Surviving my first Swim Challenge (Plus Caramoan & Naga Travel Information!)

I've always loved being in the water but it wasn't until 2-3 years ago, in my early 30s, when I started focusing on swimming. Last August 21, I joined an open water swim for the first time! 

Organized by Betsy Medalla (aka Swim Junkie), the Caramoan 10 KM Swim Challenge featured a route around the idyllic Caramoan Peninsula in the province of Camarines Sur. In this event, participants can join a 5KM or 10KM distance. With clusters of islands close to each other, about 1KM-1.5KM apart, it is an ideal venue for an open water event!
My sister on top of a rock formation in Matukad Island, Caramoan
Having limited experience, I opted for the shorter distance, 5KM. In the world of open water swimming, that's actually considered a short swim (I've met some people who regularly swim 4-5 kilometers just for fun!). Those who were up for a tougher challenge joined the 10 KM event, the standard Olympic distance for open water swimming. 

Two days before the swim, I traveled by land to Naga with my brother, sister and cousin, who came along to cheer and explore Caramoan.  We left Manila at around 11:00 PM. With my brother driving, I served as the navigator and that meant being awake the entire evening. By the time we arrived in Naga, after 10 hours on the road, my throat felt scratchy, cold began to set in. 
Welcome banner approaching CWC where we claimed our race kits. Seeing this made me
think, "What was I doing here?!".
After picking up my race kit at CamSur Watersports Complex, my family tried wakeboarding. I decided to conserve my energy and just took their photos on the side.  None of them are experienced and it was fun to watch them try to stand on the board. The instructors were quite supportive and gave them helpful tips so they really enjoyed it. It's truly an ideal facility to try wakeboarding for the first time. 

Caramoan was another 3+ hour drive so we decided spend a night in Naga and eat. We're a family of foodies and with plenty of options for a good meal, it's a must visit. 

The next day, my colds got worse. Decolgen helped and I actually felt better when we arrived in Caramoan around noon. After arranging a boat at the resort, I joined my family for island hopping  and to check out the race course. We just had enough time to go around three islands, Lahos, Matukad and Cagbalinad before we had to get back to Gota Beach for the race briefing. 
Underwater scene near Cagbalinad island. Photo was taken a day before the swim challenge when I went
island hopping with my family
I started feeling really crappy right after the briefing - sore, feverish, nauseated. I could barely walk back to our room at the resort. 

I took Bioflu before bed and said my prayers. I knew my family prayed for me too. 

I woke up nervously at 4:00 AM the next day. The fever's gone, I felt better but not entirely well, but I could get up and somehow, that's all I needed to be able to put on my bathing suit and get to the starting line. 

I forced myself to to consume a banana, a pack of energy gel and a bottle of Pocari Sweat and by 5:30 AM, I had gotten my body marked. I was still feeling shitty but when I finally got into the water for a warm-up swim, I felt so much better! 

We were told that August is normally a calm month but not this particular day. Waves that were closer to shore were big and came in fast intervals, the kind of waves where you see people surf!

The swim started around 6:30 AM, just after the buoys were checked again as it had rained hard the night before.   The shore in front of Gota Village Beach Resort served as the start and finish line.  Scared that I might get hit on the face if I start with the crowd, I was one of the last persons who went into the water. About half of the participants had already made a turn to Hunungan Cove when I started. 

The race course for 5KM swimmers. 10KM swimmers would have to do a second loop on the same course.
With the waves and currents working against us, it was a tough start. 1.5 KM later, I arrived to the first hydration stop, a pontoon in the middle of the sea. The next island stop, Lahos, is 1.1 KM away. 

The water going to Lahos island was still a bit choppy and there were parts were I was swimming against the current. It felt like I was hardly moving at all. I got stung by jellyfish numerous times.  The first sting caught me by surprise, like someone piercing your skin with a pin. The pain went away after a few seconds but then I got stung again - and again. Fuck it. :P I focused on moving forward, one stroke at a time. 

Apart from being physically demanding, the swim proved to be a mental challenge as well. A couple of times, thoughts of being attacked by a shark popped in my head but I had to shove it away. Fear increases your heart rate, makes you lose focus and stressed. When you're out there in the sea, you can't really afford to feel afraid. 
Lahos island. This is a nice place to take photos with enormous rock formation as your background
I couldn't see the bottom of the water, in fact, I couldn't see anything else underneath but water. Ironically, I found that easier than seeing fishes and corals. The underwater scenery was colorful - but very distracting, especially for someone like me who gets excited about marine creatures. 

I swam at a very relax pace. At times, I'd swim like a dog because the current was just too strong and it felt easier that way. 

I stopped at Lahos Island very briefly to get a marker and to rehydrate. 

The next island stop is 1.1 KM away at Matukad island. If you stand at the shoreline, you'd see its beach clearly and it seemed so near but once again, I felt I was swimming against the current and I got off course several times. Sighting is another skill I'm yet to master.
Matukad island
I was excited to reach Matukad island because of two things. According to the race guide, there were  fresh coconuts and Gummy Bears on this island! This was also the point that determined if you can complete the course. Any participant whether from 5K or 10K who is not out of the island after 4.5 hours from the start of the swim, would have to get on the sweeper boat and forfeit the race. I made it just in time. It felt great seeing and talking to  other swimmers, I thought I'd be the last one to finish! 

After stuffing myself with gummy bears and coconut, I joined  fellow swimmers in the water and we pushed each other for the final 1.4 KM swim. 

I was so happy I opted for a 5KM swim. I was feeling very tired and my shoulders were beginning to hurt, like it's about to pop out! 
View when you climb one of the rocky peaks in Matukad.  Just ask your boatman for directions.
From the water, I had a very good view of Gota beach. It seemed so near yet it felt like ages till I got to the finish line. It wasn't until I was a few feet from the shore when I stopped swimming and unlike some of the participants who ran and cheered loudly to the finish line, I felt instantly shy as the attention shifted to me.   I just walked calmly, like I just came from a short, nice dip. Haha! 

Feeling hunger set in, I immediately grabbed a pack of chocolate milk and bottle water from a marshal before actually crossing the finish line. (Priorities! :P) There, along with a dozen other people waiting for their swimmers, was my family, their faces looking equally ecstatic as I was for completing the swim! It's a dream come true!
A fitting finish line photo for a foodie like me! This was the post race meal served boodle fight style.
I  finished a 5KM swim in 3:30:00++ :P. That's slow, but it was enough to get me to the finish line. :) Jessie Lacuna, who finished first in the 10KM distance was able to cross the finish line in 2:30:00++. Awesome! 

My swim, albeit considered a short one felt really good. Months of training, avoiding junk food, getting laughed at for having goggle eyes (the area near my eyes is whiter than the rest of my face making me look like an unusual panda) has paid off!  I wouldn't mind doing it again next year! :) I'm hooked! 

Thank you to everyone who rooted for me! :) 

To God be the Glory!

I'm posting some info below in case you'curious about open water swimming, as well as travel information for those who are planning to visit Caramoan soon. :) 

Naga & Caramoan Travel Information 
Naga City is around 10+ hours from Manila by land travel (70 minutes by plane) and serves as the primary jump-off to Caramoan. It's also a good stop offering a number of worthwhile attractions such as CamSur Watersports Complex, a world-class watersports facility where you can try wakeboarding and other water sports, hike and rappel at Nalalata Falls, trek Engkanto Falls and more. It's also a great place for travelers who love food! (Check out my blog post for tips on where to get good food in Naga here. 

How to Get to/Where to Go around Caramoan? Check out this helpful Caramoan Travel Guide by Travel Up

Where to Stay in Naga & Caramoan?
Below are the places we booked for an overnight stay :
Accommodation in Naga City - Eurotel 
Since there were 4 of us, we availed of a dorm type room  that had two bunk beds  for  a discounted rate of 1,870.68 Pesos/night, booked through Agoda (Click here to book). 

Accommodation in Caramoan  - Island View Lodge and Restaurant
This is a seaside resort and also a starting point for island hopping tours. 
Island View Lodge Rates (as of August 2016)
1,300 Pesos/day -aircon room with private t&b, good for 2 persons
1,800 Pesos/day - aircon room with private t&b, good for 4 persons
Free parking available.
Text to book. Contact Number : +63 919 393 2223 (Mobile Number)
Facebook Page here 

Here are some helpful resources on swimming : 
Swimming Technique 
You Tube : Effortless Swimming 
Blog : Just Add Water

Open Water swimming tips 
Top tips for preparing for open water swimming in the pool
How to Survive Your First Open-Water Swim: 8 Tips for The New Triathlete
Open water swimming tips and training
6 Common Worst Case Scenarios for Open Water Swimmers and How to Avoid Them

Need swim lessons?
If you want to get into swimming, I highly recommend you get a coach. It's so hard to unlearn an incorrect swim stroke! Below are some of the FB page of swim coaches here in the Philippines who can teach swimming for beginners. I haven't taken any classes from them but I often seem them in the pool where I train. Please get in touch with them directly. 
Coach Nur  - 
Swim Central -

Past adventures

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