Posted by: kellietris | July 22, 2011

How to race on 45 minutes of sleep: Peaks to Portland 2011!


Sue and zombie-Kellie, waiting for the boat!

I’ve been trying to swim the Peaks to Portland race for about 10 years, and for one reason or another could not. This year I was finally able to get into the race, and I’m excited to report that I finished it on Saturday morning, which was an absolutely GORGEOUS morning for an ocean race.

Peaks to Portland is a 2.4-mile ocean swim from Peaks Island (an island in Casco Bay owned by the city) to the East End Beach in mainland Portland. In the middle of the course is Fort Georges (pronounced gorgeous), a small fort built in the 1860s, which provides some really cool scenery when you’re swimming past. Or an easy out if you decide to ditch? I don’t think that’s happened…

Saturday morning was the perfect example of why summer in Maine is awesome. Temperatures comfortable in the 60s when we were loading kayaks onto the boats, bright blue skies and sunshine, and most importantly for the race, calm seas. I read somewhere that the water temperature was 64F, just about as warm as it gets up here in the summer. There were definitely a few spots where it sipped into the upper 50s range, but overall the weather could not have been more perfect! Example of how NOT to rest up and veg the night before a race: Two of my friends got married in boston on Friday afternoon, and I was invited to the ceremony and then the reception in


Fort Georges, Casco Bay

Ashland. I have trouble saying ‘no’ to awesomely fun things, so the obvious answer was to go to the wedding on Friday, stay in the rented cabins on Friday night, and get up wicked early on Saturday and drive back to Maine just in time to hop a boat to Peaks. So, that’s what I did! I wound up with a grand total of 45 minutes sleep. I left Ashland at 3:45AM and landed at the Dunkin Donuts in Portland at 5:37AM (don’t do the math; I drove too fast). From this point on I was running on adrenaline, caffeine, and the awesome chilled salt water of Casco Bay!



Kayaks on the Machigonne

A member of my cycling club generously volunteered her time and kayak to be my spotter for the race (Thanks Lindsay!!), so I met her at the boat terminal, coffee in hand. My friend Ruth was also swimming, and we met up with her kayaker Sue, and loaded the kayak ever so slowly (along with a couple hundred others) onto the Machigonne. It was a really cool sight to see the pile of kayaks on the open deck (the Machigonne is usually a car ferry). So colorful! We disembarked on the island, navigated the kayak down to the beach, and headed up to the home of a friend who likes on the island and was also racing (Thanks Kim!).
I had looked into the logistics of getting from point A to point B ahead of time, and was vaguely familiar with the race tactics. My kayaker was a first-timer as well, so I primed her on what the plan was. There are two options: swim to the fort and cut the corner, which is the shortest route on paper but cuts diagonally into the beach with the current, or, swim past the fort, and basically hang a right hand turn and ride with the current into the beach (the current runs parallel as the tide comes in). I chose the first option. I’m a scientist, and the fastest way to get from point A to point B is a straight line, right? Cut corners! Could have been the sleep deprivation talking, and I know hindsight is 20/20, but the other way sounds like it makes more sense.
Everyone gathered on the beach to get ready for the start. There were three waves of swimmers this year, I was in the first. The kayakers went out ahead of the start and lined up, with the first wave’s kayakers farthest from shore. Lindsey and I had agreed on which side of the channel we would meet on, but I grossly underestimated what 275 kayaks look like floating offshore… she was way farther away than I anticipated and kinda tricky to find. Luckily we are all given flags to display on our kayaks and mine stood out since it was blue and almost everyone else’s was green (major perk to swimming without a wetsuit = different color!). On the beach waiting for the start I saw a lot of familiar faces from pools, lakes, and beaches in the area. Around half the field was racing P2P for the first time like me, but there are a lot of annual swimmers as well. We exchanged ‘good luck’s and ‘see you on the other side’s, I fielded incredulous looks and questions from approximately 8 people asking if I was really going to swim without a wetsuit, and we lined up for the start.
I’ve done mass swim starts before and they don’t bother me. I’ve been kicked in the ribs pretty good a couple times, and took an elbow to the face at Lobsterman a couple years ago, but that’s part of the game so long as you keep floating. This was definitely one of the bigger waves I’ve started in, but definitely not the most aggressive. The worst part was 
getting in the water; just off the sandy part of the beach is a large mussel bed… tough on the feet! About 100 of us took off in the first wave, and headed towards the sea of kayaks. Like I said it took longer than I expected to find mine, but once I realized how far I had to go to get to her it wasn’t too hard. I got caught up with one woman who kept swimming into my legs. She was slightly behind me and off to my left, and could not swim parallel to me to save her life (open water etiquette says the swimmer in front has the right of way in that situation). Eventually I put a little kick behind me and pulled away. We headed towards the fort, using an apartment building on the Portland skyline as a reference.

organized chaos

I haven’t swum with a kayaker until the week before the race, so it was difficult for me to get used to not sighting for myself. Normally in open water I pick a point I want to swim to, and every so often take a breath to the front to make sure I’m still going that way. Here, I had a kayak to keep me on course, so all I really had to do was make sure that I stayed parallel to the kayak. It was a difficult concept to get used to. I did sight myself more than I had to, not out of distrust for her but mostly because I wanted to see the progress we were making.
We hit the fort, and I made the call to cut the corner. When we did, we hit the only choppy part of the course. There’s a breakwater that comes off the fort there, a small one but big enough to create some small chop. I love swimming through water like that… you never know when you turn to breathe if you’re going to be in a trough and get some air, or if a wave is going to crash on your face and you get some salt water. Great game, right? I think it adds a fun new dimension to the swim. Also, I’m not all that sane.
Cool kids

Myself and Ruth post-race (thanks mom for the sign!)

Not too long after we cut the corner and made it through the chop, I realized I made a poor choice. The tide was a strong one, so the current was running pretty quickly parallel to the beach. It would have been way less work to keep heading towards the city, past the fort, and ride the current straight in. I ended up spending a bunch of time aiming far to the left of where I wanted to end up, to compensate for the current pulling me along to the right. In the end it probably cost me a few minutes, but I definitely learned my lesson for next year!

I try not to set time goals the first time I do a race because there are soooo many variables at play, but I’m terrible at it so I had 55 minutes in my head as a number to shoot for. I finished in 55:46, good for the 23rd/146 women and 4th woman without a wetsuit. There were 16 people total who swam without a wetsuit; 11 women and 5 men. I can say I did not get cold. The girl who won the non-wetsuit division came to the podium in a winter parka while I was up on the hill in the shade hiding from the sun because I was overheating! Yep, I’m a freak 😉 I went home and slept for a million hours.

Today Carolyne and I are hitting the road and going to Lake Placid! The Ironman race there takes place this Sunday, and we’re both volunteering. Monday morning I am standing in line at the high school there and signing my life away up for the 2012 race! July 22, 2012… one year from RIGHT NOW I will be on my bike somewhere in upstate NY. Hopefully the weather will be sliiiightly less abysmally hot than it is today, right?
I’ll take some photos of the madness that I witness this weekend, and I promise to post about it next week. Also, TRI FOR A CURE (pink letters!) is one week from Sunday, please check out my donation page! I got so busy this summer I didn’t get to organize any swim clinics, so I’m having to flat-out ask for donations which I hate doing, but if you have three minutes and $10 it really is a great organization and I’d appreciate your help!


  1. […] watching the finals. What I’m saying is, I didn’t exactly take it easy the day before, which I have a habit of doing, and I had no expectations for Tri for a Cure other than to […]

  2. Hey Kellie! I am thinking about this for 2012! Great recap of the race for sure!

  3. […] I’ll be up in Lake Placid freaking out For more info on last year’s swim, check out my race report! Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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