This morning I believed with all my heart that today would be a really fast swim day, and hopefully fast enough to secure a 1st place AG win.  It may seem trite to some, but I really wanted this.  Sure, I've never raced an open water 5K, but I did the math, checked results from last year against my old 2.5K results, and trusted the amazing coaching and swim sessions that I've had since February.  As I was eating my pre-race breakfast, I happened to stumble upon this video.

It left me tearful over my bowl of oatmeal, and there were some valuable lessons I gained- Fall into your own tempo.  Don't allow the pace of others to dictate your race.  Find your own 'fast' and have faith in it.  Trust it, even if others may judge you, and comment- like the track announcer did- that you're "way out of the race right now."

Lake Del Valle. 5K = 2 loops around.  Feeding boat on bottom left! 
The swim start was competitive and fast, and unlike triathlon where strong swimmers can 'out-bully' weaker swimmers, everyone here was stubbornly battling for position and no one was letting up.  Someone behind me kept grabbing and pulling my feet down so I couldn't breathe (I know this was likely unintentional as they were probably trying to stroke their arms forward).  But still.  At one point, another swimmer and I got entangled in each other's arms so we looked like BFFs.  That actually made me laugh.

This is cool on the beach.
During a competitive open water swim?  Not so cool.
I settled into my rhythm and kept asking myself and self-assessing- "Am I giving everything that I can?  Am I squeezing out every last drop?"  I just imagined myself in the pool next to Hulk, and all of those times when we'd have butterfly interspersed into a long swim set to build endurance- just enough to raise the heart rate, but short enough to still recover from that effort and settle back into your rhythm.  Like the butterfly, I'd sprint to chase the bubbles in front of me, roll through it, and recover.  And repeat.  On the second lap around, there was no 'pack,' but merely random individual swimmers sprinkled throughout the water.  To choose a target was meaningless.  I just put my head down and kept swimming "my fast."

As I passed the final turn buoy, I turned on the motor as high as it would go.  At this point, we were all so spread out, each of us choosing a different line to the finishing chute.  I channeled Calidoscopio, coming along that last turn- strong, in rhythm and in flow.

I ran up the ramp and almost lost my balance as the volunteer removed my timing chip.  "Good job, Bob!" I looked up in surprise at who knew my secret nickname, and it was Talia- we had swam together through high school and at UCSD. It was great to see her there. Another friendly face had also perfectly timed his bike ride to hear the announcer say my name- it really made my day.

I was really happy with my swim- 1:25:35.  Was the course longer than 3.1 miles?  Some said yes.  Regardless, I was proud of my effort and was pretty sure that I had placed.  All that changed when I checked the results.  My heart sank.  Above my name was another 32 year-old girl's name, with a time faster than mine by 15 seconds.  All of a sudden, in a flurry of disappointment, a really perfect swim became the object of detailed analysis.  

"Should I have gone out faster?"  I answered myself right away- "No.  I went out as fast as I could."  I took a leap of faith and wasn't afraid to swim alone, even if it meant ditching the feet in front of me and the effortless draft they offered.  I knew deep down in my heart that I swam the best race that I could.  I told myself, "C'mon!  You should be so happy with 2nd place!"   But still, I couldn't shake the disappointment. 

And that's when I met Susan.

As the last swimmer finishing the 5K, her 5K swim time rivaled that of some people who did the 10K swim... 3+ hours.  In fact, as she was toweling off, some people asked her if she had just finished the 10K swim.  You couldn't tell since she had a huge smile spread across her face.  Her 63 year-old body was beaming.  "That was the hardest thing that I've ever done.  I wanted to quit so badly.  But I didn't.  I'm so incredibly proud of myself that I could cry!"

Wow.  Attitude check.

Susan continued, "I know I'm a slow swimmer.  I know that."  In our conversation, I learned that she had just started swimming when she was 54 years old.  

I was intrigued.  "What did you tell yourself when you wanted to quit?"
"I dedicated this race to my friend who has cancer.  And even though this is hard, it's nothing in comparison to fighting cancer.  I do these open water swims and everyone asks me, 'What was your time?  What was your time??'"

She paused.  It was at that moment when our eyes met and I spoke.  "But really, time doesn't matter.  At the end of the day, you and I both swam a 5K.  And that's a lot more swimming than most people would ever attempt.  Your courage, irrespective of your finishing time, will serve to inspire the people you know to attempt something that is outside of their comfort zone."

She began to cry.  "Thank you."  I looked at her as well with tear-filled eyes.  Really, I was thankful to her.  Her attitude gave me a renewed and different perspective.  Sure, it would have been nice to win 1st place.  But at the the end of the day, it's more about giving all you have, at that moment, and surrendering the outcome.  And that's what we both did today.

When I look at my medal, I'll be reminded of Susan- and even if she never wins a tangible medal for her swim efforts, I know that her heart and her story is adorned with those medals of courage, honor, and faith- things of lasting value.

Hardware to remind me of this day and the lessons I learned.
Perhaps just like Susan and Calidoscopio- even if others label you as 'older' and 'slower,' you must learn to be comfortable going at your own pace in your own race.  In your jobs, relationships, or marriages, outsiders may judge and say that you are "way out of the race right now."  The trick is to drown out the voices of those critics and trust what you know is true.  It's at this moment when the race- and the victory- are yours for the taking.