Monday, July 31, 2017

Change of Stroke

I'm a breast-stroker.  I get seasick easily, and breaststroke lets me look at a fixed point in the distance every stroke. That keeps me stable and less sick. I typically like to sit in the front seat of a car and near a window on a boat for the same reason.

During Swim Defiance, my kayaker commented that I was a lot faster when I'd do freestyle instead of breaststroke. So I've been trying to add some additional free into each workout.

This weekend, during my usual Alki swim, I decided to add in a significant amount of free. There is a group of swimmers I start with as we do head-up breaststroke and get used to the water. Then they switch over to free and leave me in the dust.

This week I was able to keep up with them with comfort.  On the way back the boat wakes picked up so I had to switch back to breast.  It makes me think if I could switch strokes more permanently, I could potentially be a more solid middle of the pack swimmer.

The plan is to work on sea-sickness prevention!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


July found me back out on the Hood Canal for work.  This time around my cohort knew I wanted to swim and all came prepared to support me.  And by prepared, I mean ready to buy drinks at the bar and watch that I didn't drown.

So swim I did.

The beach that I used last summer, attached to the retreat center, was closed, as the stairs collapsed.  So they suggested I go down the road to Alderbrook, a swank hotel and spa, and use their beach (and their fire pit, and bar!) This is the gang, on the shore, watching me.

The first night there, the gang was happy to watch the sunset, watch me swim, and have some s'mores.  The water was perfect!  Clear. Warm compared to Alki, and calm.

See how clear it is:

I swam out about a quarter of a mile. Enjoying the light as it changed, and looking at the scenery.  I've been told that one of these houses belongs to Bill Gates.

On the way back I noticed this sign on the dock. When I came back two days later there was a seaplane there!

When I got back to shore, the folks watching me swim mentioned that I'd been followed by a seal.  I was oblivious to this creature, just feet from me. When they told me that, I did turn around, and sure enough, there was a delightful creature. I talked to him for a few minutes, then got out. One of the women on shore had caught a video of him and me together, and sent it along. It is magical! I feel so lucky to have gotten this close to a seal!


Friday, July 7, 2017

What does place matter?

When I signed up for Swim Defiance 3k I knew the race capped at 300 people. I didn't realize that only 36 people would sign up, show up, and finish.

I'm a solid back of the pack swimmer. When I swim Park to Park or Green Lake there are always people behind me at the end. But with a challenging event, when I found out the smallness of the field, I realized I would likely be DFL.  The D is for Dead.  The L is for Last. You can infer the F.

I've been DFL in foot races before. I did a 7 mile trail race with 37 runners.  It was a two loop race, and I finished my first loop just before the fastest runner crossed the line.

That didn't bother me. I'd seen a red fox on the trail, which was really cool. And I knew in a field that small I'd be the last.

Another time I was last was at a 5k run in honor of a priest who was recovering from cancer.  He ran the race also. He was the penultimate finisher. I didn't feel like I could sprint to beat him at the end. It just wasn't right.

So when I found out how small the field would be for the swim, I got anxious. Would they pull me from the race because I was so slow, even though I knew I'd make the cut off (this had happened to me before)? Would people be taking down the finish line before I was done? Would I be embarrassed as everyone had already gone home when I finished?

In the end, I decided to go, knowing full well I'd likely be last.  And I was.  And it was all ok. I was ahead of everyone at home on the sofa that morning! I placed in the non-wetsuit division, which gained me major bad-ass points, just for doing it without a wetsuit. I like to joke that I got to enjoy myself longer than anyone else. The truth is, it was still a huge accomplishment.  I'm still proud of what I did. And ultimately, the only race I'm in is the one against myself. My mental battle with endurance sports. My mental race against societal norms around weight and body issues. And my own sense of self doubt.  I swim because I love my body, and that means I won the race!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Swim Defiance 3k

This is probably the hardest athletic endeavor I've ever undertaken.  And I have to say I kicked its butt!!

The Swim Defiance is a 5k and 3k swim in Puget Sound. The 3k swimmers (of which I was one) take the Ferry from Tacoma to Vashon Island, then swim back.

I've actively trained for this event since I posted in late March about training. My predicted time was 90 to 100 minutes. My longest swim in cold water had been 60 minutes, so I was a little worried about the prolonged exposure and ordered some core warmers to help with after the event.

I drove down to Tacoma with my friend B, and we met up with a bunch of other Notorious Alki Swimmers.  On our drive down we talked about how there was no shame in raising your hand for a boat to pull you out if needed. It was far more important to be safe than anything else. As a solo swimmer, I have a rule that if I'm trying to decide between two choices I pick the safer one.

The safety briefing had way too much talk with silly jokes and not a lot of content. One potentially useful thing the MC did say, was that the current was strong from East to West so the 5k swimmers should sight to the east to drift toward the  west for the turn around.

I was pretty nervous and hyped up about the start, and became a total ditz. I couldn't keep track of what I needed when. Where I should put what.  I even went back to the car at one point, explicitly to put my glasses in the car. Then forgot!! Yeah, stress makes me a ditz.

We watched the 5k swimmers start.  There were 21 of them, all wearing wet suits! The swim buoys were required for this event. A great choice to help the safety staff see everyone on the course.

After they departed, we headed for the bus to the ferry.  The ride was probably only about 5 minutes. Short enough to not have to worry about motion sickness. We walked on the ferry for the short ride across the water.

As the ferry was docking, I looked over and saw an eagle on the start beach.

Good omen!  We all disembarked and went down to the beach. Short time to shed extra layers and get a headcount, then we were in the water.  The race officiant said we should wade out to waist deep. However, the tide was out, so after walking out 20 yards, he said "That's enough". We waited for the ferry to depart, then started.

The water was warmer than Alki. I predicted I'd be the last finisher, so I focused on pacing my entry so I didn't hyperventilate. I was able to calmly enter and start swimming.  I stayed with the pack in sight for a while, then eventually drifted into my own space. The other shore looked so far away! The tiny gold arch the finish.

I swam and just tried to find a groove. The start had tons of jellyfish. Beautiful little moon jellies. At first I tried to dodge them. But in time I realized there was no way that was possible. I might have gotten stung, but those jelly's stings don't hurt too much, so I ignored it and went on.

One of the strange things about this event is that I had absolutely no sense of time while I was out there.  I knew I'd predicted 90 minutes. I knew the cut off was 120 minutes.  There were times that I was SURE I wasn't going to make the cut off, other times when I thought I'd blow my prediction out of the water.  Perhaps that had to do with the current.

The current... the race MC was wrong about which way it was pushing. Just, simply, wrong.  It was a strong eastward current, pushing us back to the ferry route.  There was a strong westward current for about the last 200 yards of the course.  Otherwise, east all the way.

This created a problem.  With the start so close to the ferry terminal, and the current pushing us east, everyone ended up in the ferry lane.  Not good.  At one point, I thought I was the most westerly swimmer, and I saw the ferry, instead of going to my left to the terminal, turn and cross in front of the swimmers, and through the course. He then proceeded to cross the channel on my right.  I looked over my right shoulder, and sure enough, I had drifted east enough that the ferry terminal was now behind me on the right.

No one wants to be the ferry captain who kills 35 swimmers.So I'm glad he went around us. However, that was the first inkling I had that things were not as they should be on the water. (more about that in a separate safety post).

One of my swim friends, H, was a kayaker and had agreed to keep an eye on me. As the pack moved ahead, she found me and kept with me. I strongly believe her guidance kept me on a straighter trajectory than most.

Somewhere in the middle of the swim I started doing math.  Trying to figure out, if I was swimming at a 30 degree angle because of the current, what was the distance I'd actually swim?  What if it was a 45 degree angle?  I decided I couldn't do the math in my head while swimming. In fact, it was hard work to even figure out what the math problem would look like.

At one point I thought about how I'd describe the swim to others when I was done. The best I could come up with was "breathe, bubbles, breathe, bubbles, breathe, bubbles."  Guess that isn't too exciting.

I decided to sing. My favorite song from Come From Away. The song, Me and the Sky, is a good swim anthem for me.  There are many ways that I feel like swimming and flying are the same. This song is about a woman's love of flight. However, she was a pilot on September 11, 2001 so the last verse of the song is about how "the one thing I love more than anything is used as the bomb."  For some reason, after completing one time through the whole song, this last verse got stuck in my head.  I sang it alone about 14 more times before deciding it wasn't a great swim song, and turning it off.

At times I felt a little cold, and then just picked up the pace.  At times I would try to do freestyle instead of breaststroke, and would feel motion sick. I looked behind me to see how far I'd come. And continued to sight on the far away arch as it inched slowly closer.

As I got closer to shore the moon jellies came back. They are so beautiful. I love watching them.  Then I could see the ground below the water.  And so I tried to get to the finish.  I was being swept west, with the finish to my east. A man on shore said if I came in closer I could fight the current more easily.  I came in and was about 20 yards from the finish arch.  So I just stood up and walked there!! Finish time was 94 min on my watch and 96 for the official clock.

I was, in fact, the last finisher. However, I was also third in the non-wetsuit division!!  So I got a little trophy.

My friend B was second in the non-wetsuit division. So she got a plate!!

I got out of my wet clothes and used my core warmers as soon as I could. I never got the real shivers. I was able to maintain motor skills and articulation abilities. All around good signs of no hypothermia.

Friends who swam with GPS trackers on estimated about 2.2-2.4 miles for their swims. And the trajectories all looked something like this, red is swimmer, yellow is ferry path:

I feel accomplished. I am proud that I was able to finish in the time I predicted. I love that I could be last and third in my division! I loved getting to know the fabulous NAS folks even better. I appreciated the support and friendship of all involved, especially my kayaker, H.

Overall, it was a meaningful experience for me. It is always fabulous to accomplish something you are not sure you can do.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What a difference two years makes!

Facebook has that delightful feature where they remind you what you posted on this day in years past.  Here's one of mine for today, from two years ago.

That's me. In a swim cap, googles, and a wet suit.  In front of the "Open Water Swimming Permitted" sign at Lake Washington. My caption says "let the season begin! easy half mile in lake Washington"

Two years ago I was still wearing a wet suit.

Two years ago I was swimming mostly in Lake Washington.

Two years ago May 9th was my "season opener".

Two years ago I could swim half a mile.

Now I swim "skin" and haven't worn the wet suit in 18 months.

Now I swim mostly in Puget Sound.

Now I swim year round, so there is no season opener.

Now an "easy" swim is a mile, or more.

It is always fun to see progress.  This is a great example of how far I've come!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Intermediate Swimmer

I couldn't make my usual weekend swim at Alki, but a stranger had posted on Facebook that she wanted to swim at Greenlake, so we arranged a meet-up. Turns out although she's a really experienced open water swimmer, this was her first time in water under 60 degrees.

Her desire and instinct was to run in and run out, so she never warmed up. I encouraged her to stay in and use her motion to generate heat to warm up.  She wasn't wearing ear plugs, and I suggested that they would help keep her warmer.  We had other chats about acclimatization and how to increase your cold water endurance and how to rewarm after (bath not shower, get the wet suit off as fast as possible, etc).

At the end, her spouse thanked me for sharing my wisdom on the topic.

Two years of experience with Puget Sound meas I've learned enough to teach others. I think this makes me a solid, intermediate, swimmer. I still have a lot to learn to be "expert" but it is fun to feel out of the "novice" category.

Making Movies at Crescent Lake.

I'm back out on the Olympic Peninsula for work. A beautiful place that I am so lucky to get the State of Washington to pay for me to visit.  For some reason I totally miscalculated the amount of time it would take me to do the drive, so I arrived a good 2.5 hours before my meeting.  Luckily, I'd stashed my swimsuit in the car.  So I took off for Crescent Lake.

The area was quiet, but I parked and walked over to the lodge to change.  Oblivious as I am, I passed a sign that said "C1osed Set" [sic].  I didn't know what it meant, so I just walked on.  The front porch of the lodge looked like a rest stop on some long hiking trip. Tons of packs and food and a few rugged looking people.  The weather was wet, so most people were wearing fleece and rain jackets (this is the Pacific Northwest, so people wear that in the city too).

I didn't think much of it, figuring it was a place that backpackers used when needing to come into civilization or something. The Lodge clearly was closed as a restaurant and shop, unlike in the high season.

I walked in and changed into my suit.  I put my gear out on the porch among all the disarray, and went to get into the water.

As I approached, this was the scene on the dock.

A woman approached me and said "we are filming a movie and really can't have anyone on the dock."  I was unfazed, and went to enter the water from the rocky shore. Another person approached to say something similar, and I assured him that I wouldn't interfere with the shot.

He said their actor was a little wary of the temperature of the water, and he asked if I was going to wear a wetsuit.  I said no, but that I knew my body was acclimatized to cold water. I said I thought it was about 46, which is the same as Puget Sound, so I was fine.  Then I joked that if they needed a stunt double for the actor, I could fill in.

And off I sawm.  Boy was it glorious.

The first two minutes were the hardest. I just wanted to turn back. But the film crew watching me kept me going.  And I'm glad I did.  I warmed up. And I loved it.  The water was so still that I was the only creature making ripples, and I could watch them go across the whole lake.

I stayed in about 22 min, which was perfect.  I got a bit cold after getting dressed, but since I had no shower and the Lodge was not heated, I'd say that wasn't too big of a deal.

I talked to the movie staff again on my way out.  They said that technically this was a closed set, so no one not affiliated with the movie was supposed to be there.  OH, that's what that sign had meant!! I guess I don't have movie set cultural competence to know what it meant. However, they also welcomed me to watch from a distance. But I needed to get warm.  So I changed and left.

I'm really glad I made the trip out for a swim in my favorite Olympic National Park lake! And I'll look for the swim scene in "Light Me Up" if it ever comes to Seattle!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Will training ruin my love of swimming?

For the past two years, and many summers prior, I've swum for fun.  I swim when I want. Stop when I'm tired. Skip it if the weather is bad or there is some other tempting event to go to. My swimming was purely recreational.  Although I often did a "race" or two each summer, I never worried about my finish time and my longest event was 1.4 miles.  Since my typical Lake Washington swim was 1 mile, it wasn't hard to push on that day.

Now I'm contemplating putting together a summer swim "season" with two events that will challenge me-- a 1.5 mile swim in salt water and a 5k swim in the lake.  The first will challenge me in conditions, the second in distance.

The idea of doing a 5k swim is a bit daunting. I would actually have to focus on training for that. As I've been researching what the training would look like, I realize I'll have to commit to a lot more time in the water. This may mean earlier mornings or swimming later in the day, neither of which are ideal.

So this raises the question-- is training going to suck the fun out of swimming? And if so, do I not even want to sign on?

The plan right now is to ease into the training, and see how I feel, before signing up for any event. If I continue to like the ramp up and formal training in about a month, I will pay my fees for the "big" events.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

San Francisco Bay Swim

I did it. I got to swim in San Francisco Bay.  It was all I had dreamed it would be and it has opened me up to wanting more.

My conference ended at 11am, and my flight from SFO was at 5, so I knew I had to move efficiently to get the maximum time in the water. I took an UBER from the hotel to the Aquatic Park. The UBER driver was really friendly and also disbelieving that I was going to swim in that water!

I went in to the Dolphin Club and paid there $10 fee to use the facilities.  Changed in the locker room and was out on the beach in no time!

The water was a warm 51.7 degrees.  Or at least it felt warm in comparison to the 46ish degree Puget Sound.

The water was also VERY murky. I could barely see my hand in front of my face. But the water had barely any taste of salt.  That may be because of recent storms.

Swimming in the middle of a city I love was such a pleasure.

I stayed parallel to shore.  Swam one loop, got out and checked the time, then swam another. The hot shower and sauna after were great.

And I got to warm up with a family tradition--- Ice Cream at Ghirardelli square! (notice how many spoons they gave me!!)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Growth Mindset and Learning to be an Open Water Swimmer

I'm at a conference for community college leaders in San Francisco.  As soon as the meeting ends, before I race to the airport, I plan to go down to the Aquatic Park and swim.  By myself.  In the ocean (granted in a protected bay).  How did I get to the point that this is even possible?

It is about a growth mindset.  I've been reading Carol Dweck and attending conference sessions on how we can teach students to have a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the belief that your brain can change and you can learn new things even as an adult.

In education we talk about cultivating a students' ability to learn, and even more importantly, their belief that they can learn. This is the growth mindset.  Instead of saying "this is hard so I can't do this" we encourage students to say "this is hard and struggling is part of learning, so I will persist in learning this.  Students often try once, fail, and drop out.  We discuss how we can grow persistence and the ability to learn how to learn in a specific discipline.

What does this have to do with my desire to swim at the aquatic park? Over the past few years I have taught myself, with the help of a lot of friends (thank you Notorious Alki Swimmers) and the internet, how to be an open water swimmer. How to read the water. How to know when it is safe. How to know if it is warm enough. What to do if I'm in distress. This was a struggle for me. At times scary. At times I failed.  But I persisted in figuring it out, due to a growth mindset. I set out to learn how to be a swimmer and what that means.  It was a new discipline for me.

This blog has chronicled my going from a novice to a solid intermediate swimmer.  I'm still not and expert, and will enjoy continuing to learn. I did it because I believed I could.  I'll post my swim in the Aquatic Park when I can!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Healing Power of Water

I have been sitting on a post for more than a month now, and it is keeping me from posting other things.  The post is about how I used swimming to help me feel ok when my world collapsed this fall.  But it is too personal.  Too close to home.  So I sit on it, and can't publish it.

During my swim yesterday, in the pool, at the gym.  I again saw a little old man who is there probably daily (I don't know, because I'm not there daily, but he is there every time I am). He walks into the pool with a cane.  Then water walks for 10 min or so and does some other exercises and stretches. Then gets out.

When he gets out his gait is noticeably improved. He carries the cane instead of using it.  He stands up straighter. He walks more evenly.

Water is powerful.  While this fall it healed my world, it also, clearly, heals this man's body.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Best Hanukah Present Ever!

I've posted here about my love of Orcas and how my reflection on them this year has helped me with my fear of flying. Between that and my love of open water swimming, was delighted to open my hanukah present from my spouse and find this:

That's me. Swimming with an orca!! It is beautiful and perfect and inspires me every day.

It is from Etsy seller Trail and Tide. She handmakes silver jewelry that features animals and women in her studio on Hawaii.