Lessons from the Ogo Pogo

One thing about open water swimming – it always teaches me something.

Sometimes it’s about myself. Sometimes it’s about my limits. Sometimes it’s about my limitlessness

Sometimes it’s about the lake.

Today was one of those days! Despite a truncated training season in Trail (for which I am grateful, because lots of swimmers could swim much less), I decided to attempt a 6 hour English Channel qualifier in Okanagan Lake. I did one last October, but Coach Brent and I wanted to do it again in a consistent sub-16 degrees as the rules require. I’d only been lake training for 2 weeks, since it’s been as cold as a witch’s tit around here.

I was pretty sure that my fitness would hold up, since I’ve been doing a lot of biking and hiking (and pool sets). I was a little nervous about the temperature, but mostly because I am a big baby and I promised myself that I’d start taking cold showers in February, but really, fuck that.

We met at Brent’s house and lugged his canoe to the beach. I was excited to meet awesome Kelowna swimmers Phred and Mike, since group swimming is always more fun. We started off in the chop and headed for the bridge. I’d swam the bridge with Brent last year and was eager to battle the waves and freak myself out looking for the big black carp that hang out beneath it. I felt strong and confident all the way, and we passed underneath and had a lovely current that pushed us back to the other side in much calmer water. I took a feed at around an hour in.

Speaking of feeds, I have been using Perpetuem for my long swims for about a year now. I decided to up my game after deciding that pickle juice and Shok Blocks just weren’t cutting it. I’ve found the Perpetuem mostly palatable for swims up to 10 km, but felt slightly nauseous chugging it back for anything longer. I tried all the tricks – imagining that it’s root beer, or a Shamrock Shake, or holding my nose – but by the end of a long swim even the sickly sweet smell of it makes my stomach churn.

So with that in mind, I was prepared to do one last swim with the Perpetuem while I waited for my shipment of another product that I didn’t order in time.

With 2 or 3 feeds in my system, we headed south along the lake shore. Mike departed leaving Phred and I battling the very windy and wavy conditions, while Brent captained his canoe. With small craft warning conditions, we were the only crazy people in/on the water. Still, things were going swimmingly.

Until they weren’t.

If you’ve seen the film Stand By Me, you’ll remember the scene where Gordie tells the story of Lard Ass, who won the pie eating contest at the County Fair. Soon after his victory, Lard Ass downs some castor oil to induce a giant purple projectile vomit, which sets the whole crowd off on a mass barforama.

In an open water swimming context, I was Lard Ass and the castor oil was Perpetuem. And once I started really feeling the rocking of the waves, I had to hurl every kilometre and after every feed. I even tried to drink a can of Fresca, but that also came back up along with my breakfast bagel and the popcorn from the night before.

I continued to swim, burp, and spew, swim, burp and spew for another 2 hours. I thought I might crap my pants too, but managed to control myself, mostly because I didn’t want to anger the Ogo Pogo. I was miserable, frustrated, weak, and embarrassed. I was so confident earlier in the swim, even when we decided that the water temperature wasn’t cold enough for qualifier status anyways. My arms and legs and core felt great, but I could not shake that topsy turvy feeling every time I was horizontal.

I have no idea how Brent managed to keep his boat afloat, but he continued to encourage me, he didn’t laugh, and he didn’t ask me if I crapped my pants.

And then it was over. My big season opener. My test of consistent training. My much anticipated Saturday morning! I have no idea why I got so sick. Was it the Perpetuem, or am I prone to seasickness? Was it my ears? And what does this mean for potential ocean swims or Channel crossings?

So much to learn.

I spent the afternoon feeling crappy and replenishing calories (a delicious burger at Brent’s and then poutine and Gatorade), and researching anti-nausea medication. No matter what, I will learn as much as I can. I’m determined to find the right nutrition, and figure out how to not blow chunks in wavy conditions. I have been extremely lucky so far in my open water journey – no shoulder issues, great training pals, awesome coaching, excellent paddlers, minimal chafing…

I suppose I did learn that I can push through some discomfort, and that I can stay determined even when things go sideways and upside down (or at least when that’s what it feels like.)

I’m sorry, Ogo Pogo, for polluting your waters, but next time give me a break. I’ll be back in 2 weeks.

The Early Bird Catches the Towel

For the third weekend in a row, I’d intended to make the most of Canadian spring’s unpredictable gifts.

There’s always a little seasonal grief to contend with as the brown patches in the mountains get bigger. My backyard, which is giant, reveals the dogs’ healthy digestive artifacts. The front doesn’t catch as much sun, so a mini-glacier stubbornly holds out in the shade. Meanwhile, the local voles have been partying like drunken frat boys and I’m going to need a new cat, a gallon of grass seed, and the help of my pro-gardening neighbours to restore my front lawn to its former glory. A green thumb I am not. A clammy white bum though? Read on…

I’ve waited for the right moment to wax my skis and put them away until November. With such close proximity to the Rossland Range, I’ve been out to the cabins the last few weekends to enjoy the sunshine and variable spring conditions. The bears are definitely awake, which adds a little extra excitement to every ski, because you might become a human Lunchable or have to draw on your undeveloped jiujitsu skills. Last weekend we packed bear spray for our trips to Viewpoint Cabin and the Biathlon range at Blackjack. It’s really special to glide along under a 7:30 pm sunset, extending the day’s warm temperatures and fresh Kootenay air, and savouring the tangible fear of being eaten.

I was away for work in Chicago last week and planned for one last weekend of cross-country skiing out at Sovereign Lake, near Vernon. With 15 cm of fresh snow in the forecast, my companion and I couldn’t pass up a chance to prolong the winter season we dearly love.

Stunning views from Sovereign Lake Ski Area

Because soon – skiing makes way for swimming, and a return to focus on longer distance training for my summer races and events. Sights are high this year, and it’s time to ramp up.

The local lakes aren’t generally warm enough for swimming until late May at the earliest. And at this point, I’ve honestly been a bit bored in the pool, even with a monthly kilometre goal and boppy new playlists to motivate me.

I scoured my photos to find a record of my earliest lake swim – and found evidence of a May 3 dip in Champion Lakes in 2015.

Champion Lakes, May 3, 2015. Or it might have been 2014.

A beautiful and sunny Kelowna morning inspired a plan to hike and hang out at Bertram Creek Regional Park. Okanagan Lake is sparkly and inviting right now, especially with the anticipation of the 3 events I’ll do here later this summer.

Still, it’s April and I hadn’t even packed my bathing suit for the day. Because that’s just too early, right? The water must be 12 degrees MAX and we’d just skied yesterday. What kind of imbecile even considers the possibility?

Well, an ambitious and well-prepared German does, and before I blinked he was down to the world’s tiniest black Speedo (be still my heart) and in the water. His face looked happy (insert whatever bratwurst/Vienna sausage shrinkage joke you like here).

The temptation proved too much to handle and before I knew it I was in the lake, in my underwear, swimming out to a buoy. It was exhilarating, rejuvenating, and insane. In fact, it felt so great that I floated around near the shore for a good 5 minutes after returning from the buoy. But mostly because reality reminded me that I’d have to wade ashore in my underwear, and cross the beach to grab whatever dry clothes I could. Although I could lift a mid-sized Toyota, I’ve never been confident enough to strut my near-nakedness with pride. I still shower in my swimsuit at the pool (but have moved beyond this practice at home, thanks to the body-positivity movement).

Thankfully, the really well-prepared and thoughtful (and shrinky-dinked) German had packed me a nice big towel, because he knew I wouldn’t be able to resist a swim once I was on the beach. And being German, who needs a towel? Who even needs clothes?

I caught it on the shore. No public indecency laws were broken (by me). All was well.

It was really lovely to warm up in a cozy towel in the warm pebbles.

And that was that – the first lake swim of the year achieved on April 28, 2019. A new record. Maybe my coldest swim yet, until next weekend.