Sunday, July 03, 2016

On a lighter note....

Yesterday I was talking about how scared I was to get in the water and do a swim.

There was a flip side to it that was really funny -- the reaction I got when I got out of the water.

There was some sort of family gathering at Prouty Beach, not sure what, but they'd rented the shelter for the day.  It was still windy and chilly.  Most of them wore slacks and jackets.

I was the first person back, what with me only swimming a couple of miles and all.  The family was passing the time watching boats on the lake, knuckleheads swimming in water and weather no truly sane person is going to get in... you know, what you do when you're enjoying a weekend summer outing in what passes for summer in Vermont within spitting distance of the Canadian border.

I spotted the people as I was rounding the last buoy and was gathering my strength for the last push to finish my swim.  I was unsurprised to see them and that they were watching.  Seeing anyone swim in that chill and gray weather must be a bit of a novelty.  They applauded when I got out.  It was very kind of them and honestly, it felt nice.

I'm used to the reaction from training swims I've done closer to home.  I start from a little community beach on Lake Mascoma.   The "I could never do thats" are familiar.  They're also not really true.  You can't now because you haven't trained.  You could train for it if you felt like that was the way you wanted to spend your time.

I'm never entirely sure how to react, even so, and tend to fall back into being a Virginian, thanking them for being so kind and flattering.  I feel awkward, but being kind about something kindly-meant is never a wrong reaction, right?

One woman who was quite bundled up seemed deeply concerned about the cold and the wind.  She had something of the air of the experienced camper about her, and I suspect she knew that hypothermia was no joke.  She offered to let me come up to the shelter behind a wind barrier, which was very sweet.    But honestly?

My skin was chilled and I didn't fully warm up until five in the afternoon when I finally got into a hot bath.  However, inside I was plenty warm.  When I took off my cap, my head felt hot.  While being a hothead isn't always desirable, it's my marker for whether or not I'm trying hard enough in a swim.  I was swimming in 67F water, and yes my head was hot.  I told the woman she could put her hand on my head to see if I was okay, and she did, exclaiming with surprise to realize this.

"See, I'm perfectly safe," I said.  I even felt a little surprised I was able to say it.

When I do things, I'm always looking at the masters of whatever art or activity I'm doing.  I certainly haven't been doing open water swimming long enough to master anything, and that's cool.  I have a lifetime to work on it.  But I do often forget what it looks like to someone who doesn't do it at all.  Remember, I was freaking out before this swim and had to be talked down to get in the water at all.  I wasn't feeling like I'd done anything at all impressive.  I felt like I'd just barely squeaked by.  That's not what that little two mile swim looked like to the people on the beach.

I'm sure there's some Dunning-Kruger Effect going on there.  And that's cool, too.

Saturday, July 02, 2016


I was standing on Prouty Beach this morning, the occasional tear running down my face.

Dark clouds were moving like lumbering elephants across the sky, and the wind was shoving the water into small waves.  Air temp was somewhere around 60.  I wasn't sure quite what the water temperature was, but I had dipped my hand in and it was warmer than the air.

I did not want to be there.

I was cold, and the idea of getting colder was freaking me out.  I wasn't sure how well my kayaker was going to deal with the wind, and if it got much stronger, it might be strong enough to push him over.  While I knew that the water wasn't cold enough to do me more than discomfort if I were swimming hard, my kayaker was not a serious swimmer, and didn't exactly have my built-in wetsuit. Yes, he had a life-jacket.  Everyone, even the serious marathon swimmers who were being nice and kayaking for someone else that day, was wearing life jackets.  It's a good habit.

Anyway, I was standing on the beach thinking of bailing on the swim when one of those marathon swimmers who was giving up water time to kayak came up to me and asked me how I was doing.

"Not so great," I said.  "I don't think this is my day to swim."

"What's scaring you?" she asked.  She didn't bother to ask if I were scared or not. She's a real swimmer.  She knew better.  "You know, we all go through this sometimes."

Here's the thing. I knew she was right, and I was kind of grateful for the "we." I don't really know her entire swim resume or anything, but I know quite well that as a swimmer, I'm totally not in her league.

"Is it the cold or the waves?" she asked.

I shrugged and started babbling. "No it's not the waves and I know the water's like 67, but it's freezing in the air and I... I don't know if today's my day."

I was also undertrained, which I didn't mention.  While I've been working hard all winter, about three weeks ago, I had a freakout trying to get into a cold lake to start doing some training and hadn't done any real swims since.

"How far are you supposed to swim?"

"Four miles," I said.

"Well, you have some choices.  You can get in and try to swim the four miles.  You can decide to get in and do less.  Two miles, maybe or even just to the first buoy and back.  You can just decide today isn't your day and stay out of the water."

She didn't try to blow sunshine up my butt, but she did bring me around to realizing that I did need to make a conscious choice no matter what I did.  I was still scared enough of the water that I was babbling and not making a lot of sense when I was talking.

"Oh, I can totally swim two miles," I said waving my hand.  And I can.  Two miles is not a challenge.  It's just a weekend training session.  "And I know I shouldn't let the cold keep me out.  I'm doing Alcatraz in August and --"

"Then you do need to get in the water," she said.  "Go ahead and try for two miles.  When you get to the second buoy, you might feel so good, you do the whole four, or you might decide today's the day to swim two.  Just try to think of something positive to focus on.  Sometimes it can be something like, 'My ears feel really good.'  Just anything.  Smile underwater.  If you keep your head down, you won't have to worry so much about the cold air temperature."

So, I did get in.

This was a rougher swim than usual.  The weather really was challenging.  Swimming in waves isn't too bad a problem for me.  I spent my childhood on the Potomac, in the Chesapeake Bay and at Virginia Beach.  Waves might be a pain in butt to plow through, but I have bilateral breathing down pat and can breathe on any side I need to.  Swimming into the wind ain't the world's most fun and having one's kayak support constantly blown off course isn't ideal.

And yet...

Part of me was enjoying it.   I was worried and emotionally fragile, but I was out there, dammit, and that was good.  

But I confess that happy thoughts weren't going through my mind, but this:

I know it's dorky for a simple two mile swim to require a lot of bravery. I felt that way, knowing everyone else was swimming six or ten miles. Still... Getting in that water was very hard this morning. And thanks, Charlotte, for taking the time to help me out. I am deeply grateful.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

That's going to play hell with their data

My work was giving out Microsoft Bands for a fitness tracking thing.   I love gadgets, so yeah, I'll take one.  It's really kind of a cross between a fitness tracker and a smart watch.

Yes, it's utterly useless in terms of swimming or even manually entering swimming activity. However, I did get a little use out my fitness tracker.

Confirmed, yes, I sleep light. Also got my resting heart rate.


 Which at my age and weight isn't supposed to happen. That's for athletes.

 Oh wait...


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Step on THIS!

Like many an American company, my employer is interested in population health.  In fact, more so than most.  I work for a hospital. 

They’re pushing another “be more active” initiative that involves, yet again, step counts.  This gets me a slight eyeroll.  Show me a health professional attending to patients that isn’t getting in that 10,000 steps a day gold standard.  I mean, really!

However, they don’t only employ health professionals.  Take me.  I’m a total desk jockey unless I’m teaching a class.  (You can’t teach an effective class being sedentary. Good teaching is fairly active performance art)

To log your activity, they want you to use some sort of activity tracker (Fibit, Garmin… a few others).  You can’t manually add activity.  I guess it must be for some study or something, so they’re only accepting synced activity from a tracker.

I was all like, okay, I track my swims with a Garmin.  We’re all good, right?

Nope.  They only track steps. 

I was offended at first, but I think I’ve finally figured this one out. It’s not that steps are really is a good activity standard.  But it is easy enumerate and to track.  Give out a step counter, let it sync with your database and boom! You’ve got all kinds of data for your study to push certain types of activity.

Aaaannnd, here’s the swimmer.

Electronic tracking activity for a swimmer is hard.  It takes pretty sophisticated programming to figure out what in the hell a swimmer is doing, and tracking heart rate in the water uses devices that are mostly an expensive pain in the ass.

Still, I’m going to come out as “BAD EMPLOYEE DRAIN ON COMPANY RESOURCES SEDENTARY” after having signed up for this, even though I’ve already swum for about an hour before I go in to work.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Dramatic Improvement

I've been whining about my slow swimming speed on the blog enough to be a bore, I know.

So today, I do not whine but talk about a technique that has helped me.  Well, two techniques.

The first is a technique I learned about reading some Total Immersion discussions.  Yes, I know there's a controversy about whether or not these techniques are really all that effective or not, and goodness knows you can't plot a data curve from one point.

It's called Patient Lead Hand.  The idea  is that you don't start the pull until your reccovery hand enters the water.  Essentially, you've always got a hand leading and spearing the water.

The second technique was really more of a mental image than anything.  I saw that on the SwimSmooth site.  You visualize pushing the water with your stroke to the back wall.   If you keep that in mind, it helps with the early vertical forearm and several other aspects of stroke mechanics.

The last week or so, I've been cruising along at 2:42/100 yards for my freestyle sets.  While an improvement over last year, it's still really slow.

This morning I decided I was going to try this patient lead hand thing and the push the water to the back wall visualization for a week and see if there was any improvement.  I was expecting to take a speed hit.

Nope.   Today, my cruising speed was more like 2:32/100 yards.  Ten seconds per hundred is pretty big.  While 2:32/100 is still damned slow, it's an amazing breakthrough for me!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Just a Lap Swimmer

Overheard a discussion about swimming today and was kind of taken aback. So much so, that I kept my mouth shut rather than jumping in on a couple of strangers. The individuals in question were discussing triathlon training and referred to someone else they knew who swam for exercise as "Just a lap swimmer" with a kind of dismissive wave of the hand. First, there's nothing wrong with being "just a lap swimmer."  Swimming is great exercise, after all.

But what else brought me up short was, "How in hell would you know?"

If you looked at my training of a weekday morning, you'd see a middle-aged lady seriously given to enbonpoint with no gear but a watch going back and forth in the pool -- sometimes faster, sometimes a little slower, but pretty steadily swimming for between 45 minutes and an hour and a half.  No gear but cap and goggles.  Sometimes a water bottle.  Certainly no kickboards, pull buoys, paddles or fins.*

Friends, 90% of my training is *gasp* swimming laps!

While not yet a marathon swimmer, I'm certainly a real and for true open water swimmer.  I sign up for and swim real events and everything.  (Though is it bad I like my training swims with my husband kayaking beside me better?)

So, am I a *dismissive wave* lap swimmer?

And so what if I were?

* Nuttin' wrong with any of that stuff.  I just... don't.  That's all.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Disappointing Spring Scream

I got in the open water today.

Air temp: 57F
Wind speed: 6mph
Quacker's Water Temperature Report: 50F (~10C)

You know how Han Solo says, "Never tell me the odds?"

It may have been wiser not to get a water temp before I got in.  I think I may have been psyching myself out.

Nonetheless, I'm going to say right here that people who call 50F "still okay" (I'm looking at you, Loneswimmer) have a serious problem, and should be restrained for their own protection!*

So, did I get in?

I did.  And I'm pretty disappointed.  I couldn't do any real swim. Not really.   I probably spent a total of five minutes in the water at all, did a few strokes of breast stroke, and a few of crawl before I just had to get out.  My husband tells me I actually whimpered when I started the breast stroke, and he's never heard me whimper before.

So yeah, I am disappointed.  The first swim of the year last year was considerably more successful.

'Course, that was in June, the air temperature was ten degrees warmer, and the estimated water temperature was about seven degrees warmer.  Those seven degrees sure seem to make a big difference.

The solution to this?  Well, Monday, I'm getting in again and seeing if I can stay in a little longer and force myself to swim a little further.

Alacatraz and Lake Memphremagog ain't gonna swim themselves, right?

* Note to the humor-impaired.  The author of that blog is simply a better and more experienced cold water swimmer than I am.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Two Tales of Two Miles

I've been panicking about this summer's swims.  (Stop laughing at me.  I know I was panicking about last summer's.  Calm is just not an adjective people associate with me, what can I say?)

Anyway, my response to panic is to review my workouts and make sure I'm working out enough/long enough/hard enough/whatever.

I can think of worse ways to deal.

In reviewing workouts, I realized that while I'm putting in frequency, I'm totally not putting in distance.  So, Saturdays are now dedicated to this noble purpose.

What a Real Swimmer calls distance and what I am calling distance aren't quite the same thing, so Real Swimmers can control their snickers, thanks so very much.

I did 3600 yards this morning. I kinda mentally tag it as two miles.  I know for some people that's a lunchtime workout.  See the title of my blog?  Yeah.

On the other hand, I'm not so slow as once I was.

This was the first time I swam two miles in a pool a bit over a year ago.  I was wondering if I could and I was happy with the swim.  Yes, I could.  I enjoyed it and it helped me relax about a swim I was going to do that summer.  But I won't say this wasn't a challenge.   I was pretty worn out after it, I got cramps in my calf and I took a pretty epic nap that afternoon.

Fast forward to today.  Was I pushing?   Well, yeah, it was a workout, and if you're training for something specific, you do need to push yourself some.  But was I pushing like I would if I were racing?  Hell, no.  There was no question I could, and for all that I was joking this morning about doing an EPIC SWIM then taking an EPIC NAP, I'm not really wanting anything other than lunch and to spend the afternoon knitting while watching historical documentaries and brainless superhero films.

Part of the speed increase is simply that I don't fall back to slower strokes as often.  I'm almost to the point where I can do front crawl just about forever.  I don't because it's not really a great idea not to mix things up. 5/6 of the workout was free.

I'm somewhat less panicked, now, about next summer.   For the Son of a Swim in June, the real prep work other than my regular workouts, is to take the heavier freestyle volume into the open water and trust my kayaker to navigate.

For the Alcatraz swim in August?  I dunno.  Open water swims, cold showers and try not to think about sharks.  We've got a lot of lakes near where I live, so open water isn't a problem.  I'll be in Virginia Beach a couple of weeks before that swim, so lots of ocean training is not a problem, either.  Thing is, the water is a lot warmer in the Southeast than it is in SF Bay.  

Cold showers and as much lake training up in New England as I can get in, I guess...

Monday, February 22, 2016

Very Important Training Partner

Meet my new training partner, Quackers McShadez.  He showed up in the mail today.

Yes, friends, I'm chomping at the bit to get out in the open water.  Yes, I know it's only February.

But I figure that in the interests of not getting my fool self killed come spring, having an idea of the temperatures I'll be swimming in might be a good idea. I'll know how far I should be swimming out into the lake at any given time.

No, that it's a rubber ducky with nifty shades has nothing to do with it.  I stoutly deny it. I need cold, calculating measurements to plan my training. You can believe me because I have my serious face on.

I'm a lot more concerned about cold for this year's swims.  In other chilly water swims I've done. I've been able to wade into the water and get acclimated or (in the case of the one where I just had to jump in) the water was above 65F, so that's not too intimidating.

This August, I'll be jumping off a ferry into the San Francisco bay -- water that is colder than the Official Swims I did last year (though warmer than my early training swims).  I'm too intimately acquainted with the negative effects of the shock of cold water not to take it seriously.*

Sorry, this post was supposed to be all light-hearted and goofy about the rubber ducky thermometer.  But in all honesty, Quackers McShadez might be cute, but he's still kind of a serious training partner.

* Lost a dear family friend several years ago to a kayak accident in early spring.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Is Your Hair Hot?

I'm rather gently and gradually ramping up my distance and pace in preparation for the summer's events.  I figure if I'm a turtle, I might as well go with it and do the slow and steady thing for my training as well.

Right now, I'm improving on a pretty steady curve, so I'm happy about it.

Most of what I do and how I track my improvements are objective.  How many yards did I swim?  How fast did I swim that last 100, or that last 1000?  Am I in the pool at least five days a week?  Either I made it or I didn't.  I have specific measurements I aim for and a specific rate at which I am planning to improve.

For the most part this is as it should be.  But I have a subjective measurement that's my real touchstone for how well my workouts went.

Is my hair hot?

I have long, thick hair that just about reaches my butt.  This gets wetted down and piled on top of my head into a cap pre-swim.  After my swim, I take off the cap, and the hair falls SPLAT! onto my back.

If it's not hot, my times don't matter. It wasn't a good workout because I wasn't working hard enough,  It is an excellent way to tell me I need to set a new pace target.  If I'm meeting a speed target and my hair isn't hot, that pace target is too easy.  This also applies to temperature preference in the shower.  If anything more than a lukewarm shower is uncomfortably hot (and I generally like a hot shower), I'm probably not pushing hard enough, either.

It's subjective, it's fuzzy and my times seem to reflect that it works.

Monday, January 25, 2016

No Matter Where You Go, There You Are

It's 5 am and the chimes on my phone are gently waking me up.

I roll over, turn it off and start grumbling about what I want to accomplish today, when my mantra, "You'll feel better in the water" drifts through my brain.  I get up, take care of this and that, get on my swim suit and throw on several layers.  It was 7F when we got up this morning.  (That's ~-14C for the rest of the world)

Get to the gym, stuff my crap in the locker, shower off in HOT water to brace myself for the shock of...

Woah, warm pool.  Oh yeah, I'm a total rock star, getting in this comfortable pool to do what's essentially a warm-up to the real swimmers.  Lynne Cox, look out.

I do my workout, pushing hard to be under time for the particular distance I'm doing.  Didn't quite make it, but I was all red in the face and breathing hard and feeling mellow, so while disappointed, it was only a little. Mostly what I was feeling was glad of the swim.  No surprises there.

In the shower, as often happens, one of the other people who was in the pool strikes up a conversation.  Now this woman doesn't swim laps but does other exercises in the water.  I'm in favor, myself.  I mean, water is where any sensible person is going to work out, right?

"I wish I could keep up with you real swimmers," she comments after a bit of talk about water temperature (she thought it was cold) and this and that.

I shrug and say, "Hey, you're here, and there ain't nuttin' like a water workout to start the day no matter what."

Inside, I'm trying my best not to crack up since I'd spent the last half hour or so eye-rolling myself for not being a real swimmer.

I know comparing oneself is a thing you just don't get away from.  I see it from people who don't swim as well as I do, and I see it from people who are so far ahead of me swimming-wise that there's no way I'll ever catch up.

I don't even think it's necessarily a horrible thing.  A lot of personal rhetoric is all about feeling good about yourself, and that's fine, but we'd never accomplish anything if there was nothing to which we aspired.

It's really only a problem if it discourages you enough to quit.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

You'll Feel Better in the Water

I am a morning person. I love getting up early and getting going on the day.

However, I'd like to define "morning."   That term is reserved, in my opinion, for when there is enough brightness from the sun to see outside.  So, pre-dawn twilight on.

5:30 in the so-called morning at my latitude in the dead of winter is still night.  Dawn, in fact, is about 7:30 right now.

So no, getting up in the dark to get to swim practice isn't easy for me. This fall, I'd grumble, groan and do the "I don't wannas" all the way to the gym.  

Any coach will tell you that's a mistake and attitude really does count.

I'm changing the self-talk.  I'm going to be in the pool, miserable getting there or not, so I might as well see if I can change the mindset to "not miserable."

I just tell myself, "You'll feel better when you're in the water."

This is actually an easy one, as it's the simple truth.  I do feel better in the water.  It's not blowing sunshine up my own butt or sprinkling glitter everywhere.  I'm just reminding myself of something that's simply so.

See, the "I don't wannas" aren't really about not wanting to swim.   I love swimming.  I don't love getting up in the dark, or facing the cold, or rushing through my morning routine to get to work on time, or braving the cold to get to the pool.  (I mentioned the cold twice, didn't I?  I don't mind swimming in cold water, but the bleakness of a New England winter pre-dawn can get to me)

Being in the water and swimming?  That period of time feels awesome.  Well, it's why I chose swimming as a way to be active, for pity's sake. I've never bailed on a planned workout in the middle of it and I'm always a little sorry to get out of the pool.

So, I remind myself of the truth to make sure I get myself in the water and train.

I'm doing a couple of big swims next summer - gonna try for six miles in Lake Memphremagog in June and I'm doing the Alcatraz Sharkfest in August.

Of the two, I am much much more scared of the Alcatraz swim,  Memphremagog doesn't have particularly rough water, troublesome currents, or any record of Great Whites attacking things that are seal-sized.  (I'm seal-sized!)

Not that I'm not intimidated by the Memphremagog distance.  Totally am.  Just pales in comparison to other things, and I've already swum in that water.  Never swam in the SF Bay before.

The only real solution is to be dedicated to practice.  If something terrible happens, it will not be due to lack of preparation.

Anyway, I feel like I've used that one up, anyway.  I was not properly prepared for the Boston Sharkfest last September.  I got incredibly lucky with calm water and a warm day.  That could have ended badly, and I did kind of scare myself when I thought about that.  (And watching people around me get panicky reinforced that little lesson.)  I was pretty scared beforehand, mind. To be frank, I'm always kinda scared before a Big Swim.

But when I get in the water, I always feel better.