Jim Barkman trains at Skyview pool for 12.5 mile swim around Key West Florida
While many residents of the Kenai Peninsula will be visiting the Kenai River Festival this weekend, Soldotna High School math and science teacher Jim Barkman will be swimming around Key West, Florida, that’s right, completely around the island. The event is the 30th Annual 12.5 mile Swim Around Key West that will be held on Saturday, June 10th. This challenging swim begins at the Bertha Street Boat Ramp on the Atlantic side of the island and the swimmers will circumnavigate the island clockwise returning to the start.
This prestigious swim has been written up in Captain Tim Johnson’s recent book, “The History of Open Water Marathon Swimming.” “You can look at the event as a race, but to be safe I’m just looking at it as a swim. I’m use to racing in open water and I’m a competitive type person, but this event I’m focusing on as a swim, enjoying the experience, and finishing in less than five hours will make me very happy,” said Barkman, in-between training laps at the Skyview pool. For the last three months Barkman has been training for the long distance challenge in tropical waters and says marathon swimming doesn’t appeal to as many people as marathon running does, “It’s a small group of people that actually do open water swimming, but those that do are passionate about it. There are events nationwide and worldwide for swimmers to do. Some swimmers love the black line on the bottom of the pool. Others, like myself, only train there and live for the open water events. Now that I’m older and not a competitive swimmer any longer I just love being out in the open water out in the ocean participating in races.”
To eat and drink Barkman must tread water not touching bottom or his support boat during his 12.5 mile swim
Unlike competitive swimming in a pool, open water marathons involve many unpredictable elements of nature such as winds, water currents and sharks, that have to be trained for as well, “It’s mostly psychological,” says Barkman, “You just have to be prepared mentally. This swim is rather unique, I’m a fan of cold water swims where the water temperature is from 50 to 75 degrees and on the swim around Key West we are told to expect temperatures up to 86 degrees. That’s pretty extreme and throws another element in the training regimen to be prepared for dehydration, over heating, the hot water there holds more salt, and is habitat to a lot of jellyfish. To be quite honest I’m more concerned with how I will handle a jellyfish sting than I am worried about shark encounters.”
In the thirty year history of the race no shark attacks have occurred, but due to the shallow water various species of shark sightings do frequently occur, “I’m told for the vast majority of the swim you can actually see the bottom with the exception of a few miles, and that’s where it can get spooky sometimes because when you can’t see the bottom you start imagining that you are seeing things, but the part where you can see the bottom I expect to be very enjoyable,” said Barkman.
In addition to his psychological training Barkman has been swimming up to 8,000 yards a day and working out with the SoHi and Skyview swim teams, but will do no open water swimming until he enters the ocean at Key West. Open water navigation also poses challenges and requires more head lifting for the swimmers to keep their bearings which takes more energy than indoor swimming. Each swimmer is accompanied by a support kayaker or motor boat, but the swimmer is not allowed to touch the bottom or the boat during the swim or they will be disqualified. Barkman will have to tread water while drinking or eating and plans to consume approximately a gallon of liquids and peanut butter chocolate cups to replenish his energy.
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