From the moment I finished the 8th Annual Daiquiri Deck Tropical Splash Open Water 5K Swim in 2010, I started looking forward to the 9th annual race on Oct. 1, 2011. The scenic, homegrown race was one of the prettiest, friendliest athletic events I’ve ever participated in, and this year’s race didn’t disappoint.
I didn’t train quite as much for this year’s race, thanks to lots of unexpected summer travel, a bad head cold that kept me on the couch and out of the pool for a week and a wave of major deadlines the two weeks before the swim. (And a stone in my shoe, and the sun in my eyes … ).But in so many ways, I enjoyed this year’s swim even more than last year’s. Here’s why:
Last year, we woke up at 4 a.m. to make it from my parents’ home in New Port Richey, Fla., to the swim in Siesta Key, Fla., by 7:30 a.m. This year, we decided to make a mini-vacation out of the swim, renting a two-bedroom condo across the street from the beach and spending 48 hours enjoying all that Siesta Key has to offer. The night before the swim, we sat on a lovely Key West-style front porch and ate fresh seafood for dinner. The day after, we lounged on the beach. If you’re considering doing this swim: Stay in Siesta Key as long as you possibly can.
Last year, 5K was the longest open-water swim I’d done, and I went into the race not knowing what to expect, and without a solid plan. This year, with the confidence of a 4.4-mile Great Chesapeake Bay Swim finish under my goggles, I knew just how I wanted to approach this swim: I’d take the first of my two laps around the course easy, then turn up the heat and “race” the second lap if I felt good. And I did just that. The first half of the race, I swam to the rhythm of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” and simply appreciated the turquoise water I was gliding through and the lovely sunrise ahead of me. I sped up and switched to “Smoke on the Water” for the second lap (watch this video to the end, and see if you don’t swim to the tune of that song, too).
The confidence that I would, in fact, finish the race let me focus on how every stroke of the race felt, not on outcome-based goals. This meant I felt like I was doing OK during the best and most powerful times, but also during the challenging times. For example, the first 500 meters, I couldn’t see the buoys at all, thanks to the aforementioned sunrise (turns out the neon-yellow buoys were bright, but not brighter than the sun). Rather than freak out about this, I simply stopped to tread water every once in a while so I could remove my goggles, squint into the distance and get a clearer view of the next buoy. I didn’t freak out about the zig-zagging I did because of the poor visibility, just accepted the conditions as part of the swim and moved on.
Same deal in the last 500 meters or so, when my shoulders remembered they hadn’t properly trained for this and kind of crapped out on me. I simply thought: Hmm. A few more meters in the pool may have helped. Oh, well!
My main goal for the race was to accept whatever my finish time was without any harsh self-judgement—which made the fact that I finished in 1:35, just a few minutes slower than last year, for third in my age group all the sweeter. I’m not usually one to strike a finish-line pose, but on Saturday, I spontaneously threw my arms up into a victorious “V” as I approached the finish. It just felt that good.
After the race, Steve and I headed to the Daiquiri Deck, the event’s title sponsor, for a post-swim lunch—something we missed out on last year by heading home right after the race. Can I tell you how amazing this lunch was? We got nachos with crabmeat, lobster meat and shrimp, and a side of mahi bites—wonderful little bite-sized pieces of grilled fish caught fresh in the Gulf. Our waitress recommended a blend of three of the dozen daiquiri flavors the place offers, telling us it would taste like a popsickle. She was so totally right. Steve compared the flavor to a bunch of crushed-up Smarties, which seemed about right to me, too. If you go, get a combination of the electric lemonade, the green parrot and the grateful deck. Trust me.
And of course, everything I loved about the swim last year was still true this year. The Sarasota Y Masters run a well-organized event on a dime—just $30 for USMS members! Participants get a nice T-shirt, a medal (new this year) and a chance to win some really cool door prizes, including a wetsuit worth $400. I felt a strong sense of place throughout the race, from the local caterers like the Broken Egg to the turquoise-colored T-shirt and medal. I also felt a strong sense of community, with people aged 9 to 82 participating. Yes, 82.
And really, if you’re into open-water swimming, how can you beat swimming along what’s been repeatedly called the best beach in the country? The scenery makes it easy to understand why the event has grown every year, and why more than 400 people participated this year.
Some swimmers were disappointed by the lack of hardware for age-group finishers (last year’s awards ceremony took three hours, so organizers decided to skip age-group awards altogether this year). I personally didn’t mind, and the lack of a big ceremony meshed rather well with my goal of taking the focus off the finish time and place, and instead just appreciating the experience. But I get it, especially for the kids who participated, and hope the race organizers figure out a way to recognize those who wish to be recognized next year.
My only complaint? The sea lice struck again. They didn’t bug me during the race this year, but I’ve spent the past three days trying not to reach under my shirt and itch my belly in public. There’s not much organizers can do about that, though.
My only regret: That the open-water swim season is over, unless I head farther south for my next race!