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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

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!

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.

 

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