It’s a big year for Rob Christie. “I turned 50 this year and so is my wife. So, we are calling it our year of adventure.”
After a vacation to Italy and some other fun trips, Christie decided to take on a physical adventure: the UlraSwim 33.3. The multi-day open water swimming adventure event covers the iconic distance of the English Channel over a period of four days and six swims in the beautiful waters of Croatia or Montenegro. Despite having done endurance sports for many years, including a few years of triathlon, Christie labels himself as a runner. Swimming, especially in open water, especially such a big distance, was not remotely in his comfort zone: “Reading the distances initially, I remember thinking there’s no way I could swim a 10 km!” However, amid the year of adventure, that’s exactly what Christie was looking for.
“It was a chance to get into a new sport,” he says. After 15 Boston marathons, Christie noticed he was getting slower on the road so swimming gave him a new opportunity. “I could pursue swimming and see improvement and really be challenged.”
A BIG NEW CHALLENGE
Christie was nervous about the distances but, from his years as an athlete, knew he just needed to put the work in. Following the plan provided by UltraSwim 33.3, Christie began training in May for the late September event.
The challenge wasn’t just physical, however, and Christie says he was most nervous about actually swimming in the ocean. “The swell, salt water, all the unknowns,” he says. “We don’t have access to ocean swimming, lakes–yes, so I was nervous about swimming in the ocean.”
After five months of training, however, Christie felt prepared to jump in with all the fish. Not only had he followed the plan and was physically ready for the challenge but many of the unknowns were put to rest even before he arrived in Montenegro. “I’ve done a lot of races—Ironman, Boston marathon—this by far was the best organized event. The communications before, the training plan was really great, and I arrived feeling like I knew what to expect.”
“[Arriving in Montenegro] was awesome. It was a beautiful venue and the accommodations were fantastic,” he says. Christie traveled with his wife, Rebecca, and their youngest son and, he adds, “They were treated really well.” All non-swimming family and friends had access to their own boat and tour guide so they can see their loved one swimming.
Rob Christie pictured with his son Henry after his swim
INTO THE DEEP END
The first day of swimming went well and Christie’s feelings of being “a runner among swimmers” dissipated. What surprised him the most was the difference in atmosphere compared to other sporting events he had completed. “I didn’t feel competition with the others and that was pleasant. In running, I’m competing with everyone around and myself but in the swim you’re not aware of the specific people around you. You could swim your own race and time and not feel competitive. It helped create community around the swimmers because we all just celebrated the achievement of finishing, not where they were finishing, and that was a really nice environment to be in.”
That sense of camaraderie proved to be a real blessing for Christie. Trouble struck on day two when he began to struggle with sea sickness. Throwing up as he battled to finish the first swim of the day, his troubles weren’t over at the finish line. “I was throwing up in the water and I felt a surge of relief when I finished the 7.5 km. But I was sick again. Then we got on a boat to go to an island for lunch and I was throwing up over the side of the boat. I felt better and we ate but then we swam around the island and the back part was like a washing machine. I lost my breakfast and lunch,” he explains, a glint of nausea in his eye.
“Another one of the swimmers, Brain, had sea sickness tablets with caffeine. I was really nervous about doing the 10 km the next day, especially since I had lost all my fuel, and there was no way I could do another day like that. But I took the tablets and got after it because that’s why I was there, to meet the challenge.”
“The next day I was fine. I didn’t have any problems with sea sickness and it was 10 km of feeling real gratitude for another person who would reach out to help me like that so I kept sending my prayers and thanks to Brain as I was swimming. That final kilometer was one of those moments where you felt such great satisfaction for finishing that I actually didn’t want to finish the race because I was in such a moment of revelry of having overcome the fear.”
“The swimming as it turned out wasn’t really the hard part, it was really overcoming all the anxiety I felt at certain times in the race swimming in the ocean—dealing with the salt water, being amount swimmers when I'm a runner and just being really out of that comfort zone. To be swimming along and seeing the finishing arch and knowing that I did it was, man, that was a great experience.”
ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME
After four days of conquering the mental and physical challenge of swimming 33.3 km in open water, Christie completed the adventure. “I conquered it and that felt great,” he beams. “It was a reminder that I can still set out a big challenge for myself and accomplish it.”
“It was one of the top ten experiences of my life. Just because of that sense of ‘wow, I did this.’ I set off on this course in May and I really was thinking this was a real challenge. My friends would look at it and go ‘you’re nuts doing this sort of thing.’ But I did it and finishing the race was a top ten experience in my life.”
Christie chose to swim with a mirrored lens and plans on attending next years event.
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