US Masters Nationals

Fresh off the success of the World Champs in Montréal, Canada, I was set to participate in the 2014 Marriott USMS Summer National Championship in my backyard at the University of Maryland in College Park. This was great for many reasons.

  1. It was close to home.
  2. Brought great memories from 1999 and 2000 when I participated in the World Cup when the pool was newly inaugurated. Back then I took several Gold and Silver medals in the 400 free, 1,500 free and 400 IM for Spain.
  3. Just a freaking awesome facility.

I had great hopes and dreams to do great things, but I might have been a little too ambitious. One thing I have come to realize very quickly is that these big masters meets are long as hell. Hence they are draining. It just sucks so much energy out of you when you are there early in the morning, swimming and waiting and swimming again.

My main goal was to swim the mile on the opening day of competition. I had my sights set on breaking the world record. I was actually on pace up until about the halfway mark, but then it got real hard. I was way ahead and it gets tougher and tougher to hold a pace without someone next to you pushing you to your limits. My mistake is I start thinking about the rest of the events I will be swimming and then I loose track of my current race pace and start holding back.

I did win that 1,500 freestyle event, but was off that world mark by 14 seconds. I’ll have to reconsider the environment and venue where I might attempt to break that record. It needs to be a fast pool and it needs to be in a meet that can meet my needs for competitiveness. I need some young guns next to me that I can try and race or catch.

I’m getting old at 40, so I purposely took that Thursday off to rest. I was back at it on Friday and Saturday. Friday I just did the 200 free and a bunch of relays. A light program. I really had my heart set on swimming the 200 back on Saturday. When I signed up for nationals I wasn’t sure at the time whether I would break the world record at World champs, or if I would win it. Maybe I’d break the record, but come in second! So no record.

But I had broken that record in Montréal so that pressure was off. However, a lot of locals had been coming up to me congratulating me on the World Championship performance and hoping I would show them another record at “home”. So, the pressure was in fact back on.

I had decided to spend the night at a hotel Friday into Saturday. That proved to be a big mistake. The hotel was hosting a wedding and was loud, so my sleep was not as good as I would have liked. Regardless it was time to swim on Saturday and see if I could muster enough strength to break my newly set world record from 10 days prior.

Interestingly, due to the lack of entries, they had combined my 40-44 age bracket with the 35-39 age bracket. This suited me perfectly because there was a “young” lad by the name of Trever Gray who was seeded with a pretty fast time. Not as fast as me, but fast enough that I imagined I would have someone to race up front. They split us into half the pool for each age group, so I would swim in lane 3 and he would swim in lane 6 or 7 I believe. A little out of my sight.

Funny thing is I had spent the couple of days before swimming and practicing in lane 4 in anticipation of being seeded fastest and swimming all of my events in lane 4. Now I was having to swim the backstroke in lane 3. Not a big deal you say, but I had practiced looking up and recognizing those vents up top and matching them to distances down the length of the pool. Also finding the exact middle of the lane based on the ceiling and the linings on it. So that threw me off a bit. I’m such a fanatical fan of preparation.

When the race started I went about my business. But I do remember turning at the 50 and turning in such a way that I could look over to the other end of the pool. Trever was already turning and pushing off. I thought to myself shitzen this guy is out fast or I’m too slow. So I kicked it into gear. As I approached the 100 meter mark I worked my speed into that turn and had a great turn, pushing off long underwater. I held steady and strong through the next 50 and turned at the 150 meter mark realizing my lungs were starting to burn hard. Legs were getting heavy and arms weak. That 100 meter turn had taken a lot out of me. However I could see Trever was behind me.

My last turn was shallow and short, but as I broke the surface I could hear the crowd yelling and screaming and the muffled talking of the announcer. I knew I was on world record pace and gunned it down the stretch. My final time was 2:11.13, 0.41 faster than at Worlds. I was very happy. Funny thing was the announcer was going off the previous world mark by Danish swimmer Mark Vogel which was a full second slower than my previous mark of 2:11.56 set in Montréal.

It was amazing to have such an atmosphere at a masters meet. It’s a phenomenal feeling to have so many people cheering for you. This is true for my event and for all other swimmers who broke or were close to breaking world or national records. I do thank all of them.

IMG_0822After that event I had to swim in two relays, which were great fun, but very draining. I was supposed to swim the 400 free event. However that wouldn’t be for another 4.5 to 5 hours later. I sat around for an hour before deciding I was too tired to wait. I decided I had been selfish enough going on a trip to Montréal and now spending the week at College Park instead of with my family so I decided to pack it up. A moment of weakness, but coming home to my kids was worth it as you can tell from the pictures.

When I quit swimming back in 2000 it was very sudden and not exactly on my terms. It took me a long time before I started swimming again, but I do enjoy it again. I remember swimming at Curl-Burke (now Nations Capital Swimming) and how we used to make fun of those old people swimming. Like they had nothing better to do.

I get it now. Staying in shape and feeding that competitive spirit that is within us all does not go away. I only wish I had more time to swim and train more and compete more. I have a feeling the next year is going to be incredibly difficult to manage with my new coaching requirements.

I hope to see my fellow masters swimmers at meets. To them I say thank you again for that wonderful camaraderie you displayed, especially during my 200 backstroke event. Muchas gracias amigos.

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