Sunday, June 24, 2018

Observer's Report- Mercer Island Marathon Swim

On Friday morning 11 swimmers and a gaggle of support crew assembled in Luther Burbank Park to attempt the Mercer Island Marathon Swim. Mercer Island is in the middle of Lake Washington, approximately 20k in circumference, and is basically suburban Seattle.  Folks, like Paul Allen, with a lot of money and a desire to be close to the city live here. Many with boats. The swim goes clockwise around the island. This was the second year of the swim.

I was assigned Jessie Harewicz, a swimmer from Vancovuer, BC, as my swimmer to observe.

I'd never been a swim official before, but it was easy to get the hang of.  The role was to:

  1. make sure everyone, swimmer and crew, stayed safe.
  2. ensure the swimmer followed the official rules of the swim.
  3. document the swim to verify that the swimmer completes it unassisted.

The swim rules are pretty basic. The gear is a bathing-suit, goggles and swim cap (ear and nose plugs as well as sunscreen and anti-chaffing balm are permitted).  The swimmer needs to complete the course without any assistance in flotation or forward movement. If she needs to rest, she must float or tread water. Touching the support boats is not permitted.

The documentation was also straight forward. I was given a blank template to fill out every 30 min.  It included location (GPS would be nice, but I just used landmarks), weather-- especially things that would impact the swim like wind, stroke rate for the swimmer, nutrition for the swimmer, and anything about the swimmer's mental cognition or physical condition that was worthy of note. I added a few notes on what we were seeing, since her head was down through the whole swim.  It then serves both the purpose of official documentation, and of being a journal for the swimmer. The final log looked like this:

I also got to spend the day in a boat with a guy I don't know.  His boat is a little ski boat that he mostly uses to take his 10 year old twin sons out skiing on.  So there is no cabin.  Which, of course means no bathroom. More on that later.

The day was rainy and overcast, temperatures around 15-18*C. The water was a touch warmer, the Lake Bouy reading 19*. We gathered at Luther Burbank Park at 7am for an 8am start.  There were over 50 people involved between swimmers, race staff, observers, kayak support and boat captains. The pre-swim time was a combination of transactional, getting stuff ready, and social, reuniting with old friend and people who would be friends by the end of the day.

Every participant got a number on their hand, to match that of their swimmer, to help keep us together in teams.

Swimmers who live in various places but have bonded at other major swims, reunited and caught up on swims past and future.

There was also tons of gear to pack into each boat.  Food for the swimmer and the crew for a whole day, as well as safety gear including a "Caution Swimmers" sign, extra water, and the GPS systems for tracking and communication (also known as our cell phones).

The start was a wet start, the swimmers dove in, gathered behind the starting line (imaginary, between two buoys) and at the sound of "go" started swimming. I also started the timer on my cell phone, as the official time keeper for Jessi.

Here she is, diving in:

It is hard to describe something that both had nothing happen for hours and also was very nuanced every moment. As an Observer I did observe the whole 8 hours and 21 min.  I kept Jessi in my sight for the entire day.  While she did all the work, swimming and swimming and swimming. I gained a lot of respect for her and learned a ton about her without even talking to her all that much. I know that her right arm makes more splash than her left and that she kicks very little. I know that she almost never takes a break or switches stroke. I know that she has a competitive streak, even when the competition is among already very accomplished swimmers. I know she likes PB&J for her swimming snacks. The relationship is both very remote and very intimate. You really learn someone's character from watching them accomplish and endurance feat like this.

The day in the boat was both exciting and tedious.  The captain and I had conversations that were rambling and general as well as ones that were serious and reflective.  We had a cell phone text-message thread with the other observers, so would hear some chatter about what was going on. We also used that thread to give warnings about other boats, like the Argosy Cruise boat that came through.

One of the funnier threads, was about bathrooms. The race director had flagged four spots on the map where there were parks with public facilities. As the front pack of swimmers got to one, they did a mass stop off on shore to use the bathroom. The text message thread was full of potty humor. The observer from one of the boats with a head posted to the thread about how they had a flusher, and it was heated!  We all got jealous.  Apparently, the team boat behind me (with a head) had a conversation about how those of us without heads would go.  About 10 min after that, they saw me sit on the swim step and splash myself.  One said to another, "Oh, I guess I get it now".

From my perspective, it was a day on the lake, with the great bonus of watching a crew of amazing athletes in a sport I'm growing to love.

Race Report: Green Lake Open Water Swim (again) 2018

Green Lake Open Water Swim (GLOWS) was my first open water swim event, and has become a family tradition.  My Sister-In-Law swam it long before I did (well, by "long" I mean a few years, it hasn't been going on that long) and now my nieces swim it. (Earlier Race Reports, 20102012, 2007)

GLOWS is a family friendly event with a choice of the half mile (one way) or the mile (round trip) in a small protected (if a bit dirty) lake in the middle of north Seattle.

The first time I did GLOWS, I panicked in the water. I was training for a triathlon and between the cold shock and the adrenaline I had a hard time recovering my breathing. I remember thinking, in the middle of the lake, "this is how a strong swimmer drowns".

Now, with a lot of open water swimming under my belt, the half mile distance seems "cute" and compared to Alki, Green Lake is not cold at all!! I guess this is a sign of improvement.

The nieces were doing the half mile, and my sister-in-law was going to swim with the younger one.  The older one is a lifeguard now, so she was on her own. I arrived just as they were getting on the shuttle, wished them luck and went to get my gear and find my brother.

We watched the half mile swimmers get closer and closer, until we could spot the family. All swimming together and looking strong. After cheering them to the finish, and glowing like the proud auntie that I am, I got my cap and goggles on and got ready for my swim. I told the spouse to expect me in about 45 min, and that I might be the last finisher.  In my mind I thought 42 min was more likely, but I didn't want to be embarrassed if I was slower.

The water felt great. About half way through the swim the sun came out and turned it into a glorious day.  I got my rhythm pretty quickly. One of my goals was to increase my front crawl as a percent of my swimming. I'm usually a breast stroker. So I bounced back and forth between the two strokes.  As a right side breather, with the buoys on the left, sighting was hard. With breast, you can sight every stroke. Not so for crawl. I'll need to work on sighting in crawl if I'm going to get serious about it as a stroke.

As the pack spread out, I found myself just behind a woman in a shorty wet-suit with a pink cap on (not the green cap handed out by the event). She and I were amazingly well paced with each other. She'd pull ahead a tiny bit when I'd switch strokes, but I pretty much kept in her bubbles the whole way. I may Facebook stalk her and see if we can swim together in the lakes some time.

I felt great the whole swim.  I noticed the lead swimmers coming back when I was more than half way across. And saw the last swimmer behind me when I was well past the turning point. I spent some time singing and some time just reflecting on how lucky I am to have a body that can swim, and live in a culture that promotes this type of community activities, keeps its bodies of water reasonably clean, and makes it safe for participation.

As I got near the end, I considered working to pass the woman I'd been swimming with. But decided I didn't need a full sprint to the finish, so finished at a steady pace, and with her about 20 seconds ahead of me.  The biggest shocker was the time clock when I finished. 37:40.  Even faster than my hoped for fast finish time!  My confidence and speed today let me see that I really am an intermediate open water

Green Lake Open Water Swim Race Report 2010

GLOWS report written elsewhere, brought here for continuity, hence no photos.

Swam GLOWS (Green Lake Open Water Swim) for the second time this morning. It's a half mile open water swim with the finish about 2 blocks from my house (the start is just half a mile across the lake from that). When I swam it 2 years ago, it was my first ever open water swim, I panicked in the middle of the lake and thought I was going to drown. I somehow pushed through the panic and made it across, I was DFL for a while, but passed two people and finished third to last with a time of 22:58. My goal for today was to 1) not drown, 2) finish further up in the pack and 3) beat my time.

Training had been OK. I haven't been in a pool in months, but had been getting in the lake when the weather allowed (Yeah, I don't swim in the lake in the rain, I might get wet). My last swim had been a half mile out-and-back in the lake on Wednesday. I wore my wetsuit and was warm enough.

This morning the water temp was 64 degrees and the skies were overcast and in the 60s. I got up, had a banana, put on my suit and walked over to the lake. We met my SIL (J) and her friend L and L's daughter E. I picked up my packet which was a t-shirt a "personal best" ribbon and my number. They were using pin-on numbers this year, and body marking only folks that didn't have wetsuits.  We took the shuttle around the lake to the start and I got suited up.  My spouse kindly offered to carry gear back to the finish for us. He took a few photos and took off walking the .8 miles back to the finish when we got in the water.

The water felt cold and I was glad to have my wetsuit. It was a wet start, with the line of the docks as our "line" so we treaded water until the air horn sounded. Then I swam. Started crawl, turned back to breast, and back to crawl. Alternating as needed. I had a very hard time catching my breath, and would stop to tread and breathe, but then pant as soon as I started swimming again. I told myself "slow down, this isn't a race" then laughed, because it was, in fact, a race, but I didn't want to race it, in that way. I decided to just pant, and be ok with it. I got into a rhythm of 20 strokes breast 10 strokes crawl, repeat, and it seemed to work. About half way across the lake, I looked back to see how I was doing, and saw that I was both half way across and there were a good dozen or so people behind me. That felt good, and I was able to stay in my rhythm.

At one point, another swimmer swam across my line, and straight for a guard on a surfboard. I figured he was ending his race. Nope, just off course. The guard set him straight, which didn't last long. He proceeded to cross my line at least 8 more times. The poor guy probably swam a mile in a half mile race!

Nearing the finish I was happy to see the line come into sight. The guard boat passed, leaving a huge wake, and carrying 2 swimmers they had pulled out. I tried to ride the wave in, a bit. Finally, I felt the ground with my hands, stood and smiled. My spouse was on shore taking photos. I looked up at the finish clock and it said 22:xx, I sprinted and finished with a time of 22:27, and at least 15 people behind me, meeting all 3 of my goals!! And I had enough energy to spend the afternoon at the Pride Parade!

The spouse commented that I came out of the water much less shaky than last time, and generally I felt strong. I need to work on my front crawl, and keep increasing my distance, my goal is a 2 mile swim in the other lake on Aug 31. My SIL finished in about 15 min, her friend L just ahead of her and E just behind. E got third in her age group (15-19) which is awesome because the first OA finisher was in her age group (with a time of 10 and change).

Green Lake Open Water Swim Race Report 2015

Moving a race report written elsewhere to here. (ergo, no photos and the date stamp being wonky)

I did GLOWS (Green Lake Open Water Swim) today for the 5th or 6th time (I’m losing track). Seattle has been having a huge heat wave, highs in the 90s and lows in the high 70s.  I barely slept the night before, and woke up tired and cranky.  The water temperature was 71, so I chose to swim without my wetsuit for the first time in this event.  Last year it was so cold that they waived the “no wetsuit for award” requirement, and almost everyone was wearing one.
My cousin T was in town, so I invited her to join me.  So around 8am T, her boyfriend and my husband and I made our way down to the lake. Packet pickup was smooth, with body marking (which I usually don’t do because of the wetsuit). They wrote my number, 29, on my arm, to which my response was “how cool, they are putting our age on our arms.”

I ran into my brother sister in law and nieces. My oldest niece, M, was going to swim for her fist time (she’s 13).  My sister in law and her swimming buddy were going to pace M in the half mile then swim the full mile as their event.  We all made our way around the lake to the start in a van, and hung out for about 10 min waiting.

After last year’s event, where I couldn’t catch my breath the whole time, I was determined to warm up and not have the cold water shock me into hyperventilation. So I did about 5 min of paddling around and made sure to go fully under water three times.

Starting gun and we are off—I promptly get kicked in the side, and so drop back, let people go ahead of me, no  need to fight for space, the lake is large. About three minutes in, I’m swimming just behind my niece, I lift my head to cheer her on and she takes off. I get a good rhythm and keep stroking. I’m focused on swimming and have very little memory of what I was thinking about.  A few times I think I’m feeling so good I should pick up the pace a bit, and so I do.  I stroke hard.  I’m pretty much a breast stroker, but throw in some crawl here and there.  This morning, before heading to the lake, I’d looked up prior times and they ranged from 22:20 to 25:40.  I have no idea what my time will be like, but figure I should push it here and there.

Just as I’m passing the last large buoy (there is still one small one to go) I see a swimmer a few strokes ahead of me and contemplate trying to catch him.  I pick up the pace again. I realize I’m too far out to start a sprint to the finish, so try to go faster without it being full out sprint. It works. I don’t catch the guy, but I do close the gap. Then I look up and see the finish clock. I think that it is still under 20 min.  That seems fast for me, so I push the pace again.  As I get closer, I realize that I can beat my best time, if I just keep pushing. So I do. I swim past the buoys that mark the guarded swim area during the week, and stand up, run through knee deep water (which is pretty hard) and up the stone stairs to the finish. 21:44, a personal best!!

My husband and brother both high five me in the chute. I tear my tag and my husband greets me with a bottle of water and a towel.  My niece finished in 19 something and my cousin in 17 and change.  They are both happy and relaxed.
We watch the mile swimmers start, and watch the thunder clouds roll in.  The mile swimmers are near the turn around point when the lightening starts.  And it starts to rain.  We wait for my sister in law to finish, and then run for cover. Most swimmers say they didn’t realize it was raining. I’m glad I’m not a lifeguard responsible for the event!!

Great morning for a swim. Proud of my accomplishment. Makes me think I should push my speed a bit more, and see what I can do!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Deck Change- One piece suit for women

One of the joys of open water swimming is that you don't always have a place to change your clothes before or after. Before is easy, I've put on a suit in a car, or behind a tree. No sweat. But when you are cold and wet after, things can be harder.  Here's a tutorial for how to deck change, out of a one piece suit, if you are a woman.  Two piece suits have a similar sequence, and men's suits are easy, make a "skirt" from your towel and drop you drawers!

First step, you are in your suit, it is wet.  You take off the goggles and cap to make clothing removal and donning easier.

Then, pull the shoulder straps down, over your shoulders and into your armpits.

At this point, you can put on whatever top you want.  For me, a hoodie is always best after swimming. Keeps me warm and is easy to put on.

Now you pull your suit down as far as you can without exposing yourself to anyone.  This can be hard as the wet bathing suit can stick to your body. If you are built like me, getting it over your breasts can be a challenge. With my curves, pulling it over the belly is also a good step at this point. If you want a bra, this is your opportunity to put it on. With the sweatshirt over your shoulders, but your arms not yet in it, you can slip the bra on.

The next step is probably the hardest of all. Use your towel as a "skirt". I wrap it then roll the top.  If I were smarter, I'd get one of those towels with Velcro that we all used as cover-ups back in the 80's.  Or I'd make one.  Just haven't bothered yet. 

 Then pull your suit off, using the towel for modesty.  Yes, this can be a challenge to not drop the towel, or open it in such a way that you flash the world.  Take your time. A wet suit sticks, but you will get it off.

Now, keeping the towel as a modesty cover, pull on your pants.  My friend who shot these photos pointed out that I was showing the world that I go commando after swimming. That is true. If you want underwear, you can slip them on in this stage. I just don't bother.  Remove the towel and you are done!!

And a bonus "gear" photo. That silver circle is a changing mat from Rareform. I love this mat (and no, I don't get anything from them for saying this.) It keeps my feet dry and clean while I change. And then I put all the manky gear it in and pull the drawstring closed to make a carry case for the dirty wet gear.  Really handy AND it is made of a recycled billboard, so it has low environmental impact.

When closed it looks like this but with gear bundled inside.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Beauty and Reclaiming Time

This morning I was getting dressed in the locker room at the gym after my swim.  Two women were putting on makeup at the mirrors. One said to the other "what would happen if we were naturally beautiful."

I did a double take, then had to speak up. "You ARE naturally beautiful" I said. They agreed, laughed, and then went into a long conversation about how bad it is to have blonde eyelashes. They talked about mascara, tinting, extensions, weighing the pros and cons of each.

I wanted to scream.

You are naturally beautiful! Blonde eyelashes aren't bad or good, they just are! 

And really, how hard do we as women need to work to find something we hate about our bodies.  Eyelash color? Seriously? How inconsequential.

What would happen if we looked in the mirror every morning. Said "hey, beautiful". And moved on with our day? We could save 15 (or more) min a day, an hour and 45 min a week, 7 and a half hours a month-- almost a whole workday-- or 91.7 hours a year-- almost four whole days!!

What would you do with four found days? Probably not worry about the color of your eyelashes.

Let's see ourselves for the natural beauties we are, and spend those four days celebrating our bodies.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Synchro-- getting better

Synchro is HARD and FUN!! The synchro workout is once a week for two hours. We do about an hour of workout then work on our routine.  This week's workout looked like this:


  •  400 free with every 4th lap breast
  • 200 kick alternating flutter and dolphin
  • 3 x 75-- 25 swim, 25 kick, 25 pull in free, back and breast
  • 3 x 100-- side flutter, head up breaststroke, egg beater, and head first scull
  • 5 min stretching on the wall
  • crane, and vertical alignment practice
Then followed by an hour of working on the routine.  The routine is coming along. That's me furthest from the camera. As you can see, we are working on counts.