In Summer, the Song Sings Itself

So much for lamenting the loss of travel – summer in BC has been wonderful, and so has the swimming!

I’ve been working toward my BIG GOAL of swimming the length of Christina Lake on September 12. Otherwise known as the Bathtub of B.C., Christina is one of my favourite places to swim. The swim will be ratified by the Marathon Swim Foundation, if all planning goes well. It’s the best place for early season training, and it stays warm enough for the late season too. I’m 100% focused on this swim, and there’s lots of preparation to consider. And also lots of swimming to be ready on the day. It’s approx 19 km and I can do it! (I hope)

Route planning and existential ponderings.

I took a precious week off and did a 5 day kayaking trip on Slocan Lake (second favourite local BC lake) with my daughter and 2 pals. We paddled the 40 km top to bottom and I swam 5 km/day in Slocan’s beautifully crystal clear water. There was also lots of time for campfire laughs, nude-watching, flirting with our campsite neighbour, and…night swimming! We loaded up the Oru Kayak with lights and I swam under the stars and the moon in the quiet and inky blackness. Bliss.

Night swimming deserves a quiet night.
Beautiful Slocan Lake
Future album cover.

I’ve been training at Nancy Greene Lake most days, which is good because of the high elevation and the lower water temperature. It’s full of life all summer. Fish jump, and plant life stretches up from the sandy bottom. Swimming here feels like I’m a wee a drone flying over a forest. Apparently there’s an aggressive otter, but I haven’t seen him yet. I bet he’s seen me. I hope he introduces himself before the summer is over, and maybe he can teach me how to efficiently peel shrimp while floating on my back, because right now it’s a bit awkward.

No sign of my otter.

I did a 10 km training swim at Christina Lake last weekend to get a feel for the distance and the landscape of what will be the second half of the BIG SWIM. My friend Shanna paddled for me from Texas Point to the northernmost end of the lake – and graciously allowed me to glamp at her lovely cabin.

A room with a view!

And now – I’m en route to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for a few weeks. I’m looking forward to exploring some new lakes and swimming some long distances in my home province, and having my Mum do my laundry. YES!

Maybe she’ll even do some support kayaking for me….Mum?

Oh, Here I Am

Where did I go? I’m not even sure! Have you seen me?

Oh, here I am, trudging out of the lake covered in weeds, mascara smeared, nipples pointing in opposite directions…and dragging my Swim Buddy behind me like the world’s saddest whoopee cushion. Did you miss me?

The last 7 months have gone by in a blur. I’ve had a lot of blogging false starts. I’ve felt like writing, and then I didn’t. I’d think about a post, and then I’d get busy, and then I’d get hangry, and we all know what happens when I get hangry.

And then a global pandemic happened (WTAF), the pools closed, and I didn’t really know what to do.

This wasn’t in the plan!

I’d been swimming in the most diligent, consistent, and committed fashion of my life. I’d been working with my Kelowna-based coach (the amazing Channel Swimmer Brent Hobbs) to improve my technique (which was apparently “of the 80’s” – go figure!) and increasing my distance weekly: 4 swims a week with one LONG ASS 10 km pool swim on the weekend. I was making regular practices with my local Masters Club, getting workouts in while traveling for work, and even competing in my second Master’s meet in Vernon, BC at the end of January. I smashed my times and really felt on the up and up and up….

My last pool swim in March at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre.

I was focused on swimming a ton of events leading up to the Sri Chinmoy Lake Zurich Swim in August. I had a yoga plan (thanks KERRY!), a strength plan (thanks ANDREA!), plenty of motivation, and even my sandwich-tossing support team figured out (HI SCARLET AND THOMAS!). But when the pools closed, I was at a loss. I figured the best thing to do would be to keep my fitness up, and having a Haus-German with whom to spend much of the lockdown ensured that I got out skiing a lot. Snow is frozen water, after all.

Then all swims were cancelled. I experienced existential grief and angst. I wasn’t easy to get along with. What a year. I was always anxious, always hangry. My gills were closing. 

This coincided with the busiest period I’ve ever had in my career.  Working in education technology means that I have morphed into a 3 inch version of myself who lives in Zoom 12 hours a day and may or may not be wearing pants at any given moment.  I can no longer see more than 2 metres ahead of me, which is ok because that’s how far apart we’re supposed to be anyway.

And then finally, it was mid-May and I decided to stop being such a big girl’s blouse and get in the fucking lake, no matter how cold. 

IT WAS COLD.

SO COLD.

(but I learned that I really, really like it!)

Brrrr

No wetsuit for me – as per Coach Brent. The sanctioned swims I’ve planned do not allow it, so I’ve relegated my sleek Orca rubber to the closet, where it sits in wait and may come in handy for fighting/committing crimes.

Early season training couldn’t come soon enough, and I headed out to Christina Lake as much as possible to test my cold boundaries and gradually increase my time in the water before meeting up with Coach Brent and Channel Swimmer Emilie Epp in Kelowna for the first LONG ASS cold water swim, where I swam for 2.5 hours in 13 degrees. It was exhilarating, even if my hands turned into lobster claws and I couldn’t get my car key in the lock. I couldn’t feel my own face, but that’s ok because we’re not supposed to touch faces anyway. 

As it’s gradually warmed, I’ve had lots of lake time at Christina, Slocan, Okanagan, and Nancy Greene. I did a short bike tour with The German, and I bought a super cool, easily transportable, foldable Oru Kayak to encourage support paddlers to join me in the beautiful BC sunshine (and thunder and lightning and rain….June was pretty wet!).

I’ve finally been able to swim with Coach Brent this week. He took me on a sunset cruise under the Kelowna Bridge (both ways), which was reminiscent of that scene inThe Perfect Storm – and I loved it. We talked about goals – I’m still planning to swim the 18.9 km length of Christina Lake – and one REALLY BIG GOAL that I am not ready to talk about yet.

So much depends on whether the pools open this fall/winter. So much depends on getting more than one hour in a lane.

So much depends on everyone wearing a fucking mask and washing their hands and not partying on houseboats and not hugging each other.

Navigating this new normal is not easy, but doing it in the water is making a lot of difference for me. Better thinking, natural exhaustion, fresh air…

I really missed this. I’m glad to be back. Let’s go for a swim.

Open Water Life: 2019 Year in Review

Farewell 2019. I’m glad to see your buttcrack as you saunter off into memory with your pants pulled halfway down.

Still, there were highlights among the lowlights. Aren’t there always? Swimming offers me the most consistent vehicle for balance. No matter what’s happening, I always feel better when I’m in the pool. Even if I’m just floating around, thinking “Look at where you are in the world.”

Highlights

  • Swimming in beautiful European lakes during my summer bike touring adventure. Eibsee, Walchensee, Lake Sils, Starnbergsee…beautiful, clean bodies of water that felt so amazing and rewarding after long days on the bike.
  • 312,000 training meters.
  • Second successful Skaha Lake Ultra Swim. I was slower, and it hurt more, but I made it across the finish line and scarfed a giant sandwich and kissed my kid who paddled the whole way beside me.
  • My first open water swim in Sweden – the Riddarfjardsimningen – was exciting and fun and a great way to build in a destination swim with a holiday I’ve wanted to take forever.
  • Getting the green light to swim the Sri Chinmoy 26 km Lake Zurich swim next August. This will be my focus for 2020. I’m gonna give it my all.
  • My 6th Across the Lake Swim in Kelowna, and fastest to date. 4 more and I get that coveted silver cap!
  • The Lower Columbia Masters Swim Club – an opportunity to swim locally with great friends. I didn’t make as many practices as I’d have liked, but I did get to swim with the team for FrightFest in Kelowna in October. I’m lucky to have such a sweet community of fellow open water enthusiasts.

 

Lowlights

  • Being sick and tired for 3 months after my Dad passed away put a major dent in my training and my annual kilometer goal.
  • My Dad passed away. I don’t know that I’ll ever get over it, but I hope he’d be proud of what I hope to accomplish in my swimming goals.
  • Not organizing a swim in Copenhagen while I was there. Not that I didn’t have any fun. And now I have a good reason to return!
  • Cancelling plans for the Slocan Lake and Christina Lake swims, which would have been really awesome additions to my summer events. I need to remember that summer is only really 8 weeks long and that there are only so many things that one can do. This one was pretty busy.

 

2020 Goals  (resolutions come later…. once January has a chance to pull itself onto the deck)

  • Sri Chinmoy 26 km Lake Zurich Swim. I’m going to do it!
  • Portland Bridge Swim
  • Christina Lake – a good warmup for the above longer events
  • 7th Across the Lake Swim
  • Cough up the dough for a proper training smartwatch
  • Consistent, focused training that will take me into the Lake Zurich swim in the best shape of my life. I’ve found a Kelowna-based coach and I am so excited for this man to kick my ass!
  • Yoga, biking, skiing, and all the other cross-training activities I love.

 

Look at where you are in the world. Not so bad, is it? I wish you all the best for 2020.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

Gear Review: Finis Duo/Finis Neptune Underwater MP3 players

Music and swimming. These things go together like peanut butter and jam and bread before a big race.

I first came across an MP3 player for swimming a few years ago at my first Lake Chelan event. A woman I was floating around (and probably peeing) with at the start had these weird yellow headphone type things attached to her goggles and the sides of her head. I was drawn like a moth to a flame.

My life changed in that one moment. I do not speak of this lightly, having experienced a few life changing moments, including my first eyebrow wax, insoles, a good blender, a reading light that attaches to my book, and the baguettes from the new bakery in town. But yes – a life changing moment.

I told my Mum about this divine invention, and my Mum, being the fountain of awesomeness she is, ordered me one for my birthday.

Talk about a game changer. Now, instead of the OCD counting and intense problem solving that accompanied my workouts, I could have my TUNES piped directly into my head while swimming. Music! To swim to!

I music to everything, from driving to walking to sleeping to cooking to (Ed. note: Censored).

My first Finis Neptune arrived in the mail and the heavens opened. Harps harped. Angels moonwalked.

The little black and yellow contraption connected to my laptop and it was relatively easy to move MP3 files in to create a playlist. However, the Neptune was not without its annoyances, including that my laptop wouldn’t recognize the device and I was never really sure if it was charged. The tiny connective prongs had to be cleaned regularly in order to charge. Licking them hardly ever worked.

Still, I used that Neptune through miles and miles of pool workouts, and several races. It travelled with me and became a true conversation piece at events (especially during peeing at the start.) It wasn’t ‘t perfect, but damn, I LOVED it.

Pumping up the jam, pre-Long Bridge Swim in Sandpoint, ID.

Concocting the perfect swim playlist became a bit of an obsession for me, just as I obsessively curate playlists for showering, driving, running, skiing, and (Ed. note: Censored).

There are some workouts where you really want to be chilled out, for which artists like Sufjan Stevens or old Cure just hit the spot. But when you’re brimming with adrenaline during a race or event, the hi tempo new wave hits of the 80s or 90s punk might be better ear fuel for the day. I’m truly partial to swimming in a gay disco, it seems, or a Scandinavian coffee bar.

I have tried to listen to podcasts during my pool workouts too. In between my lap counting and stewing over quandaries to solve, I’d only hear a few words and completely miss any story or plot line or argument. Some people swear by podcasts in the pool. I would only swear that it seems like a waste of good thinking time, since music provides the perfect background and tempo and you don’t need to concentrate to get the benefits.

Probably listening to Toto. 

I also find that audio quality of the swim MP3 players can leave much to be desired, and if a podcast isn’t perfectly mixed and mastered, it is difficult to reliably hear what’s being said. And in the era of #fakenews, ain’t nobody got time for that.

Once my Neptune finally conked out, I upgraded to the Finis Duo. I looked at other brands and models but decided to stick with the Finis bone conduction audio technology, which means that the little “pads” attach to my goggles and sit on my upper cheekbones. Somehow, this ensures that the sound pipes right into my ears, if not my actual brain. I wasn’t keen on earbuds, since I’ve always hated swimming with ear plugs. Brain conduction audio becomes loud and clear as soon as you’re submerged in water. Miraculous, really. Other swimmers don’t even need to know that you’re a massive Toto fan.

The Finis Duo

The Duo doesn’t have as many playback options as the Neptune, nor a track display, nor a battery life indicator. You just have to keep it charged and hope that there is enough juice to last through your workout or your event. It promises up to 60 hours, and I’d say that it succeeds during the height of its powers. I ran through my 3 hour playlist several times during last summer’s Ultra and Kootenay Lake swims. It’s not perfect, but damn, I LOVE it.

However, after a year a half of heavy use, it wasn’t holding its charge very well (not that you can actually gauge whether it’s charged at all), and the left headpiece started making a horrible, garbled droning sound. The wires looked fine, but it was toast. I knew I’d never have added Alice in Chains to my playlist (YUCK), so I contacted the fine folks at Finis and they agreed to send me a new one for half price, even though the warranty wasn’t valid any longer.

I thought this was rather generous, and it prevented me from doing any further research into replacements or other options. So – if you’ve used another underwater MP3 and liked it, I’d love to know about it.

I’m pumped to crank the tunes back up during my swims again, after a month of swimming with my own thoughts. And while these thoughts have been mostly happy, nothing beats powering through the last 100 metres of the last set to “8th Wonder” by The Gossip.

Here’s a swimming playlist that saw me through most of last summer and fall. I hope you like it!

https://open.spotify.com/user/ez5jwi2xqn2h8k9ai8ul705zb/playlist/2gMx6x2T9Q4vvP6k9ybSmA?si=24ozoJQpRq-m96V4EKWrag

Enjoy! (This one’s made for shuffling.)

Shakespeare, who was a great swimmer and looked so hot in his Elizabethan Speedo wrote: “If music be the food of love, swim on, swimma!”

I have to agree.

You can order your own life changing Finis Duo here. Please let me know how you like it.