A little more than a week ago Rachel Horos from our sales team, swam in a 36 mile down-river swim ultra-marathon. This race, The Extreme North Dakota Watersports Endurance Test (END-WET), is the longest swim race in North America. Put THAT on your summer bucket- list! Some might say she’s crazy for wanting to do such, but we think she’s absolutely sublime.
Out of 33 people competing in the race, Rachel finished an amazing 11th place. Rachel’s personal goal was to finish under 12 hours, but ended up beating her goal, finishing in 11 hours, 47 minutes!
Here’s what Rachel had to say about her not so mainstream experience. Pun intended.
What made you want to do a race like this?
I have always been a swimmer at heart and I love participating in races of all kinds. I started running in 5ks and 10ks, then segued to sprint triathlons, which I absolutely loved! However, I seemed to have a streak of bad luck with getting injured, and have been battling feet injuries for the last five years. I finally had to give up running (temporarily), and began competing in long distance open water swims. I did a couple 5ks and 10ks around Michigan and really enjoyed them. I thought the 10k distance would be my biggest feat (it would take me 3 hours and seemed endless), until I started researching other swim races in the US. I came across this one in North Dakota (END-WET) and figured that if I was going to spend money to fly somewhere for a race, it may as well be the longest open water race in North America.
What was your training routine like?
I began training in January. I woke up at 5am every morning (in the freezing and dark Michigan winter) to lift weights, do yoga, and/or swim. I spent four months alternating my workouts, swimming four days per week, yoga and weights two to three days per week, then the last two months of my training I only swam, working out just four days a week at higher intensities and longer distances. Each week I would do one long swim, either in the pool (so boring!), or in local lakes once the weather got warmer. My long swims would range from 3-5 hours each week.
What was going through your head race day morning?
I was so nervous. We had to move the start time up an hour because the current was so slow, so I was up at 4:00am trying to eat breakfast (cold leftover pizza in the hotel room, an energy drink to give me some caffeine, and Cliff bars.Yum), and worried that the race would take me 13+ hours due to the slow current. Once arriving to the starting line everyone was putting on sunscreen, and hoping it would last for 12 hours. There were only two port-a-potties for all 33 racers plus their kayakers! I was still nervous through all the preparations and waiting to get in the water, but as soon as we got the kayaks in the river and I was walking in, I was ready. I was eager to get started. I kept thinking, “Don’t go out too fast. Stick to a steady pace. No racing until mile 30.” (Yeah right, by mile 30 there was no way I could add any speed to my stroke).
The whistle blew, we were off, and all my nerves disappeared. It was just me and the sound of rushing water in my ears. For 12 hours.
Were there any points where you were like “heck no, this is crazy”? What kept you from quitting?
There were a lot of times in my training when I just didn’t feel like swimming or working out. A back injury halfway through my training set me back two weeks and I was thinking I might not be able to keep going. I was also still battling my feet problems and I wasn’t sure if they would be able to handle kicking for such a long distance (though I drag my feet way more than I actually kick).
During the race there was never a moment when I wanted to quit; I was so set on finishing no matter what. But I was worried I was getting hypothermia and kept wondering if I did have it, would I be aware enough to stop? However, there were no places to stop in the race! I would have had to swim to shore, sit in the freezing wind, with no clothes or towel, and wait for a boat to come pick me up. I realized if I didn’t already have it, I would definitely get hypothermia if I did that.
I also had overworked my right shoulder due to over-sighting, and with 19 miles left to go I was in excruciating pain. I had to drag my arm in the water for a couple of miles because it was too painful to lift it out. Finally I decided it wasn’t broken, I hadn’t torn anything, and I wasn’t going to quit, so I just pushed through. I definitely felt the pain for a couple weeks after, but it’s 100% back to normal now, three weeks later.
How did it feel to be done?
Amazing. And cold. I was overwhelmed with love and gratitude toward my husband, who gave up so much of his free time to spend the weekend in North Dakota with me, to kayak beside me for nearly 12 hours, in the wind and cold, to encourage and support me. He was so bored just sitting there for so long, but I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else in the kayak but him. He made the most painful parts of the race bearable, pushing me to achieve the goal I had set out on.
Getting out of the water was difficult, as you immediately sank into mud up to your knees! There was a helper at the finish to pull you out, and then it was like Bambi learning how to walk – I couldn’t walk straight and was toppling over with each step. It’s weird standing up after being horizontal and weightless for so long!
Would you do it again?
Haha this is a good question. As soon as it was over, I knew I never wanted to do it again. It was the hardest and most painful thing I have ever done. The training took over my life; no going out for happy hour drinks, no staying up past 10pm, no Saturday adventures with friends because I had to do a 5 hour swim, and then I’d be too tired to do anything else. The race was cold, painful, and miserable, and then I had to recover from it once it was over. So no, I did not want to do it again.
But now, three weeks later, I’m already forgetting the pain of it and remembering the rush and excitement. Even looking back on the training makes me realize I was working hard for something I really wanted. I’m one of only 50 people who have ever raced this distance before, and that is pretty cool. It makes me want to do it again just to prove to myself that I can. Maybe I won’t do that race again, but I will probably do something like it again. Or maybe I’ll try a different kind of endurance race (half of full Ironman maybe? In the distant future?).
I was shivering and my teeth were chattering more than they ever have before. People were wrapping towels around me, getting me Gatorade, helping wash the mud off. I was delirious, emotional, in pain, and freezing. But it was all worth it. It felt amazing to have accomplished something so great, and something I had worked so hard for.