I woke up this morning, tired – and having cancelled my usual Monday a.m. swim. I’ve been a little unmotivated lately. I didn’t realize that it was International Women’s Day.
And then, as usually happens when I spend time scrolling the socials for news, opportunities, and a much needed dopamine hit, I started to see a whack of posts, memes, diatribes, confessionals, laments, and promotions heralding THE DAY. Not to be left out, I thought about a post that I’ve been pondering a while about something I’ve really noticed in my open water swimming journey, and I decided to bloody well write it before the inspiration faded, as it has so many times during the last few months when I’ve had something to say, and then didn’t in the end. Meh. Covid.
As a relative newcomer to this open water life, it’s become clearer and clearer to me that women – or SWIMMEN (if I may coin a word) – are the backbone AND child-bearing hips of open water swimming. My training partners have mostly been women. My biggest cheerleaders are women. My support teams have mostly been comprised of women. When I planned my Christina Lake swim last fall, 5 women appeared ready to help. I meet women when I travel to events. Sometimes, we sit on the school bus to the start line and encapsulate our entire swimming history in 4 minutes, and then we’re friends. For life. The upper echelon of this community also seems committed to support and share – interacting through the channels that connect us through this weird time in the world. Jaimie Monahan has commented on some of my posts, which flummoxes me, because if I met her in person, I would probably die a messy fan-girly death.
I have never felt marginalized or disaffected within the open water swimming community. The connections I’ve made through events, training, and even my social media presence have largely been with amazing and awesome women, who sometimes reach out just to extend a wave of support. The power of this community is that it is free of boundaries, free of bullshit, and full of heartfelt support. If you’re reading this and you’ve ever reached out to me, I hope you know how much it’s meant.
Here’s where I name some amazing SWIMMEN so shout these names RIGHT OUT LOUD and you can too: AS LOUD AS WE CAN:
Jaimie Monahan, Ali Gartland, Ella Chloe Foote, Chloe McCardel, Emily Epp, Deanne Steven, Debbie Collingwood, Suzanne Welbourn, Sarah Thomas, Beth French, Lynne Cox, Elaine Davidson, Alina Warren, Joanne Malar, Amber Honeybaker, Catherine Breed, and many, many others.
And let us honour:
the women who cross Channels
the women who cross Channels several times (my goodness)
the women who dream of crossing Channels
the women who support paddle
the women who drive the boats
the women who get their boat licenses the day before a swim so they CAN drive the boat and support their nieces
the women who share a lane
the women who can handle the cold
the women in the hot tub, laughing
the women who lend a cap when yours rips
the women who lifeguard
the women who volunteer
the women who drive their daughters to swim practice
the women who make Rice Krispie squares for their daughters’ swim meets
the women who swim through difficult times
the women who are just starting out
the women who break records, and barriers, in this sport and all others
We need more than just a day to remember and honour our commitments, contributions, and responsibilities, but let’s take these precious 24 hours and stand with each other, trailblazers and newbies alike and those in between. Or swim with each other. Just don’t touch my feet.
I won’t miss my other swims this week.
Strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them. And may we swim with them, always.
On September 12, 2020 at 7:10 am, I slunk my shivering, slippery booty into the shallow, South end of Christina Lake and began a 7 hour, 19 km labour of love. Of course, first there was a ceremony involving the unfolding of the Oru Kayak, party beads, an intimate lanolin + zinc + vaseline rubdown, Guitar Hero, the Marathon Swim Foundation Rules, O Canada, and Territory Acknowledgement (in full below).
At around 2 pm, I dragged my tired, wrinkly, raisin-y, but very happy body out onto the rocks at the very most North point of the lake, and was showered with hugs and love from some of the very finest people one could ever meet. The kind of people who would also spend 7 hours (or a great portion thereof) supporting a friend with wacky ideas and crazy ambition.
What was it like? What did I think about? Why would I do something like this? Did you poop in the lake? These are the questions I’m most frequently asked.
Well, it was smoky. It didn’t start off so badly, with a morning that wasn’t clear, but wasn’t pea soup thick either. I’ve swam in smoky conditions before (Skaha Ultra 2018), but this year’s US wildfires have had us veritably choking during the last 2 weeks. By the time I reached Texas Point, the smoke was lowering to the lake and it continued to get thicker all afternoon. I could taste it when I breathed.
Despite all that, I felt great during each stage of the swim. I was very conscious of pacing, and I knew that I wanted to maintain a stroke rate of 66 strokes-per-minute for the majority of the swim. Robin and Sue supported me during the first 10 km. They rocked the kayaks with some awesome hair metal, fed me Perpetuem every 30 minutes on schedule, and provided much needed banter and encouragement along the way. It was a pleasure to swim between them and I hope that they will flank me again someday.
I swam past all the swanky cabins of the South end, aiming at the point closest to the Marina, and then Texas Point, where Robin and Sue would paddle in and switch places with Ali, and Mike and Andrea would hop into the boat with Shanna. At the 10 km point, I was still feeling fine! The feeds were going well, I wasn’t feeling any chafing, and I was still able to somersault with joy when appropriate. I was even relaxed enough to pee while swimming, which is a pretty great thing. If you’ve ever had to pee really badly and just said “fuck it” and let it go, that’s what it’s like. Ahhhh.
At some point, I looked up to breathe and was surprised to notice 2 new orange and green kayakers – 2 kayakers I did not expect, but kayakers that I love!! Elaine and Rob appeared as if by magic and made that halfway point push into the next 9 km much easier, since I was so surprised and happy and honoured all at the same time. If you ever think you might need some motivation during an endurance event, just arrange to have some friends surprise you half way.
With Ali in the Oru, ready to guide and feed me, I pushed on toward Deer Point. The push to that Point, which is prominent from the water and looks much closer from Texas Point than it actually is, required a lot of mental gymnastics to just accept and carry on. What did I think about? Well, this is where I start to not think, and instead slide into a semi-meditation of moving arms and kicking legs and consistent bilateral breathing. This is where I start to find a real rhythm, and maybe allow a song in my head (Metronomy’s Reservoir, in this case) to take over a bit. I know that a feed is coming every 30 minutes, but 30 minutes can feel like a long time in the silence of water. I started to really look forward to those feeds. Marathon Swim Foundation rules state that the swimmer cannot touch the kayak under any circumstances, so I showed my appreciation with a little synchro love instead.
By this time, the smoke had lowered and thickened, and I realized that my shoulders were feeling pretty good. My lower back was feeling pretty good. I was still kicking a solid 2 beat. I was looking forward to feeds. I felt like I could swim a lot longer, so I knew that I was going to be able to do it.
And once I knew that I was going to be able to do it, the end of the lake became very far away just to test me. I have a technique when things start to hurt. I think about swimming at Nancy Greene Lake at sunset – my favourite time to swim. I think about how my hands and arms look when they enter the water in the golden light, sparkly and bubbly and effervescent. I imagine filling any part of me that is hurting with those golden bubbles, and how good that feels. It’s the closest physical thing to joy. I fill the hurt with the joy. 🙂
I passed the Point and knew I was nearing Shanna’s cabin on the East side. I could see the sandy beach that represents what usually is the end of the lake, approximately 1 km away – but other plans had been made. According to the map, the actual northernmost point of Christina Lake extends a little further up to the entrance to a creek where the salmon spawn at this time of year. The area is marked off by some white buoys. I could see the white buoys for what seemed like a very long time. I did not want to see any salmon making love.
The end of long swims is often like this – you can see the landmark you’re aiming for and your mind starts to mess with you. You think, “that can’t be much further than 500 meters, can it?” and then the next thing you know, you’ve been swimming another half hour and it’s time for another feed.
At long last, I could see humanoid forms on the beach. I could see the white buoys actually getting closer, and I could see Shanna’s boat at the edge. I asked Ali to guide me in, baby, and baby, she guided me through those white buoys into a soupy stew of lily pads and weeds……and finally, THE END!
One thing I did wonder while swimming was how I was going to get out if I didn’t finish at the beach. Shorter race events often see one running out of the water to cross the finish line – on land – at the end. These always give me anxiety because sometimes my legs are wobbly after being horizontal for a while and I’m scared of being that person who bails in a very unglamorous yard sale of embarrassment. Not that I expect to be all Baywatch, but I do worry.
Luckily, the last 6 metres were 30 cm deep thick, sludgy brown goo. I swam through that goo and slapped my hand on a rock on shore. And that reminds me, I didn’t poop in the lake during this swim, in case you were wondering. But something sure did, up at the North End.
Done! Complete! I stood up and did not fall over. I waved to my beautiful, cheering friends. Then I got back into the brown goo and Elaine towed me over to the beach, where people hugged me (even though I was covered in brown goo), put beads around my neck, and ushered me into a clean, white bathrobe.
And like that – the swim was over. 19.1 kilometers in 7 hours and 13 seconds. I’ll be submitting my documents to the official bean counter people in the next few weeks, and hopefully the swim will be ratified. That would be exciting. It was a great experience, from the training (trust the training!!), route planning, nutrition planning, support planning, to the delicious huckleberry margaritas served up during our post-swim celebration. I thought about my Dad every time I looked up and saw the sunrise. I slept like a baby that night and ate eggs Benedict the next morning, and then I had another swim.
I must effusively thank my special support squad. Shanna, Ali, Sue, Robin, Mike, Andrea, Elaine, and Rob….I bow down to you like Wayne and Garth before Alice Cooper. You made this swim possible for me. You made this swim amazing for me. Thanks to everyone who followed my little orange dot on the tracker, and sent messages (Ali read them along the way!), and cheered me on. And thanks Shanna for calling Scarlet and my Mum in the middle of the lake so I could hear their voices.
I also want acknowledge that I am grateful to have accomplished this swim on the unceded traditional territories of the Syilx tmixʷ (Okanagan), Okanagan, sngaytskstx tum-xula7xw (Sinixt), and Ktunaxa ɁamakɁis.
What’s next? A whole bunch of cold water swimming in preparation for a long, cold swim. What else?
Cue that cheesy song by Europe that we all secretly love so much….it’s the final countdown!
I’m really excited about this swim. It’s been a rather interesting year, to put it mildly, and I’m ready for something fun and exciting and challenging and for me, that means I’ll spend around 7-8 hours swimming the 18.5 km length of Christina Lake, BC on Saturday, September 12. I plan to swim from the main beach at the Provincial Park to the very top end of the lake. I’ll be starting at 7 am, and finishing in time for a cold margarita (if I can raise my arms above my waist) on my friend Shanna’s deck. That’s the plan, at least. I’m going to wear my new Q Swimwear suit, and I’m going chug Perpetuem and other delicious Hammer Nutrition fuels to help me stay hydrated and not hangry. If you’ve been with me when I’m hangry, you will understand. That’s the plan, anyways.
Planning this swim has been an odyssey in itself, and I’ve learned so much through the process. It’s been complex and has given me a much needed focus this summer where all of my events were cancelled and travel postponed. I’ve been consumed with everything from understanding the rules of the Marathon Swim Foundation, confirming a support crew on the day, training locally and training while traveling, making sure I’m eating the right things and enough of them and not so much of the other bad things (nobody has even SEEN me on a pub patio this year)….and contingency plans. I’ve had to make a lot of decisions, down to the swimsuit I shall wear on the day (the Q Swimwear Mixtape), to the type of cake I will stuff my face with afterwards (Black Forest), whether I make it or not.
In the end, all you can hope for is that you trained properly – enough but not too much. I’ve been so lucky to work with my coach Brent Hobbs on a plan that has been challenging to stick to, but ultimately has me feeling quite confident for Saturday.
I threw my own travel wrench into the middle of the training plan with a trip to Saskatchewan at the end of August. I did my very best to keep to the schedule, but with swimmable lakes (without a zillion jet skis and not smelling of old man farts) a few hours drive away, I had to be strategic. Luckily, my awesome Aunt Donna and her partner have a sweet cabin at Anglin Lake. True to her nature, Donna completed and passed her boat exam the night before my 5 hour trial, and she captained this very critical training swim perfectly. Except when she ran into the dock at the end and crushed a man’s leg, but that was her first time. I also swam in Martin’s Lake (blech), Riversdale Pool (take me back!), and did a 3 hour current-assisted swim in the South Saskatchewan River (illegal, but you know I’m a rebel).
I came home a few days early to resume a more consistent training schedule, and I’ve been out at Nancy Greene Lake and Christina Lake. Temperatures are dropping, but I’m still feeling great. My intrepid support crew is all set to go – THANK YOU SO MUCH ALI, SHANNA, SUE, ROBIN, ANDREA & MIKE! All that remains is to deal with tonight’s afterdrop, stretch, pack, and eat noodles to my heart’s content.
And lastly, I am not doing this swim for charity and didn’t want to ask people to dig into their wallets during what is a very challenging time for everyone. One of my motivating factors for attempting this swim was the death of my father last year on September 17. If you knew and loved him and are motivated to give, please make a donation to the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation in the memory of Kelly Bowers.
If you’re interested in following my swim, I’ve set up a tracking page at https://track.rs/aerinbowers/ so that you can follow along. I know, I know, the US Open Women’s Final will be happening at the same time. I can’t offer any exciting sideboob or water barfs, but there will be a little orange dot making its way up the lake, and that will be me.
So much for lamenting the loss of travel – summer in BC has been wonderful, and so has the swimming!
I’ve been working toward my BIG GOAL of swimming the length of Christina Lake on September 12. Otherwise known as the Bathtub of B.C., Christina is one of my favourite places to swim. The swim will be ratified by the Marathon Swim Foundation, if all planning goes well. It’s the best place for early season training, and it stays warm enough for the late season too. I’m 100% focused on this swim, and there’s lots of preparation to consider. And also lots of swimming to be ready on the day. It’s approx 19 km and I can do it! (I hope)
I took a precious week off and did a 5 day kayaking trip on Slocan Lake (second favourite local BC lake) with my daughter and 2 pals. We paddled the 40 km top to bottom and I swam 5 km/day in Slocan’s beautifully crystal clear water. There was also lots of time for campfire laughs, nude-watching, flirting with our campsite neighbour, and…night swimming! We loaded up the Oru Kayak with lights and I swam under the stars and the moon in the quiet and inky blackness. Bliss.
I’ve been training at Nancy Greene Lake most days, which is good because of the high elevation and the lower water temperature. It’s full of life all summer. Fish jump, and plant life stretches up from the sandy bottom. Swimming here feels like I’m a wee a drone flying over a forest. Apparently there’s an aggressive otter, but I haven’t seen him yet. I bet he’s seen me. I hope he introduces himself before the summer is over, and maybe he can teach me how to efficiently peel shrimp while floating on my back, because right now it’s a bit awkward.
I did a 10 km training swim at Christina Lake last weekend to get a feel for the distance and the landscape of what will be the second half of the BIG SWIM. My friend Shanna paddled for me from Texas Point to the northernmost end of the lake – and graciously allowed me to glamp at her lovely cabin.
And now – I’m en route to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for a few weeks. I’m looking forward to exploring some new lakes and swimming some long distances in my home province, and having my Mum do my laundry. YES!
Maybe she’ll even do some support kayaking for me….Mum?
Where did I go? I’m not even sure! Have you seen me?
Oh, here I am, trudging out of the lake covered in weeds, mascara smeared, nipples pointing in opposite directions…and dragging my Swim Buddy behind me like the world’s saddest whoopee cushion. Did you miss me?
The last 7 months have gone by in a blur. I’ve had a lot of blogging false starts. I’ve felt like writing, and then I didn’t. I’d think about a post, and then I’d get busy, and then I’d get hangry, and we all know what happens when I get hangry.
And then a global pandemic happened (WTAF), the pools closed, and I didn’t really know what to do.
This wasn’t in the plan!
I’d been swimming in the most diligent, consistent, and committed fashion of my life. I’d been working with my Kelowna-based coach (the amazing Channel Swimmer Brent Hobbs) to improve my technique (which was apparently “of the 80’s” – go figure!) and increasing my distance weekly: 4 swims a week with one LONG ASS 10 km pool swim on the weekend. I was making regular practices with my local Masters Club, getting workouts in while traveling for work, and even competing in my second Master’s meet in Vernon, BC at the end of January. I smashed my times and really felt on the up and up and up….
I was focused on swimming a ton of events leading up to the Sri Chinmoy Lake Zurich Swim in August. I had a yoga plan (thanks KERRY!), a strength plan (thanks ANDREA!), plenty of motivation, and even my sandwich-tossing support team figured out (HI SCARLET AND THOMAS!). But when the pools closed, I was at a loss. I figured the best thing to do would be to keep my fitness up, and having a Haus-German with whom to spend much of the lockdown ensured that I got out skiing a lot. Snow is frozen water, after all.
Then all swims were cancelled. I experienced existential grief and angst. I wasn’t easy to get along with. What a year. I was always anxious, always hangry. My gills were closing.
This coincided with the busiest period I’ve ever had in my career. Working in education technology means that I have morphed into a 3 inch version of myself who lives in Zoom 12 hours a day and may or may not be wearing pants at any given moment. I can no longer see more than 2 metres ahead of me, which is ok because that’s how far apart we’re supposed to be anyway.
And then finally, it was mid-May and I decided to stop being such a big girl’s blouse and get in the fucking lake, no matter how cold.
IT WAS COLD.
(but I learned that I really, really like it!)
No wetsuit for me – as per Coach Brent. The sanctioned swims I’ve planned do not allow it, so I’ve relegated my sleek Orca rubber to the closet, where it sits in wait and may come in handy for fighting/committing crimes.
Early season training couldn’t come soon enough, and I headed out to Christina Lake as much as possible to test my cold boundaries and gradually increase my time in the water before meeting up with Coach Brent and Channel Swimmer Emilie Epp in Kelowna for the first LONG ASS cold water swim, where I swam for 2.5 hours in 13 degrees. It was exhilarating, even if my hands turned into lobster claws and I couldn’t get my car key in the lock. I couldn’t feel my own face, but that’s ok because we’re not supposed to touch faces anyway.
As it’s gradually warmed, I’ve had lots of lake time at Christina, Slocan, Okanagan, and Nancy Greene. I did a short bike tour with The German, and I bought a super cool, easily transportable, foldable Oru Kayak to encourage support paddlers to join me in the beautiful BC sunshine (and thunder and lightning and rain….June was pretty wet!).
I’ve finally been able to swim with Coach Brent this week. He took me on a sunset cruise under the Kelowna Bridge (both ways), which was reminiscent of that scene inThe Perfect Storm – and I loved it. We talked about goals – I’m still planning to swim the 18.9 km length of Christina Lake – and one REALLY BIG GOAL that I am not ready to talk about yet.
So much depends on whether the pools open this fall/winter. So much depends on getting more than one hour in a lane.
So much depends on everyone wearing a fucking mask and washing their hands and not partying on houseboats and not hugging each other.
Navigating this new normal is not easy, but doing it in the water is making a lot of difference for me. Better thinking, natural exhaustion, fresh air…
I really missed this. I’m glad to be back. Let’s go for a swim.
Farewell 2019. I’m glad to see your buttcrack as you saunter off into memory with your pants pulled halfway down.
Still, there were highlights among the lowlights. Aren’t there always? Swimming offers me the most consistent vehicle for balance. No matter what’s happening, I always feel better when I’m in the pool. Even if I’m just floating around, thinking “Look at where you are in the world.”
Swimming in beautiful European lakes during my summer bike touring adventure. Eibsee, Walchensee, Lake Sils, Starnbergsee…beautiful, clean bodies of water that felt so amazing and rewarding after long days on the bike.
312,000 training meters.
Second successful Skaha Lake Ultra Swim. I was slower, and it hurt more, but I made it across the finish line and scarfed a giant sandwich and kissed my kid who paddled the whole way beside me.
My first open water swim in Sweden – the Riddarfjardsimningen – was exciting and fun and a great way to build in a destination swim with a holiday I’ve wanted to take forever.
The Lower Columbia Masters Swim Club – an opportunity to swim locally with great friends. I didn’t make as many practices as I’d have liked, but I did get to swim with the team for FrightFest in Kelowna in October. I’m lucky to have such a sweet community of fellow open water enthusiasts.
Being sick and tired for 3 months after my Dad passed away put a major dent in my training and my annual kilometer goal.
My Dad passed away. I don’t know that I’ll ever get over it, but I hope he’d be proud of what I hope to accomplish in my swimming goals.
Not organizing a swim in Copenhagen while I was there. Not that I didn’t have any fun. And now I have a good reason to return!
Cancelling plans for the Slocan Lake and Christina Lake swims, which would have been really awesome additions to my summer events. I need to remember that summer is only really 8 weeks long and that there are only so many things that one can do. This one was pretty busy.
2020 Goals (resolutions come later…. once January has a chance to pull itself onto the deck)
Sri Chinmoy 26 km Lake Zurich Swim. I’m going to do it!
Portland Bridge Swim
Christina Lake – a good warmup for the above longer events
7th Across the Lake Swim
Cough up the dough for a proper training smartwatch
Consistent, focused training that will take me into the Lake Zurich swim in the best shape of my life. I’ve found a Kelowna-based coach and I am so excited for this man to kick my ass!
Yoga, biking, skiing, and all the other cross-training activities I love.
Look at where you are in the world. Not so bad, is it? I wish you all the best for 2020.
I didn’t get in, but was told by the organizers that swimmers are rarely chosen in their first application attempt. They encouraged me to keep applying and I put it on my list for 2019. The date came around in September, and I dutifully sent in my info with very low expectations and a tiny glimmer of hope that I might make the cut. And a tiny glimmer of terror that if I was selected, I would have to swim 26 km. In one go.
On December 15, I checked my email just as Air Canada was making love to me sideways over a barrel with a cancelled work flight and sure enough…I have a place! I read the email over a few times, laughed twice, shit my pants (figuratively) and then immediately told my VIPs, followed by Facebook and Instagram.
So what does this mean?
The swim is 26 km in Lake Zurich. That’s in Switzerland, in case you slept through geography or are American. Just kidding. I love Americans.
Here’s a little illustration of the route.
26 km is a long way. I assume that if I’m even physically capable of such a feat, it will take me at least 10 hours. I have signed up for the wetsuit category, but I may rethink this as I connect with others who have done the event.
I’m looking for a coach to start with in January – someone who will work with me on stroke technicalities, a training plan, and some accountability. I’ve put some feelers out there and hope to meet my Mickey Goldmill in the coming weeks. I’m totally prepared to run after chickens and everyone knows that grey sweatpants and a toque are already part of my training style.
I don’t know if I can do it.
I don’t know if I can’t.
I don’t know how much fondue I will eat at the finish line.
I don’t know if I should plan a little bike trip before or after.
I will have a boat, but I do need a support person in it to throw me snacks and water and tell me to not die or cry. This person may have to either wear a diaper or control their bodily functions for up to 12 hours. I’ll be taking applications soon. Not everyone at once!
I’m going to eat lightning and I’m going to crap thunder. Knowing this makes a hard year a bit better.
I’m going to be honest. I’m swimming less. Writing less, if at all. Feeling less. Connecting less.
Less of everything, except work (nobody I know can afford to do less of that), because I have struggled to focus since my Dad, Kelly Bowers, passed away suddenly in September.
This ability to only do less has impacted my training, my relationships, and certainly my health.
A whoosh of energy left me about 2 weeks after it happened. I caught a virus, probably from hugging and shaking hands with a thousand people. The virus settled deep in my chest and my ears, where long days of coughing sap my energy, I can’t hear very well, and I often feel dizzy. I feel fragile and sore. My rotator cuff is not healing.
I know that I need to exercise every single day – as a mood-regulator but also to store up energy for what is quite a demanding schedule. But sometimes all I can manage is a dog walk or a half-hearted hotel gym workout.
Swimming is tough right now because there’s no getting away from the mental gymnastics that happen when you’re churning lengths, and no distractions from the inner flicker of memories and replay. I have used this to my advantage previously when going through other major life challenges, but those challenges sought solutions and clarity that seemed to require focused breathing and really thinking scenarios through.
Dealing with death is very different.
I am consistently sad. I’m super cautious about feeling anything extreme, like excitement or anger. I’m protective and sometimes self-destructive. I’m hesitant to plan – which, as a natural planner – feels weird and unnatural. There are motions to go through and days to get through.
I’ve let some goals exist in a blurry bucket which is where they have to be right now. I’ll find out in a few weeks if I’ve been accepted for the 26 km Lake Zurich swim next August. I have another Master’s meet in January. (More on October’s event soon.) I have a slew of other 2020 events in Europe and Oregon and B.C. to register for. But all of this is taking a backseat to getting back to a place of motivation, dedication, and focus. Getting back to being tough, and finding the fun and challenge in this grand open water swimming experiment that has given me so much.
I’m grateful for the patience of my people, and I’m impatient for wanting more.
Well that’s a mouthful. A mouthful of Swedish meatballs!
I took a little trip to Scandinavia with my daughter in August.
I have a “Sweden thing” – a great passion and appreciation for all things Swedish. Design. Candy. Social policy. It’s a long list, including a number of Swedish swimming accounts I follow on Instagram, which tipped me off to the Riddarfjärdssimningen event happening on August 18 – exactly when I planned to be in Stockholm with Scarlet. And the event with the longest name I’ve ever swam.
There were other events happening near or around my planned holiday, but I knew I’d definitely be able to make this one happen. Sweden has a ton of open water swimming events every year, and I was pretty much spoiled for choice but had to make it work within my vacation timeline. When I move there (;)) – I will swim events all spring and summer long and spend all my time in my våtdräkt and then the sauna.
Riddarfjärden is in Central Stockholm – the easternmost bay of Lake Mälaren which meets the Baltic Sea at the intersection of Stockholm’s Gamla Stan (Old Town). Could there be a prettier and more scenic city swimming event?
The Riddarfjärdssimningen takes place every summer and offers both a 1600 m and 3200 m distance. I signed up for the 3200 m, which starts from Rålambshovparken on the island of Kungsholmen, up the Norr Mälastrand to Stadshuset (City Hall), and back again. You’d have to be sitting with me here at my table to hear how those Swedish place names just roll off my tongue. Not.
The morning of the swim was sunny and summery, and I arrived really early at Rålambshovparken to grab my race packet. I wanted to give myself enough time to translate any important info, since my Duo Lingo Swedish program hasn’t given me the ability to actually communicate (thus far). I can say a lot about apples, what moose drink, and what Sven might wear to the party, but so far I have no accessible vocabulary about goggles, water temperature, or currents. Fortunately, the international language of the Speedo prevails, and there were no shortage of nicely packed Swedish versions of those.
I was stretched out and warm, and still a little sore from the previous week’s Skaha Ultra Swim. The water was a frisky and brisk 20 degrees Celsius, so my wetsuit was definitely a must. And I’d brought it all the way from Canada (and would then lug it to Gothenburg, Malmö, and Copenhagen), so I was pleased to give it a dip in international waters. Paired with one of the coolest race caps I’ve ever received, I was super styling and ready to simma (that’s “swim” in Swedish).
The race course follows a series of buoys along the Norr Mälarstrand. It was a mass start in the water, with a Swedish countdown, natch. I had some pretty serious goggle fog and hadn’t charged my Finis Duo, so it was a true battle of the elements. I had hoped to catch sight of the beautiful buildings along the Mälarstrand and the Kungsholmstorg Brygga (bridge!), but I mostly only saw stylish Swedish feet and, thankfully, the big yellow race buoys. There was a ton of chop on the way out, and a slightly smoother surface during the second half. I swallowed a lot of salty water, rode a few waves, but generally felt quite strong if not so fast. My speed was hard to gauge, given the rough water and my vision issues. If not for the buoys, I definitely would have ended up in Latvia. I managed a respectable 5th place in my age category and clocked in at 1:01.07. I usually swim this distance much faster, but my shoulders were still whimpering from the previous week.
Still – what a swim! What an epic place for a BC lake swimmer to race an event! And I managed to sneak it into my Scandinavian holiday, which was a big goal all along and did not distract from our other plans, including the ABBA Museum (you must go!), the charming sights of Gothenburg (you must also go!), and the Disgusting Food Museum in Malmo (you must definitely go!). Next time I’m in that part of the world, I will register for the Copenwater Swim – which looks amazing. Stay tuned!
I was cheered on by Scarlet and the lovely Dalmalm family, who’s son Hugo was one of our homestays through the Red Mountain Academy and one of my all time favourite humans. They definitely cheered in Swedish and that definitely helped me push through to a strong finish. And after, we went to Ikea! We really did! There’s nothing quite like the classic Swedish meatballs as a post-race meal.
I’m writing this post with my feet, since my arms and shoulders are so $%#@*&!! sore from yesterday’s Skaha Lake Ultra Swim. An 11.8 km marathon swim of ecstasy and agony, but not for the first time. This was my second time swimming Skaha. Why go back for more, you might ask? Well, that’s an interesting question for an open water swimmer, since we as a breed seem to seek out events that test us, tire us, thrash us about, and leave us battered, weary, and definitely wanting more.
When I talk to people about this “hobby” (and certainly this particular swim), a quizzical look often takes over their face. This is soon followed by an obvious expression of concern. And that’s ok. I get it – spending 4 hours in a wetsuit churning across a lake isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But it’s definitely mine, and the 93 others who challenge themselves to make it from Penticton to Okanagan Falls early on a Sunday morning in forest fire season, with only a lone support kayaker to keep them company, and only some carbohydrate gels (and maybe some pickle juice) to eat.
Last year was my first Skaha Ultra (or any ultra), and I spent the majority of the winter leading up to the event feeling freaked out and excited and wondering if I was preparing properly for such an extension of my normal distance. I swam very near to the distance a couple of weeks before, so I entered the water very confident that I would conquer the distance but with no idea how I would fare compared to the other swimmers. I was very pleased with the results and it led me to seek out some longer swims, some of which have happened or are in planning or application stages. But – it whet (swimming pun) my appetite for pushing harder and for longer distances to see what would be possible for me.
This summer has been quite different! I trained all winter and had a respectable showing in the Across the Lake Swim. Soon after that I jetted off to Europe for an epic bike tour that certainly worked my legs and gave me calves of steel, but offered somewhat limited swimming opportunities for the type of distance I maybe should have been working on. In an attempt to keep my nerves at bay and my harsh inner critic in her locked box, I thought of it as a long taper…
…until I was 8 km into the swim, and my right arm and shoulder started to scream at me.
“YOU DIDN’T TRAIN FOR THIS, YOU IMBECILE!” said my right shoulder, and the left one whimpered in sympathy.
“YOU ARE DOING PERMANENT DAMAGE TO ME, YOU ASS! MAY THE FLEAS OF 1000 CAMELS INFEST YOUR ARMPITS.” said my right arm, and the left one nodded but couldn’t speak because it was totally numb and had been since the 3 km mark.
“WE’RE PRETTY FUCKING HAPPY. THANKS FOR ALL THE BIKING.” said my legs, happily kicking a nice 5 beat without complaint.
I dug deep within and promised my arms and shoulders that I would reward them handsomely if they’d just keep swimming. I wouldn’t ask for turbo power, just survival. I would never again let them sit around, merely steering and lifting bites of apple strudel to my mouth, for a few weeks before a long event like this. I would let them soak in a hot tub for at least 30 minutes after the event. I bargained with my upper limbs. And they held. But just barely. They even let me forget about them for the last kilometre, allowing me to finish strong, pushing myself upright to run through the finish (clapping – apparently, and according to this photo!!), and accept my well-earned Finisher’s Medal, which was even nicer than last year!
Arms and shoulders aside, the rest of the swim was amazing. Scarlet, my support kayaker, charted a nice straight line to Ponderosa Point, and offered lots of helpful encouragement along the way. She even called me a “tough little fucker”, which I really liked. Thanks to the awesome Stevens for lending us the kayak. The conditions were great and much less smoky than last year. I finished a respectable 39th overall, and even though I added 9 minutes to my time, I’m happy with the result. Blame the wind, blame the extra currents, or blame my undertrained arms and shoulders….but what’s the point? An event of this length is a huge challenge for any body, and even finishing deserves a big bottle of Prosecco or $100 worth of room service or whatever else floats your boat.
I’d like to express my thanks again to the organizers of the Skaha Lake Ultra Swim. This event runs so smoothly and gives great confidence to the participants, who really have a lot of other things on their minds as they prepare. From the safety meetings to the convenient post-swim shuttle back to Penticton, this team has it dialed. If you’re interested in challenging yourself, the registration sells out quite quickly once it’s posted. You have to decide fast. And I think you should do it.
Will I be back next year for a three-peat? It’s certainly possible! For now, I’m sitting in the airport waiting for my flight to Stockholm, where I will swim 3.2 km at next weekend’s Riddarfjardsimningan (say that aloud after a few airport margaritas). My arms and shoulders haven’t spoken to me since yesterday. They’ll get over it.