Friday, December 13, 2013

Birthday Laps

I put in 5500 yards on my birthday, thinking that life is like a workout. Some years go by so quickly, you hardly remember them. Others are like swimming butterfly - a lot of work but a lot of fun. Some are like breaststroke - try as you might, you just can't get ahead. And others are a mixed bag of IMs, kicks, drills and sprints.

I'm not complaining. In fact, I'm probably in the best fitness of my life right now. If you had told my 18-year old self that I would be attempting to swim the English Channel in 30 years, I would have told you to sleep it off. I'm enjoying this particular slice of middle age. Paul and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, our daughter is in college (at least that's what she's telling us), work is going well and I'm blessed to have fantastic friends. Really - see for yourself!

I don't take any of this for granted. Working in a rehabilitation hospital lends itself to counting your blessings. I am very grateful to have the gift of each day even though I still complain once and awhile. It's what humans do.

There's not much new to report in the way of training. I've missed a workout here and there, but have managed to generally stick with my plan in spite of lots of holiday distractions. One of these was torch singing class - you know, like lounge singing. I channeled my inner Ella Fitzgerald and sang "Up on the Housetop" and "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" at Zen's Lounge. I hope that love will keep me warm from England to France!

For now, I'm getting in my swims, working hard at the office and enjoying the many indulgences of the holidays. Though I love this time of year, I'm also looking forward to getting down to the business of channel swimming training after the New Year. Life is about to get very simple: eat, sleep, swim, work. Repeat.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Hours

Training takes up a lot of time -- time I could be sleeping in bed (especially around 5:30 a.m.) or watching TV (evening swims or kettlebell) or hanging out with friends or doing any number of things that don't involve being face down in the water for an hour or two. Add in the shower, dress and blow dry time and a 90-minute swim takes 2 hours. Which is a tiny drop in the bucket to what it will take me to cross the English Channel. I expect that will run 16-20 hours. And it's just around the corner - less than 8 months away.

Last Saturday, I swam 6 hours at the Y, stopping every half hour to swallow some carb drink and/or run to the bathroom. Last Sunday, I swam 2 hours and 20 minutes with my good friend Melissa at her fantastic Y in Council Bluffs. This week wasn't my best for morning workouts. I made it Tuesday morning, but fell into sloth and didn't swim again until Thursday evening. Friday morning was good. Saturday not too bad - swimming, yoga and a massage. Today, I swam Suzie Dod's 4-hour monster workout: 200s on the 3:20 for an hour, 200s on the 3:15 for an hour, 100s on the 1:45 for an hour and 100s on 1:40 for the last hour. I had to pad the intervals a bit for the last half hour of the fast 200s and 100s, but still felt good about my effort. I really liked that workout. I'm sure it helps increase speed and stamina.

I'm trying to figure out my spring training. I'll be increasing my time and distance during the week, but also need to fit in as much cold ocean swimming as possible. I'm thinking of Tampa in early February, but the water may not be cold enough to have a qualifying swim. I'd really like to knock that out if I can. San Diego or the east side of Florida would be alternatives. I'll do some more research and get it figured out. 

The cold acclimation continues to freak me out. I really hope I can get used to it. I haven't been taking cold showers like I should and I tend to forget to not wear a stocking cap and gloves outside. I need to find my inner Celtic Warrior Princess.

Meanwhile, we're getting ready to host Thanksgiving for my family next Sunday. Paul put the Christmas tree up and I decorated it so the house will look festive. We don't usually put the tree up before Thanksgiving, but since it's so late this year, Paul agreed to put it up for me :-) He's a good guy.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In the Middle

I made the decision to attempt the English Channel in late January of this year and shortly thereafter secured my July 19-27, 2014 tide with the Sea Leopard  I've been swimming toward this goal for 10 months and have 8 more to go until the big event. The middle of training is a lot like the middle of a marathon swim. I'm tired, but not defeated, and there's a long way ahead. I can't see the beginning behind me, nor the finish ahead of me. It's just one arm stroke after the next with nothing in sight. 

I'm trying to figure out my spring plan and I don't have a coach or pre-packaged plan to follow. There aren't a lot of English Channel aspirants in Nebraska, though I am fortunate to have some advice from Kris Rutford, the only Channel swimmer I know of conveniently located right here in Lincoln. Kris is in a league of his own. He's not only conquered the English Channel, he's also swum the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim about 28 times. He's swum it clockwise and counterclockwise - he's probably swum it with bells on, all 28-miles of it. And as if that weren't enough for a statue in the park, he's a totally nice guy. The kind who picks up trash on the sidewalk and throws it in a trash bin. The kind who helps people find directions. The kind who tells an already slightly overweight swimmer she should pack on another 10 pounds to acclimate for cold water swimming insulation.

So between Kris and the many accomplished swimmers on the Marathon Swimmers forum, I have access to people with knowledge and experience. But I still need to swim this damn thing on my own and be prepared for it as best I can. I'm not sure whether it would be better to have two 4-day ocean swimming trips in the spring or just one for a full week. I need as much cold, ocean swimming practice as I can get and I need to complete a 6-hour swim to qualify for the English Channel. Are my chances better with 2 short trips or one long one? I just don't know.

I have some time to figure this out and will keep pool swimming and weight lifting and cinnamon roll eating in the meantime. Just keep swimming.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Crewsing in Louisiana

One of the nicest benefits of swimming -- or of any hobby, really -- is getting to know other knuckleheads who enjoy your particular (or peculiar) interest. I have enjoyed meeting several wonderful, amazing and equally quirky people through the marathon swimmers forum and other websites for wet people. Tim Root was one of my early acquaintances on the marathon swimming forum. He was also registered for the Red River swim and didn't need to twist my arm too hard to talk me into the Pensacola 25K. In fact, he and his wife kindly invited me to join them and their family at their vacation rental home in Pensacola. Sweet! And, if you dig through the blog, you'll find my glowing recap of that weekend. Except for my rotator cuff impingement, it was a fantastic experience and my first official ocean swim race.

So, when Tim asked if Paul and I might like to help crew for his attempt to cross Lake Pontchartrain, it was a Big Easy answer - hell yeah. We hit the road after my swim practice on Wednesday morning and drove through 2 days of rain to get to New Orleans.

It was a pleasant coincidence that Tim's swim happened the weekend of Halloween. Halloween in the French Quarter? Don't mind if I do. It was as interesting as you might expect -- ghouls, gargoyles, vampires, Waldo, an entire chain gang from Orange is the New Black, most major political figures and everything in between. 

I sampled a very, very, very, very ridiculously expensive absinthe cocktail. Contrary to popular myth, there were no flying monkey sightings. It was OK. Mostly tasted like licorice, but with citrusy-herbal notes. For the same cost, I could have had a bottle of wine served by flying monkeys.

We enjoyed working our way through the Quarter and made it back to the hotel well before 10 am. Yup, we're pretty depraved.

On Friday, we dug into some grits and eggs and coffee at our delightful hotel, the Saint Marie, and then made our way to Tim and Amanda's house in Gonzales, a southern suburb of Baton Rouge. We met Tim's delightful parents and his kayakers, Mike and Aaron. Amanda's lobster bisque made a delicious ice breaker for us all before the swim.

We went to bed early so we could get a little bit of sleep before rallying at midnight. My alarm went off 90 minutes after setting it, we loaded the cars and headed for the starting point. 

Tim had quite an entourage: a 52 foot sailboat, 2 highly qualified kayakers and a search and rescue team occupying another motor boat and 2 jet skis. Ke$ha should have it so good. He started swimming in the dark of 3:15 a.m.

It was surprisingly cold. I had thought of bringing my fleece jacket, but then thought that would be overkill. It wouldn't have been. I tried to keep it in perspective and consider it a good acclimation exercise, but I still had to resort to my stocking cap and fuzzy gloves. I was cold.

The kayakers were managing the feeds, so we really didn't have a lot to do on the big sailboat. We tracked Tim's coordinates each half hour and napped a little here and there. I was the designated observer, but since Tim was swimming well behind us in the dark, that was an easy job.

After the sunrise, which was beautiful, things became much more interesting, but not in a good way. The wind had picked up and the waves were getting downright bumpy. Tim said he was getting cold, but still doing OK. The waves just kept getting higher and after another hour or so, Tim told one of his kayakers he was ready to get out. The kayaker then relayed that message to us on his radio.

When Tim made his way to the sailboat, I thought he looked surprisingly good. He said he was cold, but he articulated that perfectly. If you can actually put your lips together and form a coherent sentence, you're not THAT cold - at least not in the throws of hypothermia. The waves were the real issue. Our gigantic sailboat was popping up and splashing down continuously. Tim was getting beat up out there, but he agreed to keep going to the next feed.

I put on my swimsuit, thinking I'd buddy swim with him for awhile. But, I wasn't sure he wanted any assistance, which is totally marathon swimming legal, by the way. I thought I'd wait until he got a little closer to the bridge and then I'd radio his kayakers to see if Tim would like the company.

More than a half hour later, Tim called it and pulled himself up onto one of the jet skis. He made a great effort, there's no shame in his swim at all, but it still stings when the swim isn't finished. Tim was terribly disappointed, but also knew there was no other choice. The weather wasn't getting any better.

With the swim aborted, we regrouped and relaxed on the sailboat, finishing the proposed track to the other side of Lake Pontchartrain. The sun was up and we were finally warm, enjoying the powerful sailboat ride.

We arrived earlier than expected on the other side, which caused some logistical changes. It took awhile for Tim's friends to get their car and drive it to the landing spot, but it was actually nice to just hang out at the marina, checking out the beautiful boats and sitting in the sun.

That evening when we made it back to Tim and Amanda's, we dove into one of the best sushi dinners I've ever had. Who knew sushi out of an old Pizza Hut would be so divine?

The next morning, Paul and I thanked everyone for their kind and generous hospitality and started the 2-day road trip home. Thankfully, it wasn't raining this time. We spent the night with Paul's parents in Springfield, Missouri, and finished the last leg of the journey home the next day.

It was a great trip - full of adventure, time with great people and lessons learned. I told Tim he may need to approach the Pontchartrain swim like any major channel crossing - establishing a weeklong window and having a crew ready to go whenever the weather looks the best. He had his logistics down and a great support team, so I know he can and will do this when the time and weather are right.

Now, I'm focusing on my own training and trying to figure out when I'll get in some cold ocean swim time. Guess I'll put that on my Christmas wish list :-)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Keepin' on

A former Madonna patient and GOAL Award honoree, Garrett Girardin, has a saying I appreciate: "Keep on, keepin' on." It's a phrase that inspired me this week after my dismal performance in what I had hoped would be a long training swim at Branched Oak last week. I only lasted 2:40 out of a planned 9 hour swim. On the bright side, I now know I need to do more long swims in cold water. On the dark side, there's no cold water for training around here until next spring. I may be crazy, but I'm not swimming in 40-some degree water. 

So now it's time to focus on speed, technique, weight training and yoga. I'll put in some long pool swims and taper a little before the end of the year to avoid injury and get rested and pysched up for the big build after the first of the year. This week I did regular swims and enjoyed a gorgeous fall day of cycling out in the country with my friend Michaella to visit our other friend Julie. Sometimes, even when you keep on, keepin' on, you need to stop and smell the roses. Or, the cows in the fields.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Cold Hard Truth

You know why fewer than 1500 people have successful swum the English Channel? Because it's freezing fricking cold. Other obstacles, like exhaustion, changing weather, jellyfish stings and medical emergencies are contributing factors, but I am pretty sure it's the cold that is the root cause of unfinished business.

I've put in some time in the backyard pool and swam in the lake last weekend and on Thursday afternoon. Thursday was gorgeous - sunny and warm with air temp of about 82 degrees, water temp of 60 and although I was shivering when I got out and for about an hour afterward, I felt pretty good. I swam nearly 2 miles in just a little over an hour.

So, I thought I'd give a long training swim a go. I had 2 friends and Paul who generously agreed to provide kayak support. I asked them each to do a 3-hour shift, hoping to get in a 9-hour training day.

What was I thinking? 

It was 45 degrees at the start, some wind, and mostly sunny skies. Water temp right at 60. As usual, it was a bit of a terror getting submersed in the water, but also as usual, I felt good once I got going. I followed Matt around the first point and we headed for the dam. I knew I was going faster than my normal pace, but I wanted to keep the furnace going and I felt like it was a pace I could handle.

At the first feed near the dam, things were going pretty well. I was chilly, but my core felt warm and I was trying to concentrate on things other than the temperature.

We passed the marina and a couple of boaters. I could hear their "that's crazy" comments telepathically. The sun was rising a little higher and I could sort of feel it on my back. I concentrated on my stroke and kept an eye on Matt, hoping the next feed wasn't too much longer.

At the second feed, Matt asked if I was doing OK and I said yes, which was mostly true. The waves were getting to me and I was starting to think that I wasn't going to make this, but maybe I could make it at least 4 hours. That became a new goal - at least make it through the transition with Tammy and get through another hour. These are not good plans to be making just one  hour into the swim.

We carried on, plowing through the rough water and making good time. At each breath, I'd glance up at the sky. It was a perfect blue - the kind of Nebraska skies we get on clear fall days. A few whispy clouds lit up in the sunlight and a flock of white birds gathered overhead. I'm not sure if they were seagulls or snow geese or something else.

I noticed my left hand was losing coordination. I tried to bring my fingers together but they wouldn't stick. I was clawing through the water. My right groin also started to act up. It does this every damn open water swim. I don't know if it's cold or fatigue or waves or what but it's totally annoying. It messes up my kick. Instead of kicking evenly, it turns into kick-drag-kick-drag. I feel like a mummy dragging one leg across the water.

Third feed. I'm trying to be a trooper and slam down the carb drink and get my bearings. We still need to cross the north part of the lake. These feeds go fast. I don't want to take too much time so I don't ask about my smokes or any of the usual chitchat. Head down, back to lopsided kicking and arms digging.

We cross that part of the lake and round another point to the last feed in the bottle. I'm bone chilled and my head is no longer in the game. I slam it down, breaststroke through a comfort stop and try to focus on my swimming without thinking about the temps. The water is rough again and I'm having some trouble getting a good breath every other stroke. I have a belly full of lake water.

After about 10 or 15 minutes, I breaststroke again to see where in the hell we are. Matt asks how I'm doing and I let him know I'm too cold to keep going, I'd like to go straight back to Area 1. I hate doing this. But, I was getting colder and I knew I wasn't going to get any warmer as time went on. I'd rather be able to swim to the beach than have to hang on to Matt's kayak while he paddles to the nearest side of the lake - which would inevitably be some nearly inaccessible place to reach by car.

I followed Matt as he pointed the kayak toward the beach and crossed the lake pretty quickly. Just like biking on country roads, the point you are trying to reach always looks closer than it is. At least the waves were going in our direction so I didn't have to fight them.

When we finally reached the beach, Tammy was there ready to go. She asked if I was OK and I told her I just got too cold. I felt badly to have her load up her kayak and come all the way out there only to turn around and go back home. I felt more badly that I so underestimated how hard this would be. I knew it would be cold but I had hoped my cold water dips would have been enough to get me acclimated. Total swim time, approximately 2:35.

I'm disappointed but not defeated. It was a good learning experience. I definitely need to spend more time in cold water. On the bright side, I was swimming faster and felt fine after the swim. I'm getting stronger, but still a long way from being ready for a 16-hour Channel swim. Gotta keep at it.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Diving into cold water

This was a big weekend of cold water swimming, which was much needed and not nearly enough, but at least it was a good "warm-up" for my long swim next Saturday.

Saturday, October 5, 2013
Put in my earplugs and pulled on my cap and goggles within the warm atrium of the indoor pool, then pushed the door open and ducked into the freezing cold wind to make my way to the outdoor pool. A frosty 48 degrees with chilling wind made getting into the pool an enticement. But what a shock to discover the outdoor pool was no longer heated! After a brief heart attack and hyperventilation, I just started swimming to get through it. Thank goodness for that little miracle of cold water swimming that makes the water seem much warmer after about 10 minutes of freestyle. The frigid air was biting my shoulders and my cheeks were getting chilly - all the more motivation to stay in and keep swimming. I must have made it look like an easy swim because a couple of guys, one after the other, came out and did a couple of laps, then, one after the other, they shouted something about it being freezing and they left. It really wasn't bad in the water, but once I got out - I felt like a human Popsicle. It took a long time to get over the shivers.

Sunday, October 6, 2013
Put in a 6000 yard swim at ProActive, knowing my lake swim would be brief. It was a cold, cloudy, windy and all around horrible day. But I wanted to get in practice on a rotten day. Who knows what kind of day I'll have when I get to Dover. I need to swim in the worst of the worst. This was a "worst."

Paul and I met Sarah at Area 1 and we got down to business: Cap, goggles, quick strip of our warm jackets and sweats, then walked quickly through the cold wind to the cold water. It was so cold, it sucked the breath right out of me. We swam to keep alive - or so it seemed. Sarah was smart and turned in when she knew she needed to. I kept swimming for another 10 minutes or so. I actually felt pretty good, even thought the waves were ridiculous and the wind was howling. I couldn't have kept that up for hours on end, but I'm pleased with how it went for the 18+ minutes I was in the water.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sharing the Adventure

There are lots of cool things about open water swimming:
  • The exhilarating freedom of swimming outside with no lane lines, no turns and no limits
  • Being a part of nature, swimming through weeds and the occasional fish, waving hello to the seagull sitting on a buoy, watching the clouds float by, feeling the water temp change as you swim from one area to another.
  • The only constant is variety. The waves, wind, weather and time of day all make each swim unique.
  • The feel of swimming with, through, over and against the waves
  • Asking your kayaker if it's time for your Slimjims and Marlboros
  • Swimming further than you ever thought you could possibly swim
  • Smiling as people tell you how crazy you are - nobody gets this but other open water swimmers

Which is why it's so much fun to introduce someone else to the joys of open water swimming. Thanks to our handy Internet, it's easy to connect with people all over the world who swim amazing feats - beating off sharks as they swim around the Cape of Good Hope, smashing through ice while swimming in Antarctica, dodging 30 foot waves while caught in halacious storms off the Mediterranean coastline - believe me, there are people doing much, much weirder things than me. But, not many of them in Lincoln, Nebraska, which is why it's so delightful to have found a new swim buddy in Omaha who shares my interest and appreciation for open water swimming.

Sarah found my blog, so if this thing has served no other purpose, it's already done more than I ever expected. She drove from Omaha to meet me at Branched Oak for a Sunday swim. Normally, I am fairly easily motivated to do my Sunday lake swim. But this Sunday was after the Saturday of my husband and my 25th wedding anniversary party. I pretty much just wanted to lay on the couch all day, taking small sips of water. Ow. 

But, I knew I had someone counting on me to be there, so I packed up my towel, my safety pillow, all my gear and headed out to the lake. It was a beautiful day  -- way too perfect to have spent on the couch.

Sarah rolled in right on time and we slowly waded into the 68 degree water. I know that's tropical compared to English Channel temps, but when your hungover and it's the first "real" cold water you've been in, it feels downright chilling. After a few yards, though, it wasn't bad at all. The sun was shining and there wasn't much wind, so it felt OK. And having a buddy swimmer made it much, much warmer. I was focusing on Sarah and making sure she was doing OK, so I wasn't thinking about my own strokes or the cold water. Hmmm, nice strategy.

We swam a mile, then got out on the beach to get a drink and went back in for another mile. The buoys were gone, so it was even more open. Thankfully, boat traffic was sparse and jet skis were non-existent. It was as good as it gets for lake swimming. Only a support kayaker would have made it more fun so we could have gone all around the lake.

We finished our swim, ate a quick snack and headed for the warm showers. Sarah says she'd come back for another swim, so I assume she enjoyed it, too. It's fun to discover how far you can go in open water. She's going to be so surprised :-) 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Post Poseidon

The Poseidon Triventure was an excellent reminder of the difference between planning an event and actually doing it. 

Doing it is much, much harder.

The morning of the swim was a chilly 45 degrees, but the water was, thankfully, much warmer, probably about 70 to 72. This temperature difference created a beautiful mist over the water. There was no wind and the lake was so flat, you could see little bubbles popping on the surface. 

I swam on my own for an hour and then Paul joined me with the kayak and we headed out into the lake. I tried warm Perpetuem and was disgusted by it. This is a bummer because I need those calories and Perpetuem is perfectly balanced for endurance events. Maybe if it's just sort of cool that would be better. Fortunately, I had also made a bottle of cold Perpetuem, so I had something to drink.

We were making a loop around the lake and, of course, had a headwind on the way back. It's just as big of an obstacle in swimming as it is in cycling - the waves pick up and it just seems to make the water harder to get through. I was also getting cold. 

We made it back to the beach at exactly 10K. I was shivering so hard, it was difficult to get my cycling gloves on. But the skies were clear and it didn't take long to warm up as I pedaled up hill and out of the park. 

The next 5 plus hours were consumed by pedaling and panting. I stopped about an hour in and discovered a blessed tube of sunscreen in my bike bag. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and I could feel my skin wrinkling under the baking sun. 

I stopped in Ceresco for one of those cold Starbucks drinks. It was the best f**king thing I'd ever tasted. So, so good. I had a fiver for the coffee drink, water and a cereal bar, which was 18 cents short. Fortunately, the cashier let me off so I didn't have to go begging in the parking lot.

More cycling. Covering 62.5 miles takes a long time. Again, I had to push into a headwind on the way back to the lake. But whatever. The wind is going to blow no matter which way you go. Fortunately, most of the county was at the Nebraska football game, so I didn't have a lot of traffic to deal with.

I finally - FINALLY - got back to my car at the lake after 5 hours and 15 minutes of cycling (which includes about 30 minutes of various rest breaks along the way). I peeled off my shoes and socks and got into new shoes and socks and attempted to run.

That didn't work. At all.

My quads instantly cramped up and I had to stop and stretch them out. Every time I increased my speed beyond a stroll, my quads kicked my ass. So, I just walked. I didn't care if it was going to take me 3 hours, I was going to finish this motherlovin event.

Endurance events are interesting in that your body will do so much more than you think possible. After walking a couple of miles, my legs settled down and I was able to jog a little. "Jog" may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it was a fast shuffle. 

The football game ended and Paul scootered out to see me finish. I had a mile to go when he arrived. It was a glorious, fantastic, triumphant mile. I knew I was going to finish. It took me all freaking day and I was as slow as a 3-legged goat, but I was going to make it. In fact, I jogged further than I needed to: 6.5 miles. 

I was really, really happy to take those last steps to reach the car. And I was so glad Paul was there to share in the accomplishment.

I felt good - fine really, except for a very sore butt from cycling and crampy legs from shuffling. It felt so wonderful to get all that salty sweat and grime washed off in the showers. Whoever thought to put locked showers at Branched Oak was a genius and a saint.

Paul and I celebrated my WINNING the inaugural Poseidon Triventure with dinner at Red Robin. I wore my finishers t-shirt :-)

The event was just what I needed - a long day of continuous movement. I needed to know I could do that. Now, I just need to do that while swimming the whole time. In cold water. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Every day

Sometimes, it's not so easy to jump in the pool or the lake and plow through the water. It should be -- I have an epic goal on the horizon that will only be achieved by consistently swimming toward it, every day, or close to it. The whole reason I'm doing this is to challenge myself and celebrate the blessing of good health that allows me to do it. Every day, I see patients in rehab, struggling with intense focus to move a finger or take a single step. They push their limits, too, every day.

So why is it, when I look out on a slightly rough lake on a given Sunday, say last Sunday, I decide to bail on the workout? There was no one around, which was my excuse, but I could have easily swum close to the beach for a couple of hours safely enough. I just didn't. 

It's times like these where I wish I wasn't the only goldfish in the bowl. I'm connected to dozens of other marathon swimmers through facebook and the marathon swimmers forum, but not here, on the beach at Branched Oak Lake, telling me to quit being a pansy and let's go swim. 

I especially want some company when the water temps start dropping. I don't think I ever would have stayed in the cold ocean at Manhattan Beach last spring if it weren't for the pod of other swimmers. Somehow, knowing there's another person who's also plowing headfirst into the freezing seafoam, makes it a lot more tolerable.

So, I'll see who I can con into doing this with me. Granted, it's a tough sell. "Hey, wanna go swimming in 60 degree lake water? It'll be fun!" But, really - it IS fun when you are in it together. And hot coffee never tasted so good afterwards.

Meanwhile, I've opted to go for a jog-walk this morning instead of the usual swim practice, so I'd better get going. I don't necessarily need to swim the entire way to my channel swimming goal, but I need to keep moving forward one way or another. I love this quote from fellow Channel 2014 classmate Bethany Bosch:

"All great accomplishments are the compilation of small, consistent, great choices. The choice is there, whether or not you make it is what determines where your journey will end."

Monday, September 9, 2013

Guess what?! More swimming!

There's not much exciting news to post from the past couple of weeks. I swam at Branched Oak Lake last weekend and again this weekend. In between, I did some workouts with my Y Masters group and, well, that's about it. I need to get in some strength training and a little jogging wouldn't kill me. 

The marathon swimming community has exploded with controversy over Diana Nyad's epic swim from Cuba to Florida. Seriously, I think a few people have busted a jugular over it. I'm just not that bothered by whether or not she followed "the rules" -- whatever those might be for this kind of pioneering swim. I agree that she should be completely forthcoming about all that happened on the swim. But really - the 64-year old woman swam a long damn distance. I don't care if she had vodka tonics for feeds and took a few smoke breaks. She got in the water in Cuba and swam to Key West. Kudos to you, Diana.

Inspired by her crazy ass swim, I decided to put together a swimmer-lovin triathlon I've been thinking about for awhile. It's not a real event - no sanctioning, registration or support of any kind. It's just a training day turned into an event with a little help from Photoshop. I drove the cycling route after my swim on Sunday, and even got tired on the drive. It's going to be epic. And painful.

Meanwhile, I had a lovely lake swim on Sunday with Paul in the kayak. I L.O.V.E. kayak support! It is like the difference between shuffling around a little jail cell and flying in a jet over a little country. This is what my swim looked like - only for 4 hours and 50 minutes more.

My left shoulder is a little tweaky today (not twerky) and I iced it down for a bit. I have practice in the morning so I'd better call it a blog. I'm getting ready for a Lake McConaughy swim next month. And psyching myself up for cold water. YEEEEEESH.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Like a Fish on a Bicycle

My long swim was in the form of a metric century bike ride on Saturday in Kansas City. It was the inaugural ride of the event organized by Paul's boss and my former Burke High classmate, Matthew Mellor. Matthew was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia 3 years ago, and thanks to research that developed a new pharmaceutical, he is cancer free. So this ride was a fundraiser for cancer research and to show support for those who have been affected by cancer in one way or another -- basically, everyone.

I've been looking forward to a long ride this summer, but also dreading it because I haven't been on my bike much. I've either been swimming or recovering from swimming. All the way down there, Paul and I had a recurring conversation:
Me: I really haven't put in much bike time this summer.
Paul: Well, just do the 30 miler then. That's still a good workout
Me: Yeah, I should probably do that. 
Paul: Sure, that way we can sleep in a little too.
Me: Nah, I'll do the 62-miler.

Paul booked a nice room - on the "preferred guest" floor of the Sheraton, which used to be a Hyatt-Regency. The last time we were there was our honeymoon -- a scant 25 years ago. It's still beautiful and our room had a gorgeous view of the downtown skyline. I wished we'd had more time to enjoy it.

We brought the bike and our stuff to the room, then set off to the Plaza to see what we could find for dinner. We had planned on Figlio's, our favorite Italian restaurant on the corner by the big fountain and park. But, sadly, it's being remodeled. I hope it's not another chain. The world has plenty of PF Chang's. 
We took in the sights of the Plaza as we walked to the Classic Cup for dinner -- people enjoying a horse-drawn carriage ride, a talented singer belting out some R&B tunes, window shoppers and couples and families checking everything out. I love the Country Club Plaza and it'll always be a special place to me even though there are now trendy little shopping centers all around KC. I don't think I've ever actually purchased anything there, but it has a charming atmosphere that I enjoy.

After a delicious dinner of roast chicken and risotto with kale (I love kale. I really do.) and Paul's spicy shrimp dish, we headed back to our hotel room and had lights out by 10 p.m. 

The next morning, fortified with a Starbucks latte and a big slab of lemon poppyseed cake, I loaded up my gear and we drove to the start of the ride, just a couple of blocks away.

I'm not sure how many cyclists there were, but it was a good sized crowd. I love the sound of cycling shoes clipping into pedals (even though I am still a hopeless dork when it comes to the ironically named "clipless" pedals. It always takes me a few tries to get the stupid cleat in place... which will come to haunt me later).

The route took us through some cool areas of Kansas City before turning south toward the rural hinterlands. I was surprised to find that I was with a group in the middle of the pack. I'm usually the last straggler. 

At the first sag stop, I met one of Paul's co-worker's whose name escapes me. We ended up chatting longer than I intended and I missed my group's departure, so I just left on my own a little while later. About a mile from the sag stop, there was a round-about, but I couldn't see any markers indicating which way to go. It was like the yellow brick road .... lots of options, but I had no clue which direction to head. Eventually I saw a small group of cyclists take the western turn, so I followed and joined up with them. After a couple miles of riding and chatting about our jobs and stuff, I asked the guy next to me if he was riding in support of someone or if he knew Matthew Mellor. He said, "Um, no, this is the route we usually ride on Saturday." Shit. Turns out, I biked about 6 miles off the route, but these folks kindly road with me to the point where I could get back on track.

The scenery along the south part of the route was gorgeous - lots of hills, trees and farmland. Cycling is so much more scenic than swimming. I was soaking it up and having fun - especially riding downhill. I'm not a very good hill climber, but I must have some sort of low center of gravity or maybe it's my swimmer's padding that helps me sail downhill faster than a Jamaican bobsledder. 

Finally, after a couple more phone calls to Paul to see if he could help me navigate, I landed at the next rest stop. Let me tell you, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is as heavenly as wedding cake when you've been riding 3 hours increasing heat.

I was watching for the small, dark red "62" marks at every intersection. Sometimes they were there, sometimes they weren't. I frequently zipped through an intersection and would see that little circle as I rolled over it, then have to curve back and make a turn. The day was getting hotter and so was I.

Cycling back into town wasn't as much fun as cycling out of it. There was a lot of traffic, stop signs and relentless sun and heat coming off the pavement. I got lost again and called Paul, sharing my exasperation and frustration with some colorful commentary on his voice mail. I told him I was getting a little dizzy, but would keep going unless I felt it was unsafe.

Finally, I got onto the right street again and headed into some neighborhoods with tree shade. The cool patches brought some much needed perspective. Getting all pissy about the heat and my inability to find and follow the way markers was a choice. Deciding that it was a beautiful day for a bike adventure was a better choice. So I cooled my heels, decided to be grateful for the opportunity and focused on the lovely homes I was riding by.

That worked for a good while, until the last 5 miles or so, when I had to descend a black diamond level hill full of traffic pulling out into the street. I was surprised smoke wasn't billowing from my brakes as I tried to slow my freefall down the mile-long hill. And when I finally made it to the turn onto Southwest Parkway, the road was being resurfaced. Really? I'm melting into my seat and I have to deal with cobblestones? Arrrrrgh.

But wait, it gets even better. After surviving a couple miles of riding over a cheese grater, I'm huffing and puffing, with sweat in places I didn't think possible, up a small hill to an intersection. When I get there, I see a lady in a car in the opposite direction. I get to the intersection first and look her in the eye as I start pedaling to make sure she sees me. She looks right back at me, then turns left right in front of me. I had to brake hard to stop and didn't have time to get my foot out of my pedal, so took a dive to my left, landing on my left knee and elbow. I was so, so, so pissed off. How could she have done such a stupid thing? She was looking right at me! And I was too exhausted to get my foot out of my pedal. I was trying to twist it out, but I couldn't get it. I was willing myself not to cry, somewhat successfully. Fortunately, Paul was right behind me and helped me get my feet unstuck, along with another good Samaritan who was kind enough to stop. 
So now I'm hot, covered in sticky salty sweat and street grit, I have a big bleeding knot on my knee and I'm all shaky from the fall. 

No way in hell I'm stopping now. 

I got back on the bike, clipped in after a dozen tries, and headed toward the finish.  I made it through the center of Kansas city traffic to the finish zone and felt fantastic. I do love the finish of a race - or event. And I wasn't even the last one! Total time was 5:45.

As soon as I slid off my bike, Matthew was there and I kindly let him know that I'd checked this off my list. And, as these things always go, after 15 minutes with an ice bag on my knee, I was thinking of what I'd do differently next year. That's the way these things tend to go and how I get myself sucked into bigger and crazier events. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

In and on the lake

I had a long swim at Branched Oak Lake on Saturday - 6.3 miles in a little over 3 and a half hours, which isn't all that fast, but I felt good about it. The day was absolutely gorgeous -- little fluffy clouds floating in the blue summer sky, sunshine and flat water. I couldn't have ordered a swim any better from a catalog.

I have a route that I follow at Branched Oak. I swim from the beach at area one to the buoy line and then swim along the line to the point and back to the beach, which is roughly a mile. This is convenient to get a feed about every 35 minutes, which works well for me, but by the 3rd or 4th feed, I turn from a mere curiosity to something alien and perhaps a little monstrous from the looks I get. "How far are you going?", "Why are you swimming away from the beach?" "Are you afraid of the boats?" "What are you doing?" and then, inevitably, the stories about the friend of a friend who drowned at a lake, or got some flesh-eating bacteria, or was hit by a jet ski, or some other tragic tidbit that I suppose is a way of making conversation. I try to be a good ambassador for open water swimming and I always like chatting with people, but I'm relieved to slosh back into the lake and get on with my next lap.

Swimming gives me time to think, which is how I decided that we'd be better off buying a kayak than taking a trip to a beautiful coastal beach area this fall for some sight-seeing, great seafood, museums and - oh yeah - a 6-hour qualifying swim in 60 degree ocean waves. There will be plenty of nippy lake water around here and with Paul in a kayak, I'm less likely to get hit by one of those boats the beach humans are so worried about.

Paul bought this idea for some reason, so Sunday afternoon we went out and picked out our new kayak: the Pongo 120 by Wilderness in mango. Isn't she pretty? 

We took the kayak out to Wagon Train Lake, met up with my friend Tony and his kids, and took a practice ride/swim in the lake. I think we did pretty good. I told Paul I liked having us even and he did a good job of kayaking slowly enough for us to stay right next to each other for the most part. I'm looking forward to more supported swims in the next couple of months, which is about all we'll have left for lake swimming in Nebraska. I'm curious to see how quickly the temps plummet. Too fast, I'm sure.

Knowing me, I'll probably figure out a way to justify that trip in my next long swim. :-)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

One Year From Now...

My English Channel window is July 19-29, 2014. One year from now. Shit just got real, as they say. Having read a kabillion blogs and everything in print on English Channel swimming, I devised a training plan that should ensure appropriate conditioning for my swim. And on top of swimming pretty much non-stop for the next year, there's still the enormous challenge of acclimating to cold water. I sure wish there was a cold pill that I could take that would make me impervious to the frigid temps. As if swimming that far, that long, in choppy waves, through jellyfish and seaweed and dashing between ocean tankers weren't enough -- it's in 60 degree water.

Well, one thing at a time. For now, I'm focused on kicking up my training - both in volume and in quality (ie - swimming sprints to the point of regurgitation). This week I put in 6 days of swimming. I don't think I've done that since high school. Let's not dwell on the decades that have swum along since then.

I had a nice swim at Branched Oak lake on Saturday with not one, but TWO fabulous kayakers, Ashley and Tammy, from the Sheclismo cycling group.  I felt like a celebrity swimmer with a kayak driving entourage. Very cool. The water was pretty choppy at first, but then settled down about an hour into my swim. I put in 4.8 miles in about 2 and a half hours. We enjoyed a fantastic lunch at the marina restaurant afterward. A burger tastes so much better after a long swim!

Today was a sprint workout at the Y. I'm pleasantly surprised at how well I did. It was HARD to swim as fast as possible for a whole mess of 50s and 100s. I was wheezing like a 6-pack a day smoker. But, I did them all and I beat the guy in the lane next to me -- the ironman triathlete :-)

My shoulders are whining a bit. I'll put on icepack shoulder pads this evening. Rest day tomorrow - ahhh.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

END WET 27-mile swim on the Red River

The END WET swim seemed so far away when I registered for it in January. Then, I suddenly found myself in the car driving up I-29 for hours with Paul for a 27-mile swim in the river. It may sound daunting, but I am inspired my many others who have overcome much bigger obstacles to achieve their goals - sometimes that's climbing a mountain or biking 200 miles of gravel, sometimes it's relearning to walk or using a handcycle to cruise across a state. I am blessed to know some incredible people.

When we finally made it to Grand Forks on Thursday night, we checked into the Guest House Inn which had been a Holidome in its former life. I got a kick out of the putt-putt golf and pool in the center of the building with all the hotel rooms around it. This type of hotel was just like a trip to Disney World when I was a kid. Note: I've never been to Disney World.

I left to pick up my friend Tim at the airport. Tim had kindly provided transportation and housing during the Pensacola swim so I was glad to return the favor. He wanted to stop by Mickey D's for a couple of double cheeseburgers before we got back to the hotel, near midnight. How anyone could sleep after chowing down on those burgers is a deep mystery wrapped in an enigma and shrouded in awe.
Tim and I at the Harvest Bakery

The next morning we had a Red River practice swim, so Paul and I took Tim and another guy, Bob, from Iowa City to the swim start. At the river, I saw Karen Zemlin and Patty Hermann, my LA channel swimming class buddies. Patty somehow snagged Martin Strel as her kayaker. Martin is the Yugoslavian Elvis of the long distance river swimming community (a tiny hamlet) -- he's swum the Danube, Yangtze, Mississippi and Amazon rivers.
Morning practice with about half the field.

All in all, there were about a dozen of us who were ready to dunk in the muddy water for a practice swim. Andy - the boy Jesus and race organizer - led us on his stand-up paddleboard (that's a SUP). The water was surprisingly dark, but it didn't taste bad and the current sent us literally sailing down the river. It was so cool to watch the riverbank full of cottonwood trees fly by between each breath. We covered 2 miles in about 30 minutes, which is twice as fast as I normally cover that distance.

When it came time to get out, I was gushing toward the rapids. The current was so fast, I really had to push it to get across and grab the hand of a volunteer to get out. Whew! We then walked along the trail where we would have to get out during the race to by-pass the rapids. The mud was so soft, I sunk down to my ankles, adding kind of an interesting element to the event.

Mud beard.
It was a huge help to have Paul there for morale support and lots of driving. After we did the practice swim, we cleaned up as best we could and collected another swimmer, Matthew, for the ride to Harvest Bakery, a wonderful local bakery and cafe that served as our river swimmin' gang hangout for the weekend. Matthew is from Paul's neck of the woods, Athens, Georgia, and had just graduated from UGA with a major in English. What do you do with an English major? You take a Greyhound bus to Grand Forks, ND, to swim 27 miles in a brown river that's called Red, then take more Greyhound buses to Maine to hike the Appalachian Trail. He said he hoped to make it home by Christmas.

We thought there was going to be an organized meeting, but it turned out we must have beaten the rush. We ordered some sandwiches, chatted with Tim, Bob and Matthew, then headed back to the hotel to clean-up before the REAL meet-n-greet that evening. And "back to the hotel" meant walking to a campsite for Matthew. Hard core, dude.

At the meet-n-greet later that evening, Andy explained the race day agenda, we signed our waiver (will not sue if I get impaled by a dead tree or pick up some mutant river parasite or get my ass kicked by every other swimmer yada, yada, yada...) and we met our support kayakers, in my case - Dave the Amazing. He drove all the way from California just so he could help out. He used to be Andy's roommate
before they sort of grew up and got married (not to each other) and he swam the inaugural event last year. We also picked up swim caps, which I was pleased to find were silicon. Latex caps tend to bug my ears after awhile. I wish I would have gotten a photo of Dan "Mr. Butterfly" Projansky. As if swimming 27 miles in a river isn't wacky enough, he swam the entire race butterfly. 
Andy, the race director and boy Jesus

The Harvest Bakery set out a sumptuous spread of sandwiches, fresh fruits and veggies and the world's most incredible dark chocolate chip and sea salt cookies. Oh.My.Glorious.Heaven - I'd swim 100 miles and battle muskrats for a dozen of those.

Martin Strel introducing his documentary
After the reception, we walked over to the Firehouse - now an Indy Theater to watch Big River Man, a documentary about Martin Strel's epic river swims. He introduced the movie, which was pretty cool. I had a chance to visit with him a little that morning and he's a very nice guy. I love his Yugo accent and I'm impressed with his determination. The documentary noted that Martin got into swimming at a young age -- escaping beatings from his father. He also suffered from mental stress and dementia during his Amazon swim. That he has survived all of this and is a national hero in Yugoslavia and among open water swimmers is impressive and admirable.

We made it back to the hotel about 9:30 and I whipped up my feed bottles for the next morning. Two scoops of Perpetuem in a 32-ounce bottle with water and a splash of V8 Splash will keep me going. I also thought it would be a good idea to include a gel each hour, which as it turned out, wasn't a good idea, but I'll get to that.

On race day morning, we met Tim and Bob in the hotel lobby and after a quick stop at Harvest Bakery so I could snag a pastry, we met at the kayak loading spot so we could give our support partners our feeds. Mine conveniently fit in a soft sided cooler full of ice.

Greased up and getting ready to roll.
We then drove over to the start of the race. Twenty-six people of all ages from all over and from 17 to 68 years old. Masters swimmers, and marathon swimmers in particular, don't have a typical physique. Some are pudgy, some are slim, some have well defined muscles and others, like me, look pretty soft.

Andy led us into the water for the start and off we went. Group starts are a battle of arms and legs. I bounced off a couple of other swimmers as we made our way under the first bridge. The first 2 miles went just as fast as our practice swim. I kept an eye on the river side and started swimming a lot closer to the bank so I wouldn't have to fight the current to get out at our walk-around spot.

Some swimmers ran from the portage, but since my goal was simply to get to the finish without injury, I walked it. Dave met me at the top of the hill and we walked together to the kayak spot. I jumped back in the lake and Dave caught up with me shortly afterward.

Dave paddling and me swimming - for 8 hours.
From this point on, it was just a matter of swimming in the current, one arm after the next, for 8 hours. Tim and I kept passing each other for about 3 miles from the kayak loading spot, but he eventually found his mojo and I didn't see him again until the finish line.

So, what's it like to swim in a river? It's awesome. Although I couldn't see anything in the murky water, it's wonderful to watch the trees go by at every breath and get a generous push from the current. I asked Dave to let me know if he spotted any bald eagles. There weren't any during the swim and I didn't see any fish, either.

I was feeling pretty good overall. I had kinesio tape on my shoulders which may have helped prevent some of the shoulder impingement I incurred at the Pensacola swim in May. At about mile 10, my left shoulder started complaining. This is the other shoulder - the one I didn't injure. It wasn't too bad, so I just kept swimming.

Every half hour, Dave would whistle or just toss me my bottle of carbo drink. The bottles stayed nice and cold in that cooler all day long. After a quick chug, and a little stretching in the water, I face planted back into the muddy river and kept swimming - already thinking of the next feed.

Dave did a great job as my support kayaker. There were only a couple of times when I couldn't see him and that was usually because he was texting Paul to report on our progress.

At the 14-mile spot, there was a viewing area where our families and friends could watch us and cheer us on. I saw Paul and gave him the thumbs up.

After Tim passed me by, I didn't see another swimmer until close to the finish. For the next 6 hours, it was just swimming, swimming, swimming with the 30-minute feed schedule. My right shoulder pain continued to get a little worse each hour, but nothing at all like I experienced in Pensacola. I could deal with it.

As we got closer to the finish, I spotted a swimmer ahead of me. I tried to catch her, but was only able to close the gap. I could see the Oslo water tower, so I knew we were close. There was a bridge ahead and assumed the finish spot was probably on the other side. I kicked it up a notch and turned those tired arms like propeller blades.

Getting to the finish was the best feeling in the world. I clocked in at 8:01. Dang - if I'd picked up my pace a little sooner, I could have made it under 8 hours. But that's OK. My mission to finish was accomplished. 
I checked out the scoreboard and was pleased to see I came in 13th out of 26 - right in the middle. Patty did great, too, with a 10th place finish. My friend Karen Zemlin won the race! I heard it was a very close finish between Karen and world class swimmer Jen Schumacher. Way to go, Karen! Sandra Berquist came in 3rd. Top 3 spots won by the ladies - woot woot!

Paul had my recovery drink ready. I drank it all, but then felt like puking it back up about 10 minutes later. The nausea was worse with this race than Pensacola. I've since done some research on feedings during a marathon distance event and I think I was taking in too many calories. I had a gel in addition to my feedings each hour. The body can only absorb about 200 calories an hour during exercise and I was getting in 300 or a little more. No more gels.

The Oslo fitness center (a small gym with ancient equipment and 2 showers) kindly let us get cleaned up in their facility. I had little creases of river dirt all over me and was very grateful for the shower.

Paul drove Tim and me back to the hotel and we relaxed a little before heading downtown for dinner. You'd think I'd be ready to chow down on a 30 oz porterhouse steak, but I was still battling nausea. We found a great little pizza place and enjoyed sitting at a table on the rooftop. 

The next morning, I felt a lot better. I took Tim to the airport and then Paul and I went to the awards ceremony back at the theater. I'm so glad we stayed - we'd thought about heading out after I dropped off Tim. It was great to see the other swimmers in their street clothes - although sometimes it's hard to recognize someone when they're not in a suit, cap and goggles.

Andy had a few kind words for each swimmer as they came to the stage to get their medal. It's a little like being a kid at a local swim meet -- the thrill of getting a medal. I wore mine the rest of the day.

After the ceremony and chatting with the other swimmers, we headed home. It was a long drive, but so well worth it. I'd do this race again next year if I didn't have that English Channel swim on my agenda for next July. That's going to be a bit more strenuous (understatement of the year).

The week following the race, I did nothing. It took a lot out of me and I wanted to give my left shoulder time to heal. Now, it's time to get serious about training for the Channel.