I started competing in swim meets about five years ago and have learned a lot through the experience. I learned that forward motion after becoming set in the blocks can cause disqualification as a false start. I learned that flip turns are allowed in the backstroke portion of the Individual Medley except when switching to the Breaststroke. I learned to bring my glasses into the pool area so I can read the sheets with heat and lane assignments for each race. I recently learned it is best to have all four members of your relay team together before the race starts.
St. Louis Area Masters Swimming sponsored the Ozark Short Course Championship at the Chuck Fruit Aquatic Center in Edwardsville, IL March 30 and 31. The weekend event drew 65 swimmers to compete in a full slate of events ranging from 50 to 1650 yards in length. This meet featured several relays, which quickly became a highlight of the weekend. A group of swimmers from San Diego, CA competed in the 75 to 79 year-old division. I felt their accomplishments deserved its own post which I titled Pursuing Perfection. https://caffeinatedathlete.com/2019/04/21/pursuing-perfection/
This was my first experience swimming relays and to swim against national champions added to the excitement. Two of the races we swam against them were super close. The San Diego team besting our SLAM team in the 400 Medley Relay and SLAM rallied to win the 200 Freestyle Relay. In both cases the SLAM team was nowhere near the national records for our younger age group.
I signed up for a full schedule of races prior to receiving an e-mail asking for interested relay participants. Turning in predicted times for all strokes and distances, I hoped to be selected to participate with other SLAM members in a couple relays. The initial reply came back with me in four relay events spread over the two day meet. Perfect. Soon, I received a request to complete a Mixed Medley Relay with John and Mary Pohlman.
John and Mary are great supporters of SLAM and swimming in general. They are active members in the Masters swim group at my Alma Mater, SIU Carbondale. Mary often sacrifices her opportunity to swim in order to officiate swim events, giving other competitors the chance to have their times count. Mary beats me in Backstroke events, John is a fierce competitor in the Breaststroke and Stephanie Petersen was slated to swim the Freestyle. They needed a male to swim 50 yards of Butterfly. I welcomed the opportunity to complete their team.
After adding five relay events, I reconsidered the ten individual events I originally selected. My e-mail to race director Maryanne Barkley asking to cancel a couple races received a prompt, positive response. She was very understanding and encouraged me to participate in the relays. The lightened, revised schedule helped me look forward to the relays without sacrificing key individual events.
During Saturday warm-ups I met Brandon and Paul, two guys I would swim with in four of the five relays. They both swam in the meet’s first event, the 500-yard Freestyle. The second event was the 200-yard Medley Relay, in which I swam the 50-yard Butterfly. The 800-yard Freestyle relay was the first relay I swam with Brandon, Paul and Steve. I don’t recall any mention of predicted times or existing records prior to our race. We just gathered, swam, and encouraged each other through the race. After results were published, I realized we beat a long-standing meet record. Our time of 9:39.22 was almost two minutes faster than the meet record for 45+ men set in 1992. For perspective, our result was nearly two minutes slower than the national record for that event.
The other events I swam on Saturday were spread throughout the afternoon as I competed in the 100 Individual Medley, the 100 Butterfly and the 100 Breaststroke. As our newly-formed relay team gathered for the 400-yard Medley Relay, I noticed Steve heading toward the door in blue jeans. “Isn’t Steve our anchor for this race?” I asked Paul. We caught Steve before he left and he quickly changed in time to fill his spot on our team. The excitement of participating as a team coupled with being slightly behind the San Diego team propelled me to a personal best time in the 100-yard Butterfly leg of the relay.
Sunday morning started with a surprise as Shimoji Coffee in Vandalia was open to help fuel my drive to Edwardsville and the races to follow. The meet started with the 1000-yard Freestyle. Since I had cancelled the 500-yard Freestyle, my strategy was to swim the first half of the 1000 as if it were a 500. Then I would back off the pace and recover during the back half of the race.
Racing changes things. Bruce, in lane 4, was considerably faster than me, and lapped me before the halfway mark. That didn’t really impact my race as I settled into a comfortable race pace. Somewhere near the mid-point of the race, I noticed my relay mate, Paul, gaining on me. Shortly after 600 yards, he passed me. So much for backing off the second half. I worked to keep up with Paul through the next few laps. Testing myself to see what I had left in the tank, I increased my tempo again with 100 yards left, then pushed hard the last 50. I ended up setting a meet record for my age group thanks to a friendly push from my teammate two lanes over.
Our relay trio added John Pohlman to swim the Breaststroke in the 200-yard Medley Relay. I swam the 50-yard Breaststroke, 200-yard Individual Medley and 50-yard Butterfly in the middle of Sunday’s schedule. The 200-yard Freestyle was the meet’s final individual event. Officials combined heats of the 200 Free due to racers cancelling. This put me racing with Paul in the last heat of the 200, immediately followed by the 200-yard Freestyle Relay. Our relay trio was joined by Jeff Enge for our final race. Jeff and I were the only members of our team near the start when swimmers were called to the blocks. I volunteered to lead off while Jeff gathered Paul and Brandon.
Once again, we swam next to the quartet from San Diego. Trailing them after three swimmers, we had 50 yards remaining to close the gap. Scorching the final leg in 21.8 seconds, Jeff turned our deficit into a second-and-a-half margin of victory over the record-breaking guys from San Diego.
The 2019 Ozark Short Course Championship was a great event. Maryanne Barkley and staff did an excellent job managing the meet. Information prior to the meet was complete and timely, race officials and timers were friendly and professional, the event flowed well at a consistent pace, and the facility was very nice. The pace in the water was pretty quick as well, with 23 individual and relay records broken over the weekend.