Two Years Later- My Key West Epilogue

A little over two years ago, I solo swam 12.5 miles around the island of Key West.  The preparation and training was grueling, the swim itself was challenging, but the overall experience was one of the most rewarding things I have ever been through.

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Upon finishing my swim, I had grand intentions to maintain a long distance swim program as well as update my experiences about my Key West swim, but life got in the way and before long, my swimming workouts and my swim around Key West had become little more than distant memories.

Fast forward two years. I got an email the organizers of the Swim Around Key West saying that they were still looking for support kayakers to help solo swimmers, so it seemed like the perfect way to participate in an event I loved without committing to the year of training.  As I can attest to first hand, a support kayaker is essential for the safety and progress of the swimmer. They are responsible for feeding the swimmer at designated intervals, navigating the course and keeping an eye out for other swimmers and boaters.

On the day of the swim, my swimmer and I confirmed some final details about navigation and feeding (every 30 minutes, alternating water and Gatorade with Gu energy gel packs).  We made our final preparations: my swimmer slathering himself head to toe in Desitin zinc oxide while I secured all the things he or I would need for the next 6-7 hours onto my kayak.

Smather’s Beach- The Start

The swim begins in the water for both swimmers and kayakers. If you have never experienced an in-water start it has a different sort of frenzy compared to on-land starts.  I think as a swimmer, I prefer starting in water because you can scope out the area and plan your course but as a kayaker it is rather stressful keeping an eye on your swimmer while also simultaneously not inadvertently hitting a swimmer with your kayak or paddle.

 Mile 0.5- Mile 2- The Beginning

The race organizers typically advise that kayakers and swimmers should reunite no later than Mile 1.  Both when I swam this two years ago and this most recent time when I was a kayaker, it was pretty easy reconnecting after the initial start.  Should you be less lucky, about half a mile after the start stands White Street Pier, which sticks pretty far out into the sea, making it a very obvious landmark and helpful place to reconnect.

From White Street Pier you should sight for the large white dish at the left side of the island (This is Mile 2).  What they don’t tell you is that you should try and move closer inland once you pass the pier so that you don’t run the risk of moving too far out too sea and tire yourself out prematurely.

Mile 3-4- Rounding the Island

Mile 3 features the first realization (if it hasn’t already sunk in) that you are in fact swimming around an island because this is where you actually experience the first change in direction as you bank around the first corner of the island.  At the sandy beach of Mile 3, the water can become rather shallow so it is recommended to not get too close to shore.

Mile 5- Fleming Key Bridge

Almost any swimmer that has swam around Key West will typically remember Fleming Key Bridge at Mile 5 as one of the highlights of the swim. Not only does it mean that you are nearing the halfway point of the swim, it is also where you will experience some of the fastest currents that push you through the bridge at top speeds that will make you feel like a torpedo.  As a kayaker, I just let my swimmer go.  Staying close to them but making sure they had full advantage of the current.

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Mile 6-8- The Backside of the Island

The good news is that as you swim across the Mooring Field of Mile 6 and around Dredgers Key of Mile 7, you can enjoy the realization that you are past the halfway point. The bad news is this is where some of the more challenging navigation takes place.

Mile 6 is one of the few parts of the swim where you will not see the bottom but the bigger challenge for both swimmer and kayaker is navigating through the rows of sailboats.  Through almost the entirety of this portion of the swim (Mile 6-8), the kayaker needs to do most if not all of the sighting to keep on course.  Mile 8 is particularly challenging because you swim through open water without a clear visual of where to go next.

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Mile 9-10- Cow Key Bridge and Channel

At Cow Key Bridge, another push from the current helps move you along as the swimmer.  Upon making your way through the bridge and continuing through Cow Key Channel, this is where you will encounter by far the most jet ski and boating traffic of the day.  You may also experience extremely shallow water.  We found that by swimming a bit further to the left it kept my swimmer away from sand bars that creep up around Mile 10.

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Mile 11- The Home Stretch!

By Mile 11, you want nothing more than to stop swimming/stop kayaking and to be able to eat a cheese burger.  That last mile and a half is one of the hardest parts of the swim for one, because your body and brain is tired but also because as you bank the final turn of the island and swim parallel to the Key West Airport, this is where you may feel some current pushing against you, forcing you to work harder so you can make one final push home.

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Mile 12- Return to Smathers Beach

You know without a shadow of the doubt that you are close to the end when you see the 10 final pillars that stand between you and the end of the swim. These pillars mark the last 1/2 mile (give or take) and are an amazing sight to see, but make sure you pace yourself so that you don’t run out of gas before getting home.

Next?

I am really glad that I made it back to Key West and was able to help a swimmer complete their swim.  It reinvigorated my love for swimming and has motivated me to get back into a regular swimming schedule.  Will this propel me into training for another Key West swim? I would love to say yes, but it is hard to commit to that much training and preparation.  I hope to make it back into the briny sea water again, but only time will tell…

12.5 Miles Around Key West!

I can’t even fully wrap my head around it, but today my months of training and preparation paid off and I can say with total happiness that I swam around the island of Key West and checked a huge accomplishment off the old bucket list! 

I will do a full recap later but right now I am too exhausted to write anything coherent. What I can do is leave a few photos of the amazing experience. 


Smathers Beach… The start and finish of the swim


The joys of sun protection. 


Me and my awesome friend/kayaker


Some of the awesome people I have met through this experience

Final Days to 12.5 miles

I am in my final days before my Swim Around Key West. The nerves, mental planning, final preparations and packing are in high gear. 

Have I practiced enough? What if I can’t finish? What if I am too slow? What if i forget to pack something? What if I get seasick? What if the weather is bad?

Those looming thoughts that have crept into my head making me agonize over my abilities have slowly quieted. Or maybe I have reached a point where I no longer care. 

This past week I was in Washington D.C. for a work trip, when I had the privilege of experiencing an endless pool at the hotel gym. If you haven’t seen one of these, they are just a little bigger than a standard hot tub, but there is a motor at one end that creates a continuous current for a great workout without having to do laps or flip turns. I was a huge fan of this, and the visit to DC was brief but delightful. 


I also had my final practice swim last week. With each final stroke I could feel myself getting closer and closer to Key West. No longer am I asking myself if I am ready or if I have done enough to prepare. As I am in my final days of tapering and race prep, I have reached the stage of calm and acceptance knowing I have done everything I could do to get me where I am. Whether or not it will be enough will be determined on Saturday. Wish me luck!

Finding Swim-spiration

Only 18 days left until the Swim Around Key West!  Looking at my calendar it blows my mind how this swim I have been training about 10 months for is now less than 3 weeks away (where the heck did time go?)  I estimate that I have about 10-12 more swims and 8 days left of practice before I start to taper (yes, that means some days with 2 swims).

My birthday was this past week and I took the day off to visit the beach.  It was possibly some of the nicest swim conditions I have seen since I have started training.  Warm sun. Smooth water. Minimal waves. Mild current. And an almost private beach all to myself. If perfection needs a picture for the dictionary, I think I found it…

I have had some setbacks these last few weeks in my training and I have been trying really hard to stay focused and keep a positive attitude.  Most notably, my shoulder has had periodic flare ups making it challenging for me to push myself.  I have had to sacrifice some distance in my long swim practices, but I have tried to stay consistent so that I am swimming a weekly average of at least 22,000 yards (which is roughly the yardage I will swim for Key West). I have also been making it a point to add weight training and stretching into my post-swim workouts.

I recognize (worry) that this adjusted plan may not actually be enough to prepare me, but I think at this stage it is better to be prudent and keep my shoulder safe from injury than it is to push an extra 2000 yards in the pool and really hurt myself.

Today at the pool, I swam 9000 yards.  My goal was 12,000 but my shoulder started nagging me and I felt it smart to listen to it.  Super cool though, while at the pool I met a girl who is ALSO swimming around Key West!  It was really great meeting a fellow swimmer and being able to chat about our training and preparation for the swim.  And it was truly a much needed pick-me-up for my final stretch of swimming.

 

Strangers in a Pool- short fiction for long swims

While it is undeniable that there is an incredible sense of team and camaraderie that comes from the atmosphere of swimming, it is fairly uncontested that the actual act of swimming can be quite lonely.  It is perhaps with that in mind, that I have recently developed a new way to entertain my brain during my long swim sets where there is no one to talk to.

I typically pay minimal attention to my lane mates, noticing mostly just their unusual idiosyncrasies in swim stroke or breathing pattern but from time to time one of these particular strangers catch my attention and I find myself creating an elaborate back story for them.  Here are some of my favorite characters and their fictionalized backstories that keep me company on my long swims…

“Catalina” the Social Butterfly Lifeguard

Catalina or ‘Caty’ as she is known by most of her friends, has always been described as vivacious by friends, teachers and even strangers ever since Kindergarten.  Her wild curly hair can rarely be contained by her hair elastics, as if to serve as a visual metaphor for her bubbly and energetic personality.  People treasure their friendships with her and strangers gravitate toward her, but what often goes unnoticed is how little she shares about herself to even her closest friends.  Catalina loves people as much as she loves her secrecy.  Perhaps that is why no one knows how much her own mother hates her, out of her own unfiltered jealousy and unfulfilled life.  Now in eleventh grade, Catalina can start to picture her new life away from her mother and with her boyfriend of 2 years who is 10 years her senior (who unsurprisingly is a secret to her friends, teachers and of course, her mother). 

“Lizzie” the ‘Overworked’ Lifeguard

Lizzie slouches into her tall lifeguard chair early in the morning, the sun barely breaking over the horizon.  She rolls her eyes and aimlessly chews on the end of her long braid.  Lizzie hates life guarding and is pretty sure that if any of the swimmers actually needed saving, her 90 lb  waif-like frame would crumble in any lifesaving efforts.  Plus, she didn’t get enough sleep.  Lizzie closes her eyes and listens to the swimmers as they splash through their lanes. Life guarding is soooo lame.  This was supposed to be a summer job to just prove to her dad and stepmom that she could be ‘responsible’ enough to have her own car.   Lizzie grimaces at the deal her dad and her made at the start of last summer realizing now that this was clearly concocted by her stepmother.  All the other wives her father married (and subsequently divorced) just let her do whatever.  Plus they wanted to please her dad by getting along with Lizzie so they would buy her presents and take her shopping and totally try and be her friend.  This one is different and makes Lizzie do chores (i seriously have to wash my own car!) and work (to pay for my own gas which is like pathologically unfair) and be socially responsible (eww).  It is totally redic.

“Jeremy” the Merman

Jeremy had never been good at any sport or physical activity of any kind.  Despite his average build and height he had awful hand-eye coordination, terrible rhythm and no endurance.  Under normal circumstances this would probably not be that not worthy, but Jeremy was a sales rep for unique sporting equipment and often had to show how it worked, which was often pretty embarrassing.  It was one fateful day that he was at a sales conference that he picked up a piece of sporting equipment that would change his life.  It came in three distinct pieces.  The molded foot piece, the support belt and the outer tail.  Initially Jeremy and his friends laughed at the glittery mermaid tail.  How are we supposed to sell this?  How is this sporting equipment? After a few drinks, they headed to the hotel pool to each try it out.  One by one each of Jeremy’s very athletic friends tried on the tail and tried a lap down the pool.  The friends struggled with the tail and most gave up mid-swim, complaining about how stupid this tail is.  By the time it was Jeremy’s turn he was apprehensive and not excited to embarrass himself again in a new sport.  His friends had resumed drinking at the pool bar.  Jeremy dove into the water and dolphin-kicked his way down the pool.  He spun through the water and felt it move through his hair.  He felt graceful and beautiful, like no sport or exercise had ever made him feel.  He was one with the water.  When he met his friends at the pool bar they laughed at him, ‘Dude, you looked like a dying fish.’  ‘No,’ thought Jeremy. I looked like a Merman.

“Mavis” the Survivor

‘Yes you can’ Mavis says to herself as she eases into the cool water.  Her petite frame floats on the top of the water as she readies herself for her morning swim.  She wets her short gray hair and secures ear plugs into her ears.  As she pushes off the wall, she thinks about all the things she has had to push against. After her husband left her she worried if she would be happy again. ‘Yes you can’ she told herself.  After she was diagnosed with cancer she wondered if she would be strong enough to go on. ‘Yes you can’ she persisted.  At age 64, with cancer in remission, would she be strong enough to compete in an Iron Man? ‘Yes you can’ she insisted.  And today, ‘yes you can’ she whispers and continues to swim.

 

“Maureen” the Former Dancer

Despite her age Maureen has always held onto a rigid workout and diet regime to stay in shape.  At age 77, her tall and slender frame could still pass for that of a 40-year old, if it weren’t for those wrinkles…sigh.  Maureen gracefully dips a toe into the water and begins her morning swim.  The water is like her own time machine and with each fluid and graceful stroke she is transported to a different time and place.  The time is 1961 and she is a mere girl in New York City.  After years of ballet education in Washington DC, Paris, and San Francisco, she has arrived to take the stage for the audition that will earn her a spot into one of the top ballet companies in the world.  At the audition she is taken aback to see so many dancers of her caliber, having spent so many years being the top elite dancer in her dance academy.  She pins her number to her leotard and nervously takes her place on stage.  She points her toe and begins her solo, packed with turns and leaps.  She can tell she has the judges undivided attention and on the second to last leap, she makes a split decision to throw in a double pirouette for good measure, but her footing isn’t as secure as she thought it was. SNAP!  The rest is always a blur.  She is taken to a hospital. Broken leg in 3 places, broken knee cap, snapped ankle and crushed dreams.  She sobs quietly to the doctor, who is a recent med school graduate.  Soon they get married, have children and later grand children, and eventually retire to Florida.  She rarely thinks about her dancing anymore, but in these morning swims she dances through the water where no one can see the tears she cries for her broken dream from long ago.

29 Days and Counting!

Somehow, it is already May and more specifically only 29 days before the swim around Key West!  I am feeling pretty good and have gotten back into a comfortable swim schedule.  Trying to push myself and ramp up training without straining or hurting myself is the key.  It is quite the balance and my body’s tolerance for training seems to ebb and flow.

I still have a lot to do.  I am doubtful I will actually succeed at my 50 workouts before Key West, but my goal is to continue swimming every day and do work on my long distance swims on my weekends.  Wish me luck!

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Shoulder Stress

I have had to augment my swimming for the last few days.  Those pesky knots have been a little more vocal and it is pretty clear that my shoulder and shoulder blade are suffering from some inflammation.  I may have let my stubbornness get the best of me and swam a little harder/longer than I should have before I started taking this seriously.

So here is the adjusted plan… Rest the shoulders. Take lots of Ibuprofen. Do shoulder strengthening exercises and HOPE my body rebounds back with enough time to get back into training.

I have scoured the web for some tips and tricks to shoulder recovery…

This site is really helpful for Shoulder recovery tips and fixes

I also appreciate this rather step-by-step phased plan of recovery, but I really hope I don’t have to take as much time as it suggests.

I am going to keep my self optimistic. I still have some time.  My injury is recoverable.  Wish me luck.