Wednesday, June 18, 2008

About that Race...

Kevin wanted to do more open-water swimming this year, so he signed up for 2 races organized by the Manhattan Island Foundation. The frist was this past weekend, and it was meant to be a 1 mile, point-to-point swim in the Hudson, from Riverside Park to Fort Washington Park.

Last week, we got emails that the course had been changed (I signed up to volunteer at the race, so I got one too) to a loop starting and ending at Fort Washington Park, which was supposed to simplify the start. Fine. We showed up at the park at the appointed time (after some initial wandering around by car and then on foot, because even though the start was at 165th St, the directions sent you to 181st St--we went to 165th, parked, couldn't find any kind of bridge across the highway and subway lines to the park, got back in the car, drove in random circles, finally found 181st st, parked, crossed over to the park, trekked down to 165th St... and immediately saw the other end of the pedestrian bridge we'd been looking for originally!) and got checked in.

A few minutes before the scheduled start, they went over the new course again. I didn't actually hear the directions (I was collecting bags at the gear check), but apparently it was completely unclear. The director explained the course, people asked questions, and the answers seemed to suggest a different course than all previous explanations--and only some of the swimmers could even hear him. Because the course wasn't marked with buoys, boats had been sent out to mark the course (and fish out anyone who'd had enough)--but mid-way through giving the directions, the director told all the boats to change positions. After a while, the director stopped trying to explain and just started the race!

Usually, mass swim starts look a lot like mass running starts--a blob people suddenly lurches forward and starts to spread out, with everyone moving forward at their own speed. As the race goes on, the faster people (who may have started at the front anyway) get further ahead of the slower people (who may have started at the back), so the spread between first and last gets bigger--but everyone is moving forward.

Not so much on Sunday. Originally, the whole course was supposed to be with the tide, but the course change meant that the swimmers had to fight the tide for the first half, then go with the tide on the way back. Supposedly, the start was timed so the tide wouldn't be very strong, but the timing was wrong, or the course was wrong, or the tide was unusually strong. Whatever the reason, the tide was much more powerful than anyone expected.

So instead of everyone moving in the same direction and spreading out slowly, based on their own speed, the swimmers kind of whooshed apart, almost as soon as they started swimming. The weaker swimmers were swept backwards (north) from the starting point--some nearly reaching the GW bridge--before they were picked up by the boats and brought back to shore. Rumor had it that they didn't realize where they'd gone, and through they'd been moving in the right direction.

Kevin and most of the other swimmers made some forward progress (towards the south), but not necessarily on the expected course. Kevin tried to follow the directions he'd understood, but the swimmers had gotten so spread out that the boats weren't in the right places (and of course some of them had left the planned course entirely, to pick up the swimmers who'd been swept backwards). And since different people had understood different directions, they kept crashing into each other sideways, since they were moving on perpendicular paths.

After a while, officials on the boats told everyone to turn around, and back they went to the start (another whoosh moment, since now they were all swimming with the water). Back on land, it turned out that no one had actually swum the full distance (although many people had been swimming long enough that they should have!). Those who'd gone the furthest in the right direction had only made it halfway to the turn around before the boats sent them back--and most people had no idea where they'd gone, or how far they'd swum! (Although on the bright side, everyone made it back to shore!)

The last straw came on Monday, when Kevin looked at his race shirt and realized it wasn't even from the right swim!

We're trying again on June 29, when Kevin is supposed to swim around Governor's Island. The good news is that as long as he keeps the island on the same side at all times (and ignores any last-minute course changes), navigating shouldn't be a problem!


Elizabeth said...

All I can think is, swimming in the Hudson River? Yuck! Isn't that terribly hazardous to one's health? Sounds like their organization needs help.

Anna said...

I'm sorry but this had me laughing... What an awful experience! I feel so bad for everyone who's prepared for this race and then have it come out this way.

Hope for better organizations skills for the next race!

jess said...

eeek, that race sounded super sketchy. (i guess that's the lawyer in me...always thinking about the potential lawsuit!) i'm sure the next one will go better, with a fixed landmark and all. : )