Lessons learned from Ocean City swim

Well, this 2013 season is turned into an interesting season. I’m not being very successful. Tampa Bay? We didn’t make it. END-Wet? I withdrew. Ocean City? Quit not even half-way. But I get ahead of myself.

The reason for my failure at Ocean City is 99% my fault. I was not ready for the salt water. Made my tummy queasy. I was not ready for the waves. And we’re not talking weeny waves. We’re talking 5-6 ft high on the beach. Not much reduced 100-odd yards out. Very nauseating. I was not ready for the cold. Cold! Not EC cold. Not (probably) Catalina cold. But for weeny Mike, the water was cold. I’d say in the 62-63 degree range. The organizers after the fact said 64 I think. Regardless, freaking cold. And my stupid back. It hurt. And not like last year in the 10K I made only 8.75K of. I hurt my back two days after registering (of course). I zigged when I should have zagged and pulled something. I was on 600mg ibuprofen every 8 hours for about 4 days prior to the swim. It started feeling better Friday of the swim. It was killing me only a bit into the damn race. Still, all the above can be chalked up to me not preparing myself properly. What I want to talk about here is the 1%.

The race was 9 miles along the shore, going north “with” the current (ha!). Buoys would be placed at intervals. Red/orange for the start and finish buoys, green intermediate, and I think yellow to designate the feeding stops at 3, 6 and 8 miles. So really, there was no way to get lost. I didn’t ask for a kayaker as I thought that would be unfair seeing how I registered on the last possible day, a week prior. I figured I could drink a lot of water prior, then take advantage of the drink stops.

The safety brief went well. The Captain of the beach patrol went over safety, and I thought did a pretty good job. The Captain said that at noon they’d have to pull two lifeguards to take up to the 6 mile mark for the 3-mile swim start (all three races would have the same finish) and then at 12:30 they’d take two more for the 1-mile swim. The Captain mentioned a large number of lifeguards, something on the order of 14, but I can’t remember exactly.

My first indication of a problem was when a swimmer asked a question about withdrawing, and what do we do, are we disqual’d if we stand-up, something along those lines. The Captain pointed to the race organizer and said “That question is for him.” The organizer stated that the swimmer is disqualified if they leave the water. Then someone asked how we get back if we quit. He didn’t have an answer. I thought, My goodness, did you guys not dry run this? But I figured, why worry?

The start went off like a hitch. The water was bracing, and I had to take short breaths for a while. My hands froze, as did my feet. I followed some of the wetsuits and lifeguards. A wetsuit and I ran in to each other once, but other than that, no problems. Little did I know that he would be the last swimmer I’d see all day.

One or two lifeguards kept paralleling me. I had to stop a couple times to pee. I just can’t get a hang of starting to pee while horizontal. They seemed to be concerned for me, asking me if I’m alright. I didn’t realize at the time that i was in last place. Didn’t hurt that the lifeguard who paralleled me for a majority of the time was cute as hell. I breathe right not because she was there, but because that’s what I do dammit!

On one of my pee stops I looked at the race time and I was a good hour in when I realized I hadn’t seen a buoy yet. I wasn’t any farther in or out from the start buoy, so I was confused. Maybe they’re farther apart than I think. At an hour I should have been at or near the 2 mile mark. Surely I wasn’t going so slowly that I hadn’t hit the first intermediate buoy, was I? At 1:40 race time, a jet ski came up to my lifeguard and took her away. She gave me two thumbs up as she scooted off. I stopped to look around and saw that there were no more lifeguards, no swimmers, no kayaks, nothing around me. Some surfers were near shore, but no one was swimming. I was cold (still!) and alone. Weird.

So I was cold, alone and my back hurt. Who care? I just kept going, figuring I’ll finish but it’ll take longer than I’d hoped. At 2:00 I began to get worried as I still hadn’t seen a buoy and hell, where was the 3-mile feeding stop? How could I have missed it? They described it as a small boat with inner tubes around it filled with water, Gatorade, Gu’s, etc. Oh crap! I’m two hours in and I haven’t even swum 3 miles yet? Holy crap, I’m slow. I asked a couple surfers if they’d seen any buoys and they said no. One looked up and down the beach from his sitting position and he said he didn’t see anything that looked like a buoy.

I plowed on, increasingly hurting and freezing. My hands were frozen, and when I would make a fist out of my hand, it would feel like my fingers were cracking. This is lower cold than in the UK or Denmark, so why am I not warming up? Dammit. At 2:30 I stopped. My brain kept telling me that I was off course. But that was impossible since the race was just swimming up the coast. But the animal brain won out. I started coming. Hell, if I’m 2.5 hours in and I haven’t even swum 3 miles yet, then I’m doomed.

When I could stand up (the waves knocked me down several times), I pulled my GPS out of my cap and saw that I had swum 4.1 miles. What? How? So where the hell was the 3-mile feeding stop? I looked up and down the beach. I found a green buoy, about as far out as I was swimming, about 200 further yards north. But no boats, no kayaks, nothing. And I was still freezing.

I went and told the first lifeguard I saw to report #925 as withdrawn. She started waving her signal flags. I started walking back to the start. I figured 4.1 miles walking is better than 4.9 miles!  About 0.5 miles down the beach (according to Mr Garmin), I realized I wasn’t ready to walk that far and I was still freezing.  I went to another lifeguard and asked what I should do. He told me he was directed to tell us to walk to the main street and wait for a bus with a sign saying Out Of Service or Frontier. So that’s what I did.
I sat on the street corner for 15 min.  All the buses that went by were pay buses. I had no money. There I was, in my grape smugglers, goggles, cap and GPS.  One guy walked by and said “You chose here to sun bathe?”  I was still freezing. I finally talked a guy into letting me use his cell phone, and I called my wife. She came and got me. We drove up to the finish and got my bag and I reported in as being withdrawn. They told me that at that point (just over an hour since telling the first lifeguard) they had not heard that I pulled myself from the race. Of the 27 starters, seven withdrew. Some reported being semi-hypothermic at the end, even those in wetsuits.
This is the 1%, dear reader(s), that I brought up with the organizers. (I brought all this up with them before publishing this post; I don’t think it is polite or just to complain like this without first giving them an opportunity.)  Safety-wise, this was a potentially dangerous situation. What if I got in medical distress and couldn’t make it to shore? (I know, I should have asked for a kayaker. But as late as I registered, they might not have been able to find me a volunteer?)  What if my wife and kids hadn’t come?  Was I supposed to walk to the finish?
I recognize that my failure was 99% (probably even more!) my fault. (My God, it was 2 hours after, most of that spent outside in 94-95 degree heat, before I got warm again! I was NOT prepared for that mid-60’s water!) But just for the safety of future Ocean City marathon swims, I wanted to bring this up to the organizers. And as I don’t like complaining without giving recommendations, here are the ones I gave the organizers:
a) require kayakers for the 9-milers;
b) if not, require lifeguards stay with stragglers (I understand that 2 lifeguards had to be pulled for the start of the 3-miler, but why pull one of them from the dork swimmer in last place?);
c) figure out how to get withdrawn swimmers to their bags at the finish line.

The organizers were wonderful in their response to my whining! They admitted to coming up with the same problems and solutions. They will require all 9-mile swimmers have kayak escort next year. And they’ll have a designated escort vehicle for swimmers who have to pull out of the race.

It wasn’t all bad! My wife and kids got to catch some history on the beach. At around noon, they noticed a small helicopter-UAV flying above the beach. A bunch of people started clapping. The kids and wife weren’t too impressed. It’s just some guy flying an RC helicopter. Just then, three long-haired men in full running gear ran past them on the beach and dove into the water, still in their sneakers and everything. They were giddy with laughter, so happy and excited.

Well, they should be. Turns out these three men just finished running a long way. All the way from San Francisco. No, that’s not a typo. They started back in February and, get this, averaged 28 MILES OF RUNNING A DAY. Yes, 28 miles! Talk about a triad of Forrest Gumps! These men raised money for sarcoma cancer research (God bless ’em) and noon last Saturday at Ocean City, MD, was the planned arrival for them! (My 16-year old is the first comment on that article.) These men ran for Miles 2 Give. Hearing about these guys made my weekend.

miles 2 give 2(The picture above is of these guys after they jumped into the ocean. My start buoy is on the left.)

miles 2 give

4 thoughts on “Lessons learned from Ocean City swim”

  1. Did you ever figure out what happened to all the buoys and the 3-mile feed stop? Did you miss them or had they pulled them before you got there somehow? Definitely sounds like a recipe for disaster. Was this the first time they put on this race?

  2. Beck,
    Not sure. I didn’t get an answer to that from the organizers. I imagine they did pull them. Same thing happened to some friends in Pensacola when the organizers had to pull buoys because the city made them, even though some swimmers weren’t there yet. Kayakers had a hell of a time finding the next buoy for them.

    One guy who swam with me, his volunteer kayaker took him so far out, the coast patrol came by in a jet ski and made him get on and they brought him back closer to shore.

    Yes, this was the inaugural running of this race.

    Good things was, when I reported in, the other 6 who withdrew were already on the list! So I at least out-lasted them!

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