The Dwight Crum Pier-to-Pier Swim is a longstanding staple of the Southern California open water swimming scene. My best friend Lizz (who got me in to triathlon to begin with) has competed very successfully for the past few years and she suggested I fly down to race with her this year. Great idea!
The race is from Hermosa Beach to Manhattan Beach – two miles open water. 1300 people were registered for this! Three waves of grand prix start (line up, run into the water to start). 72 degree, clear water. A 9am start time. Freaking sweet.
Except that I was terrified. My nerves were shot from the moment I woke up – I couldn’t eat my oatmeal so I had raspberries and Skratch strawberries mix. And a little water. My heart rate was through the ROOF during my warmup. I think I peed 4 times in 10 minutes. But we were racing, ready or not, so we had to go.
The course is U shaped, with the bottom leg of the U forming about 1.5 miles. Lizz, her friend, and I lined up about 2/3 of the way down the line from the buoy line to avoid the crush at the first turn. But what do I do as soon as the gun goes off? I run toward the damn buoy. I’m immediately in a crowd of people just thinking to myself, “KJ – WHY” and just swimming the best I could. Can’t get a full pull, a real catch, a full breath – but eventually got some clear water. I saw Lizz right at the buoy (she smartly took a wider line) – breathing to my left, and Lizz breathing to her right, we swam together for about 150 yards until we hit a pack and got separated. I did my best to draft in a pack for a few hundred yards to start the long leg.
A bit after the first turn, a guy from the previous wave swam directly in front of me diagonally. Ok, no harm no foul, I didn’t grab, press hard, anything – a nice brush of his foot. When I passed him, he GRABBED. HARD. And made contact from my butt down to my knee. Fortunately this was the only real contact I received besides the start but really? Ugh.
I kept trying to stay with the packs of people, but it seemed like they were right in line with the chop. Having not done the race before I probably should have stuck with them, but I decided I would rather swim smooth outside the chop and a little wide than deal with crowds and waves. Turns out Lizz had the same though! About half way through the swim, I was still breathing to my left and realized I again was breathing straight into Lizz’s right-breathing face! Out of 1300 people I thought this was pretty funny. After a bit I was sighting (not seeing what I was looking for, but like, ‘sighting’) and saw some caps from our wave ahead of us and made a push to catch them. Lizz and I did but then we lost each other again.
I haven’t swam this long straight, head down, in a long time. Possibly never. My stroke held up better than I thought it would, though I did start to feel fatigue in my shoulders around what I think was 40 minutes. I never looked at my watch during the race so I’m not 100% sure.
I should have researched better, but it turns out the Hermosa Pier is much shorter than Manhattan. When I finally caught sight of the end of the pier, it was at about 2 o’clock. I saw a girl from my wave at about 11 o’clock (“oh good, at least I’m not as bad off as her, except that she’s ahead of me”). This is also when I realized where the majority of the swimmers were, to my right, more in line with the end of the pier, instead of paralleled out. Here’s the Strava fly-by.
I had heard rumblings that the end of Hermosa gets very washing-machine-y, which gave me flashbacks to getting caught outside of Aquatic Park in San Francisco and swimming in place for five minutes. So I stayed wide, trying to catch the girl I had seen on my left and another girl further ahead on my right.
The three of us women converged at the end of the pier (probably 40 meters separated us, so close enough to see them but not close enough to out sprint them). As I made the turn, I saw two men from the wave ahead and thought, ok at least I have company.
Recall that the Hermosa Pier is shorter than Manhattan. Now when I say this, I mean MUCH shorter. I made it about 50 yards after the turn and realized I was getting picked up by a wave – and not a small one! Immediately my thoughts turn to “OH CRAP IT’S TIME TO FINISH”!
I was sighting every other stroke or so, checking on the finish line arch, getting picked up by waves, body surfing, and going! As I’m body surfing my way in, I see two guys directly in my line to the finish and realize I’m going to surf RIGHT in to them if I catch a big wave. Which obviously happens, and I barely miss the two guys and surf it in to the shoreline.
At this point I KNOW there’s no bike, there’s no run – you just have to cross the line. My shoulders are on fire, my back is aching, my legs are burning, and I’m swimming like I’m gunning for the wall in the anchor leg of a relay. As my fingers just start to hit the sand I look up to check my line and I see a girl standing up in a purple suit. Lizz was wearing a purple suit.
All I could think was, “you can’t let her beat you on the beach! If she can beat you in the water that’s fine but not here!!”
I stand up way too early, I’m sprinting with my knees high through still-too-deep water, up the soft sand and towards the finish arch. My vision is blackening in a tunnel, and I just have to get to the line – no idea who is around me, where my competition is, or if there even is competition nearby. I was in the black and nothing was left in my tank.
After I crossed the line, officials are trying to check people in and get numbers, and I’m just standing there attempting to balance, taking 4 inch steps flopping around. It turns out Lizz was right there, and thank goodness, as she propped me up so I didn’t fall down until I regained some level of composure. Pfew!
End of the day, I swam 50:08. I had a blast. Swam 1:26/100yd ish, a little bit of a chop, and it felt like the tide was coming in but I honestly have no idea. I’m pretty sure that last leg only took 90 seconds to complete. I ended up 7th AG, 46th OA (women). Non-wetsuit, in case that wasn’t clear.
Lizz and I really wanted the photographer to take our picture, but he’d only do it if we put our caps back on. So you can imagine how important the photos were to us! And they never ended up on the photo log. Oh well!