Friday, December 26, 2014

Keep Swimming

I can't believe I haven't made a post since the day following my attempt at the English Channel. It was a disappointing result, to say the least, but I enjoyed the training journey and every minute of the trip.

I've moved on. And that's OK. I took a break from swimming when I returned to Lincoln and decided to jog instead, hoping that would help me shed the 10 extra pounds of channel fat I've been stuffing into my clothes for the past half year. It didn't. But I did complete a half marathon in Nebraska City in November, with hills the size of mini Mount Everests. Let's just say I'm glad to have completed a goal I set for myself and rediscovered how much I prefer the water!

I also left my position at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital to take on a similar role as Director of Communications for the Daugherty Water for Food Institute at the University of Nebraska. Changing jobs is a major life change, but that's a good thing! I was ready for a new adventure and this position will enable me to learn a new sector and help advance food production around the world. I'm very excited about it.

I have a couple of swimming events on the 2015 calendar that will keep me rolling out of bed at 4:30 in the morning. I'm doing the 24-hour relay in San Francisco with my friend Suzie Dods and her family and friends in February and the SCAR 4-day swim in Arizona in early May. I bought a wetsuit for the relay (and maybe, possibly SCAR). Let the OW purists howl and shake their heads. I just want to swim and if a wetsuit keeps me in the cold water to the finish, I'll wear a wetsuit.

Many friends and supporters have asked if I'm going to try the EC again. Not next year. I'll see how things go with SCAR and see if that desire rekindles. It was a long, hard 18-months of training -- although that's the very best part! If I do it again, I'd need more time swimming in cold water. I really don't think that sitting in a cold tub made much difference - and certainly didnt help me deal with nausea. I'll see how it goes. I really enjoy swimming in the ocean with friends so whatever leads me to that scenario, I'll pursue.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Dream in the Water

Paul was driving my mom to church and me to the beach when I got the call from Stuart saying I could swim at 3 o'clock. I assumed he meant in the morning and it took me a couple of minutes to understand he meant that afternoon. This was always a possibility, but not one I had envisioned - to swim across the English Channel through the night. I hesitated briefly, but I knew Stuart had recommended this because of the time window for calm seas. I agreed to meet him at the marina and we all were very excited to get ready for the big swim.

I met Gregg at Dover beach and shared the good news. He seemed as shocked as I had been. It's a surreal experience to know that your Channel swim is just hours away when you've put in nearly 2 years training and focusing on the event.

We had a short swim to the west wall and back, then met up with our families at the coffee shop. It felt nice to have this normal routine before the big swim. I enjoyed chatting with Gregg's wife, Kindra, and, of course, Gregg and my mom were glad to see each other again. And to have Audrey and Paul there made everything feel like it was falling into place.

I thought about a night swim. I had hoped to have some sunshine to warm my back while I swam. The night would be an entirely different sort of beast. I've heard from other swimmers who loved swimming at night - felt it was a peaceful way to do the crossing. I wasn't so sure I would be as comfortable, but was satisfied with my decision to do the swim. Calm water trumps everything else.

It took us a couple of hours to get feeds ready and everything packed. It takes a lot more "stuff" than you'd think for a major marathon swim. I had my feed schedule written out with exactly what type of feed I wanted and when. I planned to take feeds on the hour the first 2 hours, then every 45 minutes after that. I had fed every half hour in training, but wanted to have more swim time between feeds in the channel. Paul did lots of complicated calculations to figure out how to make the feeds double strength so I'd have the calories I needed each hour - about 250.

We loaded the car, said goodbye to my mom and Audrey and drove down to the marina. As we were unloading, Paul discovered he forgot his yellow storm jacket. He was thinking of doing without it, but I knew he'd want it if the weather got rainy, plus, I like being able to easily see him, so he returned to the house to pick it up.

I met Stuart at the marina gate and we walked to his boat, the Sea Leopard. I met his first mate and shortly after, the CSA observer and the observer's 14-year old son, Liam. I gave Stuart his payment, which was in a zebra-striped zippered bag. I joked that I couldn't find one in leopard print. A minute later, Stuart came back and asked about the payment. I said, "It's right there, in the bag." He kept looking at me like I was seriously confused. I noticed then that I'd given him the wrong bag. It was MY zebra money bag, which contained considerably less money than his payment. How mortifying. I dug into my backpack for the right bag and we switched. Jeeeez. How embarrassing.

I walked back to the marina gate to open it when Paul arrived. I was surprised to see Paul walking toward the gate with Gregg. Gregg and Kindra came to see us off, which was very kind.

With everything loaded and introductions and safety instructions all around, we were off. Stuart said we had a slack tide, so I'd be starting from the beach on the other side of the pier instead of Samphire Hoe. It didn't take too long to get there. I took off my warm sweats and Paul applied Desitin to my armpits and Bag Balm everywhere else. I put on my cap and goggles, with a spare noseclip attached to the goggle strap and my green night light. I had an orange nightlight attached to the back of my suit. I turned them on so they'd be ready when the sun set.

Stuart pulled in very close to the beach and said I was good to go. I gave Paul a kiss and he said, "You can do this." I appreciated his confidence. I sat on top of the ladder at the back of the boat and took the plunge. Although I've been swimming in this water for the past 2 weeks, it's still a shock to take that first plunge into cold water.

I took a few breaststrokes to make it to the beach. There was a smattering of people on the beach and I wondered if they knew what I was about to do or if it's so common here, they don't think it's that big of a deal. I thought of all the training I'd done to get to this point. I thought of all the family and friends who have supported me along the way. I thought of swimming through the night and felt a little daunted by that, but also determined. This was MY day. It was just going to take place during the night.

Stuart sounded the boat horn and I waded into the water and started swimming. It felt surprisingly normal. I was excited, but it was just swimming. Something I've done more days than not for the past few years. As we passed the pier, the water got choppy in that unsettled, washing machine sort of way. I figured it was just a choppy section and would smooth out in a while and I kept plowing through it.

I could clearly see Paul and the other crew on the boat when I’d turn to that side to breathe, which was reassuring. As much as I tried to keep my mouth tightly shut, I ended up taking in occasional gulps of water when I turned to breathe and was hit by a wave at the same time.

The water was surprisingly clear and I could see jellyfish here and there. Some were brown (sea nettles) and some were orange (lions mane). I was nailed by one on my right thigh and another on my left wrist. Like other stings I've had while here in Dover, it's more a startling surprise than painful. Although yeah, they do sting!

It seemed to take forever to get to the first feed. I was feeling a little anxious, I guess, and was eager to get that first hour behind me. Paul tossed me the bottle and I was pleased it was a comfortable, warm temp. Just right. I took the feed quickly and resumed swimming.

The water settled considerably in the second hour, just as Stuart said it would. The waves were more undulating and not so spastic. I could time my breaths better to avoid taking in sea water.

My swim stroke rate felt good. I’d gone out more quickly to get through the chop and had settled into a rate I felt comfortable with. The cold was there – it’s always there – but I could think about other things. I ran a few songs through my head, thought of the feel of the water and kept an eye out for Paul on the boat.

Getting into the second hour, my tummy started feeling queasy. I was hoping it was just a passing thing, but it was getting more bothersome as time was going by.

Again, it seemed to take forever to get to the next feed. Usually, I'm surprised when it’s time to feed, but since these were on the hour and I was excited, it was like watching a pot of water come to boil. Come on already!

Paul tossed me my feed bottle and another bottle with mouthwash. He was telling me to pull the rope to make it taut so he could send it down on a carabiner, but I wasn't getting it. Took me a second to figure out that’s what he wanted me to do. I took a big swig of the mouthwash and spit it out. The fresh mint felt refreshing.

In the third hour, my stomach was getting seriously nauseous. I stopped up and asked Paul to give me a Gaviscon at my next feed. It started to rain, which didn’t really bother me, but it was grey and gloomy. Not the sunny day I had hoped for, but again, a swimmer needs to take the best window for calm water and sometimes that’s a night swim.

The cold was getting to me. I had no desire to pee, even though I drank a huge glass of water before we set off and I’d had two feeds. I focused on my core feeling warm and how much I wanted to have a successful swim. I envisioned myself getting through each section of the channel and how great it would feel as I ticked those off. My stroke rate felt fine. I was at a pace I could comfortably keep for a long while.

The queasiness got worse. I pulled up a couple of times, thinking I’d throw up, but I couldn't get anything out. It’s a miserable feeling to be nauseous. It’s hard to think of anything else.

Finally the third feed rolled around and Paul tossed me a feed bottle and another bottle with a Gaviscon tab in it. It was difficult to chew the Gaviscon, so I just swallowed it in large chunks and washed it down with the feed. It was hard to get all the feed down because my stomach felt so gross.

The rain stopped and the ocean was quite settled except for soft swells. I could catch the occasional glimpse of a tanker and lights on other boats. As much as I tried to focus on the task at hand and just swim, the nausea was overwhelming. Again, I sat upright in the water to try to puke, but nothing would come. The CSA observer (whose name I can’t remember, but he was a remarkable guy), kept yelling that it was OK to puke. I KNOW it’s OK – I just couldn't make it happen! I desperately WANTED to puke.

I went head down to resume swimming. I thought about all of my family and friends, pulling me to France on an invisible rope. That’s one of my favorite visualizations. I thought about the people I know and admire who have overcome tremendous adversities. I swam faster, hoping that might help.

By the next feed, I was feeling desperate for relief. I couldn't take much of it in. My stomach was roiling, but wouldn't release it. I tried gagging myself but that didn't work. The CSA Observer was saying, “Just 15 more minutes, Molly. I know you can do this. All swimmers go through it. Just 15 minutes and you’ll get past it.”

As much as I hoped that would be the case, I’d been feeling worse as time was going by. The cold was getting into my bones, too. My chin was shivering. I was beside myself in frustration. I’d swum in the damn harbor every day for 2 weeks! I’d taken cold baths, cold showers, cold lake swims. I swam 6 hours the day after we arrived, in the rain and wind. I swam 11 hours in Branched Oak Lake. I had the power to do this!

It’s the death of a swim when you start thinking about the whole task ahead. I knew better, but still, the thought of swimming in the dark while feeling so sick for the next dozen hours was daunting. I tried to just focus on each stroke, one arm after the next.

I pulled up again, hoping I’d finally be able to throw-up. I was squeezing my stomach but that nasty stuff still wouldn't come up.

I felt defeated, exasperated, lonely and cold. This was NOT the strong, confident swim I had planned. I felt like a big baby – not being able to take the nausea. I told Paul and the observer I wouldn't be able to make it. Again, this insanely driven, super supportive observer said “You CAN make it and you WILL. Keep swimming, Molly. Go 15 more minutes.”

OK. Head down, keep swimming. I plowed through to the next feed, but couldn’t take it in. My stomach was full. Again, I told them I wasn't going to make it and wanted to call it. Again, the CSA observer said to give it 10 more minutes.

I can’t imagine a more depressing scenario. It was the death of my dream. I had trained for this, envisioning the finish as I stumbled onto a beach or onto rocks on the French coast. It was a goal I would do anything to achieve. Except, as it turns out, swim with unrelenting nausea.

Finally, I swam over to the back of the boat. Over the exuberant protestations of my zealous CSA Observer, I told him I was done. I looked at Paul for support. It was a terrible decision to make. I knew grabbing that ladder was the end. But, I chose it.

Once on the boat, I felt washed with remorse, grief and relief. They wrapped me up in my towel and blankets. I wasn't that exhausted – only swam 4 hours and 15 minutes, so I was able to help get myself situated. I was shivering and crying. Pathetic all the way around. Stuart asked if I’d been able to pee and I told him I hadn't. Whether it was the cold or the nausea, my whole GI system had shut down. Nothing was coming out either direction.

Both Stuart and the CSA observer said I’d had a great effort and that I was swimming strong. I was averaging 62-63 strokes per minute at the beginning and had maintained a 60-stroke per minute rate since the second hour. It would have been a good finish time. So it goes.

Finally, about 10 minutes after being on the boat, I was able to puke into a bucket. It was a relief, though the nausea returned a few minutes afterward. Paul was there offering lots of support.

It was a forlorn return trip. I won’t belabor it. But, obviously, after putting so much into this, a ride back after four hours was demoralizing and just sad. I left my dream in the water.

When we returned to the house, I may have said a quick hello on my way to the bathroom where I puked to dry heaves. I couldn't have digested much of my feeds. It was all there.

I made short facebook update to let everyone know I was OK, but the swim was over and I was going to bed. I fell asleep pretty quickly and didn't throw-up again.

Today was the first day of my regular life after the Channel. It was a little weird. This isn't what any of us wanted or expected. We will enjoy the rest of the week sight-seeing with Mom and Audrey and have a few days in Paris. I can’t possibly complain.

As they say, it’s not the destination but the journey. Someone who didn't make their goal invented that. It sucks not to achieve the dream. But, life goes on. Honestly, I don’t feel any desire to try the EC again. I love swimming and will set a new marathon swimming goal, but I think I’m done with cold water.

I have had an amazing, incredible experience and have made friends from around the world. For that, I thank the English Channel. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Damn, I Almost Forgot to Taper

This is supposed to be the time to rest and focus on my English Channel attempt. But, I also desperately need as much time in water as possible to help acclimate to the cold. Since Saturday, I've been in the water every day and have had a couple double dip days. So when I woke up this morning to grey skies and howling wind, I took it as a sign to veg out. I missed a fun group swim with Sam Jones and company, but hope there will be another day for a buddy swim in the harbor.

I had a leisurely, and huge, breakfast of a cheese and mushroom omelette and a couple of cups of coffee. I'm diggin' the French press. Paul enjoyed his usual English breakfast: over easy eggs, toast and black pudding. Eh. Some foreign delicacies are better than others.

After loafing around all morning, we decided to walk into town for lunch. I put on real clothes (jeans and a blouse) and even put on make-up and jewelry. Who knew there was a chick under that swim cap and oversized swim parka?

Downtown Dover is delightful. We walked past cathedrals that are centuries old and cobblestone roads that are probably over ancient tunnels or burial grounds. The history is everywhere. And the people are so friendly. The only weird thing is that there's no swimming shop. Seriously. There's a big sports store with Nike shoes, Adidas jackets and every sports accessory you can imagine, but not a single suit, swimcap or pair of goggles. Granted, it's not like there are thousands of swimmers here, but there are a few. I'm going to open a swim shop/coffee house. Buy one of those cute little castles on the hillside and settle down.

We somehow found ourselves in the aisles of Morrison's again. I am my father's daughter. Bought some salad dressing, clothes pegs (or bloomer pins) and there might have been a 4-pack of Guinness in there, too. I don't recall.

Fish and chips were calling and we answered. We ducked into The Park Pub where a cute little puppy was running the place. Well, running around the place, anyway. So cute! I'm sure he would have liked a bite of our chips, but we didn't want to encourage bad habits.

The most exercise I had today was walking up that hill back to our rental flat. The rest of the afternoon, I lounged on the couch like a good tapering girl and read or checked my phone for messages. It's kind of hard to just sit around. I'll be glad to get back in the water tomorrow.

Swimming with Friends

I like swimming. I know - an understatement, perhaps, but I have to remind myself of that on occasion when I'm freezing cold and wanting to barf up my breakfast while plowing through my 6th or 7th hour of it. Even then, it's not like doing taxes (sorry Kris) or cleaning out a nasty sink pipe full of slime and hair. It's still a wonderful way to spend time.

What's even better is swimming with friends. This trip has been an incredible experience because of getting to meet and swim with the fantastic people I've only known through Facebook and/or international swimming news. And another awesome aspect is swimming with a friend who's shared this journey for the past several months. He's shy, or something, and prefers to swim under the radar. I understand and respect that. It's more my style to be open about the adventure but everyone has their own way of navigating an EC attempt.

Gregg and I met at Anne Cleveland's Channel Swimming Clinic in April 2013. The whole group of us keeps in touch, which means a lot to me. I've cheered on clinic teammates through their Catalina Channel, MIMS, SCAR and Red River swims. Gregg was training for the Key West swim, which he successfully completed.

I was surprised, but delighted, that he was interested in the English Channel. It's not everyone's cup of tea. But this is the ONE. The historic swim by which all others are measured. The swim that made Gertrude Ederly an international star at the young age of 19 in 1926. It's a lifetime goal and an honor to be among the few other aspirants who have attempted this challenge over the past 130 years. And the appeal for Gregg - no sharks.

So after months of hard training, sharing ideas and commiserating over tough swims, we are finally here in Dover, swimming in the harbor and setting our sights on a mutual goal - to swim from England to France.

We swam with Marcy MacDonald yesterday, cruising from wall to wall. Marcy could have easily swum 4 laps in the time it took us to do 2, but she was in coach mode - sticking with us and sharing some tips along the way.

Marcy is incredibly friendly and generous, sharing what's worked for her through her 15 successful crossings. Plus, she has a wickedly funny sense of humor. I really enjoyed our time together.

After coffee, we made our way to the White Horse Inn for lunch. This is the place where the very, very few who have successfully swum the Channel get to immortalize their accomplishment by signing their name, date and total time of their swim on the pub walls. It's one part inspiration, one part intimidation and two parts awesome.

Gregg needed to get supplies, and Paul and I are always game for a grocery store visit, so we hit up the Morrison's for provisions. Grocery shopping in a foreign country is one of my favorite things. The British have more versions of potato chips than any other people I know -- salt and vinegar, cheese and onion, shrimp and cocktail sauce, ready salted and even fish-n-chip chips. For a self-appointed potato chip aficionado, it's the jackpot.

I made a delicious tortellini soup with chicken and kale for dinner. We had mousse cups for dessert. According to the package, it's "really chocolately and wonderfully bubbly." It was a good day.

Dover, Hollywood for Swimmers

After my long swim with Freda's bunch on Sunday, I met Marcy MacDonald from Connecticut, who just recently completed her 15th channel crossing. I was a bit dazed and reeling from the swim, but had enough sense to say hello and mention that my friend Kris Rutford shared his congrats with her for her successful swim. Marcy asked if I'd be swimming in the morning and said she'd be glad to join me. For reals? This made me forget about my nausea and look forward to the next swim.

I met Marcy on Monday morning and we chatted about the Channel and my prep. I told her the saltwater was making me nauseous and she suggested I try a nose clip -- even giving me 2 of her own to keep! OK, this is like getting a magic wand from JK Rowling. It felt a little distracting at first, but the bliss of not having a faucet of cold salt water pouring into my sinuses and down my throat was truly a tiny miracle. It was a joy to swim next to Marcy in Dover Harbor - another memory of this place and time I'll always cherish.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Six Hours in Dover Harbor

I knew Freda would assign me a 6-hour swim today and she did. While all my cold baths have made it fairly easy to get in and swim, it doesn't much help after the first hour. I was getting very cold, tired, nauseous from the salt water and feeling a bit hopeless as I hobbled onto the pebbles for my 3-hour feed. Along comes Liam Cameron (thank you Facebook!) who kindly slowed down to swim with me. I sped up to keep pace with him - helping me warm up and keep going. Made it to 6 through the kindness of a fellow swimmer. Many many thanks, Liam!

Although this was a brutal swim (did I mention it was raining? And windy?), I'm so glad I did it. It's a huge boost to know I can get through 6 hours on jet lag and a half hour of cold acclimation from the previous day's swim.

Also, the feeds here are a little more conservative. We had to swim 2 hours before our first feed and then every hour after that. I'm used to a half hour schedule. Freda's soldiers brought a cup of warm Maxim and a treat to us as we slugged out of the water each feeding. The jelly babies were delightful. I'd read about them on a zillion English Channel blogs and it was fun to pop them in my mouth and wash them down with Maxim. One of the other treats was a chocolate bar. I discovered I don't care for chocolate bars while cold and nauseous.

You'd think after all that I'd topple off to sleep as soon as I stepped in the door to our rental flat, but the time difference is still giving me fits. I finally slipped into dreamland around midnight.

Meeting Facebook Friends

On Saturday, my Facebook friend Helena Martins picked us up at our hotel and generously provided a lift to Dover. She's doing a relay in late summer and training for a solo in 2016. She's also a brilliant Internet technologist and is deaf, but can hear thanks to the modern miracle of cochlear implants. Maybe because of her hearing loss, she's one of those wonderful people who lives out loud -- going after achievements, helping others and sharing her bright light and laughter with everyone she meets.

We enjoyed some sightseeing, visiting Varne Ridge before dropping off our bags at our rented flat. We are staying at Castle View, which I highly recommend if you are staying in Dover. We can see France from our front window. Literally. And we have a gorgeous view of  Castle Dover from our bedroom. It's at the top of the tallest hill in Dover -- a mile long hill I've come to know very well on my treks up and down to the beach. Good for training. 

We headed down to the beach for my first swim. It was cold, but I expected that. I was surprised at the high salinity of the water. You couldn't sink in that harbor if you were wearing cement boots. It didn't take long to get into the groove, one arm over the other, like I've done thousands or millions of times. I was a little stiff from the long plane ride and our trekking around London the day before, but still OK. Thankfully, all the parts seem to be in working order. 

As we were tooling along, who should I bump into but Sam Jones and Zoe Sadler, two of the first swimmers I met online while investigating the English Channel through the Marathon Swimmers Forum and facebook. It was like getting together with old friends who I hadn't seen in awhile. Absolutely wonderful.

I swam for about 40 minutes, then dried off and we were off again. Helena took us to a charming beachside restaurant where we dug into fresh salads, soup and sandwiches. Paul had fish and chips. It had to be done.

Helena stayed overnight with us for our swim with Freda and the crew on Sunday. I wondered, and worried, if Freda might give me a 6-hour swim. Surely, she wouldn't do that so close to my EC window, would she?