2012 Portland Bridge Swim

About a year ago a friend of mine told me about the 11 Mile Portland Bridge swim.  Her having a husband and me having a boyfriend who are always sprinting towards the next burly ultra sport decided it was our turn to flip the tables and do something burly, but in our element.  Cindy and I are both swimmers and love to be in the water. So 10 m onths ago 11 miles didn't sound so bad.

As time got closer to the swim in July 11 miles started to sound really far.  I've run a half marathon, but in running races you can always slow down your pace.  You can even walk or stop in a running race and pick right back up where you left off.  With swimming the current can be your best friend and you're worst enimy.  You can have the current against you so that every 3 strokes moves you forward, but regardless 11 miles of swimming would be the farthest and the longest amount of time that I've ever been in the water at one time.

Well, race day finally came around and I was a ball of nerves. With Andy as my kayak pacer I slowly (as always) eased into the warm 70+ degree water and swam a couple hundred meters to the frist bridge.  I think a gun went off or it might have just been someone yelling go, but then we started swimming. The frist 3 miles of swimming were hard.  My arms were hurting from the very beginning and I was hoping that eventually they would just warm up and stop hurting.  Getting use to spotting out in a river is different then out in the ocean and having rarely swam with a kayaker was a bit of a stressor as well.  Soon enough I started making my way upstream through Portland.

It may look like horride, cold, rainy, overcast Oregon weather, but it was actually quite warm in the water

I was swimming and swimming and swimming.  Then did a little more swimming.  Finally I got into a groove.  I moved ahead of Cindy and kept to the right side of the river.  The week before the race I had several dreams about not making it through the frist cut off point.  We had to make it to mile 6 with in 4 hours.  This was what pushed me to pick up my pace and tune a lot of the pain out and other distractions.  Andy would stop me every 20 to 30 minutes and make me eat or drink something.  It was here that he'd remind me what mile I was at and what time it was.  After swimming so long times, distances, speed, numbers, math don't always add up right and so I didn't believe him when he told me that I had plenty of time in regards to the frist cut off point.

Hydration is Key to doing any ultra sport.  The other photo is of me trying to figure out what to spot next.

Yes, I got very tired of looking at the murky brown-green water and take a break and look at the overcast grey sky.  Such uplifting and inspiring colors!

To my surprise I passed the 6 mile mark with an hour and a half to spare with cut off time.  By this point I had passed up a lot of the bridges going through Portland, but on the more northern side of Portland the bridges are spread out much further.  These parts made the swim seem a lot longer and time dragged on. Slowly and surely I kept moving forward and Cindy was always at least 100 meter behind me.

The only sunny part of the day was during this long long stretch that lasted forever.

The last bridge (from the finishline)

When we passed the 10.5 mile marker boat we could obviously see the last bridge.  For some reason I thought the finish line was on the left side of the river. Cindy was able to pass me in the last half mile and she was headed towards the right side of the river.  Andy, my kayaker, kept telling me to sprint and go because I was almost there.  This was quite confusing to me, because I could see a finishline, just the bridge and Cindy in front of me.  Being competitive I wanted to pass up Cindy, but after swimming 10.75 miles and not knowing where exactly the finishline was I wasn't about to sprint anything.  So I put what ever juice I had left in the tank into my arms and moved as fast as I could after Cindy.  The finishline was right around the frist pillar that held up the bridge.

When I finish made it to shore I was so exhausted and so disoriented that I didn't even want to move out of the water.  Eventually my pacer got me a massage chair and a massage therapist went to work on my arms and back.  After about a half an hour I was feeling much better.  Still in shock that I had finished 11 miles.

Olivia McCoy