by Andrew Malinak

This was the third year in a row I attended the Suzie Dods 24-hour Relay Extravaganza in Aquatic Park. The event is both a fun way to meet other swimmers and to meet yourself. Like any true marathon swim, the hardest part is where the beginning, middle, and end are all out of sight. The hardest parts, and also the most educational. This happens around 2:30am.

9 February 2014, 2:30am

It could be worse. This is the second time I’ve swam a 24-hour relay. Last time I had only two other people on my team, this time I have five, or is it four? Someone dropped out, I think, but I’m too tired and sick to notice right now. Thankfully Sylvia lent me her air mattress on which to nap in the handball court, but my incubating illness is making it hard to sleep. Not that there’s time for sleep, there’s barely enough time between swims to warm up and snack since my teammates are only swimming a few minutes at a time in the heavy rain that’s fallen since I arrived. Just stepping outside is hard, not to mention getting in over and over and over again. But here I, go once more.

It is 2:30am, and I’m beginning to feel some regret. I’m glad I’ve stayed well-fed today, but why did I have to have so much beer with all those waffles? I’m wholesale regretting my decision to be so active through the morning and afternoon. When I should have been sitting and quietly resting, I chose to spend all day going out to restaurants or meeting up with friends for drinks, and now I’m worn out with a sore throat. During a phase of my life where I’m constantly moving — where I have no home and everything I own is boxed, packed in the back of my car parked back at the Seattle airport — during this, as I step back out into the rain, I’m regretting the acute effects of being in constant motion. When will I learn to take it easy?

To lift my spirits, I leave my suit behind on the next swim. It is fun and different, but strangely it just makes me feel so much worse, as if being physically exposed magnifies my present emotional exposure. A recently-ended relationship has me all sorts of confused and vulnerable, and I’ve replaced it with an unhealthy relationship with a pool. At this point, I knew only one direction to go, forward, but I’m putting my season at risk by continuing like this.

8 February 2015, 2:30am

We’ve walked back down from the hotel after a quick nap. We’re headed for a late-night shift as support kayakers before getting back in the water. Our swim shifts were back to back and we helped each other out with the hard parts, waking up, getting back in the water, having a dry towel at hand afterwards. The whole day has been about meeting the other swimmers and enjoying new friendships.

So now at 2:30am, I’m groggy but smiling. I’d done another few loops without a suit, but this time it was almost fun. The rain would hold off for a few more hours, and the giant Ghirardelli sign bounced off the little ripples. I’d taken the day a little slower: fewer waffles, no beer, and a bit more sitting around and chatting. At home, along those lines, I learned to reign in my training and haven’t built up to unsustainably long workouts just yet. As a result, I was having fun, or as much fun as one has at these early hours.

In the build-up to my Summer of Bert, tonight’s temperature and distance are perfect training partners. And it is new and exciting to have an actual partner here to make it that much more fun. I’m finding out what it means to be part of a community.

31 January 2016, 2:30am

The light west wind feels stronger than actually it is. I put on a swim cap for warmth while I await my turn; I’m shivering as I step in. Me, shivering! Since the week after I crossed the Strait, every body of water I’ve stepped in has felt colder than it should. I’m not quite ready for the next season just yet. The idea of swimming in a circle for an hour isn’t on my list of good ideas, and from my first leg this morning I’ve swum slowly with little-to-no purpose other than to survive an hour, chatting idly with whatever ear would stay above water with me. How many more laps of head-up breaststroke until my hour is up?

Thankfully, I’m not swimming at 2:30am this year, our rotation has left us both on land between 1 and 5am. We’re heading upstairs to the day room for a nap. A few more hours smooshed uncomfortably into armchairs built for reading the morning paper. We’re tired. We’re grumpy. We are irritated at the little things like not being able to charge a cell phone and the uncomfortable chairs. Through some self-awareness and self-control we push the tensions aside, make do with what we’ve got, and take a nap knowing we’ll feel better when we awake. Sometimes it isn’t about the swimming or the big picture. Right now it is just about looking after each other and getting a little rest.

The 2:30am at the relay has had a Groundhog Day prescience, like a microcosm of the season ahead. I see the story of my swim seasons perfectly reflected. So what are the tea leaves saying about this season.