Skin Care

Turns out sore, fatigued, muscles aren’t the biggest deterrent to making all scheduled swim practices. It’s pins and needles stinging and itchy skin. I’ve experienced two, what I would rate as moderate skin problems, from swimming in salt water (1. A Lion’s Mane Jellyfish sting 2. underarm chaffing), but it never occurred to me that my skin would suffer from doubling my hours in the pool.

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Rash from Lion’s Mane Jelly Fish obtained on August Bank Holiday Monday, 2018 off Forty Foot in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland. I don’t recommend getting stung by a Lion’s Mane especially on a bank holiday as most pharmacies aren’t open. Ireland doesn’t sell items like contact solution and antihistamine ointment in grocery stores like they do in the states. Instead you have to hit up a pharmacy. I struck out three times searching for an open pharmacy before finally finding one that was open.

 

Underarm chaffing from Puget Sound qualifying swim. That wound on the right, oozed for two weeks and repeatedly got stuck on gauze bandages and clothing. I finally saw a random general practitioner (almost a week after the swim), who had an open appointment slot. He explained to me that the water I was swimming in must have been extremely cold since I didn’t feel the burns until after I was out and warmed up. He prescribed a burn ointment to prevent infection, which stopped the oozing. The marks are still on my arms (over three months later), but look like old bruises.

Possible Solutions for Treatment of Chlorinated Skin:

I frequently use four point rubrics at work to obtain baseline data and to monitor progress. After browsing Amazon and choosing a few products developed for swimmers, I created this rubric (link below), and started using the purchased products in isolation and varying combinations. The maximum number of points (all scores of “exceeds”) is 16.

Skin Hygiene Rubric

Product 1: Swim Spray 

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Ingredients: Water, Sodium Ascorbate, and Ascorbic Acid.

Directions: Rinse off after swim. Spray 20-30 times on skin and hair. Shower as usual.

Rating: 11/16 (69%). Rids skin of chlorinated scent post-swim until early morning when sheets slightly smell of chlorine. Prevents widespread rash, but itchiness and a few pockets of bumps remain when product is used by itself and followed with normal, pre-heavy swim practice, washing and moisturizing routine.

Product 2: Zealios Body Wash

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Ingredients: Many ingredients including, “a rich blend of arnica, white tea, lavender and calendula,” aloe and jojoba oil.

Directions: Use in place of water and soap.

Rating: 13/16 (81%). Prevents rash and red bumps on my skin, leaves skin feeling smooth and moisturized, rids skin of chlorine aroma until barre3 workout sweat, and it reduces itchiness.

Product 3: Solpri Swim and Sport Lotion

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Ingredients: Many including: Aloe, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Shea Butter.

Directions: Pat skin dry after shower and apply lotion to skin.

Rating: 13/16 (81%). Leaves my skin feeling velvety soft and non greasy, skin emits a pleasant aroma (no chlorine scent until after a sweaty Barre3 workout), and it prevents bumps and rashes. I still experience mild itchiness during periods of calm and focus.

My Treatment Plan: 

In addition to trying the above mentioned products in isolation with my previous skin care routine, I tried them in pairs as well. I found, however, itchiness continued to be a recurring problem. Especially on my shoulder blades and ankles. My skin feels best after using all three products in my routine (e.g., rinse, Swim Spray, shower using Zealios Swim and Sport Body Wash, dry off, and moisturize with Solpri Swim and Sport lotion). Occasionally, I forget to use the swim spray directly after my practices, and I do notice increased itchiness. Coming soon on the agenda will be hair care. Conditioning inside my cap pre-swim and normal washing and conditioning is starting to not make the cut!

 

Close Calls

I’ve had two near death experiences. Both in cold water. I didn’t see the light, but rather read my obituaries through cloud breaks, while floating high above the earth.

“Lifeguard Drowns Wedged Under Log Jam in Elwha River” was the first.  The morning of that occurrence I was supposed to be on a guided sea kayak tour with the fire fighter boyfriend I was seeing at the time; however, thanks to raw sewage drifting in the Straight of Juan De Fuca from Victoria, BC, and his broad shoulders, which caused him to tip over in his boat frequently, I instead found myself trapped upside down in a whitewater kayak (envisioning this news headline on the cover of the Peninsula Daily News as it lay between two yellow coffee mugs on a circular wooden table in a stranger’s kitchen), with its keel bobbing up against waterlogged deciduous trees, stuck in a bend of the river.

The water was cold, silty green and clear. I could see white bubbles swirling around thin branches, and I heard the rushing water even when the guide banged on the boat above me. His weight on the dead tree submerging the kayak even deeper into the river. Each thought that passed through my mind, and action I attempted to carry out, seemed slow and deliberate. I knew the steps for removing a sprayskirt and exiting a capsized kayak, but I had never executed a wet-exit out of necessity or in practice. The sprayskirt was neoprene and tight fitting around the cockpit. A trained kayaker, free of obstructions in open water would have been able to roll themselves upright. I found the rand (cord around edge of spray skirt) and followed it with my hands to the loop at the front of the cockpit. I started to pull the loop down toward my chest. The spraydeck didn’t budge. I remembered hearing that sometimes the loop needed to be first pulled forward toward the boat’s bow, then toward the bottom of the body of water. Still the sprayskirt did not move. At this point, I ditched my paddle and continued pulling for what seemed like minutes. Soon blackness appeared around the edges of my peripheral vision. I gave up.

It was then that I saw this stranger’s kitchen table with the newspaper. I thought about the irony of my situation for again what seemed like half a minute, before remembering another tip I had heard regarding wet exits from a sprayskirt. Sometimes it may be necessary to “use your knees” as the loop is pulled forward and down simultaneously. Despite the blackness and feeling of light headedness, I had one more surge of energy I used to try and free myself again. This time, the sprayskirt released and I floated in my lifejacket out of the cockpit, surfacing next to the pale, big-eyed guide, who was perched on the tree, failing in his attempts to roll the kayak right-side up against the current.

The following days, I felt strange and unsure of my existence. I frequently pinched myself during mundane routines as if feeling that sensation would be proof that I was awake and still present, rather than dead and dreaming that I was among the living. At times I felt like one Rijl passed on, not surviving the experience, and this was another stronger Rijl who got to continue experiencing life. I wondered which one was the original. These thoughts eventually diminished, and I took kayaking safety classes. These classes shaped me into an expert capsized kayak-escape-artist, and superb whitewater swimmer. I also took a job as a safety kayaker for a whitewater tour company on the Sol Duc River (the most exciting job ever!).

My second near death experience occurred in December, 2017. This was my first winter of open water swimming. I occasionally swam with a group of “Yetis” whose goal was to swim skins (no wetsuit) a minimum of three times a month outdoors in nature. I met two other swimmers in Milwaukie, Oregon at a boat ramp on the Willamette in the early afternoon. It was cloudy and the weather was in the low forties. One of the swimmers used a meat thermometer and determined the water was approximately 44 degrees Fahrenheit. We agreed we wanted to be in the water for about ten minutes given this was about to be our coldest swim of the year and our lives. One of the swimmers decided we should swim together out and around a large orange cone-shaped buoy. We estimated it would be about 300 meters to the buoy (600 meters round trip). We were semi-prepared with two supporters on shore with hot drinks and our warm clothes (no boat). We also swam with orange tow floats so we would be visible from the beach. We stuck our feet in, waded out to our knees, dove in headfirst from the shore, and started swimming freestyle to the buoy. I immediately struggled with my breathing. Typically I breathe bilaterally, but this time I was gasping and had to breathe every stroke on my right side. I pushed my speed despite the cold water shock, and what felt like minimal oxygen to keep up with the other swimmers. We made it to the buoy in approximately six minutes and decided to head back. My speed dropped as soon as I circled the buoy. I didn’t feel like I had enough air. The other two in their white and pink caps edged ahead of me and I didn’t have the drive anymore to push myself to keep up. I took a few breaststroke pulls and tried to make out the shore supporters on the boat ramp through my fogged up goggles. My body felt heavy and I started thinking about how dumb an idea this swim was. As before in the kayak on the Elwha river, I eventually felt like I was looking down from the clouds at my situation. The shore support had no way to help me, the other swimmers distance from me was increasing. This time I saw my obituary several pages back in the Oregonian. Earlier in the day there had been an inaugural Amtrak commuter run from Seattle to Portland that had crashed on Interstate-5, killing some of the passengers. This was the cover story in the paper I pictured, and the open water swimmer drowning in the Willamette was not big enough news to compete with that story. This relieved me somewhat, my thoughts slowed down, and I came up with the idea to flip over onto my back. I started sprinting backstroke. I couldn’t see where I was going, but I hoped that I didn’t circle back out to the center of the river. I tried to glance back about every 20 strokes to make sure I was making progress. I made it back to the boat ramp 11 minutes after diving in. My speech was slurred from the cold, but I was able to dress myself and pace a bit before the shivers started.

I learned from this experience that I can’t dive into cold water and immediately start swimming freestyle. I have a routine now where I wade in gradually to my chest or neck before floating my feet off the ground and swimming head-high breaststroke. Once my limbs are numb and I feel like my breathing is relaxed, I dip my head in and start swimming freestyle.

Last Saturday (the day I started writing this post) I went for a swim at Hagg lake. The weather was mostly cloudy and again the temperature was in the low 40s. My friend Maryl came for support (she is training to crew for me on the North Channel and Bainbridge swims). The water was dark and the surface was smooth and still like glass with chunks of wood debris (I made note to avoid). We discussed my plan, which was to swim for about 25 minutes back and forth along the beach about 100 yards out (there were families fishing on the beach I also wanted to avoid). I waded in slowly as per my now established routine, checked the pool thermometer that I swim with (42 degrees), and yelled back, “maybe just 20 minutes today.” Twenty minutes later I still felt comfortable although I couldn’t feel my toes, and I had a slight “claw” on my right side. I swam back out toward the center of the lake one more time thinking I would aim for a 30 minute swim. On my return to Maryl and the planned exit point, I started to feel slightly dizzy while swimming and looking forward. Doubt crept into my head and soon I felt like I wasn’t progressing toward the beach. I was about 75 yards out and knew no one on shore could swim out to me to help. I rolled onto my back and started sprinting toward the shore. I hit the sandy bottom hard with my right hand when I got to the beach. Maryl was ready with my towel and hat. As we walked toward the car, she asked if I had felt the current from the stream emptying into the river as I finished my swim (no I didn’t, but then it became clear why I felt like I wasn’t moving). Once on the beach, I felt great and again was able to dress myself independently before shivering and chattering uncontrollably. Twenty six minutes in 42 degree water! A new personal record!

I’m pretty sure this last swim wasn’t another near death experience as I didn’t read my obituary in a newspaper or online. Reflecting back on this swim, I know I need to eat more before getting into cold water (I hadn’t had anything but a mocha prior to the swim, and I had done a Barre3 class earlier in the morning) and I should stay a bit closer to shore when there is no kayak support present.

My goal during the swim was to write a post detailing my experience swimming in low 40 degree water, but my thoughts were elsewhere since the brief panic attack at the end of the swim triggered frightening memories. I’ll try to be safer and keep my thoughts in the present moment next time!

Couch to North Channel: Training Week Two

Week in Review:

My son Tiernan is hyper verbal around topics of high interest to him (e.g., sports). He is not and never has been a child who would produce a detailed personal narrative about everything that happened in his school day, or the type to ask questions to find out about my own day. So… at the dinner table to encourage reciprocal conversation, we shared our “highs” (fun moments) and our “lows” (things we would change in retrospect). I’m going to recap my week here in that same fashion.

The Highs: 

  • Spent quality family time with Tiernan at a Blazer’s game Friday Night (he treated me for an early birthday present, and forked out money for closer seats, rather than the nose-bleed seats I usually get for us).  Walked Clarence on the sunny days after work.
  • Swam 20k in the pool (6k Monday night, 6k, Wednesday night, 6k Thursday night, 2k recovery swim Saturday afternoon).
  • Completed four one hour Barre3 classes in the Orenco Station studio.
  • Finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks in time for my Saturday night book club potluck.
  • Meditated daily with the Headspace App as part of the week one Barre3 January Challenge.
  • Survived the “Back to School Blues” (my first 5-day work week post winter break)!
  • Moments of feeling calm, accomplished and empowered.

The Lows: 

  • Itchy skin, skin rash, dry/rough feeling skin, painful skin sensation along swim suit lines (more on this in an upcoming post).
  • Neck and shoulder pain in the pool, in the Barre3 studio, when completing paperwork on my laptop, and when trying to fall asleep.
  • Didn’t get in an open cold-water swim
  • Tiernan spent several hours per day home alone playing X-box live with his friends while I trained.
  • Maybe averaged 7 hours of sleep per night. I think sleep is important and would rather average 8-10 hours. Especially when increasing training/work load.
  • Anxious feelings cropping up during work on M,W,TH. The days of the evening 6k swims.
  • Didn’t schedule dentist appointments.

 

Activity levels recorded from past three months as on my Apple Watch: 

The Apple Watch activity app has three rings. The blue ring is for moving around every hour a minimum of 12 hours per day. The green ring is for completing a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise per day, and the red ring is for moving and burning 500 calories per day.  The days where all three rings are completed are what I would consider successful training days. You can see in November and December where activity levels are lower where I was sick and my respiratory system was recovering.

 

 

 

Celebrations and Motivations

Lying in Shavasana (corpse pose) during the final minutes of my Saturday morning Barre3 class, I distinctly smelled chlorine hovering in the air above my sweaty, limp body. During this exercise, I usually imagine myself sinking into wet sand on a tropical beach at dusk, the evening stars slowly becoming visible above me while my inhalations and exhalations sync with the waves ebbing onto the beach and receding into the ocean. Not today though! I couldn’t stop wondering if my cadaver neighbors on the mats next to me smelled it too.

I had a sit in the dry sauna, a long shower at home where I shaved my legs, a night at The Moda Center watching a Blazers Game before 7.5 hours of sleep, and another shower in the morning pre-class (yes my sheets did smell like chlorine too) since Friday’s 3,000 yard recovery swim, yet I was still clearly chlorinated. As much as I loathe the chlorine fragrance wafting from my body, this was a moment to be celebrated as it was proof of a good week of training, and a motivating start to the New Year.

Other Celebrations from the week of 12/30/18:

  • A 25 minute outdoor swim in 43 degree Fahrenheit  Hagg Lake: According to The Lone Swimmer’s post “Introducing a Precise Open Water Temperature Scale,” the explanation for a swim at this temperature is “Damn, that hurts.” Remember this is a skins swim (no wetsuit). I thought during my last Hagg Lake swim before Thanksgiving, I would be finished training there for the winter season. The water level was so low, that wading in the mud at the waters edge felt dangerous in that both my legs were knee deep in the clay and it was extremely effortful to pull each leg out to enter and exit the water. My New Year’s Eve Swim, however, was much easier. The deeper layers of mud on shore and beneath the water were frozen, which kept my feet on the surface layer of mud. Yay frozen underground mud! It will save me an hour drive to the Columbia River for cold water acclimating. I would like to thank my former lap lane partner from the Hillsboro Pool Steve Susserman for being my shore support and safety crew. Cold water swimmers frequently experience an “afterdrop,” where their bodies get colder after they’ve exited the water. During the “afterdrop” the swimmer is not necessarily safe just because they are out of the water, and they need support to ensure they warm up properly and safely.
  • 20k Yards in the Swimming Pool: I want to thank my swim friend Lee O’Conner for a great New Year swim start. He organized a 100 X 100 yards on New Years Day and invited me to swim with him and his fellow Tualatin Hills Barracudas Masters Swim Team buddies. Misery loves company and completing 10k in one day made getting the week’s last needed 10K over three more solo swims easy!
  •  Four BARRE3 Studio Workouts: I chose barre3 for my North Channel cross training as the workouts incorporate elements of ballet barre work, pilates, and yoga, and it is a local program that originated in Portland, Oregon. Swimming bulks up my arms and overworking them can lead to injury. I feel it is important that my cross training focuses on strengthening my core and lower body.

Upcoming Week Goals: 

Once I post this piece, I will start fine tuning my plan for this coming week. I intend to swim 20k again (I don’t want to increase my yardage too quickly and risk shoulder injury as I’m fresh off the couch) and complete four barre3 workouts. My obstacle this week is that winter break is winding down and school starts again tomorrow morning. Back to the eight hour, five-day-week grindstone, and squeezing in training with the before/after school taxi service, chef, tutor, dog walker, and house keeper positions I also maintain. Also book club meets next Saturday, and I chose the last book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I still have 150 pages to read at some point before we meet! Keeping motivated while tired will be my biggest challenge!

Motivations:

I like to have an end goal. Without one I know I would always be in a Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime “show hole” on the couch. Usually in January, I detox. Detoxing to me means no caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and packaged goods. Whole foods and water only! Instead of losing inches and detoxing like I typically do in January, and while my North Channel Pilot team creates my swim training and nutrition plan (which I should receive this week), I’m going to participate in the barre3 January Challenge (this starts tomorrow too the same as school), which aims to encourage me to “trust” myself rather than try to “fix” myself. Participation in this challenge will include completing barre3 workouts and participating in mindfulness/meditation activities using the program/app Headspace. Currently I do not meditate so I’m going to try it out and will share my experiences using the program. I hope that this experience will further inspire me and supplement my swim training.

In addition to being excited to start this new program tomorrow and continue to increase my training, I’m keeping motivated by my swim friends (Michelle, Lee, Steve, and Cindy), my barre3 instructors, Brooke and Christy, and my new swimming suits from Q suits (patterns pictured below). Hopefully one of the designs will encourage me to put it on and head to the pool for a 6k swim tomorrow night after work!

Just Diving Right Back In Here

Anyone who has ever swam with me before, or observed from the deck, can tell you that I am not one of those “the water is fine! just dive, or jump, right in here!” swimmers. I like ladders on docks attached to the shore, and ladders near (but not in) my lap lane. I like to ease in slowly grumbling to myself about how cold the water feels (even in an 80 degree pool when I’d been swimming outdoors in 50 degree water the previous day).

Single mom life has consumed me since my last post (Tiernan’s dad is in Norway until February, which isn’t conducive to long weekend swims or even daily practices). I was contemplating wading slowly into my posts again before Thanksgiving when I was off work, traveling to visit family, and swimming in cold, open water frequently, but on the return drive south to Oregon, I became extremely ill for weeks, which sunk me back onto the couch until 12/12/18, when I decided that although I was still too sick to swim, I would start cross training (more on this another time). Since Thanksgiving Day when I swam 40 minutes in 50 degree water, I have been in the water only four times (twice in the pool on 12/17/18 and 12/19/18 and two times in lakes (Christmas Eve and today, New Year’s Eve). So given my North Channel attempt is the last week of June, I better just jump off this couch and dive back in. Now I am looking at Couch to North Channel in six months!

Prior to Thanksgiving, I was swimming regularly in a new (to me) pool. The Forest Grove Aquatic Center, which is closer to home, and has more lap swim hours outside my working hours, than the Hillsboro pool where I have previously been training (I just wish the FG sauna was warmer like Hillsboro’s).  Also, I completed my qualifier swim for the North Channel swimming in the Puget Sound back on October 21, 2018 (See attachment at end of post).

Up and Coming:

Every year at New Years, my friends Jo and Joshua and I like to come up with goals that we would like to accomplish in the coming year. Two years ago today as we were sipping wine and playing board games, my goal was to solo swim the Portland Bridge Swim that coming July, which I registered for on New Years Day 2017! This year I have two huge swims on my calendar (The North Channel obviously, but I also want to be the first woman to swim around Bainbridge Island (second person recorded). This is tentatively scheduled for Sunday of Memorial Day weekend and will be my last big training swim before I taper for the North Channel. As I have these two immense goals, I will just make a more normal New Years Resolution today: to write more regularly about my experiences and training plan.

I’m attaching to a link to my official observation form with all the details from my qualifier below for anyone interested. The water was cold and it was foggy. Also, I discovered that the Puget Sound also has Lion’s Mane Jellyfish! Lion’s Mane Jellyfish, Seals, and Orcas Oh My!

Happy New Years!

– Northwest Open Water Swim Association Observer notes

 

A Hagg Lake Swimmer Coasts By Suck Creek

Background:

I was going to title this post A Willamette River Swimmer in the Tennessee River, until reflecting on a comment from one of my elementary fluency students, who heard I was flying to Tennessee to swim ten miles. “I I I heard you swam all around Hagg Lake! Th th that’s so far!” Hagg Lake obviously isn’t comparable to swimming downstream in the Tennessee River, like the Willamette River that divides west and east Portland is, but it is the closest open water to Forest Grove, Oregon where I live and work (approximately 7 miles away from Forest Grove). Hagg Lake is an artificial lake (created by a dam) fed by Scoggins Creek, that meanders from the Northern Oregon Coast Range. I actually only hopped in their once this fall, about three weeks prior to leaving to Tennessee, and wasn’t eager to go back after getting stuck in thigh high mud under low circling turkey vultures, occasionally diving to the surface to pick at a fish carcass. I pictured myself meeting my end in my swimming suit, stuck in wet, quicksand-like clay (like Br’er Rabbit covered in tar), as Tiernan and some unknown fishermen watched from the tree line above. Anyways, since I was embarrassingly and laboriously able to extract my legs from the muddy clay, and as many of my students are familiar with Hagg Lake, rather than the Willamette River (that’s about 45 minutes from Forest Grove in rare, ideal traffic), I’m titling this post for them.

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Image Above: My one fall Hagg Lake training swim from September 20, 2018 as recorded by my Apple Watch. The image makes it appear as if I started recording in the water and turned around before reaching the other side, but really the water level is so low in the fall, I walked out through mud to get to my starting point, and turned around as soon as I could see the murky bottom on the far side of the lake.

Trains, Planes, Automobiles, Freestyle and Whiskey:

Traveling to Chattanooga was a feat in itself. I like to support Alaska Airlines, the local airline, and had a companion ticket expiring in November, that I used for my safety kayaker. We were supposed to fly to San Francisco, leaving at 6:30am and then to Nashville (arriving at 6:50pm central time), where the rental car would be waiting. We left my house at 2:00am, parked in Beaverton, Oregon at my friend Jo’s house, walked to the Beaverton Central Max (light rail) station (where we were serenaded by an extremely inebriated older gentleman), boarded the first Max Red Line train to the airport at 3:28am, and were at our gate ready to board at 5:50am just in time to hear the announcement that the plane wasn’t functioning properly, but someone was coming to assess the situation. The plane was never approved for take off and after a two hour wait, we were bumped to an American Airlines Flight to Chicago, then Nashville that would be leaving at 1:50pm. We ended up, stumbling over our feet from exhaustion, into the Chattanooga Clarion at 3:00am Eastern Time. The return flight was significantly better as it departed on time, but it left Seattle 1.5 hours late putting us back in Forest Grove at 11:30pm Pacific Time Sunday night. I somehow still made it through the work week, although I still feel like I’m catching up on sleep.

Swim the Suck: 

The swim felt fantastic! Definitely not a “bummer tent” (Michelle read my last post and corrected me. It’s not “bummer ten,” but “bummer tent,” like you’re at a big music festival and end up in a lousy tent). The “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” chorus alternated with Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” in my head the entire swim, thanks to the early morning Nashville radio station. The water was warm. Hagg Lake, the Columbia River, and the Willamette River have been hovering around 60 degrees Fahrenheit while the Tennessee River stretch past Suck Creek was in the mid to upper 70s. There was also a strong current, making it a fast ten miles. I finished 37th/105 in 04:10:06.515. I also enjoyed all of my feeds. I had four different water bottles filled with goodies I found at the Chattanooga Whole Foods. An orange electrolyte drink, Chicken Bone Broth, local Chocolate Milk from Tennessee, and a mixed Coffee shot drink. This was much improved from the chalky powdery protein drinks I had when swimming around Mercer Island last June. After the swim, I got to choose a beautiful mug from a local potter as a keepsake, and met Shannon Keegan and Todd Lantry. They were stranger swimmers from Southern, Oregon who, I happened to meet on the beach post swim. Todd and I finished together 36th and 37th after swimming near each other for several miles (I could see his beard when I breathed to his direction around mile seven and assumed he was a Portlander. He’s actually from Seattle originally, so a Washingtonian like me!), and Shannon and I finished back-to-back in the Mercer Island Marathon Swim, but never met as it was so cold and rainy that day, we all just ran from the finish to our cars to warm up and get out of there! After visiting with other swimmers and enjoying sweet iced tea (since I’m celiac disease and gluten free, I couldn’t have the beer from Chattanooga Brewery), I rounded out my Chattanooga experience with 1) a trip and tour to Chattanooga Whiskey, 2) dinner at Meats on Main, and 3) a Ron White comedy show at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium. This was my first out-of Northwest state trip ever, as previously I’ve only been in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California. I can’t wait to go back and experience more, but that was all I could squeeze in this year!

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Above Images: Map recorded from my Apple Watch during Swim the Suck. The battery died at 9.27 miles so didn’t quite record the finish, and me testing out the water at the race start, October 12, 2019, the day before the event.

What’s Next?: 

Ok. I actually need to be packing and heading to bed, but want to post this experience first, as my next swim “Couch to North Channel Training Swim no. 2,” is tomorrow. This swim was not planned/finalized until three days ago. I have a pilot reserved for my North Channel attempt June 24th to June 28, 2019, but in order to qualify for an observed “North Channel” attempt, you have to qualify by meeting Irish Long Distance Swimming Association criteria. One of the criteria for solo swimmers is a six hour swim in water of 13 degrees Celsius (approximately 55 degrees Fahrenheit). I’ve swam seven hours in water approximately 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but I’ve never attempted a longer swim in water chillier than that. Tomorrow will by my first attempt (and hopefully only needed attempt) up north in Puget Sound, off Bainbridge Island, where the water temp is hovering around 54 degrees and only getting colder between now and March. The pressure is on! I will have to attempt another qualifier at this temperature before spring, if I don’t make it tomorrow. Wish me luck!

 

Preparing For North Channel Training Swim No. 1: Swim the Suck (10 miles on 10/13/18)

Sorry in advance that this post is a bit disjointed. I guess that’s just what happens when the writer’s life is chaotic and full of distractions. Aside from making nutritional changes to hopefully support my endurance for this swim, I haven’t yet completed any other important preparations. Therefore, Part I is the “to do list,” I’m still trying to complete, and Part II is more thorough like my real life preparations.

Background:

Last February, 2018, I swam on a 24 hour relay at aquatic park in San Fransisco Bay. A non-swimmer friend accompanied me on a long weekend, and while we were out red wine tasting between my relay shifts, I got a text from my Team Yeti captain that my name had been drawn, and I won the only draw prize. A swim (I was extremely excited)! I had a choice between a marathon swim in Nebraska or Swim the Suck in Chattanooga, TN. I’ve never been to either state, but Swim the Suck was recommended by my team mates, who commented on how the event sells out in minutes of registration being opened. The swim also happened to fall on a long weekend for educators in Oregon, so decision made. As indicated earlier, the swim was already sold out, but the race organizer, Karah Nazor, helped me bypass the “Sold Out” registration page and secured my safety kayaker a kayak for the event.

Eight months of anticipation and not enough training (I literally was sick on the couch and didn’t swim for a month at the end of summer), and Swim the Suck is almost here. Aside from nutrition changes (please read farther below), I haven’t had time to accomplish much after work this week. I have been chipping away at a “to do list” and given I still have several big items left, I’m going to busy trying to complete it after work tomorrow. Please let me know if you think I’m missing something!

Part I: 

To Do List: 

-Swim 

-Print Airline Confirmation       X

-Print Additional Car Insurance For Rental Car          X

-Start Knitting Project for Plane       X

-Chose Swimming Suit (I swim skins, Channel Swimming Rules, No Wetsuit!)     X

-Pack (can everything fit in a carry on? Do I bring my swim parka? Where’s Hurricane Michael?) 

-Buy travel size contact solution in case all fits in carry-on bag     X

-Download “swimming” music that I can live having in my head for 10 mile swim    X

-Read Swim the Suck Handbook

-Help Tiernan with Spanish Homework     X

-Laundry     X

-Tidy House

-Buy Pet Supplies so House Sitter is Prepared     X

(*Key X=Completed)

Part II:

Nutrition Preparation: 

Smooth, Dark, and Dirty (oops I meant “Earthy!”) with a Hint of Oak: 

I was a finicky eater as a child. Not as picky as my students with autism (I’ve worked with many who will only eat white foods (bread, crackers, tater tots, cheese), while others tantrum when given a bowl of ripe, Farmer’s Market blueberries, instead of their usual frozen blueberries), but still particular. My mom once coached me, before we went to dinner at my aunt’s and uncle’s, to at least try a few bites of everything I was served. I remember wanting to gag on the cooked carrots, but must have choked down enough nickel-sized pieces to appease my mom, since she later complimented me for trying a variety of things, as we scraped my un-eaten food into the kitchen garbage.

Somehow, I outgrew my food aversions for the most part, when I went away to college. I increased my vegetable intake through salads, and I realized I enjoyed raw vegetables, rather than the boiled ones that I was exposed to growing up. Despite this gustation improvement, I’ve never enjoyed broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and beets (maybe my food restrictions are veggies beginning with /b/!).

Despite my distaste of these /b/ vegetables, I am impressing myself for the second time in a year and a half, by drinking at least two full glasses of beet juice a day. Yes you heard that correctly. Not a Syrah, Pinot Noir, or Malbec, but Beet Juice!

Ten days before my first marathon swim, The Portland Bridge Swim, in July, 2017, after my last practice having water bottles full of protein drinks flung toward my head by my safety kayaker, my dad suggested that I start drinking beet juice to increase my endurance. He didn’t have a New York Times article to support his recommendation, as he often does, but he suggested I google the benefits of beet juice and make a decision for myself.

A quick google search led me to the article Beet Juice: A Super Drink For Endurance Athletes? that summarized a research study following high-level swimmers who drank 17 ounces of beet juice, daily for six days. In a comparison of the performances between the control group and the beet juice drinkers, the swimmers who drank beet juice were able to swim harder than the control group, while using the same amount of oxygen.  Another article, Can Beet Juice Instantly Improve Your Endurance?, found that cyclists drinking beet juice increased exercise endurance compared to cyclists drinking currant juice.

The amount of information available from my “beet juice and endurance athletes” search convinced me that beet juice could only increase my own endurance abilities, and worst case, it wouldn’t hinder my attempt to swim 11 miles. Why not take on an additional challenge this time for my taste buds?

I started drinking a wine glass full of beet juice, nightly each day leading up to the event. I hoped that camouflaging the juice as wine would make it more palatable. Maybe it would taste peppery with hints of chocolate and blackberries?  Of course it didn’t, and I’m sure I made a hideous face after every sip I took, yet I stuck with it! Ten days later, I swam my first 11 miles and felt that I could have continued on for least another three miles more. There is no way to show if the beet juice contributed to my swim, but my positive feelings from the experience outweigh the cringe and smearing of mascara from the tears I produce when I chug it in the mornings as I head out the door to work. I’m currently trying it again, although twice a day this time, for my third/next marathon swim, Swim the Suck. I’m hoping PDX has a juice bar open at 5:00am for a pre-flight drink before I leave the state, but I did find that Chattanooga has a Whole Foods near my hotel. I’ll be stopping there to stock up on my “in-race” feeds and to pick up more beet juice for the morning of the race.

In June, 2018, I swam my second marathon swim event. The Mercer Island Marathon Swim. This was 12-13 miles around Mercer Island in Lake Washington. I didn’t prepare by drinking beet juice one-to-two weeks ahead of this swim, as I had for the previous swim. I finished the race, slower than I had anticipated and experienced such significant calf cramping at the halfway point that I nearly Did Not Finish. Despite this being what my marathon swimmer friend Michelle Squyer calls a “Bummer 10 Swim,” I feel finishing it was an amazing feat. The weather was rainy and the air temperature was in the upper 50s, while the water temperature hovered around 60 degrees. The difficulties I experienced during that swim were likely influenced by temperature, weather, and my under preparation, however, I wonder if beet juice could have made my experience any better.  I’ll never know, but as I don’t want my subsequent swim to be another “Bummer 10,” it’s back to the beet juice.

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Bottoms Up!