Sunday, June 28, 2015

You Have Great Endurance!

My husband was bragging on me at work the other day, which was sweet.  He told me one of his co-workers commented that I must have amazing endurance, because she gets winded swimming two laps of the pool.

People do look at the middle-aged woman given to serious enbonpoint, watch her swim for an hour in a pool or around a lake and they do express they're impressed, especially when they compare it to their own swimming skill.

Here's the thing.  If you don't have a lot of practice swimming, just jump in the pool and go, you'll be hanging on the edge gasping, staring at the fat lady in the next lane just gliding along, and wondering if she's a freak of nature or something.

She might be, but she's probably not.

Swimming is about technique. The better your technique, the easier it is, and the more effortless it looks.  My own husband will comment after I have been working very hard in the water that I make it look easy.

But there's a flip side.  I'm the barest beginner at this sort of thing, and I'm really not that fast or strong.  Sure, sure, I'm strong enough to swim a couple of miles and that's cool.  But it takes me close on to two hours to do it.

The common wisdom is a 4:1 conversion between running and swimming, so using that calculation, my best swimming pace over an hour is slightly under a 12 minute mile and my Kingdom Swim was more like 15 minute miles.

That's a brisk walk, friends.  Not as impressive as all that.

Friday, June 26, 2015

It's a Dialog, Not a Fight

I'm sitting here right now using a website called 750Words.

The idea behind it is that you do a freewrite every day of seven hundred fifty words.  That's more or less three pages of material, and is based on the Morning Pages idea Julia Cameron talks about in The Artist's Way.

I've never read it *blush* but I do like the idea of daily practice.  I've been using the site for a few years now, and try to write that seven hundred fifty words every day to keep my writing skills sharp.  Yes, practice is important in any endeavor if you want to gain mastery!  (Can't tell I am a teacher, can you?)

Because I do try to come up with seven hundred fifty words a day and I'd rather it be on a subject rather than random drivel about how HARD it is to come up with a topic every day, I do make mental notes about what to write.

As I was thinking this morning and deciding on what I wanted to ramble on about today, I was struck by some language that is often used when talking about marathon swims.  They're words of conquest and winning against bodies of water.

That kind of language is a speed bump to me.  I love water.  I have loved water my entire life.   My parents tell me a story of when I was a young toddler and the family was staying at the Halifax in Virginia Beach.  My grandmother (I called her Nanny) and I were at the water's edge.  Nanny was sitting in the sand holding me and I was splashing in the waves that washed up over her legs.

Then an unexpectedly large wave hit that knocked Nanny and I down.  She had good reflexes and was able to keep hold of me, as well as keep my head above water until the wave receded.   Even though I am sure that scared Nanny quite badly, I am told she treated it as a fun adventure for us rather than something to be afraid of.

Even now, older than Nanny was then and of quite matronly proportions, I still get out in the waves for family Beach Week and body surf with my dad and brother.

But what I have been taught from early childhood is that water is the ultimate power.  That water is bigger and stronger than any human.  (Daddy used to whip impromptu physics lessons on my brother and I when we were body surfing to prove this WITH SCIENCE.)  That the best way to deal is to show water lots and lots of respect.  That no, getting out on the water isn't the safest thing you can do, but if you show the water that respect, you'll do better.

I suppose it's like John Blackthorne said in Shogun.  "The man who's not afraid of the sea'll soon be drownded for he'll go out on a day he shouldn't.  We be afraid of the sea, so we be only drownded now and again."  (Remember, in the early 17th Century, "fear" and "respect" had closer connotations than it does in 21st Century English -- see the King James translation of the Bible against other more modern translations.  I'm not sure if Clavell was intending to be that subtle, though.  As a writer, he generally wasn't)

It's not that I don't get where they're coming from when they say they've "conquered" the English Channel or something.  It's the challenge that's really being spoken of and that is certainly an amazing victory.  I wouldn't even say it's a bad way to look at it.  It's just alien to the way I think of it.

For me, it's a more intimate thing, and less about conquering the water and more about the interaction and communication with the water.  It's dancing together, or a sparring match.  If you don't think a sparring match can be intimate communication, all I can say is you really REALLY need to watch a scene in Pacific Rim!  They got it better than I've ever seen it portrayed in film. And the idea of the serious disparity in strength isn't weird to me in this.  I'm five two and female.  MOST of my sparring partners in training were a lot bigger and stronger than I am.

I guess I feel like it's more that the body of water allows you to swim it -- if you CAN.  You have to train and gain the ability.  Then, on your particular day to do the swim, the water decides if it's going to allow it that day.  It might throw challenges your way, sure.    It might test your training.  It may humble your arrogance.

It's why for me the language of conquest doesn't work.  At least not in terms of the water as an adversary.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Back to Training

I took a few days off from swimming after the Son of a Swim, but got back in the water today.

I admit it, I wanted to enjoy the "Hey, woah, I did it!" for a little longer before I started critiquing the swimming.  'Cause there was a lot to critique.

My next swim is going to be the Boston Sharkfest.  I'm intimidated about this one because it's actually a RACE where people are gonna be all competitive and stuff and be wearing expensive wetsuits and kick other swimmers and swim over them and all that nonsense.  I'm just not gonna look like I belong in this crowd.

I'm going to admit something right here.  I don't give much of a rip how fast I go as long as I can complete the swim in the time allotted.  I think they give you the shepherd's crook at  fifty minutes, which is pretty ample for a 1500 meter race, and even I can do better than that in a pool.  My open water skills, however, aren't so hot and I keep falling back to breastroke for sighting.  So, I'm buckling down in my training and have quit screwing around with so much breastroke in favor of you know, like swimming the crawl as fast as I can for intervals.

Intervals in the open water, at least the way I am doing it, seem to involve a lot of counting.   So, I'll swim 100 strokes as hard as I can, catch my breath for a bit, then swim as hard as I can again... lather rinse and repeat for a mile or so.   It's not scientific, but it'll get my speed up.

Since I really don't give a damn about competing, why did I sign up?

Mostly at the time I thought it would be a great open water challenge that I could reasonably train for in a year's time.  At the time I started up, I hadn't done any real working out for nearly two years and was in terrible shape.  1500 meters seemed like a reasonable challenge I could train for.

Yes, I did sign up for this in ignorance.  Perhaps it will be fun, but I admit that swimming in a crowd of people who have just GOT to win? After I read all the descriptions of what open water races look like, I'm not so sure about the fun part. I don't mind training hard, but I do like the pristine semi-solitude of the lake swimming I've been doing.

Again, I'm competing against me yesterday.   I want to swim from the King Neptune Statue to the 14th Street Pier in VA Beach.  Maybe even throw in 14th Street Pier to Rudee Inlet for dessert.  (These swims hover around a mile, but the surf will be a fun challenge) Next year, I want to do a longer swim at Son of a Swim -- the four or six mile.

Oh yeah, and Alcatraz.   Need to start planning that one for 2016.

The challenges are about challenging me, not a competitor.  And I'm okay with that.

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.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Get In the Open Water

Q. I have limited or no access to open water. Do I really have to practice in it?
A. Yes, you need to swim in open water regularly. The only way to practice open water is in open water and all those articles telling you otherwise are lying. If it’s fresh water, train in fresh water, if it’s sea water, train in the sea.
I was thinking about this very thing this morning as I was doing my training for an open water swim next week.

You have no idea how glad I am that I wasn't dumb enough to ignore this advice.  Swimming in open water is very different from swimming in a pool.  You think that black line doesn't mean much or do much for you, but it totally does.  It gives you a line to follow.  The dimensions of the pool mean that you have a very clear idea of your progress (judging distance when your eyes are about an inch above the water is a lot harder than you think!).  You get a groove on in the pool that you don't in a strange environment.  You'll deal with temperature differences.  You deal with how you breathe differently until you get used to the chill.  I'd say that a wetsuit doesn't make as much of a difference with this as you'd think, except I have no idea.  Never wore a wetsuit before. You might be dealing with the fact you can't see the bottom.

I was kind of startled by this today in my training.  I swim in a lake that's murky green starting about a yard down, mostly.  Which is fine.  I knock my imagination unconscious for the duration of the swim and don't worry about it, knowing I'm in a lake where wildlife is considerably less of a danger than waterskis. (Yes, I train with a kayaker beside me. I am not entirely an idiot)

But the funny part was when we were moving closer to shore to stay away from motorized vehicles.  I look down, thinking, "What the hell is that?" only to realize it's just leaves and I can see the bottom of the lake.

But while you can work on fitness and technique in a pool, the reality is that Loneswimmer is so very right.  Training for an open water event without getting in the open water is foolish.  The conditions are very different and you need to be able to cope comfortably.  An event is the wrong place to find out how you deal.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Happy Like I Had Good Sense

My Kayaker Risked Life and Limb to Get This Shot.  No, Really

One of the things that has been strongly recommended by people who, like, actually know what they're doing, is that I need to get in some open water practice.

Dear oh lord are they right.

I blew off a morning session in the pool today in favor of an open water swim (I spent about the same amount of time in the water, by the way!) after work.

It was amazingly good fun.

I had tried a swim on Saturday in this lake.  The air was cold and the wind was high enough that there were little whitecaps, even though the lake was really only about 4 miles by a half mile.   But Saturday was a little bit of a challenge.  I wasn't sure of what I wanted to do for training and was really only getting in the open water to see what it was like.

I had a great time, and I learned a few things for the next training session.

Today, I took close to an hour swim.    The day was much warmer (as was the water), and as you can see, the lake couldn't have been more calm without being an actual swimming pool.  The orange paddle is from the kayaker (my darling, supportive husband) who braved the unstable kayak to take a few pics.

I have learned something.

I cannot sight for crap.

Oh, I'm trying and trying and practicing and practicing, but the movement is still new enough I cannot get into that zen swimming groove that is so awesome.

And swimming in the lake was so much fun that I didn't really care.

I loved it.  There is something that is so much more... real about swimming in an open body of water rather than a pool.  I want to do it again tomorrow night.  I know I need to get open water practice for my Kingdom Swim (I'm doing the baby Son of a Swim) in a couple of weeks.

I'm so eager to do it again.  I know I don't sight well, and I need to practice.  I can't wait until I do it well enough that I can get in the zone swimming in the open water like I do in a pool.

As my grandmother would have put it, when I'm out there on the water, I'm happy like I had good sense.

Monday, June 08, 2015

"Surviving the Swim"

When I do searches on open water swimming, more times than not the advice seems to be geared towards triathletes who want to "survive the swim."

Which is cool. I want everyone to survive their swims.  And unfortunately, it doesn't always happen.

What gets to me about it isn't that it's recognized that yes, there are dangers inherent in open water swimming.  So there are, and it's important to be aware of them.

It's more that when you're dealing with triathlete advice, the advice is about getting through the damn swim so you can get to your bike. It's about the race.  It's about getting through this unpleasant thing you're not all that great at to get to the good stuff at which you're competent.

That's not where I'm coming from with swimming.  I genuinely, no kidding, swim because I am a total waterbaby, only run if chased, find that bike seats hurt my butt, and in general find most land based exercise (barring dance, martial arts and weight lifting) considerably less interesting than knitting or reading.

I love the water.  I love being in the water.  I love the challenge of seeing if I can cope with cold water.  I am excited about the challenge of dealing with unpredictable weather conditions, and learning new swimming skills.

Survive it?

Well, yes, that's the plan. But I do it to glory in it. Because it's fun.

It seems that except for a very small group of marathon swimmers (and even they are far more competitive than I ever intend to get!) open water swimming is becoming one third of a triathlon event rather than an activity in its own right.  I say activity rather than sport.  I do it to do it, not to compete at it.

It's not that I have anything against triathlons.  Totally don't.  Don't have anything against other people being into hang gliding or mountain climbing, either. It's just not my bag.

But, as with anything else, I find myself really on the periphery.  I'm a swimmer who loves to swim and is only trying to be better than one person.

Me.  Yesterday.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Need More Open Water Practice

Outdoor Temp: 67F
Estimated water temp: 57F  (according to  I don't think it was that cold as I wasn't really uncomfortable)
Wind speed: 10MPH
Distance:  Not sure.  I was swimming in East Nowhere, New England and GPS is spotty enough it kept blinking out.  Between 400-550 yards.  Not very far at all, but at least 100 yards further than this map shows.
Time: 22 minutes.

Because it was cooler and windy, I almost blew off the open water swim today. I didn't blow it off for two reasons: My kayaker tried to remember when he'd last been in a kayak and it had been a few years.  The other reason was that I wanted to see how I'd do in less than beautiful conditions, since there's no guarantee the conditions for the swim I'm doing in a couple of weeks are going to be any better.

You can't swim from the boat launch and you can't put a kayak in from the swimming area, so my kayaker (my husband) put in and kayaked under the bridge to meet me at the swimming area.

The swimming area has lifeguards and I asked if there were any rules against swimming past the buoys, and explained I'd have an escort kayak with me.

He said he wouldn't get in trouble if I did swim out, but that he couldn't be responsible for me past the buoys.   Fair enough.  I just didn't want to get the kid in trouble.

So, I swam out to meet my husband and see if we could get a rhythm going.

What I learned from this swim:

1.  57 F is chilly, but not really all that uncomfortable to swim in.  It's about 45 minutes after the swim, and I'm in a cotton robe.   My exterior skin is still cool and it was tingly warming up, but inside I'm perfectly warm and comfortable.
2. I need to get a feel for how far I've been swimming so I can get an appropriate open water pace going. Thinking in terms of pool lengths isn't going to cut it.
3.  My sighting skills, while not great, aren't as abysmally bad as I feared.  Practice, yes, but the way you do it makes sense to me.
4. Swimming into wind and chop is hard.  I need more practice doing that so that I can be comfortable.
5.  My kayaker is good swim support, and I need to stop checking in with him to make sure HE is okay! (I see myself as the water baby, and I know my husband isn't entirely, so I have this mental switch where when we're in the water, I need to be looking out for him.  I can't do this and focus on the swim.  Besides, it's his job to look after me if he's kayak support and I'm swimming, and he does it just fine)

It all boils down to the fact I simply need more open water practice. I think I'm going to be doing some more sessions after work in the evenings over the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Fast bathing suits and other rambling muses

When my mother was a little girl, getting new tennis shoes for the new school year was something of an event.  She and her brother and sisters, upon getting the new shoes home, would lace them up and then have races to test how "fast" those new shoes were.  Fast tennis shoes were a big and important thing in 1950s Richmond, VA, apparently.

I gave that a lot of thought in the pool today.  You see, I bought some new bathing suits.  My old one (yes, just one, and yes, I know that's a way to have your suits wear out really fast if you swim every day) had worn out badly, was sagging and was even getting to the point where it had a bit of a gap at the chest. (I am a full-figured gal, after all).

My swim speed has also been slowing down discouragingly in the past couple of months.

Well, today, I wore one of my new suits.  (Speedo ultraback -- believe you me, nuttin' fancy).

You know how tennis shoes can be fast?

So can bathing suits.   My hand to God, I made some personal records for freestyle today.  Not that this is impressive to anyone but me.  I'm pretty damn slow.

Even so, it was kinda surprising.  Yes, I know drag makes a difference, and the new suits were the way I like 'em -- slightly tight.  I like some compression in my torso for a bathing suit.

Possibly it was enough to reduce some drag.  I suspect also that feeling better after a serious cold that kept me out of the water for a bit had something more to do with it.

I cannot help but grin, though, and chalk it up to my new "fast" bathing suit.

Bathing suits still are a bit of a grumble factor for me, though.  I just bought three and spent over two hundred dollars for the damn things.  The last time I spent that much in a go for clothing, it was for fabric for a whole summer wardrobe!  I spend more on bathing suits than I do on any other single item of clothing I own.  I'd make 'em myself, but when I am honest with myself, I don't have the equipment nor the skill to make a good one that would stand up to what I do in the water -- never mind where in the world I'd find the right fabrics!

I am still considering a small modification to one of the ones I just bought, though.  It's navy blue.

When I was a little girl, I had this bathing suit I LOVED, I mean LOOOVVVEEED.  It was navy blue and had an goldfish appliqued on the front.  I just loved my fishie bathing suit so much and was furious when I got older and outgrew it.

I am so tempted to get some orange fabric an thread so I can sew a goldfish onto my navy bathing suit.

I could wear it when I do the Son of a Swim two-miler I have coming up in a few weeks.  Though I suspect that love my new fast bathing suits as I do, and how happy the orange fishie would make me, the time is simply much better spent getting my groove on for some open water work.  I still haven't spent much time in any open water training and I'm starting to get nervous about it.  I mean, I know I can swim two miles, no problem.  But there's no real substitute for getting out where there is no chlorine and lanes and learning the techniques you can't learn in a pool.

I'll be headed out to a local lake this weekend to try.   Need to pick up a kayak paddle for my husband, too, so that he can paddle along beside me and we can get some practice in as a kayak/swimmer team.   Even though it's only a short swim by marathon swimmer standards, I'd like to get some practice in with passing me a water bottle, too.  I've read about some people who use a water-bottle and retractable dog leash combination for that sort of thing, and I think it would be a good idea.   Still, want to practice.

One of our local ponds has Open Water Wednesday events in July and August where you can swim a mile of a marked course to practice your own water skills.  That comes too late for my first swimming event of the year, but I figure I'll still do it, as it'll be great for my Sharkfest swim this fall in Boston.