Swim Miami 10K Race Report

After the race, a swimmer described the 10K as Hunger Games-like. I couldn’t have thought of a more apt comparison! Despite the mayhem, I had a great race. This was my first marathon swim. My goal was 3:30 and I finished in 3:15. Even better is the fact that when I came out of the water, I felt I could’ve done another loop comfortably. Miles are smiles! Now I feel I’ve finally overcome a pelvis injury from last fall. I’m a very happy mermaid.

I arrived at the race venue, the Miami Yacht Club, around 0700. A friend, his wife, and the ladies from my swim team who were doing the 10K were also there. We calmed each other’s nerves. I covered my body in Desitin, since a fellow teammate and accomplished distance swimmer had recommended I do so. I took care not to put any around my eyes, where the googles would come in contact with my skin, or my forehead, so that my silicone cap wouldn’t slip. I mixed Desitin and Vaseline and applied that goop to areas that chafe.

The women’s 10K was scheduled to start at 0817, two minutes after the men. The 800-m Special Olympics race starts before the 10K. The 800-m start is usually away from the 10K, 5K, and 1-mi start, but this year, for reasons unbeknownst to me, the start was the same for all groups. The 10K swimmers were about to go and I heard the official say, “Don’t run over the Special Olympic kids.” Did I hear that right, I thought? That was not only poor planning, but also creating an unsafe condition. The 10K swimmers would’ve headed out straight into the path of the returning 800-m field. Reason prevailed and we were ordered to wait until the 800-m race was over. The result of the half-hour delay was that I was expecting to swim the first 5K in peace—because the 5K and 1-mi swimmers didn’t start until 1000—but now, I’d have to swim with the crowd starting mid Loop 3. In the meantime, we watched two dolphins playing right in front of us. Every time they broke the water’s surface, people cheered and clapped. One of my fellow teammates said that it was good luck. She was right!

Loop 1 – The course was a north-south 1-mi loop, squeezed in between a shoreline festooned with docks and a field of moored boats. The women set off a minute after the men, heading south. The water was warm, but still comfortable at 78F. Warm water is my kryptonite, so I hoped the cloud cover would stay throughout the race. Just like last year, the ends of the course were marked with green buoys, large enough for easy spotting. The buoys in between were all red. The wind was blowing from the northeast, so I knew that as soon as I turned around the southernmost buoy, I’d be swimming against the chop, which I like. I’d been swimming all winter in the ocean in a bit rougher water, so I found the chop quite manageable. Swimming north it was evident that the course wasn’t quite a straight line. Turning the northernmost buoy, I briefly stopped to take a swig from the collapsible bottle that I had stuck down my suit. Kryptonite antidote. I stayed away from the line of buoys, making a beeline for the dock where a friend was managing my feeds. My sighting wasn’t fantastic on this loop mostly because I was having a good time swimming and was zoning out. My feed went without a hitch. My friend told me I was doing really good time, but he didn’t tell me how much and I appreciated that. I don’t wear a watch in races. I’d rather go by feel.

Loop 2 – I was more disciplined and started sighting every nine strokes. The wind was gradually picking up, so I didn’t want to go off course because I wasn’t focusing. Up to the point I’d swum 1 ½ loops, I’d been using a two-beat kick. Starting the northward leg of the second loop, I changed to a four-beat kick. I would do this from then on and whenever the water was feeling too choppy or congested with swimmers. Once again, I had a nice go around the loop, this time with the benefit of knowing the course.

Loop 3 – After I turned the southernmost buoy, I noticed an anchored boat had shifted, blocking the view for three quarters of the distance. That made for a confusing bottleneck. Past the boat, the lead 5K swimmers started passing me. The wind had not only pushed the boat, but also the buoys. I stayed close to the buoys, but was getting too annoyed getting bumped by the 5K people. I’ve learned to defend my watery real estate, so I wasn’t run over by anyone. At the northernmost buoy, a breaststroker kicked me in the stomach unintentionally. I stayed far from the stream of green caps on my way to the dock.

Loop 4 – I saw a couple of pink caps swimming left of center and in my path. I yelled at the two women, but I don’t know if they actually changed course. The pink caps were the milers and I didn’t really see many of them, probably because I was hugging the line of boats as I swam north, staying right of the buoys and the crowd. I started dropping my left elbow every once in a while. Not sure why I was doing that, perhaps because the underside of my upper arm was starting to hurt. I had to concentrate to get rid of the creeping bad habit. I felt no pain after correcting my stroke.

Loop 5 – The field started thinning out and I was grateful for it. Now I could go back to swimming close to the buoys. Before the boat that was blocking the view, I found a lady in a green cap who’d stopped to figure out which way to go. I pointed the way to her and gave her directions and kept swimming. At this point I started to think “I got this” and smiled to myself every so often. I was surprised I was feeling so well. I thought about picking up my speed, but always worried about the warm water, I decided to keep doing what I was doing. Once I rounded the northernmost buoy, I swam by the spectator dock and waved. I smiled and people smiled in return.

Loop 6 – My friend handed me my last feed. His wife had just finished the 10K and looked fabulous. They’d wait for me at the finish line. One advantage of being a slow swimmer is that at some point you’ll be left alone. I actually like that. Most of my weekend ocean swims have been by myself at Reed Reef, which is guarded. Most swimmers had finished, but odd things started happening. First, a group of four jet skis crossed the course. They were moving slowly, but I still wondered why such a thing was necessary. Then a guy in a dinghy just paddled along the course. I gave him a nasty look, but I don’t think he noticed nor cared. After that, I swam a little faster, hoping to avoid the interlopers. At my last buoy turn, I thanked the lifeguard posted on a boat and headed for the finish line. Past the spectator dock, I turned toward the yacht club. Finally going with the chop! I was really surprised when I saw the clock marking 3:16. Since the women had left a minutes after the men, that meant that I had finished 15 minutes ahead of my goal of 3:30. I was pretty happy crossing the finish line. What I was most surprised about, was that I was feeling so good, I could’ve gone for another loop!

Wrap up – It was fantastic to be greeted by my friends and the ladies from my swim team at the finish line. I was happy to find out that all of my friends doing the 10K finished. This is my third year doing Swim Miami. I’ve moved up from the mile, to the 5K, to the 10K. I still remember looking at the 10K swimmers with awe my first year. This time I was one of them. I don’t think I’ll come back next year, though. I don’t like swimming so close to a stream of people going in the opposite direction. Last year a guy swimming left of center swiped my goggles off my face. I was lucky not to lose them or my contacts, but was rattled for a while. I had no incidents this year, perhaps because I avoided being close to the crowd, which surely increased the distance I swum. I did hear tales of head-on collisions and one swimmer wore bloody nail scratches on her face.

Overall, I had a great race and felt my training had been spot-on. I beat my goal and finished strong. I’m so thankful for my coaches, who every day challenge me to be a better swimmer, and for my friends, who’ve generously supported me before, during, and after the race with their help, love, and confidence in me.

Things that went well:

  • Yoga – It had a great effect on core strength and avoiding fatigue.
  • Strength training – Twice a week workouts made for happy shoulders.
  • Drills, drills, drills – Maintaining good form during a whole 10k was less of a challenge when muscles memorize it (or in my case, keep bad habits away).
  • Sunscreen – Desitin was my friend.
  • Temperature management – I DNFd at my previous race due to high water temperature. Knowing this, Coach challenged me to stay well hydrated for a week before the race. I did so for two weeks before the race. I usually wear a speedsuit (with legs ending above the knee), but Coach told me to wear a one-piece. The way she explained it, the gain in speed wouldn’t have mattered if I DNFd again by getting too hot to continue. I would’ve worn a two-piece but then I wouldn’t have been able to carry a collapsible bottle with me. I hydrated well every time I went by the feeding dock and I took a swig of my collapsible bottle every time I passed the northernmost buoy. My feeds were Gatorade mixed with Tailwind.
  • Pacing – Swimming in the pool at my target speed has helped me hold my target speed in the open water. Coach knows best.
  • Frame of mind – I mentally broke up the race into two 5K swims. To help me get there, I also thought of it as three training sessions in a row. I helped me that I had swum the race’s distance in the pool, so I knew I was capable. One of the reasons I love long-distance swimming is that I stay in the moment. At no point I wished the race was over, I simply managed my mind and body as external or internal input presented itself (once I stopped myself from zoning out!).

What needs improvement:

  • Must continue to work on my stroke and avoid zoning out and the creeping in of bad habits (like dropping my left elbow).

Next to come: Hurricane Man (2.4 miles), the Delray mile, and GCBS. My next block of training will target GCBS. My goal is to be better prepared for the wicked current of the shipping channel.

Point of Origin

Can you remember the exact moment when you started loving open water swimming? Can you remember the place?

I grew up on an island. Standing up atop the hill where my parents lived, one could enjoy a lovely view. To the north: the ocean. To the south: a creek, a green mountain, and the blue rainforest. Clouds crowned the highest peaks on most days. Frigatebirds drifted high in the sky, usually the harbingers of bad weather.

My father used to take the family to the beach, but I cannot remember when he started doing so. It was something he did. I loved the water, its saltiness and the shimmering bits of sun on its surface. I loved playing hide and seek with the waves. I loved the mangrove at the east end of the beach, with its thousands of fiddler crabs. I loved the forest of palm trees I used to run through, jumping over coconuts, to get to the beach in order to build sandcastles with moats that would be swallowed by the surf. I loved to look for shells on the sand. But most of all, I loved to see my father swim. I don’t know where he learned or how or who taught him. He was a great swimmer. He used to tell me, “See that buoy? I’ll swim to it, touch it, and return.” He’d smile and set off—no goggles, only swim trunks—on what seemed to me a grand adventure with a small audience. I stood at the beach watching him. His figure would shrink as he steadily cut through the waves in a straight line toward his destination. As he swum out to sea, I would think that I wanted to be able to swim to the buoy and touch it, too, but I didn’t know how. He wouldn’t teach me. That was not something he did.

Luquillo Beach

It took a near tragedy for my parents to enroll me in swimming lessons. I must’ve been nine years-old. Apparently my backstroke was good enough for me to be included in the age-group swim team. I made it to my first meet and though my name was on the psych sheet, the coach had another girl swim under my name. Disillusioned, I quit because nine year-olds don’t know how to deal with cheats. Since age-group swim teams didn’t abound in my island, for years I thought my swimming ‘career’ was over. My love for the ocean never wavered, though.

My life continued its happy twists and tortured turns and I eventually found myself on a peninsula with many a pool. At the time, I desperately needed to feel better about myself, so the obvious choice was to do something positive: I would pick up swimming where I had left off thirty years before. First step: buy a gym membership and a training suit. What followed was a defining moment in my life. I showed up at the gym’s pool with the goal of swimming ten laps. The modesty of that goal is sobering. I took off and when I finally reached the far end, I stopped, completely out of breath. I cried. Thankfully, I was alone. I told myself there was no way I was leaving without swimming my ten laps. So I composed myself and carried on.

That was in 2009. In 2012, I mustered my courage and signed up for Masters because I had registered for a half-iron aquabike (1.2-mi swim, 56-mi bike) and I needed help in figuring out how to swim the distance in a lake. Signing up for Masters was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My life has been enriched with wonderful coaches who have tinkered with my stroke, challenged me to try new things (fly!), encouraged me when swims haven’t gone so well, believed in me when I didn’t, and made me curse Fast Friday in order to help me become a better swimmer. And Masters has given me opportunity to make so many friends! Lovely people to chase and be chased by, to chat with during the rest portion of the intervals, people who’ve happily shared what they’ve learned and who’ve included me in their wicked swimming adventures.

Tomorrow I’ll be attempting my first marathon swim, the Swim Miami 10K. Very present in my mind is the injury that caused me to bail out of four races and which ended my triathlon career, not as much because of its seriousness, but because I made the decision that I won’t beat up my body doing something I don’t like (running). I’d rather honor my body–as my lovely yoga instructor Terri says–and do what I really love (swimming). Also present in my mind are the visit to the ambulance at the end of GCBS due to heat injury and the DNF at the Pompano 5K due to high water temperature. My body doesn’t handle well the heat. And since Miami is a *hot* city (caliente!), I get water temperature at 82F and air temperature between 72F and 78F. Cloudcover is in my favor, though. This time, I have a well thought hydration plan that Coach CJ helped me put together.

So while I stand at the beach tomorrow morning waiting for the air horn blast, I’ll be thinking of the coaches and friends who have helped me get to the point where I can make this attempt, of my kids, who listen to my swimming stories every day, and my sister, who thinks I’m the coolest sister ever because I swim in the ocean (luv u, sis!). And I’ll inevitably be thinking of my father swimming out in the ocean to a buoy far away.