Rochester Open Water Challenge – too challenging?

Today was the Rochester Open Water Challenge. The wind was coming from the south, meaning the bay was a little rough, but the lake looked very smooth. So I decided to paddle the long course, in spite of the misgivings I’ve had for the last couple of weeks. There was a chance that the wind would pick up in between the time the short course started and the long course did, but I figured it would be better to aim high and fall short than to take the safe route. Although I have to admit it looked like the waves were smaller on the lake than on the bay, so I was maybe taking the easy way out by going out on the lake.

The course was different than last year – Ken was hoping to have us run directly into the waves for a bit over two miles, then surf back, and then repeat it. But with shifting winds and no predominate swell, he ended up putting the turn around buoy 2.25 miles straight off shore. I tried not to be freaked out about being that far from shore. After all, there were three safety kayaks out on the course, not to mention the committee boat at the turn.

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At the start, going through the channel, there were immediately three distinct groups – Jason Q was leading, with two guys hot on his tail, including one in a Thunderbolt T-REX, then there was Doug and Mike. I was beside Mike Littlejohn and Stephen Bergash, although they both started to pull away as soon as we got into the lake proper. I didn’t see where the woman in the rowing skiff got ahead of me, but I don’t think she was ahead of me in the channel.

As we went out into the lake, the water could best be described as “lumpy” – there were waves coming from all directions at once. Not very big, but very random – if there was any predominate swell, it was coming from the west, almost directly the direction we’d have been going if we’d taken the original route. It was throwing me off big time. My stroke was falling apart – I was using my arms way too much, and I had to keep interrupting my stroke to brace or just to plant my blade in a wave top. I was trying very hard to push more with my legs, because that seems to help my stability. But I just wasn’t doing well. Not paddling well, not feeling stable or comfortable, and getting further and further from shore. I had to keep telling myself that if I dumped, I could just turn back, and if I finished one lap, I’d still have done more than if I’d done the short course. It was the only way I could keep myself going.

As we got to the committee boat, I was actually catching Stephen B. But he surprised me by going to round a buoy instead of the boat, and got another length or so on me. I quickly got it back, and passed him just as Julia rocketed past us both. We were doing all right, but the chop was getting worse. Julia dumped, and Stephen yelled that he’d take care of her and I should go on ahead. At one point this very strange little group of three waves appeared out of nowhere – it was fairly big, but only about 25 feet wide. I tried to surf them, but I didn’t have the energy to get on them right, and they were too close together. As a matter of fact, the only good surf I got was the last hundred yards or so into the beach. It was almost enough to make me want to turn around and go back out again, but only almost. I’d had enough, and I was ready to quit.

I’ve been beating myself up about the decision to quit ever since, but I was probably right to quit rather than going out again and dumping because I was overtired.