Riddarfjärdsimningen: A Swedish mouthful

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?

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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).

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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.

 

The Skaha Lake Ultra Swim – Take 2

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.

 

 

 

Across the Lake and Across the Pond

I’m waiting to board my flight from Vancouver –> Dublin –> Munich for the Via Claudia Augusta Bike tour. I’m meeting The German in Germany, of all places. The Royal Baby is all boxed up and is hopefully being treated as the precious cargo she is by the baggage handlers. Extra big thanks to Rossland’s Revolution Cycles for packing her up so perfectly. I’m eating airport food court Chinese food and am having a REST!

In just over 24 hours, I swam the Across the Lake Swim in Kelowna, booted it across BC to a lush surprise upgrade at the Delta Burnaby, ate the best spaghetti of my life (and tiramisu, too), lugged my bike from the value parking all the way to the International Terminal, and here I am, looking sexy with my memory foam neck pillow. I have a few minutes to reflect on yesterday’s swim, so here’s how it went:

I’ve previously whinged about how a 2.1 km event isn’t really long enough for me. I still think that’s the case, but I did have a very good swim yesterday morning and I’ll take a good result when I can. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes. I arrived in Kelowna on Friday evening to pick up my race package (and this year’s towel!) and a brand new pair of Vorgee Goggles thanks to my pals at Ocean Junction. I enjoyed a long overdue dinner with a dear pal at BNA, was in bed by 11, and then up at the absolute buttcrack of dawn to scarf down a bagel and head to Lakeside Park. It felt weird and a bit sad not having Scarlet with me, since she’s been my ATLS partner in crime for the last 3 years. What’s with teenagers having to work? I just talked to myself instead.

This year’s Across the Lake Swim – the 71st annual – had 1300 swimmers registered. I was slotted into Wave 4 and donned a dark blue cap for the first time. If you ever want to come over and see my swim cap collection….

(Wait, that’s my pickup line. It’s a good one, isn’t it? 😊 You can borrow it if you also have 1000 swim caps in your possession.)

I warmed up for a good 15 minutes and soon it was time to join my wave and head toward the start. I felt really good, wide awake and energetic, which was great because mornings can go either way for me. At 21 degrees Celsius, the water was perfect. Off we went and I started fast and didn’t really let up my pace except to tread and de-fog a few times. My Finis Duo was hit and miss with the shuffle, playing some excellent early !!!, Yacht, and Hot Chip, and some laggardly Bjork right in the middle.

I have been working intently on my recovery with high elbows and catching slightly wider, and these stroke changes felt quite natural in my wetsuit. Sometimes a technique adjustment feels weird once you move from the freedom of movement in just a bathing suit to the more restrictive confines of a rubber wetsuit, but mine is flexible enough that I was able to maintain better form and still have the buoyancy benefits.

I’ve also been working on increasing my stroke rate, especially in shorter distances. It’s led me to admit that yes, I will have to pony up for a fancy smartwatch very soon to actually track these things vs. always just going by feel. I’d love any recommendations. And $1000 if you have that kicking around.

Back to the race.

I sprinted out of the water with energy to spare and was pleased to learn that I finished in 33:08, which is a minute and a half faster than last year. I came 150/1291, and 14th in my age category. I feel quite proud of this result since I have been training hard. I have been busy (and biking!), but I didn’t want to let myself down with a slow swim to start off the season.

After the swim I hobnobbed with the Stevens, who were pancaking, and would soon celebrate a team podium finish (woohoooo!) but I did miss the Summerhill Winery brunch. As usual, I’d planned just a few too many things in one day, and felt it crucial that I stay awake on the highways. A belly full of eggs bennies would definitely have put me in jeopardy.

So that’s 2019’s Race 1 done and complete – with a great result and a solidly positive experience. The organizers and volunteers have the Across the Lake Swim so dialled, and it’s always the smoothest event in my race calendar. 4 more to go until I earn my silver cap!

It’s time to board my flight. Up, up and away!

The Devil’s in the Details and the Butt Butter

Big hairy audacious goals take a lot of planning.

And in this open water life, there are a lot of details!
Most who know me wouldn’t say that I’m a particularly detail-oriented person, unless I’m hyper-focused on a task at hand. Details – who needs ’em? They’re small, whiny, and tend to get in the way of bigger picture thinking… my specialty!

But my plans and goals for this summer have been a bit next-level, and so I’ve been forced from my temporary state of chill to move into a new frame of mind. A frame of mind that requires letting some things go while other things take priority. Flexible, like my desktop Gumby.

Take the Slocan Lake Swim, for example. My swim pal Deanne and I worked really hard on the logistics of planning a 40 km lake length swim – a next step from last summer’s Kootenay Lake adventure. We plotted several routes, haggled over dates (a challenge for both of us with busy schedules and commitments), and made a lot of calls…but we ultimately weren’t able to secure the crew that we needed to support this sort of undertaking. A crew that would be required to paddle 10km each day at 5 am for 4 days, and feed us, and hug us, and rub our shoulders. That’s not to say we won’t do it – we will! But not in July!

(and if anyone out there is interested in being part of such a crew – please let me know! The dream is still alive!)

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Slocan Lake. I will swim all of you, one day!

Another logistical daymare has been the VOWSA Bay Challenge. Sometimes I get super excited to swim a race, and I sign up, and then I don’t look at the race details until much later. This is one of those sometimes. I’d been happily going about my planning for the upcoming 750 km bike tour of the Via Claudia Augusta with The German. I’m flying in and out of Vancouver, so I’d planned to land on home soil on August 2, take a few days to recover from the jet lag, and then do the big 10km ocean swim on August 5. Finally, I took a look at the race details. I knew I’d be able to recruit a support kayaker….but I didn’t know that I’d need an actual BOAT! With a crew!

Had I examined the details back in January when I registered, I would have known this. But now – a month out – the logistics of this seem very overwhelming, expensive, and more hassle than this little fish is prepared to handle.

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I don’t know any of these people, so I can’t do the Bay Challenge. 

So – lesson learned. Read the fine print. OR – don’t overcommit to too many things. There are only so many hours in a day, and days in a month. And delaying doesn’t mean cancelling…it just means that things have to move in order for other things to take shape.

And then – surprise – I found out that I was accepted into the Swim The Arctic Circle event – but even a time-optimizer like myself couldn’t figure out how I was going to squeeze a trip to obscure airports in Finland in the middle of July. Next year!

So – my new summer plans are also exciting, and involve a bunch of events and swimming and adventures.

First up is the Across the Lake Swim in Kelowna on July 20 – and I’m looking forward to this, having trained for this 2 km distance a lot through the spring. I’m especially excited for the post-swim winery plans, and then a big nap.

As mentioned, I’m embarking on my first ever bike tour from July 22- August 2. The German, in true German fashion, has been meticulous in the planning, and so we now have at least 5 lakes (Starnberger, Kochelsee, Eibsee, Trams, and St. Moritz) to swim while we cycle this historic route through southern Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy. Even looking at the map makes me buzz with excitement. I’m pumped to take Royal Baby on her first extended cycling trip, and push myself to ride 80 – 100 km/day. Today I bought a good supply of butt butter. That was a first. I didn’t even disguise my voice or wear a mask when I went to the counter to ask for it.  I was just like, “YO, I NEED SOME BUTT BUTTER!” and the nice bike shop boy sprung into action. And I’m thinking – see, details! –  that the butt butter may even double as lube that I can use to prevent wetsuit chafing. This could be a win-win.

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Imagine me, wearing lederhosen. 

When I return to Canada in August, I’ve got the 12 km Skaha Lake Ultra Swim on August 11. I’m really excited to see what sort of time I’ll post this year, after spending the spring concentrating on technique improvements that should make me more efficient at the marathon distance. If nothing else, it will give the butt butter a good chance to prove itself as a multi-purpose solution.

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And then – I’m off to Sweden with Scarlet to swim the Stockholm Archipelago (and do a variety of other Swedish things). Plans are in place. But only as many as I can handle at a time. Promise!

(if you’re Swedish, and reading this, I’d SO love any open water swimming suggestions!)

Other swims confirmed and aspired to include the length of Christina Lake (self- organized), the Gellatly Bay 5 km, Lake Chelan, and the Seattle 10 k on my birthday weekend. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley. Or something like that.

 

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!

Where Attention Goes, Energy Flows (to Zurich?)

The snow is falling outside my cozy Rossland home. Ski season is approaching, and with it comes all of the feelings of excitement and anticipation that I revel in every year.

And while I’m pumped to slay the fresh Kootenay powder very soon, I’m racking up my pool kilometres and focusing on my 200,000 metre training goal for the year. This week I swam in Castlegar while my daughter did her practicum for her Water Safety Instructor course, and in Trail at the Aquatic Centre. It was great to spend time in my local pools after a few weeks of back to back work travel. I’m swimming shorter workouts (averaging 3- 4 km each time) and concentrating on drills and form.

And as the end of a year with a lot of goals approaches, I’ve been making some big plans for next year.

The biggest is a trip to Switzerland in August to attempt the 32nd Annual Sri Chinmoy Marathon Swim across Lake Zurich. It’s a 26 km event and it would be amazing – IF I get in. That’s big IF.

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I applied for a spot in the event this week. A disclaimer on the site warns first-time swimmers that spaces are first allotted to those who have applied but not been selected from previous years. So, it’s a bit of a long shot, but I only have to wait until December 15 to see if my application is successful. Those who know me will know that while the previous sentence might claim nonchalance, there is nothing I hate more than waiting. For anything. Especially when it looks like this much fun.

And if my application is successful, then this swim would represent my most epic to date. Lake Zurich is 26 km long. The swim starts in Rapperswil and ends in Zurich. Swimmers go past several Swiss Alp towns en route to the finish, so I could easily stop for a cheese and chocolate fondue. I signed up in the no-wetsuit category, since I’ve been informed that the European lakes are recently very warm in the summer, and Lake Zurich is likely to be warmer than 22 degrees in August. Plus, can you imagine the neck chafing? No cheese is gonna help with that.

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I’m reminded of how I felt when I registered for the Skaha Ultra Swim. At 11.8 km, it was much longer than any event I’d ever attempted, and I understood clearly how necessary a focused training plan would be. For this greater challenge, the usual questions emerge:

  • Can I physically do this?
  • Why do I want to do this?
  • How will I fit in enough training with X and Y going on in my life?
  • Am I nuts?
  • Why is Glen reading my blog?
  • What are the steps?

The application itself is the first step. A conscious commitment to extending my distances through careful and deliberate planning and prioritizing is a close second. It’s not that I finished any of my longer distances this year with energy to spare, but rather that I feel suddenly able to tap into a newfound endurance that I never knew I had. And it isn’t just physical, although I have noticed that my fitness and  strength have markedly increased in the last few months. I even did a few handstand pushups this week. There’s nothing like being upside down to bring some fresh blood into the brain.

Which leads me to step 3 –  mindset, especially with regard to this surge of energy.  It’s also that I’m unencumbered by the former roadblocks that kept my confidence low. I’m starting to see my own life in a much more expansive sense, and I feel like the future is wide open. I’m not exactly wearing shades (prescription sunglasses are too expensive), but I’m far more curious and unafraid than I was 6 months ago when I could hardly get through a workout without literally stimming on negative thoughts. The swimming successes of the past summer also play a major role in focusing on building my potential. I had no idea that I’d be able to consistently keep up the training I needed to do. But I did, and I think it’s all down to focus and that a person like me really deeply needs goals and milestones.

A person I respect said to me recently, “Where attention goes, energy flows.” And although I’m not big on mantras (I prefer mantas), I honestly say this to myself, despite myself, several times a day. It seeps into planning my swim workouts, my nutrition, my cross-training, and all of the other things I do in this open water life and life on land. BECAUSE IT’S TRUE. Try it, you’ll like it.

If I’m not selected for the Lake Zurich Swim I will cry for a day and then work to build a back up plan. A back up plan that involves chocolate and cheese, but maybe a different destination and a different direction for my attention (and my fondue) to flow.

 

Adventures Across the Pond Part 2: Swim Serpentine

Time flies, innit. Last weekend I was milling around in Hyde Park at the Swim Serpentine Festival. It was a grey and rainy Saturday, and I probably didn’t have enough warm layers.  I picked up my package from the registration tent and spent some time exploring the sponsor booths and food trucks. Several waves were already swimming, and the announcers kept the crowds (yes, there were crowds!) entertained with music and anecdotes about several of the swimmers.

Swim Serpentine is a one day open water swimming festival in Hyde Park, right in the heart of London.  The site was the location for the open water events in the London 2012 Olympics. Hugely popular, 6000 swimmers descend on Hyde Park for a day of distance events, talks, films and chilly cameraderie with fellow wet-suited open water lovers. The beautiful, colourful centerpiece of the lake was the London Mastaba, designed by famed architect Christo.

Swimmers can register for the half mile, one mile, 2 mile, or Super Six events. I signed up for the 2 mile and was put in Wave 11, which meant I wouldn’t swim until 2:45. I arrived around 10 so that I could catch the talks and films and drink as much hot tea as possible.

I decided to include the Swim Serpentine event as the culmination of my 2018 open water season. I wanted a destination swim, so that I could celebrate my birthday and the summer that was. I chose London because I love it there, and I was eager to go back and visit my friend Sadie. The open water swimming community in the UK is huge, and I wanted to soak up some of that energy.

Festival-goers and swimmers congregated in a tent to escape the chilly drizzle and watch the speakers and films. We sat on cozy, blanketed hay bales and enjoyed programming specifically geared to swimming. I sipped my tea and nibbled my cheese toastie and wished I had worn more than a t-shirt under my light jacket.

Up first was Beth French– who is a force – and her power comes through on the stage. She spoke of her attempt to swim the Oceans Seven Challenge, and covered everything from training, her recovery from being wheelchair-bound with ME, to mental strategies, to her experiences with man-eating creatures. She left me inspired and honestly wondering if I would have the fortitude to take on such a daunting challenge. I challenge you to watch the trailer for her documentary Against the Tides, and not feel the feels.

Jenny Landreth is just as funny and entertaining in person as she is as the narrator of Swell, her “waterbiography” of swimming’s suffragettes. She told some inspiring stories about the pioneering women of this sport, peppered with her own experience discovering cold water swimming. She is hilarious and brims with interesting information. I loved her book and it was very cool to see her live on stage.

Libby Page read from her best-selling book The Lido, which I really want to read, especially after my lido-full week of swimming around London.

The series of short films was also awesome and inspiring. I need to make friends with someone who has a drone so that I can make my own epic swimming movie. Know anyone? It can wait til next summer. 😉

Around an hour before my wave time, I headed to the change tent to begin the laborious process of shimmying my cold, goose-bumpy body into my wetsuit, lubing my neck and stretching. The change rooms were al-fresco with a few changing tents for the shy among us, myself included. I’ve just never been able to get down with being naked in a room with 200 other naked people.

The start area was crowded with excited swimmers (and one weird guy in a gorilla suit), some warming up and others milling around, jumping off nerves etc. We had a quick, large group dryland warm up and then it was our turn to jump from the deck into the cold, brown Serpentine. Many more than seven swans were also swimming, and pooping.

The course was a one mile loop, and for the 2 mile we would swim 2 laps.

From the start, I noticed that there was way more traffic than any race I’ve ever been in. There was plenty of foot touching, head smashing, and elbow pokes. The straightaways between each end of the course provided a chance to break away and find some space.

The water was cold and not very “fresh”, but I soon warmed up and settled into my pace for the first mile. Swimming past the vivid red and blue Mandaba was really cool.

At the end of my second lap, I was quite fogged up and wasn’t exactly sure where to swim through the orange buoys to the finish. I overshot it by about 100 metres and had to turn back (after saying a big loud FUCK – in my head of course) and round the corner again to make it to the ramp. I climbed out of the water, posed for a photo, collected my very nice medal, and made my way down the runway to an area where several hot tubs were set up. I spent a few minutes in warm human soup (shudder) and made my way to change back into my cold and damp clothes, and pretty much bee-lined for a kiosk to buy the biggest hot chocolate I could find. No Venti sizes here – this is England. So I bought 3.

When I reflect on the event, I feel good about my swim and I really enjoyed being part of something at that level of scale – 6000 swimmers! If I did it again I’d sign up for the 6 mile option, where you swim in several waves to make up the distance, just to try something new. Although, I can’t imagine being in a wetsuit for that long, or changing in and out of cold rubber all day long. Future me would bring a cozy parka and maybe a lackey to fetch me hot toddies.

I made my way back to the Green Park underground station and headed to meet friends and eat carbs. I was tired, cold, and not feeling great, but I was so happy to have swam well and participated in something so different.

Today I am drinking some nice, hot Kicking Horse Coffee in my kitchen, still dealing with the horrid cold virus that has lodged in my chest, and thinking warmly about my week in London. It was both liberating and refreshing to indulge in a holiday that centered around swimming. It gave me the structure I like to have as well as the freedom to change plans as needed and desired, and I liked that it built up to a big event that helped to keep me focused and motivated through the week.

I am learning a lot about myself and what my motivations and values are. Now that my official “event” season is over, I’ve started to think about what I need to do this fall in order to maintain my fitness level and distance goals.

This year I really enjoyed the chance to swim long events. I think I’m made for it. While all distances are fun, I like the idea of pushing my body and my mind to places I never  thought I could go. I’m building a list of events that I’d like to try. There’s this lake in Italy….

Strength of mind has been important for me, especially going through the end of a relationship and all of the ugly challenges and energy that extrication from an abusive deadbeat involves. I’m now a single parent exclusively, which means heightened responsibilities in terms of my time, my finances, and my mental energy.

It’s a challenge, but one I’m definitely up for.  Swimming gives me solace and structure. It gives me hundreds of deep breaths, strong shoulders, and best of all, buoyancy.