Monday, July 23, 2012

Grimaldo's Mile

And here's my new verse to the classic!

This summer, I've been swimming, and I might just swim some more 
Stuff my goggles cap and towel in my little swim bag and head on out the door 
Take the Q train out to Brighton Beach, and find Grimaldo's chair, 
 If it's a weekend day and you go that way, you'll find some nice folks there!

Yep, I'm not quite done with my Baltic trip reporting, but since I took a boating-safety break from that, I can't resist staying off of that topic for one more day to talk about this morning's fun, when I got up at the crack of dawn to go swim in my first swimming race since the year I joined the Sebago Canoe Club.

Photo by Rosanna Lovecchio, one of the kayak support volunteers, part of a group that came in from Jersey to help out - thanks guys, wish I'd had the energy to paddle with you after the race!

That's right - I left the boat at the club and I ran right into the water with somewhere around 200 other people for the eighth annual Grimaldo's Mile.

 The race is named after a Coney Island lifeguard who really helped out the nascent open-water swimming scene at Coney Island when the swimmers needed it - most of the other lifeguards didn't like people to swim outside the jetties that divide the beach into short segments, and would whistle them in, but he stood up for the swimmers & eventually was able to win them the right to do their long swims uninterrupted. They named their first race after him to say "Thank you" - sadly, it's now in memory of him as he passed away in 2009; what he did for CIBBOWS in some way reminds me of what John Krevey did for local paddlers, taking a sport that was considered a little out-there and giving it a chance to prove itself feasible and thrive. Click here to read a very nice tribute that was published in the Times after he passed away in 2009.

I'd actually been thinking about doing this one for a while. I finally registered maybe 3 weeks ago - I was hesitant because I actually hadn't done any serious swimming in I can't remember how long, and I wasn't sure I could still swim a whole mile, but after I got back from June's fantastic sailing adventure, I finally had a chance to go join my friends at the Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers (CIBBOWS) at Grimaldo's chair for one of their 11 am weekend swim gatherings, and set out with a group that was swimming the one-mile route.

The water was still cool enough that I found myself gasping a bit and I ended up letting the group leave me behind while I swapped back & forth between backstroke & breast stroke until I had things enough under control for the crawl stroke; I still ended up doing a lot of breast & backstroke on the eastbound leg of the swim because I'm a right-side breather on the crawl & I found looking out to sea to be sort of disconcerting and I kept going all over the place; the westbound leg, I was still slow but I was able to switch to the crawl all the way, and the current was moving nicely in the right direction, and when I got back to the start I kept going and ended up doing about a mile and a half. That was good enough for me - I signed up for the race a few days later. Didn't particularly train, but there were 2 more weekends before the race & I swam on both of them - the first weekend I was recovering from a bad cold so I kept it to a mile; the second week somebody said the tide was switching at the perfect time to swim from Grimaldo's chair to the pier & have the current turning just as you got there. That's 2 miles, which was a bit of a stretch, but I decided to give it a shot, figuring I could always land & walk back if I wanted to.- One nice thing was that there was a another relatively novice swimmer who decided to try the same thing & it turned out that we swam about the same pace, so we kept each other company. I'd also sorted out a way to "spot" while doing the crawl on the eastbound leg so there was a lot less wandering all over the place.

I had total spaghetti knees at the end but I did it - so I figured I was as ready for Grimaldo's as I was going to be.

I was up at 5:30 this morning. I'd packed up a bag the night before - nice thing about packing for swimming is that there's so little to pack, I wear my suit with shorts & a t-shirt over it and all I carry is goggles, a cap, sunscreen, and a towel, plus little money. This time I added some booties & a rashguard in case I had the energy to join paddler friends who were coming from NJ to help out as kayak support and were planning a Jamaica Bay paddle afterwards, so I ended up going from a tiny swim bag to a mid-sized backpack, but still not too much & all ready to just grab off the couch. I had an orange and some leftover lamb and rice and was out the door shortly before 6 (a quick Facebook check showed that friends who were volunteering for the race had left much earlier, of course!). That was a little late but the train didn't take too long to show up, and the Q is running express to Coney Island on weekends because of track work, so I was at the Shorefront Y around 6:20 - plenty of time, registration was running from 6:15 - 7:15. I signed in, I got my official swim cap (yellow with an octopus, fun), my ankle bracelet (a timing chip - never used one of those before but it was a nice comfy neoprene strap & I almost forgot it was there), and got my number (94) written on me. That was pretty much it so I went & hung out with the paddlers until they announced that the first bus was leaving. Registration was at the finish so we could leave all our bags there; you could walk to the start if you wanted to but they had a bus, too, which I took.

Being on the first bus meant waiting for a while, so a lot of people went for a pre-race swim. I got in to see how the water was - perfect as far as I was concerned, probably getting too warm for the real polar bears (CIBBOWS people swim all winter, not just New Year's Day!). My friend from the 2-mile swim had come down at the same time, she'd swum the day before and said it was very choppy, but we had beautiful conditions for race day - temperature was supposed to go up to a beach-day-perfect 85 or so, and the water was very calm.

The beach gradually filled up with yellow-capped swimmers, and shortly after 8 am, Patricia Sener, the organizer, called us all together to give us pre-race instructions. She had a nice little chart showing the race course - it was pretty simple, one buoy at the start, another at the finish, both to be kept to, on your left :D!...with the swim running parallel to the shore. Kayaks were in charge of keeping swimmers off of the jetties; jet skis were patrolling the outside boundary & could pick swimmers up if something went wrong, and then outside of the jetskis there was a perimeter of NY harbor police who were there to keep motorboats from wandering into the swim. The final set of volunteers were actually in the water with us - "angels", or buddy swimmers, these were certified lifeguards who were all highly experienced open-water swimmers - instantly identifiable by their neon-pink caps, they swam along with the pack watching for people who looked like they needed moral support (I saw a lot of them because I ended up being close to the end of the pack, which is where the people who might need encouragement are :( , but they would listen when I would say I was doing fine. I guess just being able to stop and say "No, really, I'm fine, I'm just really slow" is a good sign.

The swim start was everybody going off all at once and Patricia suggested that less experienced swimmers position themselves at the back or off to the side to avoid getting trampled - good call! Even doing that, there were still a lot of people around, and it was a challenge trying to find space. I'd really found myself enjoying the rather solitary swimming I'd been doing in the last three weeks - comfortably puttering along at my own pokey pace, looking at the spider crabs running around on the bottom, seeing the occasional other swimmer but more or less on my own with plenty of space - suddenly sharing the water with 200 other people took a little getting used to!

The other thing that made the swim much harder than I'd expected was the sun. The CIBBOWS swims on the weekends collect at 10 AM and there's usually a good bit of chitchat before the swimming actually starts, so the sun has climbed pretty high. My 2-mile swim, in fact, I was experimenting (with a fair amount of success) with using the sun as a guide on the eastbound leg - I'd figured out how to swivel my head a little further forward occasionally so I could see the Marine Park Bridge or the white building at the end of Brighton Beach & know I was going generally in the right direction; I would also throw in the occasional left-side breaths to see where I was along the route (you pass the amusement parks, then the aquarium, then when you get down to Brighton Beach you see a gazebo, and then there's a restroom, and the next gazebo after that is where Grimaldo's chair is & you're done, yay)!

With an 8 am start, though, the sun was still very low & right in the direction we were swimming (which had been determined by the current) and jeeze, between that and the slightly blurry goggles (I use a little spit to keep mine from fogging) it was impossible to see ANYTHING. I could see just enough when I would try to sight down the shore to know that I was going in more or less the right direction, but once I was past the Aquarium I couldn't see any of my further-off landmarks, and in fact as I was swimming, I might see a large dark object, but I wouldn't know whether it was a kayak, a jet ski, or a further-off police launch unless I paused to peer at it. Also seemed like the kayaks weren't always on the inside of the course where we'd been told they'd be - later on it became apparent that that was because I was so close to the end that paddlers were peeling off of their assigned spots ("just off the jetties", we'd been told) & following the race down, but at first that was very confusing. Eventually Deanna from Urban Swim (who's an excellent swimmer but also a friend from Sebago and who was doing kayak support for this one) and one of the "angels" clearly attached themselves to me, taking up positions to my right where I could see them - once I knew they were guiding me I gave up on trying to figure out where I was & just settled down to swim. A little frustrating because my "angel" was able to chat with Deanna as we moved along, and with both of them attending to me I knew I had to be pretty close to last place (and as another swimmer had said on the bus, "No matter how much you say you're just in it to finish, it's still hard to remember that when you run into the water with all those people"), but it still simplified things immensely having these 2 people right there & just not having to worry about any of the other blurs off in the glare!

Eventually I did grab a left-side breath and saw the first gazebo (phew!) and right around the same time Deanna pointed with her paddle - I paused, pulled up my goggles, and squinted & was finally able to make out the buoy. Couldn't see it at all when I put my goggles back on, but after a while I started catching glimpses.

Tried to pick up the pace - a little too soon - buoy was farther out from the beach and it was a longer swim in than I'd realized, but I did eventually see the person in front of me stand up, and a minute later I did too, and I actually managed to do a wobbly-legged run to the finish line without falling on my face. Woohoo!

Back to the Shorefront Y for the post-race food & festivities, then home. It would've been a lovely day for a paddle with my friends from Jersey, but somehow that mile swim felt a lot longer than the others I'd done & I was wiped out - but I finished, hooray!


BrooklynMermaid said...

Wonderful to have you Bonnie! I like what you did with the card. Is it time for me to come the other side (and come out for a paddle?)

bonnie said...

That was actually my T-shirt! At the time I started on the post, Rosanna hadn't started posting her pictures to Facebook. My waterproof camera is off having some maintenance done (it was past due for the suggested waterproof gasket replacement and water was starting to get into the battery compartment, and I'm hoping they can replace the scratched lens too) but I was trying to come up with something I could put on the post using my Lumix & this was what I came up with.

Let me know if you'd like to come out for a paddle at Sebago sometime, that would be fun!

Deanne Draeger said...

Well done, Bonnie! I had a GREAT time out there with you. So fun to be on the water with my kayak teacher on a swim. :) (Not many people are sailor/kayaker/swimmer...rock on water woman!)

bonnie said...

Thanks! Hey, should I let you know when BrooklynMermaid comes paddling? Love to have you along!

Deanne Draeger said...

Absolutely! Always happy to go for a paddle!