To start with the good stuff: my shoulders did great; I have no pain at all today. Also, the mouthwash trick, which I forgot to use in Key West, was really effective; I didn't get that 'shriveled-up sponge' mouth like last year. And for the most part, the zinc oxide worked great too - no sunburn.
The one thing that didn't go as planned was my stomach.
I had gotten seasick in Key West and started throwing up around the 11-mile marker, but since there was only a mile and a half to go, I pushed through it. This time, I brought along some Dramamine, both for Anna (who gets seasick on boats) and myself. She took some an hour before the start. I decided not to, since I'd never taken it before and didn't know how it might affect me. We took it along in the bag, and I decided to just take it when and if I needed it.
Mistake. At our third stop, around mile 3, the first time I tried to ingest anything aside from water (chocolate PowerGel), I started feeling seasick. At subsequent stops I gave in and took the Dramamine, then tried water and Gatorade, but nothing made the nausea go away. This may not sound like that big of a deal, compared to the shoulder pain or other things that could have happened, but trust me, nausea - as any woman who's been through morning sickness will tell you - is incredibly debilitating. It makes it hard to even concentrate on anything, let alone perform any strenuous physical activity.
Around mile 6, I started throwing up. At first, this gave me a second wind - "Oh, I feel so much better now!" I exclaimed - but after 20 more minutes of (good) swimming, I was puking again. Nothing would stay down, not even water. I pushed through until about mile 8, but I could feel my arms and legs getting weaker and weaker, like limp spaghetti noodles, because I couldn't get any nutrients to them. Thoughts of swim-proof IVs danced through my head. Pity that food has to enter through my mouth, I kept thinking. Everything else felt fine, just weak, but I knew I couldn't take much more of this.
Eventually I said to Anna and Bernie, "I think it's obvious to all of us by now that I'm not going to finish this race, so I think I just want to get out with the least amount of damage possible to my body." Anna tried to convince me to go on a little farther, "You're at eight miles, and we know you can do thirteen miles, because you did it in Key West, and you're in way better shape now than you were then!" But for me, it was all or nothing. Knowing that I was this run-down after only one-third of the race, and that I had sixteen miles to go, was enough to make me reach for the ladder. It was very much an "all or nothing" decision for me, and I wasn't going to prove anything to myself by pushing on a little further, only to give up at mile 10 or 11 instead of mile 8. Once the "all" was out of reach, it didn't matter to me anymore.
As it turns out, only one of the solo swimmers finished; none of the three women made it, which makes me feel a little better. All the relays finished, though, and after hearing their stories, I'm considering coming back and doing this race as a relay next year, if I could find two other people crazy enough to go with me. In fact, that's become my justifying line for this year -- "Well, I swam my eight miles, my third of the relay, and it's not my fault that my two partners didn't show up!" :)
As for what this is going to mean for my Channel aspirations, I don't know. For some reason, the Channel feels much more 'real' and intimidating to me now that I've been in a race of (almost) the same length and had to get out at 1/3 of the way across. I'm going to swim Key West again this June and (a) try taking seasickness meds AHEAD of time, not during the swim, and (b) try Maxim (a different form of carb intake), so maybe those two things will prove to be the ticket, but still, the prevailing thought in my mind throughout almost the entire race, aside from feeling sick, was "Why am I doing this? This is BORING!" Right now, I'm really feeling like I'd sort of like to do a Channel relay first - since I'm almost 100% confident I could handle that - and then maybe consider a solo swim at a later date. I'm not sure how I would find anyone crazy enough to want to do it with me, but at this moment, I am far, FAR more comfortable with the idea of a relay - having others to lean on and being able to rest once in a while - than I am with the idea of a solo. We'll see.
But anyway. I really don't regret getting out (though I do regret paying $675 to swim 8 miles!). Floating there in the rolling swells, agonizing over what to do, it turns out that this was absolutely the right decision.
I just wish I hadn't had to make it.