Tuesday, June 6, 2017

USMS Open Water National Championships


Earlier in the year when I was planning my race calendar I came across this open water swim in Chattanooga. This year it was the USMS Open Water National Championships. There was a 1 mile fun swim on Friday, a 2.4 mile on Saturday, and the Ultra 9 mile swim on Sunday. You could do the trifecta or choose any of the above. Since 2.4 is the Ironman distance swim I thought it would be fun. I set my goal to go sub 60 minutes. At Ironman Louisville in 2007 I swam 1:05 – that was with a partial up river swim and the majority down river, so I felt that if I could break an hour I would be happy. Little did I know that the river was moving at a force of 46K current on race day! I finished the swim in 38:40 – a sub one minute per 100 yard average! HAAHAHA!! Only in my wildest dreams could I ever swim just one 100 in that time!


The swim is held in the Tennessee river, pretty close to the same swim that is used for the Ironman that takes place there, except on the north shore of the river. The swimmers are taken upriver on a riverboat then we jump off and swim over to a 100-foot-long floating dock. The gun goes off one minute after the last swimmer is in the water.

Bill, Phoenix, Bogey, and I left for Chattanooga on Friday, hit the race venue for packet pick up, and then took the boys for a walk across Coolidge Park to check out the river. We saw some people on paddleboards going upstream and thought it didn’t look like they were having any issues, so that the current must not be very strong.

Sweet Phoenix almost 14 years old!

I was a little anxious the next morning, not because of the swim or the distance but because of all the logistics and timing for the event. There was a detailed timeline on the website outlining when to check in, when to board the boat, etc.

Hurry up and wait!


2.4 Mile
Saturday, June 3 at 8:30 a.m.
6:45 a.m. – 7:30 a.m.
Swimmer check-in (packet pick up, athlete marking) at Outdoor Chattanooga.
6:45 a.m. – 7:30 a.m.
Pilot check-in at Outdoor Chattanooga. Kayakers who have their own boats will need to drop them off at GPS boat dock prior to the 7:30. Staff will be at the boat dock to watch your boats.
7:00 a.m. – 7:20 a.m.
A warm up area will be available for athletes along the North Shore from the finish under the Market Street bridge to the Blue Rhino Kayak Steps and back.
7:20 a.m. – 7:50 a.m.
Swimmers board Southern Belle Riverboat under Market Street bridge, next to finish line. There are multiple restrooms on the boat.
7:30 a.m.
Pre-Race Safety Briefing for Officials and Pilots at Outdoor Chattanooga – mandatory for officials, timers, boat support (motorized and non-motorized), and safety personnel.
7:40 a.m. (or immediately following the pre-race meeting)
Pilots will board one of two microbuses and be taken to either GPS boat dock or a private residence. Kayakers who have their own boats will need to drop them off at GPS boat dock prior to the 7:30 a.m. meeting. Staff will be at the boat dock to watch your boats.
7:50 a.m. or 8:00 a.m.
Pilots enter the water from the GPS boat dock (7:50 a.m.) and the boat dock from a private residence (8:00 a.m.).
7:55 a.m. – 8:15 a.m.
Boat ride from Market Street bridge to race start. During the boat ride to the start, we will check swimmers off the master roster and hold a safety briefing. Swimmers should leave bags on the boat, and they will be unloaded at race finish. There are restrooms on the boat.
8:30 a.m.
RACE START CHAMPIONSHIP HEAT 1
8:35 a.m.
RACE START CHAMPIONSHIP HEAT 2
9:20 a.m.
First finishers expected at finish line. A warm down area will be available along the North Shore from the finish under the Market Street bridge to the Blue Rhino Kayak steps and back.
9:30 a.m.
Lunch available for swimmers and pilots at Outdoor Chattanooga.
11:30 a.m. or 15 minutes after the last finisher
Awards ceremony at Outdoor Chattanooga.

From the looks of this it seems like someone was VERY organized. But that is about as far as that went. The race didn't start until 9:30.

At 7:30 the boat still hadn’t left the other side of the river and Bill headed up to the walking bridge over the river so he could get some photographs of the boat as it headed out. It turns out he could have stayed with me for almost another hour.

Bill's view from the bridge!

I’m not sure where the breakdown in communication happened. Before the start the riverboat was anchored downriver a little ways and on the opposite shore. The boat didn’t even start making its way over to us until after 8:00 am. It took them 3-4 tries to get the “gangplank” over to the boat launch ramp so we could board. I don’t know if it was because of the current, or operator error.


I met an interesting man as we were waiting for the boat. Jonathan Ezer was one of the original people invited to do the very first Ironman in Hawaii. Back when it was just some guys seeing if they could do the course distances of the Waikiki Rough Water Swim, the ride around the island, and the Honolulu marathon. He lived in Hawaii at the time and was the race director for the Waikiki Rough Water Swim. He didn’t do it that year because the winds changed and the jellies came out in abundance, and he was allergic to the stings. They held off the race one day hoping that the winds would change, but they didn’t so he wasn’t able to do the race.

Waving at Bill on the bridge. (the guy in white is Ezra)

On the boat I handed out a few samples of Foggies to the people around me, and one of them was from Jackson, Mississippi. I found out the he knew most of my triathlete friends from there, too! Small world stuff.


We all finally got on the boat and headed upriver. Once we got to the starting point another lengthy maneuvering began. The pilot turned the boat around too close to the start buoys, and too far out into the river. The current, which we thought didn’t look that intense was apparently very strong. I heard the race director below us tell him he needed to get closer to the floating dock, or move more upstream so we could swim down river to the dock. After some back and forth it finally got close enough and we jumped off one at time and swam diagonally to the dock. We were allowed to either just hang on to it until the start or climb up onto it. I dove in and started swimming at the angle to intercept the corner of the dock on the up river side. I was in a good line, but as I got closer I could feel the current pulling me down stream, so I angled hard to change course. Held on and felt my legs pulled hard downriver. This was going to be ONE FAST SWIM!

I watched as three ladies were trying to swim to the dock, the hadn’t angled in soon enough and were almost to the start buoys but swimming upstream and not making any progress. One of them had to finally be rescued by a kayak and brought over to the dock. People had to drag her up out of the water.  It was like Ironman Louisville when I watched people warming up, they looked like they were swimming in an endless pool. Going nowhere.

We had been instructed to keep the orange buoys on our left and stay between them and the shore. The race started and I found clear water almost immediately. I did get scratched on my shoulder once, and hit in the leg one time too, but other than that there was hardly anyone around me. That’s because the majority of the swimmers were on the opposite side of the buoys, toward the middle of the river where the current was stronger. Okay…I have to say it. I hate cheaters. It wasn’t difficult to stay inside the buoys, there wasn’t anything pulling you to the middle of the river. These people knew what they were doing. Bill said he saw the kayakers trying to get them to move back inside. And this was at the end of the swim where he could finally see us finishing. UGH…… A USMS National Championship.

Buoys on your left!
Back to the swim. The water felt amazing! The temperature was perfect! I had no idea how fast or slow I was swimming. There were some electrical wires overhead at about the half way point, and when I saw them I knew we were moving fast. I glanced at my watch and saw that my sub one hour would not be a problem!

We were supposed to touch a pad above the finish line and hold our hand on it for 3 seconds at the end, so they could get a picture of our number. The pads were WAY above the surface of the water. I kicked really hard and was able to “High Five” the pad, but that was about it. I heard a guy shout “what is your number?” and I called it out to him. I wanted to get in a little warm down but with the swift current only did a little and then got out.

See how high those touch pads are!

We had a bag drop on the boat and they were going to bring the bags to the swim exit. We apparently beat the bags back. Finally, one truck arrived, but no bag for me. It was on the next truck which arrived almost an hour after I finished. It was crazy! When the first truck arrived full of bags, everyone crowded around it looking for their bags. Some snagged theirs, others started trying to dig in the giant pile. I started grabbing bags and laying them out on the sidewalk, my bag didn't show until the 2nd truck.



We asked about the timing for awards, and were told 15 minutes, so decided to wait around. Time went on and nothing, and then finally they started awards. They were all messed up, so they said it would be another 30 minutes. Apparently the timer grouped both the Championship wave, and the non-championship wave. (On the table where the timers were, there was a opened box of TRISWIM bodywash/lotion samples. We got a sample of the shampoo in our swag but not the bodywash…apparently someone didn’t include them during bag stuffing. Hmmm…. SBR Sports Inc. is a sponsor of the race. Not good on the race organization part.

I prepped a bunch of packets of TRISWIM and Foggies to hand out pre race!

We had plans to go sightseeing so we left and headed to the hotel to take care of the babies and get on with our day!! Did the tourist thing and went to see Ruby Falls, Lookout Mountain, and ride the Incline railway! When Bill was 6 years old, their family took their first big vacation there and we wanted to see the change! I never saw Ruby Falls, we were on the extremely commercial (and annoying) tour and saw that it was going to take forever… and I started thinking about claustrophobia. We had to stop and wait a lot, and with the low ceilings I almost had a freak out. A group headed out passed coming from the opposite direction so we hopped on and blazed out of there. Yikes!!



Chattanooga was really fun! Would I do the event again if it was held here? Probably not. I actually wanted the swim to take longer, and wanted to see my time for the distance.

Of course I must pose by the turtle!

His tail indicates the speed of the current!!

Always smile at your husband!



Met  Facebook friend Kelly Randall! A fellow COBB CYCLING fan!!!
We've got to get her on THE COBB MOBB next year!!

The End