Swimming has quickly become the most fascinating event of triathlon for me, and this story blows off the roof. It’s written by my coach, Robbie Bruce, and is just another example of how he pushes the limit and inspires me to do the same. Most people train all year for something like this, but Robbie signed up on a whim 5 days before the race. His longest swim of the year was 2.4 miles. On this day, he would swim 10.
How a simple “Retweet” led to me swimming 10 miles: Swim the Suck Race Report
Almost at this exact time last Monday I had finished my first official “rest week” trying to recover from a year-long achilles injury that had me either sidelined from training or racing all together. At the most, it was allowing me to rack up not just my first DNF ever but also my second, third, and FOURTH of my career. A slight intervention from basically everyone I know had convinced me to shelve my bike and run training and just rest and prepare for 2014. So I did and just decided to swim a bit. Thats when I came across a “Retweet” from my good friend Mike. It was from Blue Seventy offering up a slot to the prestigious “Swim the Suck” 10 mile OWS race in Chattanooga if you could be the first one to answer a question: Below is a summary of how that retweet turned in to me swimming 10 miles 5 days later. (Feel free to skip down to the bottom of the page and just read about the “race” if you like)
I answered BlueSeventy’s contest hoping I would win. 50% because as my sister can attest I NEVER win anything. Kind of a running joke in our family. The other 50% me thought it would be pretty sweet to win and what an awesome experience it would be to be able to participate in such an incredible event. I actually thought I had a legit chance to win bc A. I was the 3rd person to respond. B. Who would be stupid enough to do something that crazy on 5 days notice C. I live in Nashville so my travel costs, logistics, etc would be minimal compared to pretty much anyone. A few hours went by and I checked, checked and rechecked the BlueSeventy twitter feed to see if an announcement had been made. Nothing. At least I still had a chance. The afternoon came around and as I was sitting in my office I got the following message:
My first thoughts were “I can’t believe I won! This is going to be so sweet!” Then it turned into “S#*t. What have I gotten myself into. How am I going to do this” I made a few phone calls to let some people know before I responded to BlueSeventy so they could check my sanity but I had already decided I was doing it anyway. http://crushingiron.com/2013/10/07/two-tweets-lead-to-a-10-mile-swim/.
You cant enter a contest like this and win and then not do it. That would be bush-league. I called the guys at BlueSeventy and then got ball started rolling. I swapped emails with Blue Seventy and Karah. I spent a majority of Monday evening and Tuesday morning memorizing the Swim the Suck website. There were a lot of logistics to figure out. My first and most important issue was to find a pilot. I posted on my athletes FB page asking if anyone would be willing to pilot for me. As luck would have it (as if I had not had enough already) Ed Rusk, who lives in Chattanooga said he would do it. We swapped a few messages and he was committed to devoting his Friday night and Saturday to pilot me. We were both entering uncharted territory. I was already heading up to Chattanooga on Wednesday to participate in the Snail Dart 1 miler and we agreed we could meet there and chat for a bit. I seriously debated doing a long OWS on Tuesday as a confidence builder. My longest swim since Ironman Louisville was 4200 meters the week before. I opted for rest and figured just do the 1miler then rest again for Saturday.
Snail Dart 1 Miler
I made it up to Chattanooga for the 1miler. Before winning the entry I was determined to go up and sprint it as hard as I could. I had never done an open water race so I was excited. Plus knowing some of the COWS members I knew it would be at least a great event and a good time after. One of my junior athletes actually invited me to the swim so my real goal was not to get beaten by a 12yr old:). About an hour or 2 before the race I decided sprinting it was not the best option as I would likely still be sore on Saturday morning. 75-80% was my best bet so that was the plan I was sticking too. I hopped in the water with Addison who is probably 25lbs soaking wet. She had to sprint upstream just to stay behind the start line. I thought to myself “Please sweet baby Jesus let it be like this on Saturday.” The race started and was over in a blink. I felt ok in the water but it was far from a confidence builder. Even the ridiculous time I put down thanks to the current did not erase any doubts I had about Saturday. Bottom line. I suck at short races. I have always said- The most painful part for me is the first 500-1000 meters. After that it just feels the same. I also got dusted by Addison:). On a happier note she took home a sweet trophy featured below.
After the race I made it over the the Springhill Suites to hang out with some of the COWS and hopefully meet some new people that would give me some advice on how not to totally drown and embarrass myself on Saturday. I have to say. I was incredibly surprised at how welcoming and outgoing the group was. I am usually surrounded by triathletes at such events and they can be “a bit less friendly” to put it mildly. Everyone I met was so nice and I basically sat for an hour like a sponge trying to get as much info as I could. Ed and I sat together and discussed a little it of “strategy” but lets be honest. We were incredibly clueless. My main objective at this point in the week was “respect.” Respect the distance. Respect the opportunity. Respect the people. Respect their views. Most of these people had been training for months and spent a good deal of money to do this race. It would be incredibly disrespectful of me to take this lightly and basically undermine the experience and opportunity afforded to me. Coming from an endurance background I always know to respect the distance. I went to bed Wed night feeling much more informed and a bit relieved from a logistics standpoint. As far as covering the distance… Not so much. I can’t thank everyone for all the advice they gave me. It was truly invaluable. You guys rock.
Thursday was more and more “planning.” My biggest fear was nutrition. How in the hell was I going to fuel for this. Outside of the distance. I knew nutrition would be my biggest obstacle. I had no idea how long I would be swimming, what my effort would be or how many calories I should take in and when. I let Ed know my “loose” nutrition plan but I figured it would change. Friday rolled around and I woke up more anxious than I have the day before any race I have ever done. I will readily admit that I was fearful. I cant remember the last time I entered a race just “hoping” to finish. I packed up my truck and headed to Chattanooga. Registration was at 5 and then the pasta dinner and mandatory meeting at 6. I usually skip both of these at races because it is usually just bad food and nervous energy. But as one of my friends put it , “Its a good thing you are going. This is more a “life or death” kind of meeting.” I totally agreed. I also thought it would be disrespectful to just grab my packet and jet. Ed and I both checked in and we were lucky enough to sit at a table with not only some familiar faces and friends but some Swim the Suck veterans. I can come off a bit “chill” sometimes but the longer I sat there, the more I felt like an impostor. Karah rattled off a list of names with swimming resumes that seemed like fairy tale. I felt totally out of my element. On the plus side, the food was wonderful and the company was great. If it hadnt had been for that I probably would have just driven back to Nashville. The meeting and dinner concluded and it was time to get some rest and prepare for the day. I made it back to Ed’s house and got settled in. The last thing I thought before I closed my eyes was, “If someone dropped you in the middle of the ocean and you HAD to make it 10 miles to shore. Could you do it?” The answer was “yes.”
“Fear.” That was my first thought when I opened my eyes. My heart was racing and I was incredibly anxious. I barely ate anything. I was too nervous. I piddled around quietly in the kitchen while Ed was totally under control. He had done probably a years worth of research in 3 days. Turns out Ed and I think a lot of like but in different ways if that makes sense. I hopped in my truck to follow Ed the the start line. I was still fearful and questioning myself. I spent the next 20mins trying to distract myself with my nutrition strategy. That didnt work. As we rounded a corner close to the start I saw this:
My fear was gone. My anxiety disappeared. I have always felt more at home in the water than on land. I looked at the landscape that awaited me and thought, “How can this be scary.” It was beautiful. I was in amazement. I knew at that moment I would finish. I just had to swim. What an incredible opportunity at an amazing venue. I felt incredibly lucky and blessed. I parked my truck and Ed and I met to scope out and grab our vessel for the day. Ed had made a sweet “08” fin for the back of our kayak. Here was Ed’s home and my escort for over 4:00.
After I got body marked I just meandered around. Talked with some friends. Met some new people and just tried to stay as warm as possible.
It was quite chilly. I spent a lot of time just standing around alone looking around. It was a pretty cool scene. I had told myself I would take this as slow as possible. It was uncharted territory and failing was not an option. As the start time drew nearer my competitive side came out and I started to look at it as more of a “race”. If anything it would be a race of attrition against myself. I thought to myself, “do not let this opportunity go to waste.” We all lined up as the kayaks seemingly colored the water like a bag of skittles:
We all stripped down and got in line. It was straight up freezing. Rebecca grabbed this shot of me standing in line (very sneaky by the way) preparing to get in the water. I was not focused on the race right here I was merely focused on not shivering:
We finally hit the water to prepare for the start. Thank GOD!! It felt like a warm bath compared to the chilly air I had been standing in half naked for 10 mins. I took a few strokes to warm up and positioned myself at the very very back. I would let everyone else get out in front so I could just chill. I figured it would be easier to find Ed that way and also keep me from getting caught up in starting to fast. The countdown started at 1:00…..
“Everyone has a plan till they get hit in the mouth.” That is one my favorite quotes. Funny thing is that I had no plan when the gun went off. I actually thought that was an advantage. I would not know if anything was going wrong or off. I started off VERY slow. I wanted to pace myself very slowly the first 2ish miles I thought and just get in a slow “lets just finish” groove. I only had one thing on my watch, that was average pace. I did not want to know time or distance. Just swim until it was done. The only instructions I gave Ed was to let me know when 30mins was up so I could decide to feed or not. I went about 500 yards, took a breath and spotted Ed. I yelled out at him and kept swimming until he found me. I was taking it very slowly. He let me know when 30mins was up and I turned over and called out what I wanted as I backstroked. Rolled back over and kept swimming until he came up with my nutrition. I went for some Perform drink and gel. Lets just say my first feeding was a total debacle. I tried to drink, spit it out. Tried to take in my gel spit it out. Then I peed. So basically my first feeding was a net calorie loss:). I looked to my right (towards the start), into the sun and could not see anyone. I thought, “dude. Your are in last place….”. So I went on. I began to pick up the pace around what I thought was about an hour in. I felt pretty good but was scared to pick it up to quick. The current was going strong so I thought just go slow and let the current do the work because if the current stops or slows and the wind picks up I will need the energy to just finish. Every so often Ed would pull up and point to his watch and I would either let him now the fuel I wanted or shake him off like a pitcher to a catcher and keep swimming. I packed solids, gels, and liquid for the swim. I ended up only taking in Perform, gel and coke. No solids and did not take in near as much as I thought. All in all I think I nailed my nutrition. I swam for about what I though was 2.5hrs. I popped up for a feeding and finally looked at my watch “1:09” You have GOT to be kidding me!! Ive only been swimming for a freaking hour and nine minutes. Ahhhhh. This is average pace. Thank the lord. Ed informed me we were a little over half way through. That was a big relief. I knew then I would finish. I looked ahead and saw what look like a fleet of kayaks and then back and saw about he same amount. I asked if I was about the middle of the pack and Ed said yes. I told him to aim for that pack in front and I would try to catch as many as I could. Now it was a race. My arms, chest and shoulders were on fire but I knew it could not hurt any worse than it already was so lets just get it over with already. I pushed very hard for the next hour and began to pass people up until I think mile 7-7.5. I could tell the current had slowed and the water began to get fairly choppy. I shook off Ed for a feeding bc I was trying to stay even or pass the guy next to me. Plus the water was choppy and feeding would be hard anyway. The chop died a bit and I stopped for some more coke. Thats when Ed said “Yea. The current died.” I knew the last 2.5 miles would be grueling. He told me my time and I knew I had a chance to break 4hrs which was my goal. I put my head down and just swam. Then I began to feel incredibly lonely. Breathe right. No Ed. Breathe left. No Ed. Backstroke and look behind…. No Ed. I thought well, he has either bailed on me to watch the Kona coverage or mother nature had called. Luckily enough I had a guy right in front of me with green kayak and bright green life vest so I followed him until Ed returned. I felt I was getting pretty close and kept chasing the kayaks/balloons in front. Let me just say. I love and hate those balloons. It gave you something to chase but they always seemed about 200 meters closer than they actually were. I rolled over on my back and called for what would be my last feeding. I was gassed. Totally. I almost didn’t stop in fear I would not be able to get going again. I snagged some coke and thats when Ed informed me “The finish is just right there.” Music to my freaking ears. I asked for time and he said 3:30. I decided to sprint all I had to the finish. I was determined to crack 4:00. Ed guided me on a perfect line towards the finishing buoy. 400. 300. 200. I could see the orange clearly. I was still trying to catch the balloon in front of me. Every time I took a breath and I would see Eds face. I could not tell if he was smiling or laughing at my futile attempt to catch the kayak in front of me. 100 meters.
Done. It took every bit of energy just to get my arm out of the water to slap the buoy. 3:46. I did it. I was absolutely toast. I looked on land to see all the finishers before me and thought, “All of you people are freaks of nature. Crazy and ridiculously athletic. ” By far the most difficult race I have ever done. Anyone that does that race regardless of time is an absolute stud. It is physically and mentally incredibly challenging. Finally made it out of the water to towel off and get warm. Sat around for about an hour. I cant thank Ed enough for volunteering his time to help me out. Ed. You are the man.
Cheered on fellow swimmers and talked about the experience while admiring the beautiful landscape. Here is the view from where we finished.
One of the best sporting experiences of my life. The backdrop was incredible. The people were amazing. The course was majestic and the event itself was run perfectly. I told myself before the race this would either make me want to do more races like this or never do another one. Doing this race only once in the manner in which I lucked out this year would be like an inexperienced poker player sitting down at a high stakes poker table, playing one hand, getting lucky, then getting up and cashing out big. Thats the definition of bush-league. So having said that, I will be back next year to race for sure. Hopefully with a full deck of cards.
HUGE thank you to BlueSeventy for the entry and all the free gear. Thank you to Karah and everyone who put on Swim the Suck and all the COWS who made me feel right at home and gave me so much great advice! Last but not least Ed Rusk for piloting me!