Escambia Bay Bridge to Bridge 25k

edited October 2013 in Swim Reports
This past weekend (May 18th) I completed my first 25k marathon swim, posting the report. Some of the language gets salty, and some of the imagery isn't all that pretty, so consider this a disclaimer.

Last year, I swam my first 10k, at the Pensacola Bridge Swim. On the race website before that swim, they mentioned that for 2012 they were going to host a 25km swim as a test event. Since I usually get interested in the next logical challenge, this seemed like it would be one to shoot for, and I signed up very shortly after the 10k.

A few months before the swim, when I was polling my masters swim club to see who could help, two other guys that I swim with said they were interested in swimming. I wasn't sure they knew what they were getting themselves into, but figured that was their problem. We sat down, and started thinking through some logistics. I had some ideas, but having both them and their paddlers on board turned out to be pretty helpful.

As the race got closer, everything started falling into place. My fiance would paddle for me. My parents would be on a pontoon boat that would supply Amanda, my fiance, as well as the paddlers for the other two swimmers from my club. There would be radios on the 3 kayaks and the pontoon boat. The paddlers had their food, and we had bought enough gallons of water that we should have enough. We had 2 or 3 large coolers on the boat, and smaller ones on each of the kayaks. Logistically, we were ready.

I had one logistic complication, and I'm not sure how much that ended up hurting me. Normally, what I feed on is a 50/50 mix of Carbo Pro and Perpetuem. I knew I was running low on Carbo Pro, so I had ordered another tub. The tracking info indicated that the package had been delivered the Saturday before we were supposed to drive over to Pensacola. However, Wednesday, the day of departure, I still hadn't seen the package. I called the post office, and they told me that they'd talk to the carrier, and call me back tomorrow. Shit. Oh well, I would just go with straight perpetuem. Didn't think it would be a big deal, and, like I said, I don't know how much it ended up hurting me.

I felt pretty prepared. I had been swimming 30-35km per week, but my longest swim had only been 3.5 hours. This concerned me, as I thought it was going to be an 8 hour swim. My last open water training swim, the water had been too hot (I live in Baton Rouge, our seasons are summer, not summer, and almost summer) But, preperations don't always go the way we would like them, so I figured I'd just take it as it came. Donal had warned me on reddit about the 4 hour slump, and I was glad for the warning.

The morning of the race, I woke up about 4:30 AM, which isn't too early for me. It had taken me a little bit to get to sleep, we went to dinner a bit later than I would have preferred, then people were texting me as I was trying to go to bed. Once I got to sleep, though, I actually slept okay.

In the morning, my stomach was very very jittery, as it often gets before anything big. I had wondered if I was going to throw up, and when I was taking my morning medications, the pills were the trigger, and I threw up the soda I had already had, and some of dinner the night before. Once I had thrown up, though, I actually felt quite a bit better.

We got to the hotel where the race started, and staged everything. The boat that would be supporting the kayaks had been docked the night before, and Amanda and I got our kayak down, and everything was staged just fine. I had a bit of time to stand on the beach and wait for the start. One of the other Baton Rouge swimmers led us in a little prayer, the race director gave us his briefing, we took some pictures, and got ready to go. At 7AM, we were sent off. One guy, in a wetsuit, who would end up winning, took off in a run. The rest of us walked out to maybe thigh depth, and eventually, all 6 of us started swimming.

From the beginning, the wind was out of the ENE, which meant we'd have to fight it most of the way out. When we made the first right turn out of the starting cove, it got pretty choppy, rolling maybe a foot. Not terrible, but enough to inhibit a normal stroke. I was glad that a lot of our training swims had been choppy.
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  • The first couple hours went by without incident. Feeds were pretty much all on schedule, I think we might have skipped one. But maybe 2.5 hours in, my stomach started to feel a bit wonky. Maybe 3 hours in, I fed the fish, and puked my brains out. It was cartoon fire-hose type vomiting. Something almost to be proud of. Strangely enough, it felt wonderful to have purged my stomach.

    The race director had told us that there'd be buoys every mile. I'm not sure why, but this was far from the case. Also, the course went further into the cove than the published map had indicated. It was probably 3 miles from the turnaround buoy until the one before/after it (it was an out and back course). It was a LONG slog out to the turnaround, into the wind, against a current. I was very glad to see that lime green buoy. We stopped, I ate some food, talked to the guy who finished ahead of me, and rested for a bit.

    Eventually, we started back for home. We had a nice push for a little while, and I started thinking about how much faster I thought I'd get back. While I'd stop and stand up (most of the course was VERY shallow) more than I probably should have, I think I was doing okay time wise, and was putting time into the people behind me. Maybe an hour after we turned around, though, the wind started to switch, and came out of the SW, which meant that, once again, we had to fight the wind/current. I was not happy when I realized this.

    On the way back, my stomach kept getting worse and worse. For a while, I'd fart, and that would help. Burps helped, too. Eventually, though, it just got worse. A few times, I ended up having to stop and relieve myself. Once or twice, I did so pretty emphatically.

    Maybe 8 hours in, after I had shit in the water a few times, I stopped and hurled. Again, fire hose style. My stomach was very unhappy with me. I didn't think I could continue. I had Amanda call my parents (driving the motorized boat) over. But, I was about halfway between two buoys, and I remembered how much better I felt after the last time (actually, for a few hours, I had been commenting to Amanda off and on that I hoped I'd throw up soon so my stomach would start feeling better). So, I decided to go to the next buoy and see how I felt. I was starting to feel a bit better. There was a lot of counting strokes, 100 crawl, 50 or 100 on my back. My backstroke was slow, Mom commented later that I wasn't gaining anything against the current when I was on my back. I was drinking stuff, and eating a little bit, more because I knew I needed to than because I wanted it.

    I soldiered on. My Mom was apparently appealing to Amanda to try and talk me out of the water (I'm very glad Amanda pushed back about that, as I would have been incredibly unhappy to have gotten out early. I was struggling, I was miserable, but I had gone too far to get out. Backstroke wasn't helping my elbow, my shoulders felt okay, although they weren't feeling great, either. I was VERY happy when I made it back under the bridge closer to the start. From there, it was still maybe 3/4 a mile, but I knew the landmarks well.

    I made the last left turn, and saw the race director in his red cap, and was pleased. Not the feeling of relief the same way I had last year at the end of my 10k, but I think I was too tired to have that kind of elation. I walked a bit, did one dolfin dive, then walked, with unsteady legs, back on to the beach 10 hours and 34 minutes after I left it. I was completely spent, very tired, but very very very glad to be back on solid ground.

    I sat there and waited for the other guys I had trained with to come in. one guy finished in 11:21, one guy in 11:37, the other in 11:38. The winner was at 7:00, and the guy who got second was 9:40. 6 started, and despite the conditions, 6 finished.

    My stomach was way too upset to eat anything Friday night after the race. There was one last bout of explosive diarrhea when we got back to the house. I drank a couple glasses of water, and that seemed to help a lot.

    I think that the saltwater was what got me so sick, although I also think that perpetuem doesn't agree completely with my admittedly sensitive stomach. It's okay before training, maybe in fresh water, but that and saltwater are too many things that make me gassy, which caused me a lot of BIG problems during the race.

    While this swim went less than ideally, it will be helpful for Swim Across the Sound having gotten in a 10.5 hour beast. My mom was supposed to crew for me for Swim Across the Sound, but after talking with Amanda and emailing with Donal, I've put up a thread asking for a bit different help. That conversation with my Mom won't be an easy one, but I'll deal with that in the next week or two.

    A few days post event, I can look back with incredible pride at what I've accomplished. Most of the things I've done have seemed fairly pedestrian compared to the mental and physical challenges that last Friday gave me. I'm very proud of it, and am even willing to brag about it a bit.
  • So, it's been almost a week, and I've had some time to think about everything that happened last week.

    Before this year, most of my open water swimming had been pretty easy. In high school, I swam a 3 mile swim out to an island in Lake Erie, and we were very fortunate with the conditions. They were very smooth and easy, and it was like swimming in a pool. Last year, I swam a few prep races, and they all went well and were relatively easy. One race had colder water than I was used to, but once I got in, 68 degrees seemed pretty easy to deal with. Also, the race was only 2k, so I was only in it about 40 minutes, including race time and staging time. The 10k I swam last year was about as easy as a 10k can get. Glassy flat water, 78 or so degree water, no boat traffic to deal with, and easy navigation.

    This year, very little of it has been so ideal. I fought off being sick a couple times, and a slight shoulder twinge. Every time we went out to the local oxbow, something was less than ideal. The first 3 or 4 times, it was choppy. One of those times, we fought a current strong enough that it took us 2 hours to go 2 miles. The last time, the top of the water felt about 85 degrees, whereas maybe 8 inches deep, the temperature was more reasonable. I got pretty dehydrated, and had to get into the kayak after 2 dehydrating hours.

    The conditions last Friday were very tough, both mentally and physically. I went a lot slower than I thought I would, got really sick, and battled with myself for a while. I was at the brink of quitting. Thanks to my amazing fiance, I didn't.

    I'm glad that things were easy at the start. It kept me interested, and gave me a few first accomplishments, even if they were kind of soft. But this year, especially last Friday, I feel like I earned it.

    I'm glad that my first experience at a distance like that was so hard, because now I won't underestimate my effort in July, and the depths of the pain cave to which I will journey.

    I've read accounts from the likes of @evmo and @loneswimmer of some of their swims, and I don't think I can match up with that level of epicness, but I think it's what I needed. People like those guys, my fiance, the guys I trained with who also finished that day (3 of the 6 guys who swam last Friday were from Baton Rouge, a 4th coaches for the club I swim for over in Lafayette), they all helped. Had those other 3 guys not been in the water, I would have been a lot closer to getting out. They said the same about the others, too.

    That was kind of rambling, but I'm glad I got through such a tough time, even if I am hoping for a much smoother swim across Long Island Sound.
  • Wow.

    That is one hell of a report, Tim. Thanks for posting it here, and thanks for not sparing us the gory details. 'Tis the reality of this ill-advised hobby we've chosen!

    I commend you on your perseverance. You are one tough MF - and that's perhaps the highest compliment one can receive in these parts. Well done, sir.
  • Great report, @Timsroot.

    My Mom was apparently appealing to Amanda to try and talk me out of the water (I'm very glad Amanda pushed back about that, as I would have been incredibly unhappy to have gotten out early. I was struggling, I was miserable, but I had gone too far to get out.)

    I wonder if your mother learned from that experience. It's easy to understand how a non-athlete might not realize that the kindest thing she could do for you would be encourage you to finish, as long as you weren't in any danger. After seeing that your fiancee had the right idea, maybe your mom would be a better crew member the next time?

    My mother used to get upset about my swimming escapades. Once she realized that "this is how it's done", she stopped worrying about me being in danger.
  • @WaterGirl

    Thanks.

    I haven't had a chance to talk to my Mom about it, we had something going on that Saturday, then she went to Orlando to meet my sister at a conference. I suspect that if she did get over the hump of realizing "that's just the way it happens", she probably would be a very supportive and helpful crew member. But, I live in Louisiana, and she lives in Ohio, so I don't have any chance to train with her.

    I don't have any open water swims scheduled between now and Swim Across the Sound. As it is, we're quickly running out of cool enough water to be able to even train in open water. Because of these limited opportunities, and the geographic complexities, I don't want to risk having my Mom talk me out of the water when I really do have more left in the tank.

    While last weekend was big, SAS is the bigger target for me for the year. Last weekend was a very helpful step toward that goal. I want to put myself in the best position to reach that goal. While it is a callous sounding statement, and I'm not looking forward to the conversation, I don't feel that having my Mom as the sole crew for me in July puts me in the best position to achieve that goal.
  • For the record, your Mom might be relieved to be relieved of that duty- it is not for everyone. My mother, though very encouraging on land and excellent at MANY things, is not invited on a boat as crew- nor does she want to be! My dad has escorted me on several (pretty miserable) swims and seems able to at least act like he is not freaking out. My husband, though he has seen me through childbirth 2x, has only recently felt able to escort me for swims without letting emotion get in the way- you just don't know how people will react to that experience!
  • @jendut - I need to talk to her about it. It looks like I might have found some help for Swim Across the Sound, but I'm still going to give her the option of whether or not she wants to come. Either way, I still want someone else on the boat to guide the effort.

    It makes sense that it's not for everyone. I was INCREDIBLY impressed at how my fiance handled everything. Our first training swim or two I had to tell her what I wanted and when, which is to be expected, but it very quickly turned into something I didn't have to worry about. I don't know how much of it was Mom worrying about another person, due to the way we had our support planned out, and how much of it was inexperience, but Amanda covered for a few of Mom's mistakes. Nothing too major, and nothing that cost any time, but mistakes nonetheless. They happen, but they aren't helpful in the middle of a long swim, either. I'd rather field questions like "what do you want?" as opposed to "Did I mix the right bottle?"

    It's a conversation that I'm not looking forward to, but it's one that needs to happen.
  • Hoping that the picture works, if not, I'll ask Evan for some help.

    This is the 3 of us from Baton Rouge who swam the 25k. We had done a lot of training together, and we regularly train in the same pool. I am the guy on the right.

    The guy on the left finished right after me at 11:21, Mike. He does adventure races, has done some 24 hour mountain bike races, stuff like that. I had emailed my club asking if anyone could help with motorized support, and he emailed me and said "I think Don and I would like to swim it, is that okay?" It grew from there. He got pretty chafed, but he finished.

    The guy in the middle is Don. Don was the last guy out of the water in 11:38. Don is an incredible person. Some time back, well before I moved to Louisiana, he was out training on his bike for a triathlon, when he got doored by a car who didn't see him. He was paralyzed, neck down, if I recall correctly, for a period of time. He has slowly regained use of all his limbs. His right hand looks a bit odd when he reaches to shake your hand, and he still walks with a noticeable limp in his right leg, but he still swims and rides his bike, and has completed ironman distance Aquabike events. He and Mike are good friends, and train together all the time. He hadn't done as many long things as Mike or I, but he was able to battle through and finish. Don led us in a prayer on the beach, and was pretty emotional. He commented in the original email with the picture that he couldn't really see anything through all the tears in his goggles.

    We all fed off of each other. Had I known that Mike and Don had thrown in the towel, when I thres up the second time, I would have gotten out, too, I'm sure of it. They said the same when we were on the beach at the end.

    In an email with Don this morning, and commented that while he thought I looked confident, I really wasn't, although I was calmer at that point because everything was staged and ready to go, and that I thought that the picture summed up the pre race pretty well. His comment, while I don't know if he was shooting for it, I thought was very profound: "Things like this seem to realign priority items in life and give a depth to what we are capable of with the Spirit alive in our body."

  • edited May 2012
    Trying the picture again.
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