Saturday, June 20, 2015

Son of a Swim

Well, I definitely lived up to my blog's name today.

I've been training most of this winter to do the Son of a Swim in Lake Memphremagog.  It's basically a chance for people to qualify for marathon swims, or for people like me, who just want to try something a bit challenging.  There are six, four, and two miles swims you can do, and the slots are limited, so boat and kayak supervision is quite close.  It's an incredibly well-organized an amazing fun.  I'm quite grateful to Phil White for giving me the opportunity to try the two mile swim.

People are often nervous when trying something new, and I was no exception.   I've swum two miles (in a pool) and I've swum in open water (for a mile or so) but I'd certainly never put in two hours in 65F water, and I was nervous, not really knowing how I'd react to being exposed to cold water that long without a wetsuit.  The most I'd ever done was slightly under an hour.

So, when I woke up this morning and the local air temperature was 45F, I freely admit that I was pretty scared.  I had no idea how I was going to handle that, or even if I was physically capable of doing so.

But since I'd committed to doing the swim, and the air was going to have four hours to warm up before I got in the water, I figured the best thing I could do was just take things one step at a time, and the first step just involved me riding in the car while my husband drove to the lake.  I knew I could handle that part.

I tend to relax as we move from the mountains closer to "big water."  It's just this weird thing.  I grew up near the Potomac River, not too far from the Chesapeake bay.  I figure there's something about the air pressure or some other thing I'm not conscious of sensing.  I tend to relax as we drive INTO Boston as well, and goodness knows there's nothing relaxing about driving in THAT city!

Apparently Lake Mempremagog is large enough to have the effect, as I was feeling "big water" and calming down.

I'm sorry to say this didn't entirely last.  As we parked at the beach, got our gear and headed down by the water, I was greeted by the organizers, and asked how I was doing.

"Terrified," I yelped.

I was.  There was a fairly steady breeze and it was chilly.   We parked our stuff near the water, and against my husband's advice, I went over to dip my hand in.  I'm a better physicist than my husband.  I knew the water had been measured at 65F the day before, so was likely to feel warm compared to the ambient temperature.  It did, and I calmed down a bit. Well, a little.

The safety briefing calmed me down more.  Remember, I grew up with the idea that recreation involved quite large rivers and oceans, and we spent most of our summers out on the water.  The organizers clearly had equal experience and the briefing reflected it.   I felt quite good about that.  While water is stronger than I am and accidents DO happen, it wasn't going to be because of foolishness on anyone's part if it did.

That calm only lasted until we got in the water.  For whatever reason, the shock of the cold seemed a lot more intense than my training swims, even though by all accounts I'd been swimming in comperable temperatures.   I started with my usual breast-stroke warm up (don't laugh at me, it works for me) and when I tried to put my face in the water, it was enough of a shock that I couldn't regulate my breathing for a moment.  I even mentioned to my husband (who was kayaking for me) that I was not sure I could swim with my face in the water.   The ever calm and gentle coach, he just said, "Do what you need to.  We've got plenty of time."

That was enough for me to calm down and switch to freestyle.  By the time we reached the starter buoy, and rounded it, I was in a groove and realized that, yes, this swim was possible.

I could spend this report of the swim critiquing my training, of course.  While I was diligent in working out, I could also see many changes I do need to make in my workouts.  But that's really only afterthoughts.

The swim was the swim.  You know what was wonderful?  I was out in that water, and I  had no other concerns or worries but simply swimming.   I didn't really even have to worry about sighting or anything like that, because hey!  I had a kayaker right beside me to handle that.

The only thing that did get tough was the fact that we were dealing with a steadily increasing wind, and increased chop.  Since I don't have a lot of experience with that, it could have been worse than it turned out to be, and that's because of another swimmer.  While in general, one of the things I adore about swimming is its opportunity for solitude, I do find that community can really help.

You see, before we got in the water, the wind was a subject of discussion. One of the other swimmers (I am embarrassed that I spaced on her name, but I did catch that she's swum the Catalina Channel) commented that was great because it would be just enough to practice swimming in rougher conditions without being too bad.

That comment kept me from being thrown by the chop and instead treating each time I was thrown by the small wave patterns or getting a mouthful of water instead of air as an experiment -- a way to play with the water and find my groove in changing conditions.  It was an exploration rather than an irritation and it really helped. Being able to control attitude is important out there!

I did fall back to breaststroke a lot, something that was brought up to my husband (I didn't hear it, I was too busy swimming) asking if it was a cause for concern.  Thank goodness we trained together because he was able to reassure observers that it wasn't a sign I was doing badly, but merely a typical pattern in my open water swimming. (Yes, one I need to get rid of, but gimme a break.  I was only able to train out in a lake for three weeks!)  I told him if he's ever asked again, to tell them I was merely getting my Matthew Webb on and that I was okay. :)

But the thing that kept going through my mind as I was marking my progress by those orange buoys wasn't so much the cold, even if it was.  It wasn't the wind or the mild chop.  It wasn't that I really do live up to my blog name in how slow I swim.  It was this.

Every bit of it was amazing fun and I want to do it again, only for longer.


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