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Archive for August, 2011

Aug 2, 2011, 6:40 am

The water feels surprisingly warm on my toes and ankles as I step from Jim Thompson’s pebble beach at Kilroy Bay into the waters of Lake Pend Oreille. My sleeveless wetsuit protects my core and legs as I make my way into the lake for my pre-swim ritual; get in, let the water fill my wetsuit at the neck, walk out slowly as the moisture works it way down through my suit and out the bottom, reposition the wetsuit, then repeat the entire process. Standing in the lake looking toward Garfield Bay, I can just make out the trees far, far in the distance. Actually, I can’t see individual trees but more like a sold wall of dark green with one white house at the top. The numbers keep churning around in my head…5.3 miles…8500 meters…340 laps in the long course gym pool back in Phoenix…a solid four hours in the water and farther than I have ever swum previously. I take one last look at Garfield Bay from solid ground, position my goggles, and head out into the water.

Swim Start at Kilroy - Photo by Sian Proctor

May, 2008

I have been a regular resident at our Garfield Bay home every summer since 2001. Every year, the first Saturday in August, we drove across the Long Bridge and headed home to Phoenix. Every year, we would see hundreds of people gathered on the bridge waving and cheering to the swimmers below. I learned that this event was called the Long Bridge Swim and that it took place the first Saturday of August each year. From 2001 to 2006, as we made our way home and the swimmers made their way across Lake Pend Oreille I thought, “there is no way I could make that crossing”.  In 2007 as we stopped to let the buses cross in front of us I suddenly decided that I would try the swim the next year.

Life and work took over and it wasn’t until May of 2008 that I actually entered a pool to prepare. I joined SWAC (Sandpoint West Athletic Club) when I arrived in Idaho late May of 2008. The club has a masters swim group, but I was too scared to join. So, with the help of a couple of books and some YouTube videos on proper freestyle form, I ventured into the pool several times each week and made my way across the pool and back.

I learned very quickly (I mean I know, of course, but I REALLY learned) that humans cannot breathe water! Unfortunately, I had to learn this lesson over and over as I could barely swim 25 meters without gasping for breath or swallowing half the pool. Due to my lack of lung power and general lack of knowledge about efficient movement in the water (YouTube videos notwithstanding), I developed a sort of lurching motion that moved me more side-to-side than it did down the lane.

Eventually, I amassed enough yardage and after a few forays into the lake for practice, I felt I could manage the distance of the Long Bridge Swim. I finished the swim that year, using what my husband called “pollywog style” in just under 2 hours.

Aug 2, 2011, 6:45 am

“Wow, it’s really wavy out here, “I thought to myself as I took my first few strokes away from Kilroy Bay. Wind blew steadily out of Hope and the waves hit the right corner of my head making breathing a challenge and navigation almost impossible. Mike Ehredt was on his paddleboard next to me and would be there for the entire swim. I knew the waves were pretty bad when I could not see his feet or ankles on the board when breathing his direction. There’s something about being in the water, though, that makes the chop and waves not feel as bad. I knew I was being tossed and turned around a bit, but I just put my head down and kept turning my arms over. At some point, I saw Kate out of the corner of my eye stroking past me. She had started a few minutes after me and looked like she was settling into the waves as well.

Getting in the Groove - Photo by Sian Proctor

May, 2009

Time to think about getting ready for the Long Bridge Swim (LBS) again. I swam just a little bit during the spring of 2009 and had a few coaching lessons so felt I was making some progress. I was still too scared to swim with a masters group once I got to Idaho so I joined SWAC and embarked once again on my own training program. After doing my own thing for a few weeks, I got up the nerve to ask the masters coach if he thought I would do ok in his class. “Absolutely”, he said and , “we would love to have you”. The rest of that summer until the LBS, I trained with the pool group and hit the lake a few times. By this time, I had started working on bilateral breathing (both sides) and did not look as much like a pollywog, but my form was still very inefficient. I learned a lot from the coach but still had a VERY LONG way to go.  I swam the LBS and improved my time from the year before. However, I had such a bad day at that swim with nausea and feeling very slow in the water, that I decided I hated swimming and would never do it again.

Aug 2, 2011, 7:10 am

Time for the first feeding stop of the day. Mike crouched down on the paddleboard and handed me an open bottle.  We were planning on about 4 hours in the water and stopping every 30- 45 minutes for either water of fuel. My fuel was in the form of a Hammer Gel product called Perpetuem. Mixed with water, the powder provides fuel during exertion and, being in liquid form, allows me to digest it while swimming. Eating and swimming, or should I say digesting and swimming, are tricky things to do at the same time. I learned through training that I a) had to eat solid food at least 2+ hours before getting in the water b) could only ingest liquids during the swim (except for the occasional chocolate covered coffee bean) and c) had to eat no later than the first hour into swimming. Heartburn is a common malady of swimmers and you learn very quickly what you can and can’t eat and how long before you swim that you need to stop eating.

Feedting Time - Photo by Sian Proctor

May, 2010

Time to start thinking about the LBS again, BUT, I wasn’t swimming. The 2009 LBS was the last time I had been in the water and I had set my mind totally against ever swimming again. In fact, I seemed to have lost interest in working out at all and just dabbled in a few activities here and there. Being a competitive athlete in three to four sports my whole life, I was trained to gear up for “events”. Games, tournaments, and competitions kept me going in athletics for years. As an adult, playing on teams and competing in leagues or signing up for events always provided a way to stay active. With no events on the horizon and no LBS on my schedule, I floundered in a limbo of non-activity.  But, just because I wasn’t swimming didn’t stop my friends from swimming. Kate and Jodee, two of my good friends, were heading into Sandpoint at the end of July and both were planning to do the swim. When the day arrived, I shuttled them into town and took pictures from the bridge. Once the horn sounded and the mass of swimmers moved forward, I regretted my decision not to do the swim again. Right then, I planned on 2011 and I think I was the 12th person to register for the next year’s event.

Aug 8, 2010

Sometime shortly after the LBS swim on Aug 7 and before I packed up and headed back to Phoenix, Kate and I were sitting on the dock at our place. From the structure, we look out at the Green Monarchs and can see the houses of Kilroy Bay far in the distance.  Off and on over the years, we had talked about swimming from Kilroy back to Garfield. Usually, the conversation ended with, “yeah, you go ahead and don’t look but I will be right behind you”.  This time, however, the discussion was different. Some plans were made and logistics settled and we made the decision. 2011 would be our year to attempt the swim.

Aug 2, 2011, 9:00 am

The wind had finally diminished and I continued to take one stroke at a time across the lake.  On my right side, all I could see was lake and the mountains around Scotchman’s Peak. On my left, I could make out the houses and cliffs of Talache and knew I was making progress. I could no longer see Kate in from of me, but I could see the paddles of her support kayak coming out of the water on occasion and knew she was somewhere ahead and to my right. Turns out that her initial heading would have taken her to Green Bay off to the right and getting back on track took some time. 

 

Kate Waving - Photo Sian Proctor

One of the most challenging aspects of long distance swimming is boredom. Many swimmers quit during an event just because they get tired of being in the water and don’t seem to be making any headway. Once the initial flurry of activity related to getting in and settling in the water is over, the actual, “stroke, stroke, stroke” can get a little monotonous.  Every long distance swimmer adopts their own mental games and gymnastics to help them get through a long event. For me, counting strokes really helps. I get a sense of how far I have gone and the numbers hold a place in my mind that requires some concentration and prevents negative thoughts and self-talk from taking hold. The mind is such a powerful thing and really comes into play for long-distance swimming. Each number that I count is a stroke set (right-left-right or left-right-left) so if I count to 100 I have really traveled 300 strokes. I know about how many strokes for how many meters so I generally count to 300 and then go as far after that as possible before taking a break.

September 1, 2010

I returned to Phoenix with a sense of athletic purpose and determination related to swimming. This was the year I would really take on the sport and see what I could do. I started swimming regularly at my local gym then, in October, I finally joined a masters’ group near my home. Kate belonged to the same group and having a partner to get up three times a week at 5 am and swim from 5:15 – 6:30 helped a tremendous amount. There were many days that if Kate were not there, I would not have gone and vice versa. I swam with the masters’ group, swam some on my own, entered local events, had underwater filming done to analyze my swimming, and took private lessons from our master’s coach. I increased my mileage during the year and eventually swam a 4000 meter (2.5) mile race in May. Once I arrived in Idaho, I trained with Mike Ehredt. He had me focus on swimming 4 – 6 times per week with increasingly longer training swims each week then work on core and balance exercises on land. By the time the day of the swim arrived, I felt anxious but ready.

Aug 2, 2011, 10:15 – 10:42 am

As I came into Garfield Bay and begin to spot familiar landmarks, I started to pick up speed. Neighbors and family were out on their docks waving and providing support. The Sheriff Marine unit came by and provided a final escort into the beach with lights and siren blaring. As I approached the beach I churned my arms faster and moved as quickly as I could. Suddenly, the bottom of the lake appeared and touched my hands to the sand. Friends and family greeted me and helped me exit the water. Final time for me was 4:02 and for Kate was 3:50. We felt really good and solid with our effort and extremely thankful for all the support. There was no time during the swim that I thought I would not make it even though there were plenty of times I thought about how far I still had to go. My training and preparation had made me ready for the day and the support crews allowed me (and Kate) to focus on just swimming.

 

Sheriff Escort - Photo Sian Proctor

Swimmers and Crew - Photo Sian Proctor

Aug 7, 2011

Yesterday, I swam the LBS for the third time. The event was as fun as ever and, though mentally very challenging to enter the water again so soon after the Kilroy swim, I eventually settled in and had a good time. During the LBS, I thought a lot about this sport of swimming. It is not one that I came to naturally or easily. Though I grew up playing sports, I did not grow up swimming (other than learning not to drown) and there are some movements particular to efficient swimming that are challenging to learn as an adult if they are not ingrained when young. Someone close to me asked if I had “gotten swimming out of my system” and would now let it go. The question really bothered me at first but the more I thought the more I realized it had merit. So, as I stroked my way, one arm at a time, through the LBS this year I tried to answer the question realistically for myself. I thought and thought and swam and swam and as I raised my arms in and out of the cool waters of Lake Pend Oreille, I had my answer. “No!” And again, “NO, I have NOT gotten swimming out of my system. I think what I have done is gotten swimming INTO my system and my plan is for it to never get out!” As Eric Ridgway (LBS organizer) says, “Swimming is for Life” and now I believe that and plan to act on it as well.

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