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.

 

 

 

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!

Mission Accomplished!

What a year!

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

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

OK – the good shit:

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

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My favourite screen capture of 2018. 

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

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My home away from home: The Trail Aquatic Centre

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

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

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

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Christmas skiing fam jam

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

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

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

Some preliminary highlights of 2018 include:

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

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

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

The Skaha Lake Ultra Swim…is OVER!!

I woke up this morning having achieved something I wasn’t sure I could do.

Yesterday I competed in the Skaha Lake Ultra Swim – an 11.8 km event in Skaha Lake, BC from Penticton to Okanagan Falls.

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I’ve been training for this swim for the last few months. I followed a plan and stuck with it as well as is possible for me to stick to any kind of plan.

I learned so much about myself during the lead up to this event. I learned not only what my body is capable of, but also my mind.

It’s often said that long-distance swimming is more of a mental than a physical game. The long training workouts required for a big distance can be boring, isolating, and frustrating. You are effectively trapped with your thoughts. I’m no stranger to this, especially with the annoying personal issues I am currently working through.

Physically, I knew I was strong enough for the marathon distance after last weekend’s 27.17 km. I had put in the work.

But mentally and emotionally, the work is so different. I have sought to create a positive inside space for myself when swimming. It’s so easy to dwell on what’s not going well because you have so much time alone with your own brain.  My work here has been to learn to focus on breathing, the movement of my arms and legs, and the rotation of my body. And to not focus on the things I can’t solve in that moment.

Sometimes it works for me, and sometimes it doesn’t. The work continues, and that is the whole point of it all, really.

Yesterday it did!

The swim started at Skaha Park in Penticton at 7 am. The weather was cooler than it has been recently, but the smoke of 500 forest fires hung heavily in the air.

The atmosphere was lively and positive, as you can see from the group photo taken before we started.

Swimmers and kayakers assembled on the beach to share last minute strategies and plans. I was so lucky to have my friend Christine as my support kayak. Christine drove all the way from Victoria for this event, and I am so grateful for her support and encouragement before, during, and after the swim.

We talked about my nutrition plan – Clif Bloks every 45 minutes with no dolphin tricks required. We plotted the straightaway to Ponderosa Point, and how we would approach each of the landmarks.

I swam my first 3 km the way I always do, easy and relaxed (unless something is chasing me). I focused on the rhythm of my stroke, my excellent tunes, and getting a feel for the water. At 20 degrees Celsius, it was quite a bit warmer than anything I’ve swam in recently.  I really noticed the smoke in the air, and I was thankful for the fruity flavour of my Bloks to take away some of the bbq-esque palate of the lake. Read More

Here Comes Skaha and I’m Ultra-Excited

It’s almost here!

It’s the event I’ve been working toward since the early new year – the Skaha Lake Ultra Swim.

The Skaha Lake Ultra Swim is an 11.8 km event, encompassing the length of the lake from Penticton to Okanagan Falls. It’s one of BC’s longest swims, and it’s the longest swim I have attempted in my short life. I’m confident due to last weekend’s long swims, but also nervous because there has been so much build up to this weekend.

I thought I’d write a post about my preparation for an event such as this, in case it’s helpful to anyone else with a big life-changing swim coming up. Read More