Guest Series: Ned’s SCAR Swim Challenge – Part 8

Here’s Ned‘s report from the final leg of the SCAR Swim Challenge, the 10 km night swim in Theodore Roosevelt Lake:

I woke early at Apache Lake (ok, not 4:00 am like the previous days) and headed over for breakfast. It was open water heaven: four of us at a table with no room for all the plates! Darren and Greg befriended the swimmers with “extra” (a word I never encountered in this sport before…) pancakes and French toast.

Lea, Barb and I headed out on the Apache Trail: dirt road through fantastic countryside. We arrived in the old mining town of Globe in time for an early Mexican lunch and early check in to a converted schoolhouse B&B. A relaxing day … for a change.

We arrived on time for the swim briefing and milling. Since we were expected to arrive back near midnight it was time to say a few goodbyes – a great group of swimmers, kayakers and other volunteers. Dave Barra had the eye of the tiger look and I gave him the eye of the aged back.

Another boat trip to the start – closer that the previous days but still looked long to me. All the previous swims were shorter than advertised and I wondered if we might make them up in Roosevelt Lake. I decided not to go with the zinc/sun cream and settled on the “Barra strategy”. I would not feed every 30 minutes, as in all previous marathon swims. Into the kayak bag went just two feeds for the swim, which I predicted to take 2 hours 30 minutes.

Kent had arranged for a slug of new local swimmers – you know the type: young, slim and rested. I forced myself to focus on Barra and ignored the new talent. I got a great start as we headed through a marshy area around and island. I can’t image anyone cut a closer line as I “cleared” a few old sunken trees/branches. Barra pulled up on my right – but faced longer swim around.

Darkness was settling and I started to just focus on the kayaker. Looking up didn’t give me anything but a few light flashes. Next stop was past a rock headland. In Cork, we specialise in rocks so I was determined to cut the closest line. Bam, left hand into the cliff: YES, a perfect line!

Two and a half thousand right arm strokes in, I called for the first feed: 500 ml of High5, and it was down in 8 seconds. Barra wasn’t winning this in my feed times!

I looked ahead and it looked a really long way off – perhaps 3 days of twisting canyons dulled my straight line distance gauge. In the pitch black I started to lose my mental strength and was hoping for a quick appearance of the bridge then dam. It was not happening. Arms burning and body sore from the previous hard 7 days – it was getting ugly. I could see a swimmer perhaps 25 m behind me and imagined it was Barra.

Finally and eventually he passed under the bridge and the lights of the finish were in sight. Then we hit what could only be described as a bit of “gritty” water: slime, leaves, branched and who knows what else. I could hear Kent yell “75 yards” and I soon hit the finish. It was head up and yelled over to the boat: “please, somebody tell me that Dave Barra isn’t there?”

I had lived in New York as a student and love the accent, but not tonight. Dave replied – the sound of his voice put me into temporary shock – I don’t remember the words. Up on the boat and a huge congratulations to him and the others in front and Joe from Colorado had pipped us both.

I don’t think it was close and I don’t think any strategy would have taken Barra that evening: he was Rocky Balboa that night. There WILL be a next time!

With the event over – it was my turn to hit the beer cooler. Some stayed to party – but I was off soon and in bed by 1:00 am. Well done Kent and all for a massive event. Four marathons in 4 days with the last a night swim … so cool.

Guest Series: Ned’s SCAR Swim Challenge – Part 6

Here’s Ned‘s report from Day 2 of the SCAR Swim Challenge in Canyon Lake:

All the swimmers and kayakers (and kayaks) were transported upriver to a start location a few hundred metres from the dam (for the next lake up).  I was in a sleek speed boat with some world class marathon swimmers!  Towering cliffs, cactus and soaring buzzards – very cool, and this place is now in the top 10 locations I have EVER visited: Yosemite, Okavango Delta, Ngorongoro Crater, etc. The trip took a long time and I did wonder – are we really going to swim all this?

The boat transport required two trips so we hung out on a small beach for an hour or so. Again, I tread carefully when going to pee as any hiss and rattle may not be trouble with my old plumbing. As we started getting into our suits and putting sun block on (in my case – again all over zinc) a ripple of fear and revulsion spread through the crowd of nearly fifty.  It was threatening to knock Canyon Lake out of my top 10 and well down to bottom 10.  Greg O’Connor had forgotten his swim suit and was threatening to swim naked. Liz Fry looked ready to scramble up the cliff. I produced a spare set and basically saved the day. This kind of evened it out my “swim cred”  – as earlier I was the only one to lay on the ground to take a nap before the swim, providing a kind of jungle gym experience for a few hundred ants.

Again, we swam upriver to the buoys below the dam and went on “5, 4, 3, 2, 1”.  I held the lead (it is NOT a race) for a good 112.5 m before Gracie went steaming by. Twenty minutes or so later, I think, Sarah passed me with Dave Barra hot on her heels. I picked it up and stayed with them.  The pulled away and I was 1% cheering Dave for taking on the ladies and 99% trying to remind him, by telepathy, that it is NOT a race.

I stopped the 1% cheering when they vanished from sight around not one but two corners. The day was hot (what else) and any boat traffic resulted in echo waves. Despite the frantic waving of Cimarron, my kayker, I was half thinking to insist on my right-of-way as the passenger tourist steamer (fake steamer) entered my narrow channel. I eventually moved to the canyon wall.

Things improved as I found Dave two miles into the swim. It was a great finish – earlier than I thought. Call it a sharp right then a 500 m sprint into another buoy line in front of another dam with a cheering group of earlier finishers and volunteers. I climbed on (about 4th and first male home), congratulated Gracie and the others and joined the cheering section. Soon so many came in that we needed to off-load onto a transport boat and headed back in.

Cimarron brought her massage table and YES, I was first home! We again snacked and chatted in the sun and could see Mo Siegel coming in strong. At 60+, Mo is an inspiration and took no offense to his personal flock of circling buzzards…

That evening we moved to the Apache Lake “resort” by long, twisty dirt road … and went off the grid. Kent arranged a sightseeing boat and we saw the desert stars – MAGICAL.

Guest Series: Ned’s SCAR Swim Challenge – Part 4

Here is Part 4 of Ned‘s report from the SCAR Swim Challenge:

Up just before 4:00 am, which was frankly about my normal jet lag wake-up time. The house kitchen buzzed with toast slices, berries, porridge and anything else imaginable.  Gracie was downing coconut water (I have no idea)!

I suspect that we packed 25 litres of fluid between us with no two the same. Roger packed Pepsi with Maxim? I stayed with High5 plus 500 ml of another carbo-drink, water and a horrible chocolate recovery drink (thanks for the powder, Carol!). Half of mine were frozen solid as a way to battle the heat.

We left at 4:30 am and met the gang in the dark near the swim: magic market numbers, briefing and met the kayak volunteer. My kayak is Cimarron, one of the massage therapists and I reserved the first slot for Thursday and Friday. She headed off with my mesh bag of drinks, drugs and spare goggles!

I was ahead of Gracie for the first 45 minutes – ok, I was sitting in the front of the van taking us to the start and she was in the back. The start was a patch of desert where you checked for rattlesnakes before you ventured too far to pee.  Communal sun screening and nervous chat in the hot sun. I got nervous about the “water resistant for 80 minutes” stuff so instead used face zinc on my entire body.

Then we climbed down a cliff for 20 minutes (wearing shoes, togs, caps, goggles). Last year, Dave Barra fell and cracked two ribs – so we took it very seriously.

Another long wait at the bottom until the kayakers arrived (downstream) and organized by number. The swimmers headed upstream, maybe 500 m, to the bottom of a dam and went off (downstream) on “Go”.   My right upper arm was in considerable pain – and the worry was worse.  It was not a race; NOT A RACE.  Gracie and two other gals sprinted off and I got in a battle with four or five until we met the kayakers.

I pulled ahead of the pack and my arm felt better (related?).  The gap increased steadily over the next few miles.  Sun was beating down in my eyes and even when I found shade in the high-walled narrow (maybe 75 m wide), I could see the sun lighting up the water a few meters away on one side.  My first feed was a 90% frozen bottle of fluid, which was fun.

Then it all went bad another few miles along – clearly, the others did not get the message: NOT A RACE. Four caught me and two passed me – the arm started to hurt again. I chased for a few miles and it seems that they always had a better line hugging reeds or cliffs. Finally, I reeled them in (all but the three speedy ladies) and slammed my left hand into one of their kayaks in the process.  I then started to pull ahead again.  The pain in my arm vanished … the left hand was feeling proud!

Into the wide lake we met a strong headwind. I got my head down and tried to muscle it … it seemed to help and the gap behind me widened. The fresh water pulls your legs down and the shoulders burn with extra effort.

A couple of miles from the end, a female swimmer passed me and would not be caught. I took to coast hugging (a Cork advantage) to get the shortest line and Cimarron was cringing as I went over rocks and through dead tree branches.

The finish took me by a pontoon boat with the four female finishers and to another dam. It seems that the swim was just under 9 miles and my time was 3 hours and 20 minutes or so (with some current helping). Gracie broke 3 hours and Dave was 30 minutes faster this year with unbroken ribs!

They laid on a spread of fruit and drinks on for the swimmers and crew. Everyone had finished and there were smiles all around. I noticed that poor Heather, the other massage lady, was standing all alone by her table. I decided to help – like throwing the first coins in the busker’s guitar case – I helped as her first customer. She then had them queuing up: my good deed for the day.

Back to the house for a massive feed and mixing feeds again. I think we are all positive about the second 10 mile lake swim on Thursday and, yes, another 4:00 am wake-up. We now leave the house behind and stay is “quaint” places in the mountains. The fun never ends!