The Deer Creek open water marathon swim


Eric and I, post-race.

Friday night found me gathering things in a panic, tossing unproven food into containers, and stressing about my first marathon swim. The Deer Creek Open Water Marathon was holding it’s 6th event, and I was registered.

After making and remaking lists for the event, I finally fell asleep at about 11:30 PM.

I woke up without my alarm, Saturday, at about 5:45 AM. I suppose I was stressed out enough that I was sleeping pretty lightly. So instead of trying to sleep, I got up and peeled on my jammers (I’ve since received a few compliments on my bold fashion choice), and stumbled into the kitchen to see if breakfast would work out.

I ate one and a half english muffins, threw my gear into the truck and strapped down my kayak on the bed of my truck, then left.

I waited in line behind about 20 vehicles before I could enter the park. After a quick phone call to Eric Wright, who would be my kayak support, we synced up and met at the kayak put-in. I still had to run over and get my race packet, so I hurried over and got my race numbers (“20”) marked on my arms. Then I ran back to the boat ramp where we were starting and found Patrick and his mom, Patrice.

After a brief safety meeting, they started us off in waves. The 10-miler swimmers took off first. Then they let our wave go at about 8:30 AM. It didn’t take long for the group to separate from me (I like to think that I race with a long-term strategy), which I would never see again in this race (sometimes my strategies are a disaster.)


Me, out of the water, new medal for the medal hook in my office closet.

After swimming for a couple of minutes, I noticed that most everyone had their kayak support already in place, but I couldn’t see Eric. Not willing to stop or slow down (there was business to take care of), I kept going. About five minutes later, Eric found me and we got going.

It took about a mile for Eric and I to fine-tune our swimmer/kayaker relationship. We’ve run in relays and other races before, and I think we know each other pretty well, but this was a whole new experience. Eric and I had to decide where the best place was for him to be in relation to me. After a short conference, we decided that he’d be best just slightly behind me, since, when I breathe, that’s sort of the direction that I see.

About one mile into the swim, I knew something was off. Let me back up, just a bit.

For the previous two days, I hadn’t felt like myself. My breathing had been a bit labored with my asthma, and I’d had a cold or something that I just couldn’t shake. My energy level was quite low when we started the race, so I was aware that something was different, but I had hoped that I’d be ok.

And so, as I was saying, one mile into the swim, I bonked. My energy dropped and I started to feel sick. Eric was doing his best to keep me hydrated (he had me drinking about once every 15-20 minutes), but I was just feeling wrong. I tried eating some apple sauce and a banana-strawberry smoothie, but nothing was taking. Just before we hit the 5K turnaround, I threw up everything in my stomach. We were in super-shallow water and it was full of thick dirt, which I was taking a little of, into my mouth. It was at this point that Eric expressed his concern that I wasn’t swimming like he wanted me to. I left it up to Eric to pull me from the race if he became too concerned.

As an aside, when doing open water swimming, it’s important to have a buddy (I break this rule, sometimes, but I break this rule super-close to shore, and with a floating buoy behind me, which is tied to my waist.) In an

As soon as I vomited, I realized that I didn’t have what it would take to cover six miles, so I told Eric, “Good news. I’m only going halfway.” Eric then informed a race official on a boat, that I’d be switching to the 5K for this race and they relayed the information back to the finish base.


Patrick and I at the end of the race. Me: 3.1 miles. Patrick: 6.2. Wow!

With that pressure off, it became a matter of getting back to the 3.1 mile finish. I tried to feed, but threw up again, so I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep nutrients in my body. Eric and I discussed, shortly, the option of being picked up. But I knew that the race had short resources and I really didn’t want that kind of attention (lesson: Athletes are stupid and selfish.)

Eric kept giving me short math problems to work out, so he’d know if I got into real trouble. One of them, I still remember, was “What’s 3+4?” I worked out the problem, all by myself. “7”, I replied. “Ok”, said Eric. We kept on.

I asked Eric where we were. He said we had “just over a mile” to finish. I wasn’t really sure what I was capable of at this point, but I pressed on.

I finally saw the buoy that marked 1/2 mile left. Pretty sure I’d be able to finally get there, I spotted and moved toward it. But every time I spotted for it, I noticed that it wasn’t moving. It wouldn’t be until we got out of the water that I’d notice it, but the creek was moving in this section, against the progress of the swimmers. It was like a treadmill, so everything took a lot more work and time.

Then, things hit their worst. I wasn’t eating, because I was throwing up, my arms were burning, probably because my stroke was off and I wasn’t concentrating. It felt like a thick, plastic blanket was wrapped around me- and I wasn’t wearing a wetsuit, so that didn’t make sense. The water became slightly more than warm and I was miserable and the up/down motion of the slight waves coming in, didn’t help. Only two weeks previous to this, Patrick and I had pulled off a 4.5-mile swim in this same creek, using the same route- more evidence that Saturday would not be my day for a good swim.

I finally tractor-beamed myself into the finish buoy, touched it (rules, ya know) and that was the end of my first Deer Creek Open Water Marathon swim. I weakly walked up to where I saw Patrick’s wife, Camille, waiting for us to come in. She congratulated me and we sat there with the kids, watching them throw rocks into the water. It occurred to me that, after generations of kids throwing rocks, Deer Creek should be void of throwing projectiles, but that just shows you how much I know about geology. And kids.

One hour (about) later, Patrick crawled out of the creek and was given his medal and well-deserved congratulations from all of us (I mean- six miles!)

Eric, apparently, has a life outside of swimming, so he took off and went home, leaving me to wonder what he got out of this event. I mean, he got a shirt, but it was very generous of him to stick with me through two and three quarter hours of this. Thanks, Eric!

Monday morning quarterbacking:

Post-swim analysis:

– Went out a little too fast.
– Kayaker needs to be either parallel or slightly behind. When too far ahead, can’t see eyes or get good info.
– Video shows me twisting too much for air. Needs to be fixed.
– No more thumbs into water, first. Slice at slight downhill angle with fingers.
– Will counting strokes lesson the bordom and help me focus?
– Flip to back stroke to relieve stress and muscles?
– Need a more high-calorie food. Much less sugar.
– Need more food, the morning of.

Post swim pain: Right pectoral, close to armpit (felt this during swim, also)

Sun burn: Jammer line to hairline

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