Swim Around Key West Race Report
Swim Around Key West | 12.5 mi / 20.11 km | June 24, 2017
I was on Facebook one evening when I came across a post titled “What’s the longest you’ve ever swam?”. As I was skimming the comments I noticed someone said he swam around the Florida Keys for a total of 12.5 miles. After looking through the race site (http://swimaroundkeywest.com) I thought to myself, shit these people must be insane! As a competitive swimmer, I would dread long distance sets and races (particularly the 500 free) so the idea of swimming 20,000+ meters baffled me. Long story short, the idea of swimming around Key West kept thrashing around my noggin and I ended up signing up minutes after registration opened.
There are two Key West Swims, one hosted by SAKW and the other by FKCC. Most forum users recommended the FKCC swim but I decided to go with SAKW due to my lack of knowledge that the FKCC race even existed. I was a little concerned by the 1-2 posts regarding the SAKW organizers but these worries quickly faded during the pre-race meeting. The amount of planning put into this event translated into the safest and most organized race I’ve ever been to.
I’m fairly knowledgeable on swim training for short to moderate distances. All I needed to do was adjust my training load to longer distances, right? Wrong. This was like being thrown into an NBA game and all you knew was how to shoot a jump shot. Having a solid jump shot but lacking rebounding skills, stamina, free-throws and defense will not get you very far. In my case, my “jump shot” was my swim technique. Besides that, I had nothing and would have undoubtedly failed if it wasn’t for the resources online and my obsession to learn every single detail.
The discussions here were critical to my success. The community is by far the kindest and most helpful group of people I have ever come across. Every question, regardless of how silly it sounded, was answered with a wealth of information. My obsession to learn the ins and outs of the sport sprouted questions I needed answers to. See here.
LoneSwimmer’s blog gave me a strong foundation on the sport of marathon swimming. I found myself revisiting his blog posts hundreds of time because I, the jump shot only swimmer, knew nothing. LoneSwimmer is also a member of the MS forum!
These two sites are like a pair of shoes. You can’t expect to go very far if you only have the left.
• Swedish goggles
• Lanolin + Vaseline to make channel grease
• Sunblock with zinc
• Garmin watch
• Nuun tablets
• Bottles with a zip tie running through a key ring (actual image here)
• Bubblegum children’s acetaminophen 80mg tablets
• Tarpon 140 Kayak
• Soft + hard cooler
Course map: http://swimaroundkeywest.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/KWIS-Map-10.pdf
Mile 1-2: Frightening. We were told during the pre-race meeting that wind speeds in the morning might not be ideal. Lo and behold, they were not! Swimming towards the starting zone (about 100 meters from shore) and getting slammed with waves had me nervous for both my kayaker (brother) and I. The race conch/gun/grenade was blasted (we didn’t hear anything because the wind and waves washed out the starting noise) and we were off!
If anyone has ever swum in an endless pool or a stationary swim systems, this is what it felt like. The strength of the waves made me feel as if I wasn’t moving anywhere. I was being thrashed around like a ragdoll and it doesn’t quite help that I’m about 135lbs. I stopped to look for my kayaker and it was an absolute madhouse. Seeing kayakers tossed around and witnessing one flip didn’t exactly give me the confidence to swim on. My mind was telling me to quit. I was already thinking of ways to explain why I withdrew and justify my decision but I continued to fight on. The waves weren’t too violent on mile 2 but as things were brightening up I raised my head to sight and slammed my lip on a buoy. There wasn’t much blood so I don’t think I endangered the other swimmers by spilling shark attractant.
Mile 3-4: At this point the gloomy weather was long gone and this undoubtedly raised moral. Visibility was great and I was finally able to “sight-see” with every breath. I celebrated with my brother as soon as we hit the 1st exchange point for the swimmers competing in the 3-man relay. 1/3rd of the race was complete!
Mile 5: The bridge sucked us out like a vacuum and I decided to lay on my back as I zoomed by. I naively expected it to last longer, and was soon forced to return to freestyle.
Mile 6: Mile 5-6 was filled with sailboats and navigating through them was surprisingly enjoyable. I had about two bubblegum candies here aka children’s acetaminophen.
Mile 7-8: As soon as I turned Dredgers Key at mile 7 I was met with uncomfortably warm waters. The sun was at its peak and my fatigue from swimming 6 miles was a dangerous combination. I shortened my feedings to every 5 minutes to compensate.
Despite lathering up friction areas with channel grease, I began to chafe around my left armpit. Based on what I’ve read on the forum, chaffing could easily end your day. It was at this point where I decided to adjust my stroke to minimize rubbing. This adjustment + an odd feeling I began to get on my left shoulder ended up wreaking havoc after the race, but had I kept swimming with my regular technique my armpits would have rubbed raw potentially causing me to withdraw.
Mile 9-11: My excitement on mile 10 grew as I swam closer because it was the last turn of the race. Mile 10-11 was tricky because the tide caused water along the seawall to recede shin-deep. According to the rules, touching the floor is grounds for disqualification. This caused everyone to frantically do a modified doggy-paddle breaststroke towards deeper water.
Mile 12-Finish: At mile 12 I tried picking up the pace several times but my body was so drained that these efforts lasted about a minute before I had to back off. I realized these efforts were futile and kept going at my “body-is-shutting-down” pace. Once I could touch ground I ran towards the finish line, collected my medal, and ate like I haven’t had solid food in weeks.
This race is difficult, both physically and mentally. I had the physical training, but I nearly threw in the towel at mile one. Blowing through what I thought were my mental and physical threshold has made me someone who continues to challenge their capabilities in all aspects of life. If you have the chance to compete in this race or any marathon swim, I highly encourage you to do so!
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions!
So cool! Congrats on your finish! That first mile sounds brutal! Glad it calmed some after that!
Thank you so much for your detailed race report! This is one of my bucket list races, and hearing about it first hand is super helpful. Congratulations on the finish- super awesome accomplishment! That first mile sounds brutal, great job sticking it out.
What a great read. Really enjoyed the honesty and the detail. "Shark attractant" ! Love it! Massive congrats on completing it.
Just finished the FKCC event on the 30th. Great time. Was my first actual marathon race, and it was a thrill. solo, no fins 50-54 group. Finished in 6:19:36.
That's a pretty solid time. Hard to imagine that's your first marathon race. Just wait until you get some more experience. You'll be scary...
Thank you Curly. I did training swims of 8 miles twice (across Lake Geneva Wisconsin) and 10 miles (triple circumnavigation of Dutch Hollow Lake in Wisconsin) but this WAS my first actual race. I actually surprised myself! My kayaker was amazing. He is a naval officer from the Key West and his amazing attitude, and knowledge of the water and currents and angles of approach etc. were invaluable. I didn't have to do any sighting at all. Just kept my eyes on him. SUCH a huge benefit. It was so much (anxious) fun. I will definitely look for others to do. Thanks for the kind words! All the best!
Hey we had similar times! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Check this out and watch some videos https://www.swimalligatorlight.com . I plan on doing this one next!
I have heard that this is a fairly short, but really fun and challenging swim. Unfortunately not in the family budget this year. Best of luck!!