Champion) only exited onto the beach a little over 30 seconds ahead of me!!

Photo Credit: Lewis Santos's XTERRA Saipan Album

As I ran into transition I remember glimpsing at the race clock and seeing 18 something minutes!!! Which I confess made me grin like a Cheshire Cat! After the race I spoke with others about the swim and some of them felt a bit cheated about the fact that the swim course was so shallow.
;-) DD

In fairness to the race course designers the low tide and new sand bar that had been created after last years massive Typhoon left them with little choice unless they’d started the race some 6 hours later at high tide. This probably would not have been acceptable to the local traffic cops nor to the racers who would have then been racing in the real heat of the day with what would have been a Midday start to catch the High Tide!

Despite these facts, I did have a degree of sympathy for their point of view but I also believe that in the same way that swimming is about adapting to an environment that you are not familiar or naturally designed for, so is racing. This was demonstrated admirably by the Pro’s and, whilst I know my, Ben Allen like, swim time of 17:58 was not indicative of my usual swim times, it was in the context of the conditions being the same for everyone, ethical, fair and correct.

So with that thought in my mind of no regrets and of making the most of this better than expected start I set to work on the bike after a steady rather than stunning transition split. 

(To be continued...)


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