You’re Gonna Eat Lightning

Well, let’s end this year on an unexpected note, shall we?
Last year, having really upped my game in the long distance swim department, I applied for a place in the Sri Chinmoy Lake Zurich 26 km Marathon Swim.
I didn’t get in, but was told by the organizers that swimmers are rarely chosen in their first application attempt. They encouraged me to keep applying and I put it on my list for 2019. The date came around in September, and I dutifully sent in my info with very low expectations and a tiny glimmer of hope that I might make the cut. And a tiny glimmer of terror that if I was selected, I would have to swim 26 km. In one go.
On December 15, I checked my email just as Air Canada was making love to me sideways over a barrel with a cancelled work flight and sure enough…I have a place! I read the email over a few times, laughed twice, shit my pants (figuratively) and then immediately told my VIPs, followed by Facebook and Instagram.
So what does this mean?
The swim is 26 km in Lake Zurich. That’s in Switzerland, in case you slept through geography or are American. Just kidding. I love Americans.
Here’s a little illustration of the route.
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26 km is a long way. I assume that if I’m even physically capable of such a feat, it will take me at least 10 hours. I have signed up for the wetsuit category, but I may rethink this as I connect with others who have done the event.
I’m looking for a coach to start with in January – someone who will work with me on stroke technicalities, a training plan, and some accountability. I’ve put some feelers out there and hope to meet my Mickey Goldmill in the coming weeks. I’m totally prepared to run after chickens and everyone knows that grey sweatpants and a toque are already part of my training style.
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I don’t know if I can do it.
I don’t know if I can’t.
I don’t know how much fondue I will eat at the finish line.
I don’t know if I should plan a little bike trip before or after.
I don’t know much, but:
  • I know I love swimming, especially in lakes.
  • I love a challenge. Especially a big one.
  • I love Switzerland. I had a taste this past summer, and I’m excited to go back.
  • I need a big goal to focus on in 2020.
  • I will have a boat, but I do need a support person in it to throw me snacks and water and tell me to not die or cry. This person may have to either wear a diaper or control their bodily functions for up to 12 hours. I’ll be taking applications soon. Not everyone at once!

I’m going to eat lightning and I’m going to crap thunder. Knowing this makes a hard year a bit better.

Less Now

I’m going to be honest. I’m swimming less. Writing less, if at all. Feeling less. Connecting less.

Less of everything, except work (nobody I know can afford to do less of that), because I have struggled to focus since my Dad, Kelly Bowers, passed away suddenly in September.

This ability to only do less has impacted my training, my relationships, and certainly my health.

A whoosh of energy left me about 2 weeks after it happened. I caught a virus, probably from hugging and shaking hands with a thousand people. The virus settled deep in my chest and my ears, where long days of coughing sap my energy, I can’t hear very well, and I often feel dizzy. I feel fragile and sore. My rotator cuff is not healing.

I know that I need to exercise every single day – as a mood-regulator but also to store up energy for what is quite a demanding schedule. But sometimes all I can manage is a dog walk or a half-hearted hotel gym workout.

Swimming is tough right now because there’s no getting away from the mental gymnastics that happen when you’re churning lengths, and no distractions from the inner flicker of memories and replay. I have used this to my advantage previously when going through other major life challenges, but those challenges sought solutions and clarity that seemed to require focused breathing and really thinking scenarios through.

Dealing with death is very different.

I am consistently sad. I’m super cautious about feeling anything extreme, like excitement or anger. I’m protective and sometimes self-destructive. I’m hesitant to plan – which, as a natural planner – feels weird and unnatural. There are motions to go through and days to get through.

I’ve let some goals exist in a blurry bucket which is where they have to be right now. I’ll find out in a few weeks if I’ve been accepted for the 26 km Lake Zurich swim next August. I have another Master’s meet in January. (More on October’s event soon.) I have a slew of other 2020 events in Europe and Oregon and B.C. to register for. But all of this is taking a backseat to getting back to a place of motivation, dedication, and focus. Getting back to being tough, and finding the fun and challenge in this grand open water swimming experiment that has given me so much.

I’m grateful for the patience of my people, and I’m impatient for wanting more.

But right now it’s less. Bear with me.

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.

 

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!

An Ode to My Swim Mum

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

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

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

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

See?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Mum. You are the best.

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.