When there is land: run. When you hit water: swim. It’s that simple. It’s the Run/Swim.
A staple of the Island School experience, the Run/Swim is an exercise that challenges you physically and mentally. After a mass start just north of the boathouse docks, limbs tangle and it is difficult to gain forward momentum due to frenetic kicking disturbing the placid water. Faces can get kicked, and mouthfuls of water may be ingested in the first frenetic seconds of the event.
Normally during morning exercise, the group stops to wait for all participants and we move between each obstacle in unity, and with a swim buddy. In the timed Run/Swim, we have to support throughout the entire course, allowing each person to strive for a personal best. Moving swiftly through the tiny trails on each spit of land poses unique obstacles. On the first overland traverse, concrete blocks are piled in the middle of the goat path creating an obstruction. Careful foot placement and a leap up over the barrier and you’re off…
Running at full speed over a beach, whose rocky shores are a mix of coral, stone, and conch shells, proves to be an interesting challenge. Gauging when to begin the dive is critical. A slip or wobble can cost precious distance or even roll an ankle. Going too soon means a belly flop into knee-deep water, while too late results in a complete loss of momentum equivalent to hitting a water wall.
Snaking through the paths past Triangle Cut is tricky. Two parallel paths merge right at the beach, resulting in a gracious exchange between two rivals as one allows the other to proceed. A 50 meter swim through choppy water brings all participants to The Wall.
This transition is not simply moving from water to land via an embankment of conch shells and rock, it is a scaling of a vertical face. This reinforcement wall about 7 feet above the seafloor can be cleared alone or with the help of the support team. Individual ascents may take more time, but conquering this foe alone breeds confidence that what is envisioned can be accomplished no matter what stands guarding the path towards success. If the support team is ready and trained, scaling The Wall takes mere seconds. Scrapes and burns are common at this point in the Run/Swim as hoisting up onto a concrete ledge results in enormous friction against the stomach. A mix of sweat and salt water covers the skin while the building of lactic acid in the muscles draws attention away from the newest abrasion. A strong run brings you to the cliff jump. Depending on the tide this jump can be anywhere from 12 to15 feet above the water, possibly more. More than anything, this feature of the Run/Swim course is the ultimate mental challenge. Some students will pause at this point and compose themselves before taking the leap into a cove that is beginning to twinkle as the sun reappears on the eastern horizon. The sting of the impact will only last for a brief moment while the accomplishment of jumping and coming out ok will last much longer.
A few more swim cuts and overland runs bring participants back to the Girl’s Dorm Cut. Casuarina trees and their foliage litter the landscape. Hurdling that concrete barrier one final time allows everyone to lift their heads, if only temporarily. A blazing sunrise coming up over the campus inspires even the most tired participant to dig deep and push through to the end. Soon enough, despite the pain, it will be over. Not only is there a desire to finish, but deep down inside, there is the competitive desire to improve on personal best times.
Exiting the water and moving onto solid ground for that last sprint to the flagpole results in that endorphin rush known as Runner’s High. No amount of pain, fatigue, blood, sweat, or tears can derail the desire to finish. Entering the circle in a full on sprint, holding nothing back and fighting for every second on the stopwatch results in a scene more akin to bulls charging down the streets of Pamplona. Upon hitting that flagpole and stopping the clock, nothing matters, it’s over. Only then will the scraped knee be noticed. Or the nose blown. Or the shoe be retied.
Later in the semester all students and faculty will compete again, searching for ways to make up lost seconds through more efficient transitions or a new entrance technique. In the meantime, the cuts, bruises, and blisters will heal and everyone will be stronger because of their accomplishments. The Run/Swim is an Island School pillar of morning exercise.
David’s Run-Swim PR: 16:52 – Goal Time: 15:59