I successfully completed the 2014 Minnetonka Challenge, the big race I was training for. It was a ten mile swim: five miles across Lake Minnetonka, five miles back. Swimming ten miles is relatively simple:
Step 1: Swim nine miles
Step 2: Swim one more
I suppose there might be other ways of doing it (swim eight miles, and then swim two more? swim five miles, then repeat?), but that’s how I did it. What I’m saying, of course, is there’s nothing magic about swimming ten miles. I was well prepared for the swim. My training worked: I was ready for the distance, and I was ready for the difficulties.
What was difficult? Three things stand out. First, weeds. I was aware that weeds were on the list of hazards for the swim, but I did not realize exactly what that meant. I thought they would be an issue in shallow areas near the shore at the beginning, midway point, and end. But Lake Minnetonka has a problem with invasive vegetation, and there were Sargasso Sea-like spots in the middle of the lake that I couldn’t see until I was in them. At times I had to stop and untangle myself. But I didn’t panic, and I didn’t make it into a big deal.
I ended up with a lot of veg in my swimsuit, which led to a rash — not a problem during the swim but one after. It wasn’t swimmer’s itch, the doctor said, because the rash was on skin under the suit, not in exposed areas.
Second, navigation. Navigation is always tricky the first time (and maybe every time) you are in a body of water. Most of the race I could navigate toward water towers (two on one side of the lake, one on the other). The most difficult part was the turn-around at the five mile point. You would think finding an eight-foot safety orange buoy is not going to be a problem, but when you are in the water, heading toward a beach, and everything in front of you — kayaks and kayakers’ vests and markings on the dock — seems to be safety orange, you don’t know which orange thing to head for.
M the kayaker was terrific in every way — he was cheerful and encouraging the whole ten miles — but especially in helping me navigate. He could see the buoy and reassured me that I was going the right way. Still I couldn’t see what I was heading for until I was very close. I just had to trust that it was out there.
Third, exhaustion. Ten miles takes a long time (for me, 5:03:46). I had a spurt of energy after the five mile turn that lasted a couple miles, but then I started to wear out. I knew I would, and I was prepared. In the weeks leading up to the race, several people asked me what I would do if I got tired during the swim. And I told them that I would definitely get tired during the swim, and when I did, I had a plan: I was going to keep swimming.
So I did.
Frankly, when you’re in the middle of a lake, there aren’t a lot of alternatives.
Besides, I had friends and family waiting on shore for me; they had come out to see me swim this race, and I damn well was going to finish it. When Diana Nyad completed the swim from Cuba to Florida, she said, “It looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team effort.” That statement is true about so many things in life, but especially swimming: one person swims the distance, but it takes a lot of people to get her there.
How do you swim ten miles? You do it with a team.
I also did it with teal toes and an otter on my foot: