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 :-)