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?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Nearly 2 years and an 8 Hour Flight

I didn't feel as nervous as I expected when Paul and I boarded the big, fat Boeing 777 in Chicago for London. Excited, slightly nervous, but mostly just eager to get going already and land in England. It was a long flight and hard to sleep, but really, I can't complain about the magic of air transportation. It's almost as fantastic as the Internet.

We arrived in London around noon and took the Hotel Hoppa (bus) to the DoubleTree Inn about 4 miles from the airport. I was so exhausted, I had to close my eyes for a few minutes. Maybe 60.

So how does one go about seeing the sites of London in five hours? You take the Piccadilly Line tube to Russell Square and head for the British Museum, after a quick refreshment break at the Plough, a 125-year old pub.

The British Museum was magnificent with thousands of artifacts from every imaginable place and time. We even saw the Rosetta Stone. The real one, not that disc set that promises to teach you to speak Swahili in 10 easy lessons.

After the museum, we hit the sidewalk and made it to Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus (sadly, not a trapeze artist in sight) and Buckingham Palace. We were starving by now, but there wasn't anything in our price range in the area. The Ritz Hotel had full English tea for 150 pounds. We skipped that and made it back to the Tube for the return ride to the hotel. We both fell asleep, though luckily, woke up just before our exit.

There was a small Indian restaurant by our hotel and the savory scent of chicken korma was irresistible. We had a plate of that and saag paneer and garlic naan and some samosas. Our bellies full of curry, we shuffled across the street to our hotel and promptly got ready for bed.

Whereupon, I could not get to sleep.  Yup - totally exhausted, strung out and wrung out after just a few catnaps in the past 36 hours. Jet lag is a drag. I finally drifted off a little after midnight and had bizarre dreams until the alarm went off just a handful of hours later.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Feelin' the Love

I am one blessed swimmer. My English Channel attempt is a solo swim, but I'm hardly alone. I have a flotilla of support from my family and friends, including many friends I haven't met in person yet, but feel I know like neighbors or swim teammates on facebook. Say what you will about the evils of social media, but it's been a beloved source of training tips, silly jokes and wise counsel when things have been going tough.

Last week, a few of my peeps got together for a lovely send-off for the adventure. With glamorous goggles, a sparkling tiara swimcap, delicious snacks and lots of other kind and creative gifts, these dear friends made me feel like Queen of the Channel. Best of all -- I enjoyed an evening of laughter and great conversation, relaxing and enjoying the moment with those I know best. How often does that happen?! Not nearly enough.

And then my co-workers got into the act with a fantastic channel cheer party at work. Decorations, an ocean-themed cake and thoughtful gifts I really don't deserve, but was overjoyed to receive. Many thanks to my incredible Marketing-PR team: Tami, Joanne, Elie and Sarah!

It's humbling and a bit embarrassing to be at the center of attention, but I deeply appreciate the heartwarming support I've collected on this journey. I enjoy sharing the trials and triumphs of my crazy goal, but never expected it to be that big of a deal to others. It's not nearly as pretty as figure skating or gymnastics. Not as cool as mountain biking or triathlon. But, it's what I love to do. So, I guess I'll go do it! 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Another Weekend Swim

This is my next to last weekend before we head to Dover. I can't quite get my head around the fact that my channel tide is less than a month away. When I started this journey in January of 2013, it seemed so far away -- couldn't even imagine the shoreline, so to speak.

For what seems like the hundreth time, I waded into Branched Oak Lake on Saturday. It's become a good friend. I know every point and buoy around its perimeter. I see the same folks in boats, often asking how long I'm swimming today. It's my Mayberry.

I planned on 6 hours for Saturday and my friend Rodney took the first 3-hour shift. The water seemed unusually warm -- 75f according to my thermometer. But, it felt OK. Sure beats shivering after 10 minutes. 

Rodney and I paddled and swam under a gorgeous summer morning sky. The water was completely flat - a very rare phenomenon. Things felt good and I was humming along at my fastest rate yet, according to my Endomondo tracker.

We wandered a little too far into the north end of the lake, but it was no big deal. Nothing to do but swim for 6 hours, so the route doesn't much matter. When we crossed the lake to get back to the beach at Area 1, I was surprised that the lake was still so smooth. We both stopped a bit to check out a helicopter that was carrying a fire bucket. Not sure why - must have been a drill.

Paul took over kayak duty at the beach while I meandered between the buoys. My shoulders, especially the left one, were beginning to bother me. And my head was completely stuffed up. There must be a lot more algae in the water. I had to blow out the snot block every once and awhile. Conveniently, there's plenty of water to wash up with.

When we got to the north side of the lake, a young guy on a paddle board came over and asked if I was training for something. I told him I was training for the English Channel and would be heading over in a couple of weeks. He said, "That's you. I heard you were training for that. That's incredible." I'm sure not doing this for any kind of fame, but it's nice to know that people care.

I had thought about putting in 7 hours, but at about 5 and a half, my left shoulder was killing me and my head was about to explode from the sinus pressure. So, we stuck to the plan and completed the 3-hour loop as intended. My tummy was feeling pretty gross, too. As we crossed the lake to get back to the beach, the water was like a washing machine from all the boat traffic. I mention these things because they were going on, but really, it's par for the course in long open water swims. Some swims are better than others. This one was one of the others and it's OK. Just keep swimming. I waded out at 6 hours, 25 minutes. Blew a gallon of lake water out of my nose then sneezed incessantly for about 10 minutes. Very weird. 

I took 2 sudefed, 2 ibuprofen and a benadryl, which finally cleared out my head after about an hour and a half. Don't do this at home, kids.

I had planned to swim 3 hours at the lake again today, but it was raining and the forecast predicted storms. So, I texted Michaella to see if she'd be available for coffee chat instead of kayaking, which she was. I picked up a coffee for me and some kind of fru fru iced toddy thing with 8 ingredients for her and enjoyed sitting in her beautiful screened in porch, catching up on each other's lives. I will always be grateful that we became friends at Madonna and have stayed friends since she left to become the marketing maven for the Lincoln Children's Museum. Everything is better when shared with good friends.

Oh, and after the chat, I sat in an ice bath for a half hour and swam at the Y for 3 hours and 10,000 yards. After the first few hundred yards to work out the kinks, it felt pretty good. I forgot to bring any Gatorade or carbo drink - doh! But, that's probably good for training. I have plenty of padding to keep me going. Afterwards, I rewarded myself with a delicious bowl of pho. Mmmmmmmmm.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Dude, Somebody Stole my Floatie!

Last weekend, Paul and I were in Springfield, Missouri, to visit his parents and grandma. I was looking forward to swimming in Table Rock Lake. It's so clean and clear and pretty:

I didn't have a kayaker -- wanted Paul to be able to visit with his folks, so I made my way to Moonshine Beach (only in Branson... land of hillbillies, has-beens and holy rollers) a protected cove for swimming with a sandy beach. The swimming area wasn't very big, but I could see a nice route along the buoy line.

I swam out to the first buoy and attached my floating beverage ring by rope and a carabiner to the anchor chain. It's a great little self-service feeding station, pictured here in my corner full o' swimming gear:

The water was absolutely delicious - very little wind, cool but not cold and I could see about 4-5 feet below me. Following the buoys across the swimming beach over to the marina and back took about 15 minutes, so 2 laps to a a feed. 

It is so handy to have that floating feed station. I'm able to relax and swim, not having to go back to the beach or put a handful of gu gels and a water bottle down the back of my suit. As I swam back to the marina, I could see some drowned trees under me in the water -- it was like I was flying over them.

On my way back to the floatie, I noticed a big power boat parked by the buoy. I wondered if it was some sort of lake patrol annoyed that I had attached my float to the buoy, although I don't know why anyone would care. It wasn't a hazard to boats or other swimmers or anything.

By the time I made it to the buoy the boat was gone. And so was my floatie. 

Are you kidding me? Seriously? What kind of cretin steals somebody's float ring and carbo drinks. Did they think there was beer in there? Good grief.

I swam to the beach thinking maybe whoever took it dropped it off, but no such luck. I could have, and should have, put in another hour of swimming, but I felt angry and a little violated. I just wanted to go home to the inlaws, so I did.

The next day, Father's Day, I was determined to get in more swimming since I only swam an hour and 45 minutes at the lake. I stopped by Starbucks, grabbed a latte and a breakfast sandwich and headed to the YMCA, where I like to swim when we're in Springfield.

Could this weekend have been a bigger swim FAIL? Why on earth is the YMCA closed? Father's Day? Sunday? KHAN!!!!

Swimming friends and mentors had been telling me to rest. I had swum 11 hours last weekend and had racked up some decent yardage in the past few weeks. But, I wasn't planning to swim 100 x 100s on the 100 - I just wanted to get in some yards. Believe it or not, I actually like swimming just for the sake of swimming. And I'm a little bit anal about staying on track with my swim plan, which involves certain total yardage each week.

But this weekend wasn't going according to plan. I needed to let it go. Breathe. Maybe one of my swimming friends did some extra yards this week and it all balances out in the swimming cosmos. Gotta go with the flow.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

How to Swim All Day

Last Sunday, I waded into Branched Oak Lake at 6 a.m. and sloshed out at 5:08 p.m. I swam for a little more than 11 hours. 

So, what's it like to swim from dawn to dinnertime? Well, like any day - some parts were pretty good and others were challenging.

It was a huge help to have 4 kayakers lined up to provide support in 3-hour shifts. That helped break up the day into separate chunks and get a fresh perspective, and new swim route, with each kayaker. The weather was calm, though a little cool. It was in the high 50s at the start and never rose above 70. It was mostly cloudy and the water was between 69-73 (estimating).

Good morning, Branched Oak

The first shift with Tammy went well. We took a loop around the lake and as we were crossing the open lake to return to the start, the wind and lake current were pushing us back -- like walking up a down escalator. Tammy asked if I wanted to backtrack, but I figured this was probably a lot like it will feel getting to France. We must plow through! And we did. It just took a looooooong time.

When we arrived back at the beach, Ashley was ready to take over. We followed a similar loop, but went clockwise instead. This segment was a little tougher. I had put in more than 3 hours and knew I still had many, many more hours to go. This is the mental challenge of marathon swimming. It's hard to stay in the moment and not get pulled into the daunting prospect of many more hours of swimming. I tried to stay focused on my stroke form and singing songs in my head. 

The feeds and comfort stops were going well. The free sample of maltodextrin as a feed passed inspection. In fact, it dissolved more completely than the Genr8 and I really didn't notice any difference in energy levels. 

After retracing my steps - or rather, strokes - we made it back to the Area 1 beach where Matt was ready for his shift. It was now noon and the boat traffic was picking up. Having predicted as much, Matt's route was an out-and-back course near the shoreline. This shift was hard, but also easy in a way. I was tired, but I knew this was my last 3-hour chunk. Again, I had to shift my focus back to the present moment and just put one arm over the other.

The feeds I'd given Matt were mixed with ginger beer. I thought that might help settle my tummy, but they tasted terribly acidic. I should have left the ginger beer out to get flat. But, I'm not sure that would have made much of a difference anyway. I was running out of songs to sing and my mind was coming up with all sorts of excuses for ending the swim: my right goggle lens was leaky - better get out; I left my swim parka on a picnic table, I'd better go lock it in the car; those clouds are getting darker, we'd better get out; I'm getting cold and I still have hours to go, I'd better get out.

But, I didn't. I kept swimming. 

Finally, Matt and I made the return trip to the beach and Paul was there for the last 2-hour shift. Although I was bone tired, I knew I could make it with just 2 hours left. I had given Paul feeds I thought would be good to have at the end: Genr8 with Sprite and Genr8 with tea. I hated them both. I skipped one of the feeds and took a Gaviscon tablet. Oh the joy of Gaviscon! It totally wiped out my nausea, but unfortunately, I totally ran out of gas without the calories. I guzzled as much of the sprite mix as I could. The tea was just too awful.

Paul is such a good support kayaker - always positioned just right and has feeds ready to go so I can take them quickly. But, since he's my hubby, it's also tempting for me stop and chat for the dummest reasons. By now, I'm cold, tired, hungry but slightly nauseous and exhausted and have felt this way for several hours. But, I also know I'm going to make it and that is a powerful motivator. The very best!

Swim Video

I plowed my way back to the beach and felt a little woosy walking onto the sand. I wanted a hot shower and to stop moving! I'd been in perpetual motion all day long and I just wanted to SIT. So, I sat for a brief minute, then collected my gear and drove up to the showers while Paul loaded the kayak on top of the Pilot and went off in search of roast chicken for dinner.

The shower felt so, so, so good. I'd still be in it now if I'd had enough quarters. I still need to work on my cold water acclimation. Second verse, same as the first. But, I am still proud of completing my longest swim to date. Eleven hours is an accomplishment!

And that chicken dinner was the best meal I've ever had :-)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Back to Back

Cyndi Lauper - still rockin' it!

The one and only, Cher
This weekend (May 31-June 1) was a planned back-to-back swim adventure: 5 hours on Saturday and 4 hours on Sunday. What I didn't take into account was the Cyndi Lauper and Cher concert on Friday night with my mom and daughter. Friday had been a stressful day at work and I was focused on having fun with my favorite gals. I tend to get a little obsessive about my areas of interest and enjoying the concert became my life's mission that particular evening. 
Me, my mom, Audrey and Jaxon (the cat)

Audrey and Mary Ann on our way to the arena

I had a blast and enjoyed my own personal dance party, much to the amusement of the guy sitting behind me and the total embarrassment of my daughter. We made it home around 12:30 a.m. and the alarm going off at 6 was the very definition of a rude awakening.

But, the swim must be done, so I got up, slugged a coffee, loaded up the car with the gear and headed to the lake. I swam 2 hours on my own along the buoy line, then Paul joined me in the kayak for the last 3. It was a pleasant enough day, although it rained for an hour. I didn't mind it but it's a drag for the kayaker.

I actually enjoyed the swim. I told Paul it was one of those picture perfect days I'd remember when we're old, sitting on the porch swing. After the rain, the sky cleared up with a few of those popcorn puff summer clouds and the lake was smooth as silk. I felt surprisingly good despite my late night partying and just enjoyed the swim.

The next day, I planned a 4 hour slog on my lonesome. But my luck held out and my friend Alberta and her husband were at the lake, too. Donny, Alberta's husband, kindly took my feeds and somehow managed to cover both of us as we swam along the buoy line. It's so much nicer to have company even if you're not swimming side by side. Just having a friend in the water makes it easier somehow. The four hours went by surprisingly fast. At least that's how it seems looking back on it!

The water was well out of Channel range, probably in the low 70s. I've been taking cold baths in the horse tank - that's all the acclimation I've got until Dover. Here's my Awkward Family photo of me in the tank during a cookout with the family:

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Swimming in the Dark

My long swim yesterday began after 3 and a half hours of sleep. We had to get up at 2 a.m. to be toes-in-the-water by 4 a.m. I was hoping to get to bed by 8, but you know how it goes. We had a couple of fun HS grad parties to attend, then it always takes longer than expected to fill feed bottles, collect all the gear, set-up a string of glow lights and whatnot. Tiredness was just one of many challenges that popped up during my 7 and a half hour swim at Branched Oak Lake. 

I felt a little blurry, too.

There's a lake out there. Somewhere.

I've been eager to get in a swim in the dark. Yes, I really was excited about this prospect. It's a weird swimmer thing (don't know if Paul found this as interesting as I did, but he is my chief kayaker and dutifully joined me in the adventure). It was as cool as I imagined in would be. There is something exhilarating about swimming in the dark under the stars. Not that I got to see a lot of them with my face in the water but I'd catch a glimpse when I turned my head to take a breath. Keeping close to the kayak was trickier than I thought it would be. My string of glow sticks got all clumped up, so instead of illuminating the length of the kayak, they were a bright blob of light in one spot. It's hard to judge distance in the dark, in the water, with goggles.

The lake and weather conditions were perfect - no wind, water about 65 degrees and a glasstop surface to the water. Although, I don't think Paul enjoyed the gentle rain we had for about an hour during the first shift. I thought it was nice - another weird swimmer thing.

We took a big loop around the lake and I felt good. I was chilly, but not nearly as much as during the qualifying swim 2 weeks ago when the water was around 58-59f. I liked watching the sky get lighter with the coming dawn, but with the rain, it was cloudy and stayed that way all through the swim.

After 3 hours we made it back to the beach at Area 1 and it was time for my friend Rodney to take over support kayak duties. I swam between buoys for a few loops while the boys swapped places and got the next batch of feeds in the boat. I was glad to see that Paul gave Rodney his yellow safety jacket, which was a fantastic and generous gift from one of my friends and swim supporters, Bill Johnson. It's nice to be able to clearly see one's support kayaker and the jacket makes a beacon of hope, light, safety and all the good things that a swimmer associates with their support kayaker.

The next 2 hours were tougher. My stomach was giving me a hard time and I was feeling nauseous. I don't think I was taking in much lake water because the water was nearly flat, but maybe it was the lack of sleep or something. I was using my normal feed, Genr8, which I've used on several a long swims without any problem. There was one feed I thought I'd barf up a couple minutes later, but instead, swam on with horrible reflux creeping up my esophagus. I wish I could puke easier. I know that's gross. It's a weird swimmer thing.

I just took a couple of sips the next feed and felt better after awhile. But now the cold was getting to me. Again, not in a severe "I don't think I can make it" sort of way, but rather just a miserable "I need to keep going" sort of way. Also, I brought my evil waterproof mp3 player thinking it would be a nice to have on the long training swim, but the damn thing didn't charge on my computer and was totally dead when I tried to turn it on. So, I had to quickly adjust to the reality that I'd have to think about the cold and every little ache without the pleasant and motivating distraction of my favorite tunes. It's OK. I can't use it during the Channel crossing, so no use getting dependent on it. But believe me, it's really, really nice to swim to music.

We made an out and back track to Area 1 in 2 hours and Tony took over the kayak. He took the yellow jacket from Rodney and it amused me how attached I had become to that jacket :-) Tony said we had 2 hours and suggested the out and back track again. I was surprised because I thought we had 3 hours left, but figured the transition times must have added up. Foreshadowing.

Tony is an experienced kayaker and did a great job -- right next to me, in the sunlight (or, as it was, at least positioned where the sunlight would be if we had any) and kept me away from boaters and branches and buoys. This shift, my nausea was really wearing on me and was compounded by a pulled groin on my left side. I couldn't kick with that leg anymore, so was swimming like a mummy, dragging that useless heavy thing behind me. On the bright side, the peppermint tea feed was a soothing break from the fruit flavored feeds, and warm, since it was in the one and only insulated thermos I own. And I knew it was the last shift and I was going to make it. That is really the best feeling in the whole world.

On the way back, Tony asked if my goal was to complete 8 hours. After swimming 7 some hours in cold water, I knew the correct answer: to the beach. I was pretty sure we needed more time, but this wasn't a decision I was willing to make at that point. 

Sure enough, as we neared the beach, Paul said we needed another 25 minutes. "Good enough" I said and kept swimming for land. It was a great training swim and considering the logistics and the pain and nausea I was feeling, I consider it a huge success. 

Endomondo tracker

I am so very grateful for kayak support. If you have ever wanted to help someone, consider kayaking for a marathon swimmer. You.Will.Be.Loved. I totally rely on my kayaker to keep me safe, fed and keep me going when I'd much rather call it a day and find the closest Village Inn.

Every swim offers lessons and here are a few I've learned from yesterday's 7 hour, 35 minute swim in 65 degree water:

  • Swims that start in the early dark hours are beautiful, but get at least 5 hours of sleep before.
  • Not sure why I was so nauseous and given that I'm not an easy puker, I need to find a system that works. I didn't worry about how much I was taking in. Some feeds went better than others and that's OK. If I'd taken the full 8 to 10oz every feed, I would have been even more miserable. Tea seemed to sit better than the juice.
  • Need to do stretches for those tight hip flexors, which I'm fairly sure were the cause of the leg/groin cramp.
  • Still need to work on my acclimation. I'm going to pick up a horse tank at Tractor Supply and spend some time sitting in cold water in the comfort of our back patio.
  • I felt miserable all afternoon after the swim. I was totally exhausted, but unable to sleep, tummy felt gross, head was pounding. I felt much better after taking a sudafed. I ordered some nose plugs - the kind that go into the nostrils instead of a clamp over the nose, which I hope will help keep water out of my sinuses.
  • I'm proud of myself for plugging away despite feeling tired, nauseous and painful. My arms and shoulders were champs. No issues there. Woo hoo!
  • Long swims are a different animal. It's not at all the same as swimming long practice swims during the week. I need these every weekend until I leave for Dover.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Made My Qualifying Swim!

Last Saturday, I finally achieved the swim I failed to do in Florida and California. I swam 6 hours in water averaging 59f in my own backyard (not literally -- Branched Oak Lake is about a 45 minute drive NW of our home, but still, a lot closer than either coast.)

I was elated, ecstatic and ... exhausted.

Swimming to the finish!

Sloshing out of the lake.

Making it to dry land!

Me and my handsome kayaker

My wonderful friend and biggest swim fan, Cindy.

My buddy Bill, giving me 70 push-ups to celebrate my victory!

Bill and I both upright!

Unfortunately, I didn't get a photo of my kayaker and friend Tammy Walter. She was AMAZING! I will make sure to get a photo with Tammy to add to this post later. 

Tammy took the first 3 hour shift. The air temp was in the low 60s and I pulled the water temp thermometer after it dropped to 57.7f. I didn't even want to know if it was lower. The skies were cloudy but very little wind, so the conditions were pretty good for the start. Well, except that I forgot that Tammy said she didn't have her kayak and would need mine. Luckily, she came with her guy pal David, who brought his kayak to join in the fun. David kindly let Tammy use his kayak and headed back home to fetch his sailboard. I love having friends with great gear :-)

Tammy and set-off at 7:20 a.m. The water felt chilly, but as usual, after about 5 minutes, the circulatory system did it's lifesaving maneuver of rushing blood to the core and I didn't feel too cold. Things were going really well that first hour. I just had a drink of water at the first feed stop since I was chugging along just fine on my breakfast of steelcut oats and eggs. We rounded the point, swam along the dam and then took the dogleg turn to the right to the north part of the lake. We passed a few boats and I was wondering what those fisherman in their fleece jackets and caps must think of seeing someone swimming by.

Tammy was encouraging and a great support kayaker -- sticking close to me and checking to make sure I knew who I was and not letting me stop for a smoke or shot of Jack Daniels.

Getting into hour 2, I was getting cold. I tried not to think about it, but my neck and shoulders were tensing up. Fortunately, we had a hella headwind and monsterous chop to deal with on the way back to Area 1. I say that only because the extra work of plowing through that mess helped generate a little more heat. Tammy was having some trouble staying close, but not too close, and I felt like I wasn't making any progress. I remember thinking this was probably like stuff I'll run into in the Channel and as long as I'm getting one arm over the next, I'm still in the game. Just keep going.

Hour 2 to 3 was a mental hurdle. I was still in the first part of the swim, but already feeling cold and tired. This is where I concentrated on just being present -- trying not to think of the whole swim, just concentrating on my stroke form and getting to the next feed. Easier said than done.

We finally crossed the lake and I saw Paul in our kayak waiting near the beach. I was too cold to stop and tell Tammy "thank you" so just kept plodding along as they exchanged places. Paul is also an excellent support kayaker. He positioned himself where I could see him in the sunlight and was always within about 10 feet. This is important to a swimmer. It wastes precious energy to have to pull my head up to find my kayaker if he/she is too far up front and I am in no position to navigate, so it's useless to have my kayaker behind me. 

Hour 3 to 4 was also tough. I was glad to have made it to the "downhill" side of the swim, but I still had a long way to go. And the cold was really being obnoxious. It wouldn't be ignored. But, I remembered advice from other swimmers -- concentrate on your core being warm, even if you're cold and miserable - keep moving and you won't get any MORE cold, and just swim to the next feed.

The warm feeds were a wonderful help. I was really pleased with how the feeding and peeing were going. I know that's a bit gross, but if you're not peeing, you're not getting enough nutrition and will totally fail. I drank as much as I could every stop and the restroom activity was going OK. Believe me, it's not as easy as you think to urinate in cold water. Nothing wants to work. It takes intense concentration.

I kept swimming. I just refused to stop. The sun came out, which was a huge help, and I knew I had a ton of people cheering me on. The water was getting a bit warmer and I was able to distract myself with thoughts of great trips Paul and I have taken together, songs, visualizing the faces of my family and good friends and concentrating on getting one arm over the other.

My left shoulder was really bothering me that last hour, but it was the LAST hour! Nothing could have stopped me from finishing my qualifying swim. In fact, once we made the last turn to get back to the beach and I knew I was going to finish, it was the best feeling in the world! I loved that last half hour!

When we got close to the beach, I asked Paul if I could swim in and he informed me that he had me swim an extra 10 minutes just to make sure I made the full 6 hours. I actually appreciated that and headed into shore. I was so delighted and surprised to see Cindy and Bill and Sydney and one of her friends there at the picnic shelter. I didn't expect to have an audience! It was a moment I'll always cherish. I was tired, my shoulders were sore and I was cold, but I DID IT. 

Let the English Channel rumpus begin.