Almost, anyway.

The 10 miler I spent my summer training for happens this weekend. I am excited and nervous. I’m simultaneously wishing the day were here already and wishing I had more time to prepare. I keep second guessing my training – did I do enough? I should be able to finish, at the very least. Right?

My training swims included an 8-mile straight pool swim and an 8k straight pool swim, a 4.4 miler in the Chesapeake, 3 (somewhat queasy) miles in the Atlantic, and a 10k in a less than placid lake. I managed to shed a few extra pounds that I didn’t want to bring with me up the river, and I did some strength training to keep my shoulders from having a complete nervous breakdown.

But I just got a weather report from the Best Swim Mom Ever, who informed me that the weather forecast for the entire week is…rain. And the day of the race? Yup. Rain. As many of you know, rain can have a rather deleterious effect on river levels, at least for those of us who plan to swim against the current for several hours. Flotsam and jetsam will likely be abundant. (Quick question for those of you who know things – is the stuff I find in my swimsuit after a race considered flotsam or jetsam?)  The temperature will also be decidedly un-balmy, especially Friday for the practice swim.

As my age group swim coach used to say, “Near perfect conditions”. He just never told us exactly how near.

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2015 Lake George Open Water Swim Race Report

Last weekend, I got the crap beaten out of me by a lake.

Lake George 2

Looks all calm and unassuming, doesn’t it?

I’m not kidding, either. I went up to Hague, NY for the 2015 edition of the Lake George Open Water 10k last weekend, a race I did last year and essentially beat the crap out of myself beforehand. So, this year, armed with the memory of what *not* to do when traveling 8+ hours to a race, I arrived in Hague a day early, with plenty of time to rest and recover from the long drive. I relaxed, wandered around the area, and found this fabulous specimen at the side of the road.


Dodge Power Wagon. I so want to buy this and restore it.

I even spent a few minutes swimming in the tiny, roped off swimming area at the public beach where the event starts.

Pretty. But small.

Pretty. But small.

The lake was gorgeous, the water clear and calm and at an almost perfect temperature. None of the melt-your-face-off heat we’ve gotten from the Chesapeake Bay Swim lately, for instance. So, lulled into a sense of complacency, on the day of the race, I was expecting nothing but the same.

The 10k is conducted over four 2.5 kilometer loops, with a conveniently placed feeding raft at the turn buoy. As we made our way to the in-water start line, the lake demurely reflected our faces back at us. The starting horn sounded, and off we went. I felt good the first loop and even wondered if I might be going a bit slow, despite the fact that I was at the front of the pack. I decided to hold my pace and try to descend my effort each loop. I rounded the lap buoy, took a quick shot of UCAN at the feed raft, and headed out for the second loop.

Then, it felt like all hell broke loose. A nasty headwind kicked up suddenly on the outbound half of the course. The waves gradually increased to the point that I couldn’t tell the difference between the wake from nearby boats and wind-driven chop.  Whitecaps smacked me in the face as I tried to sight. When I didn’t make an effort to swing my arms higher on recovery, they got stuffed by a wave halfway through the stroke. The second loop was challenging; the third and fourth got progressively worse, or my perception of it was worse as I got more tired. The outbound half of the loops seemed to take forever, while the return trip was much faster, but even with the tailwind on the return, the constant pummeling from the chop took its toll. Where the water was more shallow, the wave action was kicking up the sediment and clouding up the water.

I also lost the other competitors and spent most of the last three loops swimming by myself, with no concept of where any of the other swimmers were in relation to me. Thankfully I managed to stay on course this year – lesson learned on that one – but I also wonder if I would have gone a bit faster with someone nearby.

I exited the water almost exactly a minute slower than 2014. I’m not sure what that means for my performance, since I don’t remember any sort of serious wave action in the previous year’s race, but then, I could have conveniently forgotten that little detail. But on the other hand, I think I really rocked the run up the beach to the finish this time. I didn’t trip and fall on my face or lurch sideways like a socialite at 3 am, which I have been known to do in the past, so I felt pretty badass for that.

If I can manage a similarly graceful exit on the 10 miler, chances are I will have had a good race. Only a month left – maybe I should start doing some finish line repeats.

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Staying Motivated to Swim: Summer Edition

One of the hardest things about getting in shape is staying motivated to get to the pool every day. Since my spectacular burnout in college, I’ve had trouble forcing myself to get in the pool on a regular basis for an extended period of time. I would get out of shape, start swimming again, hate it because it hurt so badly and I sucked, and then peter out again. I would repeat this cycle a few times a year, and on the rare occasions I swam in a meet, I would be seriously disappointed with my results.

Since April, however, I’ve been doing a bit better, and I think there are a few things I’ve done that have helped me stick with it for more than a few months at a time. (This is the summer edition, because in the winter, the whole game will change – more on that in a later post).

Sign up for something scary. This was the first thing I did that really got me interested in getting in the pool. I signed up for my longest race in 20 years. I knew that I could swim 10 miles with no problem in the far distant past, but this was now, after years of not training or half-assed training. I managed a 10k last year, but this tacks on another 4 miles. Ack.

Swim outdoors. Something about an outdoor, 50-meter pool appeals to me so much more than a gloomy indoor short course pool. Even the 5:30 am workouts have much more appeal. The sun hasn’t come up at that point, especially as we get later in the summer, but the ambiance is so much better. The pool lights are on, the deck is dark, and there is mist rising over the lanes. The water is a beautiful luminescent turquoise that you just want to jump into.  I know not everyone has access to an outdoor pool with ambiance, but I guess the main point here is to find a facility that you enjoy spending time in. If you can.

Find your people. There’s something magical about meeting people afflicted with your same kind of crazy. I was fortunate enough to cross paths with one who happens to be training for an English Channel crossing. He introduced me to two more, and the four of us went out to Lewes, DE this weekend for an ocean swim. Ocean swimming is not my strong point, but I think the more I do it, the better I’ll get. And the strange looks you get from the people on the beach as you wade out of the water are much easier to handle when you have other crazies with you to absorb the impact.


Venturing out with like-minded crazies.

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Gratuitous Shark Attack Video.

I know this video is doing the rounds all over the Internet right now, but I had to post it.

This is why doing an open water swim in South Africa is not on my top ten list of things to do. Just…ugh.

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More Things I Need to Work on Before I Swim 10 Miles

As if the first list of things weren’t enough, there are several more things I need to wrap my brain around and get a good handle on before my 10 mile race this October:

6. Strength training: I already mentioned core strength, but I especially need to work on the muscles opposing my swimming muscles for joint stabilization purposes. And really, just in general, I could use a bit of brushing up in this area. Noodly muscles tend not to work well in an endurance sports situation. Competitive yoga might be a different matter, but in my case, I’m going to shoot for wiry.

7. Organization: At work, I seem to be fairly well organized. In my personal life, not so much. There have been a few too many post-swim mornings in which my commute to work was thrown off because I forgot my pants. Or my bra. Or my lunch. Thankfully, I now have an early enough workout that I am able to run home between practice and work to shower and change, but somehow, I still end up barely getting out of the door in time to catch the train. I see this as a needless source of stress, but somehow, I haven’t been able to make myself to care enough to pull my crap together the night before. Until now, because I’m officially putting it out there. From this day forward, you officially have my blessing to give me an endless ration of shit if I show up to work without my pants.

8. Sleep: If you look out the left side of the vehicle, you will see a Grappledunk in her work environment (easily identified by the faint odor of chlorine and the distinctive cap line across the forehead). Notice the faceplant into the keyboard and the gentle snoring, while her face types an endless line of gggggggggggggggggg…..

Actually, the sleep issue has been a source of befuddlement for me for a while now. I usually have no problem falling asleep in the first place, but I am constantly waking up in the middle of the night and having trouble getting back to sleep again. And I’m tired. I partly blame the hooligans; they were at an overnight play date last weekend, and on Saturday I actually slept for almost 12 hours. But it’s not always their fault that my sleep sucks. I need to figure this out because I have skipped more than one morning practice because of sheer exhaustion.

9. Pre-Race Nutrition: You’d think I’d have this figured out by now, but I’m sort of second guessing myself. I’ve raced on pizza and beer (what?? Beer is carbs) the night before and done decently well, but I’ve been training my butt off, and I want to do really well. Not just decently well. Spaghetti with meat sauce went down well before the Bay Swim, but I’ll be in a hotel the night before the race, so who knows what will be available. As for breakfast the day of the race, I’m thinking PB&J a couple of hours before the start, and some UCAN about 30 minutes before. I’ll have to test that out a few times beforehand, though.

10. Putting in the Distance: To this point, I haven’t done any really long training swims. My longest has been the Bay Swim, which isn’t even half the distance I’ll be doing in October. However, next weekend I have a 5-hour challenge swim, organized by my Masters team, during which I hope to get in at least 8 miles, if not more. But since this is the first long training swim of my summer, who knows…I may flame out spectacularly. At least it’s in a long course pool. Flipturns suck.

So those are the few minor details I will be ironing out between now and October. It feels like it’s creeping up on me…is it too soon to get nervous?

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Race Report: 2015 Chesapeake Bay Swim

What can I say about the 2015 Chesapeake Bay Swim, other than hot damn

I knew it was going to be trouble when at 0630, I opened the back door to let the hooligans out and felt like I was stepping into the pool locker room after the age groupers have used up all the hot water in the showers. When it’s that steamy that early in the morning, things are only going to get worse.

We left the house later than planned, so by the time I got to the beach at Sandy Point, shade was at a serious premium. I was able to wedge myself in under a tree with some other L4 swimmers (thanks guys!), munched on a PB&J, and tried to stay hydrated.

Sandy Point

View of the race course from Sandy Point State Park

At 11:30, about 45 minutes before the start, the air temperature was 80-something and rising, and the water in the bay hit 76 degrees (officially – my internal thermometer pegged it a degree or two warmer). I sat through the pre-race meeting, watching numerous other swimmers yanking themselves into their wetsuits, and waited for the announcement that due to the warm conditions, wetsuits were either discouraged or not allowed. It didn’t come. There’s an interesting discussion on the MSF forum about this; there are arguments for and against the safety issues involved, but let me just say here that following Fran Crippen’s heat related death in an open water swim, it stuns me that such a well-organized, safety conscious race would allow wetsuits in those conditions.

Eventually, after much bullhorn-amplified yelling, the first wave minced their way over blazing hot sand, through the cattle chute, and to the water line. The start seemed to take forever to come, and I cringed for the wetsuit wearers as they stood in the sun, wrapped from neck to ankles in their layer of black neoprene. Once they had waded their way into the bay (literally – I was surprised at how many people didn’t actually start swimming right away) it was the second wave’s turn to blister our feet on the way through the chute. More than one person had to sprint for the water, me included, to cool a nasty case of hotfoot.

I chose a spot along the shore that was relatively close to the stone jetty, but not so close that I would end up jammed up against it if I were pushed to the right by some large steamroller type guys. As I stood there, trying to choose my line to the buoys, a group of about five young teen boys crowded around me and started to edge in front of me. They were clearly competitive swimmers, and completely confident that they were faster than me. I tried to refrain from rolling my eyes too loudly, because that’s just not polite. But I did take note of one of their numbers –easy to remember because it was one up from mine- figuring that they would all be in the same age group, so I could check their results after the race. Not because I’m competitive. I was just curious.

The countdown started, the bullhorn blared, and we were off. I’m proud of myself, because I actually managed to stay relaxed and not sprint too hard in the first 100 meters. The water felt warm at that point, but not unbearably so. The scrum wasn’t too terrible either, with only a few mild knocks here and there, in spite of the crowding. What wasn’t so good was the fact that my goggles started leaking almost immediately.

We rounded the buoys, turned under the north span, and started the long trek between the bridges to Kent Island, and for once, I managed to tuck myself in behind someone of a similar speed at catch a bit of a draft. The first mile went pretty smoothly, with the pack strung out in a bit of a line that hugged the northern span due to the curve the bridges take to the north before straightening out. I had forgotten exactly how long it takes to get around that curve, but once we straightened out and were pointed directly at Kent Island, I told myself that that was just a warmup, and now the race was beginning.

I didn’t see a buoy marking the first mile, which didn’t bother me too much that early in the race. What did bother me were the swarms of little stinging things I swam through. I’m not sure what they were exactly. They weren’t big enough to be jelly fish, but they sure got my attention, especially when several ended up down my suit. Thankfully, they thinned out and disappeared after a couple hundred meters or so, but they had distracted me enough that I realized I had drifted southward toward the other bridge span. The next two miles were spent nervously eyeballing that span to make sure I didn’t drift away with the outgoing tide. It wasn’t until after mile three that I finally felt like I could swim more straight than diagonally.

Once past the 3 mile buoy, it became a mental game – I knew I had less than 25 minutes to swim until I hit mile 4 and the turn to go beneath the southern span and out towards the beach. The water was getting bathtub warm at this point, with a few jolts of cold water at random intervals. I saw a wetsuit swimmer ahead of me and tried to put on some speed to catch him, but at that point, I didn’t have much speed to put on (which is really not much different than usual). On the other hand, I saw a few red caps from my wave about 20 yards off to the left and realized that I was steadily creeping past them. Once we hit mile four and headed toward the finish, I wasn’t able to see much of anything anymore. My goggles had leaked the entire race, and my eyes were stinging and watery. I relied on the stone jetty to stay in a straight line as I worked my way the last 700 meters or so from the bridge to the beach. I gracefully exited the water in an almost straight line, without falling over (I thought about it for a minute, though), at about 1:46. I was a bit surprised – I’m not sure what I was expecting  for a finish time, but I also placed better than I expected, especially considering the conditions.

There were a few surprises during the race this year. Unlike any other year, I not only saw but was in a good position to stop at the two feed boats they positioned near miles two and three. I got a shot glass worth of warm water at each one, unwilling to stop any longer, but it seemed to be enough. I also was surprised to not have any sort of a bonk throughout the entire event. I had tried that weird superstarch stuff, drinking about 16oz of it 30 minutes before the start, and I was shocked to not need either of the gels I had stuffed into my suit. There was no intestinal agitation, either, which was a huge bonus.

Finally, when I changed out of my suit after the race, I found this lovely surprise in the lining of my suit:


Why you should never wear a light colored suit for an open water swim.


It was a difficult race, which it always is, but the hardest part was waiting around in the heat for the awards ceremony. At that point, my northern European heritage was thoroughly mad at me for spending so much time in decidedly non-northern European atmosphere. I’m hoping two things for next year – first, that the race organizers decide to finally split the results between wetsuit wearers and non-wetsuit wearers, and second, that they order up some non-stifling weather. A rain storm would be nice too, as long as we’re making requests…

Oh, and those teenage boys who crowded in front of me at the start were only 14 years old. And I beat all but one of them. Not that I’m competitive, I swear.

So, the 2015 GCBS is in the books…next up, the 5K Steelman in Pennsylvania.

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Stalking the Chesapeake

In the weeks and days leading up to the Chesapeake Bay Swim, I can get a little bit stalker-ish. I start obsessing about the weather, water temperatures, sea nettles, and now, thanks so much to a recent report, I have started stalking sharks who may or may not have casually wandered many miles into the Chesapeake a few weeks ago.

For the record, the GCBS vital signs are currently looking something like this:

Air temp: Forecast for June 14 is 86 degrees and sunny

Water temp: 70.2 degrees currently, and rising during a week that will be hot as b#lls.

Sea nettles: Why does this chart show them congregating around the swim? This isn’t helping.

Sharks: There are several of them out there. And, just in case one of them gets a random urge to send a ping from the middle of the Chesapeake… I am SO not wearing a wetsuit.

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