An Ode to My Swim Mum

Better put on your lobster bib, because this is going to be a bit buttery.

I was going to write yesterday – the actual Mother’s Day – but I was so busy relaxing and enjoying some deck time that I decided to eat ice cream sandwiches and percolate on what exactly I wanted to say.

As a swimmer though, Mother’s Day is super special to me.

My Mum was a swim parent. She spent long, humid hours at the pool with other annoying swim club parents. She cheered for me and my sister Kasie, and Martin, and David, and Doug, and Marnie, and Rhiannon. When she cheered for Martin, she yelled “Gooooo Mar-din” because Martin is an awkward name to yell. Try it.

See?

She didn’t cheer for the mean Kathy who always tried to psych me out in the marshalling area.

She drove me to 6 am practices and 6 pm practices, and all over Saskatchewan for swim meets. She let me play Skinny Puppy in the car.

She worked night shifts and volunteered hundreds of hours to afford swim club fees for 2 girls who also wanted Esprit sweaters and new skis.

She baked puffed wheat squares, all individually wrapped, for meet concessions. When the dog ate them, plastic and all, she made some more.

She was a timer. Garbed in official’s white, she captured our performances. She didn’t fall asleep when I plodded through 100 metres of breaststroke, even though the other timers did.

She organized the swim club newsletter. For this, we got to have a loaner photocopier in the basement and we had endless fun photocopying our butts and cutting and pasting people’s heads on to other bodies and making hilarious collages.

She took in billets and fed them 80 pounds of spaghetti.

She was our source of encouragement, saving newspaper clippings of our successes and putting them on the fridge.

She always said “good swim”, even if it wasn’t such a good swim.

When I wanted to quit, she didn’t fight me. She kept buying me Esprit sweaters and let me hang out with the hot BMX guys, who were, in my mind, better time spent than clocking 4000 metre workouts and only making backstroke finals.

And when I turned 40, she came all the way to San Francisco to cheer me on in the Alcatraz swim. She even wiped some seaweed out of my teeth when I finished, so I would be camera ready.

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She comments on all my blog posts, because she’s still my biggest cheerleader.

I felt a bit guilty posting a Mother’s Day video on Facebook of her dancing in a reindeer suit. But we all love that video and we all know what happened when the recording stopped. If you know her, ask her.

She is the heart of our family, and an important source of encouragement for me. She might think my obsession with long distance swimming is a bit crazy, but I know she’ll be in my support boat, yelling “Goooooooo Mar-din” until I reach the shore.

Thanks Mum. You are the best.

The Early Bird Catches the Towel

For the third weekend in a row, I’d intended to make the most of Canadian spring’s unpredictable gifts.

There’s always a little seasonal grief to contend with as the brown patches in the mountains get bigger. My backyard, which is giant, reveals the dogs’ healthy digestive artifacts. The front doesn’t catch as much sun, so a mini-glacier stubbornly holds out in the shade. Meanwhile, the local voles have been partying like drunken frat boys and I’m going to need a new cat, a gallon of grass seed, and the help of my pro-gardening neighbours to restore my front lawn to its former glory. A green thumb I am not. A clammy white bum though? Read on…

I’ve waited for the right moment to wax my skis and put them away until November. With such close proximity to the Rossland Range, I’ve been out to the cabins the last few weekends to enjoy the sunshine and variable spring conditions. The bears are definitely awake, which adds a little extra excitement to every ski, because you might become a human Lunchable or have to draw on your undeveloped jiujitsu skills. Last weekend we packed bear spray for our trips to Viewpoint Cabin and the Biathlon range at Blackjack. It’s really special to glide along under a 7:30 pm sunset, extending the day’s warm temperatures and fresh Kootenay air, and savouring the tangible fear of being eaten.

I was away for work in Chicago last week and planned for one last weekend of cross-country skiing out at Sovereign Lake, near Vernon. With 15 cm of fresh snow in the forecast, my companion and I couldn’t pass up a chance to prolong the winter season we dearly love.

Stunning views from Sovereign Lake Ski Area

Because soon – skiing makes way for swimming, and a return to focus on longer distance training for my summer races and events. Sights are high this year, and it’s time to ramp up.

The local lakes aren’t generally warm enough for swimming until late May at the earliest. And at this point, I’ve honestly been a bit bored in the pool, even with a monthly kilometre goal and boppy new playlists to motivate me.

I scoured my photos to find a record of my earliest lake swim – and found evidence of a May 3 dip in Champion Lakes in 2015.

Champion Lakes, May 3, 2015. Or it might have been 2014.

A beautiful and sunny Kelowna morning inspired a plan to hike and hang out at Bertram Creek Regional Park. Okanagan Lake is sparkly and inviting right now, especially with the anticipation of the 3 events I’ll do here later this summer.

Still, it’s April and I hadn’t even packed my bathing suit for the day. Because that’s just too early, right? The water must be 12 degrees MAX and we’d just skied yesterday. What kind of imbecile even considers the possibility?

Well, an ambitious and well-prepared German does, and before I blinked he was down to the world’s tiniest black Speedo (be still my heart) and in the water. His face looked happy (insert whatever bratwurst/Vienna sausage shrinkage joke you like here).

The temptation proved too much to handle and before I knew it I was in the lake, in my underwear, swimming out to a buoy. It was exhilarating, rejuvenating, and insane. In fact, it felt so great that I floated around near the shore for a good 5 minutes after returning from the buoy. But mostly because reality reminded me that I’d have to wade ashore in my underwear, and cross the beach to grab whatever dry clothes I could. Although I could lift a mid-sized Toyota, I’ve never been confident enough to strut my near-nakedness with pride. I still shower in my swimsuit at the pool (but have moved beyond this practice at home, thanks to the body-positivity movement).

Thankfully, the really well-prepared and thoughtful (and shrinky-dinked) German had packed me a nice big towel, because he knew I wouldn’t be able to resist a swim once I was on the beach. And being German, who needs a towel? Who even needs clothes?

I caught it on the shore. No public indecency laws were broken (by me). All was well.

It was really lovely to warm up in a cozy towel in the warm pebbles.

And that was that – the first lake swim of the year achieved on April 28, 2019. A new record. Maybe my coldest swim yet, until next weekend.

Surf’s Up, Amigos

I haven’t had much swimmin’ stuff to write about this month, since March has really been a whirlwind.

I went to Mexico to celebrate my Dad’s 70th birthday (or Biff-day, as we prefer to call it). We stayed in a resort in San Jose Del Cabo, which wasn’t really my cup of horchata, so I rented a car and did some rather rad exploring. This led to a beautiful Baja swim in the Sea of Cortez with friends in La Ventana and surfing lessons in Los Cerritos Beach near Todos Santos on the Pacific side of the peninsula.

It was so brilliant to be back in the open water after several months staring at the black line at the bottom of the pool.

And it was brilliant to swim with the Stevens again (and to swill tequila with them), and to visit their chilled little kiteboarding mecca. We started early, which was quite amazing given the shenanigans of the previous evening, and managed a 4 km out and back along the bay that hugs the village of La Ventana. I was honestly a little disappointed that I didn’t get stung by a jellyfish and that nobody had to pee on me. Maybe next time. I can’t wait for summer swimming adventures with these fine folks.

I also fulfilled a bucket list dream by taking some surfing lessons. My new amigo Edgar of Baja Surfing had me up on the board within a few waves and before long I was hanging ten with my toes off the front of the board. Then I was donning a Dead Presidents mask and robbing a bank, and then skydiving out of a plane into the Nevada desert at gunpoint with Patrick Swayze. Ok, not all of these things are true, but I did have a blast trying something completely new, and something that I would definitely do again.

I returned to the Kootenays just in time to hang with The Schnitzel and catch my last few sparkly, sunshiny days of spring skiing at Red Mountain, do some light touring to the Mosquito and Viewpoint Cabins in the Rossland Range, and enjoy the classic cross-country at Paulson Summit. Work travel has me on the road a lot this month, but unfortunately without a surfboard strapped to the roof of my Suzuki Sidekick.

I will, however, have my trusty cap ‘n goggles, Finis Duo, and Q Swimwear training suits in pursuit of reaching an audacious April training goal of 40,000 metres.

March – you were both a salty sea lion and a lamb with fleece as white as snow (especially during my first few days on the beach).

May April’s inevitable showers bring you lots of flowers and wash out your crevices, because I’m still finding sand in mine.

February Made Me Shiver

Ok, I didn’t swim much in February. After January’s 30,000 training metres, I really felt like I needed to be on and in snow – and then the actual snow finally happened, and that’s what I did. During the last 3 weeks, I’ve been in the backcountry, the slack country, the cross-country, and of course at my local Red Mountain where we’ve been blessed lately by the Gods of Powder.

Slaying that pow like it’s never been slain.

The mysterious foot pain that plagued me for the last 3 years has finally, magically, and thankfully subsided, so I am able to shred like never before. I have so enjoyed spending so much time outdoors in the winter wonderland that is Rossland – and I haven’t been super motivated to be in the pool.

That’s not to say that swimming hasn’t been on my mind. I’ve registered for 3 summer events, including the new ATLS 5k Gellatly Bay Crossing, the VOWSA English Bay 10k, and Swim the Arctic Circle (although I’m on the waiting list for this one…)

My summer plan is slowly coming together. Think Fiat convertible, fresh pasta, and having my bum pinched. No spoilers.

I have been thinking about the natural ebb and flow of motivation as I remind myself to not feel guilty about not swimming so much this month. Guilt itself is a bad motivator. When I feel guilty, I say all kinds of nasty things to myself.

Frozen hair, don’t care.

And taking my foot off the gas pedal is probably healthy as well. My February swims, as few and far between as they were, focused heavily on pulling drills. I had some video analysis done and have incorporated oodles and oodles of fingertip and catch-up into each workout. There’s a long way to go to fix my stroke problems, but things are coming along.

Focusing on skiing this past month has also let me focus on other important things, like spending time with my daughter and my boyfriend (who seems to have been born with skis attached to his feet), eating fondue in romantic backcountry cabins, making the most of my season pass, and working other muscle groups in my body. And I’ve been working! So hard! I even won Rookie of the Year at our annual Sales Kickoff and received my first trophy in a long, long time. I want to win more trophies.

I’ve kept up with CrossFit and can happily admit to being addicted to the endorphins this workout creates, as well as the lovely community of support in my local “Box”. Which sounds dirty, but isn’t. Don’t ask to see my pistol squat. It’s shitty.

Variety is the spice of life. And cheese is important too. And the odd cliche. Don’t @ me.

And focus – a word that keeps creeping into my mind and my writing – especially as I move like a lion into March. Roar.

Gear Review: Finis Duo/Finis Neptune Underwater MP3 players

Music and swimming. These things go together like peanut butter and jam and bread before a big race.

I first came across an MP3 player for swimming a few years ago at my first Lake Chelan event. A woman I was floating around (and probably peeing) with at the start had these weird yellow headphone type things attached to her goggles and the sides of her head. I was drawn like a moth to a flame.

My life changed in that one moment. I do not speak of this lightly, having experienced a few life changing moments, including my first eyebrow wax, insoles, a good blender, a reading light that attaches to my book, and the baguettes from the new bakery in town. But yes – a life changing moment.

I told my Mum about this divine invention, and my Mum, being the fountain of awesomeness she is, ordered me one for my birthday.

Talk about a game changer. Now, instead of the OCD counting and intense problem solving that accompanied my workouts, I could have my TUNES piped directly into my head while swimming. Music! To swim to!

I music to everything, from driving to walking to sleeping to cooking to (Ed. note: Censored).

My first Finis Neptune arrived in the mail and the heavens opened. Harps harped. Angels moonwalked.

The little black and yellow contraption connected to my laptop and it was relatively easy to move MP3 files in to create a playlist. However, the Neptune was not without its annoyances, including that my laptop wouldn’t recognize the device and I was never really sure if it was charged. The tiny connective prongs had to be cleaned regularly in order to charge. Licking them hardly ever worked.

Still, I used that Neptune through miles and miles of pool workouts, and several races. It travelled with me and became a true conversation piece at events (especially during peeing at the start.) It wasn’t ‘t perfect, but damn, I LOVED it.

Pumping up the jam, pre-Long Bridge Swim in Sandpoint, ID.

Concocting the perfect swim playlist became a bit of an obsession for me, just as I obsessively curate playlists for showering, driving, running, skiing, and (Ed. note: Censored).

There are some workouts where you really want to be chilled out, for which artists like Sufjan Stevens or old Cure just hit the spot. But when you’re brimming with adrenaline during a race or event, the hi tempo new wave hits of the 80s or 90s punk might be better ear fuel for the day. I’m truly partial to swimming in a gay disco, it seems, or a Scandinavian coffee bar.

I have tried to listen to podcasts during my pool workouts too. In between my lap counting and stewing over quandaries to solve, I’d only hear a few words and completely miss any story or plot line or argument. Some people swear by podcasts in the pool. I would only swear that it seems like a waste of good thinking time, since music provides the perfect background and tempo and you don’t need to concentrate to get the benefits.

Probably listening to Toto. 

I also find that audio quality of the swim MP3 players can leave much to be desired, and if a podcast isn’t perfectly mixed and mastered, it is difficult to reliably hear what’s being said. And in the era of #fakenews, ain’t nobody got time for that.

Once my Neptune finally conked out, I upgraded to the Finis Duo. I looked at other brands and models but decided to stick with the Finis bone conduction audio technology, which means that the little “pads” attach to my goggles and sit on my upper cheekbones. Somehow, this ensures that the sound pipes right into my ears, if not my actual brain. I wasn’t keen on earbuds, since I’ve always hated swimming with ear plugs. Brain conduction audio becomes loud and clear as soon as you’re submerged in water. Miraculous, really. Other swimmers don’t even need to know that you’re a massive Toto fan.

The Finis Duo

The Duo doesn’t have as many playback options as the Neptune, nor a track display, nor a battery life indicator. You just have to keep it charged and hope that there is enough juice to last through your workout or your event. It promises up to 60 hours, and I’d say that it succeeds during the height of its powers. I ran through my 3 hour playlist several times during last summer’s Ultra and Kootenay Lake swims. It’s not perfect, but damn, I LOVE it.

However, after a year a half of heavy use, it wasn’t holding its charge very well (not that you can actually gauge whether it’s charged at all), and the left headpiece started making a horrible, garbled droning sound. The wires looked fine, but it was toast. I knew I’d never have added Alice in Chains to my playlist (YUCK), so I contacted the fine folks at Finis and they agreed to send me a new one for half price, even though the warranty wasn’t valid any longer.

I thought this was rather generous, and it prevented me from doing any further research into replacements or other options. So – if you’ve used another underwater MP3 and liked it, I’d love to know about it.

I’m pumped to crank the tunes back up during my swims again, after a month of swimming with my own thoughts. And while these thoughts have been mostly happy, nothing beats powering through the last 100 metres of the last set to “8th Wonder” by The Gossip.

Here’s a swimming playlist that saw me through most of last summer and fall. I hope you like it.

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/playlist/open-water-life-vol-1/pl.u-R7zJtZ62Gjj

Enjoy!

Shakespeare, who was a great swimmer and looked so hot in his Elizabethan Speedo wrote: “If music be the food of love, swim on, swimma!”

I have to agree.

You can order your own life changing Finis Duo here. Please let me know how you like it.

2019: Be It Resolved…

Welcome to 2019! This post will be fun.

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I did my first pool workout of the new year tonight, logging a sweet 3500 m in just over an hour. Now I’m eating tangy Swedish licorice and I’m pumped for the next 365 days to be steeped in chlorinated, fresh, and salt water.

Ok, here they are! My 2019 New Year’s Swimming Resolutions:

  • 350,000 metres training goal. Last year I did 200,000. Let’s ramp that up a wee bit. I’ll know by July if I’m on target, and if I set a good pace and act in a disciplined fashion (new year, new me!), I might even extend that to 400,000. Just to be an audacious woman.
  • Dedicated practice for stroke improvement during every workout. I’ve spent a fair bit of time this past year trying to correct some long-standing problems with my freestyle, mainly my straight-armed swinging style. While this is a fine style for the dance floor, I feel like it hinders my efficiency in the water especially as I move into longer distances. Gotta protect those shoulders. Sometimes the world rests upon them.
  • Continue to blog as much as possible because I love writing almost as much as I love swimming. I have so enjoyed this little “project” and maybe I will even start another new “project” that I’ve been chewing on for a while. No spoilers.
  • Lake training. Once the snow melts and the lakes reach an acceptable temperature at which one’s nipples remain confidently attached, I absolutely must make the effort to get out to the lake and train as much as possible in the open water.
  • Cross-training. I’ve committed to CrossFit twice a week in an attempt to build my all-over body strength, and I really wanna climb that fucking rope. My other activities include cross-country skiing (I’m learning to skate ski and soon I will beat my boyfriend. Will he still carry my skis?), downhill skiing (usually ends in beers so maybe important for mental health but not so important for fitness), and running. Running toward my resolutions, and not away from anyone except the Frogmouth.
  • Night swimming. Deserves a quiet night. I’m not sure all these people understand.
  • And last but not least, I would really like to achieve a 25km + distance event this year. Although I wasn’t successful in my application to the Lake Zurich Swim, I haven’t given up on this milestone and am currently looking for a suitably comparable sanctioned event for the summer or fall. I’m open to suggestions.

Swims I’m Registered For/Considering/Planning (budget and work schedule permitting):

  • My sixth Across the Lake Swim. I really don’t like this distance and I never do well, but if I do it 10 times I will be awarded a silver cap. I understand that this makes sense only to me.
  • Skaha Lake Ultra Swim. Baby, I’m back for my second attempt and this year I’m going to do it much faster and in a straight line. I hope Christine will agree to feed me caffeine cubes and smack my ass with the kayak paddle again.
  • Christina Lake – the entire length. This wouldn’t be a sanctioned swim, but I’m really curious to see what it would be like to swim from the top to the bottom in one go. Google tells me that it’s 18.12 km, and I think it would be really fun. I’m envisioning a camping weekend at Texas Creek with hot dogs and smores and my Boler and good friends to cheer me on. What could be better?
  • Swim the Arctic Circle. This is a 3 km event that crosses the border between Sweden and Finland, but also crosses the Arctic Circle and the time zone. How cool would it be to combine swimming and time travel? Oh, my geek heart rejoices at the thought.
  • Swim the Island: Monte Isola, Italy. An Instagram connection tipped me to this annual event, which is an 8.8 km swim around Monte Isola in Italy’s Iseo Lake. It’s in October, which is a busy time for me with work. But it might happen.
  • Bay Challenge. This 9.6 km VOWSA organized swim starts in Sandy Cove, West Vancouver, and finishes at Kitsilano Beach. It’s not the English Channel, but English Bay instead!

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Other fun news:

I’ve started a new Instagram account dedicated to my open water life. Surprisingly, it’s called Open Water Life. If you ‘gram, follow me there and together we’ll ‘gram all about swimming. I’m also planning a new look for this site. It’ll be style-y.

It looks like there will be a new swim club in my area, and I am so excited. It’s called the Lower Columbia Swim Club, and it will be dedicated to open water and triathlon training. Nothing beats swimming with friends!

I was intending to write a post of all of my favourite things from 2018, but it’s pretty overwhelming when you like so many things…and there are other things to do in the day besides compile lists (who knew!). Instead, I will plan a number of posts dedicated to these favourites, such as Instagram accounts to follow for swimming inspiration, the best apps, gear, podcasts, sites, swimwear, music for swimming playlists, men in speedos etc.

But mostly, I want to thank you for reading and sharing this journey with me. I clap for you, and I appreciate you, and I wish you all the best for 2019.  Except you, Glen. Now let’s SWIM!

Mission Accomplished!

What a year!

What started as what can only be called an annus horribilis (accent on annus) ended brilliantly as a number of things in my life started to reset and align. I feel like I have a new brain and a new body. All I need now is a new training playlist for the hours I’ll log in the pool over the next few months.

Let’s get this out of the way before moving on to the good shit: I wasn’t successful in my application for the Lake Zurich Swim. This was expected, but I was still a little disappointed. I only allowed one single tear to roll down the right side of my face. I will apply again for 2020 and my application will stand a much greater chance. All the fondue will be mine. ALL THE FONDUE!

OK – the good shit:

I hit my training goal of 200,000 metres this morning!

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My favourite screen capture of 2018. 

With just 1900 m to go, I hauled my  sleepy ass down to the Trail Aquatic Centre and knocked out an easy workout that culminated in a deep dive down to the bottom of the pool to rescue some kid’s sunken goggles, and then a delicious soak in the hot tub.

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My home away from home: The Trail Aquatic Centre

I followed that up with a slack-country ski date with a good pal and a restorative nap during which I did indeed dream of sugar plums. It felt great to hit the milestone and even better to think that next year I might double it.

My training did slow down with the busy-ness of December, and the pleasant distraction of skiing taking priority.  While swimming is my brain and body, skiing is truly my heart. I spent a few romantic (squeee) days at the International Hostel in Lake Louise exploring the myriad of cross-country trails and a bluebird day of downhill with the cute German boyfriend, who insisted on carrying my skis. This has never happened before and I am still crowing on about it. He carried my skis!

I had a house full of my beloved family visiting for Christmas and one much needed rest day with Netflix, pillows, and cookie snarfing. And maybe some leftover Bailey’s.

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Christmas skiing fam jam

Next up is New Year’s Eve and then I will start to work on creating my swimming plans and resolutions for 2019.

I love New Year’s Resolutions. Partly because I love to break them and make them all over again, but also because I’m someone who loves lists and lists of goals and plans and frameworks and systems. It’s the perfect time to reflect on the year that was and to set some goals for the year ahead before everything gets busy and crazy.

2018 was my most challenging year in many ways…but somehow it magically turned into one of my best years with a whole open sky of clear sailing (and swimming!) for 2019.

Some preliminary highlights of 2018 include:

  • Starting this blog. I really love writing, so it’s been healthy and motivating to document my progress, warts, deadbeats and all.
  • Kicking off my distance training with a solid plan from the Prairie Girls Swim Squad that I actually followed. Can we have another one for 2019, please?
  • epic 3 day Kootenay Lake swim with the awesome Steven family
  • completing my first Lake Skaha Ultra Swim
  • my destination swim trip to London to experience the lidos and the Serpentine Swim
  • achieving my 200,000 metre training goal
  • HE CARRIED MY SKIS!

I’ll have more to say about 2018 in the upcoming days as I formulate a few swimming “Best of ” lists.

Thank you for all of your encouragement (not you, Glen) and comments this year – and thanks for reading! May your towel be warm and dry, and your goggles unfoggy. Happy New Year!