This weekend Mauricio and I did a 6.5K race in Cadaques, Spain. Driving up from Barcelona on Friday, we checked the official Facebook page and saw that the weather was treacherous thanks to the infamous “Tramontana” winds. There was lots of talk about what the Plan B route would be. Sure enough, it was so windy that the door kept slamming shut while I tried to drag my wetsuit and daughters out of the car and into the hotel. For dinner all I could eat was buttered spaghetti due to nerves.
Saturday morning we went to the meeting place where we got the news that Plan A was in effect. “Good,” I thought, for no particular reason. At the start, we ran into some friends who had swam the Straits this summer, all giant bulls who combine these long swim races with Ironmans. They were all cracking jokes (one kept asking his friends to help him cram all his manhood in his wetsuit because it was too hard for just one person to manage it) and I just laughed along, adding nothing. People have different ways of coping with pre-race nerves, I guess!
We jumped into a little cove near Cap de Creus and swam 60 meters out, awaiting the bullhorn as we treaded water. It was so cold that my first couple of breaths were short and stilted. We were 650 people in the water- the mob mentality thick in the air. I never heard the bullhorn sound, I only saw people starting to furiously sprint so I took off.
My intent was to try and stay with Mauricio, but it was impossible. News flash: if you are a single lady looking to meet tall, muscular men by the droves, I have found the mother lode. Hundreds of them do these swims. When the horn blows and you start swimming, you are so tightly packed together that you have men on top of you, around you, and below you stroking the entire length of your leg or back. I know it’s unintentional, but still.
I have a theory about gender differences at the break out of races: men are clueless and women are feisty. Men lumber and have no problem with personal space issues. Women get pissed if someone is taking a stroke on top of them. I might be one of the worst- I really don’t like it. A number of times huge men flanked either side of me, boxing me in and I had no place to go. Claustrophobia sets in and panic signals shoot through my body. I think I am going to drown. I begin to elbow and kick dramatically—and they slowly galumph away—but I have just exerted a lot of energy to claim my spot. So, I should amend my statement, if you are a single woman and don’t mind drowning, this is it! But if you are a female swimmer and have no intention of meeting a man while racing a 6.5K in the Mediterranean, I advise you to swim at the outermost point of the mob.
The open water was absurdly wavy: a number of times I took a breath and saw the head of a fellow swimmer half a meter above or below me. In less wavy conditions- I see people in front or behind me! These conditions are horrible for keeping your orientation- it’s like the concept of “sea level” is awry. It’s also easy to take a breath and suck in a mouthful of salty water. My friend Elizabeth asked me about this the other day, so for a good 45 minutes while I swam I thought about how I avoid it. Now I think I know the secret: you open your mouth but don’t actually breathe in until you see that there isn’t a wall of water in your face.
When I wasn’t fighting for my spot or thinking about breathing techniques, I mainly thought about how cold I was and was mildly aware of the Rihanna song stuck on repeat in my brain: “We found love in a hopeless place.” Friends, I’m sharing with you a glimpse into the mind of a long distance swimmer: it’s a rattled mixture of not drowning, not freezing, not choking, and hopeless places… Ha!- as I write this, it reminds me of a sentence from that hilarious video—The Irish Sailing Commentary video— when he says the part about people watching “what is essentially a very, very boring sport indeed”.
At last we rounded the final bend and I could make out a watery white church in the distance. I put my head down and sprinted as hard as I could for the last 1000 meters. Boy, did I want to finish. I caught up with a guy and the two of us raced to the end- breathing every stroke in synch, pushing ourselves harder and harder until our hands hit the sand and we could finally put our bodies upright and run to the finish. And I was pretty darn happy with the results: I came in 2nd in the 40+ age group and 10th overall for women (out of 148) with a 1:43 finish—and there were 3 women from the Spanish Olympic Team! Mauricio came in before with a 1:41- an excellent time. The best part of it was what it did for my confidence. Little by little, my doubts about being able to cross the Straits are starting to fade.
My daughters loved my 2nd place throphy… and I was super proud of my oldest daughter who participated in Marnaton Kids!