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.

 

 

 

A Fish Needs a Bicycle

Cycling stories are to swim blogs like vanilla sauce is to Apfelstrudel.

I was in the middle of my bike tour through Germany, Austria, Switzerland and a tiny part of Italy and I couldn’t hold it in any longer. Story of my life, right? An accumulation of the most epic and vast and stunning scenery I’ve ever seen, combined with an intensely emotional reaction to my circumstances brought me to tears several times in one day.

Maybe it was Lake Sils/Silsersee. Maybe it was the greenest valleys, the vibrant flowers, the vistas of beauty around every corner. Maybe it was the kindness of my companion, who is so in sync with the way I travel (on schedule, organized, with everything in its proper pocket). And who, like me, always decides to climb the extra 500 metres of elevation gain to see something amazing or just to stand on the highest point, breathing hard but happy breaths.

Maybe it was the break I needed – the long and arduous days of climbing and then gliding, of discovering amazing places to swim and cool off in water of a colour I can barely describe. Days spent completely outdoors in sunshine, fog, rain, and wind, with sleep assisted by the sound of rushing rivers outside a tiny tent – the way I sleep best. Trusting that my body would tolerate 10 days of 80 km of cycling and then 2 km of swimming, through tears and smiles and gritting my teeth and regulating my breathing and laughing out loud at the sheer joy of it all.

Joy.

I have enjoyed this experience so much!

I’ve forgotten about the loss of my luggage, the frantic shopping for replacement of critical things I’d need for the trip, and the guilt of holding things up for a day. The frustration and the phone calls (you had ONE JOB), and the extra weight on my credit card.

I’m grateful to The German for planning this trip and itinerary with precise detail as to what would take my breath away – and his willingness to share the places most special to him. I’m grateful for the kindness of the Unterguggenberger family who let us stay an extra night while we sorted out solutions to the missing gear, and served us the most delicious breakfasts I’ve ever had. I’m grateful to Specialized for making a bike that exceeded my expectations and the requirements of the trip – from asphalt to gravel to cobblestone, in rain and in 38 degree heat on serpentine mountain passes.

And yes, I’m grateful for the Chamois Cream, and so is my butt!

What an adventure. I’ll never, ever forget a second of 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.

 

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.

Swim Apps, Travel, and a Big Homestretch Goal

Hello, lovely and valued readers (and Glen).

It’s the homestretch of 2018!

Without another BIG SWIM happening this calendar year, I’ve been thinking a lot about goals and possibilities…even daydreaming a little. I feel happiest when I have a plan, a framework, or an endpoint (yo, Virgo), so it was time to concoct a new one.

In my quest to spend only positive time online, I’ve been analyzing the training data in my Swimio app. Each time I swim, I faithfully record my training kilometres in the app. I wouldn’t call myself a super user, since I don’t

  • Update the local pool if i’m swimming somewhere other than the Trail Aquatic Centre
  • Log the sets in my workouts (just the distance)
  • Log my events/races
  • Connect with the “community” or connect with “friends” (I’m still getting the hang of Tinder) (Airport Tinder…who knew? Only works if you have access to a frequent traveller lounge. TMI.)
  • Just kidding. 😬

BUT – I do

  • Religiously log all of my training swims, so I have a handy month by month or week by week comparison of kilometres complete
  • Sign up for distance goals, so I’ve virtually completed the Capetown Freedom Swim without even visiting South Africa!

There are a lot of swimming apps out there, and I’ve only really ever used this one. I like that I can use limited features and still get a lot out of it. If there’s an app you use and like, I’d love to know about it. My tech-y nature is always giving me another reason to be on my phone. 

As of today, October 26, I have swam 170,480 training metres in 2018.

So – since I do love even numbers and big round ones especially – I decided to commit to 200,000 training metres before the end of the year. That means another 29,250 to go! That might mean that on New Year’s Eve, I’ll be drinking Amaretto Sours and eating prawns on the deck. That also might mean that I race through the metres in the next 6 weeks and have a relaxing holiday break and hang out under the mistletoe not smelling of chlorine for a change.

Are you with me? Come on 200,000! That’s 200 kilometers! That’s like swimming from Saskatoon to Moose Jaw (almost)

Pro Tip: Never compare your swimming distance accomplishments with your running, cycling and loppeting friends.

My busy conference season is here, so I’m spending a lot of time on the road and in the air, and trying to squeeze in pool sessions whenever I can. In order to hit my 200,000 m goal by year end, I’ll have to forego the hotel fitness centres for laps in local pools. And that’s ok, because hotel gyms are mostly either lonely or awkward places, and it’s good to get out of the room and into the city. I’ve also never seen anyone wipe down a weight bench in the hotel gym. 

I try to travel light (try being the operative word), and with minimal business attire required to do my job, I always pack my gym gear and my swim gear. My stripped down travel swimming kit includes nothing more than a bathing suit, goggles, cap, Finis Duo, and a little stack of workouts in a Ziplock bag. This little bag has been with me for a few years and it’s like having a small, see-through coach with me at all times. The best kind of coach! I use whatever mod cons, like buoys and kickboards, that are available at any given pool I visit, but I avoid the hand paddles because I’d just be tempted to steal them. Sometimes it can be a challenge to gather accurate information about lane swimming times, but doing this research has given me a near-encyclopedic knowledge of schedules across the country.  If you’re looking for morning lane swim times in Winnipeg, I’m your gal!

This week I’ve been in Edmonton and Calgary, so I’ve been spoiled for choice as both cities have a ton of facilities.

I also managed a quick hike up Sulphur Mountain in Banff – what fun!

In Edmonton I managed to sneak in a quick swim at the Kinsmen Sports Centre, and in Calgary I visited the Repsol Sports Centre to get my kms in. Both facilities are vast and crowded and buzzing with good energy. As much as I love the frequent solitude of my local Trail pool, it’s nice to be in the heart of the action sometimes, and it’s way easier to get naked in the changeroom when you definitely won’t run into your daughter’s teacher or local bank teller.

29,520 metres to go. Are you with me?