5 Coves of Death

Have you ever had a mental block with something? Struggled to complete a goal numerous times, only to be thwarted by a tiny voice that echoes through your mind and tells you “nope, you can’t do it?”

Well, I have. And, no matter how small the goal, it pains me not be able to complete it. I simply hate unfinished business, and while it may take some patience and extra work, I always come back for more, until the goal is conquered.  Even if that goal is supposed to be a fun challenge. Even if not completing that goal isn’t the end of the world.

With that in mind, I present to you the annual “5 Coves of Death Swim”…

Every year, on May 5th, dozens of swimmers choose to celebrate Cinco de Mayo by attempting to swim a total of 5 loops around Aquatic Park. 5 coves – 5 miles - in approximately 55 degree water for May 5th.  It’s a South End Club tradition and it’s infamous.  That’s because it’s not easy.  55 degree water for 2- 3 hours isn’t easy. Around and around the cove you go. It’s boring. Some people drink tequila at the conclusion of each cove. So, yes, it’s a bit silly. But that’s the point.  It happens to be a qualifying swim for a 10 mile Bay to Breakers (Bay Bridge to Ocean Beach) swim, but this certainly has not been on my radar. Until now.

In 2010 I was up for the challenge of completing 5 coves.  Without any preparation and training, I completed almost 3 coves. The tequila didn’t help.

In 2011 – sans tequila – I completed 3 ½ coves. While I was cold, that little voice inside my head got louder and louder. It told me I couldn’t do it. And I listened. When I got out of the water I knew I could have done more.

This year however, I was determined to break through my mental block and complete 5 coves. I also wanted to qualify for the Bay to Breakers swim, which I knew I was finally capable of completing. I knew I was a completely different swimmer.  Scratch that. Having recently completed the Cook Strait, I knew I was now a swimmer. I knew ALL of that.  But still that little voice nagged.

Determined to quiet the negative voice, I enlisted the help of my Swim Buddy, and Joe. The 5 days prior to the swim were days of doubt and negativity. What if I can’t complete it? Then what???

The night before the swim, I went to bed at 7:30pm. Yes. 7:30pm. Well fed and hydrated I was ready. I drifted off to sleep. Suddenly, my alarm goes off. I jump out of bed. What? !!! Already??? It can’t possible be time to get up. I look at my watch. It’s 8:30pm. Jesus. I had inadvertently set an alarm for 8:30pm. I go back to sleep. 4:30am my alarm goes off. This time, I have to get up. 

Arriving at the South End Rowing Club, I’m a ball of nerves.  My feeding bottles are meticulously ready; filled with Hammer Perpetuem and accompanied with 4 packets of Gu. I’m ready. Joe and my Swim Buddy arrive. And we can’t help but laugh.

Fake stick-on moustaches circulate throughout the club. It’s Cinco de Mayo. Time to get silly, and the three of us oblige. I love it. In keeping with my reputation as a “staller” we spend time videoing each other before jumping in the water. It’s hilarious. But still that little voice speaks. “5 coves!!!” Ugh. But it’s time to swim.

I wade into the water. It feels colder than yesterday. No going back now. I dive into the 55 degree water. OMG. It’s cold. Wasting no time at all, I begin swimming… the first cove comes and goes… back at the dock I take a few sips of warm Perpetuem. Ok. One down. 4 to go. During the second lap my pinkie finger separates from my other fingers. Oh, this isn’t good. It means I’m getting cold. I keep swimming.

At the end of the third lap I swim up to the dock to take another sip of Perpetuem. All the drink bottles are scattered across the dock, and I can’t locate mine. Oh good god. This is not good. How am I going to continue swimming without a feeding??? With no calories?? I have no choice. I keep swimming.

As I swim I remind myself that this is completely doable. Why else would they offer such a swim if they thought no-one could do it? I CAN DO THIS. I CAN do this.

Approaching the dock at the end of the forth lap I can’t believe it. Only 1 more cove to go. Before I jumped in the water this morning, I made one really smart decision. I tucked a packet of Gu in my swim cap. And, passing the dock for the fifth and final time,  I tell Joe that I need to take my Gu to give me a much needed carbohydrate boost.  “Swim to the flag, first, he urges.” Ok…

¼ mile later at the flag, I ask Joe to pull the Gu out of my cap. He hands me the packet and I inhale it. WOW. I feel like someone just gave me a shot in the arm. I’m back in business. Surprisingly the fifth and final cove is the most enjoyable. My brain is numb. My body is numb, and I’m just swimming. It’s glorious.

Swimming up to the dock I’m deliriously happy. I did it. I muzzled that little voice in my head that told me I couldn’t do it. Because today, I did it. Today I shattered my mental barrier.


Kim Kirby

London, UK