The race location is extraordinary. I had been to Orcas Island once before so I was expecting the beauty but this trip was extremely warm and sunny. We arrived early and rented a house on the water, enjoying the beach, the fall sunshine, and glassy water. The race was held at the Rosario Resort. Built in 1905, the historical architecture and the picturesque waterfront local is just the start of the beautiful scenery. The race was based at the resort, which provided some comforts like bathrooms, ample parking, and expansive lawns for the start and finish of the race. The majority of the course took us winding through Moran State Park, an enchanted forest with clear mountain lakes. Even though this was a large event, it felt so low key and friendly.
THE AUTHOR: Swimming has been a long-time passion for me. I am no stranger to traditional pool swim meets, having grown up swimming for clubs, my high school, and as a lifeguard. The nerves, the chlorine, the waiting to jump off the blocks and swim lane by lane with fellow athletes, I love it all. However, I mostly love the actually swimming. Team workouts, the quiet inner contemplation that I seem to only find when underwater, and only recently sharing that experience with my partner and husband Josh. I have the pandemic to thank for introducing me to open water swimming, something I think many swimmers embraced to preserve our time in the water. The wonderful thing is, that when pools reopened again, I still craved open water workouts and competition. I also opened up to the idea of social media and joined a virtual team sponsored by Blue 70, through the team I started exploring more types of swimming competition.
This crazy thing that is a SwimRun race I knew nothing about. Reading a compelling article in outside magazine, I tripped over online, was my first introduction to this new sport, “The Best Thing About SwimRun? It’s Not About the Bike”. The history of how the sport started I found hilarious and so adventurous. From a friendly bet in a bar to the more organized events happening. Currently the sport is gaining a following, and you can count me in. I was drawn to a less commercial and more environmental outdoor focused experience. The sport seemed to emphasize experiencing nature as it is (no red carpets here) with strict penalties for littering. Additionally, I loved the idea of a partner race, my experiences swimming though on a team were always individual experiences. Working together with a partner seemed like a great way to be safe, stay engaged, and really enjoy the event. So, I could not think of anyone better to do that with then my triathlete husband. He is a strong runner and a pretty decent swimmer, so I hoped he could help get me through those running legs of the race. That was the idea behind “The Tortious and the Hare”, I would lead us in the water, and he would guide us on the trail.
I spent probably 5 months reading and trying to figure out how I was going to swim in shoes, and then how I was going to run in a wetsuit. I stumbled on several really great resources, for anyone else that gets inspired to try their own SwimRun adventure. The Low Tide Boyz maintain a great podcast and website that I learned a lot from, and SwimRun Labs have some free training plans which I used to prepare. I also had great support from my Master’s Coach and fellow swimmers from Bluewave Aquatics.
THE RACE: The race location is extraordinary. I had been to Orcas Island once before so I was expecting the beauty but this trip was extremely warm and sunny. We arrived early and rented a house on the water, enjoying the beach, the fall sunshine, and glassy water. The race was held at the Rosario Resort. Built in 1905, the historical architecture and the picturesque waterfront local is just the start of the beautiful scenery. The race was based at the resort, which provided some comforts like bathrooms, ample parking, and expansive lawns for the start and finish of the race. The majority of the course took us winding through Moran State Park, an enchanted forest with clear mountain lakes. Even though this was a large event, it felt so low key and friendly.
Race morning the weather turned cooler and a light mist or drizzle was coming down. I was expecting to overheat in my wetsuit so was very comfortable with the cooler wetter weather and only right at the start was the rain heavy enough to be bothersome. We held to the back of the pack for the start with a strategy to just enjoy our time together and a preference to pass other people rather than be passed ourselves. I had decided to run up the hills and fast walk the downhills as much as possible to save my knees. We worked our way to the middle of the pack in those first few hills. As we returned to the marina we passed the after race pizza truck smelling the beginnings of what was to come, and Josh called to them “I am only doing this for the all you can eat pizza” and the pizza guys, all smiles, responded that they would be ready for him after the race.
The first swim (the only leg in the ocean and my first saltwater swim ever), we were still pretty bunched up. We didn’t plan to tether together, but after that first swim and trying to stay together it was obvious using a tether would really make the swim legs easier. We swam over LOTs of jelly fish (EEK!) but they must have been friendly because neither of us felt any stings. I didn’t notice the water temperature at all so I think I was pretty warm and full of adrenaline.
We exited that first short swim and all our meticulously organized gear had migrated. In hindsight we probably should have practiced transitioning, but we didn’t so it was a lot of fumbling to put things back away. The biggest hill of the race was ahead and we attacked it with enthusiasm, but at a certain grade everyone was more hiking then running up. We continued to pass groups and solos gaining confidence as we went.
The second swim in Cascade Lake was shallow and teams were starting to spread out a little more so there was less navigating around and between other groups. This was another short swim and went so much smoother because we tethered together and I did not have to wonder if my partner was behind me. Scrambling out of the water on some wet rocks we helped each other again regroup before starting the next run leg and this time things went a little bit smoother. Out of the water we ran around the south end of the lake heading toward the longest swim leg of the race. The trail was narrow and “technical” with lots of roots and rocks. We were still feeling strong and doing more passing then being passed. I was only just starting to realize the mistake I made having both paddles on a string at my back. I was probably the noisiest person in the woods with them clapping together. Needless to say we did not see any wildlife other than fish.
At the start of the third swim, there was an aid station. I was still feeling good, and did not think I needed to stop for water, but moments later, once I was in the water for the long swim I was so thirsty and kicking myself. The lake was beautiful, water was smooth, it may have been raining, but I could not tell. I saw some fish and the fog in the trees was magical. There was a large inflated buoy marking the exit, so navigation and sighting were simple, just swim straight. Getting out, we were both excited because our kids were spectating on the other side of the lake and we could see the park now as we ran. Run four was the shortest real run leg, and ended on the northwest bank of Cascade Lake.
This was the point in the race I was still pretty nervous about. The course had one “small” cliff jump into the water. I was undecided about jumping until I was there. I don’t really like heights so I didn’t stop to contemplate it, and just followed my partner into the water. I was so hurried and worried about losing my googles I didn’t exhale and got a load of lake water up my nose. Sputtering and choking we tethered again and swam the short 500M to the other side of the lake to our smiling cheering kids and family. I rented the picnic shelter in the beach public park for the day, it was a happy accident that the swim exit was right in front of the shelter. So they had a great view of the race happening around the lake, as well as a nice protected place to hang out. We stopped at the aid station to fill water bottles and drink a little, I should have stopped longer to drain my bottle, but was anxious to keep moving, so ran the next leg with my collapsible water bottle in my hand trying to sip it down, unable to really drink and breath.
Run five was the longest run of the day, climbing 3.25 miles and we traded off with a few teams all the way sometimes leading and sometimes following. Everyone was jovial and making good hearted comments. That was true of most of the competitors. In between heavy breathing jokes were told, encouragement was given, and comradery was shared. It made the experience fun for both of us. We made it to the third aid station, and I took the remainder of my water stowing the bottle away for the coming swim leg. Here is where I should have taken some fuel in hindsight, but did not still feeling full of energy.
The next swim in mountain lake included clambering over a tiny rocky island, which was good because here I did notice the colder water, and it took a lot of energy to warm up and get across. Teams were pretty spread out at this point, so it felt like we had the lake to ourselves as we swam across, the tether keeping us together and connected. At the exit we had our routine down and packed up our gear to start the return run back to Cascade Lake, and I was starting to feel tired legs. The cold lake water and the decent both taking more energy.
This run felt like the turning point as we were now heading back to the finish, another 2.9 miles. This was the hardest leg for me, and somewhere along the trail I had to stop and fuel as my legs felt like they might give out. I don’t think I could have kept going without my husband Josh there. He talked me through the whole thing and eased me back on course. He also had his head up and kept me from missing several trail markers as we made the trip back. The down hills were brutal at this point on my knees. We befriended a woman as we ran, and learned that while Josh had been given a solo jersey by mistake, she had been given a team jersey as a solo racer. We joked about swapping bibs at the end of the race. She ran with us for what seemed like a long time, but then did pull ahead and we wished her well.
The last aid station before the final swim leg, we stopped, and drank our fill this time. Our swim started a bit rocky with multiple stops to adjust, and clear foggy goggles. Josh asked if he should lead, and that was the push I needed to say no I was fine and dig in for the last swim. My competitive self would not give up the lead yet! We passed several groups in the final crossing of Cascade Lake, and according to my husband we powered across. Much of the last swim and the final run legs were a blur for me to just keep moving.
The last run was the steepest decline back down the hill we had clambered up earlier in the day, so we were just keeping our legs under us. I did get a second wind and felt good on the final run leg. We were passed by a couple teams right at the end, but I had no disappointment because I was just too happy and proud, we were finishing our own race. Josh and I did not bicker or argue as I had feared might happen, we supported each other every step of the way. Our fellow Blue 70 team members, who we had traded places with a few times, flew by for a great finish. I did what I could to sprint for the finish line and then not fall over removing my chip. We congratulated those around us at the finish and basked in the post-race heady feeling of accomplishment. We found the woman we had met on the course and traded jerseys. Then, as promised, we ate our fill of amazing wood fired pizza and marveled at what we had just done with the other athletes. It was a fantastic experience that I hope to repeat next year.