Swim the Suck Race Report
Flying back from Chattanooga, and I noticed there were no STS reports, so I thought I'd fill the void:
I was iffy, at best, for STS this year. Injuries kept me out of the pool for 5 of the last 9 weeks. I didn't even book air or hotel until Tuesday, and that was only after I saw the Chickamauga Dam was flowing at 42,000 cfm as a result of the flood-inducing southern rains. I figured that would make it more like a wingable 10k. Then on Thursday evening, I got some sort of gastrointestinal disturbance that kept me up all night with all manner of unpleasantness. Friday morning I felt like hell. My wife graciously assumed my carpool duties while I laid in bed, contemplating canceling. I eventually decided that swimming in my current state was preferable to an hour of bickering over cancellation fees with American Airlines and Springhill Suites by Marriott, so I groggily tossed random items into a suitcase until it seemed like I had enough supplies, showered and hailed a suicidal, vision-impaired Uber driver.
My flight arrived around 4:30, so I was late to the 5:00 pre-race dinner, where I connected with lots of swim friends (@chrisgreene, @KNicholas, Mark Spratt, Patty Hermann, Paula Yankauskas, Robert Alford, Scott McDonald, Cheryl Reinke and others). Karah had fabulous door prizes (top prizes: SCAR entry fee, Tahoe pilot service from Tom Linthicum, Kingdom Swim entry fee) @chrisgreene scored, yet again, by winning the Tahoe pilot service (Chris won his SCAR entry last year...) I continued my streak of never winning anything at a raffle, unbroken since a skydiving boogie in the late 80s (that moldy, pea-green lawn chair "prize" still hangs in my garage today). At the end of the meeting, we learned that the TVA was tightening down on the dam release, but we should still expect around 26,000 cfm (approximately 1 mile/hour).
Between 7:00 and 7:30 Saturday morning, everyone dropped cars at the finish line (the new owners of Living Water allowed Karah to use the property--at least for this year). It was raining steadily, and had been all night, so the grassy parking area once again turned into a swampy mud-hole, complete with a stuck Prius (buried up to the carriage). I feel terrible for the new owners. We tore the hell out of their beautiful, river-front property and, given the time of year, it might be 4-5 months before the grass grows back.
We took buses back to the start where Karah's volunteers were adapting to the rain and getting everyone inked up, paired up, lined up and in the water, very close to the planned start time. It was cold and rainy during staging, but Karah's team moved the process along quickly. There was a bit of wackiness in this year's field: including some dubious attire and one or two head/body mounted GoPros. I can't imagine that head mount lasted long. Hope it wasn't lost. I saw one full wetsuit, but it didn't make it to the start line. Some poor kayaker flipped about 10 feet from the ramp. He was fully submerged in several layers of formerly warm, dry clothes. He climbed back in and paddled off, nonetheless.
This year Karah did away with the hold-on-to-the-sunken-rope straight line start, which was a good call, IMHO. Too many people. Instead, we all filed into the water and spread out into a 20-30 meter area. I expected the current was going to turn this plan into chaos, but it didn't. Everyone seemed to stay generally together. There was a bit of triathlon-style jockeying, but mostly everyone chilled out and the start was delightfully uncongested.
Water temp was perfect, I'd guess around 72-75. I had a hard time finding a rhythm for the first mile (finding my pilot and dodging others, etc), but I settled into a groove about 10 minutes before my feed alarm went off at 40 minutes. I glanced at my watch and saw I'd already covered almost 3K at a 1:03 pace (Probably closer to 1:30-1:40 pace, net of current). I was pleased, but I knew I didn't have the fitness to sustain that pace. I eased up. But about the time we hit half way, I noticed I was passing people even in cruise mode, which made it tempting to push. I took the bait (cause I'm a sucker like that) and started digging. Here is a picture of me and my awesome volunteer pilot, Autumn:
By the time we passed Massengale's point (two-thirds of the way), my unprepared pecs, lats and triceps were screaming for mercy, followed shortly thereafter by my stomach. Like last year, I started getting nauseous. The current had waned and the wind/waves picked up, and my pace dropped precipitously, along with my spirits.
Although spotting the buoy a half-hour later lifted my spirits somewhat, it apparently affected others in the same way, as kayak after kayak entered the rear of my periphery and exited the fore within 20-30 strokes. Each time I tried to hang on, the urge to vomit welled up to keep me in check. Last year, I stopped to vomit 2-3 times in the final mile and ended up dropping 5-6 spots (STS is the only race where this happens, no clue why). I determined to hold it to the finish line this time. 25 meters out, I saw an inflatable, 2-person kayak just behind me to my right. I remembered @KNicholas telling me he would be accompanied by his wife and son in a 2-person kayak. "Not today, amigo!" I took a final bead on the buoy, put my head down and charged. But when I checked the buoy again, it was five feet to my right, two feet from Kent's outstretched hand. I touched, Kent grinned, we high-fived, and I extricated myself immediately so as to avoid fouling the finish area. I found a safe spot downstream to feed the fish a healthy sample of my custom-blended Infinitum maltodextrin, extra caffeine.
Subsequent review of a grainy video shot from a nearby grassy Indian mound showed what appeared to be Jenny von Jouanne (STS Director of Sponsor Relations) diving into the water and shoving the buoy in Kent's direction. This shocking display of unsportsmanlike conduct drew an immediate reaction from onlookers, including this protest by none other than Andrew Malinak:
After I toweled off, I picked up my cell phone to text my wife, only to see that the race results had already been sent to my phone! How cool is that? itsyourrace.com/results.aspx?id=6476
As usual, Karah's "apres swim" was the bomb. Several kegs of tasty local beer and roll-your-own burritos (along with some healthy selections, but I wouldn't know what those were). The top three in each gender received a sweet coffee brewing device made out of concrete and welded steel from one of Karah's regular sponsors, local concrete artist, Set In Stone:
Us mortals got some cool swag, too, including these, one-of-a-kind cutting boards (literally, no two were alike in size, thickness, wood, or color). Notice the "SUCK" hot-branded into the bottom by Karah's mom, Karen Nazor Hill:
Great race hosted by a great lady (and team!) who know how have a great time. No surprise this one fills up in minutes every year.
This weekend made me glad I discovered OWS was something I didn't have to always do alone...
"Lights go out and I can't be saved
Tides that I tried to swim against
Have brought be down upon my knees
Oh I beg, I beg and plead..."