Swim the Suck race report, part I

It’s been a long time coming, but here, finally, is my swim report from the fantastically fun Swim the Suck 10-mile swim.


For those few of my readers out there who have no idea what Swim the Suck (StS) is, StS is a 10-mile swim down the Tennessee River north of Chattanooga, down stream to mile marker 443.3. The swim is current-assisted, although this year the current wasn’t as high as in the two previous iterations. Still, I got a bit of a push from the 6-17K (depending upon who you talk to) of cubic feet of water per second.

But let’s get this race report organized. First I’ll talk about the logistics for a big swim like this. Then I’ll talk about the conditions of the swim. I’ll follow that with how the swim went for me. Finally, I’ll finish with some notes.

This was my first kayak-escorted swim, so the logistics for the swim started months ago. My wife was initially going to be my kayaker, but we couldn’t figure out what to do with the kids while we were having fun in Chattanooga. So I put the call out on FB and through family for someone with kayaking experience.

A miscommunication ended up with my uncle kayaking for me. Tony had picked up kayaking about a year ago, and he agreed to accompany me to TN for this fun. I had already had a kayak reserved for my wife, so I didn’t have to fight to get a last minute kayak. For a while, I was afraid I wouldn’t get a volunteer kayaker. I contacted Karah, the organizer of StS, and told her about my wife not being able to escort me. She warned that there might not be a volunteer available for me. I’m glad I found my uncle as I would have had to cancel my participation in the great event.

TonyMy kayaker, my uncle Tony. (Photo by Phyllis Williams)

However, as I learned the morning of the swim, there were more volunteers than there were swimmers. If this ever happens in the future, I won’t even consider cancelling the event.

So I had my kayaker. I had the plane tickets, hotel reservations and rental car. All good. So packing was next. I brought more than I thought I’d need. I brought plenty of “feed.” I brought three pairs of goggles. Plenty of underwear. I had printed up all the important paperwork that Karah told me to print up.

When we arrived in Chattanooga, we found the important locations. Package pick-up at Outdoor Chattanooga and the swim start at the Suck boat launch. Then we went shopping. I almost bought a 24-pack of water bottles, but reconsidered down to the 12-pack. I had brought plenty of feeds, so didn’t need to buy any.

Tony and I returned to the hotel and mixed feeds. I say “feeds” when I really mean cool-aid. I haven’t really practiced feeding. When I did long swims in Moscow, I would drink a mixture of apple juice and water. That seemed to do the trick for my 2- and 3-hour swims. But for something that I’d hoped would only take 5 hours? What the hell do I drink?

I didn’t want to try out Maxim on a swim like this. I’ll save that for next season when I can practice in open water. So I stuck with what I know. Crystal Light. I mixed Crystal Light in three water bottles. Orange that is. Then three of “red” flavor. I also did two of my apple juice concoction, and one flat Pepsi Max. That’s nine bottles. Tony had a dry bag in which he put the bottles.

For my feeding, I took a line from Swimmer25K and used a plastic cup attached to a line. I poked a hole with a hole puncher and tied some twine to it. The twine was about 8-9 feet long. What I learned is I’ll need longer in the future. A couple times I had to swim with Tony to avoid the twine getting taut.

Plan was for Tony to half-fill the cups, then stop me every 30 minutes to drink as much as I can. This would be the first time, ever, that I would feed from a boat. So, first feed came up, I stopped, grabbed the cup, stayed on my side and gulped as much as I could, just like I’d seen in videos. That was a mistake. Went down the wrong tube. So the hacking began, and continued for about 10 minutes. Thankfully I’m skilled in coughing under water. Every feed after that, I just went vertical and drank as much as I could.

But now I’m starting to talk about the swim. Let me go back to conditions.

The day prior to the swim, the weather was awesome, 75 degrees, sunny, light wind. Beautiful. Oh course, the day of the swim, it was 59 degrees outside and raining. Miserable. That was when I wished I’d brought my rain jacket. The clothes I wore at the boat launch would be the clothes I’d wear after the swim. Wet. Damp. Yuck.

The energy at the boat launch was a freaking blast. All the volunteers. All the swimmers. 70 swimmers this year. That meant 70 kayakers. But no, wait. There’d be SUPs too. And safety kayaks. And motor boats. How the hell did Karah organize all this? It was incredible.

Then to add to the fun, a helicopter flew by three times filming us. (I can’t wait to find that video.) Karah said it was from the RiverRocks celebration. How damn nerve racking. I’ve never been more nervous. Especially after my epic fail 10K. I really didn’t want to fail. I had met another swimmer the day before at the launch, a 58-year old gentleman with an appointment with the EC in 2014. He and I were talking goals. I told him 5:00 was my goal. What I was really thinking, though, was that my goal was 5:59:59. Just want to make the 6 hour cut-off!

So there I was standing around in my suit, greased up, hoping to make the cut-off. I had greased up with Desitin, lovingly called butt cream when our kids were younger. I first used Desitin at the 5K in NJ, thanks to Rosemarymint. Desitin works. That’s what I learned. I’ll use it at all swims in the future.

We lined up in number order, mine being 48. The worst part about any swim is the standing around with no flip-flops, usually on rocky ground that hurts like hell. So we did that for about 15 minutes. Then we got the call to enter the water.

Tony had entered with the rest of the kayakers about a half hour earlier. I found him as I entered, then lost him. Way too many kayakers.

The water was cool, in the mid 70’s. No big deal. We all swim over to where a rope was strung across, with the intent of grabbing onto the rope. But someone along the way stood on it, so it was all over by then. Most of us couldn’t reach the rope or even feel it, so we just lined up as best we could. What I liked the most was the fact that the start was almost immediate. After everyone was in the water, we had a count-down from 10, and we were all off.

Next, the Swim!

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