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 :-)


  1. So proud of you, Molly. You're one of my own inspirations on my long bike rides ("If Molly can swim for 11 hours, surely I can bike for 8.") Will you tell us more about what the EC swim will demand? I have no concept of how long that swim will be.

    1. Thanks for you encouragement, Phyllis. The English Channel will take me between 15 and 18 hours to complete. The water is cold, about 60, degrees and the wind and weather make a big difference. I'll have a 32-foot boat leading the way with an experienced captain who has guided many swimmers across the channel. Paul will toss me a bottle of carb drink every half hour. I may take a bite of banana or an occasional gu gel, but mostly just the drink. If I make it to France, I have to completely clear the water and the boat horn will blast my victory :-) There is also an official observer on board who will make sure I follow all the rules: no neoprene, no fins or paddles. No touching the boat. At the end of the swim, I have to get back in the water and swim to the boat for the return trip to England.