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 :-)