2016 Swim Around Lido Key

Co-directors want to grow ‘small, boutique’ open water race
By Katy Bergen

SARASOTA — As city commissioners discuss limiting the growing scope of sports events in the downtown area, and the sports performance industry here continues to surge, a local distance open water race returning for its second year exemplifies a different kind of race model.The Swim Around Lido Key, a seven-mile race around Lido Key that debuted last year, is planned again for this Saturday morning. While the race will feature participants from 23 states, and countries such as Hungary and Canada, co-director Dave Miner capped the event at 150 competitors this year, expanding the field by just 50 spots after a successful 2015 race.

“I envision it a small, boutique kind of race: higher end, higher quality, higher caliber,” said Miner, a local Sarasota Sharks Masters swimmer who also owns a swimming events company. “We could go out there and put out a 5,000-person swim and drum it down. But that’s not the kind of event I wanted to do.”

This Saturday, Miner and co-director Steve Butler, a three-time Ironman who is also a founding member of the Sarasota Storm Tri Club, will host their second Swim Around Lido Key. The competition begins and ends at North Lido Key Beach, and features solo swimmers and two-man relays, as well as three-man relays for the first time.

Last year, Butler and Miner, who first met through the Sarasota YMCA and the Sarasota Sharks-sponsored Tropical Splash swim, took on the challenge of meeting the need for a marathon-distance open water swim locally, creating a race that is at least 10 kilometers or more. The idea was originally born in discussions between a group of tight-knit friends involved with the masters team and United States Masters Swimming organization. A casual meeting was held in the summer of 2014 to discuss how to pull it off, but no one wanted to take control of the project entirely. Miner decided to see if he could.

Miner enlisted the help of Butler, who had experience setting ocean courses and event planning. The pair fine-tuned the race course from an awkward square drawn around Lido Key into a realistic circle using Google Maps and their own observations kayaking the course. The challenge of the race is not just in the distance.

In the case of a west wind, swimmers turning into New Pass could encounter ricocheting waves off a sea wall that create a washing-machine effect for swimmers. Depending on tides, water off South Lido can be extremely shallow for safety boats or kayakers who follow the swimmers. Figuring out the timing and day of the race itself is like solving one big math problem for ideal conditions in a race where competitors could be one or two miles apart at times.

“You want to have an incoming tide as they start and come in through New Pass, a slight push for all the athletes, you want to have pretty much slack tide on the back side and then you want if possible have a push on the way out as well,” Butler said.

This year, the directors also opted to add the three-person relay (relays allow competitors to trade between kayaking and swimming), in part because a 2.3 mile distance is close to the Olympic-standard swim distance for triathletes. The event sold out in early February, a month earlier than it sold out in 2015 with just 100 competitors.

Miner says he hopes to continue that trend, in part by keeping the event a local production and controlling the size. Swim events such as Big Shoulders race in Lake Michigan outside of Chicago and Swim the Suck, a 10-mile race in the Tennessee River Gorge are so popular, he points out, precisely because the race is scenic and fun, registration is capped and spots quickly sell out. Race food this year is sponsored by Nancy’s BBQ, and once again a pre-race social will be held at Daiquiri Deck. Other local businesses, including SeaLife Kayak Adventures and Economy Tackle, have sponsored ocean equipment and other race necessities.
“Steve and I both, whenever we are looking to work or add a sponsor or support to our end, we’re looking local first,” Miner said.

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