As the ferry pulled away from the dock, the most spectacular view of Boston was at hand. On this ferry were 50ish athletes. We were on our way to the very first Odyssey SwimRun Boston. Class of 2019. For Charlie and I this had been 18 months in the making.
We signed up for this in winter of 2018. The race had to be postponed until 2019 due to the water temperature, and as luck would have it, it fell on Musselman weekend. But no fear, the plan was to drive back to Geneva after swimming and running for nearly 5 hours to be able to bring all of the Musselman athletes home. Spoiler alert: that plan worked.
I arrived to Charlie and his wife’s place a few days prior. We had spent the previous few months preparing for an unknown. This was our first and luckily we knew lots of athletes who had done them previously.
According to the rules of SwimRun we had to have the following:
- 1 Compass per team (GPS watch acceptable)
- 1 Whistle per athlete
- 1 First Aid Pressure Bandage, packed waterproof
- 1 Tether between teammates for swim legs. Recommended tether length is 8.5′, and it must not exceed 30′ when fully extended. Toggle carabiner or other quick release device must be at each end. Failure to possess or use as required shall be grounds for disqualification.
We slowly gathered all of the necessary items and by race day we were ready. We both wore the new ROKA SwimRun Wetsuit. This wetsuit opens in the front, had a pocket on the right leg and internal pockets. As you can see, I did cut the sleeves.
So it was finally here and were were on the ferry!
The vibe was pretty awesome. It wasn’t the tapered and over nervous vibe of an Ironman. It felt much more like a community. I ran into several people I knew and didn’t know were racing. In a field of about 50, that was a treat!
As we rode the 40 minute ride to our first island, we passed the other islands we would be swimming between and running across. We found some landmarks, and I had a better feel for how this was laid out. The race directors did an outstanding job with their pre race communication through email, Facebook and at the pre race meeting. We knew what direction to head in, and we knew where markers would be.
I felt ready.
About 30 minutes after landing on Peddock’s Island, we were off. It wasn’t the mad rush of a 5K, but a good quick pace. The terrain on Peddock’s was varied. Road for a little bit, then rocks, sand and then dirt. Initially I ran just looking at the back of Charlie’s feet, I was in a crowd and not worried about going off course.
Until athlete #49 led us off course (remember that number).
The diversion wasn’t anything terrible, just a few minutes. The race directors had told us that this was head’s up racing, and that’s exactly what I didn’t do.
However following athlete #49 proved to be my best move of the day. As we approached the water and began to prepare for our swim, I pulled my goggles out of my suit.
My goggles snapped in half and the nose piece.
SNAPPED. IN. HALF.
Never in 40 years of swimming has that ever happened to me. Normally I swim in sweedish goggles, which tie at the nose. I always have extras with me and I did. In my bag on the ferry.
“OH SHIT” I said to Charlie as I held my goggles up. The look of defeat on his face matched how I felt.
All of a sudden, there were goggles in front of me, it was athlete #49.
Welcome to SwimRun. I knew at that point that our day would be just fine.
We knew the 1600 meter swim between Peddocks and Georges Island was going to be tricky based on location. While it was nearing 7am the currents could be tricky. As I looked into the water I saw people swimming everywhere. Charlie and I knew which island Georges was and rather than try to play with the currents, we picked a direct line. For us that proved to be the winner as 15% of the field was pulled during this swim.
Armed with my new goggles, Charlie and I tethered up and began our first swim.
As the strongest swimmer I swam in front, and I was in charge of navigation. Charlie would also sight and if he thought I was heading in the wrong direction he’d tug at the line. He is an experiences ocean swimmer so between the two of us we had this down.
The race directors emphasize the need to be a very competent swimmer, and during this first swim I understood why. The currents were shifty, the water kept changing. You just have to change with it. I sight every 8 strokes and sometimes more. The island stayed in front of us the whole time and as we made our way closer I could easily see the 8 foot pink flag that we were aiming for.
The island just didn’t get closer quickly. I won’t lie, that first swim was a damn grind. Being tethered wasn’t the issue, in fact I was glad to be tethered. The coast guard had closed the area for us and were doing a great job keeping us safe. But this wasn’t an Ironman swim where there are kayakers every 8 feet. It was us and a sprinkling of other swimmers.
Swimming with the tether is no problem at all. I swam with it coming off the center of my back, Charlie swam with it coming up his midline in the front. I never felt like I was towing. Our swim abilities are 1-2 seconds off per 100 so it really worked fine.
Being that this was an unknown I didn’t try to haul ass through any of the swims. I just swam steady. We were swimming in our shoes, with a pull buoy and paddles. We were also in a wetsuit and we had to tow an inflatable swim buoy, which was a good safety move.
But that first swim was a grind. You just had to be patient.
Eventually Georges Island came to us. As we came on shore we took the few minutes to peel the wetsuits down. We hooked our paddles on our belts and hit nutrition. We were all carrying a collapsable foldable cup that we’d fill with electrolyte drink and or water. I also carried a foldable flexible water bottle that I had gotten at the packet pickup which for me was key.
Our second run on Georges Island was short but bananas! We were running around, over and through an old military fort of some kind. Two staircases that seemed to lead into the dark were a bit spooky, but turned out to be fine.
Our pace was steady. I am a much slower runner than Charlie but I didn’t worry that I was holding him back. We knew heading into this that there would be a discrepancy. It matters who your teammate is, and it matters what your personality is. We are laid back and I can roll with just about anything, so as of now we were good.
It was hard to figure out how hard to go, so much unknown was ahead of us. So we played it conservative. There were longer runs ahead and we had a lot to learn.
Onto the beach at Georges we suited back up and decided not to tether for the second 500 meter swim over to Lovells Island. Compared to the first swim, this one was calm. We could see the pink flag from Georges and it was no problem getting there.
The water was 67-69 degrees which felt amazing compared to the near 90 degrees on land. We took the time to peel suits down so that we would not risk overheating.
Onto Lovell’s island we ran just under two miles. The terrain was everything. No issues.
Then we came to the swim to Long Island. Longest swim of the day. At the shore Lars the race director helped us pick a line. Other competitors were checking on one another, it felt like one big family. I have been in multisport for 25 years, this felt like home.
The long swim to Long Island was another grind. The currents were shifty. The water would be turbulent and then calm. Airplanes flew closely overhead as we were on the path to the airport. In the distance I saw big cruise boats and the coast guard keeping them from nearing us. There weren’t many of us out there.There was a lot of swimming in place during this one. Landmarks took forever to pass and it just required patience.
My normal though process and pattern in open water is: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-sight, and then begin again. I did think about sharks during this swim for some reason. I would start with 1-2-3-4 and then my mind would drift to this image:
Then I would snap myself back to counting. 1-2-3-4- I wonder if the shark would come up from the bottom, I think they dive and then come from the bottom -1-1-1-1-1-2-2-2-2-2-2-2-2-3-3-3-3-4-4-4-4- and so on. I never felt panic about it but I knew that while swimming was not the time to have these thoughts!!!!!
It took forever to reach Long Island. The currents were ripping and we were patient. But once we got to Long Island I was actually glad that the biggest swim was over.
Long Island was ultra unique. It was home to an abandoned health care facility!
Lars said it would feel spooky and like a scene from the walking dead. It did!!! I kept thinking “where the heck are we” and it felt like we were the ONLY two on the island! Maybe we were!!!
After about 3 miles we came to the shore. One of the race directors was there checking us in and making sure we were good.
I loved how the exits and entrances of the swims were set up. As we exited the water someone was there to check us in. There were two coolers of water and electrolytes. Athletes and volunteers helped one another with wetsuits, with picking lines. On the swim entrances there were two bins with numbered clothes pins. You moved your numbered clothes pin to the other box, to check yourself into the swim. I thought it was a brilliant was to not rely on technology. The field was small and spread out which to me would feel like a nightmare for these guys. But they knew where everyone was!
The final swim was no joke either. It looked easy, just 850 meters. Spectacle Island would be our final run of the day. I wasn’t keeping time or using a Garmin, I just had a regular watch and I was really only watching the time of day. I knew we would finish within the hour and I couldn’t have felt better. I knew I had lowballed pace but with this being our first swim run, I was fine with that!
We hooked up the tether and we were off. And that fourth swim was just like the first two. Grinding, currents and a little more wave. So we did what we did best, settled in, changed with the water and just kept at it.
About 200 meters from shore I felt a tug on the line. Charlie had no issues with the tether except occasionally he’d need to reset. So I would feel a tug, I’d pause and we’d reset. But this time, I looked back and he was vomiting. He’s a very experienced ocean swimmer so this wasn’t his first ocean rodeo. I am an emergency nurse so people should feel pretty safe racing with me! I knew he had likely taken in some salt water, I had as well. The tides were nausea inducing. I didn’t panic, he didn’t either. He just unloaded and off we went.
I was glad that I was the one leading. Now what was it that attracted sharks? 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 SIGHT!
That final shoreline took forever to come to us, but it did. We peeled down, hooked our paddles up, got some fluids and took off. We had 3.5 miles between us and the finish. It was balls hot. That collapsable water bottle I had been carrying was key here!
This final run was a bit hillier but definitely the sweetest one. Eventually we could hear Lars’ Dad announcing in the distance. Man did I get excited! This whole experience had been amazing and while I was so excited that we were close to the finish, I felt kind of sad. Already?
Finally it was there and we crossed in celebratory style!
Lars was there to greet us and I think I hugged him about seven times! I just freaking LOVED the whole thing. Loved. LOVED!!!!
Afterwards we gathered and celebrated on the Island with the other competitors. I found athlete #49 and profusely thanked him for his generosity. He told me that he was unable to finish due to cramping and then he said “A year ago I was going through chemo, so I am totally good.”
I was told about the spirit of SwimRun…… but with his statement…. I understood the spirit of SwimRun.
I can’t explain it any other way than….. it felt like strangers were family. Even the most elite looking athletes helped the most novice ones. Everyone took care of one another out there. Athlete #49 saved our whole entire day.
The organization, communication, everything was incredible. I found the course easy to navigate. I found the support to be plenty. I found the camaraderie to be off the charts.
Charlie was the perfect partner. In 2002 we finished Ironman Lake placid less than a minute apart. But we didn’t know one another. We wouldn’t meet for 8 years and here we were racing together. Getting to stay with he and his wife was such icing on the cake.
In terms of equipment, I highly recommend the ROKA Swim Run suit. The right pocket is all you need, the internal pockets were small and stuff kept dropping. We both used the Orca swim run pull buoy which strapped to our legs. I had to hike mine up every now and then during runs so I didn’t feel it. I wore Ice Bug shoes and drilled holes in the bottom, no problem! I did wear socks and it was fine swimming in socks and shoes. It sure made getting through the rocky swim entrances and exits so much easier! I used TYR catalyst paddles and those were also fine.
I would recommend carrying an extra set of goggles!
Boston Swim Run was amazing. Click here for a great write up and pictures . I can’t wait to do this again. Michigan in September is a possibility, and I am hoping to make a return to Boston next year (I am at a conference for Casco Bay).
I have felt lost the past few years as I enter another stage in my 25 year multisport career. I loved the vibe, I loved the format, I loved everything about this whole experience. I am SOLD on it! I wasn’t sore or tired which teaches me that I can give more on the next one!
Thank you so much to the race directors, your families and everything you did to bring this to life. That was truly the best event I have ever done in my life!