Florida Keys Swims
Hello- I’m new to the forum and learning a lot already. I am new to swimming in general and long distance swimming having took it up in April of 2019. I did the Alligator Light Swim in the fall of 2019( shortened) and signed up for the 2020(cancelled). I did feel confident I would be able to complete the distance in 2019. I finished middle of the pack for the 4.5 miles we swam. FYI
My question is I plan to do the 2021 Alligator light and thought since I was training anyway might as well do the Swim Around Key West in 2021 too.
Has anyone who completed both able to provide any insight as to the differences, are they comparable, one harder than the other, etc.
I didn’t know if they extra 3.5 miles around key west would feel like a lot more for a novice coming down from Iowa.
Thanks for any help you can provide.
Hello and welcome to the forum! I am a fellow Midwesterner (Wisconsin), and although I have not done the Alligator, I have done the SAKW. So, although I can't give specifics about DIFFERENCES, I can give you some information about what makes the swim unique. First of all, the swim is pretty shallow, so the water can get VERY warm. When I swam it 2 1/2 years ago, the water temp was close to 89 degrees and it averages around 85 for race days. Also, there are some areas so shallow (around the 9-10 mile mark), that if you aren't careful, you can DQ for touching the bottom. I had to do a sideways, modified breaststroke for close to a mile to avoid touching. You are also against the current for the first few miles, and if you don't get through Key West Harbor (4-5 mile point) by the time the tide changes, they will pull you because you will never get through the current. There are two REALLY nice tide pushes in your favor though at 5 miles and again at 9 miles. Lastly, they have a motto for this race when you ask how long it really is...."it's up to the person holding the stick." I would suggest getting a pilot who is a local and who knows the course very well. That's what I did and it saved me a lot of unnecessary extra work. I hope that helped a little. Best of luck!!!
I swam Key West four times in the late 90s in the race’s peak popularity. MLamby is correct. The water is very hot and you need to prepare for that as much as anything else you do. When I was a pro swimmer I fed every 12 minutes. Key West had me bring that down to every 8 minutes and I still cramped up each time. I raced them very hard, so I was on the throttle pretty hard the whole way.
I break that swim down into four parts. The first few miles to Fleming Key is the deepest part of the swim. The water isn’t too bad here. You may get a tidal push past Fleming. Once through Fleming Key (under a bridge) you have a few miles to hit and round Sigsbee Park. I recall the water being 4-6 feet deep with the tides keeping you South when you’re trying to go Northeast. Lots of grass here with the water warming.
Once around Sigsbee things get fun. It’s like swimming in the desert. All sandy bottom and some stinging sea fans to Cow Key Channel. Make sure to get sunscreen on your front. This water is pretty shallow, and the hottest part of the course.
You’re close to 9 miles in and the fun now starts at Cow Key Channel. Have your kayaker aim for the hotel to the right of the channel and try to come in from the side. The entire Atlantic Ocean is pouring in through a cut about 25 yards wide. Hang to the far right and wave to the homeless guys and fishermen under the bridge. The fun isn’t over. A hurricane blasted that area in 1998 or 1999 wrecking a bunch of houseboats leaving some underwater obstacles, so be careful. Around the 10 mile mark you’ll round the corner for home. Recon that turn the night before. There has been a substantial trough to swim through there most years. This keeps you out of the tide.
It’s a straight shot to the finish from here. The water is still hot, sapping you of your energy, and you’re starting to get pissed off. Zone in on that orange buoy and hammer home.
I haven’t done the Alligator Light swim, so I can’t offer any analysis other than it’s imperative that your guide keep you on a true course and manage your hydration.
This is great information. Sounds like the kayaker might be the key as in my other race there was only one turn. KW has more navigation and knowing where you can cut “corners” can make the day more enjoyable.
Thanks to both of you!!
@swimmer25k that was actually like reading an exciting novel. It was so evocative, I could imagine swimming it. Thanks.
Here’s the best way to simulate it.
My background is mostly USS 25K Nats, IMSA races like Atlantic City and Lac St Jean, and other races like Tampa and MIMS. In the olden days of the late 90s most of the swims were a team effort between the swimmer and crew. You can’t navigate from the water, so it’s up to someone you trust.
I was winning the 1998 MIMS swim with less than 60 mins to go and ended up third. What happened? My boat driver decided to bring me in close to shore against the will of my trainer. I have a great photo somewhere of me about 25 yards off the stern of the Intrepid. Two other swimmers (who I admire and call friends) shot right by me. I’ve got a great video of the whole thing somewhere. My wife was my trainer in 2004 and I ended up with the desired result of a win.
I always used to scope out the race course and study the tides/current. This saved me tons of time in swims like Tampa Bay. I still have the coordinates in my 1998 Garmin GPS that we used to follow to the finish. Science and the experience of others will save you time in the long run.
I believe it absolutely is. I got set up with a naval officer who lives in the area and who kayaks, fishes and scubas there year round. He was an amazing guy. He even went over my feeding schedule with me and altered it to accommodate the heat. As 25k stated earlier, this race is unique in that regard and I am convinced that his recommendations were gold to me. Also, there were at least three times that I saw racers dq-ing due to being lead into shallows by their pilots. My pilot knew all the ins and outs to get me home quickly (6 hours and change) and safely. The race is supposed to be 12.5 miles at its shortest. I swam a tiny bit over that and finished on a day when all but two in my age group dq-ed. He refused to accept his pay also, and instead asked me to donate it to the charity that I was swimming for. Sometimes you just get really fortunate!
Haha! Great description. I had a little better go of it as far as #3 goes. Had no skin issues at all except for the skin peeling off my tongue for two days. I am a freak who likes the heat, so I think that helped.
a great local kayaker is always the key to the best line when there are channels, tides, and distance involved, its a team sport. @CP13
I have a great luck to swim araund beautiful Key West !
On my opinion this swim is
extremely hot and cool! Great organization!
Hard and Funny!
For all who will swim for first time.keep in mind.somthing very important and can be very dangerous:
Fleming Cut bridge!
Very fast water and.....PILINGS THAT HOLD THE BRIDGE!!!
I have unreal crash in Fleming bridge!
I have a lot incident in my ow swims but this is N1!
Brutal crash in piling and go under water for more 1min withaut oxygen.....after that keep swimming all with bloody neck.shauder.back and legs!
From that moment all changes and was so diferent for me !
Only was thing was constant.....HOT!
In my case..Bloody Hot swim!
Only no sharks...but cant have all in one swim!)))
Healt and good luck to all
I did it a few years ago and made a race report https://forum.marathonswimmers.org/discussion/1737/swim-around-key-west-race-report#latest
It was my first long distance swim so I made plenty of rookie mistakes haha. Best of luck!
Hello my fellow Iowan! I did SAKW in 20918 and the biggest challenges I had coming from Iowa to the Keys was the water temp during the swim which was 86 that year and having to swim in shallow water where I had to change my technique. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or for some Iowa lake swimming.
Hello - registered for KW Swim in June. I’m going to be in KW for 2 days in April & want to swim some of the course. Any suggestions on finding a kayaker to go out in the water with me? My husband can’t swim - so he’s not an option.
I’ll be at alligator reef 2021 as well.
Same background as you…started May 2019…two shorter open water swims then AR 2019 (shortened) swim key lido 2020 (canceled) 2020…need I say more…back at it this year!!
@MLamby - any chance you have that Naval officer contact? my buddy is piloting me and is a Westpoint guy =( (LOL) - we could use any help we can get to make the day a bit easier.
"I got set up with a naval officer who lives in the area and who kayaks, fishes and scubas there year round. He was an amazing guy. He even went over my feeding schedule with me and altered it to accommodate the heat. As 25k stated earlier, this race is unique in that regard and I am convinced that his recommendations were gold to me. Also, there were at least three times that I saw racers dq-ing due to being lead into shallows by their pilots. My pilot knew all the ins and outs to get me home quickly (6 hours and change) and safely. The race is supposed to be 12.5 miles at its shortest. I swam a tiny bit over that and finished on a day when all but two in my age group dq-ed. He refused to accept his pay also, and instead asked me to donate it to the charity that I was swimming for. Sometimes you just get really fortunate! "
@MLamby I would love to know if you have any contacts in the area - I am living in Key Largo currently so I signed up for the SAKW (hoping this is the year I can swim in warm water, maybe) but my regular kayaker won't be here, as it turns out, so I will have to cancel unless I can find someone! Thanks in advance for any ideas/thoughts- I reached out to the race organizer but haven't heard back so I imagine that's a "no"
@jendut I am doing the swim this weekend and had booked a kayaker through Lori - My buddy is coming out to pilot me so my kayaker will be free'd up
@BLDrew thank you so much- the organizer has since sent me one so I am good to go!
Jen and Drew, I'm so sorry I missed these messages. I had major surgery in June and got out of the loop for a bit. I'm sorry! How did the swim go??!!
BLDrew!!!! Winner winner chicken dinner!!! And Jen, awesome 3rd place! Congratulations!!