On July 10, I had the pleasure of experiencing all my favorite aspects of swimming in just a bit over 20 minutes—perhaps the most concentrated swimming enjoyment I’ve had in 50 years. The occasion was the inaugural Mystic Sharkfest. (Several people recoiled when I told them the name of the event: Did it involve swimming with sharks?).
Last spring. my good friend Amby Burfoot, told me he planned to swim his first open water race in 68 years and invited me to join him. He said his cherished goal was to finish last. Amby grew up in nearby Groton-Long Point, a peninsula surrounded on three sides by water and spent countless hours enjoying Long Island Sound as a boy.
At 14 he discovered a love for running long distances, went on to win the Boston Marathon in 1968 and to become perhaps the world’s most respected voice on running for speed, fitness, or pure pleasure as editor-in-chief of Runner’s World magazine. After turning 60, he came to me for TI instruction, to enjoy swimming more and for a low-impact activity to extend his enjoyment of running for decades more.
Mystic is of course best-known for Mystic Seaport, its famed whaling museum, but the entire town is a well-maintained display of the prosperity of the whaling industry during the 19thCentury, and the beautifully designed homes and commercial buildings one sees is old whaling towns. I’d only been there twice before—some 50 years earlier when my sea-loving dad took our family to visit the Seaport and 20-odd years later when I reprised the visit with my own children. Both times we drove directly from I-95 to the museum so I’d not had the opportunity to fully appreciate what a felicitous place Mystic village is. This time, with Amby, his wife Cristina, and sister Natalie as my guides, I got to know the place especially well and look forward to returning soon.
So what do I love most about swimming? I love to race—particularly in open water and in close company with many other swimmers. Swimming with others—in the intimate and free-form way possible only in open water—is perhaps my favorite form of ‘human interaction.’
Second, I love to directly experience nature as I swim. Third I love to swim from one place to another. And most of all to have the swim itself be part of a memorable overall experience.
The Sharkfest was all of that.
We started from the historic whaling vessel Charles W. Morgan, the showpiece of the Seaport Museum, then swam down the narrow and winding course of the Mystic River toward the center of the village, and its famed Bascule Drawbridge—which was raised as we passed under it. The confines of the course kept the field closely packed so I had company—someone to race with—every moment.
At the finish, the restaurant Red 36 hosted an open air party with a bagel breakfast—and beer if you wanted it that early. (I didn’t.) Because of timing problems, when race director Dave Horning announced the award winners, my name didn’t appear among the top 3 in the 60-64 age group.
Apres-party I visited the timing company’s bus and gave them my race number. They said my finish time of 20:22 on the 1500-meter course (aided by a favorable current) was first in my age group and gave me an unofficial ‘trophy’ of a chilled can of Heineken’s, which I later left in Amby’s fridge. (Complete results here.)
A great weekend in a beautiful historic town with good friends. A brisk swim with 150 other open water enthusiasts, on the most scenic course of any event I’ve swum in the 42 years since my first open water race. And an age group win. Just the kind of swimming experience, I hope I may continue having until age 95.
What was additionally satisfying was to see that I could still finish quite respectably despite having done little or no swimming for over seven months, from Sept 1 to April 20, and averaging only 2000 meters per practice since then. You can see the high-efficiency training program I followed from April 20 to June 20 here, and the similar program I’m following this summer here.
My next scheduled event (though I may enter another race between now and then) is the inaugural 1500-meter Great Salt Pond Swim, sponsored by TI, on Block Island Aug 15. We’ll conduct an open water clinic from 4 to 5:30 pm on Aug 14.