|Number 52: not my age, but close enough!|
My last open-water swim event this year was Epic Racing's "Swim to the Moon," an event that takes place somewhere near Hell (Hell, Michigan, that is). I suspect the reason I chose this event was because I loved the name. It's actually several swim distances - one-half mile up to 10K - that take place in a chain of lakes near Ann Arbor (Jim, with his two degrees from Ohio State University, in fact, finds this region of the USA to be his personal version of Hell, as he is surrounded by Michigan fans).
I chose the 10K... because.. why not? It was a lake swim so the water would likely be calm and warm, unlike the ocean in my last one.
We stayed overnight about 30 minutes east of the starting line, which was at Halfmoon Lake. The 10K swims across Halfmoon Lake and through channels and small lakes connecting it to Patterson Lake, where it turns around on private property, and goes back. There's also a 5K that starts at Patterson Lake and goes to the same finish line as the 10K. At the turn, 10K swimmers are required to exit the water and can partake of any nutrition or other items they stashed there in a special-needs bag.
I got very little sleep in the two nights before the race because I've been battling anxiety issues (which, incidentally, have nothing to do with pre-race jitters... just dealing with health problems and family issues). When the alarm clock rang race morning (Sunday), I could barely open my eyes, and the last thing I wanted to do was deal with a race that might take about three hours. But I had made a commitment, and I reminded myself how much I love swimming. I would make the best of it.
That morning, unlike the two weeks leading up to it, saw a drop in temperature into the low 60s. This meant that the water temperature, at 76 degrees, actually exceeded the air temperature. It also meant I didn't bring warm enough clothes to wear that morning. All I could think was: Oh great! This time I'll get hypothermia BEFORE I even get in the water!
But there wasn't a lot of time to wait around, and by 6:30, we were standing on the small sandy beach being accounted for as we were shuffled through the starting line arch to wait for the gun.
|Early morning start under the moon.|
Everyone was mumbling about the cold. Some people were actually getting in the water to keep warm. My fingers started to get numb. It took a little while to count everyone - so long that I decided to put my raincoat back on to keep warm. I was told by one group of men that I "could use a little more weight in order to stay warm" (I assured them I'm trying, maybe swimming in progressively-colder water next month will take care of that).
|One way to keep warm.|
After a quick singing of the Star Spangled Banner, we were finally off. Here's a video of the start:
In about five minutes, I had completely forgotten about the cold and was now in the melee of arms and legs and people all trying to spot buoys in dim morning light. That didn't last long (the dim morning light or being stuck in the melee), and before I made the turn into the first inter-lake channel, the sun was out and illuminating the far side of Halfmoon Lake. It was quite beautiful - I was no longer feeling tired but just happy to be swimming along at a speed that allowed me to appreciate the day.
Just before we took that turn - and based on my swim the day before, I determined the distance to be about a mile - I settled into a pace that had me swimming steadily alongside two others: a man and a woman. I would go into the first channel with this little group.
Before the race, a guy had told me the channels were shallow and you could walk through them. What he really meant was you might HAVE to walk through them. I found myself completely tangled up in weeds and trying not to run aground. I had to keep my underwater arm-pull against my body just to avoid punching the ground below. Unfortunately, the woman swimming next to me occupied the slightly deeper water, and I couldn't force myself into her space without sending her into another bank of weeds. I had to back off in order to get into her wake and avoid beaching myself or slamming into the wooden uprights of a foot-bridge over the channel. The two of us also had to stop a few times to find course-marker buoys.
Once we cleared the first channel, as long as I stayed close to the course markers, it was smooth swimming. I had only one or two run-ins with weeds until the second channel. Our little group stayed together through the second channel as well, which was equally shallow and treacherous and included swimming through a huge-diameter metal pipe (that had another bridge over it).
I found myself actually grabbing onto the weeds a couple times in a desperate attempt to pull myself forward. The first time I did it, the image that leapt to mind was one of standing on the pool deck and yelling at my swim team kids for grabbing onto the lane-lines during backstroke to pull themselves along. (They always think I don't notice that.) Hey, it works! I will have to come clean when I see them again.
When we finally reached Patterson Lake, the sun was well up. I stopped for a moment to free myself from a weed that had wrapped itself around my neck. My watch had us at 2.29 miles. Swimmers would now be on their way back. I got my bearings and started swimming toward the next bright orange buoy, only to have a stand-up paddler blowing a whistle at me and pointing me in the perpendicular direction. Swimmers were being directed to swim "directly into the sun" (what kayakers were telling us). By the time I was able to see the next marker, I had almost burned out my retinas, and spotting anything was now an issue. I almost had a head-on collision with a swimmer going in the opposite direction.
Finally I stopped. The girl next to me stopped. The guy next to me stopped. We had to flag down a kayaker to give us directions. It was then I saw the boat with a guy on the back carrying one of the big orange markers. Apparently the buoys had blown off course. He dropped this one directly in front of me and just like that!.. we were back on course.
When I made it to the beach turn-around, the first thing I saw was the time-clock. It said 1:19:something. Before the race, I told Jim that the 10K would probably take me close to three hours - at best, 2:45. This was very good news indeed. I was half-way through and under my predicted "fast" time. A volunteer handed me my special-needs bag containing nutrition.
The woman I had been swimming with gave me the slip on the beach and got back in the water well before me. I had a 21-oz bottle of SkratchLabs hydration mixed with Carbo-Pro, and I needed those calories. But I also didn't want to just "swim through" the second half of this race, so I drank only 3/4 of my bottle and ran back into the water to chase her. The guy from my original group was right alongside me.
He was the clobbering-type swimmer and his stroke was so strong it was like he had a tractor beam - I kept getting pulled toward him as though I was stuck in a gravitational pull. I had to get out of that influence so I swam hard and fast and pulled out in front.
Swimming the flip-side of Patterson Lake was easier because we were pointing away from the sun, it was a clear day, and the markers were now obvious. When I reached the channel, I realized that I was right behind the woman in our original three-some. I did not want to lull myself into swimming her speed again, so I worked hard in in the channel to get ahead. Instead, I swam off course and ended up in that group again - the three of us with me stuck smack in the middle.
Upon exiting this channel, I finally had enough. I swam hard to wrestle myself free of the group and the weeds.
I got out ahead and finally had the last two miles of this race all to myself. There was a lifeguard on a paddle-board who kept coming around to make sure I stayed on course, but I had no problem whatsoever spotting buoys and enjoying swimming hard to the finish. I stopped a couple times when we got back into Halfmoon lake to check my watch. With about a half-mile to go, my stroke finally started falling apart. Overall, I wasn't really that tired, I was just having trouble getting enough strength to keep a strong underwater pull. But I was alone in the water, and I told myself to enjoy it because it was almost over. I did backstroke just to look up at the clear blue sky, and then I flipped back over and pushed to the finish.
Getting out of the water after swimming for that long was a weird experience. It felt a lot like "the wobble" when you first step off the bike in an Ironman. I almost fell. I was disoriented for a few moments. Embarrassingly, it was caught on video, and since I have no shame to speak of, here it is:
My finish time was 2:39:03. And even though I swam hard, my second half was less than a minute faster than the first half. Awards-wise, I finished second in my age group (33rd overall) but the first female masters swimmer was also in my age group, so my time was actually third in my age group. I have a long way to go because there are some really fast women over 50.
|Beer glasses are always the best trophies.|
And I'm still loving this swim thing... and ready for the next one.
Just for kicks, here's the GPS plot from my Garmin:
In the past month, I've been spending quite a bit of my pool time re-learning how to bilateral breathe. As I've written before, upon my return to regular swimming about 15 years ago, I gravitated toward breathing on my right. I just did what was natural, and it has served me well for many years of competitive swimming in triathlons.
Now that I'm pursuing open-water swimming as a sport, I find my single-sided approach to breathing has become a liability. I've been doing it in my open water swims because it comes naturally and also because it's easier for me to swim in a straight line that way. When I breathe on my left, my weak side, I actually start to turn in that direction. Swimming in circles is an excellent ability if you're stuck in a round pool, but it won't help me get from point A to point B in open water.
Thus, I've accepted swimming slower for however-long-it-takes, and forced myself to breathe on the left during many of my swim sets. Although it's beginning to feel more natural, I will know I've conquered it when I do it without thinking. I have moments of encouragement when I start a set of hard 50s automatically breathing on the left. After the first one or two, it becomes a chore, and I go back to automatic right-breathing, but a little progress is better than none at all.
The real significance of being able to breathe bilaterally became perfectly obvious to me yesterday, when, after a stressful morning, I decided what I really needed was a swim workout with NO stress.. no walls, no flip-turns, no lane-lines, no boundaries. As they say: be careful what you wish for.
I checked Lake Erie conditions (Ohio Nowcast) then drove up to the lake, and without a second thought, jumped in with my swim buoy in tow. There were other people swimming and conditions looked perfect (i.e., calm) to me. See?
Perfect, that is, until I actually got "out there." It was choppy -- not bad enough to make me stop swimming, but bad enough to make me wonder about how bad it was. People here always talk about Lake Erie and its changing conditions. "It doesn't take much to whip up the lake," they say. "It's the shallowest of the Great Lakes," they say. This all means something, but I've never been sure what.
All I know is I've raced in some very bad open water conditions, some so bad that races were cancelled mid-swim and swimmers drowned. And, Lake Erie yesterday was nothing like those conditions. But a little chop in Lake Erie is bad - for other reasons - reasons that make bilateral breathing so important.
Lake Erie chop follows no rules. There is no rhyme or reason (or more importantly, rhythm) to it.
I was reminded of a passage in one of my favorite books, The Outermost House by Henry Beston, that describes a unique wave pattern on the Atlantic coast of Cape Cod. Anyone (including me) who's ever watched or swam in those waters knows it. It's easier to catch waves or swim in waves when they have patterns like this. Lake Erie chop has no pattern which makes it nearly impossible to settle into any sort of breathing rhythm, especially swimming parallel to the shoreline. And the shoreline itself changes drastically from sandy beaches to sheer rock cliffs and back every few hundred yards, which also creates all sorts of conflicting wave patterns.
The whole time I was swimming parallel to the shoreline, all I could think about was the last time I swam in short chop - in Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2011. Even then, although I had to fight the waves, I was able to get my breathing in rhythm with the swells. In Lake Erie, I had no such luck. But I did discover that breathing toward the north (into the waves) was much more beneficial and I swallowed less water (contrary to what's described here even thought it's a very good article overall). When I tried to breathe toward the shoreline, facing south, waves would break over my head and engulf me and I couldn't get air, but when I breathed on the low end of the swell, facing north, I had no problem.
I stuck it out for 1.5 hours and managed a dismal 2.5 miles, but I was exhausted from the fight. And I learned, first-hand, that in addition to training in rough conditions, I need to keep training myself to bilateral breathe because no one knows what will happen during extended open-water swimming. Even if everything looks calm on the beach that day.
The video below is what it looked like when I got out. I've been told the rule-of-thumb is don't swim if you see white-caps off-shore.
In the past month, I've been spending quite a bit of my pool time re-learning how to bilateral breathe. As I've written before, upon my return to regular swimming about 15 years ago, I gravitated toward breathing on my right.
I took a few days off after my cold-water revelation last weekend to decompress and to abuse myself by doing a 180 - running in a Midwest heatwave marked by several "heat advisory" days this week. (Note, running is my other zen sport, it's my self-medication.)
|I survived for more than 5 minutes.|
I was reminded of my crazy English swimming compadres in London in December (remember that?). They were able to swim in sub-50 degree F water for long periods of time because their bodies had been slowly acclimated to it as the temperatures dropped. If you remember my blog posts about that experience, I noticed a difference in my own ability to withstand cold water even after the second time. And in my previous post, I told you about the advice from Ocean Games race director and open-water swimmer Corey Davis - his recommendations were to take cold showers and extend my open-water swim season into the colder months.
|Post-swim with race director
and living-testament to the human spirit, Corey Davis
It's not often we have the opportunity to be truly inspired by a another human being. But there are miracles (there's that word again) all around us and many of us will live our entire lives and never notice them. If you've been reading my blog, you know I've undergone many changes in attitude and the choices I make and that I have been fortunate to witness the power of the human spirit - mostly through music and friends.
But since this blog focuses mostly on my athletic pursuits, I will post about my latest swim event at the Ocean Games, a nine-mile swim in Ocean City, MD, where I witnessed what could be viewed as a lapse into my "disaster magnet" (read: negative) luck of old, but I was rescued this time by amazing humans and my new-found ability to see miracles all around me.
Most endurance athletes spend many years training to perfect their race performances. Very few people are born with bodies that can sustain high levels of activity over long periods of time. And even if someone is athletically-gifted at birth, it takes years of training and experience to get to the top of their sport. For us non-elite athletes, it's even harder and requires many more of those years and experience just to finish well and accomplish goals.
Knowing this, it was surprising to me when I experienced a high level of success very early in my "careers" as both a marathon runner and a triathlete: I qualified for Boston in my first marathon, and I qualified for Kona in my first Ironman (which, I might add, was only my fourth triathlon).
Go big or go home, right? There was no reason for me to start out "small" in my latest sporting pursuit, open-water swimming. My previous early-success pattern gave me a false sense of security, and eight years of competitive swimming from age 14 through 22 did nothing to deter me. I believed I had the ability to accomplish big things right away.
But I'm 51 and we all know trends don't last, and my first year of open-water swimming, although fun, has already become both a curse and a blessing.
And I don't mean curse in a bad way - more like a curse in an uncomfortable way. Because I have to make mistakes first this time. Early success is actually the curse. It always resulted in the devastating mental process of setting unreachable goals for future races, and for years I interpreted less-than-stellar performances as failures.
Now, even though I've given up the stress of Ironman by choosing to do the thing I enjoy most - swimming - I still chose a nine-mile ocean swim as my second open-water event. Live and learn, right? And I was about to find out how stupid... or ridiculous... or utterly hilarious... that was.
And it started out in classic Disaster Magnet fashion.
|The kayak is almost bigger than their car.|
The reasons I chose to swim in Ocean City had as much to do with the race support and travel as the distance. First of all, my great friend Doug (who lives near DC) agreed to be my support kayaker. He would feed me and guide me and get me through this thing. His wife and two daughters and my husband Jim would all be there, and I looked forward to spending time with them as much as I did having them as race support. They were a few of the true blessings of this weekend. It was like gaining a loving sister and brother and a two wonderful nieces for three days.
But the Disaster Magnet curse was not about to go down without a fight.
The day before the race (Friday), Doug and I decided to practice a bit to determine how kayaker support worked for us: which side he would be on, how close I could swim to him, etc. Jim also came out for a kayak lesson. We put the kayak in very shallow - and hot! - water on the bay side of Ocean City. During the swim, I caught some seaweed on my legs and arms. And shortly after, I felt some itchy stinging pain on my arm and my ankle and had to stop for a moment.
It wasn't seaweed. It was JELLYFISH! I panicked. I grabbed onto the kayak, terrified. I think I almost flipped Doug and Jim into the water trying to get away from the stinging jellyfish. GET ME OUT OF HERE. We turned around, but on the way back, I swam face-first into a jellyfish, and completely flipped out, grabbed onto the back of the kayak and had Doug just paddle me in. Fortunately, the face-sting was so quick and light that it never even registered as a rash. My arm sting was so superficial that after I swam in the ocean water a little, it wasn't even noticeable.
Disaster #1, averted!
|Pre-race with Doug, all smiles.|
That night, Doug, Jim, and I went to the race meeting, got briefed on the next day's event and how it would work, and then went back to the house we were all sharing for a very nice dinner. Everyone was happy, calm, and ready for the next day.
Until 5:00 am.
I had been sleeping well - again, most of my readers know about my anxiety issues that keep me up all night, so this was sort of a miracle (I owe my new-found ability to relax to my friend Olly). Something woke me up. It was still dark. I heard Jim come into the room and sit on the bed.
I shook off the sleep.. what? Did he have a cold?
Disaster #2 hit. Jim - and Doug's daughter Erika - had food poisoning. This was NOT GOOD. Doug's wife was also feeling ill and may have a touch of the same thing. Panic. I frantically searched for answers... was I next? Was Doug next? We all ate the same food last night. But we also had sandwiches for lunch. Jim and Erika were the only ones that ate ham, so I concluded that to be the culprit. But it didn't matter, Doug and I were going it ALONE. All of our transportation plans for the next day were washed out, and it would be the first big race in 14 years that Jim would miss. For a few minutes, I considered not swimming that day, but Jim urged me to go saying it would make him feel even worse. I understood - for him, I needed to start this race.
Me 'n Doug race morning, still smiling:
That morning, the conditions were announced on the Ocean Games Facebook page. The current was north-to-south and the race would swim down the shoreline in that direction. The water temperature was 74 degrees F. Perfect - I felt relief as I had already decided not to wear a wetsuit for two reasons:
- In the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, I overheated in my wetsuit in 74 degrees F.
- If I'm going to continue these open-water challenges, I need to swim without a wetsuit because that's usually the rule.
|It looks friendly enough.|
Fast-forwarding to the start of the race. I remember two things at the starting line. One was that Jim was noticeably absent. The other was I talked to a surfer named Drew who was questioning the decision to swim north-to-south because everything pointed to difficulty in this direction: the wind was coming from the south and the waves were coming from the southwest. But to me, the surf looked almost non-existent. All I could think of was how awesome it will be to finish a nine-mile ocean swim.
And my feelings were validated when I hit the water at the start and swam out to meet Doug in his kayak. The water temperature was ideal and I was smiling to myself for at least the first two miles. I stopped to feed mostly on schedule and I didn't feel at all taxed through the first three miles.
But then something changed. The surf got a little rougher and my hands started going numb. It happened pretty quickly. I tried swimming harder to warm up. It worked a little. I tried stopping and drinking warm fluids. I asked Doug to get me closer to the shore where the water was warmer (but rougher). I kept swimming, but I kept losing more feeling in my hands. I also started to shiver. It was discouraging when Doug said most of the swimmers were in front of me.
Around four miles, I stopped and tried to warm up, but the sun had gone behind the clouds. My teeth were chattering, and I was starting to shiver uncontrollably. I didn't want to quit, but Doug saw the writing on the wall and signaled to the lifeguard on shore.
The lifeguard came out and towed me in. All I could think about was getting warm (although Doug said I kept turning around saying I wanted to finish, but I don't remember that). When I was finally out of the water, the lifeguard and a bunch of beach-goers came over to warm me up. My whole body was shaking and I couldn't make it stop. A man gave me some gatorade, and a woman named Ashley (I'm surprised I even remember her name) and her two children put their towels over me and she held me while I shook uncontrollably waiting for EMS. It was a small thing, but the best of humanity was embodied in those people, and I don't think I ever thanked them.
Miracles all around.
The EMS guys took my temperature at 93 degrees F (not my personal Disaster Magnet record, but close). They gave me a warm IV and took me to the ER where I was covered with warm blankets and my temperature returned to almost-normal. I called Jim, who was laid up in bed with some of the worst digestive issues of his life, and he actually came to the hospital to pick me up. I don't know which one of us looked worse, me or him, but it was nothing short of miraculous.
I actually felt ok, but tired. I drove him back to the house and picked up Doug's wife Kaz to go to the finish line to collect Doug, their car, and the kayak (kayakers were required to stay on the water for race support even if their swimmer dropped out).
I had no idea how much time had passed, but Jim said my iPhone (in Doug's possession) was registering him still out on the water. Ocean city traffic was horrendous and it seemed like forever before Kaz and I got to the finish line. We (miraculously) found parking and walked onto the beach where she immediately spotted the kayak. Doug was exhausted but he looked good. He told us he was able to help another swimmer complete the three-mile race that day. That made me so so happy.
Miracles, I say.
As for me? Was this Disaster #3?
Not by a long-shot. For the record, I'm sad that Jim and Erika got sick - that was the biggest bummer of the weekend. And, I'm sad about having to abandon my race. In fact, I cried A LOT at the hospital. But, surprisingly, the fallout from this event is very different than other races I've DNFed. I don't think I'm a crap athlete this time. I got hypothermia. It wasn't something I had any control over (this time). I'm glad I started this race, and I wouldn't have done anything differently. I had the strength to finish, just not the ability to withstand the cold. I have none of my usual regrets.
Curious, I asked one of the race officials if anyone else got hypothermia. She said at least one other swimmer dropped out but for unknown reasons. I talked to a few others at the finish and was told the water temperature definitely dropped from the starting line. It may have been due to the wind ushering in colder water. And then the biggest miracle of the weekend happened.
Looking for stats on finishers, I approached the announcers table. The race director, Corey Davis, was there. He asked how it went, I told him I had to drop and just left the ER after being treated with hypothermia. His biggest concern was if I was ok. Then, he thanked me a million times for supporting the race (I think I told him we came from Cleveland). We had the most amazing conversation. Corey imparted a huge amount of his knowledge to me about open-water swimming (especially in cold water) and gave me some tips on training for next time.
Corey isn't just anyone. He's actually a huge inspiration to all who know him and I would have felt very fortunate to have had just a moment of his time. He is the survivor of a horrific accident that left him unable to walk due to a traumatic brain injury. The doctors and his determination in rehabbing have allowed him not only to stand on his own two feet again but to return to a very active lifestyle. He founded the Ocean Games to give back to the program that helped him and give hope to people who suffer similar injuries. You can read his story here (or watch the short video below, his recovery is quite remarkable).
Talking to Corey changed me. I have been able to put the entire thing in perspective and learn my lessons thanks to my new attitude and our conversation. One of Corey's most recent accomplishments was completing a 17-mile paddleboard race. Seriously, I can't even STAND UP on a paddleboard without falling down! Corey did 17 miles after being told he would never even walk again!
I am determined to enter this race again next year with the goal of finishing and doing it as a fundraiser.
And I have been able to look at all the blessings of this race instead of the curses.
So, what if I finished? Then, I might have a lot more open-water miles under my belt. I might have a lot more confidence in myself going into my next open-water challenge. I might be jumping up and down and patting myself on the back right now. And I might have impressed some people.
But, I wouldn't have learned the lessons I learned this weekend. I wouldn't know how unprepared my body was for cold water. I wouldn't have a plan for dealing with the cold water in the future. I wouldn't have been treated to the best of humanity in the form of Good Samaritans. And I wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet Corey Davis, one of the most extraordinary humans I've ever known.
And so, let the miracles continue...
The trials and tribulations of open water swimming in the Ocean Games nine-mile event where conditions can and will change abruptly, and I had to deal with the fallout of not being prepared for very cold water.
Everything hurts today. It's that good kind of hurt. The kind of overall pain that lets me know I pushed myself through something unusually difficult yesterday.
And that's because I did. Yesterday I did my longest-ever open-water swim. And it was my first solo open-water swim in Lake Erie. It wasn't completely "solo," but I'll explain in a moment.
If you read my previous blog, you know what I'm up against. I needed to do a swim before this weekend that was long enough to prove (to myself only) I could push through something longer than my last race at 4.4 miles. And I didn't want to swim that long in the pool because, frankly, when I'm in the pool for longer than 2.5 hours, I have been getting sick of the chlorine and the monotony of the lane-lines. I've never needed to train in open water for experience because, as I've said many times in this blog, I've always been at home in the open water.
But I WANT to swim in open water. My soul has been longing for it ever since I conquered the fear in La Jolla cove. And yesterday, I had several soul-affirming moments in the water, and I felt compelled to write something.
This weekend, I knew two things: (1) I wanted to swim in open water and (2) for at least as long as I've swam in the pool. But I had no idea WHERE to swim.
Don't laugh. Even though we have a Great Lake on our doorstep, the conditions in Lake Erie are not always conducive to swimming. On Saturday, I checked the USGS Ohio Nowcast to find that almost all the Lake Erie beaches within an hour drive of my house were considered "unsafe for swimming" due to high levels of bacterial contamination. This was not a good sign. I started looking for other swimming holes all over Northeast Ohio. I had all but resigned myself to swimming "laps" in one of a few small lakes south of where I live.
|The dogs here like swimming
almost more than I do.
Then, another one of those miracles happened. Sunday morning, I checked the Lake Erie conditions again to find that several west-side beaches had been given the green light! And I was off, dragging my overly-obliging husband Jim with me just in case something happened (it was my first time doing this alone).
I decided to do several out-and-back swims in order to stop and get fuel and hydration regularly - and also to get an idea of how much and how often I needed to consume during a long-distance swim of more than two hours. The water was perfect temperature (maybe in the upper 70s F?) so I didn't need a wetsuit. I took along a orange New Wave Swim Buoy so I was visible to boaters and jet-skiers (first time using this) and could carry my phone and nutrition in it.
My goal was to swim at a pace I could maintain for three hours. I swam east along the shoreline - which I eventually realized was with the current - for just over a mile and then turned around and swam back to the beach. The first two miles were steady and I never felt taxed at all. The water was beautiful, the sky was blue, the sun was out, people were jet-skiing and speed-boating and what-not, and I was able to get into a rhythm and just forget about everything. It went by pretty fast. When I got back to the beach, I drank about 250 liquid calories (Carbo Pro mixed with SkratchLabs hydration). Jim confirmed that the Find-My-iPhone app was working and he could see where I was during the swim.
|Somewhere between the boats and the shore.|
For the next hour, I decided to set out in the opposite direction. Here's where I was no longer alone. As I started swimming out, I saw another orange buoy in my peripheral vision. I swam toward it thinking it might be fun to swim with somebody for a bit. Maybe he/she could help me, maybe I could help him/her. When we got closer, we stopped and discussed it. Although he had planned on swimming for 1.5 miles, I told him I was going 2 miles, and he decided to go with me - we set off.
I lost him in my sights about five minutes later and figured it wasn't meant to be. But after about 20 minutes, I stopped and looked around and realized he was still with me, only about 50 yards closer to shore. I smiled to myself at how far out I was and kept swimming. When my GPS said I had gone a mile, I stopped and looked around. I saw my fellow-swimmer's orange buoy and waved to him when he looked up. He swam over.
"That's about a mile," I said and we stopped to talk. We both bobbed away on our buoys and talked for about 10 minutes. About why we were out there - his name is Jeff, he was training for an Ironman and getting back into athletics after a divorce. We talked about our jobs. We talked about art (I am NOT making this up). Then we talked about swimming. He summed it up better than I could in one phrase: "Swimming gives you that zen feeling."
He was right. Zen. That's what it is. It's similar to the feeling you get from running. It's peaceful, reflective, and gives me a feeling of one-ness with the world. I find this to be especially true in the water. I met a woman on the beach yesterday who doesn't know how to swim but she also had this indescribable sense of wholeness near water. Maybe our souls have a deep connection to the place from whence they came. I don't know, but I feel something intensely spiritual when I'm in open water.
We turned around and swam back to the beach. The surf got a little rougher on the way back even though we were with the current. I had an easier time with it than Jeff did, but I waited for him when I got back. He was done, I was going back out. We said our goodbyes, but not before I found out he and I are connected through his sister's marriage to a good friend of mine. And thus, Cleveland continues to be the largest "small town" ever.
My GPS had me just over four miles in just over two hours. Jim helped me fuel up once more, let me know he was ok waiting yet another hour (he's a saint) - and I headed back out toward the east. I decided to swim until I hit five miles then turn around. My arms were starting to feel very heavy (especially right after the stops), and I had to work to stretch them out to take long strokes. But I never got the "I really want to stop" feeling like I did in Chesapeake Bay. I was happy, I was "in it," but I was tired.
I pushed through to five miles. And then decided to do the stupidest thing EVER. I can't even blame it on delirium or water-logged-brained-ness because I was totally conscious and aware of what I was doing.
I'm so NOT a selfie person, but I wanted a selfie. So I wrestled with my buoy to pull out my phone. I had to deflate it almost half-way just to get the phone dislodged. I didn't even know if it would work because the phone was in a plastic bag. I may be stupid, but not stupid enough to take my phone out of the plastic bag. I bobbled on my half-inflated buoy and took a picture.
Then it happened. As I was treading water, trying to open the buoy, I dropped my bagged-phone in the water.
My heart stopped as it sank downward out of sight.
Panic came in a split-second. All I can articulate are the instantaneous thoughts that went through my head. Oh my God! Jim is going to KILL ME! What was I THINKING? The buoy instructions clearly state "NEVER TAKE YOUR PHONE OUT WHILE SWIMMING." Oh my God! Can I dive down to the bottom to retrieve it?? How deep is this water anyway? How much will a new iPhone cost?? Oh my God! What have I done?!?!?
And just like that, my fingers miraculously caught the phone, and I pulled it out of the water.
Here it the photo, never to be repeated:
Relief swept over me. I turned toward the beach and swam back. Perhaps due to the adrenaline rush, I swam back much faster than I swam out. The whole time I thanked God for my quick reflexes and spent the rest of the zen moments wondering if I should tell Jim what happened.
When I finally crawled out of the water, my GPS said: 6 miles, 3 hours.
I was done. I felt good (for many reasons), but my arms were sore and my neck was badly chafed from my cap. But my pace was steady. And I have enough confidence to start the nine-mile swim, now only five days away.
Here's the Garmin plot of my course - apparently, I can't swim a straight line:
Everything hurts today. It's that good kind of hurt. The kind of overall pain that lets me know I pushed myself through something unusually difficult yesterday.
A week from today, I'll be toeing the line in my longest swim ever - a nine-mile race in Ocean City, Maryland. I don't know what I was thinking when I registered for such a long distance as my second open-water swim race. Well, yes I do. I was thinking: no problem, I'll have plenty of time to train. Go big or go home, right?
However, at the time of registration, I had no way of knowing I would be going to the Glastonbury Festival only three weeks before the race. I didn't factor in the eight-day hiatus from training - or the jet lag. Now, I find myself up against the wall and not at all confident in my current ability to finish nine miles.
ask questions later.
The difference this time is that I don't lack the confidence in myself. I don't have that fear anymore. I'm actually looking forward to this race even if I cannot finish. I'll be doing the thing I love - swimming in the ocean - where I feel most at home. If I don't finish because I don't have the training or racing experience behind me, then I don't finish. It will be because I didn't do what I needed to do to get to the finish line. And it will not define me. I've sloughed off the burden of assuming I'm a crap swimmer or a crap athlete because I don't finish a race.
What I WILL do is kick myself for not thinking ahead. (Obviously, I'm already doing that, but not as an excuse.) In fact, I'm laughing at myself because of how ridiculously unprepared I am for a potentially grueling experience. It's just that it's not the ultimate goal.
One thing is for sure - I would never have missed Glastonbury for all the training in the world. I will happily live with that. The lessons I learned there were more powerful than those training or racing could have taught me.
In fact, the only reason I'm writing this particular blog post is to put it "out there" so that when the going gets tough, I can remind myself I wrote this. It's a commitment for me to honor. To not give up. To tell the story of the struggle. If I don't get to the finish line, I will have to be dragged out of the water unconscious.. or injured.. or sick because of nutrition mistakes. It will NOT be due to lack of will.
I want to finish, but most of all, I want to enjoy the process. I want to make mistakes. I want to learn. Swim races are not the goal for me. Swimming is. The act of swimming, that is. Open water swimming gives me a high and a challenge no other sport has given me. It's me against myself. When I'm out there, I don't feel competition around me. I only feel the water.
And that's what sport should be.
|Hopefully I'll look this happy after 9 miles but I'm not expecting to.|
|At least two of us got a workout at
Glastonbury has become the gift that keeps on giving. I have learned more about life, love, community, friendship, and spirituality in the last two weeks than in the last two years. But there was another offshoot I never expected.
|Mud in the walkways|
|Mud in the fields|
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