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.

Posted in open water | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in open water, training | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, open water, Race Reports | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

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.

Posted in Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, open water | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Recovery is a Bitch

Note to self: Recovery days should be for recovering.

I took the day off from swimming on Saturday, and I had intended to sleep in, but my dual hooligan alarm clock went off at 0530, almost on the dot.

Hooligan 1

Hooligan 1

Hooligan 2

Hooligan 2

There is no ignoring a dual hooligan alarm, especially when the reserve alarm kicks in.

Reserve Alarm; will happily become primary alarm as required.

Reserve Alarm; will happily become primary alarm when necessary.

So I got up, let them out, made coffee (strategery error #1 – any hope of sleep is lost for good) and got us all a bowl of cereal. After an hour or two, the fog cleared, the caffeine kicked in, and I decided it was a lovely morning to take the girls for a walk. Both of them. At the same time (strategery error #2 – they are called hooligans for a reason).

Everybody in the car…around the lake…in the lake…back in the car. By the time we got home and I had dried us all off, I had decided I was frisky enough to go for a short run. This is a big deal for me with my crappy joints and bum ankle. Then, because for some reason I still felt like an underachiever, I decided to do some lifting at the gym. I started out mostly focusing on my legs, but I got bored, said what the heck, and did my core and arms as well (strategery error #3 – ow.).

My legs were fried at this point, which made for an interesting drive home in a car with a manual transmission and a rather stiff sport clutch. My arms were fried after being hauled around the lake by two hooligans, and then lifting. So, instead of staying home and getting some rest, I decided it was a good idea to go to a classic car cruise-in in 90 degree weather, in a friend’s no-door-having (read, no-AC-having) ’78 Jeep.

Aaand now all of me was fried. And dehydrated. And decidedly un-recovered.

But, hey, at least somebody got some rest:


Posted in training | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Things I Need to Work on Before Swimming 10 Miles: Part 1 of 2

Yes, this is part one of a two-part list. I’m kind of getting the feeling I have my hands full here. Without further ado, Part 1 of the things I need to work on before swimming 10 miles:

  1. Nutrition: What will I drink/eat during the race? When? How much? I’m considering trying coconut water for hydration purposes…anyone out there with experience with this? I’ve also heard a lot about superstarches and am girding myself to try one of the more popular brands. The consistency isn’t something I’ve encountered in a beverage before, but if it works well, maybe I can get used to it. Solids aren’t something I’ve ever used in a long race before, even way back in the dark ages when I was racing 25Ks. I can be stupidly competitive sometimes, so I would hate having to take the time to stop and chew… but on the other hand, the longer the race, the less the time impact, and possible the greater performance boost. We’ll see.
  2. Leaning up: I don’t want to blow out my shoulders by dragging around non-functional padding. This is difficult for me, however, since the harder I train the hungrier I get, and dammit, I get cranky when I’m hungry.
  3. Core strength: 10 miles means a lot of sighting, which puts strain on the lower back. My back has already expressed displeasure with me on various occasions, so I will definitely be working on this. Planks, weights, and more planks.
  4. Goggle fit: For some reason, I have a ridiculously hard time finding goggles that either don’t leak or don’t feel like daggers in my eye sockets after five minutes.
  5. Peeing while swimming: I felt gross just typing that, but when you’re swimming for four hours at a stretch, it kinda has to happen. Unfortunately, it takes some serious concentration, and I’ve never gotten the knack. (For the people that swim in my lane, don’t worry – I won’t work on that one while training in the pool).

I will leave you to ponder that last entry while I go ponder some weirdly viscous energy drink and try to get up the nerve to try it.

Not sure I can.

Not sure I can…

Posted in open water, training | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments