I swam at our Zones meet in the Woodlands this weekend; I was joined by my daughter, Jennifer, who returned to competition after a two year lay off and swam a technically perfect 50 meter breast on little if any training, just missing a medal by .19 seconds. I was fully tapered for this meet, my first long course competition since 2008. The 400 free was the first event on Saturday, and while I did not break 5:00 as I had hoped, I still swam a personal best of 5:04.52, over two seconds faster than my previous best wearing a full body FSII. Later, I swam the 100 free in a virtual race against my good friend and coach Tom Kristek, who had sandbagged his entry time and was seeded in a different heat. We had wagered a latte for the loser, so my eventual victory (1:05.81 to 1:06.72) was bittersweet.
On Sunday I decided to scratch the 200 and focus on the 800. I warmed up at 8:00 (500 free followed by 6 x 50 pace) and again at 11:00 (300 free followed by a few 50s pace). I was expecting to race at noon, but the organizers decided to seed the heats with both men and women, slowest to fastest, which pushed the start time back to 1:30. I had had my usual grande latte, a yogurt and berries parfait, and two Aleve at 7:00, followed by a Cliff Bar and an EFS liquid shot washed down with Gatorade mid-morning. At this point I was wishing I had eaten a full breakfast. I had another Cliff Bar around noon and swam an easy 200 in the diving well about fifteen minutes before my race. My pre-race nutrition was really worrying me, but I was committed so I tried to push it out of my mind. I had consumed enough calories, but I hadn't eaten much real food, and I was feeling hungry.
I swam in the final heat of the final event in lane 2. Beside me in lane 3 was Larry Wood, who at 57 is currently in the next age group; he is consistently ranked in the top ten nationally and holds multiple Zone records. Surprisingly, swimming in a different heat I had posted a faster time than Larry in the 400 on Saturday, a first for me. Consequently, I was expecting the 800 to be a good race, and it was. We were even throughout the first 700 meters, and I have never felt better in a race. My goal was to break 10:40 (in 2004 at age 46 I swam an 11:14.79 at long course Nationals); Jennifer counted for me, and we had agreed that she would signal with the lap counter if I was off pace, either too slow (up and down) or too fast (side to side). The counter never moved. I picked up the pace at the 500 mark, and Larry followed. With 100 meters left, as expected, he put the hammer down and split a :35.33 for the last 50. He finished in 10:27.11, and I finished a few seconds back in 10:31.51, having negative split the race 5:18.23/5:13.28.
Afterwards, he reached over the lane rope, shook my hand and said, "That was perfect." And he was right.