Race Report: USMS 2-mile Cable Championship (Charlottesville, VA)

by Evan Morrison. 11 July 2010.

RESULTS posted here (PDF).

The 2-mile Cable Champs at Chris Greene Lake was another “surgical strike.” Fly in one evening, swim the next morning, fly out the same evening. It’s not my favorite way to do things - I would have loved to check out UVA and Monticello, for instance - but my budget (time, financial, and marital!) dictated that I get back to Chicago in time for dinner.

I stayed in Richmond VA Friday night, and made the 70-mile drive to the lake (in the woods just north of Charlottesville) the next morning through pouring rain. Magically, the clouds parted almost as soon as I exited the highway. I arrived just in time to see Chris LaBianco drop a 39:59.99 in the first heat (the fastest time of the day, and a new USMS national record). Quite literally: I walked onto the beach, and the first thing I saw was him finishing. Pretty cool. The second thing I saw: Rob‘s goatee.

So, what’s a cable swim? It’s an open-water swim with a course marked by two wood pylons, 440 yards apart in this case, with a cable strung between them. You then swim around and around, until you’ve completed the required distance - in this case, 2 miles (8 lengths). It’s an open-water swim with the navigational element partially removed. “Partially” because you still have to navigate around and between other swimmers - the ones you’re swimming with, and the ones you’re lapping. And also, because the cable isn’t precisely straight.

Although the cable makes navigation easier, and the calm lake setting removes other “elements” (current, chop, etc.), there are other tactical and strategic factors, unique to this event, that made it plenty interesting.

First, the heat selection. The first heat began at 8:30 and ran counter-clockwise; the second began at 10:30 and ran clockwise. You select “Heat 1” or “Heat 2” with your entry, depending on whether you want to swim with the cable on your left (H1) or right (H2). I’m a right-side breather, so I chose Heat 2. What newbies like me don’t realize, though, is that there are other factors in the decision.

For one, the lake tends to warm up through the morning, so the second heat may well be warmer than the first. And with the multiple 100F days Virginia experienced this past week, this is a real concern. In the end, the water was 85F, though I doubt there was a significant difference between the two heats.

Second, and likely because of the above, the first heat tends to be more “top-heavy” than the second. Indeed, 4 of the top 5 times of the day were swum in the first heat. Why does this matter? For most folks it probably doesn’t, but if you’re among the fastest 10-15 swimmers, you’re more likely to find ideal drafting targets - people slightly faster than you - and thus more likely to put down a fast time.

There’s a third tactical factor that, like the above two, arises before the race even begins. And that is: your seed time (for 1650y or 1500m). Each heat is set off in waves of ten, 30 seconds apart, fastest to slowest. If your seed time is accurate, you’ll swim with people of approximately similar speed. If it’s not accurate, you’ll swim with people either faster or slower than you.

I think, generally speaking, it’s best to seed yourself accurately. I can’t think of a circumstance when seeding yourself too fast would help - probably, you won’t be able to keep up anyway, and you’ll get demoralized from being passed so frequently. However, there may be circumstances when a slow seed time might have a tactical advantage. Specifically, if you’re one of the faster swimmers, and the lead pack is, for whatever reason, swimming slower than they’re capable of, there might be an advantage to being seeded a couple waves back.

Say the top swimmers in your heat (including yourself) are capable of swimming a pace of 1:19 per 100m. Then, let’s say the leaders start conservatively, at a 1:22 pace. If you’re seeded in the 2nd wave, 30 seconds after the first, and you start off at a 1:19 pace, you’ll catch up to the lead pack within 1000m. And they’ll have no idea. Then, all you have to do is hang on (drafting, etc.) and, at the end of the race, you’ll have an extra 30 seconds subtracted from your time.

I’ve thought this through because I’m fairly sure that’s exactly what happened in my heat. My (accurate) seed time put me in the first wave, and I swam in a pack of 4-5 for 3 laps - at a conservative pace because nobody wanted to lead - before I pushed the pace on the 4th lap to break away. I found out later that some dude in the 5th wave had beaten us by almost a minute (though we never saw him, as he started 2 minutes behind us).

You might think this advantage would be nullified by having to navigate through additional swimmers, but I doubt it. Think about it: If you’re in the 2nd wave and pull out ahead right away, there’s nothing but clear water between you and the 1st wave. Moreover, navigating around other swimmers was really much less annoying than I’d imagined. You could usually see them coming and maneuver ahead of time, so minimal time was lost. More perilous, to my mind, was the rope hanging off the far pylon, in which I managed to snag my neck (twice!).

Anyway… Like I said, nobody in my wave wanted to lead. Through the first 3 laps, I was either in 2nd or tied for 1st. If I ever pulled more than a couple feet ahead, I slowed down and waited for someone to pull even. We were doing about 1:22’s - slower than we were capable of, but not slow enough that I thought I could break away with a short burst (especially in that hot water). So I stayed with the pack until the 4th lap, when I pushed the pace and strung out the pack a bit. I never really broke away - the 2nd guy out of the water was 3 seconds back.

43:37.05 (pace of 1:21.8). 6th overall, 1st among Men 30-34. 78 seconds slower than my 2-miler in North Carolina. Ah, well. It was good enough.

I stuck around to collect my hardware, but at that point I had 2 1/2 hours to cover 145 miles back to BWI airport, so I booked it out of there. I drove like a maniac and got very lucky with cops, DC traffic, airport security, etc., and still only made my flight by 20 minutes.

And then I had to get on a plane, still covered in lake funk, with residual sand still crunching under my feet. That’s right, no showers at Chris Greene Lake!

I love my race schedule this summer, but I doubt I’ll repeat it anytime soon. Next year: fewer races, bigger races (MIMS… maybe?), no one-night stands. And never, ever get on a plane without showering.

For now, big thanks to Dave Holland and Virginia Masters for a well run and enjoyable day at the lake.

Here’s Rob Aquatics’ race wrap-up.

Next stop, Noblesville!

(Photos by Katharyn Tupitza, Right Exposure)

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Posted in: swim reports Tags: USMS , OW Nats Tour


On 2010-07-11 18:33:04, Rob D said:
Good seeing you out there... also it's good to know my beard has become a landmark indentifiable at a distance and quite possibly a navigational aid. See you in Indiana!

On 2010-07-11 19:05:22, Evan said:
Rob, the beard is becoming a symbol of all that is possible in Masters swimming. Pretty soon, we'll have to start thinking about how to incorporate it into the logo - like Jerry West in the NBA.

On 2010-07-11 19:43:59, Adam B said:
Just wanted to say that was me that started back in the fifth wave. Dave made a mistake on the entries...seeded me into the counter-clockwise heat even though I entered the clockwise heat. But once the psych sheet was out and I saw it was too late to change. Another lady wanted or needed to switch so I was given the option of switching with her or staying put...and I didn't want to swim that early in the morning or go the wrong way. That being said, it worked out pretty well for me. I just got to put my head down and go and not worry about what anyone else was doing. It probably was worse for the lady I was switched with. But it was good getting to meet you, and I'll see you Saturday!

On 2010-07-11 20:07:39, Evan said:
Adam - thanks for the comment. I apologize for making inferences that weren't grounded in facts! My bad. That must have been frustrating to get seeded in the wrong heat. Congrats on the fast swim. See you in a few days.

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