Saturday, November 19, 2011

Time to swim but not to blog

I've been going through a major life change the last few weeks (don't worry, it's a change for the better). So I've had time to swim but not time to blog. I promise I'll update soon, including my swim in a large mud puddle!!

Friday, October 21, 2011


(this one isn't about swimming, but it is about how I see myself as an athlete.)

I've been thinking a lot about this woman who was in my gymnastics class last night. She's a lot like I was about 12 years ago and I found her SO annoying. She was incredibly pessimistic. She, and a guy, and I were in the "newbee" group, the other 4 in the "veterans" group. The instructor would give us a skill to work on, and she'd immediately start with the "oh, I don't think I can do that" and "I hope I don't hurt myself" and "I must look like a fool." She flirted with the guy in our little group. Couldn't stop talking to him when the instructor was talking. Teased him, etc. At one point she said to me "you lose 13 pounds in the first 12 weeks of this class. Or at least I hope so" About 45 min into the class we were working on running cartwheels and she decided her ankle hurt too much to keep doing them. So she sat and watched the rest of the class (though she almost got "better" when we moved to the trampoline.)

I'm not sure why I'm thinking about her so much today. Perhaps because she was a good example of how far I've come. I'm not in it for the weight loss. I don't try to pick up guys EVERYWHERE I go. My self talk is much more along the "come-on reebs, you can do this" line. In fact with the running cartwheels I did the first one, and fell. And the instructor said "you just went for it. Good job!" I was so proud. I did just go for it. Forgetting fear. Realizing you have to learn to fly to do this skill.  I found pure joy in that moment. And it was spectacular.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Swim Safety Device- Gear Review

Swam after work today. Air, 61. Water, 60.  There was another swimmer getting in as I started, he said his name was Peter.  We chatted about swimming through the winter. I told him how to find me on this blog. Perhaps we will have some swim dates. Seemed like a nice guy-- crazy to be swimming tonight, but so was I, so perhaps we will get along.

Tried out the new "Swim Safety Device" (SSD) tonight. A few people recommended it to me, one in the comments on this blog, and others in person.  The SSD is part dry bag, part buoy. You can put your wallet and keys in it, so you have them on you while you swim.  This is the dry bag part. You roll the top over three times, and click it closed with a plastic clip.  The buoy part is an inflatable chamber.  The swimmer wears the whole thing on a belt around the waist.

It comes in a flat package like this:

And looks a bit like this:

That's the belt and the cord that attaches the device to the belt.

I'll have to get someone to take pictures of it on me for a future post.

The devise has three potential uses.
1- to keep your gear safe and dry while you swim. You can fit quite a bit in it, probably shorts and a t-shirt as well as valuables and flip flops.

2- to improve visibility for you as a swimmer in the water.  You look a bit like a crab-pot this way, but at least the boaters have something larger than a swim cap to look out for.

3- to provide a small flotation device if needed. The packaging explicitly says that it's not for life-saving. It probably has to, as legally, I don't think inflatables can claim life-saving capabilities, as they have potential to deflate.  However, the marketing video does show swimmers using it for flotation.  Although my wetsuit provides a lot of flotation, my family has been requesting I carry something with me for emergencies. This seems a viable option. I was able to float holding it, without sinking it.  In a scenario where I was tired or injured but conscious this would provide valuable support.

So what was it like to swim with?  With a wetsuit on, I didn't even notice it.  When I'd flip onto my back for a rest, I'd see it there, but otherwise it was invisible to me.  I couldn't feel it either.  I'm sure in a suit, especially for men who's suits don't cover as much of their waist as women's (one piece) ones do, it could chafe or rub.  But in a wetsuit it wasn't even there.

The price is 35-40 dollars. And seems worth it to keep valuables safe and provide some visibility.

I'll get better shots in coming weeks. And add additional reviews as I try it more.
Here's a promotional video, to tide you over.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Blind date swim

I answered a post on facebook for a swim partner, and we met up this morning.  She's much faster than me, but didn't seem phased by literally swimming circles around me.  I did a mile. It was foggy and gray on the lake, which made the other side look closer. It made me want to swim there.  But we didn't. Did the swim to the dog park instead. I hope to swim with her again, having a partner would keep me more accountable.

Saw a blue heron before the start.  Good day.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Flip, Rebecca, Flip!

I've swum twice since I last posted. They just weren't profound, so no blog about them....

Tonight I had my first gymnastics class.  I'm taking "adult tumbling" from the School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts. The class is an hour of tumbling and an hour of trampoline.  We worked on headstands, handstands, forward rolls and cartwheels. Then we went on the trampoline and I did sit jumps and half turns.  I will be SORE tomorrow, but it was awesome.

The one sort of swimming related thing is that I got HORRIBLY motion sick from the forward rolls.  I got a bit motion sick on the last swim as well.  So its time to work on systemic solutions.  The wrist bands worked on my train trip last month. Ginger seems to work as well (though I don't know about eating during class). One friend suggested ear plugs for swimming, but that won't make a difference for tumbling. A classmate tonight said she takes a Dramamine an hour before class.

For the next few weeks I'm going to try various interventions both when I swim and when I roll, and see what happens.

Oh, and for the record, part of why I'm taking this class is to learn to do a cartwheel before my 40th birthday-- in 11 months.

Monday, September 26, 2011

This is who I am.

This post is a week late. The swim was last Saturday. Sunday I got on a train across Canada, and couldn't post. So here it is.

I didn't do the "last gasp" swim.  I'd pulled my glute muscle earlier in the week, and wasn't sure I'd have a strong enough kick. Another "DNF" was not the way to gain back my confidence. So I thought I'd test things out in Lake Washington instead.  This idea proved to be brilliant.

I was having a very emotional day. The trip across Canada was one I'd been anticipating for almost a year. And the fact that I was finally packing to go had me in a vulnerable feeling head space. That, combined with almost a week off exercise to rest the glute left me craving a workout.

I took a break from packing, and headed down to the lake. As I was getting in, a father, out walking with his young son, asked me about the water temp. My reply was "probably in the high 60's, so a little warmer than the air."  When I checked the bouy stats, I was right. 68*.  Perfect for a short swim.

Within 5 strokes I KNEW I'd made the right decision.  I remembered who I am.  Swimming makes me the most me I know. The sky's were cloudy, so visibility under water was excellent. And I relaxed.  The stress of the trip, the emotionality floated away.  It was the perfect swim.

It rained briefly. My first "wet" swim.  And the waves were whitecaps for a while.  I probably only swam for 25 minutes, as I still had some housework to do.  But it was still perfect.  A reminder of who I am.

I don't have photos from the swim.... so here's one from the train trip across Canada.'

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lost my nerve?

There's a "Last Gasp of Summer" swim this Saturday at a lake just about 20 minutes from here. One mile and two mile options. Course open for 90 min with the 1 mile swim starting either 15 or 30 minutes after the 2 mile start, depending on which web page you read. Either way, that leaves at least an hour for a mile swim. In a lake (no tide). I didn't sign up a few weeks ago, when I first learned about it, because I didn't know if I'd be in town or not.  Now I know I will be.


For some reason, I'm scared to sign up. Do I want to drive all the way over to SeaTac to swim with strangers? What if I'm pulled again? There is something about the Park-to-Park, and the Greenlake Open Water Swim (GLOWS) that are familiar, are family. There are people there who love me. Who know I may be slow but that I'm strong. Do I really want to swim with people who don't believe in me?

I think my confidence is still shaken from the Whidbey Island swim. Especially the idea that I didn't know how bad off I was.  Although I admit that is a possibility, based on how I felt later in the day (neither cold nor tired) I have a hard time believing it is the "truth."

The first ever OWS that I did was GLOWS in 2007.  Here is an excerpt from my race report (note, that I swam this without a wetsuit):

There were about 50 people doing the half-mile and I started near the back. The chop was still strong from all the swimmers and a stiff wind, and I was getting a face full of water every time I turned my head to breathe. It was so cold that I was hyperventilating, my heart was racing. I switched to breaststroke to see if I could catch my breath. Then to sidestroke, facing away from the waves, so I wasn’t being hit in the face. The other swimmers around me (back of the pack) were struggling in the waves as well. I heard one call a lifeguard over to take her back to shore. Another took her wetsuit off and dropped it with a guard.  I pushed on, panting, and wondering how I could relax and breathe.

It occurred to me that I might have to drop. I wasn’t sure what to do to breathe. I slowed down. I switched strokes (trying everything but back stroke) I still couldn’t get my heart to stop racing or my breath to slow. I was taking in large amounts of water. I was quite sure I wasn’t going to do my tri in 3 weeks, not if the swim is going to be like this.  I knew, that I could do this swim if I could relax, but I couldn’t get my body to relax. The green tents of the finish looked so far away.

At one point I was the second to last swimmer. I heard three guards talking to each other- I’ll take this one, you take that one, you go on ahead with the pack. Great. I had my own guard. I took on more water, coughing. The guard asked me if I was ok. I told him I was fine, and kept moving forward.  I’ve had this kind of “death march” feeling in a race before. My goal was to just keep moving as I fought to relax. I couldn’t figure out how to catch my breath and still swim forward.

About half way across the lake I started to relax. Somehow, I got my rhythm. I was able to switch between crawl and breast. I gave into the experience, and swam.  The swim became fun. I started passing other swimmers. The green tents at the finish started coming closer. I could hear my mom’s voice yelling for me, and the cheers of other swimmers and spectators. I saw the swimmer in front of me stand, marked the spot and swam for it. Then I stood, legs shaking, and ran for the finish.

The conditions were bad, and I panicked, but pushed through it and finished in 22:xx (it's a short half mile). My head knows I can do it. My heart continues to doubt.

I'm still undecided about the "Last Gasp." My Saturday plans are not yet finalized, so I'm not sure I can make it. But I wish I were more excited. More able to say "I can do this."  I'm not sure where my confidence has gone or why I need others to believe in my to be able to believe in myself.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lake Chelan- Labor Day Weekend

For the past five years a gang of my friends has gone away together for Labor Day weekend. We have visited the Washington Coast, Orcas Island, Mt. Rainier, and this year, Chelan, WA.  Thirteen of us rented a SWEET house, that included it's own private pool, and spent the weekend hanging out and swimming.
 The pool was a two lane, lap pool  Seriously good for both hanging out and swimming in.  Saturday, I did my first (and only?) pool swim of the year.  It felt weird to be confined to a pool. No wetsuit. No milfoil. Just chlorine. And a bunch of dead bees.

The house was up on the hills, above Chelan with an amazing view of the lake. We spent many an hour sitting in Adirondack chairs with a Pimms Cup admiring the view. Evenings we played with the pingpong table and had our own dance party.

 Sunday, we rented a boat. A simple pontoon boat, that had a wimpy motor, but could still pull a person on an inter-tube. We went swimming and tubing.

After about an hour of enjoying motoring up the lake we found a place to swim. KP, DF and I (the same friends I'd swum with in Baker Lake) lept from the boat and took off for a quick swim to shore.  KP's friend, a beach lifeguard, followed quickly behind (catching up with us easily). The water was amazing. Clear, and really soft on the skin. Few waves. No fish or other sea-life that we could detect. We touched bottom on the rocky shore. Rested for just a minute, then returned to the boat. It was a short, but excellent swim.  We continued to play and float in the water, dive off the boat and generally enjoy ourselves for another 40 minutes, before having to get the boat back to the rental agency. We were able to enjoy a local winery on the way back to the house.

I did a final pool swim on Monday morning. Enjoying having the pool to myself. Sad to leave it. We all agreed that this house will be rented again. Some future Labor Day.

On the way home (ok, out of the way) we stopped at Grand Coulee Dam. If we hadn't been focused on getting home, and the 3 hour drive in holiday weekend traffic, I would have asked for a swim stop, in Banks Lake or one of the many other beautiful bodies of water we passed.

Thanks to my friends, and swim buddies for a fabulous weekend.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Park to Park Swim- Race Report

Today was the annual Park to Park swim- an approximately 1.5 mile swim across Lake Washington, from Mathews Beach to O.D. Denny Park. Today was also a vindication of my swim from last week.

This swim was an act of faith. Faith that the other side was there, through all the fog. Faith that I'd eventually be able to see the finish line. And faith in myself, that I could make it.

Alarm at 6:12 felt early, but I'd made some wise decisions the night before, stayed in the bar with friends until only 10:30 and didn't have any alcohol. The weather was foggy. But it wasn't raining. My Sister-in-law, J, and her friend, L, picked me up at 6:40. The plan was for the partners to meet us on the other side of the lake for the ride back.

When we got to Mathews Beach you couldn't see the other side of the lake, the fog was so dense. But there was a shadow of a sun behind the fog, and an indication that it might burn off. As swimmers discussed the course ahead of time, another swimmer had said we were to swim towards the white sign on the other shore. Most of us replied with "what white sign?" By our start time, skies were clearing, but that sign was still illusive.

I was in the first wave-- those with pink caps. There were blue, yellow, green and white behind us, starting at 5 minute intervals. People self seeded, based on predicted pace, with the slowest swimmers going out first. I swam this in about a hour and 8 minutes last year and was predicting a similar time for this year. The swim is not timed, and not, technically, a race.

As I got on my wetsuit, I struggled a bit with the demons from last week. I'd had a good chat about it the night before with a friend-- and had re-asserted my belief that I could have finished last week, and could have done it in about an hour, if I'd been given the opportunity. But the self-doubt still crept in. Was the kayaker from last week correct? Was I really in that bad of shape? Was I making a huge mistake by going out into the deep water again this week? The only way to prove to myself that I do have the capacity for this type of swim was to do it. So I did.

The pinks started off, and I started with them. Crawl to begin. I kept up with the pack pretty well for the first three or four minutes. Then, as last week, realized that the adrenalin had me going out too fast, and I needed to slow down. The doubts crept in, already. Was I really too unfit for this? Was my training weaker that I'd thought? Switched to breast, caught my breath, and pushed on.

My 10k time, when I was running regularly, was about an hour and five minutes. This swim is similar to a 10k. However, during most runs I would talk to people-- other runners, volunteers. On a swim, you don't. You are left alone with your thoughts.

During the swim it was impossible to not compare this event to the one from last week. The only time this week I spoke to a kayaker was when I asked for help with sighting. Otherwise, they left us alone. Unlike last week's staff that were on top of me the whole time. This swim supports swimmers of all abilities, not just those who maintain specific time frames. I thought about my nieces, and what we want to teach them about athleticism. They are 7 and 9, and strong, smart girls. However, they come from a genetic stock that means they will never be elite or even strongly competitive athletes. However, we would like them, like me and their mom, to love sport. To want to see what their bodies can do. To enjoy training and pushing their bodies to test their own limits. We want them to love what they can do, and be proud of themselves, even if they aren't the fastest, strongest, or most adept. An event, like the Park-to-Park, supports that. It welcomes all trained athletes to test themselves. This is the type of event I want to support. One that supports swimmers like me.

Mentally I I divided the swim into three sections, of approximately a half mile each. The first one whizzed by. I just got my grove on and it was done. The next one was pure pleasure. The joy that motion brings. The final one was work. But even as I got near the end, I didn't want it to end.

Once I got my groove, I pretty much just put my head down and swam. As I neared the end I feared I'd be the last swimmer to finish. That I was slower than I'd thought. That I'd have that embarassment of the applause from everyone, as I was last. That I'd have DFL (Dead F-in Last) as the letters from this swim as opposed to the DNF (did not finish) I got last week. I don't know why it bothered me so much. I'd been DFL before-- in a 7 mile trail race that had only 36 entrants. I still felt accomplished. But for some reason, last week's swim got under my skin. And I felt like I had something to prove. I turned to look behind me and saw a good two dozen swimmers, including others in pink caps. I knew I'd be fine.

Eventually, the finish banner came into sight, and the white sign on the shore near it. Last year their had been a strong current, away from shore, just before landing. I prepared for it. But it was absent this year. (last year the wind had also been strong enough to cause huge waves and motion sickness, this year it was flat).

J, L, and the partners were waiting on shore. I finished strong and happy. I also restored my faith in myself.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Whidbey Island Adventure Swim- Race Report

This is my first ever DNF (did not finish). And a simple DNF just does not tell the story. So I'll elaborate a bit.

I only heard about this race a few weeks ago, and signed up on Thursday. They had 1.2 mile and 2.4 mile options. I chose the 1.2 mile option, figuring it would take me about an hour. The email we got in advance of the race said they had a strict 90 min course time limit. So I figured I was fine.

Friday night we went to dinner with some friends. Walked both ways, about a mile and a half each direction. Got home at 1am, and fell into bed by 1:30. The alarm was set for 6:15 but I was up by 6 and turned it off. Got geared up and headed to the ferry.

The crossing was beautiful that time of morning. There were tons of fishing boats out, the water was smooth, and the sun was just barely over the horizon. The swim staff had arranged for someone to pick me up at the ferry, and we were at the beach in short order.

I registered- got number 2 (that's alphabetical order for you)- and did body marking. Struck up conversation with another swimmer- B. Turns out she's from Vancouver, and had driven down just for the swim. She also swims in the ocean year round. I grilled her a bit about what gear she wears, and then it was time for the pre-race meeting.

The course description from the race director was confusing. Turns out it was simply a double loop-- .6 miles each-- with a hook around a particular buoy to finish. It was a large triangle, with a long hypotenuse. The race director announced that there would be 7 kayaks and 7 life guards and 2 motor boats, and that saftey was their biggest concern. They were asking that if the staff asked us to stop swimming that we please cooperate with them. Then they announced that there was a 25 min time limit on the first loop and a 45 min limit on the second one (for folks swimming the 2.4 mile swim), and folks could expect to be pulled if they didn't make the loops in those time frames. I tried to do the math in my head, but couldn't easily (a mile takes me 45- 50 min, how long does .6 take??). I was worried about the cut off but figured I should just swim.

Got the wetsuit on and got in the water for the wet start. The water was 60*, and, of course, salt! The trombone player from the local orchestra started us off, and the 26 swimmers took to the water. I started swimming. Feeling pretty good. The water was cold. But I was ok. I quickly drifted to the back of the pack. One person swam over me. I kicked another. But we spread out quickly enough. I had a hard time catching my breath, and a kayaker (who I later learned was named Emily) came over to check on me. I did some head-up breast stroke to try to regulate my breathing. It helped, but took a while. Emily was really supportive, said this happens a lot in cold water. She seemed really concerned about me, but I knew that if I could get in a groove, I would be fine. As I rounded the first buoy, I slowly started to get my rhythm. I was on the hypotenuse, and could feel a strong cross wave action. I got a little motion sick, but was using primarily breast stroke, with crawl thrown in now and again. The breast stroke helps me both sight and keep control over the motion sickness.

Emily stayed near me, and checked in on me now and again. At one point she asked me if I was feeling cold. I said no, that I felt fine. She said I was looking a little blue. This is when I started wondering what was going on physiologically for me. Was it the cold water? The lack of sleep? Tired legs from walking? The single glass of wine I'd had? It started to occur to me that she was likely going to pull me from the race. I decided that if she did, I wasn't going to be a jerk about it, I'd simply get out. I remembered all the profiles of people who had died in triathlons that I read in the Fearless Swimming book (I reviewed it a few weeks ago). One of the commonalities in those cases was that people were often chatting with lifeguards shortly before they died. Many of them said they were fine. I didn't want to be one of those folks, and have made a commitment to always err on the side of saftey when in the water.

As I rounded the second buoy I was felling great and starting to swim strong. The water was fairly shallow, and I started looking for crabs. Emily came over and said they were pulling me. I had a choice, a boat could come, or I could swim in after one lap. I said I'd swim in.

I was disappointed, but had realized this was likely to happen so didn't fight it. Just before I rounded the final buoy the first two swimmers passed me on their way to the finish. The race had "catchers" at the finish to help you stand up. A WONDERFUL idea, as it can be dizzying to get out of the water.

The medical team met me on land and asked me how I was doing. I said I was fine, and I was. I chatted with them for a few minutes, until they were assured I really was fine, and they wandered off. A reporter for the local news asked me a few questions. I made it clear that I wasn't the first woman finisher, but instead a DNF.

Everyone seemed to know my name. Which made me wonder what they were saying about me when I was out there. I took a few photos, chatted with people, and changed. B finished and said she'd had a great swim. She was heading for the ferry and so I bummed a ride. It was good to de-brief a bit with anther swimmer. I would love to swim with her this winter in Vancouver.

Hours later I went through a period of being very angry about how today played out. The second finisher finished in about 33 minutes, which means I was fairly on target with my original estimation of an hour for this course (as the "hook" back into the finish was at least 2 min of a swim so if I stayed on that pace could estimate a 64 min time). The fact that the 25 min cut off wasn't announced until the pre-race meeting made me angry. If I'd known that it existed, I wouldn't have bothered to do the event. And it doesn't really make sense in general... it assumes that the 1.2 mile swimmers should be held to the same minimum pace as the 2.4 mile swimmers. But my guess is that some of us chose the shorter swim because we are slower swimmers. A cut off of 40 min would make more sense (just under half of the whole course time). I also wonder if I hadn't had the problems catching my breath at the beginning if I would have been closer to the cut-off and if they wouldn't have bothered to pull me.

I'm disappointed. I'm frustrated. And I'm also resigned to the outcome. I did get to do my first salt water event. (Chap-stick helped!). I learned that if I want to race more in salt I should train more in salt. I learned that I can push through breathing issues and recover and swim strong. I also learned that my wetsuit chafes more in salt and that deodorant stings on chafed armpits.

I don't know if I'd do this race again. This was the inaugural year, and it was pretty well run-- with the exception of not communicating the course closure times. I clearly won't do it if they keep the same closure times. If they extend them, I would consider going back and finishing what I didn't get to finish this time.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Goggle Fail!

In the spirit of open water swimming, where you want to see whats going on around you both below and above the water, I bought a swim mask to try out. My first swim with it was at Baker Lake. They leaked a bit and I had to adjust them a few times, but I decided to try them again.

The pro is that you can see EVERYTHING. I loved the 180 degree views when we were at Baker. Great for seeing boats. Great for seeing under-water hazards. The water was clear and the view was awesome. The leaking was annoying, but I figured that it was just an adjustment issue and I'd get them to fit eventually.

So I tried them again tonight in Lake Washington. Total Fail. They leaked from the get-go. I spent more time adjusting them than I did swimming. At one point I stopped to fix them and my cap came off. The rest of the swim I had hair in my eyes (I couldn't get the long tendrils back in the cap) and the goggles still leaked!

I tightened the strap a lot. I'm wondering if I did it too much. They never properly suctioned onto my face. I may try them once more, with less tight of a strap. If that doesn't work, they are a no-go.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Baker Lake.

This weekend was the annual Kavana camping trip. We went to Rasar State Park near Concrete, WA. The park is on the Skagit river. My first thought was to do my weekend swim in the river. So I went to check it out. The water was swift but not unreasonable. The river was wide, and cold. I had a chat with the ranger, who discouraged me from swimming here. He seemed to think it was too swift.

I had two friends who were interested in swimming, and together we decided that still water was a better choice. So we set off to find somewhere else to swim. The obvious choice was Baker Lake. Just about 15 miles from the camp ground, this glacier fed lake is huge, still, and sparklingly clean.

So we grabbed a few extra friends and headed out to find a good swim beach. The views of Mt. Baker were spectacular. And we easily found a great rocky beach to swim from.

I donned my wetsuit, and DF and KP decided to swim with me. We planed a swim across the lake, and started out from our little cove. They warmed up quickly from swimming. We set a few safety ground rules. Any one of the three of us could call off the swim and we'd turn around immediately. I showed them a few hand signals in case we got separated, though we agreed to stick fairly close together. The boat traffic was minimal and the water was flat. It looked perfect.

We swam out of the cove and into the open lake. Immediately, the boat traffic seemed to pick up. I was feeling really responsible for my friends' saftey. I'd swum with KP a week before and knew she was strong, but hadn't swum with DF before (except a little dunk, not a workout, off Doe Bay on Orcas Island the year before). He can bike 100 miles without too much difficulty, but swimming is different. And if you are in open water, there is no easy way to bail from a swim. No sag wagon, like on a long bike ride. Although they are adults and knew they were swimming at their own risk, I didn't want to lead them into a dangerous situation because I'm more comfortable in the water than the average person. Second guessing our decision to cross the open water, we turned north and set out for a spit there instead, staying closer to shore.

Then the boat traffic died down, and DF pointed out that the distance across the lake looked shorter than the distance to the spit. So we changed our minds again, and decided to cross. It was a great decision. There wasn't much boat traffic, and the ones that came through stayed well away from us.

The water was choppy in the channel. Wind kicking up waves, and the narrow crossing point increasing the energy. I stuck mostly to breast stroke, as I wanted to keep my head up and see the boats. DF, thin and muscular from all the cycling he's been doing, has a breast stroke that has him go completely under water every stroke. There was one point that I scanned the water line for him and didn't see him. A moment of panic. Then he re-surfaced. I started allowing more time in each scan, before worrying about his whereabouts.

We got to the other side, and rested for a moment. The beach was a steep cliff, so we couldn't climb out. KP and DF got cold pretty quickly. So we started back, with a more direct trajectory to our original beach. The trip back was hard. Strong chop on my preferred breathing side. Some white caps. I took a lot of waves in the face, with water going straight up my nose. (note to self: work on bi-lateral breathing)

We finished the swim and met our three other friends. A snack of pistachios and peanut M&Ms restored us. We returned to the cars and set out for the campgrounds. On the way, there was a much celebrated stop at the Birdseye Brewing Company for a beer, snack, and excellent conversation.

Back in Seattle I mapped the swim. My estimated .75 to 1 miles was right on target. MapMyRun showed it at .84 miles.

The best part of this swim, along with the sense of accomplishment, was the comradere. The three of us watching out for each other. My friends trusting me that I've got a hobby worth participating in. Having them follow my lead into an adventure, and seeing them love the satisfaction of completion. I'm not one to proselytize my religion, but I've often proselytized my workouts. It is wonderful to see them have the satisfaction of the workout. To see a glimmer of my passion reflected back through their experiences.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea. ~Isak Dinesen

Only one month in my swim experiment (and the easiest month at that) and I'm already seeing that I'm a changing person. Not just in muscles in my back from hours of breast stroke but in my perspective as well.

I look at water differently now. When I see a body of water, is see its swim potential- or lack there of. On the train to Portland, we follow Puget Sound and the Columbia River. When they are wide and slow I image where and how I would swim in them. I look at the shipping lanes and currents to figure out how to navigate the water. As I look forward to the camping trip for this weekend with Kavana, the first thing I do is scout out potential swim spots. Is the river slow enough and deep enough at the campground for real swimming? Or will I have to travel to a nearby lake?

I'm learning to judge currents, depth, and hazards by looking. My youth as a sailor is helpful in this skill. Water is no longer just pretty to look at. It is desirable to enter as well.

Book Review: Fearless Swimming for Triathletes by Ingrid Loos Miller aka Cardiac Death, Sharks, and Wetsuits oh my

Although I don't often swim in the washing machine that is the mega triathlon, this book was interesting and at times very useful. I'll review sections of it in depth over the next few weeks, but here's a general overview.

This book has a few goals. One is to teach (as best a book can) the swim and saftey skills to help the swimmer feel comfortable in the water. Another is to demystify some of the fears swimmers might have (sharks, dying, etc). The last is to teach general relaxation skills to help the swimmer through moments of panic.

The book is great at the first goal. I got some cool ideas for both getting more used to cold water (when the lake drops below 60* again, I'll try one) and how to swim straight without putting your head up every third stroke (more about that in a coming post).

For the second goal-- cardiac death and sharks-- the book mostly cracked me up. The appendix is a list of everyone who died (to publication date) in the swim part of a tri. It gave details of what happened and how it could have been prevented. The truth is most of the folks had unknown underlying cardiac issues, and when someone has a heart-attack on the swim, it is much harder to save that person than on the bike or run. Apparently defibrillation doesn't work if the patient is wet.

As for sharks, they are scary but low incidence (especially in the fresh water lakes I typically swim in). I found that section entertaining if not relevant.

Finally, for the relaxation skills, again I didn't find this section particularly relevant. I've had enough cognitive behavioral therapy and yoga sessions in my life to know most of what they wrote about. However, for the less "enlightened" and more fearful swimmer, this could be interesting.

The book was under $20 and worth it. I could see it being highly relevant to someone who really was a fearful triathlete-- I'm a relaxed open water swimmer.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Must love dogs.

I love cats. They are fluffy and independent. And they purr. I want to snuggle them and invite them into my home. Dogs, I like from a distance. I'm glad they exist on our planet, as they are attractive animals. I am pretty dog neutral about them getting close to me. And am anti-dog if they are aggressive, jump on me, or lick me.

Today the swim was full of dogs.

I headed down to the lake around 10 am. There was a fund raising walk going on in the park, so there were people thronged on the path. A lot of them with dogs. A group of about 15 people and 6 dogs had stopped, on the swim beach, to let the dogs swim. Seattle Municipal Code prohibits animals on swim beaches. This park has a HUGE dog off-leash area including a dog only swim beach! And, just 30 feet or so down the shoreline there was easy water access where the dogs could legally swim. And yet this group had their dogs swimming in the one place in the park they are expressly prohibited from swimming. I started forming words to confront them about it, when the, of their own accord, headed back to their walk.

So I took off for my swim. A quarter mile or so in, there was a man on shore throwing a ball into the water for his dog. The dog would swim out and get it, then bring it back to the man on shore. A wet game of fetch. However, as I swam past, the dog decided to bring the ball to me. It took the man calling him 6-8 times, before he returned to shore. I used to have problems when I'd trail run in Green Lakes State Park outside of Syracuse, with off leash dogs who would rather run with me than walk with their humans. I have said that open water swimming is the trail running of the water. I guess this was just further proof.

My turn-around for this swim was the dog-beach in the park. That makes it a short mile swim. However, I was dogged out, so I turned around a little short. I didn't want another dog encounter. Lest you think I am too hard on the dogs. I fully maintain that there is no such thing as bad dogs, only bad humans who don't train and protect their dogs.

Vibram 5-fingers.

I got the shoes. The funny looking ones with a slot for each toe- Vibram 5 Fingers (these but not in leather). Tried them out at the lake this weekend, and they are ideal for my situation with the rocky beach. I can easily walk into and out of the water with no problem. I can swim in them and they stay put- no blisters.

It's an $80 solution, which isn't they way I usually want to solve problems. But it works.

And secretly I'm glad to have an excuse to have bought these shoes. I love to go barefoot, and can't wait to just wear them around.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Alice Lake.

We went camping at Alice Lake this weekend. Alice Lake is a great little provincial park about half way between Vancouver and Whistler. It is just a few km north of Squamish. The park hosts four lakes, and on Sunday afternoon we did the "four lake hike," a hike of about 5.5km that takes you past all four lakes. On the way we encountered an aggressive dog and two frogs (I am deathly afraid of frogs). The hike was pretty, and I evaluated the swim-ability of each of the lakes and decided that Alice was the best choice for my swim the next morning.

Monday was a bit colder and more overcast than Sunday, and I set off to swim around 11am. I started on the swim beach near the campground, swam to the far beach and back, then did another lap. Total distance around .75 miles.

The water was warm enough that I didn't need the wetsuit- but I wore it anyway. Since it was an overcast Monday there weren't other people in the water. A few kids were playing on the beach, but otherwise I had the place to myself. My spotter sat and read as I swam. It was quiet.

The only drawback of this swim, was the 9 hours my wetsuit sat wet in the car on the way back to Seattle. ICK! There needs to be another plan next time.

Air temp: 68 Lake temp: 66 Time in water: 35 min.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Oatmeal Swim.

When I ran I developed the concept of an oatmeal run. It was usually a short, not all that much fun, run that I did just to get a run in. Called "oatmeal" because "oatmeal is better than no meal at all."

Today was an oatmeal swim. Half mile easy. Matthews beach. Nothing worth posting about except a bald eagle sighting.

Water Temp: 68 Air Temp: 65 Time in water: 25 min.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Swim from Cuba

NYT has coverage today of Diana Nyad, a woman in her 60's who is planning on swimming from Cuba to Florida. 103 miles. That's my swim across Lake Washington, repeated approximately 73 times!

There are a few things I find remarkable about this story.

One is the focus on her as a woman in her 60's. The claim that older athletes may be better distance athletes. The idea that the wisdom and experience of age, combined with years of base building, can make the slightly older athlete a better endurance athlete. I've always thought of myself as someone with more endurance than speed. It may be that my parents gifted me with more slow-twitch muscle fiber than fast-twitch. My lineage of Russian and Turkish Jews does not breed sprinters. As I approach 40, I would love to age into a practiced endurance athlete.

Another focus of the story is on her saftey in what are assumed to be shark infested waters. Having just finished Fearless Swimming for Triathletes (review coming in the next week or so), I know that the incidence of shark attack on humans is very low. There are things they will do for Diana to make it lower, but in general, this is not her biggest risk. It plays well in the media, however, and that is probably part of the reason for its coverage.

Finally, the article mentions that she will eat "predigested protein." This just sounds icky to me. So I turn to the source for all things- google! Turns out that body builders use this, and the "predigesting" is done by adding the right enzymes to the protein, not a human or some other animal having to re-regurgitate it. Phew! It isn't as icky as it sounds.

I wish her luck with the swim, it will be interesting to see if she can make it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mathews Beach

In an effort to save my feet, I decided to try a different lake entry point. Off to Mathews beach, just up the road from my usual entry of Magnuson Park. Mathews has a few advantages over Magnuson. It has a sand beach entry. The swim area is smaller, the parking lot is smaller. The whole park is smaller. It has a few disadvantages too. It does not have showers, and it has a horrid milfoil problem.

Standing on the beach, looking at the flat water, I wanted to just swim across to O.D. Denny park- following the route of the Park to Park swim. But without a boat escort (or a way home for that matter) I decided parallel to shore was a better option.

I swam out into deep enough water, and looked for a turn-around point on shore. I was swimming south this time (I usually go North out of Magnuson). The point I picked, I estimated to be a quarter mile away. When I came home and mapped it on mapmyrun, it clocked the round trip swim at .49 miles!! How's that for accuracy.

There was a blue heron on a buoy for most of the swim. I got fairly close to it, and it didn't seem to mind. It's quite a beautiful bird-- with a very long beak and a neck that it can stretch so it looks like a crane or retract so it looks like a duck (with a pointed beak). Impressive.

One more draw-back of Matthews, is that where I swam was on a concave shoreline, so swimming straight, I got further and further from the shore. At Magnasun it's much easier to stay parallel to shore. And, my half mile swim took me almost to the NOAA station. I think they don't like folks too close to their equipment, so there may be a limit to the distances I can go, from this beach, in this direction. I'll have to swim North next time. Or, across the cove to Magnuson beach. Perhaps I can do a point-to-point swim from one park to the next.

Water Temp: 67 Air Temp: 72 Time in water: 25 min

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Motion Sickness and a blister.

Beautiful Seattle summer weekend day. High expected to reach the low 70s. Water temperatures in the mid 60s. Perfect for swimming!

And boating.

The motor boaters were out in full force. And the wakes were large and coming from multiple angles.

My goal was a mile swim. I'd used Map My Run to get some distances from the swim beach, and the dog park swim beach was about half a mile. So I decided to swim until I saw dogs.

As I started out, the wakes came across me from the side-- from 3:00. Then at an angle, from 1:30. The two sets of wakes crossed. Some wakes were large enough to break near me, rather than on shore. And I got hit with my first round of motion sickness. Since I didn't have any official remedy with me I had to try what I could. Breast stroke helps, as I can keep my head up and look at the horizon. Side stroke, when the waves were coming form 3:00 helped, probably because I could see them coming and anticipate them. Otherwise, head-down crawl left me sick.

A few months ago I took a long train ride to California. Before I left, I bought some motion sickness wrist bands. I didn't want Dramamine for a 20 hour ride, and am fairly prone to motion sickness. The bands were amazing. Although they hurt a bit after 10 hours or so (so I took them off to sleep) I didn't have ANY motion sickness. I specifically bought plastic ones so I could wear them to kayak, I'll have to try them for swimming.

I've been told ear-plugs help with motion sickness too- so they will be another "remedy" I will try.

As I said in a recent post, I hate the stone beach I enter and exit from. Again on this swim I wore my Lizard shoes. However, this time they wore a horrible blister on my toe. The blister broke open, and is still quite sore. I need to come up with a different footwear solution, or a different beach.

Water Temp: 66 Air Temp: 71 Time in Water: 50 min

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Safety gear possibilities

After CJ's and my conversation this weekend about his spotting me when I swim and what safety equipment to use, I did some research.

We want something that is 1) inexpensive, 2) light weight, 3) easy to use, and 4) effective (not necessarily in that order.)

A ring buoy is an obvious choice. But it would have the drawback of being big and bulky, not to mention dorky. I just don't see CJ walking along the shore, following me, with a ring buoy over his shoulder. He isn't a lifeguard, just a husband who doesn't want to feel helpless if his partner is needing assistance.

So then we discussed a throw bag. The throw bag has the advantage of being light weight, easy to use, and easy for him to store in a backpack or other bag. This is likely the option we are going to go with. CJ was worried about the ease of use for this for a rescue. I showed him a few articles, mostly focused on kayaksers, and he's agreed that this could work.

The plan now is to do a little more research and make a purchasing decision. I'll keep things updated when it comes in.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Happy Birthday Kavana

The Kavana Cooperative, which I've been involved with since it's start, 5 years ago, had a birthday party tonight. Bring your dinner, and Kavana will provide cake. At Golden Gardens, the quintessential Seattle beach. I see it as the perfect opportunity for a swim.

Dinner with my friends. Socializing. Cake. What more could a girl want? A vast Sound to swim in!

After dinner, I suited up and went down to the water. My friends watched my bag, and we had a quick saftey check-- I told them my planned course, and estimated time.

I'd forgotten Puget Sound is salt water!! This was my first salty swim. My friend BL had said his daughter had been in the water over the weekend and on a scale of "nice" to" eek its cold" it was just a Brrrrr. She was right. After the initial brrrr, the wetsuit warmed and the water was delightful.

I was swimming around 8:30pm with high tide at 9:18. I'd read that there tends to be a current across this beach in a northern direction. And that was correct. I got in at the south end (because that's where my friends were. I know to typically swim against the current first). I knew I could get out at any time and walk back if needed. The beach is sand, and therefore easy to walk on.

I'd forgotten that salt water can be icky. On your lips. And nose. There were a lot of seagulls, one who almost didn't fly away as I approached. And a lot of seaweed. But the temps were great. I had a yellow lab seriously consider swimming in to "save" me. And a kid skipping stones lob one at my head. There was a photographer who took tons of photos of me-- I wish I could get copies. This made me consider putting a name or URL on my swim cap, so folks could find me.

Generally a good swim. If I ever do an "Iron" length swim, I want it to be in fresh water. The salt got to me.

Air Temp: 73* Water Temp: 54* Time in the Water: 25 min.

Harrison Hot Springs

CJ (my partner) and I went away for the holiday weekend. It was a holiday in both countries. Sunday we drove up the Frasier Valley to look for a campground. Our one goal was a camping site where I could swim. Oh yeah, and spending some quality time together.

Kilby Park was our first stop. At the spot where the Frasier River meets the Harrison River, this campground is on a spit of land surrounded by water. It would be perfect, for camping, for a swim....except.... within moments of arriving and getting out of the car to pay our fees, we each got approximately 8 mosquito bites. The spot was immediately nixed. And off we went, in search of less buggy grounds.

There isn't much to the town of Harrison Hot Springs. Except the hot springs, some hotels, and one VERY LARGE Lake.

After a quick pic-nic and walk, I donned the wetsuit and headed out. The plan was to swim, parallel to the shore, while CJ walked along, spotting me. I swam what google maps shows to be about 2/3 of a mile, in what was very cold water. I wished I had my booties, as my feet never warmed up. The hands did, once I got moving.

Following shore I was able to wave to lots of people out walking. And communicate with CJ when needed. The water was not very clear-- I couldn't see my hands when my arms were extended. Probably the minerals from the geothermal pools nearby.

After, CJ and I had a conversation about safety. He'd like to get something he could throw to me, if I was in distress. So we brainstormed ropes with buoys on them, or other options. I'll do some research and see.

Air Temp: 68* Water Temp: Unknown (but cold) Time in the Water: 25 min.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Is gear the answer?

I wore sandals for last night's swim. The beach I enter on is rocky and I HATE walking across the rocks. I find it very hard, at the end of the swim, to establish balance on the rocks and it hurts my feet getting out.

So I wore my water sandals (they are like Tevas, but a brand I picked up in Israel years ago called "Lizard"). When I would do the crawl, they acted like little flippers, boosting my kick. When I would breast stroke, they would create drag. Slowing me down.

RJ suggested I get the Vibram 5-fingers shoes. She has a pair, and loves them, not just for swimming. I've been wanting a pair, but am unsure about the $100 price tag.

So the question now is, is this a good excuse to get shoes I've been wanting. Or is this another case of just throwing money at the problem. Should I move up one park north, and get a more sandy water entrance, driving 5 min further to swim, but saving $100 in shoes. Should I learn to just suck it up and do the rocky entrance? Is gear the answer?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The one with the barge.

My friend RJ met me at the beach at 7:30 for a swim. The sky was filled with fluffy white clouds and the lake was still. It was perfect swim conditions. RJ hasn't done a lot of solo open water swimming, so we laid out a plan and got in. The water was cool, but we warmed up easily.

As we were leaving the swim beach RJ commented that she'd never seen a barge in Lake Washington before. I hadn't either. It was filled with gravel or something similar and being pushed by a tug.

As we swam northbound, it passed us, northbound as well. And then the waves came. And came. And came. Two foot swells. Relentless. And we were swimming into them. It was hard work.

RJ is a stronger swimmer than I, and swam laps around me (this is no surprise, she's incredibly athletic). There were times I couldn't see her in the swells. I switched between breast stroke and crawl. Felt strong.

Around our turn-around spot, we saw an eagle. Fish in its mouth. A few minutes later, another eagle started to circle. I feared it might be checking us out. How do you make it clear to an eagle that you aren't a fish?

We turned around and let the waves push us back. The down-stream swimming was so easy.

Water Tem: 66 Air Temp: 62 Swim time: 60 min

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Braver man than I

Back in the water today, after a week off for a bad cold. Got to the beach, tired, grumpy, hungry. As I was pulling on the wetsuit, a guy got out, wearing only swim trunks. I asked him how the water was. He said it felt great. He hadn't thought he'd get out today. I said "You are a braver man than I, going without a wetsuit." He said it was warm. So I skipped the gloves and booties.

I got in. He got out. And he was right. It was warm. And beautiful. Within minutes my swimming peace came over me. The plan was for a short swim, but once I was out there I didn't want to stop. So instead of turning around at the first turn point, I went to the second. And half way to the third. I need to find my anti-fog spray for my goggles, I spent too much time fiddling with them.

The water is back on at the outdoor shower, and the life-guards start this weekend. Perhaps summer is here.

Air Temp: 65 Water Temp: 63 Swim time: 35 min

Monday, June 20, 2011

The genisis of the idea

I was in the middle of my swim a few weeks ago, marveling at how open water makes me happy. Its just that simple. Being in open water makes me happy. And wondering how I could preserve that year round. Because pool swimming does not make me happy.

Then I thought about the winter of 99-00. The year I pledged to run outside, all winter long. I lived in St. Peter, Minnesota. Could I do the same with the lakes? Swim. Outside. Year round.

So here I am. About to find out.

I have official "approval" even if there was also an "I don't understand why you'd want to" from my partner.

So I set out to see if I can. Swim. Outside. All winter long.