Notwithstanding the nerves of the previous week, I always wake up calm, cool, and collected on race day. Most of the time I stay in that frame of mind. Despite the conscious tapering, hydrating well, and extra rest, I woke up feeling off. It was nothing related to food, or camping, for that matter, since I’m an avid camper. It was just an off day. One must adjust on days like those, whether they happen during training or racing. I just accepted that fact and decided that I would swim very slowly. After all, I’d never swum ten miles before.
Out of my tent’s window, the Border Busters took off at 5:30 am. I was surprised at the racket they made; their strokes sounded like a flock of birds taking off from the surface of a lake. I wished I were starting my race that early, too, but the championship race was not supposed to commence until 8 am. I had plenty of time to eat breakfast, don my tech suit, cover myself in Extra Strength Desitin, and check and re-check my feeds and gear. By the time my kayaker arrived at the beach, there wasn’t much left for us to do other than load the kayak and turn on the GPS transmitter for the tracker.
My kayaker and I had discussed logistics the day before. This was also my first supported swim, so my instructions were based on what my mentor had advised. I asked my kayaker to keep the kayak next to me (as opposed to ahead or behind) and on my left. I breathe on both sides, so picking the left was merely an attempt at staying on course, since I tend to pull to the left.
The kayakers took off ahead of the swimmers, who started at 8 am.
A peaceful feeling overcame me as I waded in the lake waters and dove. I love water. I love swimming. I wasn’t concerned at how long the race would take. I acknowledged my physical discomfort and just took it along with me. For the next few hours, I would be the aquatic creature I’ve always wanted to be. It was comforting to know that I wouldn’t have to touch land for hours.
The kayakers had mustered by the first buoy; I found mine right away. It wasn’t hard! I was already lagging behind the bulk of the field after only one mile. The water was 73F. Pleasant, but I always welcome colder temperatures. The forecast called for a maximum ambient temperature of 74F, clear skies, and a NW wind less than 9 mph. The course was a clockwise loop around the US portion of the lake. For about 2.6 miles, we swam generally north along the west shore of the lake, passing the small Whipple Point light. Time seemed to fly. I was taking feeds every twenty minutes, which is my norm training in the South Florida heat. During that leg of the race, I could’ve changed the interval to thirty minutes, but kept the usual one in favor of staying hydrated and being disciplined. Ten miles is a long way and one doesn’t know what the course might throw at a swimmer later on.
My kayaker and I had decided that before crossing the lake, a 1.7-mi stretch, I would take a feeding to then cross without stopping. We’d learned the day before that there is a current that pushes swimmers north the closer they get to the islands on the east side of the lake. We were advised by the experienced kayaker not to stop for feedings. Crossing the lake was my favorite part of the whole swim. Every time I breathed to my right, the mirrored surface of the lake reflected the cloudless sky. I felt I could’ve swum forever.
Reaching the next buoy near Black Island, my kayaker and I looked behind us. Swimmers and kayakers had been pushed off course. Swimming around Black Island, Cove Island, and Bell Island was a treat. These small rock promontories are covered in trees and the most beautiful houses nestle among them. Lenses of cold water pleasantly surprised me during the 1.2-mi jaunt around the islands. But once we turned south, along the eastern shore of the lake, the water gradually turned warmer. The navigational chart shows those depths to be equivalent to the ones on the western shore of the lake, so I attributed the rise in water temperature to the rise in air temperature. Following the 2.5-mile stretch between Bell Island and Indian Point, emergent vegetation signaled the low depth of the water. It was the only part of the lake where I saw large schools of fish. It was also where I was seized by a sneezing attack. Between sneezing and laughing I’m certain I lost plenty of time. I felt I had kept my speed fairly constant throughout the race, which is what I aim for. I’m a slow swimmer: I don’t delude myself with a top placement, but I take pride in consistent pace.
Past the emergent vegetation, I had another mile to go. By then it was early afternoon and boats were leaving the Newport docks headed north. Their wakes slipped under my kayaker and me. At one point, such a pronounced wave lifted my body that I popped my head up in time to watch the kayak being side swept. When I sighted the Prouty Beach campground, with about half a mile left in my race, I decided to give a ‘sprint’ a go. Why not? I’d been swimming at the same speed for hours and I wanted to finish my first ten-miler with a little unplanned fun, even if I was the only one who knew about it. I was surprised to still have gas in the tank. The water now felt Florida-warm, but even so, I was so happy to be ‘almost there’ that I paid it no mind.
Near the beach, I was afraid of what would happen when I stood up, but I did so without losing my balance. I waded back to shore, where a volunteer told me my time and I promptly forgot it, though I held on to the notion that it was much longer than my goal time. I thanked my kayaker; her navigational skills and on-point assistance made my race experience the best it could’ve been.