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.

 

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.

 

 

 

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!

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.

 

Happy Birthday, Little Swim Blog!

Dear Swim Blog,

You’re one year old! Happy birthday to you, and happy blog-iversary to me! I’m giving myself the bumps right now – although it will look, to the casual observer, more like The Worm. I can also do this just for you if you invite me to your BBQ.

When I started this blog, I was motivated to catalogue my swimming events and training.  I’d been open water swimming for a few years, but I hadn’t been all serious about it. Serious times call for serious measures though, so I became a lot more serious.

I also wanted to write more – mostly about the personal progress I wanted and needed to make.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the positive response to my posts, especially since most of them include anecdotes about going through divorce and peeing in my wetsuit. It’s also heartening to be part of this growing worldwide community of open water swimmers. I’ve been lucky to connect with so many inspiring folks through our shared love of galvanized rubber, chlorine, Instagram, and swimming under open skies.

I made a New Year’s Resolution to blog more, but that hasn’t exactly happened. Quality over quantity… and because life has gotten in the way. Mostly in good ways. I spent a lot more time skiing this winter than previously, which meant that my training goals sometimes took a bit of a backseat to being in the snow and making out in backcountry cabins. That being said, I spent the majority of my winter swim training concentrating on technique, since I do believe that better technique is going to help me swim stronger and faster in the longer distances I have planned for this year, including 4 swims over 10 km…

Now it’s May, and I’ve started to ramp up the distance again. My forearms feel the strain, but I’m comfortably training up to 12 km/week in the pool. Yep – the pool. Despite a few early, encouraging lake dips, I have not been able to bring myself to start training in any nearby body of water that is less than 15 degrees Celsius. And I’m still taking warm showers.

So, Baby Blog, it’s now been a year.

A year of tracking.

A year of training.

A year of consistent effort, and constant reflection. My, how things change!

A year of growth, and shrinking (in some cases).

And also, a year of life highlights. Never mind the lowlights. They’re dimming all the time.

In the very most celebratory birthday fashion, I have something a little more exciting than a treat bag for those of you who are interested in taking up this highly recommended hobby, and those of you who are already able to lick your arm and smell the sweet, sweet chlorine.

I’ve partnered with the fab folks at Ocean Junction to offer a 25% discount on pretty much EVERYTHING one could ever need to start or support an open water swimming journey. Grab some awesome new Vorgee goggles (my favourite – read my review here) or hand paddles – or maybe a new Swim Buddy so that boats don’t run you over. I like the Touring Version, so that I can bring along some birthday cake.

TREAT YO SELF! Use the code openwater2019 at checkout to claim some sweet savings. I’m splurging on the new Vorgee Aqua Hair Rinse in the hope that I look a little less like Sammy Hagar by summer’s end.

And since you’ll be all tricked out in your fab new garb – please have a big piece of cake and celebrate with me. The calories will help you float.

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.