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Cruz Cruise

By Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It was still foggy in the mountains when I woke up early Sunday morning. Early for a Sunday – the day made especially for sleeping in and laziness. But weeks before when I read the email that announced the Cruz Cruise, 2 mile rough water swim my only though had been, that sounds like fun. Within minutes I had printed off the sign up sheet and made out my check. And without letting it settled I simply put it in the mail. Even a few days latter it still just sounded like fun. But as race day approached my stomach began to turn itself in knots. Two miles is far! And the Santa Cruz harbor is filled with cold cold water. Still though, even with questioning thoughts as to my sanity I was excited to give it a shot.

Absorbed in my thoughts about how to best avoid the “brawl” at the beginning of the race I completely missed the turn. At the edge of town I made a u-turn and headed out to the coast. Check-in went quickly, the air biting at my exposed arms as my shoulders were marked in Sharpie with number 12s. I waited trying to calm my nerves for the prerace instructions. Hands on hips I looked out at the grey water scanning for the orange buoys that marked the course. They looked impossibly far away – just dots against the immense ocean and sky. Prerace instructions came with a warning for first time open water swimmers like me, “Consider what you’ve gotten yourself into. Two miles is quite a ways and the water is cold.” Yeah, what had I gotten myself into?

Hearing this was my first open water race the woman standing next to me gave me a few pointers. “Just take it easy, try not to get all hyped up. You’ll do fine!” She gave me a bright red cap to borrow so I would be easy to spot if I needed rescuing. Gosh, they do a good job of trying scare off anyone with second thoughts. Swim cap on I slipped out of my warm clothes and shuddered a little as my toes sunk in the cold sand. None of that Megan, I told myself. This is gonna be nothing compared to that cold water so buck up! I followed the gathering swimmers down to the edge of the water. A few were out, knee deep getting wet before the race. Sucking up what courage I had I joined them.

The water was like pins and needles – as if I had just put my feet in an ice bath after a long run. {I’m just imagining here as I would never be so silly as to do a “long run”.} At each joint the level of cold got exponentially colder – past ankles, then knees, and just stopping mid thigh. Just go for it. And with that I picked up my feet and sunk down backwards into the water. Seconds later I was up and sputtering. 57 degrees really does feel as cold as it sounds. As I walked out of the water I heard, “One minute to the start! You’ve got one minute.” Ah! I forgot about the cold and ran back up to the line of waiting swimmers. Heart pounding, I was ready to go.

Tweeeeeeeeeeeeet and we were off running into the water. I stayed to the far outside, avoiding flailing arms and splashing water. Then I dolphined in and began to swim. Immediately I was struck by both how limited my vision was and by how buoyant I felt. I got over the fact that I couldn’t see more than 3 feet in front of me and took off with strong, powerful strokes. I wasn’t noticing the cold any more. Instead, every couple strokes I looked up for the orange buoy marking my first turn. Sooner than I expected I reached it and made the turn. Each passing buoy on the long leg of the swim seemed to come in due time. I was surprised not to have lingering thoughts of “Gosh, that buoy doesn’t seem to be getting any closer.” Really, I didn’t think about much expect the feel of gliding on the top of the water and riding over the gentle swells. For most of the swim I didn’t see anyone around me. Once in a while I had to navigate a patch of kelp or barrel through it. Towards the end I could see a lifeguard on a paddle board when I turned to breath. Gosh, I hope I’m not last and they’re making sure I come in ok, I though momentarily. But then I let that thought go and went back to enjoying the swim.

The cold really was starting to sink into my muscles as I sited the last buoy. It wasn’t like I “felt cold”, just that progressively my muscles were not responding as well. Hard to explain, but that’s what it felt like. I push through, knowing that the end was so close and surprised that the time went so quickly by. {The hour continuous swim in the pool always seems to take forever!} Now I could see the finish arch and began wondering if the bottom was close enough for me to try to put my feet down. I gave it a couple last powerful strokes and then stood up. Splashing and running quite ungracefully through the knee-deep water I made my way up the beach. Ahead of me a woman was slowly jogging to the finish. “You can do it!” I “sped” past her. She saw me coming, took two quicker steps and then slowed back down. I was handed my finish number as I stepped through the arch. On the next step my leg stopped working and I saw the sand leering up at my face. Stumbling, I managed to stay on my feet. Wow I did it. I’m done.

On shaking legs I made my way to my bag and my towel. Again I didn’t “feel” cold but the way my body wasn’t responding to my commands to move told me that I was super super cold. It was challenging to change out of my swimsuit under my towel being all sticky from the salt water and lacking muscle coordination. I made my way to the tent where they had munchies and piping hot chocolate. My arm was shaking so violently that half the hot chocolate ended up on the sand but I didn’t care. It felt so good as I sipped it – warming me up from the inside. I was still shivering when I was done, but by the end of my second cup of hot chocolate I was pretty much back to normal. Meaning, I could feel that I was cold now, but could also feel all my toes again and didn’t feel like I was walking on stumps.

I collected my stuff and headed back to the car. I could feel the muscles in my arms, legs and back and it felt good. I was proud of myself for doing it. {I didn’t finish last, actually I was pretty much in the middle.} I did it and I loved it!

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