High Cliff, on the northern shores of Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin, is a beautiful state park with a marina, swim beach, playground, campground, and many other features. And once a year, it plays host to 1100 triathletes for both a sprint and half-IM triathlons. This year, we were blessed with clear skies, calm water, and great conditions.
For me, the festivities started on Saturday when I volunteered at registration. It was there that I first met George and Michelle in person. Iron Wil and Stu arrived later in the day, and everyone invaded my house for dinner. It was a great time, and there was plenty of pasta and fellowship for all. Having George as a guest was a huge benefit. He shared plenty of tips and suggestions, all of which helped ensure I had a successful first half-IM.
On Sunday, I woke up at 3:30 a.m. and started getting ready. My traditional pre-race breakfast of bagel and eggs with 20 ounces of Gatorade got me going. Because I was up a bit early, I departed from the norm and took a warm shower and got dressed. Following George's lead, I had my gels taped to the top tube of The Pol-R Express, so I went with my tri-tank. Due to a casualty with my tri shorts, I had to go with a worn pair of shorts with a Speedo underneath. And order new tri shorts.
We loaded up our gear, made sure we had everything, and headed out the door just after 5 a.m. Once at the park, we got body marked, picked up our chips, and headed out for a short ride to make sure the bikes were good to go. I set up transition and got in a quick run to loosen up the legs. After a tri club picture, I got into my wetsuit and headed to the lake for warm-up. In a lucky move, I opted to head backwards on the course and loop around to see what the finish would look like. I learned it would look like a big ball of fire, as the sun was shining directly in our faces on that leg.
Shortly before the race started, I ran back up to the transition area when Stu mentioned someone had stolen his swim cap. They were mandatory, and I had spares. So, I got to see what the run out of the water was going to feel like. And Stu got to race legal.
Soon enough, the swim started, and I gained valuable knowledge watching the first five waves go out. Too many people were walking for deeper water. But in a lake that is 19 feet at the absolute deepest point, you could walk the whole first leg and never loose contact with the bottom. So, when my wave lined up, I went to the back and outside. When the horn sounded, I simply worked my way out and avoided all the idiots walking the swim. I didn't pass them. But I did get to swim until they decided to give up the hike. As we approached the first turn, I headed back into the main swim lane. After the turn, I started running into a couple of breast strokers. It's amazing how much force can be generated by the kick of a breast stroking swimmer.
After the second turn, things got more interesting. The sun was now in my eyes when breathing, and the bouy was so far away that it was nearly impossible to see. So, I swam using lines of swimmers as a guide. That is fraught with potential for disaster, but I figured everyone else had to be doing the same thing. After the third turn, sighting was impossible because we were looking directly into the sun. A friendly lifeguard kept me from going too far off course, and I managed to make it to the finish without too many issues.
Overall, the swim went very well. I did freestyle the entire distance and sighted much more effectively than I have in the past, thanks to the suggestions of a coach who spoke to our tri club and gave some hints on that. At no time did I become "claustrophobic" due to the murky water, and I maintained a very steady effort. At the end of the swim, if someone had told me I had to complete a second loop, I could have done it. I would have been bored the entire time, and I would have been very tired at the end, but I could have completed the second lap.
After standing up, I started stripping my arms out of the wetsuit as I headed for shore. I "ran" up the steep hill to get into transition. At the entrance to T1 was the timing mat.
My expected time for the swim was 45:00. My actual time was 44:22. That was "good" enough for 224 out of the 264 males in the half-IM and 33 out of 46 in my age group. The rest of the day would be spent running down many of those who came out of the water ahead of me.
Check back tomorrow for T1 and the bike.