My First USMS Swim Meet (Oct 2022)

swimmers jumping off the starting blocks

On 15 October this year I competed at my first swim meet since high school, some 20ish years ago. Although I’d had various folks encourage me to join US Masters Swimming for almost as long, I’d always found a reason to put it off. Sometime in August or September I decided I wanted to do some swim meets. I think it was around the time that I was coming to terms with the fact that my foot injury was going to keep me from competing in my first marathon this year. I looked around to join a Masters team in order to get better at swimming and they required a membership to US Masters Swimming, so I signed up. After another week or so, I realized they didn’t have a schedule that would work for me, but now that I was registered with USMS, I could compete in swim meets. Luckily for me, the first meet of the 29th Carol Chidester Memorial Swim Series was coming up. I signed up and started looking forward to it. 

Since I’m prioritizing running this year, (I still have a few more races I’d already signed up for and which seem to be within the limits of what my foot can tolerate), I went ahead with my planned 95 minute run the morning of the race. I figured it wasn’t too big a deal since the meet didn’t start until 1645 and my first event wasn’t even scheduled until around 1800. To try and manage my fuel levels for the meet, I had lunch around 1400. This would give me plenty of time not to feel full while swimming (including the warm-up laps). I also packed myself some raisins and a clementine for maintaining sugar levels during the meet.

While I was explaining to the kids that I would be starting off the blocks, they wanted to know how that worked, so I looked up a video from the 2016 Olympics. I noticed that the men had their swim caps on top of their goggles. I never swam with a cap in high school, so I looked up whether to wear the goggles on top or under. I decided to wear the cap on top of the goggles because that way I could guarantee it wouldn’t come off when I dove off the block. Some time maybe 10 or so years ago, I’d tried swimming with a swim cap and the goggles had come loose when pushing off the wall, leading to my rejection of swim caps at the time.

a portrait of the author wearing swimming clothes poolside at a swim meet
Ready for my first USMS swim meet!

I was pretty shocked at the amount of swimmers and spectators at the meet. I didn’t realize the bleachers would be removed. So for most of the meet I sat on top of my sandals or directly on the concrete. Next time I need to get one of the sports chairs that folds up to the size of a thick umbrella. It was also a little overwhelming to see all the swimmers warming up. The pool was a bit of controlled chaos with swimmers starting at either end of the pool when an opening in a lane presented itself. We did our best to circle swim and I did a 325y warm-up. After that I went off the blocks a few times. I’d only been able to practice once before with the Masters swim team that’s usually finishing up their workout when I’m first arriving. It seems that jumping off the blocks is one of those things you don’t forget if you’ve done it as much as I’d done it in the past. That said, I didn’t want to feel as though either of my events was sabotaged by coming off the block badly. After my warmup I threw on a sweater and sweatpants to keep my muscles warm.

many people sitting poolside
Many of the competitors and spectators

The meet started a little late, but that wasn’t surprising to me. It tracked with my memories of swim meets when I was a kid. Unlike running a road race, it’s not like the meet has to finish on time so that the road can open. We were there beyond the point at which the YMCA had officially closed. Since it was some 2  hours or so from my warmup to my first event, I jumped into the pool for a 150y warm-up before during a 5 minute break after the relays. (There was only one more event between the relays and my event)

Finally it was time for my first event, the 200y freestyle. I don’t remember if this was an event when I was in high school. All I remember is that I never did well on the 50y free and that I mostly did the 500y and relays. I came off of the block and started going way too fast on the 200y. After the first 100y I knew I’d made a huge mistake. I felt like I was dying and I was only halfway done. All I knew is that I didn’t want to have the guy in the next lane pass me at the end after I’d been in the lead for the other 7 laps. Eventually I had the following splits and final time:

32.36; 36.05; 39.89; 39.79 – 2:28.09

I got first place in my heat and 4th place overall. (And 1st place for my age/gender…because I was the only one!) It was great to have made friends with the team I mentioned above, so I had people cheering me on and congratulating me on my time. 

A couple events later it was time for my final event – 100y freestyle. It was time to see how well I could sprint, especially after having done the 200 yard event a little earlier. I was happy with my time of 1:06.22. But from my splits (31.85; 34.37) it’s clear that I have some work to be as consistent in swimming as I am in running. I’m hoping that either by the end of this year (or the end of the Carl Chidester series) to  be able to break a minute. From there I’ll have to see what makes sense as a realistic goal. Most of these shorter events are over so quickly that one is essentially shaving off fractions of a second once they get to their limits. Meanwhile I’m still at the point with my running races that I could (in an injury-free year) still shave off minutes from most of my distance personal bests.

A compilation video of a few events that I recorded

Overall, it was a lot of fun to be able to return to competing in a sport that consumed so much of my life (I was competing from somewhere around 8 years old until 18 years old). I look forward to many more meets.