On Saturday I learned of the Vampire Swim happening here in town. If you don’t know what this swim is, where have you been hiding?
The Vampire Swim is a blood drive and open water swim close to Halloween. You don’t donate blood at the beach but at a donation center prior to the swim. Then you dress up and jump in the water!
Eleven of us braved the 51F water in South Boston. Some swam for 20+ minutes while others, like yours truly, dunked their head, swam a few strokes, then got out.
The coldest I’d been in prior was my 2.5 hours in 57F in lake Issyk Kul. 51F is a different animal all together. My feet were absolutely frozen. Toes hurt. The tide was low, so lots and lots of shells to walk over, but frankly, I couldn’t feel my feet anyway. It must have taken me 10 minutes to walk up past the cockles. And I stayed there for a while, talking with the other crazies!
Mina and I decided to go ahead and dunk our heads and swim some. Mina, whom I met this year in BLS and then saw again at StS, swam way more than I did. I probably swam maybe 5 or 6 strokes, then some breast, then turned around and got out.
When I started swimming, I felt like something was strapped around my belly, like one of those waist sweat belts that some guys wear. I thought for a minute that I had strapped my buoy to myself, but I hadn’t. Very weird feeling. I spoke with Elaine after and she explained about what the organs do when the body is immersed in cold water.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Swim the Suck actually starts on the Friday before. This is when packet pick-up and (evil carb) pasta dinner happens. If you don’t know your kayaker, this is also the time to meet him or her. And of course it is time for the race briefing.
That right there is the “Suckiest Suckster,” the one swimmer who has done every StS since the beginning. She’s describing the course. This briefing is pretty in-depth. When I first did StS back in 2012, I was so thankful that Karah takes the time to brief so thoroughly. I now am thankful that she’s still briefing it that way, and I like how she’s letting XXX brief the course. Nice touch. But the most amazing thing? And I’m not sure if it’s been like this for a few years, but I can tell you this was not part of the briefing in 2012: Swim giveaways.
Odds weren’t bad, compared to something like a lottery. Every swimmer had a chance to win an entry to SCAR, or Swim Hobbs Island, or Bridges to Bluffs, or a Viking swim. I mean really, holy crap. SCAR itself is worth $1500. The Viking swim includes paying for the boat escort. Jesus, how I hoped that one of the winners would announce that they couldn’t accept so that I got another chance at winning one of those swims! Beggars can’t be choosers, though; I was lucky to even get this spot in StS this year.
Karah is an esteemed marathon swimmer in her own right, so we are lucky to get her not only as the race director but as the briefer. And from her years of experience, she’s got a lot of great advice. Her best is illustrated below.
Can’t get much better advice than that right there.
Karah got the food catered and there were no complaints anywhere in the room. My aunt, uncle and I had eaten a late lunch so weren’t too hungry. And me eating LCHF, I opted for the salad. It was good, but damn did the meat sauce for the pasta look good. I seriously contemplated taking a plastic cup and filling it, but I chose to behave. Instead I decided to eat one of the homemade cookies they had there, chocolate chip.
The briefing took about an hour, to be followed up with a briefing by Dr. Andreas Fath. Dr Fath has swum the entire length of the Tennessee River while doing a study on water quality. I did want to listen in to his briefing, but it was already 7pm and I wanted to get back to the AirBnB and rest.
We made our way back to the house and settled in. We had already gone over my gear and needs. I briefed them on my rules: Let me swim for an hour, then feed me every 30 minutes from then on. Never tell me how far I’ve gone, in distance or time. Stay to my right, between 2 and 4 o’clock. If I need food I’ll either tell you during a feed or shout it while breathing. Don’t engage me in trivial conversation while feeding. At the 1:30 feed, ask me if I’ve peed and if I haven’t yet, ask me every feed until I have peed. Simple.
I also told them to not be offended if I was short with them. I just want to put my head down and swim after a feed, so I’ll throw the bottle back to you. We had the bottle on a nylon thin rope. It worked great. At one point in the swim, I ended up talking more, but I’ll get into that in part III.
Then I went to bed. At a pretty decent hour, 10:30-ish. I expected to not sleep and I failed to bring melatonin, so figured I’d be tired the next day. However, when the alarm rang at 5:15am, I was initially shocked to be on my wife’s side of the bed. Then I remembered I’m not home, but in Chattanooga and realized that I slept all the way through! This is gonna be the start of something great…
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.
I think any and all followers of my blog know how much I freaking love Swim the Suck. Maybe if another swim had been my first longer-than-marathon-distance then maybe I’d feel the same about it. But I doubt it. There’s just something about Swim the Suck.
Is it Chattanooga? Perhaps. Sure seems like a nice place, what little I’ve seen of it over two StSs. It’s hilly and green, two great things for a city. It’s got an airport, which is a plus. And it’s got beer, including local beer, which was excellent. But that’s not it.
Is it the swim? Well, it very well may be the swim. Hard to get a nicer, softer intro to something beyond 10K. The river is very welcoming. Even when the dam doesn’t release much, or any water, you’re still going in the right direction. And wow is it ever scenic; plenty to look at as you float on. But that’s not it.
Is it the t-shirts? No, but they sure do rock. Always different, and none of them white (I hate white t-shirts!). I only have two and I love them both and take care of them. Both beautifully designed and soft fabric. Simply wonderful. And I intend on collecting more over the years. But that’s not it.
It must be the finisher gift, yes? No, but I also love (cherish?) those. Karah, the race director, finds a local artist every year and has him/her design something for everyone. To include pilots! In 2012 it was “fish on a stick” or a unique piece of pottery. This year it was coffee mugs. All different! It was a helluva time trying to decide on which one, but I think I chose well. But even with these unique gifts, that’s not it.
It’s the people! This swim is like a family reunion. Everyone is so happy to see everyone else. And if you don’t know someone yet, you’ll know them while waiting in line to enter the water, your feet in pain standing on the lego-esque tiny rocks. You’ll meet them wearing your Swim the Suck paper crowns the Friday night before. You’ll meet them and hug them and cheer them in to the finish. You’ll meet them while taking pictures with them enjoying the beer.
It’s the people. So many volunteers to make this swim run. A minimum of 115 kayakers! I say a minimum because, at least in my case, I had two, my aunt and uncle having brought their tandem kayak down to TN to escort me, and I know of at least one other swimmer who had two kayakers with him. Then there’s the safety cover. I have no idea how many kayakers and SUPs that involved, but there were many. And the safety boats. I think three? And their crews. The set-up, the guys watching over the kayaks in the morning. The guys who marked our arms in the morning and took our ‘after-swim’ bags to the finish for us. The folks who provided the food and directed us to our parking spots.
It’s the people! The faces you’ve only seen on FB. Friends you made on social media, through swim groups years ago, friends you’ve written to and shared pains and joys with over the years, and finally meeting them in the reals.
And it’s the race director. One of the nicest people you’ll ever meet and certainly one of the most dedicated to marathon swimming. Karah Nazor deserves more credit than she gets for continuing to hold one of the most successful open water swims in the world. How she’s managed to keep this thing going is just amazing. She is probably responsible for more people successfully transitioning to their first beyond-10k-distance marathon swim than any other race director out there. She is vital to this community and I hope she understands how much we all love her for what she does for us.
In the coming days, I’ll write up more on this swim and my preparation (or lack thereof), my experiences, compare it to 2012, and lots more pictures. Stay tuned, dear reader(s)! Now I’m off to take more ibuprofen.
Had another great OW swim yesterday at Revere Beach. It was low tide and the water was coming in in nice waves, which made the swim fun. The beach has a few low areas; from my feet getting wet to the water being deep enough to not drag my fingers was probably a good 300m. It just kept getting shallower and shallower! I got water up to my waist, walked a bit and the water was back down to my mid-thigh and at times my knees. I was tired of walking so thought I’d just swim, but you can’t really do anything with your stroke when you’re constantly hitting your hands on the bottom.
I finally got out past the breakers (?) and began the work of swimming. I have such trouble just swimming when I go to the beach. It’s so dang pretty out, the water is so nice, and when there are waves, I like jumping into them! The beach is in line with Boston Logan airport, so I will flip over and watch the planes. Bottom line, I end up with significantly less moving time than time elapsed, as you can see in the picture below.
All in all, a nice and short 1.5 miles in 67* water. Last weekend the water was 68-70*, but this time a steady 67F. No issues with cold till the sun went behind the clouds; it was past 5pm and it did start to feel cold. The wind also picked up. Yet, I was fine in the water. We’ll see how long I last. I want to keep going until I can’t even get in the water. I wonder what temp that’ll be?!
Last Tuesday night I was sitting on the couch, cruising the interwebs, minding my own business, when I noticed an email come into my inbox. From the race director of my hands-down favorite marathon swim ever. At first I thought it might be a joke, or her telling me again thanks for speaking highly of her swim but there’s still no room for me at the inn.
You see, back on 20 August, Karah N., the race director for Swim the Suck, posted on the race FB:
Three slots open. First three to email me are in.
Dear reader, you must understand that this swim is so popular it fills up within minutes of registration opening. You literally have to sit by your computer with the info ready to go and when registration opens, fill in those blocks like the wind, and hope you’re one of the lucky 100-odd who get to swim 10 (plus?) miles down the Tennessee river. Registration opens over nine months prior to the swim!
Of course I emailed…and was number nine. Ugg. If only I’d spent more time on FB (should say no one ever). I sighed, told her thanks for the opportunity and went on my way. I figured the Swim & Fin 5K last month was it for my season. I started thinking about 2019. Until last Tuesday.
She wasn’t emailing just for the hell of it, or to talk about next year’s race. Nothing of the kind. No, she emailed me to offer a spot. You see, more spots opened up, and since she already had a list of people interested from 20 August, she started down the list. And then came to me. “Holy shit!” I said to my wife. “I’m in.” She knows how much I love this swim. I swam it in 2012 and almost in 2013 (family event came up and I had to drop out). Been wanting to ever since but being so far overseas and not really knowing where we’ll be nine months out from mid-October has had me wishing I could register, but not doing it.
My next step was to email my uncle Tony, who kayaked for me in 2012 (see above picture) and just a few months ago has told me that kayaking for that swim was one of the most fun things he’d ever done kayaking. I sent him a simple email
Whatcha doing 12-14 October?
And I included the URL to the swim. His response? “Hmmm…!”
Turns out, he and my aunt had already scheduled vacation for the week of 8 October, but had no idea where to go or what to do. I immediately told him that I understood if he couldn’t make it. A day later, he and my aunt decided to make Chattanooga and Nashville their vacations spots! Not only that, but they’re bringing their tandem kayak with them, so I don’t even have to pay for a kayak rental. And I’ve got two escorts!
So unexpectedly my 2018 season just got extended. I had already slowed down a bit on the swimming and started building up the weight-lifting. Unbeknownst to you dear readers, the wife and I signed up for a charity lifting competition at our local Y. The comp was yesterday. I only signed up for the deadlift (DL). My wife signed up for all three events: squat, bench and DL. What you don’t know because I haven’t been advertising it on here is that back in February I started lifting seriously. Three days a week following first StrongLifts, then Starting Strength and now an HLM sequence. Once summer started, I went to two days a week (Heavy and Light only). About six weeks ago when we signed up, I started hitting the DL hard. I hit my max of 315 back on 27 June. From then I started working to improve my DL by 15 September. And I did, lifting 325 for a new PR! Of course my awesome wife hit a PR in squat (160#) and got second place in bench press and third place in squat.
Anyway, the reason I started the lifting was to improve my swimming. Additionally, I thought the squatting and DL would help my lower back. As some of you loyal readers know, I’ve had issues with my back in the past. But since I started this lifting regime, I’ve had no issues. I hope that continues. I was going to go back to three days a week on 1 October, but now with me swimming in Swim the Suck, I’m going to postpone that until 1 November. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to DL 400# by next year?!
I can’t believe my luck. So glad I emailed back on 20 August. Now I get to swim my favorite marathon swim again. w00t!
On Sunday I swam the Swim & Fin 5k up in Salem, Mass. After my epic fail down in Richmond, VA, I needed a “win” in this distance. While I didn’t win, I showed! Again! And in Salem…again! Maybe I should do all my swims in Salem? I’m 2 for 2 there.
The swim was awesome. It consisted of three laps in Salem Harbor. With water beautifully cool; 70F at the shore, probably 68-ish out in the deep. As you can see below, it was a nice big lap. The current was going out, or north (left) on that map. And we got beat up on that end. The green dot is the start/finish, and we swam counter-clockwise. The last three buoys on that route…wow, like a washing machine. But I like swimming in that kind of water. Gives me a challenge and makes me feel like I earned the finish. My only concern, and the thing that got me booted in Richmond, was the course time limit. Here in Salem the limit was 2:15. I’ve done two 2-mile swims this season and both in about an hour and six minutes. You’d think I could then do a 5k in about 1:40. Nope. I got booted in the Richmond 5k after two hours and nine minutes. With the washing machine water on one end of the swim I was afraid I’d not make the time.
As is usual with me, within about half a loop, I was on my own. By the second loop I started to worry that I was dead last. At the third-from-last buoy, finally some of the fast swimmers started passing me. While it would have been awesome if no one passed me, I was happy that it was at the end of my second lap. Still, I was pretty sure I was dead last. I searched a couple times, and saw some 5k swimmers (in green caps) way ahead of me (~300 meters), but didn’t see anyone behind me. Ugg. Then, toward the end of lap #3, a couple kayakers started coming alongside me. Uh-oh. Am I gonna be kicked off the course?
Nope. Right at two hours. 2:00.17 to be specific. Non-wetsuit. Yes. Swim & Fin Salem divvied up the results by wetsuit and skins. God bless ’em. I hung around the finish after I was done, just in case, like the last time in Salem, I ended up on the podium. And no sh!t…I did! Third place. Again. How awesome is that?
The RD had a lot of fun with my name, both when I was stepping up on the podium and when I was walking back to my family. And the DJ just happened to pick The Eye of the Tiger when they announced the Mens 50-59 non-wetsuit winners. What a coincidence. /snort/ And nine other swimmers finished after me. I was so glad to see that the RD allowed four swimmers to finish past 2:15.
All in all, two thumbs up to the organizers for a great event!
Another four swimmers will attempt a crossing of my route on the western end of Issyk Kul tomorrow. I must admit that I’m honored and prideful that my little swim adventures from 2015-2016 has turned into an annual event in far off Kyrgyzstan, the Switzerland of Central Asia.
This year there were to be six swimmers, two Kazakhs, two Kyrgyz and two Americans. Again, the Americans are Peace Corps members, like Sarah D’Antoni, who crossed a month after me and still holds the fastest time for the crossing (4:43). Unfortunately, the Americans did not get permission to swim this year, so there’ll just be the four locals.
And unfortunately, they’ll be wearing wetsuits. In that area of the world, cold water is scary for a lot of people, despite the fact the water there isn’t that cold. Folks in that area, with its connection to Russia, suffer from being raised by grandmothers who on the one hand will scream and cry if you go out in 50*F or cooler weather without a coat (fully zipped up!) and on the other hand will extol the health benefits of taking all your clothes off in the snow and dunking yourself three times in 35*F water in a cut-out hole in a frozen lake. The thought of swimming four, five, maybe six hours in 72-74*F water without the help of a wetsuit, is madness for these folks. While I try to persuade them to not swim the lake that way, and my friend the local doctor tries too, I am at least happy that people are even thinking of swimming across this beautiful body of water.
Tomorrow I will report more on how the swimmers do. Until then, here’s a picture of the swimmers, organizers and crew. Good luck to all!
I had the honor of crewing for Bridget S. in the Boston Light Swim, an 8-mile ocean swim with a long, illustrious history. She lucked into a slot when someone who made it through the swimmer lottery had to drop out. She and I know each other going back to 1992, so it was just dumb luck that I’m living here now and she got a slot in the swim. And I was already volunteering on the Friday night prior to the swim.
I must admit up front that I volunteered for selfish reasons: If you make it through the volunteer lottery (yes, a lottery for swimmers and volunteers), and you qualify, then next year you can skip the lottery to swim the race! So while I’d love to say I volunteered for altruistic reasons, I really had a game plan for 2019.
Friday went well; I got to meet a lot of swimmers I’d only known through the internet and the MSF forums. I also met some great swimmers who aren’t on the forums, to include a man who has swum the BLS 20 times, but also has swum BLS doubles at least 3 times. He’s also swum the original Boston Light route (12-miles from downtown Boston to the Light). Kim Garbarino was incredibly modest, and quite the swimmer. I met an 80-year old swimmer who has written the histories of the BLS; yes, I had to buy his books to add to my OW swims history collection. Bob McCormack was wonderful to meet and a true lover of this swim.
Saturday found us up early and out of the house by 0455. We had to stop at a Dunkin Donuts (they’re like Starbucks here) to get our pilot an iced coffee. We met all the other swimmers, got Bridget’s stuff together for the fly-away bag, and went out to the pier to wait for Kevin, our pilot.
This really is the worst part of any swim, the nerves at the beginning. All you can think about is the swim: How will I feel? How cold will the water be? Will the weather hold/get worse/get better? Did I train sufficiently? What did I forget? Where’s the pilot?
Kevin arrived and we loaded the boat. His boat was pretty small; Bridget had told me that he said she could have one crew member. I can see why. Small boat, but very capable. We motored on out to the Light for the start.
You can kind of see what looks like a small radar at the front of his boat. That is something like a “trolling motor,” if I understood him correctly. It is electric and with this motor Kevin can control his boat by remote control, with the main engine off. There would be times during B’s swim that I realized the motor was off and Kevin was steering the entire boat with a handheld remote. Nice and slow like the swimmer, none of this rush ahead, let the swimmer catch up, repeat.
The swim would start with a 5-min warning by radio, then two short horn blasts. Nothing fancy. Swimmers were not allowed in the water till those horns blasts. The current was in the swimmers’ favor, so jumping in early, then you have to fight to stay back behind the line. So the blasts go off and Bridget gets in the water. She is admittedly a gradual enterer in cold water so this jumping in was not to her liking. In fact, she jumped in, surfaced and screamed. Turns out the water was 57*. Bridget didn’t whine or hesitate, she simply put her head down and got to work. Within 60-90 seconds, she was cruising with a beautiful stroke.
She actually started in the very back of the line; all other swimmers were ahead of her at the start. But within 30 minutes, she had passed 5 other swimmers. Within an hour, she had passed eight more swimmers. Most of this was due to Bridget’s beautiful stroke, but a large part of this was the navigation by Kevin. He found fast water. He took an occasional weird route which turned out to be the right choice as Bridget would just zoom by other swimmers. Turns out he isn’t new at this. He’s piloted for BLS swimmers before, and knows the course.
Between Spectacle and Thompson islands, a bunch of different currents met, and there was slow water there. I ended up calling that area the Doldrums. (I didn’t tell Bridget that till after the swim.) It was about a half mile or so long and a lot of swimmers got stuck. I didn’t stop her at the 30:00-feed mark in this area because I didn’t want her to see herself being pushed backwards. Kevin took us almost directly north to Spectacle after we went through the Long Island “bridge,” then we took a sharp left past Thompson and caught a beautiful current.
That current took her straight to the L Street finish. I asked Kevin a couple times if he thought she would make it to the beach before the five hour cut-off. I didn’t want to stop her for a feed if she was within minutes of finishing. Kevin had no worries. He had her on a good line. One of the Irish swimmers was going directly to the yacht club where we started. Only problem with that is that was not the finish. By the time his pilot realized, Bridget almost caught up. It became a race then. Kevin wanted her to beat that guy! And she almost did.
Kevin and I cheered for Bridget as she arrived, then motored on back to the yacht club where we started. I tentatively booked Kevin for 2019. After watching him find fast water for Bridget, I knew who I wanted to be my pilot next year!