My wife belongs to Illinois Masters swimming and when she signed up for the Big Shoulder’s race, she opted for a wetsuit. Prior to the event, she caught some flack from her some of her Illinois Masters’ swim buddies who were surprised she was going to use a wetsuit. My wife, living around one or more of the Great Lakes her entire life, opted for a hedge against the cold Lake Michigan water. With water temperature fluctuating between 61 and 65 degrees and NW 15 mph winds as a result of a recent cold front, I think her decision was wise and well insulated. Some of her team members, who went sans wetsuit, had a real tough time just dealing with the temperature and didn’t finish the race.
There were some racers who perhaps didn’t anticipate the cold water and didn’t get accustomed to the conditions prior to the 2.5K or 5K. From my informal surveying of several seasoned swimmers, that was a mistake. With very cold water temps, your body may go into shock without allowing your body to gradually adjust to such cold temperatures.
About 1,200 swimmers initially signed up for Big Shoulders. Of course, there were some who didn’t even make the trek to the Ohio Street beach on the first Saturday in September and some who did attend, decided against the conditions. Can all non-swimmers and most swimmers blame them? Thus, you had some 430 signed up swimmers who didn’t get in the water. I heard the 2014 Chicago Marathon has approximately 36,000 runners signed up for the event. Imagine having a foot of snow hours before the race or 95 degree heat and having close to 13, 000 runners opting out? That’s essentially what happened at Big Shoulders. With extreme weather conditions in or outside the water, it’s highly unlikely records would fall, let alone many personal best times.
I was thinking of the incomparable Dianna Nyad when watching the race from the beach. Might she try to conquer one of our precious Great Lakes in the near future, and preferably in summer? By swimming in cold but fresh water, and perhaps choppy conditions, she’d at least avoid jellyfish, man-of-war, and other undesirable aquatic creatures.
In addition, while watching this race, I wondered if it’s more difficult to swim in the ocean or large body of fresh water, like Lake Michigan or Lake Ontario? Of course, you have more buoyancy in the ocean swimming in salt water and the waves are farther apart so you’d content with them less frequently. However, sea swimmers would need to contend with many of those creepy undesirables that may come out at night. Even if swimmers weren’t directly exposed to them, you have the fear of the unknown “creature” factor which could be devastating to one’s psyche.
From what I heard and seen, there were few swimmers bumping into one another or having certain aggressive swimmers “swimming over” people in the water. Perhaps with the cold water, strong Northwest winds and 3 to 5 foot waves, swimmers were going slower than usual to contend with the conditions so security may have been a byproduct of those conditions. Besides, with large waves, swimmers sometimes had to take their time maneuverings around water markers or buoys and determining where to go so there was more attentiveness. It was interesting to hear some swimmers were quite cold which deterred how fast they could move their arms and legs – this led to their strokes being slower than usual. Some felt the majority of the swim/race felt like a warm up – very slow and methodical strokes.
Big Shoulders takes place early Saturday morning so parking is less of an issue. Most participants park at Navy Pier and it’s good to know the fee is subsidized by Big Shoulders. Instead of a typical $25 fee for about 4 hours, it was only $10 once your parking card was validated.
Before the race, I saw plenty of food being displayed. This included many varieties of Einstein bagels, Starbuck’s coffee and hot water, bananas, protein bars, and apples. I was quite surprised to see much of the food just “dropped off” at the table so athletes and athletic supporters would have to fend for themselves before the race. Overall, I saw more spectators perusing the tables than actual participants. With extreme conditions and bone chilling water, my main goal after her race was to fetch her a bagel for sustenance and hot tea to calm her nerves and warm her inside. Apparently I was too late to the dance. All food was gone except for apples and they looked sad as they were neglected for all the other food. I understand having food available pre-race, however, there are some swimmers who might want to oblige post-race.
One Note: According to the website, early bird registration before April 30 saves swimmers $20, an entry fee of $70. If you wait until July regarding the 5K swim, the fee is $90. With the incredible demand of this event, it typically fills up within 6 weeks or so which means most people will qualify for the early bird registration and not even have the option to enroll when the entry fee is $90.