Thursday, October 1, 2015

My Marathon Swim

I completed the 2015 Swim Around Charleston on Saturday afternoon, and it turned out to be quite a test. I did finish in 5:58:27, in 23rd place out of 26 finishers. If you're looking for a challenge, a real way to see what you're made of, a marathon swim is a great way to get there. And this one did not disappoint.

Kelley and the kids had been in Myrtle Beach all week with her mom, so I took off Friday from the new job and picked them up then got on down to Charleston. We arrived as the mandatory athlete meeting was already in progress, luckily my buddy Tom already checked in for me and gotten my packet so I was ok.  After that we headed over to my brother Michael's house where he had pizza waiting for us.

The race had a noon start to take the most advantage of the incoming tides. We got to enjoy a nice breakfast before heading over to the starting line. I was pretty nervous because I had no idea how the logistics were going to play out.

Michael got to wear the bib this time!

Each swimmer gets their own paddler, and Michael foolishly agreed to paddle for me. There were 28 swimmers signed in to start. They closed the Cooper River to the port for a while so we could get across. This also means that all of the pictures are from the start and the finish, and there are some drastic differences.

We got photobombed by Tom's kayaker!

Still strong before we started
Eventually we got the kayak squared away and Michael went in the water first.

That's a bag of bottles strapped down to the front of the kayak for us

On the dock waiting to get in the water, that's Tom on the far left
Eventually got in and got to give Tom a high 5 before the start
Tom swims on the RAM team with me. We've been training together all year long and going over race strategy together, planning nutrition, the whole thing. I wouldn't have made it to the starting line without him. Tom was also a scholarship swimmer in college, and finished in 6th place (5:02). He destroyed these rivers.

We're off!

The Cooper River Bridge in the background
When it was time to get started, all of my anxiety went away. I focused on my stroke, found where Michael was in the kayak, and we took off on the course.

You can see the start and the Cooper River Bridge. I bet some of you have run over that bridge before.
It took 14 minutes to get under the big Cooper River Bridge. I was pretty happy to see that, so let out a big "WHOO" underneath. Very cool. After that, the USS Yorktown was on the left, and there was a cruise ship docked on the right. I needed to stay close to the cruise ship to avoid the current.

Apparently, right after the bridge, there was a dolphin that surfaced in my path. I'm sure he saw me, but I didn't see him. Michael said that I missed him by seconds. That ended up being my only interaction with critters. I did swim over several sticks.

Past the USS Yorktown and around the Battery
Those yellow markers are prime spectating spots. After the bridge the current picked up a bit, and the water got very choppy. This was the only place where the tide created a non-favorable condition. Once I got past that cruise ship and around the point of the Battery it was just a matter of sighting on those bridges. I stopped after 30 minutes and drank some fuel, then by the 1 hour point I was around the Battery and heading up the Ashley river already. That 2nd time, I was actually in shallow enough water to stand up on the soft muddy bottom. Didn't expect the middle of the river to only be 5 feet deep there, but it was a nice relief. I could feel my right calf starting to cramp up so then I asked Michael to switch me up to feeding every 20 minutes.

In that picture above, you can see two (well, really 3) bridges in between those two yellow markers. Getting past that first one was a huge milestone in the race. Of course there are no mile markers, but Michael was giving me the total time when I asked so I could measure progress.

I ended up getting way off course. We were supposed to stay in the middle of the river, so I told Michael to stay in the middle of the river and let me sight off of him. Turns out I was zig zagging all over that place. Michael actually started to get heckled by the other paddlers about it! how strange is that? I was the one screwing up and not staying close to him. Then the main field left us behind and it started raining.

The top 2 bridges up there are one divided road set of bridges. It was raining hardest when we got near those, so I thought Michael would go ahead of me to stay dry under there. Turns out, they were grated bridges, like drawbridges. So not solid pavement providing any respite from the rain. And after the rain stopped, the wind really picked up. This got hard because the water got very choppy, and we were moving into the wind so it was slow going. Michael's hat even got blown off a couple of times. I just kept on swimming.

Another view of the middle 1/3 of the course
I knew the course took a funky left turn. This is when the rubber meets the road, as they say. I discovered in there that I breathe higher on my right side, so if I kept the kayak on my right it would be much easier to sight and stay on course. So that's what I tried to do. Every 20 minutes I'd stop to drink, once I ended up in front of The Citadel and Michael called it the hardest possible way to see the Citadel. This part of the course really was a downward spiral. It would be 20 minutes of swimming in whatever conditions decided to show up, followed by more drinking and cursing before refocusing on my stroke mechanics and powering through it. There is no equivalent to walking the next mile like you can do in a marathon, only more swimming. I think the funniest curse I said out there was "fuck my flaming dick-hole, this really hurts"

The bridge at the top of this photo was the finish line - or so we thought. After we went under that bridge there was a boat dock with some people on there cheering for us. I told them I thought they were the finish line and I was glad to be done. They informed me I still had one more bridge to go. Michael could see it rising up over the landscape, but I couldn't see it at all. This was very disappointing.

What actually happens to those last 2 bridges
I don't think Michael has ever really seen a man push himself beyond known limits like I did out there. This cut to the finish line was tough. My upper body hurt. My back and abs were so far past fatigued it was absurd. My arms were gone. Marathoning in any capacity truly is 80% mental. At one point Michael even asked if I wanted to give up and hop onto one of the safety boats that were sweeping up the back. I said no, cursed again, and started swimming. again.

Finish line at last!
At last, finally, we came into a spot where Tom and my family were all waiting on a boat dock waving at me. They all kept screaming "keep going, you're almost there", and I'm all like "no" because they were already dry. Turns out there was a larger dock about 100 yards past where they were that was the actual finish line. Once my time was recorded, I got to hang onto the back of the kayak while Michael paddled me back to the boat ramp where we could get out of the water. I finally got that sense of relief. And by sense of relief, I mean pissing myself while being dragged through the water.

it's a long course, no doubt
About 90 minutes into the race my left armpit started to chafe. that never got any better, and by the end of it both of my armpits were bleeding which felt great in the salt water. My right goggle leaked, which was also a worsening problem as the race went on. Eventually my contact lens floated away, then particulate matter got all up in my eyeball and it eventually swelled shut. I had to swim the last 2 hours completely blind in the right eye and in agonizing pain from that. Eventually I kept the left eye closed while I was face down in the water anyway and would only open it when I was breathing to sight on the kayak. Both of these were unexpected complications. Add that to the occasional rain, wind, and chop and you have a perfect storm. But in the end, I came out of it like this:

Still smiling
Make no mistake about it, this one hurt. I'm not going to guarantee that it will be my last marathon swim, but I will have to think long and hard about doing another one of these guys. It will certainly take better planning, like not trying to combine this training with marathon training. I'm still so glad to have this one in the books, ouch. just ouch.

All 3 kids enjoyed playing outside

Michael towing me back to the boat ramp

SO GLAD to finally be done

yep, ouch
Summer (my sister-in-law) was suggesting that we do it as a relay next year, so was Tom. I think Michael talked her out of it just by saying "I've seen things, you don't want to do that". Even if Summer thinks that she can swim for 30 minutes at a time while the rest of us hang out in a boat, it is still not advised. bwahahahaha! A relay would be a fun way to cover this course. But I think I would need some prescription goggles or something first. I told Michael I'd kayak for him if he wanted to swim it next year. That didn't exactly get a laugh.

After a hefty dinner, I slept like a baby and then Sunday we packed up to head back to Raleigh. if you've never been to Charleston, it is an incredibly scenic and historic city that I love visiting. We found an incredible farmers market (found is a strong word, Summer goes every week) but I got some locally harvested sea salt and a killer kombucha. It was adorable. Then we made really good time driving back to Raleigh where I could finally get my glasses on and see out of both eyes again.

Again, this was an incredible race. The safety and organization behind the event was unparalleled. The course was beautiful and the incoming tides really helped. but it was still 6 hours of solid swimming. I'm very glad I did this race, but not sure I'll ever try this one again. If you want to, come on down.


Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Dang. I am so impressed that you did this! I can not even imagine swimming that far in that amount of time. Especially since there isn't really a way to truly 'rest'. Congrats on this accomplishment!!!

Karen said...

Amazing! I can't imagine swimming for that long... 2.4 miles seems to be about my mental limit. Crazy that your contact floated away like that, hope your eye is back to normal now. :)

Abby said...

holy crap. i cannot believe you swam that far. I did that exact ride in a boat last weekend and you freaking swam it! WOW!!!!