10 mile swim

It isn't far to swim when you have friends waiting at the end.


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Race Report: 2016 Lowcountry Splash

Halfway into the 2016 Lowcountry Splash, I was already done. I was being tossed around like an old teddy bear in a front-load washer. I wanted out.

Here at the 10 Mile Swim blog, we take as given that any swim is better than no swim, but that does not mean that every swim is joyous and transcendent. Some swims hurt. And because conditions make such a big difference in open water swimming, the race that was easy one year can be a struggle the next. The 2016 Lowcountry Splash was one of the hard ones; the winning time at the five mile distance this year was about twenty minutes slower than last year’s.

(This is why you can’t spend too much time worrying about your PR — personal record — in open water swimming. This year I was nearly forty minutes slower than my best time for the race. The difference has almost nothing to do with me and almost everything to do with the race conditions. 2014 was super fast. 2016 was slow.)

So what do you do when you’re getting the stuffing knocked out of you and you still have two and a half miles to go? Your options are limited: keep swimming or don’t. I picked option #1. In all seriousness, I could have floated until someone came to get me, but I wanted food and drink and the hell out of that river, and the best way to get those things was to swim.

The hardest part was the calmest, the end of the fourth mile and into the fifth. When the waves were rough earlier in the swim, I was focused on getting through. But the water was calmer for the stretch as I approached the bridge, and I had a chance to think about how tired I was. My right hand had gone numb — not unusual for me, but a sign I was wearing out. And I was alone. I was on course — I saw buoys — but I went a good distance without seeing another swimmer.

So in the hardest part, I called on my team. The central paradox of open water swimming is that, while it looks like an individual sport, it requires a team: swimmers, kayakers, friends. You can’t swim on your own. I thought of all the people cheering for me. I thought of my friend C, the strongest woman I have ever known. It’s been a year since she died, but she is always swimming with me. She swam with me for the fourth mile.

After the swim, I found my friend K, who looked every bit as grim as I felt. He lay on the ground. I drank two bottles of water, one right after the other. I drank a Gatorade. I ate some kind of wrap. I nearly ate the toothpick holding the wrap together; I pulled it out, thought vaguely of Sherwood Anderson, and kept eating.

But after the food and drink, I came back to myself. We were sitting on the grass in the shade. The sky was bright blue. It was a beautiful morning. There is no place I would rather be than on the grass in the shade on a beautiful morning after the Lowcountry Splash.

The view of the bridge after the race. Big blue sky. My photo. June 2016.

The view of the bridge after the race. Big sky. My photo. June 2016.

The first year we did the five mile Lowcountry Splash, the current was so fast I came out saying I wanted to go back up river and swim it again. This year, once was enough. But now K and I have bragging rights: we’ve swum the course in easy years and we’ve swum it in hard. It’s still the best race I know. We’ll be back for 2017.


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The Fastest Five Miles of My Life: Lowcountry Splash 2014

Yesterday I swam the fastest five miles of my life. I have never swum so fast before, and it is unlikely that I will ever swim so fast again. I was swimming in a river (really, two rivers) down to the ocean, and the current was unusually fast and the conditions perfect. The event was the five mile swim at the Lowcountry Splash; the course took us down the beautiful Wando River, which joins with the Cooper River and heads toward Charleston Harbor. There were new records set for the 2.4 mile race (it was the 13th year for that distance) and the newer five mile length. We were all flying.

I went down to the Splash with my friend K. He is an excellent traveling companion (and not just because he has a convertible and we drive back from Charleston with the top down). We have both swum the 2.4 mile twice before; it’s a good race. But the five mile race is even better, from the very beginning: for the five mile start, you jump off a pier in waves of ten people, which is lots more fun than the mass in-water start for the 2.4 mile.

You swim down one side of the river, with Daniel Island to your right and the heavy-lift cranes across the river to your left.

Early in the race. Shiploaders across the river to our left.

Early in the race. Heavy-lift cranes across the river to our left, piers on Daniel Island to our right. My photo, from the water. May 24, 2014.

Then you cross the river at that last crane, yell out your number to the check-in boat at the halfway point, and continue down the other side, catching up with the 2.4 milers along the way.

Halfway point, the check-in boat, behind me after I passed it. My photo. May 24, 2014.

Halfway point, the check-in boat, behind me after I passed it. My photo. May 24, 2014.

You swim under the beautiful Ravenel bridge, alongside the Yorktown (a retired aircraft carrier) at Patriots Point, and up to the marina. The water is mildly salty: less salty than ocean water, but salty enough that you can feel you are floating higher than usual. And yesterday the sun was out, the wind was behind us, and the water was 78 degrees. You couldn’t ask for a better day.

We swim backstroke under bridges. My photo. May 24. 2014.

I swim backstroke under bridges. My photo. May 24. 2014.

The only hairy part was at the check-in boat. I had never been in a race with a mid-course check-in before. This procedure was required by the Coast Guard, the race official said, because the shipping lane had been shut down for the race and they wanted to make sure all the swimmers were out of the way before it was reopened. My problem was that I was too close to the boat when I came by and the current pulled me toward it. I was briefly caught on its anchor rope; it hurt a bit, but mostly it was scary. Still I didn’t panic, and I swam away fine.

And I hate to even mention that moment because the rest of the race was so perfect that I spent the whole time in a state of disbelief. How could this be so beautiful? My only regret is that I feel as if I didn’t work hard enough. I intended the race to be a warm-up of a sort for the 10 mile swim, testing my endurance, but it was no test: it was a holiday, a lovely Memorial Day weekend vacation in Charleston, SC.

The Ravenel Bridge. A 2.4 miler in a green cap is visible.

The Ravenel Bridge. I caught up with a 2.4 miler in the green cap. My photo. May 24, 2014.

My official time was 1:13.29, which is screaming fast. We take more time to swim three miles at Lake Hartwell. It was a terrific day in the water.


Here’s a image of the race course from my friend K:

Lowcountry Splash 2014: 5 mile course.

Lowcountry Splash 2014: 5 mile course marked in red. Image from Google and my friend K.