I’ve wanted to chase this race for four years now. It was a seed that had been planted, and I promised myself that when logistics were right, I would not hesitate to sign up for it. While I absolutely agree with the “do not put off tomorrow what you can do today” motto, sometimes there are obstacles in the way between you and your goals/dreams, and sometimes all you can do is put one foot in front of the other for one season in life in order to get to the next. Four years ago at this time, I was flying to Cali to meet doctors about fixing my hip, and it would still be six months more before I had the THR. Four years ago at this time, hubs and I were still living in separate households, and it would be another three years before God would move that mountain and bring us together under one household again. When that transition finally happened last summer, I knew it was time for the next challenge. My love for swimming runs deep, I’ve been a swimmer all of my life, from age group swimming to high school swimming to collegiate swimming, and finally full circle to becoming a coach myself of a high school swim team. This sport is embedded deep in my soul, and I am forever grateful for the lessons it has taught me, and for all of the people who came into my life because of it – people who inspired me to keep raising the bar in all that I did, and challenged me to bring my best self to the table each and every time. One of those very important people who continue to inspire and challenge me is my husband. Through the major ups and downs we’ve had this past half decade he has been my rock, and one of my biggest cheerleaders. I wanted to do a race that we could train for and race together, and Swim Around Key West fit very much into that category. It was time to finally put this race on the docket. And there was no one I wanted more to be my kayaker sherpa than my hubs. Thirteen years ago we went to The Florida Keys as babies on our honeymoon; we would now be returning to race this event together – so much nostalgia and memories wrapped up in one of our favorite places, it would be a weekend to remember.
|All checked in and ready to race!|
|All #smashfestqueen #matchymatchy for check-in!|
When I do this race again I will most definitely travel on Thursday. Our Friday travel day started early at 330 am getting ready to catch a 530 am flight. After landing in Miami, it was another several hours drive to Key West. We did stop for lunch on the way at Island Fish Co. in Marathon, a place we had eaten at thirteen years ago on our honeymoon as well. So much fun traveling down memory lane! When we arrived at our hotel (we stayed at Ocean’s Edge Resort, which I would highly recommend), we dropped off our bags, then headed for check-in. Picked up my packet, and chatted with the race organizer, Bill Welzien, for a bit. He is such a cool guy! And such a badass! This race was going to be his 107th time around Key West!!!!!!! I was getting really excited, and also nervous, this was really happening!!!!! I was really going to get the chance to chase this swim!!!!!!!! After the pre-race meeting we went back to our hotel, ordered room service, got the nutrition bottles ready, and then hit the hay. The alarm clock came early (but not as early as Friday! Lol!) at 445 am, and we got up and got going. I had my norm of cereal and a banana. And I applied the first coat of sunscreen of the SolRx, a sunscreen I had purchased at check in the day before, that had been highly recommended by the race organizer and other fellow swimmers since it was zinc oxide based. It was either that or slathering myself with Desitin, which I had brought a big tube of that just in case. I knew the sun would be relentless, and even though my goal time was 5 hours, I had no idea how long I would actually be out there, I didn’t know what the ocean would have in store for us. We headed to the race site which was about a 10 minute drive from our hotel. The race started and ended at Smathers Beach. We checked out our kayak and then checked in to get the flag and race number that would need to be attached to it. I applied a second coat of sunscreen and situated my water and nutrition bottles in the kayak. Hubs applied his sunscreen and got his camelbak ready. At this time the first group was heading out to the post for their start. It would be an in water start and a beach finish. There were 10 posts that would be our home stretch –we would start the race at the 10th post and then at the end of the race we would round the 10th post and swim the 150 yards towards the beach finish. The first group would be taking off at 615, the larger group would be the second group (the one I was in) heading out at 630. After the first group took off, the second group needed to start heading for the post because it would take us a few minutes to wade through the seaweed. Immediately as we headed off of the beach, there were these thick mats of Sargassum seaweed, which often you can find them floating in the open ocean, serving as a food source, as well as a habitat for many ocean creatures, but in this case large quantities washed ashore, and omg that stuff was hard to get through. My back actually seized after I fought through it just to get to the start, so I did some breaststroke and some sculling as I headed towards the start to try to work it out. We had a few minutes of treading water, one of the competitors was sharing advice from her swim last year, to enjoy the first 10k, but just know by the second 10k you will be ready to be done. All of us laughed at that, knowing we would be experiencing that soon enough. I spotted my hubs off in the distance in the kayak and we both waved at each other, he would have to find me again after the start. Waves from the tide coming in kept pushing us into one another, there was an excitement in the air, and there were cheers all around. The sun was rising off in the distance as our group took off, and my swim had officially begun!
So I will say that the start of this swim felt more chaotic than the mass start of an ironman swim. There were a total of 176 swimmers – 109 solo swimmers and 67 relay swimmers. Each solo swimmer had a kayaker so that means 100+ kayaks as well at the start, with kayakers trying to find their swimmers, and vice versa. I sprinted at the start like I always have done in previous races in order to get out of the masses, but this time that strategy did not work as well since I couldn’t find my kayaker, and couldn’t sight worth a crap with the other kayakers and swimmers scattered everywhere. I kept putting my head down and swimming, figuring that the hubs would find me eventually, or at least I hoped so, or it would be a short day for me out there without my nutrition. The incoming tide coupled with a strong breeze gave us some decent waves to contend with early on. I was getting pummeled wave after wave –it made it difficult to sight, I kept swallowing water, and I still could not find my kayaker and was getting frustrated. I kept just putting one arm in front of the other, and could see the pier in the distance, and kept swimming towards it. The waves were relentless and I felt like I was going nowhere, and was already giving myself a pep talk that it might be a longer day than I had anticipated out there, so I was sure glad I had brought extra nutrition just in case. At that moment I spotted the hubs, and was trying to signal him that he needed to be on my left since that’s the side I breathe the most on, so I could just sight the kayak from here on out since he had the course map in his GPS. He did not immediately move to my left, I was already exasperated, so I popped up and yelled “I need you on my left! Why aren’t you on my left?!” Later he would tell me he could not move right up next to me on my left because the tide would have probably pushed the kayak right into me. So he had to move more in front of me instead. I am usually fairly strong at sighting but the chaotic start coupled with trying to find my kayaker, I had miscalculated my distance to the pier. I suddenly realized that I was not far enough on the outside of the longest pier. I was on the inside and heading for it fast so I had to quickly veer left to make my way around it but at this point I was super close to the edge of it and I was like omg I am about to get worked right into this pier! Swim! Swim! Swim! I sprinted past that part then I was ready for a swig of my nutrition, so hubs and I figured that out amongst the crazy waves, and I was ready to settle into a good rhythm. I have to admit that I was a little demoralized in this section. I mean, I knew going in that there are no guarantees with an ocean swim, that the ocean is going to do what the ocean is going to do, just like the weather, and we would just have to roll with it. But as the waves kept pummeling swimmers and kayakers alike, not only did my 5 hour finish goal time seem like a pipe dream, but I was like holy geez I hope I can finish! Forward momentum was the name of the game, so I just kept moving, and I continued to get tossed around until about the 2.5 mile mark. Suddenly, it was like the waves had calmed, and we even caught a gentle push ever so often. It was almost as if the ocean was congratulating us on getting through that first section – Way to go guys! Congrats on making it through! Enjoy the day! The first 2.5 miles were definitely the “How Bad Do You Want It” miles because it definitely shook my confidence coming right out of the gate. I felt like miles 3 through 4.5ish were my “In the Zone” miles because in these miles I had found a solid rhythm, and was staying on top of my nutrition. I kept my eyes peeled for the big yellow buoy at mile 4, which would signal a relay exchange point, and I would have a good idea if I was on pace to hit my goal for the day. I felt like I kept swimming forever, and was disappointed that I had not seen the buoy yet. Looking at my watch I was bummed to see that I was probably headed for a 6 hour finish time. The sun was blinding me at this point, so I came up for another nutrition stop, and a goggle switch. I mentioned to the hubs that I was annoyed that I had not seen the relay exchange point at mile 4, and although I felt fine in the water, I must have slipped off pace somewhere along the way. He pointed out that the exchange point was behind us, and the mile 5 bridge at Fleming Cut was just ahead! I was so overjoyed! I was on pace! Yasssssssssssss!
I headed for the bridge with a big smile on my face, and miles 4.5ish through 7.5ish were my “Super Stoked-Overjoyed-Grateful” miles because I was in such a happy place, just super stoked to be on pace, and super stoked to have had the opportunity to take part in such a fun race! Crazy side note story about the bridge – the race organizer told us at the pre-race meeting that like 4 weeks ago a barge had hit that bridge, and the damage caused by the crash forced the bridge to be closed for repair. Well the city told him no problem, it will just take a week or so, it’ll be done in plenty of time before the race! Then two weeks, and so on and so forth! They had finally just finished it like a week before the race! I was just so happy to be swimming underneath this bridge! 5 miles done and dusted! Wooohooooo!!!! Almost halfway!!!! So as we went under the bridge we had to veer left because we would be swimming around a small key just above Key West called Dredgers Key. There is a road connecting Key West to Dredgers Key, so unless we wanted to do a little swimrun section, we would have to swim around Dredgers Key in order to circumvent Key West. Again, miles 6 and 7 were fairly uneventful. I stopped and took nutrition when I needed to, felt like I was holding a solid pace, and was enjoying looking at all of the fish swimming along the bottom. A couple of times near the 7.5 mark, I popped up and asked hubs if we were almost around the key because I felt like I was not getting any closer to the end of it. I definitely rely quite a bit on sighting myself so just sighting the kayak in places did get frustrating for me. Miles 7.5-9 I like to refer to as the “Getting Super Impatient” miles because as I rounded Dredgers Key as I was heading across the harbor, I was looking for the mile 9 marker, the Cow Key Bridge, but I could not see it. We actually couldn’t see it until we were right up on it because it was covered by so many large trees, so once we rounded all of the trees it came into view. I think every few strokes of this section I kept asking hubs where the bridge was, and he always responded the same, that he could not see it either but we were following the line on his GPS so we were good to go. I just needed to see mile 9!!!!! I was also grateful during this section because crossing the deep harbor the water temp must have dropped 5 degrees at least, if not more. Most of the race we swam in 85 degree waters, which is nice and toasty, so this cooler section was a much welcomed reprieve. The bridge could not come into view fast enough. My shoulders were sore and my energy had waned. And I felt like everyone was passing me! Where are all of these people coming from?! Am I really bonking this bad?! I said as much to the hubs and he reminded me that there was a relay exchange point at mile 8, so there were more bodies around us than there had been the previous couple of miles. Finally, the bridge came into sight!!!! Yassssssssssssssss!!!!! 9 miles down, 3.5 to go!!!!!!!!!!!!
So I refer to that mile through the channel as the “Wheeeeee!!!” mile because now the tide was going back out, so we had some help going through it, which was sooo nice this late in the race! I pushed hard down this channel to take advantage of the current, just like I would a tailwind on the bike. As we finished the channel and hit the mile 10 mark at the seawall, the real work at the back half of this race began. I refer to that mile between 10 and 11 as the “Meltdown” mile, which I think the actual meltdown happened closer to mile 11. The push through the channel was nice, but now I felt like I was at a dead stop, and any forward movement was futile. I just wasn’t going anywhere. I was not any closer to rounding the seawall than I was ten minutes ago. My stroke felt terrible, my shoulders were on fire, and I was exhausted. I was getting extremely exasperated with myself, popped up to get my nutrition from hubs, and then the tears came. “I can’t do this!” I wailed as I grabbed my nutrition from him. “I can see the finish tent on the beach! It’s right over there! You can backstroke or breaststroke it in at this point!” he pointed out to me. Yes, a mile and a half is not far at all after already swimming 11 miles, yet it can still seem like an eternity. The last 1.5 miles of this race I like to refer to as the “Finding Another Gear” miles. I started descending my swim at mile 11, and when I finally spotted the posts down the home stretch, I sprinted that last three quarters of a mile. My plan was to reel in all the swimmers that I could. My shoulders were still on fire but I didn’t care, I wanted to make my 5 hour goal time and the clock was ticking. I dug deep and found that extra gear in order to chase down my rabbits. I came up on the first swimmer and their kayaker at about the first post, and by the second post I had passed them. That’s one! I kept pushing myself as hard as I could go, remembering all of the big sets I had conquered in my training, that had set me up for this very moment. By about halfway down the home stretch I came up on the second swimmer, and passed them. That’s two! I could see two more swimmers, one just ahead, and one much further ahead of me. Keep sprinting! I was reeling in the third swimmer, and by about the 8th post, I had passed them. That’s three! I could see the 10th post!!!!!!! Oh man I wasn’t going to make it to the 4th swimmer! I kept pushing hard and rounded the post just behind her. I had about 150 yards to catch her before we reached the finish. My mind just kept repeating over and over – There’s not enough pool left! There’s not enough pool left! I was moving my jelly arms and kicking my legs as fast as I could. It was a “balls to the wall” all out 150 yard sprint. And I caught her!!!!!!! Yassssssss!!!! I gained about a body length on her (what hubs told me after, I couldn’t tell, I was just focused on beating her to the beach). And remember at the beginning of this story where I mentioned there were some seaweed mats that would become quite big obstacles at the end of this thing? Yeah, they stopped me dead in my tracks. I was already a little disoriented as I put my feet down, and I tried to crawl as fast as I could through that stuff to the best of my abilities. But it wasn’t fast enough. The girl I had just passed in the water passed me back in the seaweed. Nooooooo! But finally (it seemed like forever but it really was only seconds) I made it through the finish on the beach, where my competitor and I congratulated each other and had a good laugh about the crazy seaweed obstacle at the end. Hubs was pulling the kayak through the seaweed right behind me, and we reunited on the beach and celebrated! And I was given my medallion and an actual coconut with yummy coconut water! My watch said 5:01:04, but the official time would be 5:00:06 so I nailed my 5 hour goal time!!!!! Yasssssssssssss!!!!!!!
|Success!!! Nailed my goal time!!!|
I absolutely loved this race!!!!! It was so unique and a type of race that I had never done before!!!! I really relished this new challenge!!!! And the best part was that my hubs could be a part of the race!!! We had so much fun dissecting and reliving the race all weekend! It meant so much to have him be a part of helping me to reach my goal! And he’s not the only one! The title of this blog came to me because I kept thinking about all of the people in my life that have inspired me, and continue to do so. Teammates makes us want to be the very best selves that we can be. They inspire us. They challenge us. They believe in you even when you may not believe in yourself. They continue to encourage you to raise the bar in all that you do. Whether it’s in an actual race as your sherpa, or in your training sessions pushing you to step it up to the next challenging interval, your teammates are an essential part of your dream chasing journeys. Because without them, hitting the mark just isn’t as sweet.
Thank you all for continuing to follow mine, and for all of your cheers, prayers, and positive vibes along the way, I could feel all of your energy out there! And to my munchkin, you always inspire me to be the best me that I can be, one day we will be doing this race together! And to my hubs, thank you for always being my person. Such a fun trip down memory lane, and an incredible experience to boot! Thank you for always encouraging me to chase my dreams!