Swim the Suck 2018, part III

(Part I and Part II)

The logistics on race morning are a little different now that they’ve changed the finish spot. We had to bring the kayak to the starting spot at Suck Creek boat ramp and then drive to the finish. Problem is, the finish is on river left while the start is on river right. There’s no bridge crossing the river, so we couldn’t simply follow the river to the finish. We had to drive around the city to get there.

Once there we parked the car and waited for the school buses. I slept. Not sure what Aunt Donna and Uncle Tony did. Before long, the buses arrived. We got on the bus, where I met a nice neurologist named Steve who was doing his first marathon at Swim the Suck. We had a great talk on the bus and I was glad to see later that he had finished the swim. Congrats Steve!

We got to the start and Tony set about getting the kayak ready. I lined up in the bathroom queue. Still had plenty of time before splash so I walked around talking to old friends.

Before long, I had to Desitin-up and get in line. The worst, and I’m serious: the worst part of StS is walking on the boat ramp. Small pebbles, like little torture-Legos, digging into my wimpy-soft toddler feet. And even worse, you have to drop your finish-line clothing bag at the top of the ramp, then the death march to the line. I was at the end of the line (#1598, based on last name), so then had to walk to the water, and just got in the water right before Karah called the start.

Different this year (than 2012), we had to immediately swim to river left around a particularly interesting buoy: a cow. That’s right, a huge white with black spots cow. This is undoubtedly a buoy owned by the good people of COWS. It was very easy to spot and we all got to feel the wonderful push from the river: Every time I sighted on the cow, it was to my left. I was getting a really nice push from the dam output.

Then we had to swim to one of four buoys spread out over a half-mile distance to meet up with our kayakers. I got buoy four, based on my last name. The buoy sequence was red, red, cow, red. These were smaller than what would be the finish buoy, but still big enough and red-enough (except the cow) to be seen…if your goggles weren’t severely fogged. I saw the first red and the second red, then nothing. I stopped to try and see where the cow was. A kayaker asked me if I’d found my team yet. You see, you’re not allowed to go beyond your assigned buoy without your kayaker. I asked him where the cow buoy was. “You passed the last (red) buoy already.” Uh-oh, I better stay here and start shouting.

(c) Jenn Galler

You can just see the cow buoy to the left of the woman sitting on the closest boat. That’s the cow we had to swim to and around to get us to river left. And if you look right under Karah’s left elbow, you can see the first of the red buoys. That span of red buoys stretched out approximately a half-mile. You can see where my team were waiting for me at buoy four based on where they were when they started my Garmin at the start of the race.

The white blob between the Trail and Rd is the Suck Creek boat ramp. That is where we started from and immediately swam to river left. My uncle started my Garmin when Karah hit the siren on the megaphone. That was about 600m of swimming before I got there. And yelled. I started swimming backwards a bit, heads-up; I didn’t want to be disqualified. After just a few shouts, I found them. There were only a couple tandem kayaks so it wasn’t hard. And I noticed my aunt had a wonderfully easy-to-spot purple hat on, so knew I’d have no trouble keeping them in sight. I put my head down and got to work.

I felt good! I had no right to feel so good, with my lack of prep for this swim. But I did feel good. No shoulder issues, no right elbow issues. I did have one little bit of pain in the tendons of my left elbow, similar to what I’d get in my right elbow. Why my left? That made no sense! That pain went away almost as quickly as it appeared. Sometime during this first hour of uninterrupted swimming, my stab wound started to nag me.

Yes. Stab wound. You see, Murphy reared his ugly head on the Thursday prior to the swim. I was at work, already changed into my riding-the-train-home clothes, to include my sandals. I was picking up my lunch dishes to wash them when my steak knife flew off the plate angrily and landed, point end first, in the top of my left foot. Right in the meaty part near the outside edge. And then it bled like a stuck pig. All over. I did my best to staunch the bleeding, but not much you can do on the top of your foot. I stuffed toilet paper around it and my sandal and walked the office looking for the first aid kit. I found some generic bandaids, grabbed a bunch, and went back to my cubicle. Still bleeding. A lot. I put a bandaid on and tried to keep weight off my foot. I still had an hour of work. Sitting for an hour seemed to help, but the minute I got up to leave for the day, it started bleeding badly again. The bandaid was covered in dark red. I got to the train, sat down and covered the old bandaid with a new one, just so I wouldn’t scare the other commuters. Then I walked home and did a better cleaning.

So here we are about 36 hours later and I’m still limping a bit. It hurts. And now I feel it throb every once in a while. My mind immediately going to tiny evil bacteria coursing into my wound and bloodstream. I’m gonna finish this, then go get my foot amputated. If I finish quickly enough and the evil didn’t go farther up my leg. The mind is a funny thing. The throbbing, real or imagined, only lasted a bit and was temporary and intermittent. Before long I forgot about it.

I swam to the first feed at 1:00. Still felt good. Drank fast and got my head back down and to work. From here on out it would be 30 minute feeds. I got to 1:30 and the team asked if I’d peed yet, just like I asked them to. I was close, but no cigar yet. Feed, keep moving. Somewhere between 1:30 and 2:00 I peed and shouted “Peed” to them on one breath. They smiled. From then on, I was able to pee with no issues. Hydration plan successful.

I used Rubbermade Chuggs. I bought the 10 oz ones this time; I had the bigger versions before but they’re just too big for what I need. What I didn’t notice about these is they have a straw/suck flip-top, instead of a flip-top which reveals a large whole in the lid. I like the latter better than the former. Easier to get a large quantity of liquid in ya in a short time. With these smaller Chuggs I had to suck the liquid out. Took a bit longer. The smaller size was nice though. I tried to drink about half the bottle each feeding. So I must have gotten on the order of 45 oz of liquid in during StS.

To make the time go by I started counting laps. I’d done this before while training on straps for Issyk Kul. It helps me take my mind off the swim. I knew I was stroking somewhere in the 50s per minute, so something along the lines of 1500 strokes should get me to the next feed. Of course, I’m sure I missed some counts, or counted 400 twice, but the three times I counted strokes between feedings, I was in the 1600-1700 range each time. That jives with my usual spm pace.

I think at the 1:30 or 2:00 feed, I licked the inside of my goggles. Fog gone finally. Now I could see what Tony was signalling to me. The fog was so bad prior to this that I could barely see his hand signals. Now I could see clearly. Only issue was I could see clearly. You see, the river has buoys and signs that give you an indication how far you’ve gone. I don’t need that kind of support! The last thing I want to hear is “You’re halfway!” I actually want the finish to surprise me.

As the 2:30 feed came up, I entertained the idea of asking them to “feed” me the ibuprofen bottle at the next feed. I was just starting to feel my back. Not in the usual place, the lower back, but in the trapezoids. I was surprised. I never feel it there. But I could feel I was using my traps for the event today and perhaps I should get ahead of the pain? But it wasn’t really that bad. And wow! I still couldn’t feel anything wrong with my right shoulder or elbow. I didn’t say anything about pain relief. I did eat though. I got a Babybel cheese. So yum. Head down, back to work.

Still feeling good at the 3:00 feed. I asked one question: Am I in danger of not finishing in the six hour time limit? The team responded “Not at all.” I felt good, so I ate some more, this time a Justin’s nut butter packet, drank a lot, and took some time to pee vertically. I told them to go ahead and give me the ibuprofen at the next feeding. I wasn’t hurting that much more, but knew it was coming so thought it better to get ahead of the pain. At least, that’s what my Issyk Kul doc told me to do. And by this point it was just over 4 hours since I took 800mg. The bottle is filled with 400mg of liquid ibuprofen. And the max per 24 hours is 2400mg, so I still had plenty I could take tonight. And I’d been eating, so my stomach should be ok. Head down, back to work.

Somewhere around this time the sun finally came out. The forecast called for sun right at the start, but it was overcast forever. I was afraid it would be blah like 2012. Amazing how your mental state, attitude, body feels so much better when the sun comes out. It was glorious. I could see some of the beautiful houses on the right bank, the gorgeous trees, the blue blue sky. I drank up the medicine at the 3:30 feeding and dared a glance up and down the river. No, I’m not last. Good. Ate a Justin’s dark chocolate peanut butter cup. Oh yeah. I can swim forever with these as rewards. (No, I’m not sponsored by Justin’s, but maybe I should be.) Head down, back to work.

Glorious sunshine!

As the 4:00 feed came I started to get tired. I really wanted this to be over with. I was happy that nothing really hurt. I was just ready to be done swimming. I started actively seeking out things on the right bank, trying to determine if I remembered anything from 2012 or if I was looking at something new. The finish is now 0.36 miles farther than in 2012, so surely if I see something new, I’m close to done, yes? Well crap, all those trees look the same. Not the same as 2012. I mean the same. I am moving, yes? It was also at this time that I thought back to one of my rules for my team: If I insist on being told how far I am or how I’m doing, and I’m not doing well or I’m not halfway yet, lie to me. Uh-oh! When I asked them if I was in danger of finishing, were they lying? Crap. The 4:00 feed came and went. Head down, back to work.

Sun still out. Body still tired. Mike still wanted to be done swimming. Somewhere after the 4:30 feed I saw something that definitely wasn’t there in 2012.

This is the view from my uncle’s camera. The view closer to the water level looked more like a wall lining the side of the river. Ending in a white hotel with a red roof. At least, that’s what I thought it was. I even saw one of our race motorboats approach the hotel and park. This sure as hell was not there in 2012. I’ve got to be past the 10-mile mark by now.

They stopped me a little after 5:00 for my final feeding. My rule-set did not prohibit them from telling me where I am if they can see the finish buoy. And sure enough, they pointed it out to me. 600-800m away. I threw the bottle at them and put my head down and sprinted. For about 10 strokes. Then I was tired. Hell, that was the 5:00 feeding. I’ve got an hour to make it those 600-ish meters. I’ll get there.

Finish at those blue umbrellas…so close!

What I remember from the pre-brief was that there would be another (the same?) big cow buoy right before the finish buoy. I couldn’t see the cow anywhere, but I sure could sight on the red buoy. The first red buoy. My brain started playing tricks on me: Didn’t they say there’d be two or three buoys leading up to the finish buoy? Is the finish buoy around the bend up there? Oh my God, do I still have a half-mile or more to go?

The thought of having to swim even farther than that one red buoy was killing me. I just want to be done. I want to be vertical. I want to eat. I want out of the water. And before I knew it, I was.

(c) Jenn Galler

That’s me right before I touched the buoy. You can’t see it, but I’m smiling ear to ear. Another Swim the Suck in the records!

(c) Tiffany McQueen

Finishing a bit before me was my Army friend Tiffany. She jumped back in to get a selfie with me. Then I noticed another recent finisher getting back in the shallow end so her kayaker could take a picture of her with the cow in the background. Yeah! Where the hell was that cow?

Yep, there it was. And I swam right past it.

The announcer here, like in Salem, had fun with my name. “Few people know that the boxer Mike Tyson was named after the marathon swimmer Mike Tyson!” He had so much fun with my name that some folks asked me if I knew him. Nope.

Here is my track from the Garmin. You can subtract 5:00 from the time as Tony didn’t remember to press stop till we were already on the beach. Final official time: 5:15.56. Happy with that, especially considering the lack of prep. And you can add about 500m to that distance, so just shy of 11 miles. The dam pushed us pretty good, especially at the start. I had some periods where my 100m times were 1:30 or less.

(c) Jenn Galler

I looked around for the changing tent area, couldn’t find it, so hid behind some guy’s Uhaul trailer and changed into dry clothes. (Later, before leaving, I would walk right past the changing tent area, which turned out to be about 30m from where I changed. What is with me and not being able to see things in front of my face today?) Next stop? Taco bar! Karah got a restaurant to cater and damn did she do a great job. Beef and chicken choices. All the fixings. Tortillas. I’m sure they weren’t low-carb tortillas and I didn’t care. I had two. And beer! Chattanooga Brewing sponsored the event and they had two brews available (a Maibock and Brown) I had to try each. Of course! (If you’re in town, go sample their beers. Very tasty.)

(I also found out that the “new” thing I saw near the end of the swim was, in fact, new. But it wasn’t a hotel. Turns out it was a barge that found out about our swim and decided to pull over to allow all of us to finish! What a mensch! He was pushing four huge barges full of who knows what. That would have created quite the wake for us to swim through. From all of us swimmers of StS, we salute you, Captain!)

We also got our finisher awards. StS is great in that everyone, including kayakers (and other volunteers I assume?) get a piece of original art. Karah finds a local artist and gets him/her to create something original for everyone. This year was pottery by 423 Pottery. I had a helluva time choosing. In 2012 it was “fish on a stick” which I still covet.

L-R: 2018 & 2012 finisher awards

Then it was reunion time. Met so many great swimmers. Half of them I’ve already “met” online. So great to meet them in person finally. We also stayed to cheer in the final male and final female swimmers. Despite the 6:00 time limit, Karah got permission (from whom, I’m not sure) for Felicia to finish the swim, which she did in 6:45. StS is a unique swim in that you get an award for being the last one to finish. And the award is nothing to sneeze at: A very beautifully framed and matted photograph of some part of the swim. Nice touch, Karah! And it turns out that the final finishing male was escorted by a longtime FB friend, MJ, whom I met for the first time here. She said her swimmer had overheard another swimmer at around the 3:00 mark. That other swimmer asked how far she’d swum. “Halfway,” was the answer. “I don’t think I can swim another five miles in the three hours I have left. I quit.” Apparently this worked against MJ’s swimmer. MJ persuaded him to continue. “Karah’s not gonna kick you out at six hours when you’re close.” Sure enough, that guy finished in 5:48! Congrats James!

Before long I realized Aunt Donna and Uncle Tony were MIA, having gone and put the kayak on the truck. I felt bad, so I ran around and hugged all the swimmers I knew and then ran to the truck. That was a mistake; longest 100 yard run of my life. We got in the truck and headed back to the house. It was on 5:30pm by now, maybe later, and we were all full, so we opted for no dinner out and instead stopped and got ice cream for dinner. Best. Decision. Ever. Peanut butter chocolate. No better.

Bed by 10. So gloriously tired. Up at 3:30am for the Uber to the airport. Back home in Boston before noon. Already planning next year’s Swim the Suck.

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