Stroke, breath, tree…stroke, breath, tree…stroke, breath damn bloody tree. When will I ever get past this freaking, gnarly, piss ant, God awful tree?
It started, as these crazy things usually do, in the hot tub after a late night masters swim class.
I was just relaxing and chatting with a friend when he suggested that I should go swim the Horsetooth 10 K Open Water Swim. Now that’s a long swim title, but the part that I didn’t seem to register at the moment was the 10 K bit. In other words, this race was 10 kilometers or about 6.2 miles long for us Yanks.
My friend had swum the race the year before and he described it as a sort of nice and easy leisurely walk in a sun-baked park. “Each swimmer, of course, gets their own paddler,” he went on say. “And your paddler makes sure you are OK and carries your food.” He described in bucolic details the wonders of sipping green tea as he swam across the entire length of Horseshoe Reservoir on a warm Sunday morning.
The hot tub had just lulled me into a warm and happy and totally stupid place. So I went home, jumped online, and signed-up for my first and only 10 K swim.
I knew I was in some serious trouble the night before the swim at the mandatory pre race pasta dinner. Don’t get me wrong the organizers were great and the pasta was fine, it was the race program that scared the hell out of me. It had all of the swimmers and their paddlers listed. I went down the list of swimmers one by one, and my mouth just dropped open like some stunned bass.
These were not serious swimmers. These were uber, mega, super-duper, really, really, serious swimmers. The program listed all the racers former accomplishments like “Double Channel Swim” Do you know what a double Channel Swim is? I bet you can guess. I did and to my absolute horror I guessed right.
I know I guessed right because they introduced all of us and in graphic and terrifying details listed all of our accomplishments.
Just so we are perfectly clear, a double Channel Swim is when you decided to swim the English Channel (which I believe is about 13-miles long at the point that most folks swim it) and you swim the 20-miles (the actual swim distance is more like 20-miles because of the strong currents) to get from England to France.
And you drag yourself out of the cold and murky waters on a cold beach in France, after hours and hours of swimming, and you say to yourself something like, “Self, have you seen the price of train ticket through the Chunnel to get back to England?” And so you turn around, jump back into the cold and murky water, and swim all the way back to jolly old England.
If you’ve done this…which some of the swimmers actually had, you are certainly ready for tomorrow’s 10 K swim.
I, on the other hand, just sunk deeper into my chair when they announced my previous swim accomplishment. The great feat of swim strength that I had accomplished prior to this fateful day was to swim a grand total of 2.4 miles (or the length of an Ironman swim) the year before.
Oh and did I mention that I had done this great feat of swimming in a wetsuit. And did I also forget to mention that the 10 K swim was an official masters sanctioned race, which meant that Open Water swim rules apply.
Which means, and I’m sure I forgot to mention this, that wetsuits are strictly forbidden. However you can grease yourself up like some old black and white movie of a swimmer from the 1920’s. Why and what the grease is supposed to do remains a complete mystery to me to this day. The only greasing that I actually saw on race day was with modern suntan lotion.
Anyway, needless to say, my 2.4-mile great feat of swimming strength was like a falling into a pool and swimming to the other side for the double Channel swim boys.
On the other hand, I was now terrified out of my mind. The only thing that gave me comfort was my great new swim invention. You will recall that all this started with the promise of green tea in a hot tub.
My friend had informed me that you were allowed to drink and eat during the swim, but under no circumstances (remember the open water swim rules) could you touch the support boat or lake bottom. Knowing this I had invented what I called my LDSND (Long Distance Swim Nutrition Device).
It consisted of a bottle of ice tea (not green as I’m not such a big fan) and a bottle of Gatorade, duct taped to a swim pull buoy. To this great invention I tied a long rope. The idea being that when I need sustenance my support paddler would throw me the LDSND, and I would happily drink, and he could use the rope to pull the LDSND back to the boat.
As John Steinback noted, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry…especially if they have never tried their invention before the race.
So like 10 minutes into the swim, I stop and ask my paddler guy to throw me the LDSND, which he dutifully does. I unscrew the ice tea cap and begin to a) drink and b) immediately sink. In a blur of hand motion I stop myself from sinking and at the same time let go of the ice tea bottle cap.
Now I have three choices. I can drink all 24-ounces of the ice tea, or drink 24-ounce of lake water at the next nutrition stop, or I can try to drink 24-ounces of lake water at the next stop and potentially drown.
You want to know what I did? You’ll have to come back tomorrow for the rest of the story.