When Kent Nicholas signed up for Swim the Suck last year, it was because the event had everything he was looking for: a long swim distance, a unique location that he'd never seen, a diverse field of swimmers, and social events that put the event over the top.
Nicholas has had plenty of experience with long distance swimming—the English Channel and the Catalina Channel swims are just two of the events on his resume—so when he arrives in Chattanooga this October for the Swim the Suck, he'll be bringing more than his fair share of personal experience from competing.
He'll also be viewing the event through the lens of a current race director. Nicholas’ event, the Arizona SCAR Swim Challenge, is one of the Top 100 Open Water Swims in the country. And his assessment of the Swim the Suck is nothing short of total admiration: “It’s one of the best events in the country—it sells out quickly because it is a fantastic experience from top to bottom,” he says. “I see what Karah has done and would like to mimic what she has accomplished” at SCAR.
Nicholas enjoys the planning and directing involved with operating a race, because it’s a different opportunity to interact with swimmers other than as a co-competitor. He’s been swimming since he was a kid, but really got hooked on marathon distances after swimming from Huntington Beach to Seal Beach in 1997—a nine mile stretch of choppy ocean along the coast of Southern California. He also completed several marathons in the 90s with his wife Candace, and he found that running really helped his swimming: “I had to break through some serious mental and physical barriers. For one, Candace was faster than me and absolutely mentally stronger.” The realization was mentally humbling and good training for swimming.
What kept Nicholas coming back after that first long distance swim was the adventure aspect of such outings, as well as the exploratory aspect. He compares himself to a wide-eyed kid and says he’s enthusiastic about long swims, whatever the distance and regardless of conditions: “If it’s choppy and bumpy and raining—I embrace it. When I feel sore, I think how I may adjust my technique to compensate. Even when I got stung by a jelly fish, I figured I was going to get stung at some point anyway so just log that experience.”
Consistency is key for Nicholas. He calendars his training time and commits to 5-6 masters swim workouts per week. He trusts his coaches and never criticizes or second guesses what he’s doing during a workout. For his major channel swims, he adds two personal training sessions at the gym—not necessarily weights, but more core training and speed work. He’ll also throw in several lake or ocean training swims to fine tune his nutritional needs during a swim.
Nicholas prefers the point-to-point style swims as a competitor, and on this front, the Swim the Suck delivers. “It’s more work for the race director but well worth the effort,” he says, "because swimmers tend to enjoy such courses much more." His Marathon Swimmers post from last September regarding the Swim the Suck sums it up best: “Next to MIMS (Manhattan Island Marathon Swim), I cannot think of an open water swim in the US that has a decent distance, prides itself on a good time, and is at capacity within 30 minutes of open registration. Karah Nazor is doing something very right out in Tennessee.”
Nicholas often travels with his family, and Chattanooga has plenty to offer all of them. The city is family friendly, and the Swim the Suck attracts interesting people from all over. Last year, Nicholas and his wife Candace were fortunate to experience some of Chattanooga's most charming features: they walked for hours on end along the waterfront, admiring the Walnut Street Bridge, the public art that is scattered throughout the city, the unique restaurants, the Hunter Museum, and they even made it up to Point Park on Lookout Mountain. “I’m bringing my kids back to Chattanooga because of all the Civil War history and exciting family adventures we can share,” he says.
"I haven’t swam in many rivers where the banks and surrounding hills are covered in such a lush green landscape. The finishing party was also so well done. Rather than a mass of nameless faceless competitors grabbing stale 1/2 bagels and a banana, it was a large group of friends that accomplished a long swim together eating Mexican food and drinking keg beer from a local brewery. There is a big difference between a hyper competitive, “I’m going to beat you” atmosphere and the event that really brings people together. I enjoyed that about Swim the Suck—I met some people I’m sure I’ll swim with in the future."
And perhaps Nicholas' favorite part of all: “Once you start doing these swims around the country, you realize that swimming is only part of the event. The real bonus is meeting the other swimmers—that’s the real treasure.”
You can catch Kent Nicholas and all of the other swimmers at this year's Swim the Suck happening on October 10, 2015.