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.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Cruisin in Cali

Part of the reason for my utter failure in swimming anything close to a 6-hour swim in California may be been due to having such a good time. I caught up with friends I exchange posts with on Facebook, but rarely get to see in person -- including a former high school swim teammate I haven't seen in 30 years. I don't regret a minute of that. I swam with orange fishies and sea lions in La Jolla, watched the beautiful sunset over the cove from the balcony of our hotel room and enjoyed swimming with several members of the La Jolla Swim Club, including EC swimmer Barbara Held. It.Was. Awesome.

Once I hit San Francisco, I met up with Suzie Dods and the gang at the South End Rowing Club and Dolphin Club. Swimming in Aquatic Park was pure bliss! Well, until I had to try swimming 6 hours in it... Suzie had helped arrange swimming playdates with some lovely people and I enjoyed swimming in huge, washing machine waves, the rain and even a calm sunny day.

Could Suzie Dods be any cuter?

Two amazing swimmers Sylvia and Lynn. They were incredibly supportive! Lynn kayaked, Sylvia swam with me and they both helped salvage my depressed soul after I bailed just shy of 2 hours into my qualifying attempt. The cold won.

Catching up with our scooter peeps Mark and Suellen

Great video!

And another!

Swimming in California was fantastic fun. Although I didn't make my qualifying swim, I spent a lot of time in cold ocean water, getting more used to the temps, the chop, the swells and the critters. And getting to meet old friends and make new ones was a joy. In the end, I'm sure it helped me get in the mindset and physical preparation for completing the swim two weeks later!