Friday, June 10, 2011

The 35th Annual Swim around Key West: My swim experience and the road to the swim…

On Saturday June 4th I got ready for my first ocean swim, and my first open water swim longer than the 2.4 miles of swimming during an Ironman. And I think I was 10 times more nervous than I was before the Ironman. I think my nerves were directly related to the number of unknowns. 12.5 miles of swimming seemed like a long way. How would swimming in the ocean compare to my training in the pool? What kind of creatures will I encounter during my swim? I’ve never swum with a Kayaker; what will that be like?

The Back Story

I had never imagined doing a 12.5 mile swim, but Mark Edmunds got the idea stuck in my head when I read his report last summer after he completed it. It was motivational and sounded interesting. So, then in December I was having a beer and looking at races, I looked up the swim, its registration had just opened, so I signed up.

The information on the website had set the date as June 4th, and the start time was 10:00. They determined the start time based on tides. They hoped to choose the time where the tides would be most beneficial to the swimmer. The swim offers a two wave start. The first wave was originally going to go off at 9:30 to allow swimmers an extra half hour to get across the harbor before the tide changed. The catch with the first wave is that if you complete the solo swim you get the medal, but can’t place. The official clock didn’t start until the second wave.

With over 6 months to train, I had to find a kayaker, and solicited help from my friends on Facebook. Originally my friend Jen had signed on to go with me and kayak. With that set, I booked rooms and my flight, and started swimming. Being that I live in Northern Virginia, training was restricted to the pool for the majority of the time. The swim around Key West did not allow for wetsuits, and the open water up here is just now warming up to the point where it’d be somewhat comfortable… So I swam lap after lap in the pool. About a month later I got word from my kayaker that the Army would not give her the time off. Luckily Jonathan stepped up to be my kayaker.

A tradition I started last year when I ran the Marine Corps Marathon for The Wounded Warriors Foundation was to identify an event each year that I would do for a charity. Jonathan’s mom has Multiple Sclerosis, and I decided that year I would find a MS charity to raise money for. Once that was decided I looked at the different charities. The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America had an option to “Swim for MS” which was a fundraiser that had people do laps in a pool and raise money for their organization. I decided this was the organization that I would fundraise for and my “Swim for MS” would be a 12.5 mile swim.

In mid-February I got an email from the race organizer. He had done the swim multiple times and gave some training tips. He said to focus training on time in the water vs. distance. This was valuable advice. Cause I’d always loose count when doing laps in the pool. I also reached out to Mark and he provided a timeline and some pointers back when I started training and then even more as race day approached.

Next thing I knew it was May. I moved, got a puppy, finished my undergrad, and switched jobs. Oh, and I had a month until I had to swim 12.5 miles. I’d been swimming and trying to get one long swim in every few weeks, and do drills and just get in the water throughout the week.

A few times during the training Iwan had recommended I get Lynne Cox’s Swimming to Antarctica. I finally got it the week before the swim. It’s a great read and there are tidbits that I took away and used during my swim. Thanks Iwan for the recommendation.

The trip to Key West and the Swim

On June 2nd Jonathan and I flew to Key West. While in route I got an email moving up the start time by half an hour to take full advantage of the currents. I’d also got word from Mark with some last minute pointers. One of the most valuable was you don’t have to get covered head to toe in Zinc Oxide like the majority of racers. Yes, they use the diaper rash cream and coat their body. They then use Canola Oil to strip the stuff off, cause it does not wash off.

I had trained in May with a new nutrition plan and on the 3rd I put my nutrition together. I had decided to do a strictly liquid plan, with the Stinger Chews as backup if needed. I had got two 100oz Camelback pouches and two 70 oz Platypus hydration sacks and used one of each for my calorie drink, and the other for water. The nutrition was mixed in a water bottle with 2 scoops of CytoMax, 2 scoops of CytoCarb, and 2 salt tabs cracked open and poured in. Shake em and pour them into the camelback. It held just about 5 bottles, and the refill bag held an additional 3 bottles of mix. I then tied 550-cord to the end of the camelbacks so my kayaker could toss them into the water.

The morning of the swim, and the two days leading up to it my nerves kept growing and growing. I woke up at 6:30, (gotta love the late start time) had a coconut water, banana, and a Power Bar Harvest. I put on one layer of my Neutrogena Baby sunblock let it sink in and headed to the beach. There we got the Kayak, affixed the flag. (Everyone else was putting it in the drain plug and taping it, so we did too) then put on my 8 hour Gator Gel sunblock, got body marked and wondered if I should put a few more layers of sunblock on. Jonathan told me to relax, and that two layers were plenty. I wasn’t sure, but I went with it. I then grabbed my lubricant (not sure why, but I used my “trislide”). This as I finally realized later was a BIG MISTAKE. It acted a lot like the Canola Oil. The only places I got sun burnt were the places I used the tri slide. And I chaffed anyway. Anyway, I had an hour or so to kill and drank water, hung out in the shade and dipped my toes in the water. It was nice and warm; maybe 80 degrees or so.

I decided to go in the second wave pretty confident that I could make the swim in 8 hours. The water looked fairly calm, but the winds were picking up. Nerves were running high, and the first wave went off. Jonathan sported the Strike Out MS orange shirt, got into the blue kayak and ventured out to the point where he’d wait for me. The kayak isn’t allowed to start next with the swimmer. Too much chaos.

So… I start swimming out. First dive under I get a big mouth of salt water, so much saltier than the salt water pool I trained in. It then occurred to me… I hate swimming in the ocean. The race director yelled out “GO” and off I went looking for my kayaker. He was in a bright orange shirt with a boney hat. Wouldn’t ya know it there was another guy in an orange shirt and boney hat. I finally found him and we set off. I set the timer on my watch for every 20 minutes. The plan was to rinse my mouth with water, then drink water, then drink my calories. The original plan was that both my kayaker and I would sync our timers to go off around the same time. He didn’t start his at the start, so when mine went off my kayaker said… “not yet… you still have 3 minutes”. Needless to say we didn’t go by his timer for the remainder of the time. I’m not sure if it was the initial mouth of salt water, the waves, or what, but I was not a happy camper swimming in the Atlantic.

The swim itself was uneventful. I was hoping to see fish, coral, and other things; but I didn’t. I found my rhythm and was getting into my zone, then a wave would come over my head right when I tried to breath. Just about 3.5 miles into the swim there was a little excitement. My kayaker had been taking on water from waves crashing over the side and was sinking. Luckily I had rounded the corner, and in happier waters, so I just collected the nutrition, my morning clothes bag, and spare goggles and just floated on my back and waited for a “committee boat” to come over and empty the kayak. All in all I’d say it took 15 – 20 minutes to get the kayak emptied and then getting us back on track. Jonathan was very apologetic and was worried that he ruined my time. I tried to explain that it was fine cause I wasn’t “racing”. I just wanted to see if I could do it. A couple lesson learned though this experience; do not keep the drain plug open with your flag, secure it elsewhere in the boat and make sure the kayaker has a cup or something to bail water out as needed.

Mark had been right, the first 5 miles went by pretty fast. Swimming across the mooring field and around the north side of the island (miles 5-8) took forever. The Gulf was far from calm and I was getting tired of the lack of scenery. It was better than staring at the long black line on the bottom of the pool, but I was wanting a colorful fish or something.

Shortly before the kayak sunk I had asked for my skin lubricant, but never got around to putting it on. My tongue got all nasty and swollen from the salt water. The majority of the swim I could have touched the bottom. At one point going through the Cow Key Channel I almost ran aground. I don’t think I’ve swum in a foot of water since I was a little kid, and then I could put my hands or feet down and walk. Here I was doing breast stroke, couldn’t breathe cause that would require me to drop my midsection a bit and there just wasn’t room. I was 10 miles in, a committee boat was about 200 yards away and I was panicking trying to find deeper water. I finally got to the boat channel. And WOW!!! I wish I had been in it the whole time. The current in this channel was very strong. I was flying.

I rounded the corner back into the Atlantic with about two miles left to go. My index and middle finger on each hand were hurting each time I pulled, and the chaffing in my arm pits was making it brutal. But I kept on swimming. I fought the current. Somehow the current was pulling my kayaker toward the finish line, and was pushing me further away. It was one of many times I drew from the book Iwan suggested where I just put my head down and counted strokes. Once I got to whatever number I decided on I picked my head up and sighted. I knew I was on the final stretch, but it was taking forever.

The camelbacks worked like a charm. I could continue to make forward progress, usually on my back and sip on my camelbacks as they floated on the surface. I think they were easy enough to refill, though I’m not sure if they really needed to be. I didn’t take in any solids, didn’t cramp, and felt great during the swim. I think I’m going to try this nutrition combo on the bike.

The last half-mile of the swim is marked by 10 pillars that mark the no boat zone along the beach. The 10th pillar marked the start and now the finish line and a tiki boat created the other half of the finishers chute. Jonathan took the kayak across the finish line and I swam and swam until my body cleared the 10th pillar and I was told I’d completed the course. 7 hours 4 minutes 1 second and 1 sunken kayak later I had circumnavigated Key West. I half walked and half swam to shore. My friends Lauren and Nicole waited on the beach and snapped some pictures of me getting my finishers medal.

The swim was an awesome experience and with the help of my friends and family I surpassed my fundraising goal by over a $1000. It was truly inspiring the level of generosity and encouragement I received. I’m not sure if I’ll do a swim of such a distance again, but I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to push their limits. Training was hard, with the lack of warm open water in the spring here, and that there was no wetsuit allowed for the swim in Key West. Stick with training for time, the liquid calories worked beautifully for me, and make sure you have a lubricant that won’t affect your sunblock.

Finally… I want to send a huge thank you out to Jonathan. He did an awesome job kayaking and took good care of me during the swim.

This is my first “race report” ever. Sorry it is so long.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What a swim.

UGH!!! That was painful. Last month I did 5 miles in the pool and it wasn't too bad. Today I bumped it up by just another mile, and for some reason it hurt. It was painful, but it is now done.

I am not sure why this particular swim was more painful than the last. I think I need to spend more hours in the pool. Next month I am bumping up the miles to 8. In May I am shooting for a 10 miler, and then the 12.5 mile swim in the following month. It sure is coming up quick.

For those that do not know I am swimming to raise funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. You can support my efforts by clicking HERE.

If you want to find out more about my swim around Key West, or sign up. I hear there's still slots... You can do that HERE.

If you know of any open water swims between now and June, let me know. I have a 3-miler on the books, but need more.

Thanks y'all... You ROCK!!!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Swimming around Key West...

Hey Y'all,

It has been awhile since I updated my blog. My last update was looking for some ideas of a charity to raise money for in my "big race" this year which is my 12.5 mile swim around Key West.

I didn't get too much input... But the input I typically got was "do it for a charity that has particular significance and meaning to you". The other ideas I got where to raise money for Michael J. Fox's Parkinson Foundation, under-privileged children, and wounded warriors. These are all great causes, and I will live up to my promise and do events to raise money for these charities in the future. However, this year, I've been touched by a remarkable lady whom I've yet to meet. Joan Wilson.

My solo swim around Key West requires me to have a support kayak. Originally my friend Jen was going to be my kayaker but got pulled away by the National Guard. Thankfully I had plenty of notice, and Jonathan stepped up to the plate and volunteered to be my kayaker on the journey. Some of y'all have met Jonathan, and some of y'all will have the pleasure as time goes on. He's always willing to help and just a great person.

So... Joan Wilson is Jonathan's mom, we're friends on Facebook, and I'll meet her for the first time next month. Joan has MS. Her updates on Facebook last week have been about an upcoming visit to the doctor, and then receiving news that wasn't the best.

I've not met her, but just from the few emails we've shared and the stories I hear from Jonathan, she sounds like an amazing woman. I felt like I wanted to do something, and have been sending prayers and holding good thoughts, and then well prepping for my run yesterday... I decided this was who I'd do my swim for.

When I finished my run, I got onto Charity Navigator and started looking for Multiple Sclerosis charities. I found a few different ones, and settled on the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. I chose this charity for it's rating with the Better Business Bureau as well as it's option for creating an online donation page, as well as its "Swim for MS" challenge. All these pieces seemed to fit what I was looking for.

I've been training. I'm up to 5 miles in the pool, this month will I'm hoping to get up to 7, then 9 in April, 11 in May, and then the swim in June 4th. Jonathan is going to be out in a kayak getting ready for his part as well.

If you could support my swim, say a prayer for Joan, and if you can make a donation... I would be forever grateful. I understand times are hard, and money is tight, any amount is welcome, and if you can't give... Say a prayer for Joan, and wish me luck on the swim.

Here's the link to my page (click here).

Thanks y'all. You guys helped me raise over $2500 for wounded warriors when I did Marine Corps Marathon last year. I'm setting my sights higher this year and made the initial donation to get the ball rolling.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

What charity should I raise money for???

The off season training is winding down, and I'm back at it and my race calendar is filling up...

Last year I ran for a cause. The cause was the Wounded Warrior Project, and the race I did was the Marine Corps Marathon. With the help of my friends and family we raised $2145 for soldiers injured while serving this awesome country.

That was the second race I did that I raised money for charity. But it was the first that I did that didn't require me to. I decided a few months before the Marine Corps Marathon that I would dedicate one race a year to raising money for charity.

This year the event I picked to do for charity is my 12.5 mile swim around Key West. It takes place June 4th.

Now that I have the event picked, I need to identify a charity to raise money for. Since I am calling on all my friends and family to support this charity, I am reaching out to you to help identify a cause for me to race for. You can comment on the blog, reach out to me on facebook, or send me an email, or call me. I will start a list and will race for the charity that most people suggest. I will then keep the list and identify future events to do for the charity you mention.

I love doing events, and hope to be doing them for the next 30-40 years. So send me your suggestions.

I can't wait to see what you come up with.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

What's too sick to train???

This week has been a rough week. My stomach started doing somersaults on Tuesday and has not really stopped since. It has gotten better since Tuesday; the nauseous feeling has pretty much subsided. Now I'm left with little appetite, and a constant churning in my tummy.

On Tuesday there was no question: I was not training, I left work at 0930, and skipped the first day of school because I felt so crappy. Yesterday was also a wash. Speed work was not going to happen because it felt like, and still does, that anything over a certain lackadaisical pace would be too much and cause some unfortunate consequence.

Now I'm wondering. What is too sick to train? Do I need to get myself a doctors note to prove to myself that taking the time to get better is the right approach? OR... Do I get my ass on the bike and in the pool and suck it up and train on? Why does taking time off from training when I don't feel good make me feel worse? Is it not the right thing to do???


Oh... And I grabbed the photo from assbach on Flickr

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Have you ever???

Have you ever had a workout that was truly amazing. One that was not much different than any other day... But for some reason your mind just started making sense of everything and a you finished with a new found motivation and direction??? My run this afternoon was that workout.

I'm not sure what triggered it. Could it have been the typical mundane routine at the office? Or maybe the inspiring race report from my good friend Jackie? The chance conversation with the concierge in my building who just returned after being out for many weeks that was the result of heart disease and emphysema? Visiting with my family this holiday season and seeing my mom's 90 lbs weight loss; or my dad trying to figure out how to live forever?

Whatever it was this afternoon's run was amazing. It occurred to me that I have all the tools needed to change my life the way that I want. I have completed a 500 hour course in personal training, and know how to design workouts and nutrition/meal plans, I have the determination to finish races, which is evidenced by this last year of racing. I have an eagerness to improve. And finally I have some good friends that will support me along the way.

This workout couldn't have come at a better time. It's the end of one year, and the start of a new one. I anticipate this year to be an awesome adventure, highlighted by some amazing times.

I feel blessed. For the first time in a long time I find myself talking passionately about something that interests me a great deal. Triathlon. Yes, things are missing in my life. I'm 33 and single, with no signs of that changing; working a job that just feels like work everyday, and having to make some tough decisions regarding friends, and what constitutes a friend to me, and how I can be a better friend to some amazing people.

I have my work cut out for me. This weekend I will sit down and work out a nutrition plan and finish up my workout schedule through Ironman Arizona. I am ready for the challenge, open to the idea of someone to share the adventure with, and just enjoying the hell out of life.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

2011 is going to be the year...

2010 is winding to a close and it was a hell of a year. I did 3 marathons, 2 Ironman, a half Ironman, the Urbanathlon in Chicago, the Army 10-miler, a few Olympic distance triathlons, 2 sprints, and started the year with the JFK 20k. It was an awesome year. :) But I feel I didn't live up to my full potential. My diet and nutrition were all out of whack and I think my training suffered from it.

So the goal for 2011 get my diet and nutrition on track. A big piece of that is to cut out the beer, wine, margaritas and all other delicious beverages that are best consumed with reckless disregard for moderation. The question this raises is... How does one be social without drinking? I'm sure it can be done. It may be my greatest challenge, but if I can get the support of my friends... And break out of my shell it should be a good year.

If I can keep on track, slim down I hope by November I will be ready for an awesome race at Ironman Arizona. And who knows... I may be racing Kona in October (depending on the lottery drawing in April), so I need to be ready so I don't make a fool of myself.

2011 is going to be the year that I am the person I want to be; not just settle for hangin out, having fun, and suffering through some of the longer races.

Hope y'all support me.