Saturday, 12 October, was my third time swimming Swim the Suck, a 10-ish-mile swim down the Tennessee River, the #1 beyond-10K-marathon-swim in the world. Not an exaggeration. I’m serious.
This was also the swim’s 10th annual running. And what a great anniversary it was. 122 swimmers and kayakers in the water, with dozens of volunteers and observers out there to make sure everyone was safe.
Friday night was the pasta dinner and race briefing. This is always a good time, almost like a reunion (or, homecoming…see a future post on this) for us marathon swimmers. But even before that, there is the annual Patty (Hermann) Invitational Swim on Friday morning.
I’ve never been able to make this swim. I usually only take Friday off from work and fly out in the morning. I’ve not had much luck flying out of Boston, at least flying out on time, and Chattanooga is not a direct flight from Boston. Therefore despite an early take-off (5:45am), I wasn’t going to get to Chattanooga until 10:20, and Patty’s swim starts at 10:30.
Imagine my surprise when we landed at 9:55! I immediately texted Patty telling her I might make it. I changed into my swim suit in the airport bathroom (gross), ordered my Uber, waited 10 minutes (damn, should have ordered it before changing), and headed to the swim, with an estimated time of arrival of 10:45. Texted to Patty and another swimmer friend Tim Root telling them I’m on my way.
I arrived at 10:43 and saw some swimmers still there. Those folks were debating whether or not to swim all the way to Patty’s cabin, so I went down by the water to see if anyone I knew was there; I needed to find someone who could hold onto my backpack. Thankfully, Tim’s wife Amanda was there with their three little boys, and she agreed to take my backpack to Patty’s (thanks again Amanda!). I took my clothes off, put my goggles on, handed Amanda my backpack, and tried to catch up to the pod 10 minutes ahead of me.
The Tennessee river valley is just so beautiful. Speedboat drivers were screaming up and down the river on the left, so I stayed to the right; Patty’s house and the boat launch where we started were both on the right. I did, however, try and cut some of the corners to catch up to the other swimmers, and creeped out too much into the middle of the river. Since I never expected to make this swim, I didn’t bring a swim cap or my buoy, so I wasn’t very visible out there, and Stephen Rouch, marathon swimmer extraordinaire, had to come out and advise me on getting back to river right so I didn’t get run over.
The Patty Invitational Swim was about 2.8 miles and with the river running well it took me only 70 minutes. Very nice, shake-out swim prior to the big event. Hopped out at Patty’s cabin and hung out with some of the other swimmers; I think about 20 of us did the swim. Patty’s got a great view of the river from her cabin’s deck. Wow.
Was lucky enough to get a ride from Patrick McDermot and his wife to my AirBNB; they both drove down from Salem, NH, with two kayaks on their roof. More on them later.
Back to the pre-race briefing. I sat with my kayaker, Guillermo Uribe and his wife, Angelica, and daughter, Liz. Liz is a SCAR veteran, Catalina swimmer, and an all-around great person. Her mom and dad are veteran kayakers and I was lucky to have been assigned Guillermo as my kayaker for Swim the Suck 2019.
Karah Nazor, race director of Swim the Suck, briefed all of us on her fantastic swim. What I like about Karah’s briefing is she doesn’t do it all herself. In fact, she enlists the help of the biggest Sucker of them all, Annie Loveless, to brief the actual course. Annie has swum every single Swim the Suck since it began in 2010. She knows the river and gave a good overview, beneficial for beginners and veterans alike.
Karah also made a point of how great this community is. I’m talking the community of marathon swimmers and volunteers. Just one example is the case of the aforementioned McDermots.
A couple weeks prior to the race, Karah sent out a request for people to bring kayaks to Chattanooga; seems that every year Swim the Suck rents out all kayaks in the city. But she still needed more. The McDermots brought two kayaks with them from New Hampshire. One for themselves, another to offer up to the race.
Meanwhile, Guillermo and his wife flew from Arizona to come kayak for swimmers. Angelica kayaked for her daughter, with a rented kayak. Guillermo kayaked for me with a McDermot kayak. Imagine that on a map, arrows from NH to TN and from AZ to TN, and me, an arrow from MA to TN. Well, you don’t have to imagine it ’cause here’s my crappy picture of Karah’s slide:
Even more wow was one kayaker who came from Denver to kayak for a swimmer. Did she know a swimmer in the race? Nope. She contacted Karah and said she wanted to come to Chattanooga to volunteer to kayak for any swimmer who needed one. How incredibly great is that?!
(Even more telling about how big and great this swim is: On the morning of the swim, I got to talking to the chief safety officer. He told me that 40-odd of the kayaks being used that morning were all from a company who was closing up shop and had sold all their kayaks…two weeks prior. They sold their stock of kayaks but told the new owners that they couldn’t come get their kayaks until after Swim the Suck!)
Karah still wins for race briefings for one simple reason: this one slide with the best and most succinct marathon swimming advice anywhere.
Karah always has special guest speakers at these briefings too. In 2012 it was Martin Strel who talked about his Amazon swim. Last year I had to leave before the speech due to needing to prepare feeds. This year we had two guest speakers.
Stephen Rouch gave a great short speech about the importance of crew, and how right he was. He highlighted his crew from his speedy 50-mile swim in Vermont.
Elaine Howley, crazy-incredible marathon swimmer, gave a talk on her support to Sarah Thomas’s monumental four-way English Channel crossing. She was honest in what turned out to be the unexpected (but welcome, Elaine?) media interest in Sarah’s story. Really great talk, Elaine.
Then back to my AirBNB with the giant Charles in his tiny Chevy Aveo, or whatever that tiny car was. I know all about Charles’ car problems, I promise you. Anyway, back to the house, finish my prep, and get some sleep. Next up, show-time at the Suck Creek boat launch at oh-eight-hundred, Saturday morning.