10 mile swim

It isn't far to swim when you have friends waiting at the end.


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In Hot Water (Splashville Open Water Challenge 2016 Race Report)

Hot. Damn hot. Hot and wet.

For much of the first ever Splashville Open Water Challenge, I had the weather report from Good Morning, Vietnam running through my mind (Robin Williams, link here, rated R). It was hot, damn hot, hot and wet. Every body of water I’ve been in all summer long has been hot, and Percy Priest Lake in Nashville was no exception.

Some places, it’s been too hot to swim. The Lake Lure open water swim, which was supposed to be the 1 mile and 5K USMS championships, was called off due to high water temperatures — up to 89-90° F. (I blogged about the 2015 Lake Lure race here.) Last week I was talking with another swimmer about the cancellation of the Lake Lure swim when a third person interrupted excitedly, “Was it because of bacteria? Brain-eating amoebas?” “No,” I said, “it was because of the heat.” I suppose brain-eating amoebas get all the press, but heat, as boring as it seems, is much more likely to hurt you. Since the death of Fran Crippen in 2010, swimming organizations have put upper limits on water temperature for open water races; USMS rules state, “A swim shall not begin if the water temperature exceeds 85° F.”

After the Lake Lure swim was cancelled, swimmers started worrying about the water temperature for Splashville. The race director posted updates in the Facebook group. A week before the race, she put up a photo of a thermometer reading 82° F, and there was much rejoicing. But on the morning of the race, as we stood on the shore after warmups, it was announced that the water temperature was 88° F, and a sheet of paper was passed around for the swimmers to sign, indicating that we understood USMS did not sanction the event and we were swimming at our own risk.

I suppose that if I were less experienced at open water swimming, I might have freaked out. But I’ve done this before. And I had swum over four miles in Lake Hartwell about a month ago in 87° F water; it wasn’t ideal, but I knew what to expect. A coach came up to some of her swimmers, standing in line behind me, and told them to swim at 10% of maximum. We all agreed we were going to take it easy.

So I took it easy. I enjoyed the scenery. It was too damn hot to do anything else.

Percy Priest Lake at Hamilton Creek Park. Before the race. My photo August 2016.

It’s a good-looking lake. Percy Priest Lake at Hamilton Creek Park. Before the race. My photo. August 2016.

Since the swim, the Splashville race director has contacted the participants to say that she’s hoping to move the event to April next year. I think that’s a terrific idea. I had a great time in Nashville. I stayed with nice people. We went to Hattie B’s for hot chicken. But while I like hot chicken, I don’t much like hot water. I’d be delighted to come back — in April.

On the positive side, I am not at all worried that the water will be cold for Swim the Suck in October. It’s been a long, hot summer. Bring on the fall!


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Race Report: 2016 Lowcountry Splash

Halfway into the 2016 Lowcountry Splash, I was already done. I was being tossed around like an old teddy bear in a front-load washer. I wanted out.

Here at the 10 Mile Swim blog, we take as given that any swim is better than no swim, but that does not mean that every swim is joyous and transcendent. Some swims hurt. And because conditions make such a big difference in open water swimming, the race that was easy one year can be a struggle the next. The 2016 Lowcountry Splash was one of the hard ones; the winning time at the five mile distance this year was about twenty minutes slower than last year’s.

(This is why you can’t spend too much time worrying about your PR — personal record — in open water swimming. This year I was nearly forty minutes slower than my best time for the race. The difference has almost nothing to do with me and almost everything to do with the race conditions. 2014 was super fast. 2016 was slow.)

So what do you do when you’re getting the stuffing knocked out of you and you still have two and a half miles to go? Your options are limited: keep swimming or don’t. I picked option #1. In all seriousness, I could have floated until someone came to get me, but I wanted food and drink and the hell out of that river, and the best way to get those things was to swim.

The hardest part was the calmest, the end of the fourth mile and into the fifth. When the waves were rough earlier in the swim, I was focused on getting through. But the water was calmer for the stretch as I approached the bridge, and I had a chance to think about how tired I was. My right hand had gone numb — not unusual for me, but a sign I was wearing out. And I was alone. I was on course — I saw buoys — but I went a good distance without seeing another swimmer.

So in the hardest part, I called on my team. The central paradox of open water swimming is that, while it looks like an individual sport, it requires a team: swimmers, kayakers, friends. You can’t swim on your own. I thought of all the people cheering for me. I thought of my friend C, the strongest woman I have ever known. It’s been a year since she died, but she is always swimming with me. She swam with me for the fourth mile.

After the swim, I found my friend K, who looked every bit as grim as I felt. He lay on the ground. I drank two bottles of water, one right after the other. I drank a Gatorade. I ate some kind of wrap. I nearly ate the toothpick holding the wrap together; I pulled it out, thought vaguely of Sherwood Anderson, and kept eating.

But after the food and drink, I came back to myself. We were sitting on the grass in the shade. The sky was bright blue. It was a beautiful morning. There is no place I would rather be than on the grass in the shade on a beautiful morning after the Lowcountry Splash.

The view of the bridge after the race. Big blue sky. My photo. June 2016.

The view of the bridge after the race. Big sky. My photo. June 2016.

The first year we did the five mile Lowcountry Splash, the current was so fast I came out saying I wanted to go back up river and swim it again. This year, once was enough. But now K and I have bragging rights: we’ve swum the course in easy years and we’ve swum it in hard. It’s still the best race I know. We’ll be back for 2017.


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How to Swim in a Lake

Sometimes you don’t realize how hungry you are until you taste that first bite of food. I didn’t realize how much I needed to swim in the lake until I put my head down and began my stroke.

People sometimes ask me — pool swimmers, parents of pool swimmers — why I want to swim in open water. It’s not because I don’t like pools. I am trained as a pool swimmer. I love to flip turn, to follow the black line. I love to race the guy in the next lane. But there are some things a pool can’t do for you. For some things, you have to get into open water.

In a pool, the conditions are static. The water is calm, the temperature moderate. If I have my own lane, I am the master of my domain, the little prince on my little planet. I’m raking out the volcanoes and rooting up the baobabs. I’m in charge.

little prince volcanoes

The little prince, raking out his volcanoes. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

But in a lake, the conditions change. I’ve been out to Lake Hartwell three times this spring, and every time the water has been choppy. Once the water was relatively calm for the first mile, but then the wind came up right in our faces, and suddenly we were fighting through the next mile.

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Lake Hartwell. It’s a bit choppy. April 2016. My photo.

I am one of those women who do too much. I spend a lot of energy holding back the forces of chaos. I make lists. Before we went out to the lake the first time this spring, I downloaded an app that allows me to keep lists on my phone, and I made a list of all the things I needed to pack for the swim. It is twenty items long. It has check boxes. And it’s saved on my phone so that every time I pack for the lake I can check the items off and make sure that I have everything. With the list, I feel I’ve got things under control.

But when I started swimming in the lake that first time, I completely forgot about all twenty items on my list and just about everything else as well. Swimming in choppy conditions is all-consuming. It becomes manifestly clear: I am not in charge here. I don’t have things under control.

Perhaps it’s counter-intuitive, but for me, giving up the need to be in control is a great relief. I can’t control the conditions; I have to adapt to them. And so I do.

Hanya Yanagihara writes of swimming in Hawaii, “There, water is a metaphor for life itself: something that should be approached with confidence, but with the knowledge that, finally, it is unconquerable and uncontrollable.” In a choppy lake in South Carolina, you can get a little taste of that too. Swimming in open water puts me back in the right relationship with the rest of the universe. I am not in charge of holding back the forces of chaos. I am not responsible for raking out the volcanoes. I am a small woman in big lake. And I have confidence. This is where I’m supposed to be.


Terry Laughlin, the Total Immersion swimming guy, has an article about techniques for swimming in rough water in H2Open Magazine, April 2016: Take the Rough with the Smooth.

 


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On Hunger

I’m hungry. Not in a metaphorical, Beowulfian, lofgeornost sense — I’m not eager for fame. I am eager for food. I’m hungry. It’s the swimming that does it.

Hunger is an established side effect of swimming. Discussions of the phenomenon tend to focus on how to deal with the hunger (a typical example: Why Am I Always Hungry after Swimming?). But I know how to deal with hunger. I eat.

In a food-obsessed culture, we talk surprisingly little about hunger. I read foodie blogs that lovingly describe the complex tastes of carefully sourced, intricately prepared foods. But taste is not located in the food; it has no reality external to the taster. And hunger transforms food, makes it taste so much better. The difference between eating a plate of mac and cheese because you have fifteen minutes before you have to get somewhere and this is the only time you have for dinner and eating a plate of mac and cheese after swimming two miles hard in a cold lake? It’s huge. The mac and cheese might be the same, but you are different.

It doesn’t matter if the mac and cheese is made with Velveeta or with artisanal cheese made from the milk of lovingly massaged cows; it will taste better when you’re hungry.

Women in particular are not supposed to admit to hunger. If we talk about it, we’re talking about how to ignore it, how to thwart it. Consider the advice to drink a glass of water when you’re hungry. You might really be thirsty, the articles say. Don’t eat; drink a glass of water. (Here’s an example of such an article.) I’m all in favor of drinking a glass of water, by the way, but I’m also in favor of eating something with your water when you’re hungry. Those articles are really saying, Don’t trust your own judgment about your body.

Or think of the articles that appear in women’s magazines every year about how to avoid eating at holiday parties: Eat, they say, before you go so that you won’t eat at the party. Eat alone, they say, in your house, when you’re not hungry, rather than eat in front of other people when you are hungry. God forbid you should eat in public when hungry. What chaos would ensue? You might actually enjoy the food. People might see you enjoying food. What a horrible thing, for you to enjoy food in public where people might see you.

Which gets me back to swimming: If you want to see women (predominately white, middle-aged women, given the demographics of the sport) enjoying food in public, go to the food tables at the end of an open water swim. I love to see them there. They take two sandwiches, and they go back for a third. They take the cookies. They eat and they drink and they laugh — and they don’t apologize for any of it.

I’m not saying that you need to earn your food through physical activity. You don’t have to earn the right to eat. I am saying that there is great joy in eating when you are hungry. And if you have lost what it feels like to be hungry (perhaps because you have been told not to trust your own judgment), you might go and swim, and feel hungry, and eat joyfully.


We are having a cold April here, and the water temperatures are dropping instead of rising. I don’t know when I’m going to get out to the lake to swim. At some point we will swim outside again. And we will eat food. In the meantime, I’m planning to swim my birthday (age x 100s) in the traditional manner next week.

Here’s how I’m doing on Go The Distance 2016:

USMS Go the Distance. April 9, 2016

USMS Go the Distance. April 9, 2016


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On Swim Equipment

In swimming, as in the rest of my life, I am torn between two competing desires. On one hand, I want to live my life free of the encumbrances of material possessions. On the other, I want cool toys.

Here is my advice about the swim equipment I use, in order of most to least necessary (or least to most frivolous):

1) Goggles

Goggles are one of the greatest inventions of the twentieth century. I met a man at the Lowcountry Splash one year who swam for Clemson University in the days before goggles. He said that his eyes hurt all the time. I believe him.

I usually wear Speedo Hydrospex Jr. goggles. They are marketed as youth goggles. But they fit me — unlike so-called adult goggles, which are really goggles for men and their great big heads. You can buy goggles marketed to women, but you pay less for youth sizes, and they work fine for me. Ignore the labels; get what works.

If you swim inside, you probably need clear or lightly colored lenses. If you swim outside, you probably need darker ones. They also sell goggles designed for open water swimming, ones that supposedly give you a better range of vision; I’ve tried a couple pairs, but they haven’t made a difference to me.

2) Fins

I love my fins. Without fins, kick drills are dull. But put on fins, and not only are you getting a better leg workout, you are moving much faster — and having more fun.

There are all kinds of fins for swimmers: long, short, special for breaststroke, etc. I have short ones, TYR Burners. Don’t use scuba fins; they won’t encourage the right kind of leg motion for swimming.

I should say that while I love my fins, my fins don’t always love me, by which I mean that I can wear them for months without trouble and then go through a period where they chafe my feet. I’m in one of those periods now; one of them is trying to chew through my right big toe. I don’t know why. Love is strange.

Fins and kickboard, wet from practice. My photo. Mar 2016.

Fins and kickboard, wet from practice. My photo. Mar 2016.

3) Ankle band

Many pools — though for some reason not mine — let you borrow pull buoys, which hold your legs up and keep you from kicking when you are doing pull drills. But as I’ve noted before, I don’t like pull buoys. Every once in a while I try one out, just to confirm that, yes, I still don’t like pull buoys. My back end floats just fine on its own; it does not require extra buoyancy.

But pull drills are easier when your legs are immobilized, and that’s why I have an ankle band. You put your feet in it, you twist it around, and bam! your legs are tied together. When I was a kid, we would use an inner tube for this purpose; if you weren’t careful when you put it on, the valve stem would poke you in the ankle. Now manufacturers make bands for this purpose. — no valve stems.

The ankle band I have comes from Finis and costs all of $5.

4) Kickboard

You don’t need to have your own kickboard. Pools generally have kickboards for you to borrow. Nonetheless, I like my kickboard better. Because it’s smaller and less buoyant than the standard type, it keeps my arms lower in the water, which puts less stress on my shoulders.

I worry about my shoulders. They are the parts that are going to wear out when parts start wearing out. They should get a rest during kick drills.

5) My fancy pants sports watch

I have a fancy sports watch — a Garmin fēnix 2. It’s got five different buttons on it. It’s got an altimeter, a barometer, and a compass. It will keep track of your cycling and your hiking and your downhill skiing. I will never use 90% of this stuff.

The reason I have a fēnix 2 (as opposed to anything else) that it is one of the few devices that will track both pool and open water distance. For pool swimming, you input the length of the pool, and the fēnix 2 keeps track of laps. For open water swimming, you activate the GPS to measure distance.

I got the fēnix 2 in November, and so far I have only used it in pools. I hope to be trying it out in an open water swim soon. Once you get the hang of pressing the right buttons to activate the lap counter and drill timer, though, it works great in the pool. List price is $400, but it can be had for half the cost.


If you are looking for information on a particular type of equipment, you can check out US Masters Swimming‘s reviews, both in the Swim Bag section of their magazine (accessible online) and in their video product reviews.

Please tell me about the equipment you like in the comments!


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500-Mile Go the Distance Cap

As promised, a photo with my 500-mile Go the Distance cap for 2015, now that it has finally come. If you swim 500 miles in a calendar year (and log it with US Masters Swimming), you can buy this nifty cap.

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Me with new cap. And we have new lights in the pool. It’s so much brighter. March 2016.

It fits well for a silicone cap. They are usually too big for me.

In other Go the Distance news, as of March 10, I have swum 104.55 miles in 2016:

2016-03-10