Give It 6 Months

I visited Edmonton for work this week, and stayed downtown at the Westin. No big deal – I’m frequently in and out of Edmonton and although usually I stay at the Delta South, it was more convenient to be downtown for my appointments.

I have avoided that particular Westin like the plague, since it was the site of my “restructuring” from my former job at the end of March this year. I knew full well that the axe was about to fall on my neck. The signs were all there, and my former boss wasn’t so stealthy in concealing her plans. Sloppy and cruel even. On the day before my beheading, she even sent a meeting request for the wrong time, so that I ended up waiting outside the chambre de guillotine for an hour. She texted and told me to go and “have a nice breakfast”, but I didn’t and hid behind a pillar and watched the executioners enter the room.

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Once my head was removed, I spoke with my lawyer, chatted with colleagues, took a nap, ordered room service, and then went for a swim. Or at least I think that was the order of events. I definitely remember the swim.

Two weeks later, I started in my awesome new position with the world’s best company, landing in a role that aligns closely with my values and my skill set, with leadership who lead, for real.  My head slowly reattached itself to my body. I healed.

A close friend said to me “Give it 6 months. You’ll be a new person.”

In the year I’d spent in my previous role, I gave up much more than my head. A gruelling travel schedule saw me away from home nearly 80% of the time. A company culture of working until exhaustion saw me diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome – constantly swollen and stressed, with broken blood vessels in my eyes. I gained 35 pounds, even when living on Air Canada pretzels – a lot when you’re barely 5 foot 4. I didn’t even buy a ski pass last year. I did one measly, disappointing swim in the summer of 2017. I was mired in Excel spreadsheets full of numbers that meant nothing. My wetsuit hung pathetically in my closet.

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When I reflect back, the relentless travel and long hours did serve a purpose: keeping my mind away from the end of my marriage. Although when I was finally operating like a normal person again, I experienced what my therapist calls “delayed grief”, and it became one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with – but 6 months after the fact. I cannot recommend this approach to moving through traumatic life events.

When I started this swim blog, I was (head intact) searching for positive habits and an approach to recovery, rather than reinvention. I wanted to peel back the barnacles and find the person underneath. Shuck my own oyster. A changed person, indeed, but a person with undeniable basic needs:

  • swimming, or to be in or near water as much as possible
  • other consistent and regular exercise
  • time with my daughter
  • time with my friends
  • good nutrition
  • sleep
  • kindness

There are a few other bullet points, but this is a family blog. Within 6 months, I had completed and exceeded my initial swim goals. I had established myself in my new, amazing role and loved starting work every single day. I had started divorce and other necessary legal proceedings. I’d started running. I’d bought new underwear. I grew my hair and fulfilled a lifelong dream of becoming a roadie for a rock and roll band. Just kidding. That never happened. 😉 I started working with a business coach. I signed up for the future.

This is not to hold myself up as any sort of role model. There’s plenty that happened within the last 6 months that I’m not proud of. But there’s plenty that I am proud of. And 6 months becomes 7, and then 8, and then 9, and then suddenly I’m at the Westin again with my head attached to my neck and I’m shaking it because I can hardly believe how much is possible with a little, or a lot of:

  • swimming, or being in or near water as much as possible
  • other exercise
  • time with my daughter
  • time with my friends (Wow, do you ever learn who those are, and aren’t, Glen.)
  • good nutrition (no Air Canada pretzels, thank you)
  • sleep
  • kindness

I have just over 8,000 more metres to swim to achieve my 2018 training goal, and 2 weeks to learn whether my application for the Lake Zurich swim is accepted. Within the next 6 months, more amazing things will happen, and more change, because that’s the constant and the way it should be for me.

And the next time I stay in Edmonton, it won’t be at the Westin. Not because I don’t like it (ohhh Heavenly Bed, you’re the best), but I left my old head there and I don’t really want it back.

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.

 

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?

It’s the Time of the Season for Swimming…and Pie

First things first. It is so beautiful in Rossland in October.

Photo Credit: the amazing Don Conroy

I think about moving a lot – there would be some benefits to my social life, my airport situation, and my access to things I love like art, cinema, concerts, and new restaurants. At the end of every summer I start looking at real estate listings on the Island or the Lower Mainland. It’s like I’m programmed to spur on even more change, just as the leaves are turning colours. I feel like I also need to “shed” and reinvent and make a new start.

But somehow this season, my favourite season of all, elicits a feeling of settled-ness and happiness that keeps me in this spectacular place. Even though it’s expensive to swim due to a recreation funding conflict between Rossland and Trail, I cough up the cash for my membership at the Trail Aquatic Centre and start into the new season of a different kind of swimming.

I hike gloriously colourful trails with my dogs and I marvel, like the big sensitive nerd that I am, at the greens and oranges and reds of the leaves and soil and mountains. The sunrises are sublime – hot pink and orange from my bedroom window. The sunsets are slow, soft lavender, purple and blue. When the clouds roll in, the contrast of metal grey with the blue sky almost chokes me up. Told you I was a big nerd. Nature astounds me.

It’s more important for me to live and breathe and BE in this amazing place than it is to see the films that showed at TIFF in September or have a wider variety of shirtless, fish-holding prospects on Tinder.

Many of the swimmers I follow on social networks are able to continue their open water training outdoors, and it does indeed look fabulous to swim in 12 degree lidos or Welsh lakes in the middle of October. But there is something about settling into a season with what you have available that is comforting and valuable and even reassuring. I like the pool. I love the hot tub afterwards, even the pee. I like the people there, and choosing locker #69 every time because I am a 14 year old boy at heart. I like driving home in the dark in my farty old sweatpants and listening to the CBC. I like eating 15 pieces of toast in my kitchen and waking up the next morning with the most epically chlorinated bed head ever. It’s truly a sight to behold and way better than Lady Gaga in A Star is Born or even Beyoncé.

Having taken a 2 week break from the pool since returning from England, I decided to start a completely new program from scratch – one that will lead me into a 10k destination swim in January (to be revealed later!). Starting at a 3k training baseline, I’ll work my way up to 8 km in the pool by mid December. I have a number of technical goals to work on this fall, including improvements to my rotation and my current straight-armed recovery. There’s a lot of kick, and even more pull. My weight training program is focused on building the upper body power I need to conquer longer swims, and includes specific exercises to increase my core and shoulder strength. It feels more planned than ever before, which is weird for a spontaneous nut like me, but as it turns out, there are wise people who have already thought of these things and confronted these challenges. Who knew? I thought I knew everything.

My daughter Scarlet and I are celebrating our Canadian Thanksgiving this year as “NoFucksGiving”, due to our acceptance and resignation with a particularly sad and frustrating situation that has taken up much of our emotional space over the last few weeks. We heal. We let the system take control. We gravitate to those that make us feel good. We take long walks. We swim. We accept invitations for care and love and support. We eschew a big dinner and a whole day preparing it for a dinner consisting entirely of a beautiful pumpkin pie from Mountain Nugget. We’ll join good and generous friends for even more dessert, and settle in to watch creepy movies on Netflix in our pajama bottoms and coziest hoodies.

So why would I move?

I’m already moving. I’m changing, swimming, hiking, running, and waking to beautiful sunrises. I have everything I need here. I have a 10 k in January. So yes, maybe it should be “SomeFucksGiving” – but only for things worth giving fucks about. I think those things are pretty clear to me now, and abundant here in this place, and only become more clear with every length and flip turn and bite of delicious pie.

There’s no place like home, my homies.

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.

Adventures Across the Pond Part 1: London Lidos

I arrived in London half a day later than expected due to some typical local flight cancellation shenanigans that required me to book another flight to Vancouver and take a later flight to London. But better late than never, because I had big swimming plans!

When I arrived, I felt a lot worse than the typical jet lag/breathing in airplane farts for 9 hours/travel ickiness with a sore throat and congested head. I could hardly keep my eyes open on the Tube on the way in. Nobody noticed because everyone else had their eyes closed too.

I met up with my pal Sadie in Hoxton and started planning my week of swimming.

I knew I wanted to swim in as many London lidos as possible. But I also know that I’m happiest with a flexible plan that allows for some spontaneous decision making. I’d done a little research and learned about the London Royal Docks Open Water Swimming Society, who run a daily swim in the eastern docklands right in the Thames. It sounded like my cup of tea (when in London, right?) so I added it to my itinerary.

After an early first night, I set off  early Wednesday morning southbound on the Northern Line for the Tooting Bec Lido. You’re darn tooting!

I’d learned a lot about this lido from Jenny Landreth’s book Swell, and I was eager to soak in the history and significance of this London landmark. The Tooting Bec Lido opened in 1906. It’s the U.K.’s largest fresh water outdoor pool – 91 meters long, non-heated, rustic, and oozes charm. The boxing scene from “Snatch” was filmed here, but nobody was fighting, not even Brad Pitt, during my visit. The only thing I fought was the fear of my nipples falling off in the cold cold cold water.

I changed in one of the colourful cabana lockers and prepared for the chilly rush. At 15 degrees, my first few minutes were rather “exhilarating” and I wondered why I wasn’t cozied up in a nice pub with a hot toddy and and a good book like a normal person. But as soon as I started swimming, my happiness meter rose and I did a kilometre feeling strong and rejuvenated.

After my swim, I grabbed a hot tea from the on-site cafe and started making my way to Brixton to the Brockwell Lido for swim #2. The Brockwell Lido opened in 1937 and did not disappoint aesthetically with charming brick buildings, cabana lockers, and a poolside sauna. This pool was a tad bit warmer at 19 degrees, but I noticed that there were several wet-suited swimmers and I kind of wished I’d also brought mine. Read More

Another Spin Around the Sun…In Slocan Lake

I had a birthday this weekend. You just can’t stop them from happening every year. I’m fortunate in that mid-September is often still warm enough for lake swimming in BC, and this weekend was no exception.

I have always enjoyed canoeing and camping on Slocan Lake. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world, with gorgeous beaches, clean water, and plenty of variety in terms of campsites, canoe routes, whitewater rafting, and places to explore. I’d never swam across it before though, and the occasion of turning 44 seemed to be the perfect opportunity with the water holding a balmy and refreshing 15 degrees C and the rain holding off (because of my special birthday rights). The lake is approximately 2.7 km across from Silverton to Sandpoint Beach.

I was also very keen to try night swimming. And it did not disappoint.

I set off from the boat launch in Silverton around 7 pm, wearing my thickest, warmest wetsuit – a Blue Seventy Sprint – 2 swim caps, and positive thoughts of warm fleece, hot tub time machines, steaming mugs of Earl Grey tea, and Swedish saunas.  Scarlet had both dogs and all of our camping gear in my big old blue canoe, as well as a bright light to guide her crossing. She’s an experienced, skilled, and capable paddler, and I had no concerns with her ability to guide me safely.  The sun set quickly while I was in the water, and soon I was making my way across in darkness next to the canoe. One word sums up this experience – exhilarating! The combination of the cold, the eerie play of the light on the surface of the water, and the feeling of swimming weightlessly into navy blue nothingness was just awesome. I definitely want to do it again. And again! Read More