I have done a lot of racing in my short time as a runner and triathlete. After most every event I feel proud and happy to have completed whatever distance I’ve chosen to complete, or try to complete, that day. I am happy to tell people I ran a marathon or completed a triathlon and feel good about it. It is a bragging right, after all. I have no shame in saying that. However, there are times when I run a 5K and while I feel good about it, I know that at this point in the game, a 5K is pretty do-able for me. I’m not scared of the 5K and I don’t feel quite like a rockstar after I run one. Which leads me to this Tampa Bay Frogman Swim. This is by far, without a doubt, the toughest thing I have done to date. I never feel badass. It’s just not in my nature. I usually feel goofy and happy and those other Disney character names, but badass? Nope. Never. That was, until yesterday.
I swam a 5K. I swam three point one miles. It wasn’t fast and I didn’t win, but for once, I feel badass. At least for now or until I run into a wall or trip on my own feet.
The Back Story
The Tampa Bay Frogman swim started five years ago by some military men and Navy SEAL’s to raise money for an injured SEAL officer and his family. It began with nearly 40 swimmers and has become so popular they now cap the event at 150 swimmers who pledge to raise money for the Navy SEAL Foundation. My triathlon coach, whom you see me refer to as Navy Steve, has done the event all five years. I’ve gone to watch this event the last two years. The first year I watched, looked pretty awful. It was cold and the swimmers looked disoriented coming out of the water. The second year wasn’t as cold and folks looked a little better from the three point one mile journey. I suppose this is what finally led me to register, that and Coach Navy Steve giving me a bit of prodding.
I think registration opened in July or August and I hit the website immediately. The swim sold out in five hours and I felt ready for the challenge.
Fast forward to a few months ago, I was training for the Jacksonville marathon and the 5K swim simultaneously. This was good and bad. It was good because the swim training was forcing me to cross train. It only became bad as I hit taper and that normal marathon training fatigue. I didn’t train as much as I should have but I knew that going into the swim and I had a feeling I could finish, barring hypothermia and shark attacks (or shark fistfights). I was definitely nervous heading into this event. It was uncharted territory and distance for me. I didn’t sleep a wink the night before.
Early Sunday morning the S.O. and I woke up and started getting ready. The best part about this 5K swim is that every swimmer gets a kayaker. Due to the currents and course across the bay, I’d say it’s absolutely worth it and needed. If it weren’t for the S.O. guiding me, I’d still be in the ocean.
On the way to the swim start, I was more nervous than ever. I had to hit a potty stop before we even got there. And as soon as we got there I checked in and went straight to the porta potty line. My friend Tim calls them “fear poops.” Haha. Gross, sorry.
My wave didn’t start until 8:40 AM and since we got there around 6:45 AM we had a lot of time to get the kayak ready and chat with friends. Navy Steve’s kayaker, who’s been with him all five years, was kind enough to lend us her husband’s kayak so we didn’t have to rent one.
|Esther, Navy Steve, me, and the S.O.|
|Me and my faithful, amazing kayaker.|
As you can see from our clothing, it was chilly out. The air temp was in the 60’s and the water temps were high 50’s, low 60’s based on what I was told. In this particular swim folks are allowed to swim with fins, booties, and gloves if they choose too. The folks who wanted to swim without wetsuits had to be given clearance by the event officials. (Yes, those people are crazy but amazing swimmers who are training for the English Channel.) I chose to skip the fins, gloves, and booties. I can’t wear them in my Ironman so I decided I would go without.
My nerves started calming a bit as more friends showed up and I got to see them and snap some pics. I was thrilled by everyone who showed up to see us all off. I cannot thank them enough for coming out in the cold morning to basically wave goodbye and then hang around at the finish line for a couple of hours as we all came in. There’s not really any spectating spots because the course runs along a bridge and in the middle of the bay.
|Training buddies Tori and Meghan.|
|Coach Steve and his coachees.|
I was really thankful that Coach Steve was in my wave. I think when I registered I thought I’d be swimming a lot faster than I actually did and put in a much faster time. Oops. He and Esther (his kayaker) were super helpful to the S.O. and I. I wasn’t really sure how it worked but they explained that the swimmers take off in the front and then their kayaker has to find them. This seemed a little tricky but the S.O. and I kept an eye on each other before our wave went off.
|Kayakers looking for their swimmers before start.|
As Coach Steve and I entered the water, I wasn’t too cold and only got a few shudders as the water entered my wetsuit. Fortunately, I had drank a lot of water beforehand and I went ahead and warmed myself right up. Wink, wink.
I turned and waved to the S.O. and then I was off.
I’d say the first mile went by fairly quickly. I was staying within my time goals of about 30 minutes per mile. I’m totally estimating here because I didn’t wear a Garmin so it could have been closer to 35 minutes. This part was easy to navigate and I swam by myself with a pack of other red caps for a little while until we spread out some. After a few minutes, I saw the S.O. come up on my right. He knew I needed him on the left but it was cluttered with kayakers and swimmers so he had to slow up to let me get in front of him and then he maneuvered to my left.
The course seemed straight forward when I looked at the hand drawn map, but when I look at a google map, it looks a bit more scary. Glad I didn’t look until after. The image below is what I created. I’m not great at maps. It’s very crude and definitely not exact but it’s close enough.
|Mad map skillz yo.|
At a little over halfway, I was starting to feel fatigued and fortunately we hit the sandbar I had heard about. As soon as I could stand, I did. At this point quite a few of the blue caps from the wave behind me had caught us and we all took this opportunity to walk and take a gel and drink some water. I started to get cold so as soon as we got deeper water, I started swimming again.
I think at the two mile mark I was really feeling the fatigue. I knew my stroke was getting slow and ugly. I stopped to rest for a bit and the S.O. told me I was slapping the water with my right arm. I told him I knew, and I was tired. He said I was doing good and asked me if I needed anything. At this point we’d talked a few times. Mostly, I told him to stay closer to me. I kept thinking he was kayaking away but it was I who was swimming like a drunken seahorse. The current was just sort of pulling me around.
I took my friend Kitty’s advice to count my strokes. It helped pass the time and calm me down. I started over and over and over. It was a big help even if I never got over 300.
I’d look over to my left to breathe and see the S.O. looking around and think, “Why aren’t you watching me!” I’d get a bit panicky and then realize I wasn’t exactly moving very fast and he was probably bored staring at the back of my head and side of my face. A person thinks odd things while swimming for this long.
I didn’t see any notable marine life, other than these clear, blobby jellyfish that don’t sting. I tried to research what they are called but am still not quite sure. They had no tentacles and definitely don’t sting because I swear I touched a few dozed while out there. I told the S.O. those times we talked that I saw them. Alas, no sharks were punched.
I never felt truly scared because there were always kayakers and swimmers around. It had thinned out a lot by this point but I was never far away from at least two other swimmers. The toughest part of this swim besides it being a 5K, was that you swim directly into the sun. I couldn’t see the buoys until I was running straight into them. I am pretty sure the S.O. and another kayaker laughed at me as I careened into one that sucked me in like a damn vortex. I just could not see a darn thing!
Swimming in the open water is so hard because of the inability to track time and distance as you go. Unlike running and cycling you always know how much farther you have by simply looking at your watch. Plus, you can watch the miles go by on the landscape. Swimming is just stroke, stroke, stroke, pop up, look around, no land ho? Keep swimming.
I felt like I was never going to see the finish. And for the last 40 minutes I was really struggling. As we got toward a turn buoy heading toward the final final turn buoy, the current got obnoxiously strong. I kept getting pulled to the right, when I desperately wanted to go left. I was having a hard time sighting and staying next to the S.O. He told me to just swim to him and then when I could see a marker, I swam to that. It was a really rough twenty minutes. A few more dudes from the wave behind me seemed to swim by with no trouble. Show-offs.
The S.O. told me the final turn buoy was up ahead and I, again, couldn’t see it. I swam and swam and swam with a current this time (hooray!) and ran straight into it. Again. I’m a buoy magnet. (As a side note, I was not alone in this buoy bumper car game. My friend Ryan had the same trouble.)
When I made the final turn toward the beach I could hear the people there cheering and it still seemed so far away. I think it was maybe 200-300 yards. It felt like an eternity. I swam until my hand scraped the ground and then I popped up. I was spent. I had nothing left and didn’t even try to run through the water. It was still above my ankles and I just walked along, sloshing as I neared the first volunteer.
|Me and the S.O.|
|Bless this volunteer. He asked if I was ok. Lol!|
|There’s a smile!|
|B.o.B. is tired.|
I was so relieved to be finished and so happy to hear the shouts from the beach. I had no idea what they were saying but I knew there were family and friends waiting. Again, I had no desire to run it in, so I didn’t. The S.O. and I low fived and parted as he went to dock the kayak. I walked up the beach and high fived volunteers and got my awesome Frogman military coin.
|“Hands on hips tired” is my new yoga pose.|
|Coin close up.|
In addition to the coin and stellar goodie bag (water bottles, sunglasses, lip balm, etc) I got what has to be the coolest hoodie and t-shirt EVER.
Since this post is already as long as Anna Karenina, I’ll try to wrap it up. Sorry!
After finishing we took one thousand photos and I’m so happy my mom came out to see me finish! She was so cute and excited and yelling for me with my friends. I think it took me about 1:55 to finish. I was way off what I wanted and what I think I can do with better training. The open water is a great equalizer and very humbling. I am in awe of folks who do this year after year (that’s you Coach!) and those who come in with times like 1:06! I am also forever grateful to those Navy SEALs who gave the ultimate sacrifice and for whom this event is truly dedicated to. Their families will recieve help from the foundation, and that’s an awesome feeling. I raised over $1,100 and am really thankful to those of you who donated.
I’m not thinking this will be an annual event because that’s how tough it was for me. I may consider it again in a few years but I will definitely keep supporting it and those who swim and fundraise. I feel that my Ironman swim in September will require more training but this event gave me a lot of confidence for it. I mean, it’s a short 2.4 miles, right? Kidding, kidding.
Thanks for reading and cheering me on. Today, I’m badass.