and other thoughts...

and other thoughts...

Sunday, August 21, 2016

2016 Casco Bay Swim/Run Report

So... this happened last weekend!

I first learned of the Casco Bay Islands Swim/Run in early January. I knew immediately I wanted to be a part of it. I love the Casco Bay Islands, having grown up in nearby Cape Elizabeth, and the thought of swimming to and running across each island sounded incredibly cool.

I thought about who might be willing to be my partner in the event, and soon after I asked my friend Carrie (super triathlete and fellow Cape Eliabether) if she had any interest in applying with me to get in.  She said yes! So, we applied. We found out in March that we had be selected to compete. And then ... well, then we had to start figuring out what the race required and what kind of training we needed to do to get it done.

Carrie and me before the race

I knew we'd be doing about 4 miles of open water, ocean swimming in Casco Bay (ME), and we'd be swimming from island to island to do so. I also knew we were supposed to run across each of the seven islands to which we'd swim. What I hadn't really processed was how this might happen. Casco Bay is ... cold. We'd need wetsuits. But I couldn't imagine doing 10 miles of running in a wetsuit? Also, we couldn't run in bare feet, so we'd need sneakers. Did we carry them? Swim in them?

The answer was to get a shortie wetsuit with detachable sleeves and a pair of "swim/run" shoes. Carrie actually wore a full wetsuit, but I was worried I'd overheat when running.  I purchased an Orca Core shortie (for those reading this who are contemplating their on swim/run adventure) and I loved it.  It's very comfortable, and it did keep me warm in the ocean water of Maine--which is saying something! For shoes I chose a pair of swim/run shoes made by ASICS.  They were great in that they were comfortable and light in the water. BUT, they were not great in terms of traction--which I really needed the to be when scrambling on slippery rocks. I'm not sure I'd recommend them.

We learned that pull buoys and paddles were allowed, but that we'd have to carry them while running, if we chose to use them. I'm faster with paddles, so I wanted to use them. Carrie ended up really disliking using paddles, though. (Sorry, Carrie!) We also used pull buoys that attached to a belt around around waists, which were then attached by bungee cord elastic to our thighs. I liked the buoys because it made it easier to swim with sneakers. We also learned we needed to be tethered together for the race!

This, at first, seemed nightmarish to me, but it ended up being actually quite useful.  You can see here that we are holding paddles and that we are tethered together. You also have to carry this swim safety buoy. Carrie, because she is incredibly kind and generous and a goddess, held the thing the whole way. You can't see our pull buoys in this picture, but they are attached to our right legs.

On race morning most athletes had to take the ferry from Portland to Chebeague Island where the race began. I was lucky--and didn't have to do this. Carrie and Tom, her husband, have a little boat, and they drove us to Chebeague so we wouldn't have to crowd onto the ferry. Alina came, too.
Here's Alina on the boat:

Alina's and Carrie's friend Cheryl also came. She took a ton of awesome pictures, many of which I have used for this post. Thank you, Cheryl!

Here's a picture of the ferry coming to Chebeague, cutting through the fog.

On the way over I began to get nervous. The thing about doing a race in a team is that you really don't want to let your teammate down. Carrie is an amazing athlete, and I did worry I wouldn't keep up and she might get frustrated with me. Also, I was nervous about running in my wetsuit. The practice runs I had done with it on were HOT HOT HOT.

We pulled up to the dock at Chebeague and went to line up with the other racers. The second picture is Cheryl's. I pulled the aerial shot from New Wave Swim Buoy's FB site. They have some great pictures of the event. Also, they supplied the racers with their safety buoys--which also held the timing device.

After the fog lifted a bit, they sent us on our way. I was relieved to finally start the race. Because Carrie and I didn't warm up before the race, the first mile was ROUGH. I was breathing like I might have a heart attack, and I'm sure Carrie wondered if I wouldn't expire right in front of her. After about a mile, though, I found my rhythm and my breathing became a bit more even and less haggard and labored. I was just feeling ready to really run when we hit sand, and I could see where we were to enter the water for our first swim, from Big Chebeague to Little Chebeague.

If you clink on this link it will take you to a drone video of us starting the swim to Little Chebeague. The video was taken from New Wave Swim Buoy's FB page.

For the first swim I led and Carrie got right behind me to draft. We had planned it so we would take turns leading. It is really amazing how little work you have to do when you position yourself RIGHT behind someone.  We figured it made sense to switch back and forth as opposed to having us both do the work while swimming side by side.
Here I am leading:
Carrie sited frequently and tried to get me to go in a straight line. This didn't work so well. The current was pulling me to the left, and also I'm stronger on my left side, so we kept veering left!

The run on Little Chebeague was quite short, but Carrie and I passed quite a few teams. I was realzing that our running was our strength. There were a lot of real swimmers competing. By "real" swimmers I mean those people who swim Masters/swam in college--and otherwise consider swimming their main gig. Carrie and I are competent swimmers for sure--but we are triathletes more than anything. Anyway. This was a swimmer's race--in which said swimmers had to do some running. I'm used to competing with cyclists and runners who have to do a bit of swimming. There is a difference.

Our next swim was from Little Chebeague to Long Island. I drafted Carrie for this swim. Drafting, I realized, made me feel helpless. I just floated along and got chilly. I think if I were to do this race again I'd swim next to my partner--event though that's less efficient. I just didn't like having Carrie do the work while I flip-flopped behind her.
Here is Carrie leading the swim:

The run on Long was not really memorable. We ran fast. I was tired, but happy to be running. I wasn't too hot--which was awesome. The swimming made me cold enough so it took a mile of running to warm up--and most of the runs weren't much longer than a mile! The next swim was from Long Island, across a stretch called Shark Cove. I led this. Here is a drone video of the racers getting in the water off of Long. I also took this  from the Swim Buoy FB page.

Our next stop was Vail Island. Vail is uninhabited, small, and all rocks. This is where things got a bit nasty for me. I have really poor balance. I am terrified of going quickly across loose, slippery rock. The rock on the upper part of Vail, normally mostly dry, was wet because as soon as we got to Vail it started to pour. I slipped and cut my hand. Then I slipped and cut my knee. I became increasingly panicky and upset. Carrie was awesome with me--taking my head and pulling me along. Literally, in all of the pictures on Vail Carrie is tugging me along. I was SLOW! (Sorry, Carrie.) We lost a huge amount of time on the rocks. I couldn't wait for this part of the race to be over.

The entry back into the water off of Vail Was also a bit of nightmare. It was slippery! I took this picture from Slowtwitch:

It was also at this point that I got all tangled up in seaweed! These two women are not Carrie and me, but the picture DOES show how crazy the seaweed tangles got:

On our swim from Vail to back to Long I definitely carried several pounds of seaweed. It was everywhere and got tangled in our suits, belts, and paddles.

We had a short run on Long again before jumping into the water for the longest swim of the race, from Long Island to Peaks Island. This swim felt like it took forever, mostly because Carrie led the swim, and I just floated behind her. I got colder and colder and felt guiltier and guiltier that Carrie was doing all the work. We finally hit the beach (there was a beach!) and started the longest run of the race, on Peaks. The run starts out on road, but soon veers onto trail. This trail is TRAIL... as in very narrow path in long grass, sticks, trunks, slippery rocks, and slimy wood planks covering mud. Carrie was amazing and led us seamlessly through the thick of it. We passed several different pairs on the trail, and then when we got onto the paved road again we passed people in droves. I felt very strong on this run--and also thrilled to be passing people who had passed us on the rocks and in the swim.

After finishing the run on Peaks I had in my mind we were all but done. We had three short swims and two short runs to go.

Oh, the naivete.

The swims were against the current and they were incredibly slow and difficult. Carrie's shoulders were killing her from using the paddles, so I led the final swims. I was happy about this because it did allow me to stay warm and allowed me to feel like I was working for the team. But oh.... swimming in place! It just took forever! Additionally, the second run was not a run, but another evil rock scramble! I whimpered as we made our way slowly around House Island.

 I thought this structure must be a remnant of WWII, but Carrie says it's Fort Scrammel, built in 1808! I must admit I did not notice its coolness as I ran around it. Mostly I was cursing because I was convinced I was going to fall and break my neck on the rocks.

Once done scrambling on House Island we got back in the water and finished up. We entered the water with two other women pairs. BOY did I want to beat them! I worked so damn hard on that swim... and I kept up! But in the end they both finished just ahead of us. One pair finished a minute ahead of us, the other just two seconds. They were both much, much younger than us, of course. ;) That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!

We finished 10th for women pairs and 33rd overall out of about 120 teams. Given how sucky I was crawling on those rocks, I'm pretty proud of us!

A week out from the race I can say I loved the experience. Next time, if I am able to get into the race again, I will use very grippy shoes, though, so the rock scrambling isn't so terrifying. I highly recommend this race if you love to swim in the open water. You spend more time in water than on land for sure. The running is manageable and there isn't that much of it.

I want to think Carrie, my incredible, patient partner in this race, and also Tom, her husband for the ferrying, and to Alina for coming out to support me! Love you guys!!