This year San Jose was the host city for the Pacific Masters Long Course Championships swim meet.

I’ve never competed at long course before, but with such a big event coming right to my backyard, how could I resist? It’s been a good 7 years since I last showed up at any kind of Masters swim meet (representing the Chicago Smelts in Illinois in 2008, and throwing down my best 31 seconds of freestyle for a team relay, Go Smelts!)

Technically, I’m not a rookie, since I do have some 30 or 40 short course swim meets under my belt, but most of those are in the distant past, and in high school I was a very different type of athlete.  I often made a point of letting my coaches know that I was only good for about a 50 yard effort… Maybe 100 if you’re lucky.

This was my high school swim team sign-up sheet.  If you do the math, you can see my estimates for the distance events (200 & 500 yard swim) were pretty unambitious…

I remember one high school meet where both teams were short, and with only 4 girls signed up for the 500 yard Freestyle, all I had to do was complete it, and I was guaranteed to score points for my team. Didn’t have to be fast or pretty, but it might help my team secure a win!

I flat out refused.

Too much effort.

How’s that for teamwork?

Well times have changed, and these days I’m a bit more enterprising, so I decided to Go Big or Go Home, and I signed up for the longest event they have: the 1500 meter freestyle! I’m an endurance athlete now.

What could possibly go wrong?

What indeed. I love swimming, but sometimes I’m not sure swimming feels the same way about me.

Here’s how it went down:

Friday morning was pleasantly warm and the 50 meter pool at Gunderson High School was broad and inviting, sparkling in the morning sun. My warm up swim felt great and I was confident that I was about to bust out a seriously heroic distance swim. I tightened my goggle straps and checked two, three, four times to make sure they were adequately suctioned to my eye sockets. Ready!

As I dove in, slicing through the water, my right goggle filled with water, and then my left. Uh oh. This could be a very long 23 minutes… I debated as I swam that first 100 meters: Stop and clear out the water? Or just endure it? It was an annoyance for sure, but really how much do you need your eyes to swim? Turns out, quite a bit, which I proved by missing the wall on the first, second and third turns. Enough is enough. I rolled over like an otter and dumped out the water that had been bathing my eyeballs in chlorine. Ah! So much better!! With my view now crisp and clear, my blind, flailing stroke magically transformed into a smooth, stealthy glide and I was back on track. I whipped through the next turn and shot off the wall like a rocket, simultaneously filling my right goggle with water, and then my left.

Back to square one.

It seemed that more water leaked in with every turn, until I could barely make out the black line on the bottom of the pool anymore. I stopped again, dumped out my goggles, suctioned them extra tight to my face, and continued. But sure enough, water leaked in again and again at each turn (and that’s 29 turns in all…) As if the goggle mutiny wasn’t enough to endure, my swim cap also decided it was time to quit me right around 1200 meters, and it receded off of my head little by little with each lap. I made a few futile attempts to yank it back down on my head to keep it from filling with water and becoming a parachute tethered to my head by my goggle strap. As my hand finally reached the wall at 1500 meters, the very first thing I did was rip that stupid thing off my head. Go, swim cap. Go, be free!

I turned to look at the timing board, and had to do a double take. My finish time was almost two minutes slower than I had projected, which in swimming years is like a decade. This would explain why all the other swimmers in my heat lapped me. There’s nothing quite like hitting that final turn and being greeted by the view of a 50 meter expanse of water between you and the 7 other swimmers who have already finished and are sitting at the edge of pool…. W…A…I…T…I…N…G.

On the bright side, I did score 4th place in my age division, and since the woman who placed 1st currently holds the World Record, she doesn’t really count, so it’s more like I got 3rd. Also, I won this nifty ribbon!  Swimming, YEAH!

Not one to be easily discouraged, I came back for more on Sunday.

My first Sunday event was the 200 Individual Medley. The Event Guidelines stated that athletes must check in 45 minutes prior to their scheduled start time. The 200 IM was scheduled for 10:17 am, so I arrived at Check In at 9:30.

Unfortunately, I had already been “scratched” (eliminated) from that event because I wasn’t there at 9:05 am. Go figure.

My next event was the 50 Fly. This time I had my goggles extra super-duper tight as I got up on the starting blocks. Ready!

“Swimmers, step down,” said the announcer. I’m not sure what the delay was for, but in the interim, my goggles were crushing my skull.

Oh well. No pain, no gain, right?

And when the starting gun finally did go off, I killed that 50 Fly! I was on fire! And I even won 3rd place (out of three, also known as Dead Last)!

After that was the team relay, 200 freestyle. The relays can be a little nerve-wrecking, since for 35 seconds, the fate of three other swimmers is in your hands. Happily, I managed to not fall of the swim block, or swim the wrong stroke, and my goggles even stayed miraculously leak-free! Our team got First Place! But I’ll only take a quarter of the credit for that win.

My final event was the 100 Free. I beat my predicted time by a whopping 5 seconds AND I got 4th place (out of four, also known as Dead Last)!

All in all, I contributed 19 points for the Walnut Creek Masters, and we ended up coming in Second Place, just 2,738 points behind First Place. Go Creekers!