I didn't change my training too much to accomodate for the swim meet. I still kept my usual 2-3 swim sessions per week and by that point, had 1 "threshold" swim per week with the rest being aerobic and technique work. Closer to the race, however, I did slip into a speedo (which ironically I bought as a joke for my wedding in Dominican Republic in 2003) and practiced a few starts off the blocks and a series of 25m and 50m sprints off the blocks just to get a feel for it. I'm naturally a horrible diver so this was something I wanted to get a hang off. A few belly flops and visits to the bottom of the pool later, I somewhat figured out a decent angle of entry.
The swim meet in itself was pretty awesome. We arrived at the pool at around 5pm only to realize that the 1500m wasn't slotted until 9pm. Most of the people there seemed pretty frustrated due to the number of heats but for me, it was great... I had plenty of time to settle into the environment, ask my buddy a tonne of questions as to what was going to happen and what the normal "etiquette" was for warming up and everything else leading up to the event. The best part was seeing all those amazing swimmers and picking off their technique and how it differed from mine.
Goggles on, cap on and ready to dive in, I was really excited and surprisingly giddy. With no previous "benchmark" for the race, no expectations except to give it my all, I was surprisingly calm but with that pulsating heart rate you get before the start of a race. My plan of attack was to break down the race into thirds, focusing on 500m at a time... an "easy" 500m to start with, build the next 500m to the red line and then hold on for dear mercy for the last 500m. I've been longing to race a 70.3 with a 1:30/100m swim split but never actually did it! I had a 1:35/100m split at the Muskoka 70.3 last year and a 1:37/100m at Ironman Canada in 2010 so I thought this would be a very good goal to set for myself.
Contrary to what my buddy's swim coach mentioned, I did a triathlon style "sighting" up at the clock to see what my pace was like every 500m. Based on my expected finishing time of 22:30, I needed to do a 7:30 first 500m, 15min by 1000m and finish by 22:30. First 500m, look up and see 7:38, which actually felt great because I felt fresh, didn't feel like I was working too hard and felt I had plenty of energy stored in me. So I start the next 500m and slowly start picking up the pace lap by lap, wanting to feel somewhat close to that "burn" in your lungs by about 400m or so... "Sighted" the clock again coming to the 1000m mark and see 15:08 on the clock (or 7:30 BANG ON for this 500m stint). This felt absolutely great. Even in training, 500m is an easy distance for me to swallow so I felt energized that I was on track to get my goal. The last 20 laps (25m pool) went by super fast, as I was counting them down, I felt myself going harder and harder and with about 10 laps left, I told myself 250m ALL OUT... I picked up the kicks, really focused on technique and a really strong pull in the water, again going harder and harder with each remaining lap... With about 3 laps to go, I start feeling a cramp on my right side which actually got worse to the point where fully reaching up ahead to catch hurt like a SOB!! I didn't back off though, it was painful but it was manageable and just like in training, I'd gotten there on perfect pace so I didn't want the last few laps to kill my race, 25m to go, turn on the propellor to bring it home, tap the wall and the time keeper bends over and yells "DUDE, ONE MORE LAP!!" I didn't even have a chance to react, I instinctively started the last lap and that last 50m pace was probably faster than my original "last lap" - driven by sheer adrenaline and by fear that I might have messed up due to poor counting. So tap the wall again, slowly find the clock and I see 22:32 on it... Do a Michael Phelps style "YEAH" when I see the time and then pretty much curl myself into the fetal position to get my lungs back.
It was a few days until I was able to see the final results and I was happy to see that my official time was 22:29 which breaks down to a 1:29/100m split.
All in all, the swim meet was a great idea and a great experience. It's something I would recommend every triathlete do as part of their season plan not only for the reasons mentioned above but also as a great confidence builder. Every once in a while when I'm doing harder sets in the pool and see my time is slacking, I think back to this event and how I can go faster.
Next up, the Sporting Life 10k and my 6 year quest to get a sub 40 minute 10k!