SwimRun is a new and young sport full of challenge and adventure. It’s complexity makes navigation especially difficult. The long course required an immense amount of work, focus and power delivery and grit to complete. Casco Bay residents were welcoming and showered us with encouragement, porches and backyard lawns filled with small family cheers. The scenery and changing trek through nature was absolutely beautiful, natural and invigorating.… The trail running is so varied and scenic, it truly fills the heart with warm memories glazed with a rainbow of color. It is harder than it looks but well worth the trip.
2021 Odyssey Swim Run at Casco Bay, Portland Maine
What is it?
Guys, take a serious look at this. A SwimRun across 9 islands (and 3 coves), at Casco Bay, Portland Maine. There is a long & short course. As described, the Long Course enumerates 12 runs & 11 swims. All Long Course participants must run with a partner. The longest swim is 966 meters < 0.75miles. The longest run is ~4m, typically 1.5-2m. The trek covers approximately 21 miles total (swim ~4, run the rest)
Organizers report average seasonal water temperature, 60°F., air ambient 70°F. 2021 racers would take the plunge into 63°F waters and run with ambient at 78°F.
The race accessory policy is liberal. Most participants bring hand paddles and a pull buoy (to offset heavy trail shoe water drag). You must however carry on body and finish with all accessories you choose to use. While unpopular, even fins are allowed. Long course teams must run with a belt and tow rope, tether line required weather dependent.
Our race plan was simple. We would run zone 2 heart rate (HR) as long as possible, by all means to maintain our energy throughout the event. We decided this was an endurance test. Neither of us had ever seen, never mind competed in, a SwimRun before. This event would require an immense amount of work, focus and power delivery and grit to complete, in its entirety, to the finish, to its end.
Pre Race Fueling
I ate a prime ribeye steak, fries and vegetables 36 hrs before start. Protein in advance. 18 hrs before I ate a burger with salty french fries. Some more protein and some starch. 12 hours before start I carbed up with a plate of pasta and broccoli with pesto sauce and garlic bread. Ready to go!
We got up at 4am and freshened up. I ate a half of a peanut butter and jelly bagel sandwich and a blueberry yogurt. We packed and put on our neoprene wetsuits, half unzipped, off of our shoulders. Next we had to drive to the ferry terminal 5am to board by 5:45am. We waited on Peaks Island for the 6:45am start.
I mapped our personal trek
There were approximately 400 participants; we estimate 160 for the short and 240 for the long course. While short course participants could compete as individuals, most were paired up in teams of two as was the requirement for all long course participants.
RUN 1 of 13 : Peaks Island (PI)
2.27 mi, 72’ elevation
We began with modest expectations and unlike most competitive starts we intentionally fell to the back of the crowd, as was coincident with our energy saving race plan. Immediately before start the race director announced that a wooden over bog bridge was broken in pieces and we should traverse with care to avoid injury in waist deep water. It turned out to be the largest race course traffic jam and already at the back of the pack we easily lost 15 minutes at the Seashore Ave Bog bottleneck.
SWIM 1 of 12 : to Spicers Cove, Cushing Island
Weather conditions were favorable for swimming. It was overcast for the greater part of the morning and wind was at a minimum. Water temp was about a cool 63 degree Fahrenheit. Cool by Long Island standards but adequate for race day. We chose not to be tethered. In the water however, we quickly learned it would be extremely difficult to keep track of your own race partner, especially since all (long course) bibs and race caps were the same color. I quickly realized our swim pace would turn out to be a handicap as the few competitors who even discovered this sport we’re extremely swim competent and probably decades experienced. The race was a full crowd of skill advanced extreme swimmers.
RUN 2 of 13 : Cushing Island
2.05 mi, 137’ elevation
Heavily forested Cushing Island introduced us to Casco Bay Island elevation gain. We immediately took to task and ran uphill out of the water, up a fairly steep incline. We were greeted by the abandoned 1898 Fort Levett, now overgrown by the native fauna. Unfortunately, shortly after water exit we met our first fuel station. It was void of water. A disappointment nonetheless due to an early developed thirst.
SWIM 2 of 12 : to Little Beach, House Island
Still early, waters remained calm as we stroked across to house island. Distance was reasonable and landing was fair, upon a lightly bumpy kelp blanketed beach.
RUN 3 of 13 : across House Island
0.63 mi, 30’ elevation
We ran around relative flat House Island, by its military fortifications which were later in the 19th century an immigrant processing site for US entry.
SWIM 3 of 12 : to Little Diamond Island
The swim over to Little Diamond Island, seemed to stretch out a bit, as I sited the old red casino dock. It’s likely culprit a sideway current. We exited the water to work nicely packed fuel station. Comfortable with our pace and successes we were prepared to eat. Unfortunately, we were greeted with a five minute warning to complete the run across the island to make the first cut off point. Our zone 2 race plan was over and we were now going to chase time.
RUN 4 & 5 of 13 and Swim 4 of 12 : Little and Great Diamond Islands
2.24 mi, 114’ elevation
So in retrospect, the Run 1 15 minute loss at the Seashore Ave Bog bottleneck already came back to haunt us. It was just over 2 hours into the race and we had to deploy a rush backup plan and speed up. We turned up the heat (literally, remember we are running with a wetsuit on) and put out hilly 8s and 9s. We struck a couple matches and made the cut off. Run 4 and 5 are merged because low tide left us a foot of water. We were able to run through what should’ve been swim 4.
SWIM 5 of 12 : to Cow Island
A short swim with broad side current called for a sideway swim to coordinate a proper Island landing. It was well executed and the cool ocean waters were more than welcome for a necessary core cooling.
RUN 6 of 13 : Cow Island
0.55 mi, 25’ elevation
A relatively uneventful run. Time to enjoy the great scenic surroundings.
SWIM 6 of 12 : to Long Island
Still cloudy, we hit the waters without sighting our destination banner. It seemed an easy but lazy decision to follow two swim pairs traveling north word into the water. Some costly 15 minutes later we realized we were swimming sideways from our destination. We had to turn hard right and covered over a mile of water for what should’ve been just a third. Another precious 15 minutes lost to error
RUN 7 of 13 : Long Island
0.93, 69’ elevation
Glad to hit land, we proceeded with vigor. We delivery pace hastily at under 10 mpm. Some five minutes off course a nice elderly couple in a golf cart called out to us, “Are you in that race?… You have to go the other way!“ Once again we burned 10+ minutes in haste.
SWIM 7 of 12 : to Vail Island
We struggled to identify the destination banner. With some level of comfort we concluded the whereabouts of our destination. There were several swim pairs approaching the beach a short ways across on Vail Island. The waters were becoming a little more aggressive but still fair on Long Island standards. We hit the waters and swam with focus.
RUN 8 of 13 : Vail Island
0.58, 45’ elevation
Vail Island is a small island surrounded by large irregularly shaped rocks. The race director told us in advance to traverse the stones carefully and not to wade into the poison ivy infested grasses. It was a challenging and technical speed walk or gallup across the jagged edges. We felt very accomplished as we made it around and enjoyed panoramic views.
SWIM 7.2 of 12 : to Andrew’s Beach, Long Island (LI)
No banner. We had no choice but to swim across back to Long Island to the closest beach point. Only there we had to determine which direction to go for a short run. The waters or mildly choppy.
RUN 8.2 of 13 : Andrew’s Beach, LI
0.18 mi, 26’ elevation
27.2 and run 8.2 aren’t listed as individual segments because they are short. Fortunately we found our way to Shark Cove.
SWIM 8 of 12 : across Shark Cove, LI
We were about five hours into the race now approaching 12 noon. We clearly saw the banner across the cove and proceeded with our swim. They must’ve been a current against us because for sure the destination landing point seemed to drift away as we approached it.
RUN 9 of 13 : to Eastern Ave, LI
1.74 mi, 148’ elevation
Once again we were welcomed by a full assortment of sandwiches, fluids and other energy gels. Preparing to celebrate a successful swim we were once again greeted by a race organizer telling us we had just 15 minutes to get across the island. Once again we had to race against time. Vexed with the added stress, we pushed forward. We were tiring with the hours of work behind us, still we needed to makeup time and get to the next checkpoint. It was a long one and three-quarter mile trek but with a minute to spare I pushed hard to make the checkpoint. With seconds to spare a hesitant race organizer accepted our teams arrival time although my partner had arrived some 30 to 40 seconds after.
SWIM 9 of 12 : to Little Chebeague Island
Our team along with three or four other teams celebrated our success and together hit the waters for a half a mile swim to Little Chebeague Island. Waters were just a little more choppy but still reasonable. The half mile felt more like 3/4 as the endpoints continue to stretch away.
RUN 10 of 13 : Little Chebeague Island
0.64 mi, 58’ elevation
We started to run into the grassy trail. Yellow tag marked trails and still once again someone shout out at us and told us we were going the wrong way. We had to do an about face and find the trail once again. Another five minute loss of time but perhaps no true penalty since there would be no more cut off‘s. This course along the island edge was few on tall trees, plentiful on scalped bushes, thence high on sun exposure - boo!
SWIM 10 of 12 : to Great Chebeague Island (GCI)
We were greeted at the waters edge by an islander who told us to be extra careful of a strong side current and swim accordingly. We did so. We tethered up to keep ourselves together. We executed swim with tether well, so long as we maintained tandem alignment.
RUN 11 of 13 : to Belvin Park, GCI
5.2 mi, 421’ elevation
We originally thought this segment was where we could u load stored excess energy. It was quite the contrary. Chasing time for the last two or three hours left us short. We labored through the run and what’s worse it turned out to be 5 1/4 miles when we expected just four.
SWIM 11 of 12 : to Bennett’s Cove Beach, GCI
Extremely hot, we welcomed the cold waters once again. We unfortunately expected a short 400 m run but course changes left us 600 m to traverse. Only more was the feeling that we were swimming toward a moving end point, Watching it go further and further away as we approached.
RUN 12 of 13 : to N. Jenks Landing, GCI
So now that we caught the moving water exit, the beach run was welcome. it was technically where large and small pebbles abound.
SWIM 12 of 12 : to Waldos Point, GCI
Once again we tethered up and implemented a tandem swim. I lead, Wayne was in tow. I actually felt pretty good in the cool waters and thought we executed well. I still could deliver my strokes evenly with power.
RUN 13 of 13 : to Chebeague Island Boat Yard
Our final run segment was over the sand with mixed rock terrain. In the spirit of victory we turned up our speed and rushed past several race teams. We were greeted at the finish line by race staff and spectators. Eureka! We completed the most epic adventure!
We passed dozens of mixed architectural homes. Many of which showered us with encouragement, porches and backyard lawns filled with small family cheers. The scenery and changing trek through nature was absolutely beautiful, natural and invigorating.… The trail running is so varied and scenic, it truly fills the heart with warm memories glazed with a rainbow of color.
I wore ASICS Fujibuco Pro trails shoes, no socks. While they came to task, next time I either wear socks or bandage toe tops and the backs of my heel to avert skin damage and chafing.
While running my Orca pull buoy frequently slipped downward and chafed the side of my left knee.
While swimming my neck became chafed at the top of my wetsuit.
Apply generous amounts of sunblock to my neck and face to avoid sunburn. Wear either compression socks or similar to ameliorate foot chafing. Replace one of two elastic pull buoy straps with a fixed cord to secure on wet suit, above knee.
SwimRun is a new sport full of challenge and adventure. It’s complexity makes navigation especially difficult. Study the course in advance and pay great attention to trail markers, as few as they might be. Worse are potential course corrections and their resulting work and time penalties.