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Now I'm a Marathon Swimmer

May 24, 2012 by Katie

Yep, it's true.  I'm officially a marathon swimmer.  Twice over, in fact.  Better yet, I can remember why I'm doing this.

Back in February, I started training for Swim the Suck, a 10-mile swim down the Tennessee River.  In April, I found out about the Narwhal Overboard 6-Lake Swim Challenge:  Six 10-mile swims in Phoenix-area lakes in the month of May.  If I'd known about these sooner, I would have started training earlier to be ready in time.  But according to my training plan, my long swims during that time would only range from 4.5 to 5.4 miles.  Luckily, I had the option to swim partial distances.

Canyon Lake - May 13, 2012

According to my training plan, I was supposed to swim 5 miles on May 13th.  As the day got closer, I grew to hate the idea of stopping at the 5-mile mark.  There were plenty of people who swam 10-mile challenges who've trained less than I have.  I wanted to swim 7.5 miles at this event and 10 miles at the next one.

I told my coach I wanted to swim "more than 5 miles", but I didn't give her a number.  She said it was okay.  So I planned to go ahead with swimming 7.5 miles.  It didn't happen quite that way.

There were a lot of "firsts" on this swim.  It was the first time I swam with a kayak escort, and the first time I swam out into the open lake. 

I didn't see the course map until a few minutes before we started, and I didn't quite understand it.  My husband was kayaking for me.  It was his job to navigate, and my job to follow him.  But we were both a little confused, so I was trying to "help" at first. (Delightful, I know.)

After about 20 minutes, we got to a section of the course where the route was perfectly obvious.  I relaxed and started to enjoy the swim.  In fact, I started to really enjoy the swim.  Canyon Lake is unbelievably beautiful.  As the name implies, the course took us through a narrow canyon.  Every time I breathed, I could see the canyon walls and my husband in the kayak.  I loved having him with me.  As long as he was there, it felt like I could swim forever.  I never got lonely, my mind never wandered, and I never went to any dark places.

The water was was 68°F (20°C) at the start with colder spots at the mouth of the canyon and around the dam.  That's 6-10 degrees cooler than the other lakes in the area.  I felt pretty comfortable, but I threw in a vigorous kick every few strokes to stay warm.  Until the sun came out, my hands were stiff.  I could bend my fingers, but they felt crunchy.

The swimming part was going really well, but feeding and navigation slowed us down.  Fluid intake was  fast, but fluid output  was slow.  And we kept stopping to talk about where we were supposed to turn around.  The 10-mile swimmers were way ahead of us, and they were planning to go about a mile further into the canyon than we were.  Eventually, they turned around and caught up with us.  The support boat escorted us across the canyon, and we started swimming back.  We ended up turning at exactly the point we intended.

Phew!  Once again, we could just follow the shore without thinking or talking about the course.  Boat traffic had gotten heavy by then, and the wake felt violent, crashing against one canyon wall and then the other.  Usually wake doesn't bother me.  I just relax into it.  This time it felt like a challenge.  Not unpleasant, but I was definitely fighting it.

When we reached the mouth of the canyon, neither one of us knew where to go.  Boat traffic was heavy in every direction, and we didn't think we could cross safely, even with the kayak.  Unfortunately, we were in a cold spot while we were trying to make a decision.  There was a part of me that knew what to do, but another part of me that didn't want to do it.  We should have swam along the shore to the dam and crossed at the dam.  But I thought that if I went that way, I'd end up having to swim too far to get back.  I didn't remember the dam being part of the course, so I was afraid the boat wouldn't look for us there.

I got out and sat on a rock until the boat came back for us.  Not the best decision I could have made, but I can live with it.  (These landmarks are marked on the map above.)

Mouth of the canyon.

When the boat came back, they escorted us across the channel and stayed with us until we reached a protected area.  This part of the swim felt like any vanilla training swim.  My neck and shoulders were a little sore, but I wasn't tired.  I felt self-conscious about being so far behind, but I could have kept swimming forever.

By the time we reached the finish, I'd swum 6.5 miles in just under 5 hours.   A mile short of my goal, and slower than I would have thought possible. 

But overall, I'd call it an unmitigated success.  I had fun the whole time, and my husband and I learned a lot about how to do an escorted swim.  Also, this was about the same water temperature and the same amount of time I'm expecting for Swim the Suck.  It's good to know I can handle it.

Views from the road to Canyon Lake

Saguaro Lake - May 19, 2012

This was one of the best days of my life so far.

I told my coach I planned to swim the entire 10 miles, but she said no.  I was not happy about it, but I trust her judgment.  I think she was worried about me getting injured or being to tired to handle my training for the next few weeks.  She said I could do 12,000 yards which I rounded up to 7 miles. 

This time, I saw the course map a day in advance.  It was a straight out-and-back with no need to cross the lake.  I mapped out the 7-mile turnaround point, and I could picture the spot exactly. 

The water was 74°F (23°C)with cold pockets as low as 71°F.  It felt perfectly comfortable, neither hot nor cold.  Like my natural habitat.

Things went smoothly, right from the start.  My husband and I had figured out a few hand signals and rules of the "road".  He led, I followed.  Feeds were much faster.  And I mastered the art of fluid output. 

Warning:  I was raised better than this, but I'm going to give some details about Open Water Peeing.  Just in case anyone out there needs to know how to do it.  I tried to start peeing as soon as I took my feed bottle.  I chugged my feed, handed the bottle back to my husband, and continued swimming while peeing.  The trick is to swim really slow and keep my legs relaxed.  Doing it this way took almost a minute off each stop.  [Big apology to my more genteel readers.  My mom, in particular.]

According to my Garmin and reports from the other swimmers, the wake was intense.  Much worse than it was at Canyon Lake.  It never gave me a moment of grief.  I felt it lift me up and put me back down.  I can see from the Garmin that the wake slowed me down, but I had fun riding the waves.

My husband pointed out a bald eagle perched on a cliff.  After awhile, he took flight, and I could spot him while I was breathing.

Shortly after we turned around, our dear friend, Pete, paddled up to us.  His swimmer had gotten out at the 5-mile mark, so Pete kayaked back to the finish with us.  He made good company for my husband, and I was happy to have him with us.  (The picture on the right is me at the turn.  I didn't think freshwater marathon swimmers experienced bloating, but my face definitely looks puffy.)

When I saw the landmark that signed one mile to the finish, my heart sank.  I never wanted the swim to end. 

I ended up swimming 7.8 miles in 4 hours and 37 minutes.  (We swam into a few coves that we meant to skip.  Hence the extra .8 miles.)  Twelve minutes worth of stops including 4 minutes for a photo op.  I'd like to hold a 30-minute mile pace on these, but this was good enough to make the cutoff for Swim the Suck without any current assist.

           Saguaro Lake shoreline.

Words cannot express what a wonderful experience this was or how grateful I was to be able to do it. The natural beauty, the cool water, the friends, my kayaker/love of my life, a healthy body that can swim well enough to enjoy all this...It's amazing to think it can all fit into one lifetime.

My dad, who's been gone for seven years, would have loved to hear about this new hobby of mine.  He was a good swimmer.  I'm not sure how he learned, growing up in St. Louis during the depression.  I remember him saying that he had to take several buses to get to a pool in thoe days.  Despite all that, he could swim all the strokes quite nicely.  

Comments

swimmers are great!

August 7, 2012 by cheryl (not verified), 1 year 50 weeks ago
Comment: 2795

Hi Katie-happened on your blog while searching for bathing suits of all things!  I too am falling in love with longer swims.  My longest ones have been in the two-two and a half mile range.  We just completed Sharkfest (swim from Alcatraz-for the 7th time!) and the Dwight Crum Pier to Pier two miler last Sunday from Hermosa to Manhatten beach.  They are both awesome swims.  Have you ever done them?  Best of luck on your swim in October coming up! 

Congrats, Marathon Swimmer-Girl.

May 28, 2012 by Evan (not verified), 2 years 8 weeks ago
Comment: 1945

Better watch out, though. Once you do 10 miles, then you'll start thinking about 20...

Thanks for all the support! 

May 28, 2012 by Katie, 2 years 8 weeks ago
Comment: 1947

Thanks for all the support!  You're right, I've been looking longingly at maps of Arizona lakes lately...

No, I'm not sitting...

May 24, 2012 by Bubbles, 2 years 9 weeks ago
Comment: 1925

...I'm giving you a standing ovation. Congratulations, you marathon swimmer you! I am so very pleased for you (and inspired).

I appreciate all the details here. FWIW, I don't have any probs with the output. Good to know I don't have to worry about that. Heh heh heh. Now all I have to do is finally put a stroke together. I'm working on it, though the revamping has been a slow process. I sort of have a catch now, even if the timing isn't really right yet. I still don't kick, to my coach's chagrin. It just feels so foreign to me in the pool; I can do it better in ow.

It's great that you're so happy swimming these distances. The Suck should be no problem for you! Can't wait to hear more about your swims between now and then. And then...who knows?!

Thanks for all the support,

May 25, 2012 by Katie, 2 years 9 weeks ago
Comment: 1928

Thanks for all the support, Bubbles!  I'm glad to hear you're way ahead of the game on the OWP wink

Good job on your progress with your stroke.  I'm always amazed at how slow that kind of thing goes for me.  Have you been out in the Bay?

Yeah, good to know I'm ahead

May 27, 2012 by Bubbles, 2 years 8 weeks ago
Comment: 1939

Yeah, good to know I'm ahead of the game in *some* way. I'll take it!

Still swimming in the bay every Sat & Sun -- haven't missed since I was out of town in October. I'm just now mixing in freestyle w/the mostly breaststroke I've been doing for several months now. The shoulder is much better though not perfect, but I think I should be able to work with it the way it is now.

The stroke-building is going slowly. I was sort of relieved to see that it sometimes goes slowly for you too. The encouraging thing is that I can foresee a real stroke. :) I'm not quite back at square 1 or 2, though I'm doing some very basic stuff. I could use another pool session during the week if I can get it into my schedule.

Temps are warming up with Spring fluctuations -- warmer water in the top 6 inches, cooler below; and warm and cold patches that differ by ~4-5 degrees F. It was chilly and very windy today, felt like either winter or July (which, in SF, feels like winter).

I'd love to hear more about your training details. I'm fascinated! I've never been a real jock with a real training plan (hmmm, if I want to try Alcatraz in September I need a plan...).

I don't think of myself as a

May 28, 2012 by Katie, 2 years 8 weeks ago
Comment: 1944

I don't think of myself as a jock at ALL.  But I kind of look like one these days...

I'll post more about my training plan one of these days.  Right now, I'm in an easy section.  I have speed work that takes less than an hour on most days, and one long swim on the weekend.  I haven't had a 3-hour pool session in quite some time.  Those kill me.  I wouldn't mind if the whole masters team was staying for 3 hours, but I feel sad when they leave before I'm halfway thru.

Glad to hear your shoulder is doing better.  As for your stroke, I find that things come togther suddenly--no progress for awhile, and then BAM!

Thanks so much for sharing

May 24, 2012 by Becky (not verified), 2 years 9 weeks ago
Comment: 1924

Thanks so much for sharing your swims!  I wish you blogged more often because I feel that you are "swimming ahead" of me by just a few years--doing the things that I want to be doing eventually.  You also seem to process the beauty of enjoying the water environment the way I do.  Keep writing and sharing with us!

Thanks, Becky!  I wish I

May 25, 2012 by Katie, 2 years 9 weeks ago
Comment: 1927

Thanks, Becky!  I wish I blogged more often too.  When I'm slogging thru those uneventful "middle parts", I never know what to say.  It seems like I need to learn some kind of lesson before I know what to write.  The opposite of Seinfeld.

Where are you?  When did you get started in open water swimming?  Do you have any events planned for the summer?

Thanks for reading, and thanks for the comment.

I'm in South/Central TX--just

May 28, 2012 by Becky (not verified), 2 years 8 weeks ago
Comment: 1948

I'm in South/Central TX--just started swimming Jan 2011. As in, REALLY just started swimming then.  A few months after that I started doing lake swimming, freaked out, and met friendly kayakers.  It's improved since then!  Anywho, I did my first real swim event a few weeks ago at a 2K swim race in Austin TX--lovely race and venue, plus they know swimmers and provide a real buffet meal afterwards with live music!:)   I'm training and trying to pull together a 6 person team for  a relay swim (10-12 miles) in the fall, and there are also some other OW swim races a few weeks after that which interest me.  My times put me on the edge of cut off times, so that's a consideration for some of it--gotta be fast enough that I can finish before everyone else goes home!

For me, I want to swim like other people do trail runs--enjoying the scenery and the experience as well as the physical challenge.  I'm only able to do non-pool training once a week( my kids are too little to be unattended while I swim!) but I swim 5-6 days a week right now, 3 of those times coached.

Wow, you're making great

May 29, 2012 by Katie, 2 years 8 weeks ago
Comment: 1950

Wow, you're making great progress!  Congratulations on that.  I think one OW swim per week is perfect.  Pool training is a better for speed work than open water.  Keep me posted on your adventures!

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