The Swim Defiance is a 5k and 3k swim in Puget Sound. The 3k swimmers (of which I was one) take the Ferry from Tacoma to Vashon Island, then swim back.
I've actively trained for this event since I posted in late March about training. My predicted time was 90 to 100 minutes. My longest swim in cold water had been 60 minutes, so I was a little worried about the prolonged exposure and ordered some core warmers to help with after the event.
I drove down to Tacoma with my friend B, and we met up with a bunch of other Notorious Alki Swimmers. On our drive down we talked about how there was no shame in raising your hand for a boat to pull you out if needed. It was far more important to be safe than anything else. As a solo swimmer, I have a rule that if I'm trying to decide between two choices I pick the safer one.
The safety briefing had way too much talk with silly jokes and not a lot of content. One potentially useful thing the MC did say, was that the current was strong from East to West so the 5k swimmers should sight to the east to drift toward the west for the turn around.
I was pretty nervous and hyped up about the start, and became a total ditz. I couldn't keep track of what I needed when. Where I should put what. I even went back to the car at one point, explicitly to put my glasses in the car. Then forgot!! Yeah, stress makes me a ditz.
We watched the 5k swimmers start. There were 21 of them, all wearing wet suits! The swim buoys were required for this event. A great choice to help the safety staff see everyone on the course.
After they departed, we headed for the bus to the ferry. The ride was probably only about 5 minutes. Short enough to not have to worry about motion sickness. We walked on the ferry for the short ride across the water.
Good omen! We all disembarked and went down to the beach. Short time to shed extra layers and get a headcount, then we were in the water. The race officiant said we should wade out to waist deep. However, the tide was out, so after walking out 20 yards, he said "That's enough". We waited for the ferry to depart, then started.
The water was warmer than Alki. I predicted I'd be the last finisher, so I focused on pacing my entry so I didn't hyperventilate. I was able to calmly enter and start swimming. I stayed with the pack in sight for a while, then eventually drifted into my own space. The other shore looked so far away! The tiny gold arch the finish.
I swam and just tried to find a groove. The start had tons of jellyfish. Beautiful little moon jellies. At first I tried to dodge them. But in time I realized there was no way that was possible. I might have gotten stung, but those jelly's stings don't hurt too much, so I ignored it and went on.
One of the strange things about this event is that I had absolutely no sense of time while I was out there. I knew I'd predicted 90 minutes. I knew the cut off was 120 minutes. There were times that I was SURE I wasn't going to make the cut off, other times when I thought I'd blow my prediction out of the water. Perhaps that had to do with the current.
The current... the race MC was wrong about which way it was pushing. Just, simply, wrong. It was a strong eastward current, pushing us back to the ferry route. There was a strong westward current for about the last 200 yards of the course. Otherwise, east all the way.
This created a problem. With the start so close to the ferry terminal, and the current pushing us east, everyone ended up in the ferry lane. Not good. At one point, I thought I was the most westerly swimmer, and I saw the ferry, instead of going to my left to the terminal, turn and cross in front of the swimmers, and through the course. He then proceeded to cross the channel on my right. I looked over my right shoulder, and sure enough, I had drifted east enough that the ferry terminal was now behind me on the right.
No one wants to be the ferry captain who kills 35 swimmers.So I'm glad he went around us. However, that was the first inkling I had that things were not as they should be on the water. (more about that in a separate safety post).
One of my swim friends, H, was a kayaker and had agreed to keep an eye on me. As the pack moved ahead, she found me and kept with me. I strongly believe her guidance kept me on a straighter trajectory than most.
Somewhere in the middle of the swim I started doing math. Trying to figure out, if I was swimming at a 30 degree angle because of the current, what was the distance I'd actually swim? What if it was a 45 degree angle? I decided I couldn't do the math in my head while swimming. In fact, it was hard work to even figure out what the math problem would look like.
At one point I thought about how I'd describe the swim to others when I was done. The best I could come up with was "breathe, bubbles, breathe, bubbles, breathe, bubbles." Guess that isn't too exciting.
I decided to sing. My favorite song from Come From Away. The song, Me and the Sky, is a good swim anthem for me. There are many ways that I feel like swimming and flying are the same. This song is about a woman's love of flight. However, she was a pilot on September 11, 2001 so the last verse of the song is about how "the one thing I love more than anything is used as the bomb." For some reason, after completing one time through the whole song, this last verse got stuck in my head. I sang it alone about 14 more times before deciding it wasn't a great swim song, and turning it off.
At times I felt a little cold, and then just picked up the pace. At times I would try to do freestyle instead of breaststroke, and would feel motion sick. I looked behind me to see how far I'd come. And continued to sight on the far away arch as it inched slowly closer.
As I got closer to shore the moon jellies came back. They are so beautiful. I love watching them. Then I could see the ground below the water. And so I tried to get to the finish. I was being swept west, with the finish to my east. A man on shore said if I came in closer I could fight the current more easily. I came in and was about 20 yards from the finish arch. So I just stood up and walked there!! Finish time was 94 min on my watch and 96 for the official clock.
I was, in fact, the last finisher. However, I was also third in the non-wetsuit division!! So I got a little trophy.
My friend B was second in the non-wetsuit division. So she got a plate!!
I got out of my wet clothes and used my core warmers as soon as I could. I never got the real shivers. I was able to maintain motor skills and articulation abilities. All around good signs of no hypothermia.
Friends who swam with GPS trackers on estimated about 2.2-2.4 miles for their swims. And the trajectories all looked something like this, red is swimmer, yellow is ferry path:
Overall, it was a meaningful experience for me. It is always fabulous to accomplish something you are not sure you can do.