Part 1: The Team
Without a team, a 24-mile swim doesn’t happen. Simple as that. And the swim’s success – it’s efficiency – depends on the quality of the team. Long swims are isolating experiences: A swimmer and his thoughts. But there’s an irony: The longer the swim, the more you utterly depend on your support team.
So any discussion of my experience in Tampa Bay must begin with my team.
It’s tough to overstate how fortunate I was.
- Captain: Pat, a retired Coast Guard officer and total pro with a nautical chart. Remember the GPS tracks I posted? That’s about as close to the ideal course as you can get. Pat did this without LORAN, radar, or GPS. Just line-of-sight and a whole lotta skill.
- First Mate: Pat’s 12-year old son Michael, whose youthful curiosity and positive energy were exactly what I needed in the swim’s darker moments.
- Paddler (kayak): Kathy — my eyes and ears; my source of nourishment and encouragement; my only contact with the “outside world” for 9 hours. Kathy paddled 24 miles nonstop in 85+ air temperature and full sun. And she did it calmly, unflinchingly.
- Paddler (SUP): Kathy’s husband, Carl. More of a roving escort, but still a comforting presence. Rising above the water like Poseidon. No doubt, Kathy appreciated having someone to talk to during her marathon paddle!
I’m grateful to them all.
Part 2: The Data
Those who know me (or read the blog regularly) know I’m a bit of a data fiend. To be honest, my main reason for putting a GPS on the boat was not the entertainment of family and friends (sorry guys). It was for the data. And in some ways, the data tell a better story about my swim than I could with words.
First, the splits. Splits, of course, are in the form of [time / distance]. I got times from the GPS timestamps, and I got distances by using mapping software to calculate the length of each straight-line segment in the course taken by our excellent pilot. Here are the results:
|time||location (parallel to…)||total time||total dist||split time||split dist||pace|
|8:00||14 St S||0:43||1.7 miles||0:43||1.7 miles||25.6
|8:20||Bay Vista Rec Ctr||1:03||2.5||0:20||0.8||25.2|
|9:29||Lewis Blvd, Coq.Key||2:12||5.5||0:38||1.7||22.3|
|10:47||St. Pete Pier||3:30||8.9||1:18||3.4||22.9|
Lots of interesting stuff here! I could have told you:
- I was absolutely flying through about the St. Petersburg Pier – though my actual progress was slowed in the first 4 miles by a 12-knot headwind and relentless chop.
- The segment from St. Pete Pier to the Gandy was tough, both physically and mentally. There’s nothing to see and you think the bridge will never come. This is where the demons rise up from the depths (well, actually Tampa Bay is pretty shallow) – and you must beat them back!
- I got a second wind after the Gandy, and another one after the Frankland. Also the flood tide was nearing its apex around this time.
I could have told you all these things, but I don’t need to – it’s all there in the data.
Speaking of the flood tide, here’s what the current looked like at the Frankland Bridge that day:
So the flood tide maxed out at 5:08pm – 52 minutes after I finished. Those under the bridge at that point were getting a 0.23 knot push – not much, but better than nothing (about 7 meters per minute).
The data also tell you things you didn’t know. For example, it seems we managed to shave 1.6 miles off the official length of the course. Did I mention my pilot is a genius?
Stroke count. I was really proud of this. Surely, I was pulling less water in the latter part of the race, but in open water I prefer to sacrifice a little efficiency in favor of maintaining rhythm. They won’t teach you this in T.I.
Nutrition & Hydration. Nailed it. 311 calories and 36oz of fluids per hour. Maxim at the :20 and :40; Perpetuem at the hour. Advil at 5:20 and 7:40.
Down-time. Because I wasn’t in a close race, I took pretty leisurely feeds – especially in the dark phase between St. Pete and the Gandy. It was comforting to exchange a few words with Kathy. I didn’t ask Kim to time my feeds, but she estimates I averaged about 30 seconds per. Over 26 feeds, that’s 13 minutes of down-time. If I reduced my feeds to 10 seconds, I’d save 8 minutes, 40 seconds – or about 600m of swimming. In a race like MIMS, that could be decisive.
Part 3: Hail of Bullets
20 minutes at a time. In marathon swimming as in life, projects that seem impossibly large can be reduced to a series of smaller, achievable tasks. Don’t think about swimming for 9 hours; think about swimming for 20 minutes – and then rewarding yourself with a tasty drink. Rinse, repeat. My feeds were refueling stops (104 calories each), but also a destination – something to look forward to.
Discomfort maintenance. A 24-mile swim is bad enough. Sunburn, chafing, saltwater mouth, and even seasickness — all are avoidable problems. The first three may not be swim-enders, but they certainly affect how you’ll feel the next day. Sunscreen, grease, mouthwash, and ginger – they are your friends.
Coppertone and Banana Boat probably won’t cut it. It doesn’t matter if it’s SPF 100 if it’s only waterproof for 2 hours. I used Solrx (8-hour waterproof) and it worked like a charm. Don’t forget the bottoms of your feet!
And Body Glide definitely won’t cut it (for 2+ hour swims). I use vaseline and lanolin in a 50/50 mixture.
Marine life. I heard reports of dolphins, but alas, I wasn’t so lucky. I had fish brush up against my legs every so often – harmless but definitely startling. And I had an unfortunate dust-up with a bed of oysters. Rounding Pinellas Point we were surprised by some sudden shallows. I took a quick glance at my lacerated hand… and hoped the sharks wouldn’t be next.
Flavia Zappa. Truly, the story of the day. She’s entered TBMS as a solo for the past seven years. 2005 – DNF at the Pier (7 hours). 2006 – DNF between the bridges. 2007 – another DNF. 2008 – DNF at the Pier. 2009 – DNF after rounding the Point. 2010 – DNF at the Gandy (12 hours).
2011 – finished in 15:10. A new course record for endurance! That’s just incredible, folks. Is there anything more important in marathon swimming than persistence and stubbornness? She’s got ’em in spades. Congrats, Flavia!
Thanks to Ron and Rebecca Collins for organizing a memorable weekend.
Coming up in 7 weeks: MIMS.