First of all, it’s not a race. Got that? I’d probably have opened up with a different line if I’d gone faster. But that’s not the case.
Second of all, 3.75 miles is a really long way–at least for me. The trick to swimming distances for me has always been to just get my mind wrapped around how long I’m going to be out there, get started, and don’t stop. Swimming is different from running in that it doesn’t beat you up physically, so I’ve always had the mentality to “just keep swimming”. The strategy for this swim was to just survive it. This was much farther than I’d ever gone before, and I really didn’t know for sure what to expect physically. Fatigue has never played that big of a part in swimming for me unless I’m doing intervals, but 3.75 miles was enough to make me tired.
Thirdly, there’s no way I could pull off something like this without a ton of support. Pretty much everyone except for the top-notch swimmers (there were a few out there) needs a dedicated person in a kayak or on a SUP to carry food and liquid, keep them on course, and make sure they are safe. So thanks to Brevard’s best dentist, Ryan Osorio, for waking up early and paddling at an excruciatingly slow pace for me. Also, a huge thanks Rob Downey for coming up with this idea a few years ago and getting everyone organized. When I stumbled onto this event on his website last year, it seemed like a “one of these days” type accomplishment. But he’s created something really special in this event–something that is fun, inclusive, and has a very supportive and encouraging vibe all around it. He even hosts training OWS swims twice a week. Those were huge for me for this event and for my last 70.3. Last but not least, I want to thank The Missus for encouraging me to do this kind of stuff, taking care of the kiddos by herself when I get up early to do it, and for bringing donuts and a camera to the finish.
Some people had some concerns Saturday afternoon/night about the SW winds and the amount of chop we’d be dealing with. I’m not going to lie…that caused me to pause and reconsider a little. At one point, I even talked myself into skipping the B2B swim and going to the pool to knock out 6k instead. But I realized that wasn’t at all the same thing. The best case scenario there would be that I’d kill it at the pool and beat myself up for not going out to do the real swim. The worst case scenario for the B2B would be that I’d have to get a tow in if I couldn’t hack it. I knew realistically that wouldn’t happen unless I was attacked by manatees or something.
Ryan picked me up at 6:15 Sunday morning, and we headed over to the Eau Gallie boat launch ramp. There was already a nice sized crowd there. There was a nervous energy for sure, but completely different from triathlon energy–this was much more friendly. The water was a little choppy, but not white capping or anything like that. I was instantly glad I’d decided to do it. I’ve gone over the Eau Gallie causeway and looked at the Melbourne Causeway a million times, but it looked a lot farther today. You can sort of see the destination bridge in the background of the photo below. Squint.
We got started without a lot of fanfare. No organized waves, and no fighting for position. Everyone knew we’d be out there a while. It was really hard to get into any kind of rhythm at the start because of the chop. It wasn’t anything too crazy, but it also wasn’t going to stop. We’d be swimming into the wind all day. My biggest concern early on was to minimize the amount of water I accidentally swallowed, so I was breathing a lot higher than I usually do. Luckily, I have a lot of experience turning my head way too high, so I easily reverted back to some old habits and looked up to breathe. At times I almost felt like I was going to roll into a backstroke. Staying on course was tough too, even with a navigator. With no buoys, sighting was pretty much impossible. Ryan had to constantly adjust to herd me in the right direction. We stayed at it for quite a while, and I was surprised when Ryan got my attention and told me we’d gone about a mile in just under 40:00. I thought we were going at a much slower pace. I also thought we’d been out there much longer.
About 15 minutes later I felt a nice rush of cooler water and the surface flattened out a little. I guessed we were getting close to the first sand bar and planned rest point at about 1.3 miles in. I peaked up and saw that we were pretty close, so I picked it up a little and swam until I was scraping sand. I grabbed a bottle of liquid from the kayak and killed it, along with two or three energy bars. The only issue at the first break was that my head was hurting. I thought it was because I’d tightened my goggles up a notch the day before, but it was actually my swim cap. I ditched that and could not believe how much relief it gave me to swim without it. I wasn’t too worried about it since there were lots of swimmers out and I had Ryan right next to me to keep me safe.
The next leg was much more comfortable. I hit a nice groove and did a mile in ~33:00, which is a typical easy pace for me in the mile. At one point it felt like the water had handles and I was getting a really good pull–almost like grabbing pudding. Nice! I had a terrible song stuck in my head, so I tried to sing something different to myself and get rid of it. It kept coming back up though. Ryan grabbed my attention to tell me there were some dolphins about 30 yards away, but I never saw them. I skipped a few bubble blowing sessions to see if I could at least hear them, but no luck there. I’m just glad one of them didn’t slam into me thinking I was a fluffy water toy.
By the time we reached the next break at about 3 miles I knew for sure I was going to make it without any problems. I was starting to feel a little tired though. I knew the last leg was going to be a challenge. Pushing through fatigue isn’t a huge challenge, but I knew it was going to be important to focus and try to keep my form as best I could. I’m not a gifted swimmer to begin with, and it’s hard to focus on form when you are beginning to fatigue. In that way, swimming is a lot like running and cycling. I’d argue that it matters a lot more in swimming.
I’d stopped trying to keep anything resembling splits, but I know my pace was falling off at this point. I actually did roll into backstroke by accident once, and my stomach made a small sacrifice to the Drowned God (obligatory GoT reference) somewhere in there. Hope the fish enjoyed that!
I could see the finish was just a few hundred yards ahead, and that gave me some extra gitalong. I was expecting to swim all the way to the exit ladder, but I noticed people ahead of me standing in thigh deep water. It wasn’t long until could see the bottom and I instinctively stood up. I probably could have dolphin dove to the ladder, but I’d had enough swimming for the day, so I walked the last 50 yards or so and talked to Ryan. It was nice to listen so something besides bubbles and gasps for air.
Dave Underhill had a smoothie stand waiting for us at the finish, and that hit the spot, along with a bottle of water from The Missus. I think the only thing I was really missing out on would have been a gallon jug of water to pour over myself and get the brackish saltiness off.
I felt good about my time of 2:33:00 all things considered. Even though conditions weren’t too bad, they definitely weren’t optimal. I haven’t been swimming
very much at all lately, and that was almost twice as far as my longest previous swim. I’m coming back next year looking for a big gain. This counts as a PR, and it shouldn’t be too tough for me to break it next year.