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.

February Made Me Shiver

Ok, I didn’t swim much in February. After January’s 30,000 training metres, I really felt like I needed to be on and in snow – and then the actual snow finally happened, and that’s what I did. During the last 3 weeks, I’ve been in the backcountry, the slack country, the cross-country, and of course at my local Red Mountain where we’ve been blessed lately by the Gods of Powder.

Slaying that pow like it’s never been slain.

The mysterious foot pain that plagued me for the last 3 years has finally, magically, and thankfully subsided, so I am able to shred like never before. I have so enjoyed spending so much time outdoors in the winter wonderland that is Rossland – and I haven’t been super motivated to be in the pool.

That’s not to say that swimming hasn’t been on my mind. I’ve registered for 3 summer events, including the new ATLS 5k Gellatly Bay Crossing, the VOWSA English Bay 10k, and Swim the Arctic Circle (although I’m on the waiting list for this one…)

My summer plan is slowly coming together. Think Fiat convertible, fresh pasta, and having my bum pinched. No spoilers.

I have been thinking about the natural ebb and flow of motivation as I remind myself to not feel guilty about not swimming so much this month. Guilt itself is a bad motivator. When I feel guilty, I say all kinds of nasty things to myself.

Frozen hair, don’t care.

And taking my foot off the gas pedal is probably healthy as well. My February swims, as few and far between as they were, focused heavily on pulling drills. I had some video analysis done and have incorporated oodles and oodles of fingertip and catch-up into each workout. There’s a long way to go to fix my stroke problems, but things are coming along.

Focusing on skiing this past month has also let me focus on other important things, like spending time with my daughter and my boyfriend (who seems to have been born with skis attached to his feet), eating fondue in romantic backcountry cabins, making the most of my season pass, and working other muscle groups in my body. And I’ve been working! So hard! I even won Rookie of the Year at our annual Sales Kickoff and received my first trophy in a long, long time. I want to win more trophies.

I’ve kept up with CrossFit and can happily admit to being addicted to the endorphins this workout creates, as well as the lovely community of support in my local “Box”. Which sounds dirty, but isn’t. Don’t ask to see my pistol squat. It’s shitty.

Variety is the spice of life. And cheese is important too. And the odd cliche. Don’t @ me.

And focus – a word that keeps creeping into my mind and my writing – especially as I move like a lion into March. Roar.

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!