As I sit here feeling comfy and basking in the late morning sun in an outdoor cafe overlooking the bay in the middle of the Cap de Creus, I’m thinking of the perilous swim on the morning, thinking of that song—”Take me to the River” by the Talking Heads. I just finished the Marnaton eDreams 5k.

My swim start time, the skies were grey and there was a windy, wet chill in the air. The sea was best described as turbulent. I have never experienced the prolonged “thrash” that continued well into several turns along the coastline of this race. I took so many slaps and slams on the head and back from other swimmers and, sorrowfully, I fear I delivered as many as I received. I was kicked so hard in the mouth that the swimmer rolled over and yelled, what I assume was, “Sorry” in Spanish. We were advised that the first turn into the harbor would put us head first into the wind. And not just any wind—this was was the Tramontane, one of the infamous winds of the Mediterranean sea.

Still swimming in a pile but now with pelting spray in the face. There was no chance to sight to find clear water or direction for that matter. It was more “go with the thrash” at that point. I knew that the group would string out shortly but I was dismayed that it was still so tight and that people continued to collide. I focused as never before on maintaining my form as I approached the next turn buoy. I assumed that would certainly loosen the pack and give me some space. I couldn’t see anything but the swimmers on either side of me as well as the feet of the swimmer ahead of me.

Where is the turn? No turn and now more swimmers converging in between harbor buoys. Another right turned—cleared. Good. But now I have to head back out to sea. At least now that wind as at my back. Time to do a hard reset and try to get my breath back. Focus on form. Focus. Wait—bam! A big collision. I’m off course again. The wind is so strong and swirling that we are getting side pushed to the right as we work toward the left leading buoys. We were warned about this. Wait. I can see a bit better now. Good…I’m not following others further off course. Time to do an all point checklist…head down; getting length; high elbow catch; cadence. Breathe. Goggles are foggy. I stop.

I continued to navigate the course between the rocky shore and an outcropping of rock on the right. Despite the wind, I was able to maintain my form and cadence for a bit. Rounding the point the spray was again in my face and still more swimmers were weaving this way and that across the course. It was mayhem. At this point, I wasn’t entirely sure who was swimming in the right direction—them or me. I had no choice but to follow my gut and keep on. The entire shoreline is curved and with the water so turbulent it was difficult to know for sure. I had more contact with the rocks on the bottom too many times so as I head down the channel I tried to avoid doing that again. The bright orange cable— which I had been informed in broken English (which I was happy to hear as I don’t know and hadn’t bothered to learn any Spanish)—lay before me…marking the safe route home. There were dozens and dozens of spectator boats cluttering the shoreline as I entered the chute to the finish line. My left calf started to cramp for the third or fourth time. My arms are chafed in the wetsuit but the finish line was close. As I dragged myself over the water, my forearms were wiped and I feel the full weight of every inch of my body. Still, I felt exhilarated. I somehow find a new cruising speed and with the finish in sight I felt that connection…the purpose. I lifted my head and touched the bottom. It was over.

Now what?