The destination vacation race has become a very enjoyable experience over the last few years. Over a year ago, Tori’s friend Ali (who is currently going to Ross University Vet School on St. Kitts) mentioned an open water swim between the sister islands of Nevis and St. Kitts in the Caribbean. Like most people, I had no idea where St. Kitts was, so I looked it up. The Nevis to St. Kitts Cross-Channel Swim is a 2.5 mile swim, which crosses along the line where the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean currents meet. It is not an easy swim, even for an experienced swimmer like me. I was very excited, it’s been a few years since I only focused on a swim event, and I told Tori we should go in 2016.
I signed up for the race last August, and started to train in late December. I think the one thing all swimmers can agree on is there is very little enjoyment in spending hours in the pool during the week, building and racking up 15k-25k+ yards, leading up to an event like this. The nature of open water swimming is completely alien to many pool swimmers and I was one of them before getting into triathlon. There is a certain thrill of a point to point swim that simply cannot be experienced in any pool.
Leading up to an end of March swim, I had been splitting my time 60% swim, 30% run, 10%bike/strength for about 8-11hrs/wk. I started my training by swimming 3 times per week, then increased to 4-5 times in February and put a few 6000 threshold workouts under my belt to get ready. All of this would have been way more fun in the ocean, but the Baltimore Harbor and DC Potomac are not an option in the winter – if ever to be honest!
The day finally came to head to St. Kitts. I couldn’t wait to get in the warm Caribbean water for a shakeout swim. The Channel Swim was scheduled for Sunday March 27th and we arrived 5 days prior to enjoy and get acclimated to the weather. Since the weather in the Northeast has been so mild since the January Blizzard, it didn’t take much to get accustomed to a constant 80’s on the island.
The days leading up to the race we had been checking the weather because the forecast was calling for some morning showers and strong winds. As it turned out, the channel swim would not take place as a crossing this year. Strong currents and winds coming off of the Atlantic Ocean took over the channel and by Saturday evening the organizing staff made a change to the event turning it from a 2.5 mile channel crossing into safer nearshore 5k swim along the Nevis coast from Oualie Beach to the Four Season’s Resort. Although I was extremely disappointed that I wouldn’t get to cross the channel, I understood the decision the event director had to make. There was not only a great risk to us the swimmers, but also to the support kayakers who would be bobbing up and down in 4-6 feet swells with 15-20mph wind gusts. (Heard through the grapevine that a female Orca with her calf had been spotted in the channel a few days prior, as well as some fishermen catching a rather large Bull Shark, so maybe the channel wasn’t the best place to be spending Easter Sunday.)
Sunday morning 180 participants woke up bright and early. We left to take a water taxi over from St. Kitts around 6am for an 8am start. In the center console boat, the waves were deep, the winds were brutal and I was pretty thankful to not have to be sighting for shore in those conditions. The last 5k swim I did was in Lake Taupo, NZ in 1h07 on a smooth freshwater lake. I knew I wasn’t getting those ideal conditions along Nevis coast.
The race began around 8:16 Kittitian time (on time start by island standards I hear). I got to a speedy start trying to separate myself from the few swimmers who seemed to be pacing with me. Within the first 500yard, a 16 year old was way ahead and I could barely see him; he would finish 1st in 1h07 for 3.3 miles. For most of the race, I was pacing with 2 ladies (one of which was the previous year’s winner who lives on Nevis) and I figured I should keep them in sight. At the 1.5 mile mark, I was 100 yards ahead and pacing at 1:16/100yd, which I held until 2.5miles. The support kayaks were near and a drone was filming right above the water, both capturing the beautiful morning. My pace slowed to 1:20/100yd as the currents seemed to be getting stronger with every arm pull. I kept thinking back to my solo 6k pool WOs to help me push until the end. I was passed shortly after and started to focus on long powerful strokes to get me through the rest of the swim.
Coming in to the finish, we had been told to go around a red boat anchored near the finish area, which all swimmers would keep on their left. As I reached the finish line, they started moving a large red boat that I had been sighting, so I thought to myself that maybe that had decided to nix going around the boat and just have swimmer come to shore. Unfortunately, that was not the case, there were two red boats! The larger red boat I had been sighting was heading to the shore to unload all the athletes’ bags, while a smaller red boat was anchored further out. After being nearly on shore at the finish, I fought to swim back out 300 yards to the small red boat, which I swam around and came back into the beach. I’m uncertain if I lost any positions in that time, but I ended running out of the water in 5th place overall and 1st in the 20-29 age group. My 5k time was 1h15 and overall 3.3 mile was 1h21 (1:25/100yd).
I was very pleased to be done. I was so hungry, my mouth was so salty from the sea, and the post-race athletes’ food wasn’t ready yet. Tori was there at the finish smiling at me like an angel and my Cheez-It box was like eating heaven!! As we waited for our other friends to come in, we enjoyed the beach music, Cheez-It Sunshine Biscuits, beautiful views and cheered everyone coming into the finish. I would suggest the event to all looking for a spring break Caribbean vacation with a little open water/triathlon training fun. The oldest finisher was 77 years old I believe. I definitely want to be doing this 50 years from now, and hopefully still eating a few/a lot of Cheez-It’s as well.