Wow, I’m still a little speechless in regards to this swim, but thought this particular adventure deserved a write up. Just in case you aren’t familiar with my background, my life took a dramatic change after IM Kona in 2018. I was hoping to pick up ultra running while continue to race the half iron distance for triathlons. The thought was to scale back after 15 years of IM racing….my body had other ideas. 3 knee surgeries later, I knew this last knee rehab would be long and grueling before I could test running (6-9 months) and decided in late January to find a swimming challenge. I messaged my coach, asked if she thought I could be ready to do a 7 mile swim around Lido Key (FL) by 4/25, her response was, how bad do you want it???
I wanted it. I needed it. There had to be something to deter me from trying to push knee PT and run too early. I was going to earn this. I found my kayaker, Leslie, who is a friend of mine and had my plans in place. My training was tough, but I put my head down and just did my workouts. 75% of my workouts were on my Vasa Trainer, and I started swimming open water for long swims at the end of February (water temp 58 degrees). The end of February was when covid hit, the Lido Key swim was cancelled early March. My kayaker and I decided we’d still do it even though it wouldn’t be an official race. Then the beaches in FL closed, but I kept training. I knew that I’d still do my 7 miles, but plans were a joke, and I just had to keep trainingand be open minded. I kept remembering what a friend/old coach used to say to me, “Ironman (IM) is nothing but crisis control, and how you handle it”. I felt like covid was IM in a nutshell, keep moving forward and figure it out or dwell sulk and do nothing. I took my pity party days, but always told coach this was still happening on 4/25.
Fast forward to 2 weeks prior to 4/25, I message my bestie and asked if she’d kayak and be my support crew for me. She said yes. Leslie, my original kayaker, was more than willing, but she wasn’t local and I didn’t want her to drive so far. I mapped out a route that left the same place I’d been swimming, but that went further out and around 3 islands. Why is this important? Well, the Lido Key swim would have officially made me a marathon swimmer. If I do this swim on my own, what are those requirements?? The short and sweet of marathon swimming is you are supposed to do a point to point swim or a swim around an island, you can only swim in a swimsuit with ONE latex or silicone swim cap and goggles, and you must not hang onto anything at any time (like while feeding). GREAT! Insert sarcasm….this water is COLD! I literally did one test swim without my wetsuit (63 degrees) and my hands and feet could only handle 1.5 miles before I put the neoprene booties and gloves back on. The route was easy enough to figure out, but the last long swim on the schedule had me questioning if the water could come up just a few degrees to save my hands and feet.
Race week I received a text from my aunt stating the water was up to 66 degrees, and although I was happy, I was also questioning if it was enough. Race morning arrives, there’s not the typical tens of thousands of fans (ironman), the 2,000+ racers to hype me up, it’s just me and my bestie (social distancing). I help her arrange the feeder (never tested) onto the kayak, then start to get myself ready. I know this routine pretty well by now. I do a few planks to warm up, along with some other exercises. I slowly get halfway into the water, splash my face a bit, and take in the scenery. Sarah, the kayaker, asked if I was ready and I slowly got into the water and said “Time”. We’d both had our Garmin InReach’s synced with the route along with Garmin watches running to queue feeding times (30 min. intervals). I remember thinking the water was cold, but wasn’t unbearable when we started, the sun even looked as if it may come out. The first 2 coves were where I’d been training, and I didn’t sight much off Sarah at all, I just swam and tried to keep it smooth and controlled. She was on my left about 6 or more feet away with her body in line with my head. The day wasn’t starting out too bad at all, but I knew that my hands and feet had felt okay last time until about the 30 minute mark so I was still cautiously optimistic. Once we rounded the 2nd cove all of the “yellow scum” and debris from the storms earlier in the week were apparent. I mean some of it was downright disgusting, and I had to mentally talk my way through every minor thing my hand brushed up on. There had been one training day like this, but I’d had my wetsuit and gloves onwhich is a big difference. Keep moving, focus on your swim, DON’T LOOK AT THE WATER, and just sight off of Sarah and close your eyes was about all I could do. The 1st feeding(Powerbar gel and Nuun or Base drink) came and went, uneventfully. The sun faded, and I mentally pushed out the hand and feet concern telling myself that if we just got around this cove maybe the sun would come out. The next cove didn’t offer anything but more yellow scum and debris along with a chill. The one thing I was grateful for is I’d given myself extra mileage in case of boat traffic, and this was one area of concern where there wasn’t a soul in sight ….probably b/c it was so cold! Haha!
I did feel at peace while swimming, but I was also on a mission. Lido Key swim has a time limit of 5 hours, and even though it was a completely different venue I wanted to ensure I made that time. Triathlon and transitions taught me seconds count, so I made feedings quick, and I didn’t stop to chat. I vaguely remember being close to the point when we crossed a busy waterway, and thinking this %^&* is cold. Shivering may have started for a few seconds at that point as well. I stopped Sarah and asked for the hot tea (thanks Casey!!!) that I’d decided to bring last minute. I took probably 2 minutes (that’s a long time for me) and drank some sips in hopes it’d warm me up. I also looked at my watch and saw I was at 3.24 miles. Sarah said I was looking good, I told her the sun needed to come out! Feeling recharged I attempted to power through the strokes to make it across the waterway in a timely fashion, but this wind kicked up and came out of nowhere. I thought maybe I was being a sissy or getting tired, but I looked at the flag on the back of the kayak and it was blowing everywhere. Every turn had me believing the current and wind would change and help me out, and every time I was wrong. The feedings continued did go well (thank you Sarah!), which is amazing considering I put the feeder together myself and we did no test runs (covid). I tried not to ask mileage, my watch had kept going but was still stuck at the 3.24 point. Sarah continued to guide me around a few things that she knew would bug me out, we won’t discuss the time she laughed at my reaction when I ran into what felt like an alligator or the time she led me over water where I could almost touch the bottom. I’m not a fan of these things AT ALL. In the past, I’d probably had knocked her out and gotten in the kayak myself out of fear.
The watch never picked up the distance after 3.24 miles, so I tried to mentally just make it to each feeding. There were points where I’d either be freezing or the wind would be awful, and I just went back to how I strategize the marathon portion of an ironman, aid station to aid station or just make it to the turnaround. The swim was a make it from feeding to feeding or make it to the last island where you know there’s only a mile or so left. Sarah at one point during a feeding agreed I was getting slower, I was complaining about the wind, and she reminded me to think of my stroke. I reset, and told myself this was about finishing what I set out to accomplish, don’t worry about time, JUST KEEP MOVING while elongating my stroke.
Once we got a little closer I did start asking about distance, and luckily I was informed we were good on mileage and were able to avoid hitting the insides of the last 2 coves. Sarah made the finish very nice, she had the bullhorn out (or was just really loud) and video, and did such a great job especially since we’d not practiced in a swim/kayak before. The chill was awful, it actually consumed my mind the last 20 minutes of swim, and it didn’t get too much better when I got out. I had the clothes and my plan laid out perfectly in front of me but the shaking was uncontrollable even when I got my clothes on. I sat curled in a ball getting my post race nutrition, trying to drink some coffee, and finally got to a point where we could load up and get the kayak to the car. Once we arrived at the car, Sarah had this amazing poster waiting for me. I couldn’t have asked for anything more given the circumstances of covid. Tips for 1sttime marathon swimmers deserves a separate write up.
Thank you’s to people that really helped:
-My husband, during covid, awaiting his double fusion back surgery, and so much more, he still supported this (as long as I was safe😊)
–Coach Reem, thanks for reminding me that I had to really want this…it made me pause, but also really commit. I come to you with crazy stuff and short timelines and you’re always honest.
-Leslie and Pete Chaplin, we changed plans so many times and you 2 have been so chill about it all! I can’t wait for the makeup of Lido Key on Memorial Day!
-Sarah Parker Evans, you stepped up last minute and knew what I needed, made me laugh at you dancing, and just read my mind. I appreciate what you did from the bottom of my heart. Plus I felt a little good that I shocked you at how prepared I was, haha! The pics and videos, top notch!
-Casey, the info on how to take care of my kayaker and nutrition tips were lifesavers.
-My Iracelikeagirl team has been so supportive and uplifting, you’ll never know what it meant.
–Caliloko thank you for keeping me feeling good with my active and recovery gear….it’s pretty stylish too!
-The months leading up to this Massage Envy was utilized quite a bit, and saved me from missing workouts. The people there really made a difference, I had some rough weeks.
–LightSpeed Lift enabled me to keep my heart happy jogging throughout much of this, which I never thought would be possible. They may help me walk and jog on this crazy knee before I’m able, but this company is also the first to support me and cheer me on during this swim adventure.
–Leo Briceno OWS, Tampa crew, and OutRival Racing Florida peeps, you all have embraced me and made me feel so welcome and even had me contemplating the Alligator Lighthouse Swim in September. I’m sure many of my training swims will be Leo’s races, I’ve never felt so at home the 1st time at a race.
–Vasa Trainer, one of the best investments and gifts a girl could’ve ever received 2 years ago for my 40th. I’m not a fan of wasted time, cold pools, and cold pools. I have literally done atleast 75% of my training on this machine since then, even for Kona.
–Greenville Splash Masters for making me always feel like I had a team of people if needed, you guys are great…I just hate pools.
-My aunt and uncle, them letting me swim off their boat dock during covid was irreplaceable kindness. I promised I’d always walk around the house, just use the boat dock, and be in and out when completed and they graciously agreed to let me swim my long swims there. I couldn’t have done this without that.