Category Archives: Iconic marathon swim

Swim the Suck: the Swim!

Part I here. Part II here.

The day of the swim was glorious. Rain featured in the days prior but Saturday was sunny. The morning was cool, in the low 50s, so the boat launch was resplendent with hoodies and winter caps. The worst part was not doffing the warmth to be marked up with your number. No, the worst part, as always, was standing in line on the rough concrete in bare feet, being counted and waiting for the call to enter the water.

The last time I swam this (2019), and each time before,  we stood from #1 (some A-last name) to the last swimmer (Z? Y?). I was always at the end and thus had much more real estate to march over before hitting the water. Learned after my first Swim the Suck (StS) in 2012 to bring throw-away shoes: Dollar-fifty black flip-flops. Still, those micro-thin bottoms don’t leave much to the imagination, but better than bare feet. At some point, though, I have to toss them and walk the final feet to the rocky entry, still torture to my delicate, princely foot-bottoms.

This year, we were in four columns, grouped by cap color, which itself designated which start buoy we had to swim to (but not past!) to await meet-up with our kayaker. I was buoy #4 of 4, a half-mile into the swim (felt shorter).

As usual, I got to the boat launch way too early. I’m always concerned I’ll be late and have to rush (“If you’re on time, you’re late!” the military drilled into me), so I got there, thanks to an Uber driver whose English was so accented I truly thought he was speaking another language, at 8 am. And we weren’t swimming till 9:30. No worries.

I can feel the foot pain just looking at this picture

I found my kayaker, Derrick and his friend Denny. I got numbered (lucky #123!), brrr…, then walked around more. We got Derrick’s chair out of Denny’s car and took my feeds and gear to his kayak. Other swimmers started to show up (if you were driving you parked your car at the finish and boarded a school bus back to the boat launch). Lines formed. Nervous swimmers queued for the porta-potties.

Beautiful morning!

Each swimmer was given a red plastic bag the night before with his/her number on it. Point was to put your clothing and whatever else you wanted at the finish in the bag. That meant taking off your warm clothing. Like most of my fellows, I waited till the last minute. At 51F, standing in your grape-smugglers would chill you quickly (and we all were looking forward to the ~76F water!); thankfully, we could drop the red bags at anytime, and many of us waited till the last minute.

Mandatory selfie

A few of us had kayakers known to us, while a lot of us had volunteer kayakers. When you’re swimming in a group of over 100 flopping pairs of arms, it is hard to find your support boat. Especially when many of them look the same. Some kayakers dress up their boats so their swimmer can find them, others wear outlandish gear: the best was the guy who decided Barbie himself up, complete in bright pink speedo and pink cap. His kayaker wore a fetching tassled pink cowboy hat. She looked fierce! Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of this pair (hopefully when official race photos come out…).

Flamingo sighted!

Derrick was easy to find in the water due to him being one of the few kayakers not covered completely. He was wearing a very short sleeve white shirt with my number stenciled on the back; poor guy forgot my official number tag on this kitchen table. In short order we got Derrick in the water and his chair in Kris’s (the keto swimmer I met the night prior) truck. Before Derrick launched I started my phone’s tracker, sealed it in the otter box with a back-up battery, and carabinered it to his kayak.

Of course, as luck would have it, and as I watched my phone float away along with the other 100+ kayaks, a bald eagle flew over us. And spent quite a bit of time doing it. I saw the official photographer taking pictures so hope to have one to add here soon. After the swimmer brief we had one swimmer actually sing the National Anthem, but before she could start, Karah (RD) saw another swimmer standing next to me who wore a U.S. flag suit, and dragged her to stand next to the singer. We all moved ourselves toward the flag, hands on hearts and listened. I was secretly hoping the eagle would alight on the speaker: what a sign that would be, yes?!

This was followed by lining up and the USMS official counting. The water looked inviting. Doffed my flip-flops and inched along to the water, “dove” in as soon as I could. Deliciously warm water. I hung back as far as I could to avoid the flailing, impatient swimmers at the start (not really impatient, just faster than I). In no time at all Karah counted down and we were off. Buoy #4 came quick and I treaded for a while till Derrick and I found each other, then it was head down and to work.

My rule, as my dear reader(s) know, is: leave me alone the first hour so I can get the nerves calmed and the kinks out. Derrick set alarms on his phone, the first to go off at 10:30 based on a 9:30 start. Unfortunately we didn’t start until around 9:45, so I knew my first feed would be sooner than usual. No bother. Swim I did. Paddle Derrick did.

There was a headwind early and I had to fight the waves. I kept telling myself that we had a good current (the dam was sked for 20,000 cfs) so I was still going down the river despite what the surface looked like. But soon that headwind ended (or maybe we just left it behind as we turned; not easy to tell when you turn swimming in a river at my slow speed) and I got in my “forever” pace and settled to the business at hand.

Great photo thanks to Derrick

The feeds came and went. At some point, maybe the 2:00 feed (?) I had one of those little dark chocolate peanut butter cups (thank you Justin’s). I think I held off the ibuprofen till 3:30 or so. Also had a peanut butter packet at some point too. Never had the flattened soda; I think I’ll stop prepping one of those in the future. The Crystal Lite’s I used (grape and lemonade) had caffeine in them so never had an issue with headache.

Like I said previously, I have three stages in these long swims. Early on I usually think “What the hell did I sign up and pay for this for? I’m an idiot.” (Never had this feeling this time, w00t!) Then the middle stage. Followed by the this can end anytime now stage. For this year’s StS, the middle stage lasted for most of the swim, probably from feed 1:30 to mile 9.

No I didn’t cheat and ask Derrick where I was at any point. He did think we were close once and pointed it out during the feed, but I remember what the end looks like: wasn’t it. I told him what it would look like then put my head down and got back to work. (I also knew that the last bit would be due south, and the sun at that point wasn’t right in front of us. Not yet.)

Then, hell for a long time. Headwind again hours into the swim. Yeah, I’m ready for this swim to end. I knew from earlier that if Derrick was having to fight to paddle, I should just swim and he’ll catch up. So I did. It wasn’t easy. The stroking was hard and I had to fight through the wind. When would it end?!

Finally it did, and IIRC it was when I started to turn south (or I turned south shortly after the wind calmed). Holy crap, am I that close to the finish? Answer: yes. Last feed I saw the finish. No cow buoy this year (where’d the COWS buoy go, Karah?), but the promontory with the blue shelter is easy to see. I sprinted. Which at this point, past 10 miles (the swim is closer to 10.5 than 10 miles) looks very much like my forever pace. Yet, I did manage to increase my stroke rate when I got really close to the buoy, so that’s nice. Touched the buoy, flipped to my back, and the river carried me to where we could get Derrick and his boat out. (After I squatted in the water for a couple minutes, returning some water back to Nature.) Based on what time Derrick said I tagged the buoy, I guessed my final time was 5:27-ish. I’ll take it!*

Wohali Nyva, the awesome finish & party area

Then the after-party. Great food (thanks to Old Man Rivers Table & Tavern, owned by Karah’s husband) and great beer (5Wits). And of course the pottery. Tried to get something very different this year. Karah got cups from 423 Pottery (my 2018 and 2019 cups) but also from a potter named Susan Cordell, whose StS-stamped cup I picked this year. Best finisher prizes of any race!

My new favorite mug

I stuffed myself, had a beer and walked around to delay stiffness. We had to wait for kayaker Alan whose swimmer was still on the course; Alan had used one of Derrick’s boats. In due time he and his swimmer came in, we loaded the boat, and got on our way. Turns out we were only a few miles from my hotel, so Derrick and Denny dropped me off before going back to the boat launch and Denny’s car. I said goodbye to those wonderful gents and took the best shower of the trip.

Thanks Derrick for the escort and feeds!

Another Swim the Suck in the books! Great work as always and thanks to Karah and all the volunteers!

The mastermind of Swim the Suck, Karah Nazor

*(Found out a couple days later my time was 5:24.03.)

Swim the Suck briefing

Part I here

Friday night is traditionally the race briefing. This is mandatory for first time “Suckers” and voluntary for the rest of us. I always go.

This year I decided to drive instead of fly. No real direct way to Chattanooga, so if I leave DC on Friday morning, it’s gotta be early. Even then I’ve been delayed before because of flights and almost missed the briefing. And the worst part is coming back: the flight is always at like 5:30 am. Yuck. Oh, another worst part: the flights are always in the $650-800 range. Driving down cost me about $40 in gas each way and an extra day’s hotel (~$200), so cheaper than flying.

Except in karmic cost. That drive! Over 9 hours, almost 10 hours. Sure, I got a book complete and started another one, but jeez, that drive sucks. I had briefed my kayaker Friday night that during the swim I’ll hit a few stages: the initial, why-the-hell-do-I-do-this-to-myself, I actually paid money for this!; the middle stage where I’m in my zone, on my swim-forever pace; and the final stage where I Just. Want. This. Over.

Well, spoiler alert: I never had the initial stage during this swim. But I sure as hell had it when I was driving back home!

Anyway, the briefing. I parked close and walked over, got in line with other swimmers and pilots; got rained on. Not many people here this time that I know, which was weird. Swim the Suck (StS) is usually like homecoming. Checked in, got my cap, my t-shirts and hoodie, and headed over to the briefing area.

Walking over there I met my kayaker Derrick, who is paralyzed from the sternum down. (Didn’t affect his kayaking at all.) Also met Kris and his wife from Michigan, as well as Alan and Denny, two more kayakers. Turns out Kris and his wife are keto (small world), so we talked about nutrition and feeds. Turned out Kris had no intention of eating during his swim. (Spoiler: he only stopped twice for water and finished in 4:04!) I had eaten prior to the briefing so didn’t eat. (Typical carbo-loading pasta style dinner.)

Karah, race director extraordinaire, always gives a good briefing. She’ll find something funny to keep us interested. (2019 she told everyone Mike Tyson was there, and showed the boxer’s face. Felt bad when they saw it was just me.) This year she had fun going over everyone’s favorite beverage. You see, each year when you register she asks you a question like that (one year it was favorite animal). So she then proceeded to group us. There were the “boring water people” and the “coke” people (“All sodas here in Tennessee is coke. A pepsi is a coke.”), and the cider people (whom she brushed off) and the many beer people and the one poor wine guy.

She also flashed my favorite slide ever. I talked to her about this slide later and she said no one will let her remove it.

Better advice has never been offered!

This slide was followed by a discussion on how to pee while swimming. Those of you who don’t swim for these long times don’t understand how difficult this is. Have you ever tried peeing while horizontal and with no gravity? It’s not easy. Many swimmers wait till they feed (and are vertical) to try and pee, but then you still have the treading water part that makes it still not easy. This takes trial and error and, frankly, filling your bladder till you’re about to explode, slowing your kick, relaxing (while trying to keep swimming), then peeing. Then you can’t stop.

But Karah wanted to make sure she had a slide for this, and asked ChatGPT for advice:

Very true! Don’t pee in a pool! And, fair warning, don’t follow too close behind an open water swimmer, either.

While Jennifer Whitlock gave her presentation, I pulled Derrick to the side to go over my needs and timing for the next day. Sorry to have missed Jennifer’s talk, but I wanted to get back to the hotel and prepare my feeds, as well as get a little something more to eat. We talked for about 15-20 minutes then I bolted, ready for the next day.

Next up: the swim!

Swim the Suck #4

Swim the Suck (StS) was this past Saturday, over the Columbus Day weekend in beautiful Chattanooga, TN. As my dear reader(s) know, I love this swim. I mean, really love this swim.

Wasn’t going to go for a few years, to save some money. But some financials cleared up earlier this year in late March. My first thought was: contact Karah (StS race director) and let her know if any spots opened up I’d be interested.

StS usually opens registration on 1 Feb at noon. Annually it sells out fast, sometimes within hours. Before contacting Karah I went to their website and was wonderfully surprised to find out registration hadn’t opened yet! I still had a few weeks. w00t!

Register I did and happy I was. Training? Not that much. I was in a funk at the beginning of the year and only starting swimming the last week of March: a grand total of 3100 yards. Pathetic. The rest of my training:

  • April: 9.2 miles
  • May: 12.3 miles
  • June: 22 miles
  • July: 12.7 miles
  • August: 25 miles
  • September: 18.3 miles

July is where Life happened. Wife and I went on a wonderful trip to Savannah, GA, to visit our daughter and her family, and while there I learned of my step-father’s failing health. Got to Texas in time to see him before he passed, and stayed later for his funeral. Almost three weeks of no training. (Had more of an effect on my lifting, losing almost 20% on my deadlift and 10% loss on overhead press and squat.

Add to that the cancelation of the 5K and 10K sked for Saturday and Sunday at the end of September, two weeks prior to StS. That was to be my prep session for Chattanooga. (WaveOne has resked those swims for October 14th; wife and I are doing the Fall Foliage adventure race on that day. Kismet!)

So not a lot of mileage in prep for StS 2023. But one of the things I love about this “race” is how supportive Karah as RD is of us adult-onset (e.g. slow) swimmers.

Next: Friday night briefing

Swim the Suck #4

w00t! I got into Swim the Suck 2020, the 11th anniversary of this marvelous swim. I am so excited.

For the non-swimming dear readers of mine who aren’t in the know, Swim the Suck is so popular that most years it sells out in minutes. The Race Director, Karah Nazor, advertises days ahead of what we swimmers need to have ready to register at noon on the day. This year she even showed up screenshots of each step so we’d have all our info ready. I refused to go on a trip to Ikea with my wife and daughter today so I could be at the laptop at noon. I even set an alarm for 11:55 a.m. to make sure I wasn’t dozing off.

I had everything ready except for my kayaker’s email. No biggie, got that out of my email in seconds. Hoodie size L, yes? Sure, why not. I didn’t even want to run upstairs to check the sizes of my current hoodies. Speed was what was needed. I zoomed through the entire process and pressed Submit (or Pay or Whatever…I can’t remember now).

Then I got the confirmation number. Did that mean I was in? Not sure. But I had a number and a receipt. Surely that means I’m in, right?

I posted something on FB about finishing the registration process (4 minutes btw) and thinking I’m in, and 9-time Sucker Patty H. confirmed that if I got the confirmation number, I’m in. Hot damn! In for Swim the Suck #4!

Then two hours later, Karah commented on my FB post: Guess who was the first swimmer registered this year? Yours truly! Hells yeah. Proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance. And I hella planned prior, properly.

Except for the hoodie size. Needed an XL. Uh, hey, Karah! Email coming your way.

Walter Poenisch: 2020 Honor Swimmer

Today it was announced that Walter Poenisch, the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida, will be inducted as a 2020 Honor Swimmer into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame. I’ve written about Mr. Poenisch before here. Instead of reiterating what I’ve written before, how about we just read what IMSHOF wrote:

Walter Poenisch at the age of 65 was the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida: 128.8 miles/ 207 km in 34 hours and 15 minutes. The swim ended on July 13, 1978, when he reached Little Duck Key, Florida. Walter swam under pre-announced rules, under independent witness and the observation report was in the public record. The observer/authenticator was J. Marvin Mims the President of the International Federation of Professional Ocean Swimmers and Divers. Their rules allowed: fins, snorkel, shark cage and getting out of the water four times for no longer than five minutes at a time to administer emergency medicine, receive critical nourishment, or for any reason that directly threatened the life of the swimmer. These facts were never in dispute and he broke his own record for the longest ocean swim.

As a young man his occupation was listed as a cookie baker, rodeo competitor and strongman. Walter was late to marathon swimming (50 years of age) – first entering (but not finishing) the 1963 Jim Moran Lake Michigan Swim. He was credited as the “World’s Strongest Endurance Swimmer” for such feats as towing 30-ton paddlewheel boats while swimming with his hands and feet shackled.

Walter set world records for the longest ocean swims before the Cuba swim: 90.75 miles/146 km in the Atlantic Ocean and four year later 122.5 miles/197.1 km from the Florida Keys to the tip of the Florida peninsula.

Motivated by the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, Poenisch conceived of the idea of Swim for Peace, swimming from Cuba to the USA: “to further better relations between my country and Cuba.” It took him 15 years of letter writing and lobbying, to both governments, to obtain permission. Walter was the first swimmer to use publicity to deliver a positive political message (now called “Speedo Diplomacy”) – other IMSHOF Honorees including Lynne Cox and Lewis Pugh have since followed.

Cuban Leader Fidel Castro was on hand (proposing a toast honoring his efforts and his dream of peace between their two nations), on Walters’ 65th birthday. The next day he started and completed the swim.

Congratulations to Mr. Poenisch. The induction ceremony will be in May next year and I hope to see his lovely wife there to accept in his honor.

Swim the Suck 2019: the swim

[Part I here.]

While kayakers and volunteers were amassing at the Suck Creek boat launch, I was happily snoozing away in my AirBNB. No, I’m joking. As usual, I got up earlier than my alarm; I’m always nervous before a big swim.

Doesn’t mean I showed up early. Ha! Nope. Took my time. Got a bit of food and water in me. Knew the Uber would take a while, so ordered it early enough that I’d get to the boat launch at 8am.

Had a great ride with Zachary, who, besides being an Uber driver, works at a school for special folks. And he teaches ASL! We had a wonderful drive to the start, and as he pulled in, he asked me if I was doing some sort of kayak race.

Nope. Me and 120-odd others are swimming 10 miles down the river today and those kayaks are for our escorts.

Then came the usual disbelief, concern for the cold, along with a hearty good luck. Thanks Zachary! You got 5 stars and a big tip!

Zachary got me there early by about 10 minutes. I was the only swimmer there for a bit. Once they got the marking table set up I got my arms marked (#110) and put the sweats back on. A bit cold and cloudy, reminiscent of last year’s race. Can’t believe I almost didn’t bring the sweatshirt.

Karah’s got the logistics for Swim the Suck down pat. Those who were driving had to show up at the finish before 8am to park their cars. If they were bringing kayaks, then they had to show up at the boat launch first to drop off their boats prior to driving to the finish. Then everyone at the finish had to jump onto one of the four (I think) school buses to be brought to the start at the boat launch. The buses began showing up and the start began to get crowded.

The worst part of this swim, and I mean the absolute worst, is walking from the point where you drop off your clothes bag to your place in the start line. The entire boat launch parking area is teeny-tiny little pebbles, designed to hit the most sensitive parts of the bottom of your feet. Well, I learned my lesson last year, so I brought some throw-away two dollar shower shoes. My plan was to wear them to the water, then put them on the side for one of the volunteers to throw out.

It took 10 years, but Swim the Suck now has carpet for the walk to the water! (See first picture above.) Despite that, I kept my shower shoes on; we lined up by last name thus yours truly was way at the back. But once I got to the carpet, off came the shoes.

Another change from previous years: we were able to keep our clothes bags with us till we got in line. In previous years we’d have to drop the bag about 20-30 yards (depending upon your last name) away, then walk on those hell-stones to our spots. Now, we can simply drop the bags to the side, and one of the volunteers would take it to the truck which in turn takes it to the finish. So nice!

The way this swim starts is all swimmers enter the water then await behind an imaginary line till Karah starts us. The important part is that we have to swim to a floating cow buoy, swimming to the left of the buoy, then head down river, staying “river left.”

But with 122 swimmers and each one with a kayak escort, how does one find his/her escort? Karah solved this by assigning each of us one of four buoys and giving us one of four colored swim caps. My cap this time was pink and my buoy was #4. What this meant for me was that I should just put my head down and swim (once I passed the cow) until I either a) find Guillermo (my kayaker) or 2) hit the fourth buoy. Do not swim past that buoy without an escort!

In the picture above, if you look across the river at where the water and green meet, on the left side of the picture, you see a white blur. That’s the cow. Keep your eyes moving along the water line to the right, and you’ll see two of the orange buoys. The buoy/wait zone stretched half a mile, so once I was in, I swam for quite a bit. But the current was strong. In fact, when we first got in, we had to swim up river to remain behind the start boat-line.

I got to buoy #4 and stopped. I raised my hand and yelled “Guillermo” as instructed the night prior. I saw one kayaker wave his hand at me and start paddling towards me. I put my head down and swam. As he got close, I realized it wasn’t Guillermo. He and I both realized we had the wrong person; he went looking for his swimmer. Almost immediately I found Guillermo. He saw me, thumbs up, and I put my head down and swam.

Let me ruin the ending for you: I have no pictures from on water. Except at the finish. But I’ll tell you what: this is the most beautiful swim! It was overcast for the first few hours, but at hour 3 the sun came out and wow, that really did a lot for my morale.

But to the swim. As usual, I don’t feed the first hour. I felt the current very strongly and the first feeding came quickly. Or seemingly. I’ve gotten much better at ingesting a lot of liquid in a little time. I used to only drink maybe 2-3 oz. But now I can down 4-6 oz at a go. That’s important for swims of this length (talking time vs. distance); if you’re not properly hydrated, your swimming will be affected.

Feeds went well. Every half hour after the first feed. I felt Patty’s swim early on! But I still wouldn’t have not attended her swim the day prior. This river is just so pretty and the people are just so great.

I think I had my first food at 2:30; it was a Justin’s peanut butter packet. To be more specific, it was honey almond butter I think? I don’t know, but it was good. I also asked for the ibuprofen at that feed, so I had it at the 3:00 feed. And even there I impressed myself. Normally I drink the ibuprofen-laced bottle over 2-3 feeds, but I drank the entire thing at that one feed, and that’s like 8 oz of liquid with the 20ml of children’s painkiller.

I started with the Babybel cheeses at around 3:00 I think. Damn those are so good. I had the gouda version. So yum. I think I had two of those cheeses over the feeds. Like I said, the sun came out around 3:00. That’s such a morale boost I really just love it. The valley is quite beautiful. At the 4:00 feed I was ready for the swim to be done. Really tired. Back was hurting. Water was quite warm (maybe 78F?) Knew I could finish. Just wasn’t gonna push hard.

As my friends and kayakers know, I don’t want to know where I am in the swim at any time. Don’t tell me how many miles or minutes I’ve swum. I don’t want to know. The Tennessee river also has some buoys and other signs of your progress, and I always try to avoid them. I did, however, see something during this swim. A bit before the 2:30 feeding I saw a huge orange buoy. In fact, we swam right by it.

That got me thinking. What did I remember from the night before? Wasn’t there supposed to be a buoy at the 5th mile? Oh damn! Doesn’t that mean I’m halfway done at less than two and a half hours. Oh hells yeah! My goal for this swim was sub-5:00. That means I’m on track.

Then some things happened. At the 3:00 feed I looked backwards and saw an orange buoy. Oh damn, is that the same one? It’s taken me 30+ minutes to swim what looks like maybe 500 meters? Can’t be. No way. Shit. Maybe there’s more than just a 5-mile buoy. Oh crap, is there a 4-mile buoy? Dammit.

I don’t look forwards, or try not to, but I had to. Didn’t see another orange buoy, but with the current going crazy like it was, that buoy behind me couldn’t have been the same one I saw a bit before the 2:30 feeding. There must be more buoys out here.

After hour 4 I started breathing to the left a bit. Why? Well, I wanted to see the pump station. When Annie Loveless was giving the overview Friday night, she mentioned the pump station. But when is the pump station? Mile 8 or 9? All I remember is Annie suggesting not starting your kick/sprint at that point because you still have a ways to go. Annie might be able to sprint for two miles, so maybe the pump station is at mile 8? I can’t sprint for two miles. Where’s that damn pump station?

I finally saw the pump station, or what I figured was a pump station, and thought I’d be done soon. Still took forever. (Turns out the pump station is 1.5 miles from the finish; see map below.) Or at least felt forever. I got to a feeding at hour 5. Damn, not gonna hit the goal. Well, that’s ok. Still not looking forward. Kept swimming. But a few minutes after that feeding I had had enough. I stopped to look ahead. And there in beautifully bright orange was the finish buoy!

I asked Guillermo if that was the finish and he said he thought it was. I put my head down and sprinted…for only 100 strokes. Then I was done. Nope. No sprinting. Pooped. Still had to swim 400 or 500 strokes (can’t remember) after that first 100 sprint till I finally got to that damn finish buoy.

So glad to be done! I really wasn’t much help to Guillermo when it came down to dragging the kayak outta the water; sorry Guillermo! All I wanted was to change and eat some food. Karah gets a local restaurant to cater for us and wow is their food great. It was ground beef and chicken, Tex-Mex style, with all the fixins. Hit the spot, both plates!

And of course, the beer. Chattanooga Brewing hosts this part of the apres-swim party. Two styles and I had a pint of each one. Can’t remember what the beers were last year (must check your blog, Mike!) but this year I was smart enough to get pictures of the tap handles.

They were both so very good, but outta the two, I gotta say the Oktoberfest was the star.

And if there is beer and swimming, then you know marathon swimmer extraordinaire Elaine Howley will be there. This is very possibly the awesomest picture of the entire swim.

(c) Blaik Ogle and Derek Tingle

Once I was fueled, I made my rounds to the folks I wanted pictures with; unfortunately I didn’t get pictures with everyone (Karah, MJ). This is the community aspect of this great sport. This is why I love it, even though for many of these long (for me) swims I wonder why the hell I’m doing it.

Patty Hermann and I
Denis Crean (3:53, #15 male) of WaveOne Swimming
Victoria Rian (3:27, #4 overall & #2 female) and Christopher Graefe (3:31, #6 overall & #3 male)
Liz Uribe (3:53, #11 female)
Tim Root (4:34, #32 male)
(L-R) Valerie Yankauskas and her sister Paula (4:53, #40 female)
Elaine Howley (4:56, #43 female)

Guillermo wore my GPS watch so I’ve got the map of my swim. But the time isn’t correct. I asked Guillermo to start the watch the minute he got past the cow buoy. I was more concerned about getting the distance I swam versus the time. I knew I’d get the time from the swim. So here’s my map.

But I really want to zoom in to a few areas to show you how great of a kayaker Guillermo is. Remember that we had to stay “river left” to avoid the speedboats and stay within the rules set out by the river authorities. So Guillermo had to balance my safety with finding me the fastest course. I think he most certainly did.

Great lines, Guillermo, thank you!

Oh! My time? 5:23.24. Despite not making my sub-5:00 goal I’m happy with the result. I was #45 out of 51 males.

Swim the Suck 2019: Before the swim

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.

The Lady Swims

What a week for marathon/channel swimming!

Sarah Thomas, already holder of the longest current-neutral swim in the world at 104.6 miles (67 hours 16 minutes), went and changed what we thought about human endurance by swimming the English Channel four times in a row without stopping. Yes, dear reader(s), that means she entered the water from England, swam to France, turned around and swam back to England, turned around and swam back to France (at that point becoming only the fifth person to swim a triple), then turned around and swam back to England, where she finally got to lay down and rest.

No one has ever done this. Only four people had ever done a triple, and none of them got back in the water and even started to swim a fourth leg. Sarah swam straight for 54 hours and 10 minutes, and her comment at the end was “I’m pretty tired right now.” No crap!

Sarah is a powerful swimmer and one can see from the plots that she had some serious fights with the water during those 2+ days. English Channel rules for multiple legs require the swimmer to clear the water and immediately re-enter, but if any part of the swimmer is still in the water, the swimmer then has 10 minutes before they have to start swimming again. All other rules are the same: no one can touch the swimmer, swimmer can’t touch anyone else. But the swimmer’s support can hand them food, lanolin, etc, as long as the swimmer does everything herself.

Currents were such for the first leg that Sarah “landed” at a rock in France where all she could do was hang on; no beach to rest on for 10 minutes. She held onto the rock while her support swimmer, another incredible marathon swimmer named Elaine Kornblau Howley, handed her lanolin and cooked rice. But, as Sarah reflects in her after-action report, those 10 minutes were up pretty quickly and she was off on lap 2.

Lap 1 done, off on lap 2

Lap 2 took Sarah back to England and again, because of currents (and some other swimmers starting their swims on the beach), she got pushed to a seawall and had to tap the wall, signifying end of lap 2 and start of lap 3. She was so looking forward to a moment of zen on the beach there but had to go straight back to work. But as those of us who follow this amazing swimmer have grown used to seeing, she was all business and continued her powerful swim.

Lap 2 done, off on lap 3

It wasn’t until the end of lap 3 that Sarah finally got to rest, on a rock that she could sit on. Still not a beach. And after more than 36 hours of swimming.

The horrible lap 4

Her 10 minutes up, Sarah headed out for lap 4, making history. Lap 4 sounds horrible, and I don’t know how the hell she did it. To see the video of her landing, one wonders how she could even hold herself up long enough to clear the water. And how she was still awake.

Sarah on the beach © NBC News

Oh, and did I mention Sarah was nauseous throughout? Puking throughout the first three laps? She’s a “freak of nature,” right Sarah‘s mom?!

Sarah is an international star, especially in Britain. She’ll be back in the states this weekend and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of her on the news in this country next week. She has in every media event lauded her crew as the reason she made it through. She’s an incredible swimmer but even more so, she recognizes that this is not an individual sport. None of us can make any of our swims without the support of awesome people who volunteer their time for our insane pursuits.

Sarah, because of her professionalism, openness about her swims, and strength, has earned the respect of everyone in the marathon swim community and is an example for other swimmers to follow, especially those who claim to follow the “fair, just, ethical and agreed-upon rules of our sport.”

Observant readers may wonder why I’ve linked every instance of Sarah‘s name in this post. Well, every single linked “Sarah” is a different news outlet telling the world about this incredible feat. To include foreign press, so you might be surprised at some of the links.

Sarah Thomas is a miracle of nature

Dear reader(s) know how much I love and admire marathon swimmer-extraordinaire Sarah Thomas. She still holds the record for the longest non-current assisted swim ever at 104.6 miles straight in 67 hours and 16 minutes. Yes, no sleeping. No resting. No bathroom breaks that didn’t happen in the water, treading water. This woman is unstoppable.

Her next adventure? A quadruple crossing of the English Channel. Yes, I said four times. For those in the back who just now woke up: Yes, she intends on swimming from England to France to England to France to England. No one has ever done this. Only a handful of people have swum a three-way Channel crossing. Sarah is going for four crossings. Most of us, if we even consider doing one of these things, are happy to cross just once. Oy vey. This woman cannot be stopped.

Even. Better: Sarah and Elaine Howley, another incredible marathon swimmer, are filming everything! From the Kickstarter:

The Other Side is an in-production documentary short film covering Sarah Thomas’ upcoming English Channel quadruple crossing attempt scheduled for September 2019—that’s four consecutive crossings without stopping—an 84-mile round-trip swim that could take upwards of 50 hours to complete.

This is so monumental it is not to be missed. There is still time to support their Kickstarter campaign. They got fully funded less than 6 hours after starting, but they could still use some bucks. None of the money raised will pay for Sarah’s swim; the money raised is solely for production of the film.

So if you have some extra bucks, please visit the Kickstarter and support this awesome endeavor. You can support them with as little as one dollar. So what’re you waiting for?