Saturday October 13th was the ninth iteration of my favorite marathon swim and the best named one, Swim the Suck. Swim the Suck is a 10-(ish) mile swim through the Tennessee River gorge nearby beautiful Chattanooga and the brain-child of the indefatigable Karah Nazor. The swim is with the current, which is variable based upon the whims of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Chickamauga dam. The water is always warm; temperatures being context-based for open water swimmers, I’ll say that most, if not all, swimmers of this event never complain about the water temp. I say ten miles-ish because the race course changed slightly in the last few years. The finish line has been pushed a bit farther down the river, resulting in some swimmers’ Garmins registering closer to 11 miles when they’re done. In this post, I’ll recount how I got to Saturday.
This swim usually opens for registration early in the year (Feb?) and is filled if not in an hour then by the day’s end. And that’s for 115 slots (a huge amount for a swim like this)! Back in Feb I was still in Moscow, but knew I’d be living in the states in October. However, that would have been only about a month and a half after getting here to Boston and starting this job, so I didn’t sign up. I didn’t want to show up here and immediately ask for a Friday off!
Politics happened and as you dear reader(s) know, we got here significantly earlier. (Early enough to crew for B in the Boston Light Swim!) On August 20th, sitting in our living room on our new couch (thanks to the lowest bidding moving company losing half our original couch), I see on the StS FB page a simple message from the race director:
Three slots open. First three to email me are in.
Holy crap. Of course I immediately emailed her and a little bit later got this:
Dang it. You were the 9th to reply out of 12 Thanks for your interest and wanting to swim the suck again. Ugh. Wish i could open to everyone but i cannot.
Sad, but understandable. I could always try to get in for 2019.
Everything changed a few weeks later. One Tuesday night early in September I was again sitting on my couch and got the following message:
Want in to swim the suck still? Had another cancellation! Let me know
Oh my crap! Hell yes I do. I told my wife I had a slot if I wanted it. I don’t remember what she said in response because I was too dang excited. I wrote Karah back and after some registration paperwork, I was in!
My next thought was my uncle Tony, who kayaked for me in StS 2012. But would he be available on only 31 days notice? I sent him a simple email asking him what he was doing on 13 October, and I included the link to the StS webpage. (Just a month or so prior at his son’s wedding he mentioned to me that kayaking for me in this swim was one of the most fun things he’d ever done kayaking.) His response was simple: Hmmmm!
Turns out he and my aunt already had vacation scheduled for the week of, but had not yet decided where to go and what to see. And apparently my last minute entry into StS 2018 decided it for them! Not only that, they would bring their tandem kayak and both escort me down the river. How lucky am I? By the next day they’d planned out their vacation, first in Nashville, then Chattanooga on Thursday through Sunday. Logistics covered.
So next was the swimming. I had kinda petered off on my yardage after what I thought was my last swim of the season in Salem. In fact, between that swim and the email from Karah, I had only swum 4.5 miles. Not good for three weeks. I set about to improve on that. The outdoor pool near work had closed on Labor Day, so my only option was swimming before work at the Y. I’m not a morning worker-outer. But I’m also not good at going after work. So I went in the morning.
But not enough. The past few months I’ve had a nagging issue with my right shoulder. I’ve been in denial that it is anything to worry about. But someday I’m gonna have to get it looked at. Meanwhile, I’ve been doing exercises for people with frozen shoulder. That’s what my WebMD-ing had determined it was. (Later, I will re-diagnose my shoulder as tendinitis.) The shoulder would really feel good while swimming, only later hurt when I’d turn my arm weird, or reach back to grab a seatbelt, that sort of thing.
I’ve also had long-standing issues with my right elbow. It’s an orthopedic doc’s dream with all its issues, but in the last few years I’ve had occasional pain with the tendons there. After my successful Issyk Kul two years ago we were driving back to the city and I reached forward to adjust the air conditioning vent and BAM, sharp pain in the inner part of my right elbow, the tendons were screaming. I’d have to hold that arm like it was in a sling. This pain would reoccur off and on since then. Rarely if ever while swimming though, only outside the pool. Regardless, a royal pain in the butt.
So back on my swim schedule I went, fully intent on ramping my swimming back up to at least doing 10 miles in the week two weeks prior to the event. In other words, the last week of September. Did 5 miles to finish off the week, to include a nice 1.5 swim in the ocean on the Sunday. But the next week I spent three days traveling and the hotel had no pool. No matter, because when I got back I was sick, so still no swimming. I did feel better on the Saturday and got 1.5 miles in at the beach. The next week, the week I was to do 10 miles, I did a whopping 4.3 miles. Uh-oh.
I had a few options at this point. I could try and make the first week of October the 10-mile week, then ramp down slightly leading up to StS. Or I could continue on as I’ve been doing, knowing that there’s not much I can do at this point and I did have a pretty good base from the summer. StS is a forgiving event and regardless, it is so nice down there that I’d have a good time whether or not I made it, right? Then the demons began. What little swimming I did in the two weeks prior (7250 yards, sum total) had my brain playing tricks on me. Oh jeez, another DNF? What’ll you tell the people at home? at work? online? Ugg…get out of my head!
Some mornings I’d wake up early enough to go swim and my shoulder would be screaming at me, barely able to move. I’d have to grab my right arm with my left hand to move it up or down, the shoulder hurt so much. I’d choose a long shower with the massage flow of hot water working my shoulder muscles. Or the inside of my elbow. Basically, I chose rest over swimming. I did a lot of walking, especially the last two weekends prior. The wife and I did three 5-mile walks around our town. That was about it for the exercise. I think some of that helped. It certainly couldn’t have hurt. But really, I had no business starting a 10-mile swim on Saturday, so ill-prepared was I.
But sometimes, rest is what you need, as you’ll see in Part II.