by Karla Rees
After attempting swimming more than 30 races the past two years, this race is by far the most difficult. For those considering this event in the future, I'd like to pass along the dos and don'ts I've learned from the experience.
My preparation included driving to Aquatic Park or Santa Cruz for no more than 7 acclimation swims .let me tell you right now, 7 is NOT enough. I also swam 10000m in a pool before hand so I would know how the distance felt. I recommend trying a 5000m swim. It helped determine what I'd be consuming during swim and time out how far I should space my feedings. During my pre-race training swims I also brought a sport-top bottle of water with me, if I got thirsty or swallowed water, I wouldn't have to go back to beach. The bottle does drag a bit carrying it on the backside, but not enough to matter. Also when you start practicing go without the neoprene cap, so you can survive longer with them during the real race.
The morning of the race, arrive early! I needed more prep time myself. I was able to use sun block that had jellyfish repellent, excellent buy if you can find it. I ate as much as I could before the race, knowing I'd only be eating gel during the race. I used bag balm to prevent chaffing, others used Vaseline, either works, but put the goop everywhere for insulation.
The race director gave everyone good tips for recognizing hypothermia. Monitor stroke technique, stroke count, complaining of cold, uncontrollable shivering, stuttering, inability to answer simple questions, decrease time between feedings, increased time during feedings, disorientation etc. The conditions: high tide within an hour, current out to sea and 60 degree water at the end Capitola Pier (there was a lot of cheering from all the south-enders) What?? 60! At the end of the pier? I've been swimming in 62! Oh well I paid..I swim.
THE RACE: The escorts headed out first and stayed a few hundred yards off the pier. 38 swimmers reacted to the siren at 8:30 am. Usually when the sound blows on a beach start, swimmers start sprinting towards the water, not here, everyone slowly jogged out and settled in for a long swim, this was the first swim I've ever had where I wasn't fighting for position, scratched, clobbered or swum over. I did bump into a swimmer but I moved aside and let her pass, she was faster!
Within minutes everyone paired up with their escorts and moved out. About 15 minutes in, the kelp beds appeared, I screamed, LOUD, not expecting the kelp and got the attention of every escort in earshot, my escort just laughed, and probably took out the camera for the occasion. I paid more attention and looked forward to navigate thru the kelp until we were out to sea, its not the softest stuff to be swimming through. Lesson #1 When gooping up, use latex gloves. I kept handling my goggles, which still had bag balm on them, and soon after both pairs of my goggles became blurry on the outside. After we were out aways I felt a rush of water come from behind, it was the current .Weeee! Kind of like body surfing, but out in the middle of the ocean. The currents kept helping til we hit the Zantipee, the turn boat, ( 2.2 miles out to sea), the crew indicated our time, 1hr 5 minutes. A minute later I took my first feeding break. I noticed the temp, a bit chilly, I sucked it up, drank water and headed out again.
The crowd thinned out between hours 1-2, off on my far right was my closest competition we kept switching places for the first 2 hours. I thought that boredom would set in and I would start humming songs in the brain but that didn't happen. I had another worry Between my 1st and 2nd feeding there was one tiny difference .CHOP! Concentration was needed to keep the water out of my stomach and lungs. Ew yuck..salt.
Time: 2:00-2:30 Cold, cold, cold, food, food, food. At this point all I could think about was how cold I was and what I'd eat later. I planned to feed every half hour, which worked at first, but as I got colder I had to stop more, plus the farther we went the more choppy the water got. At some points I couldn't see my escort, even though I knew he was less than 25 yards away. By the time I hit my 4th feeding at 2:25 I learned Lesson #2: Forget the water, forget the gu, forget the food, bring only hot drink, or hot Cytomax in my case. It keeps you warm, satisfies thirst, minimizes the saltiness, and provides energy. After taking off from my warm drink I felt better (10 minutes of feeling better counts in my book) but I lost my kayaker, we drifted and the kayak was heading the wrong way after my feeding and he took a minute to turn around. Lesson #3 turn your kayak around to face the finish after feeding. Yeah, I'm not supposed to touch the escort, but I'm not hanging around to wait in that cold water.
After 2:30 I was a lone swimmer, and had to rely on fixed objects, which weren't so reliable. One things for sure if you keep watching the same thing .let's say a lighthouse, its not gonna move. Fixed objects just get bigger. With blurry goggles, the lighthouse was the only thing I could see after the Zantipee until I hit the boardwalk. At about 2:35 (Feed 5) I took off my goggles to get a good look around. "Hey there's the pier" (way farther away then I'd hoped), I knew I wouldn't be finishing under 3:15 and probably not 3:30. I drank some more hot drink, turned the kayak around head back in to the chop, which wasn't getting any better. This time the hot drink only lasted 5 minutes then another problem, the need to pee, stupid bladder! I was just to cold and couldn't relax or remain still long enough to urinate out in the ocean, so yes its still safe to swim out there. I swear I didn't go, I wish, it might have warmed up my legs.
The kelp showing up again, navigation a necessity, head in, looking forward, hold air longer. Unknown to me were the creatures lurking nearby..jellies! I saw one, but hahh, I came prepared, I have that special sunblock. Lesson #4 apply the jelly-repellent everywhere. I apparently missed a spot, underneath my swim suit. They got me, they got me, underneath the swim suit on the sides of my ribcage, plus the side of one breast. I didn't see the damage until later, round welts with a red spot in the middle, (think of them as big mosquito bites). While I was swimming I noticed, a sting, like someone poking me with a needle. "Owww. Ouchhhh." My concerned escort, Charlie my asked if I was okay. Something stung me." Meanwhile, I'm pulling the suit down and flushing out any sea life tagging along. For all I know I gave Charlie a good show hmmmm, maybe I shouldn't have given him the camera.
I started to get real cold then, I noticed my teeth chattering as I was swimming. There were some boats about and 15 minutes later I popped my head out of the water and yelled out to my escort, who was 20 feet or so away. "Hey I need some hh-hot waaa-aaa-ter." Great another sign of hypothermia. I thought about bailing again, just like I had right before every other feeding. Nahh, the boats would take too long to get to me, out and warm. The Pier looks close, I can make it. Speaking itself became difficult, my tongue was shrinking from the salt. To compare, if I stuck out my tongue I couldn't bite it. (It was back to normal by Wednesday.)
Soon after feed 6 around 3:00. Yeah, I can make this, I only have another half hour, I hear some yelling at me. "you're going the wrong way" Huh? The last buoys over there. "you're headed to Hawaii" Yeah, well so what if I am? At least there's warmer water there. Then I started getting yelled at by the lifeguards on their boat. "Do you see the buoy, do you see the buoy. "Yea-a-ah" thinking what I don't see now is my escort, which I'd lost after a few minutes of swimming. Oh well, I'll just head for the buoy sitting out in front of the pier, Charlie will catch up .. the conditions were rough for him as well, it was still choppy, in fact it was the worst chop of the race. My escort caught up with assistance from the lifeguard boat, hand and leg circulation were a problem, mainly the fingers to hold the paddle, they towed him up a few hundred yards through the worst of the chop.
I'm really getting cold now and shaking as I'm swimming but only 500 yards out from the pier, here again I get course correction tips. "Karla, the pier is right there, why you swimming to Hawaii?" Through a whole bunch of chattering teeth I yell, "I HAVE TO SWIM AROUND THE BUOY" "You do?" "YEAH" "Oh, okay". Yeah, sure let me get hooked by all the fishing lines. Rumor spread that I'd be swimming this, and there were several bids offered to pay off my escort from my so-called friends. Yeah! Thanks guys!
The more simple brain functions diminished about now such as logic. Logic tells me I should swim around the buoys not through the buoy, whats a few more seconds to 3+ hours, I bump into it, Oww!, then push it out my way, stroke, splat, it hits me, Oww! Then push it out my way again, stroke, kick, the tether rope gets tangled in my legs, Owww, nylon rope. I finally round the buoy and add at least 15 getting personal with it. Then the sweet sound of the pier .. the sea lions making a lot of noise! Hmm, why do they? Phew! Only 15 minutes to go, I look up and Charlie starts to take off without me ."HEY, I'M TH-THIRSTY." My final feed. The chop is finally gone, and I notice a warm spot. Must be whale pee cuz it sure not mine.
As the water got warmer, I became aware of my arms and legs again. Of course the temp difference is about 1 to 3 degrees by the time I hit the finish line, but you notice these things after swimming in water below 60. Another thing I got to notice after reaching the Pier, is how far it is to beach. And I'd just raced around the Pier the day before. I feel like I'm moving nowhere, my arms feel like jelly cuz I'm can actually feel them now.
Lesson # whatever, do what I did, don't swim hard, think about technique, swim to stay warm, keep a steady pace, and don't sprint, no threshold pace. Luckily I hadn't swam hard, It was difficult getting my arms over my head, I switched to backstroke, nope too much water, tried breastroke, nope my legs are dead, butterfly not even gonna try. I popped my head up, I hear yelling, (friends, finished already), yeah, ah-huh, I can hardly move. I'm thirsty where's my escort, looking, looking, okay he's done, great, I'm thirsty. Fine. I look up and see a whole bunch of kelp at the finish, ok note to self stand when you can. Good lesson. Its easy to stand when the water is higher, gravity bites after swimming for 3 ½ hours. Lucky for me a wave didn't hit me from behind. I manage to walk up the beach out of the water and as soon as I get to the sand, I jogged up the chute to the finish line. I did it! I finished the Pier-2-Pier. My first statement after the race "I'm never doing that again, even if you paid me." Or close to it.
I grabbed a water bottle, barely asking for it and wash out my mouth with the water. A few seconds later, shivers started, uh-oh. Lucky for me friends offered up on a free Hot tub soak nearby. I couldn't touch the water it was too hot, but 5 minutes later I was in and watched the others finish from afar. It took 20 minutes to warm up, but it worked and I'm glad I did the swim.
THE DAY AFTER Out of water my body didn't rebel at all, only the chaffing and the jellyfish stings, so I survived okay or so I thought. I just had to go to practice the following night, to show everyone my plaque and yap and well yap. But oh, the water was nice and warm, and tasted yummy in comparison. Everyone thought I was nuts. Then the main set .I had to add at least 10 secs to each interval from normal sets. Breastroke was easiest, it didn't aggravate the shoulder. I survived the workout, and look forward to my next warm swim .hello Donner.
Looking back the two days I know the 2003 swim is OW nationals , and
I don't think I'll swim it, not unless I can guarentee myself that I'll
spend at least 30 minutes less in that cold water. If you ask how cold
was it out there? Hmmm I'd say between 57-59 from cold to warm spots. But,
I have no idea. I also had no idea of the concept of cold until that swim.
Thank my lucky stars I finished. It was hard and I thought about quitting
too many times to count, Anyone who starts this race is brave for just that
accomplishment, with the conditions extremely tough this year. I admire
their efforts thanks to everyone who played a part in this years Pier to