Tuesday, June 14, 2016


The weekend of the Flowers Sea Swim is a somber occasion for me as well as a joyful one. Nothing gives me the feeling of adventure so strongly as these open-water swims, particularly the longer ones with smaller numbers of racers - but it was in June six years ago at the Flowers one-mile sea swim that Brent's sister died, and when I have the opportunity to swim the event now I do it in her honor and her memory. (Here was the story in the paper at the time.)

Saturday's swim, then, was fun but hot. I wore a new rashguard-style suit that gave me decent sun protection but mega-chafing, and decided to wear a regular suit for the longer swim yesterday. The other equipment problem involved goggles - it's an old scratched-up pair I keep here, for one thing, and they kept on fogging up annoyingly so that I couldn't really see at all how much longer I still had to go. In retrospect I should have replaced them on Sunday, but they're vision-correction goggles (I am both short-sighted and also, metaphysically speaking, the kind of person who can't recognize visual landmarks and never know whether I'm going in the right direction) and I didn't think I'd be able to find the right kind locally....

(When I told Brent my sighting woes Monday afternoon, he suggested that I should get a pair of these!)

I jogged over to the start for Monday's 5K (it's a 5K and 10K, the latter mostly with elite racers and the former with fast local swimmers) as I am doing well on my "100 runs in 100 days" plan and I knew I really wouldn't feel like running later. Call it :17 easy.

It was a beautiful morning - it's more fun for me doing a race like that early in the day before it gets too hot, and there was good cloud cover to protect us on the swim as well. This was the view south along the beach (in the opposite direction from where we'd swim) when I got there just before six:

There were quite a few junior elites there, fun to watch them getting ready and to observe the pre-race customs and rituals, and we went off in four groups - men's 10K, women's 10K, men's 5K, women's 5K. I knew I'd be bumping up against the announced 2.5hr cutoff for the 5K, but none of the marshals mentioned it and I was hopeful (justifiably so, it turned out) that they wouldn't enforce it - they didn't need to, really, given that the course cutoff for the 10K was 3.5hr, and it's much harder to organize these time cutoffs when you aren't sending all the racers off in a single group.

There were only one or two other swimmers even ballpark as slow as I was - I'm slow at the best of times, and I haven't been swimming a lot (I registered for the 5K in February as motivation to get back to serious swim training this spring, but after a good initial burst that included some lessons on technique my work schedule got the better of me and I only got back in the water a couple weeks ago). I figure I'm good for it - I regularly do a couple-hour run, and I have a lot of muscular strength from lifting - but that's not the same as doing major yardage day in and day out! So I knew in advance it would just be a matter of plugging away for a long time - best-case scenario was something like a 2:20 finish, but it would probably be slower. If you have never done a long swim like this - that's a LONG time in the water, especially in salt water!

My most pronounced woe on the first loop was that I really couldn't see exactly where I should be going. The buoys were far apart and I just don't have the knack for it. Also, goggles kept fogging up - I'd pop up my head and take 'em off and run my thumb around them to clear them, with on-course support asking if I was OK and me assuring them that I was but that I couldn't really see where I was going! One fellow said to me at the penultimate buoy on the outward loop something incomprehensible that I only realized on the second loop must have been "you can sight to the cabanas" (this was the course, which we swam clockwise - 2 loops for the 5K swimmers, 4 loops for the 10K, with a feeding station for elites just after the turn back along the shore - I liked seeing all the duct-taped cup-on-a-stick devices people had made!), but I had that unpleasant feeling of disorientation and even when the goggles were clear enough there was often something obscuring my view - random other buoys, other boats as well as course support vessels. There was no way you could get lost as such, but it was easy to swim on non-efficient lines - the other swimmer who finished just before me said her Garmin showed she'd swum at least an extra kilometer, and I am sure I did the same.

By the end of the first loop (roughly 1:20), my right lower back was very tight to the extent that it was troubling me, but I felt I was swimming solidly and didn't think about bailing (well, you always THINK about bailing on a multi-loop course, but I would not have actually done it). The second loop was harder. This time I had a better idea of the course, which was helpful, but my right hamstring started to bother me after a while and most of all - this was my only real complaint, the others are minor - I was growing increasingly queasy. A lot of salt water had gone into my mouth over the course of the first loop and I really was feeling pretty sick, to the point where I worried that I was going to start retching & a course marshal would tell me I had to stop! Few twinges towards the end of impending calf cramp but it was fine as long as I didn't kick hard - really the nausea was the main problem.

I got a good mood boost well into the first leg of the second loop when I saw a gorgeous sting ray beneath me, and it didn't seem that anyone was getting antsy about cutoffs, but it definitely took mental focus to keep on plugging away. Once I'd turned past the buoy at the far end of the course I knew it would be fine, and a paddleboarder escorted me to the finish. I came out with a huge smile on my face - I was clearly the last 5K finisher, but really there weren't many 10Kers left either! Stumbled back to my stuff (first and probably only time I will ever got to leave all my race stuff on a beach chair - the Grand Cayman Beach Suites were a hospitable race venue!) and rapidly realized that my stomach not stable - found a low wall to sit on and inconspicuously retched a bit into the sand.

One of the Canadian racers kindly went and fetched a lifeguard for me - he got me to drink an electrolyte drink and stayed with me for a few minutes until he was sure I was OK. Actually as soon as I emptied stomach and drank orange drink I felt immediately better - I wasn't overheated or overcooked like I was after the Mercuryman swim in January, just a bit oversalted (and even today I can still feel that my tongue is a little bit swollen and prickly from excess salt). Hung around for a bit to watch prizes given out, then hoofed it home feeling distinctly smug and satisfied (the distinct conviction one holds in the last stretch of a race for which one is considerably undertrained - "I am an idiot, why do I sign up for these things?" - having evaporated the moment I got out onto the beach). Won't know my finish time till results are posted online, but it was a mildly epic day!

It has been a sad year, too, for the Flowers family. Mrs. Eve Flowers died a few months ago of leukemia. It was particularly meaningful for me, then, to see that the Flowers family decided this year to dedicate all of the money raised by the race to a new fund at the Cayman Islands Cancer Society, the Eve Flowers Bone Marrow Donation Fund.

I am going to make a donation here to that fund, but the difficulty of finding a match for a mixed-race or mixed-ethnicity patient has been known to me for a long time. My dear friends Miguel and Felicia Sancho - his heritage is Puerto Rican and Costa Rican, hers is Finnish - have long sought a bone marrow donor for their son Sebastian, who suffers from CGD. Though they couldn't find a bone marrow match, they did ultimately get a good enough match for a cord blood stem cell transplant which is now underway. You can read about their journey here. My mind was very much on the Sancho family throughout the weekend - listen to this message from Sebastian's sister Lydia and think about whether you might be able to make a donation to the Eve Flowers fund or to the Children's Organ Transplant Association.

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