This weekend was the 2006 Palmetto State Spring Short Course Yards Championships, the final meet I compete in before Nationals. As has been the case so many times before, this was a kids' meet, but with a new twist: it was a "prelims and finals" meet instead of a "timed finals" meet. Just a few words' difference, but so very much difference.
In a timed finals meet, you swim each event once, and all the times of all the swimmers in the various heats are compared to determine the winner and runners (ahem, swimmers) up.
In a prelims and finals meet, you swim the event once in the morning to qualify for finals, and then if you do qualify, you come back in the evening and swim it again to see who won.
I did not win, but I did make it back for finals in two events.
On Friday morning I swam the 100 BR and 200 FR. I was decently happy with the 100 BR time, which was only a few tenths off my best. My coach declared it a good morning swim, made some suggestions for improvement (quicker in and out of the walls, quicker turn-over in the first 50), and I figured I might get a best time in the evening. The 200 FR was about a second off my entry time, but it was a good swim for me, with a good pattern of splits, although I should have been more aggressive coming into my turns.
Then I went back to our friends' house (where we were spending the weekend), ate some lunch, watched a bunch of tv, and took a nap.
I was surprised in the evening by how quickly the events moved: it seemed I could not get my brain to keep up with the activity. I got up to the blocks feeling pretty good, ready to swim a best time. The race felt good, like everything was going as it should and like I was swimming fast. I was shocked and disappointed to see that I had added a second to my morning's time. "Welcome to prelims finals!" my coach said, and he was right. I had not bargained on how tiring that much competition in one day would be. My total yardage for the day was 4900 yards (that includes warm-ups and cool-downs), and while such a distance or longer is not unheard of in practice, I have never done that kind of yardage at a meet.
When I woke up the next day at 6:15 a.m., to get ready for the day's competition, I was SO TIRED. It was not encouraging to know that at 6:15 p.m. the night before I had not yet swum my race. Memo to myself: 12 hours recovery time between events is not enough.
But I was ready to get my head together to swim, although I was dismayed to find that my team (of about 6 swimmers) was sharing our warm-up lane with another team (of about 7 swimmers). Thirteen people in a lane would be tough enough, but they were doing A DIFFERENT WARM-UP. The chaos got to me, and I got out before I tore off some poor kid's head. I finished my warm-up on my own, but it was all a little disconcerting.
I raced the 50 FR, coming in a tenth off my best, even though I was really treating that swim as a warm-up for the 200 BR. The 200 went ok, but very slow--about 4 seconds off my best. I really pushed the last 50, though, to the point that my arms and legs were losing feeling. My coach pointed out that I took out the first 100 too slow, and that I needed to tighten up the last 2 fifties even more. When the results from the morning came back, I was listed as the first alternate for finals, and I was hoping and praying--and really ready to offer bribes--that none of the kids would scratch, thereby forcing me to swim. But one did, so off I went to rest and recuperate in time for the evening's finals. The difference this time was that some of our friends had come to see the meet, and we all went out to lunch and had an absolutely hilarious time. Then they went off to troll around Greenville for the afternoon, while I watched women's basketball on tv and napped.
My goal for the evening swim was to swim to the pain: the morning swim hurt a lot, and I figured that if I could do that again, then I would have the confidence to give the race everything at Nationals, knowing that I would survive it. To make an increasingly long story short, in my evening swim of the 200 BR, I cut 4 tenths off my morning time, swimming a far better race in terms of my splits, and not even taking too awfully long on my turns. I felt great swimming it: I took the first 100 out much faster (about 2 seconds), but did not add so much time in the last 100 to undermine that. And to see my friends' faces in the bleachers afterwards was great, even though I finished last, beaten by fifteen 15-19-year-olds.
As I was heading to the lockerroom for my fourth shower in two days, a woman stopped me and said, almost sternly, "How old are you?" I replied, sheepishly, "34." She raised her hand, gave me a serious high-five, and said, "Good for you. You've got balls."
Damn right I do.
100 BR: Prelims: 1:19.70 / Finals: 1:20.85
200 FR: Prelims: 2:31.46
50 FR: Prelims: :30.69
200 BR: Prelims: 2:56.88 / Finals: 2:56.45