Three Rivers Marathon Swim (3RMS) - PIttsburgh - 2022
I had great preparation and support from my coach as well as the local master’s team and coaches. Friends and teammates paddled on training swims and were true troopers. One truly horrific training swim (HOT HOT HOT) and another almost horrible one, gave me some “twitchiness” as I approached the taper phase. I trained up to just over 40k for two weeks, with an 8 hr swim on the peak training week. I experimented with different bottles and found some that have air holes in the lids, so I can chug without getting my lip sucked into the spout. They come in MANY colors, too. You likely remember that I live in the South, where training through the summer effectively is heat-acclimating…. That awful awful swim? 91-degree water, during the last 90 minutes. I knew that the event water would be much cooler, so I wasn’t worried about overheating. I also wasn’t worried about the water being too cool for me. For my first 10k, I was worried, but ended up being ok… so, I basically crossed my fingers. I also knew that the water would only be so cool. The weather was predicted to be great, so I was reasonably confident about that.
My general schedule for training was 4x/week in the pool; 1x/week in the lake. While I would have enjoyed more time in the lake, my paddlers were available only on Saturdays. The lake is just busy enough, too, that it’s not really a good idea for me to swim without a safety escort. Too many boats and jetskis. My coach did a great job writing targeted over distance workouts for the pool. The main sets for a few of my favorites were:
• 4 x 600 (targeted pacing)
• 2 x 2k (feed-length rest interval)
• 3 x 1000 (aim for all three within 10 seconds of each other)
Two that were great mental workouts, but not particularly “fun” were:
• 40 x 100 (entire workout, wu plus cd)
• 100 x 50 (ugh! It was broken up in to various goal-sets, but at the end was still difficult to maintain pacing with not a lot of rest)
TLDR version: Foggy/spooky start; steady/smooth swimming; anger fueled progress at the end; finished 10 minutes before the deadline. No headaches, no major emotional issues, GREAT nutrition.
Kyle and I spoke the evening before the start, and he warned me to be sure NOT to start out too strong. Because I was starting out with the current, I’d have a false sense of security for feeling good if I went out too strong. So, I treated the first 5k as a warmup. Focused on smooth, consistent stroking and efficient feeding. Happenings during this portion was a REALLY loud train as I swam under a railroad bridge, and two jet flyovers. The jets were practicing for the flyover for the next day’s home Steeler’s game. Encountered random vegetation. The kind that startles you. My paddler, Sarah, (a master gardner) told me later that I seemed to be most disturbed by the sycamore leaves… yeah… they kept plastering themselves onto my face, and blocking my goggles. There also was some sort of weed/vegetation that felt like a net that would try to wrap around my neck like a scarf, or burrow down the front of my suit. Nope. Did NOT like that either. After the first two encounters, though, I remembered what it was and just picked it off to keep going.
We circumnavigated an island that was our 5k turn around marker. On the way back, I started getting some strange calf cramping. I had NEVER had calf cramping in any of my training swims, so this was a little disconcerting. Sarah encouraged more fluids, and I had half a banana at each of the following two feeds. After that, I concentrated on having good kicking mechanics, and was mostly ok from then on. Occasional reappearances of cramps during feeds happened, but nothing huge. As the upstream swim continued it dawned on me that the 90-minute walking tour that my niece had given me of the Duquesne campus likely contributed to the cramping. Pittsburgh is hilly… yup. Poor judgement on my part.
Time: approx.: 3:54
We crossed back through the point area to head upstream for the start of the second 10k. I could tell that the flow in the Monongahela was a bit more than in the Ohio, or so it seemed. There was a bit more chop, but nothing I hadn’t handled in the lake in training. I did have a sloshy feeling in my belly that limited my ability to work super hard. The sloshy feeling lasted most of the upstream 10k. blech! I never felt like I had to puke, but I didn’t want to push things to find out if that would happen. More bridges. Lots more bridges. About 2k prior to the turn buoy, I was well and truly sick and tired of swimming upstream. I announced this to Sarah, and solid support that she was, just nodded and said, “ok… keep going.” I could see that both she and my other paddler had successfully gotten their lunches. I was pretty happy to finally see that green buoy. As I turned downstream, I was able to relax a bit. I stretched out my stroke, and was able to focus my vision on the scenery. Sarah did a GREAT job keeping me clear of the “schmutz”. I still ran into it a bit, but not as much as I might have. She also did a great job using her paddle to communicate with the other boats on the river. Those boaters didn’t always behave, if the look on her face was anything accurate. I was just glad she wasn’t upset with me. ? I needed the relative rest that downstream swimming gave me, and think that I might have slowed down a touch too much.
Time: approx.: 4:13
As I turned the corner to head up the Allegheny for the last 10k, I started doing time math. I’m notoriously bad at swim math and time math, but I had plenty of time to start figuring things out. I had a pretty good idea of the time of day, as I knew how many bottles I’d consumed. And, it seemed like I was going to have to hurry to make it back in time. So, I put my head down, and started working to be sure that I saw the scenery go by with a decent visual speed. The upstream trees were moving well, and I started feeling good. All the way back down the Mon, and up the Allegheny, I could yell out “what’s that?” when I caught sight of interesting buildings. My second paddler was a Pittsburgh native, and she tour guided for Sarah, who’d yell the answer. I began to get sick and tired of swimming upstream again, and started looking for the turn buoy, but couldn’t see it. Sarah said she could see it, so I knew I was close. Turns out, she saw a boat with a green inflatable of some sort that was blocking her view. So, when I got to the bridge she’d indicated – no buoy. I was MAD….thinking she’d lied to me. And, I started seeing the paddlers of a swimmer who I’d passed in the Mon, so I was double mad that I was possibly getting re-passed. I’ve never had that feeling before, so that was new. That other swimmer and I touched the turn buoy bambam*, nearly simultaneously. I put my head down, and worked to swim away. Sarah offered me a feed soon after the turn, but I turned it down. About 5 minutes later, she steered her boat into me, and nearly dropped the bottle on my head. Drink. Now. So I drank.
I started watching for scenery that would give me a clue about how far the finish was. There’s a great long wall of a mural to help gauge speed. There are more bridges. The convention center, a long white building. I started to worry that I wasn’t going to finish by the deadline. I could see the sun setting ahead of me…and felt like I was chasing the setting sun. At this point, I’d been holding my upstream effort, while headed downstream, but I couldn’t tell whether the current was helping me or not. I did get a little weepy in my goggles, because I was pretty sure that I’d not make it.
I told Sarah that I didn’t think I’d make it… She just told me to keep going. (perfect response, grounded, and totally unworried). And, much like when my sister and I decided to stay on the freeway until highway patrol pulled us off as we drove in a blizzard to be with my mom as my dad died, I decided that I was going to swim until I was physically pulled out of the water.
Then, the baseball stadium!
And, the final yellow bridge (there were teaser yellow ones prior to that – deviously placed by the designers of Pittsburgh to entice swimmers into thinking they are finished when they aren’t).
The football stadium! The fountain!
The final buoy…. I headed straight toward it. I could see it. Taste it. Touch it. But nooooooooooo, some random underwater current shoved me away from it, and I had to chase it to touch it. Talk about insult to injury! ?
Time: approx 3:43
Greg, the boat captain, tossed beers to my paddlers, and was gracious while waiting for me to get organized and able to climb out of the water. He helped me put my dryrobe and hat on, and chatted me up as we waited for the final swimmer to finish. He told me that when we’d both turned the corner he didn’t think we would finish, and that we’d made up time in the Allegheny. I don’t have accurate splits for each of the 10k (note to self, see if the paddlers can get those for following swims), but it looks like my final 10k was a bit quicker than the first one. If that’s accurate, my prep was great.
Sarah took video once each 10k, all on downstream legs, and my stroke looks consistently smooth the entire time. She and the other paddler also took stroke rates once per feed cycle, and I was able to hold 10 strokes/min higher than training for the entire last 75 minutes. I certainly didn’t feel like that’s what I was doing. So, I do wonder whether my watch is totally accurate in its data gathering. So, next lake training cycle I’ll be seeing if I can get some comparative data. Regardless, whatever the watch is doing is the same for every swim, so the relative information is still useful to show progress.
Neither Sarah nor I were particularly hungry after getting off the river. I was prepared for this, she wasn’t. So, we were sort of surprised. I had some chocolate milk in the room, and we had some bars and bananas, tea and coke, and spent some time in the hot tub downstairs. THAT was heaven. We were too trashed to be able to make it to the post-swim party, as we had to get the room in order and get her ready to fly out the next day.
The next day, we rescued my crocs from where I’d accidentally left them on the boat, dropped Sarah at the airport, and I tooled around looking for random places to shop in order to let the game day traffic die down. I picked up my niece (she wasn’t able to see the finish, as her field hocky team had a road game on Saturday), and we found a great take out place on the south shore. Then, I dropped her…headed back to the hotel, and slept. I drove home to my mom’s the next day, my friend’s the day after that, and home the third day. I was oddly unsore, although definitely fatigued, and it took a full week before I got a very restful full night’s sleep.
1. Pittsburgh has lots of bridges. Prepare for the swim by counting them, and having paddlers keep track if possible.
2. Preparing with pool sets that mimic swimming according to a feed schedule is great prep for race day.
3. Seriously, limit the walking the day before! Doh!
4. Prophylactically dosing w/ Advil alternated w/ Tylenol is a strategy that helps manage discomfort.
5. Navigation is key.
6. Do the orientation swim if travelling from out of town. It helps set the expectation for the water the next day.
7. Drinking portions of bottles that are different in size from those in training can make you consume too much fluid. Measure in training. Measure on race day.
8. Steelers fans are………………. Intense.
I had a blast.
My paddler had fun.
The hotel was great, the area is beautiful.
Darren and Greg were great hosts on the water, and super super friendly.
Would DEFINITELY recommend this event to others. It’s timed perfectly in the year, and can be used as an end of summer “A” event, or beginning of fall/winter proving ground for future events.
Congrats Sara! You told the story in such a way that made me feel I was there to witness it in person! How was the water quality overall?
The water was pretty good…..
No bad taste nor smell.
Churned up a bit so turbid, but reportedly much cleaner than in years past. The city has been working on that I was told.