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.


  1. Molly...I try to live vicariously through your marvelous descriptions, but cannot imagine for a minute being a marathon swimmer. You've heard this before...awesome! I totally admire your courage and your constitution. And...I can relate to your not being an "easy puker" I suffer from the same condition. But that's about all I can relate to. I can't wait to hear your victory cry from England!

  2. Congratulations. You. Are. Amazing!!!

    And it would be SUCH an honor to kayak alongside you--I might have to come earlier to see how the "feed" works. I'll even bring my GoPro and film you for a while :-)