Boston Light Swim 2021 - swim report
Boston Light Swim Event Report
Shortest Version: 4:20:44 (13/18) – gorgeous day, perfect conditions, successful swim.
Training summary: Dedicated training for BLS began in early March, after a 6 week hiatus from the water to help my mom through a surgery. I had a good base prior to that, though, and kept up aerobic fitness w/ biking while at Mom’s house. I averaged 13-ish thousand yards per week, culminating in two back to back long swims of 4 hrs 3 and 2 weeks out from the race. Prior to this, I’d made a point of swimming throughout the winter in order to learn how to swim in cold water. Living in Alabama, it’s impossible to find cold (heck, even cool) water in the summer. So, I wanted to be sure that I knew what I was getting in to. I took a long weekend at the end of March to South Carolina and got a good swim in there, as well. Their water was cooler than what we had at the time, so it was good. My paces during my training swims seemed to get progressively slower, and I started to be a little concerned. However, I realized that I was slowing down due to the heat….and began to count on the colder water up north to help out. My first 4 hr swim was HOT… and I managed just over a 10K. Borderline on the pacing for the BLS cutoff. The second 4 hr swim was a tad cooler, but I encountered hydrilla that made me miserable. Rafts of the cut fronds (from abatement?) managed to work their way down and into my swim suit, and pricked and itched until I was able to get out of it. It took nearly an hour. It was my only training swim where if I’d had a boat to get in to, I would have. Good thing I didn’t. In the effort to make lemonade out of lemons, I figured it was good practice for swimming through misery to the end of the swim. Seriously, though,… that stuff is vile!
So, I set off for Boston the Thursday before the race. My plan was to get in the water on Friday to see how the water was. For the month leading up to the race I monitored the weather forecast and water temps from the buoys. I was encouraged with both, as they looked like they were trending in a way that would favorable for me.
My master’s swim coach flew up from Florida to crew, and my triathlon coach drove down from Maine to crew as well.
Cheryl (master’s coach) and I hit Carson beach for a practice swim on Friday. The water was a table, it was so flat. Cheryl is definitely a Florida girl, though, and got out after 20 minutes to get warm. I swam for 30-ish minutes to get a feel for things…. To remember that the ocean is salty….. and get used to what the water looked like underwater. Note: hermit crabs on your feet when standing in shallow water is a little creepy for those of us not used to them. We all went to dinner and had a great stroll around the city to get acclimated.
The race started this year at 6:00, so we had to be at the boats at 4:00 for all the waiver signing and all that. We all tried to get to sleep early, but the normal pre-race checking/double checking meant that I didn’t get to bed until about 9:00. That wasn’t ideal…. But it was what it was. Cheryl is NOT a morning person….not at all. We made sure to get her some iced coffee after dinner on Friday so she could have some “go juice” – the hotel breakfast didn’t start until 6:00. Kyle (tri coach) was going to be in charge of steering her after he dropped me at the start. Both of them were super incredible about getting up so early and walking over to the start. Kyle dropped me at the start so that Cheryl could get some extra sleep. Then, he went back to pick her up and they met me at the boat.
Cheryl and me before loading up:
My pilot was AWESOME! From our match by the race organizers to the finish he was chill, friendly, helpful, fun, and all together a perfect match in terms of personality for my swim needs. I couldn’t have been luckier in meeting him.
Cheryl and Kyle also said he was great while they were with him during the race. He “tour guided” them a bit, and was interested in everything about the swim mechanics of me and other racers as well as general chattiness. They said he navigated a great line, and definitely worked to give me the best possible conditions he could. It was his 5th or 6th time piloting, so he was very knowledgeable about the route and the race in general. He even provided a cooler full of ice for us to stash my fuel and their fluids during the race.
So, we loaded up…. And set out for the lighthouse. I had my parka from college with me, and at first thought that it might be too warm…. Then, once we got going was thankful I’d brought it. It gave me the hood to put over my ears and kept me warm. I also had my traditional “orange pants” on. They are sweat pants that I wore in high school and I’ve managed to hang on to. The ride out was gorgeous. The sunrise was amazing. It was peaceful. Windy. But peaceful. The sunrise was amazing!
Once we got to the start, Cheryl helped me with a layer of baby mineral based sunscreen, then some Desitin. About 10 minutes, maybe 5, before the start, I sat on the platform at the back of the boat to do some splashing of water and all that to approximate walking in to the water that I’m able to do in the lake.
The start was a bit of a surprise, because I wasn’t paying attention to the time. There’s the blast of the horn…. And in I jumped. A few breast stroke strokes to be sure that the goggles were sealed and I set out.
My job: follow the boat.
Boat’s job: guide me in.
It really was that simple. My pilot did a great job steering me around buoys, lobster pots, other boats & swimmers, and even a big school of fish (or so I was told). Apparently, there was a discussion as to whether or not swimming through the fish would freak me out, and since no one was totally sure, they decided not to risk it. I honestly don’t know if it would have freaked me out…. Maybe someday in a training swim is the time to find out. ?
Feed 1 came sooner than I expected, and I discovered that feeding from a boat, in a current, is a LOT different than feeding from a kayak in a lake, even one where the wind is up. I got an accidental gullet of sea water during that first feed that saw me doing some impressive coughing, but no hurling. I had to figure out how to keep the sea out of my face while getting the fluid in. Turn around with your back to the wind/waves, genius!). Once I did that, the other feeds went really well. I got a nose full of sea water somewhere around feed 3 or 4, and now I’m not exactly sure what is in my sinuses, but it’s all good.
As I swam along, I saw that I passed 2 people… and Kyle and Cheryl said that I never got “passed back.” Coming from a running history where that’s all that happened to me, I was very pleased and a bit giddy. I actually saw one person in a “yellow boat” that I was able to swim up to, and pass, and stay ahead.
At the safety briefing, Elaine was very clear about making sure we stayed beside the boats, and not behind them. Every once in awhile, it would look like I was falling behind, so I’d pick up the kicking and pace a bit, and chase the boat until I was beside them again. It happened often enough I started to think that they were doing that on purpose. Nope. They weren’t. BUT, It did keep my effort up the entire time, so that was good.
There was a debate on the boat about whether to stop me for a feed at the 4:00 mark. They weren’t sure how far away the finish was, because their depth perception wasn’t too reliable. They ended up stopping me, and I’m glad that they did. I was able to push for the last 20 minutes I was in the water, and felt really good about it. Apparently, the tide weakened in a way that no one expected, and "everyone" said it was like a flat swim. BUT, I will say that there was some sort of assistance, because my pacing was a solid 15 seconds per 100 yd faster than my flat water lake paces.
I swam until I could be on my hands and knees before I tried to stand up. As soon as I stood up…. My belly announced that puking might be a good idea to me. So, I stumbled a bit getting out of the water, and one of the volunteers was right there to keep me from falling over. I was still swaying to the swells of the water. I said that I was gonna puke, and I’m not sure that they realized right away that I was serious…. Because they handed me a bottle of water. Then my rock steady man (I’m so sorry, I never caught your name, most wonderful of steady volunteers who kept me from becoming a sugar cookie in the sand), asked me “for real?” “Yup,” I said… “so, I’m going to need some privacy to do that.” He steered me over to a fence, and I proceed to make myself hurl. Immediately I felt better. @emkhowley was super nice and made sure I was ok, and had the paramedics come talk to me. By that time, I was good, and only asked them to take my BP. They were super cool and wonderful, I was probably the easiest person they’ve had to deal with in awhile.
Kyle and Cheryl hadn’t made it back from getting off the boat yet, and I needed to get out of the wet swim suit. So, I grabbed my drop bag, and started trying to find a kindly person for help. I borrowed a page out of my sister’s “advice to small children” book – and looked for a mom to be helpful. She told her kids that if they were lost, and they weren’t sure who to ask, that they should ask a mommy, because mommies will be nice to small children. So, I asked for a mom, and a very nice mom named Kelly (I’m sorry, I don’t know who you were supporting while there, but I REALLY appreciated your help) helped me do a deck change out of my suit and into dry clothes. Shout out to DryRobe for their wonderful product that permitted me to accomplish the change. Double shout out to Kelly for helping me get totally dressed without falling into the sand.
Kyle and Cheryl showed up, we hung around a bit…. Then Cheryl and I went to the Yacht club to find shirts for them, and Kyle was a total trooper and walked back to the hotel to get the car to pick us up.
Kyle drove home, and Cheryl and I took a solid nap that day after getting some Chinese food delivered to the hotel. It took me a while to figure out what sounded good in terms of food after the race, and savory chicken fried rice hit the spot. Cheryl and I went in to Cambridge and asked a priest standing outside of his church for a recommendation and he sent us to a great place called Daedalus. What a wonderful dinner that was!!!
12 hours of sleep later, and we played tourist on Sunday.
I can’t say enough good things about how well this race was run. @emkhowley and her crew were fabulous, low key but very thorough in their prep, and really flexible in dealing with COVID related “Plan B” options for the safety meeting and dinner options.
This was my first long swim in salt water. The conditions were perfect. If you’re going to have an intro to marathon swimming that transitions you from rivers/lakes to salt water, this weekend was the way to do it. I would do this event again in a heartbeat, no questions asked.
Next up for me is Swim the Suck and maybe Bridges to Bluffs.