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.