Sunday, August 12, 2012

My toughest swim to date

2:58:48.  Nearly 1/2 hour longer than last year.  Our friends in Peachland told us that the weather had been perfect for the entire week  - no wind and the lake like a mirror.  But the night before the race the wind started blowing.  The next morning the lake was stirred up.  The water looked choppy and we noticed small whitecaps as we drove in to town.

I approached this race with resignation.  I was still battling a cold I'd had for the the last couple of weeks that left me congested and with sore lungs.  I had managed to spend two days in bed but unfortunately the worst of it coincided with a killer work week, with none of the work days being under 13 hours.  The final nail in the coffin was when the pharmacist at our local drug store mixed up my cold medication, and recommended one with pseudoephedrin.  The first three nights of the week I spent  wide awake and jittery.  By Wednesday I knew there was no way I would reach my goal of beating my time from last year.  I had been out of the water, sick, exhausted and unable to even manage any band work to keep my shoulders strong.

I had to be at work early Friday and Matt packed everything for us including Brenda's kayak that she so generously lent us.  He picked me up after work and we drove straight up to Peachland, stopping only at Quizno's for a sandwich.  Not the pasta I'd hoped for but something in my stomach.  I got 3 hours sleep on Friday and woke up thinking "I just have to do this so I can sleep".

Getting geared up felt unnatural since I hadn't worn my wetsuit in almost a week and I forgot to put in my ear plugs.  I joined the other 7km swimmers and walked into the lake.  Usually at this point in a race I am excited about the swim, eager to get in the water and stretch out my muscles, but all I wanted to do was lie down in it and float.  The count down started and I positioned myself at the back of the pack, not wanting to get caught up in the fray.

The swim out to the kayaks seemed interminable and I realized that this was going to be a lot tougher than I thought.  Matt found me and paddled over to my side so at one point when I breathed, he was right there.  I didn't feel any of the nervousness I usually do at the start - by then I was already fighting current and was just happy to see him.  We started heading toward the island.  Matt knew how tired I was and I could see him watching me grimly.  The first time I told him I wanted to quit was about 1/2 hour into the swim;  I repeated it three more times before we got to the island.

I pulled all the tricks out of the bag to find the joy in this swim: singing, blowing happy raspberries, counting strokes, watching my shoulders, thinking about Matt up in the kayak, thinking about my swim buddies and coaches, thinking about the Olympic marathon swimmers and how hard it must be for them to train, train, train.  All the things that normally would get me to focus and set my resolve.  But I kept coming close to tears and just wanting to stop.  For the first time ever in a race I varied my stroke, freestyle with a two-beat kick, moving to a backstroke when my shoulders got too tired, flipping over again onto freestyle but with a deep flutter to rest my arms and then back to long strokes, seeing Jen in my minds eye standing up and demonstrating on deck with her arms and telling me "Lengthen out!  Think of your posture! Don't drop your arm early"  Then I would settle back into freestyle with a two-beat for a while.

Finally some quiet water as we reach the island.
The current was constant and we kept fighting to stay on track.  Matt was struggling because the wind was blowing the kayak hard.  The whole pack of 7km swimmers and kayakers were blown off course and when we were 3/4 of the way to the island we ran into the 3km swimmers.  They usually would be swimming off the north end of the island but they too had been blown south, directly into our path.  At one point Matt and a 3km paddler had to dance to keep us two swimmers from running into one another.  

Two-beat, backstroke, flutter, two-beat.  It felt like we would never get there.  Matt calculated that the entire pack added 500m of distance to the island by swimming a bow, rather than a straight line.  He kept trying to aim us straight, but neither of us could keep the line.

I felt the lee before we reached the island and collapsed into the water with relief.  3 1/2 km had never felt so long or hard to me before. On the way over I had vomited a little and had experienced incredible heartburn.  I didn't want to take a drink and risk vomiting again but Matt insisted, so I flipped on my back and kept kicking while I drank some Maxim and water.   Matt told me I'd had a stroke rate of 64 on the way over and that I had about 10 swimmers behind me.  But I didn't care.

All I wanted the whole way to the island was just to stop.  The only thing I could say to him to try to explain my sense of desolation was "I'm just so tired".

Trying to get a breath.

But of course I was 1/2 way there and I knew that if I quit now I would only feel worse.  The only thing was to keep going.  The south side of the island was calm and I rested, stretching out my stroke.  Matt called out a warning to prepare myself for the chop as we came up the channel between the island and the shore; the wind was being funnelled between the two and the water was worse than anything we'd encountered yet.  But the short rest in calm water and the drink had steeled me some.  I prepared myself for active water and started stroking.  I knew I was half way there now and that each stroke would bring me closer to the end and all I could think about was touching shore and sleep.

The wind wasn't constant and continued to hit the lake from different directions so there was no consistency to the wave pattern.  It was just a jumble of chop.  I was wearing a thinner wetsuit, without sleeves and shorter in the leg and that, combined with fresh water, had me sitting lower in the water than I was used to.  In the higher waves it was impossible to see Matt and the kayak when I breathed so I had to start lifting my head when I breathed left, just to keep him in sight.  I started to feel my neck and my right underarm chafe as the wind and waves continued to pummel us from 2:00 o'clock.

Grinding it out, low in the water

This is when the Matt factor kicked in.  I had used up every ounce of resolve and determination I had within me by this point.  My shoulders felt as if they were grinding bone and against bone and the rotation of my small swim repertoire had increased.  Two-beat, backstroke, flutter, turn over and tell Matt I couldn't make it.  Matt told me that he was impressed with me, that I was making it, that he could see land and the buoys that marked the end.  The next time I told him I couldn't make it and that I couldn't see him even though I was lifting my head, he gave me a point on the mountain to sight on.

The biggest challenge I had was that throughout the race I just couldn't seem to get a full breath.  My lungs had been sore for a week from the cold and the wetsuit felt like it was constricting me.  I thought of Pete telling me to relax my neck, jaw and mouth, opening it wide to breath and letting the breathe go loosely without pursing lips or clenching teeth.  I rolled into a backstroke and just tried to fill my lungs.

Matt told me we were half way to the beach and made me take another drink of water and Maxim and I settled into the grind of the final 1 1/2 km.  I ignored my shoulder pain and started counting down asking Matt to call out 5 minute increments and forcing myself to keep stroking until he did.  At the 5min mark I would look up and sight to see if I was any closer.

The last 1/2 hour was brutal.  Matt was cheering hard but I accused him of lying when he told me we were getting closer.  It seemed to go on forever.  He followed me in almost all the way and left me only as I crossed the two buoys marking the end.  A few more strokes and I was at the ramp.  I stood, touched rail and limped up to the top.

Slowest walk to a finish line ever!
Afterward we talked with swimmers that had done the race many times and was told it was rough for everyone.  The conditions were tough.  I had added 1/2 hour to my time from last year, rather than removing it but I didn't feel disappointed, just relief that it was over.  Times were slower over all this year and after breakfast I was free to sleep.

We ate breakfast and told our friends we were going back to the hotel for a nap.  I slept for 7 hours straight, the longest stretch I'd had for over a week.

After that we met for the traditional Gasthaus dinner and drinks and a re-hashing of the day.  The other swimmer and kayaers all shared their stories.  I was still tired and overly-emotional and almost cried with the goodness of the hearty German food, the drink and the delightful company.  Our friends were as funny, warm, and welcoming as they were last year and we laughed a lot.

After dinner Matt and I walked along the lakeshore and saw 5 meteors from the Perseid shower cross the sky including one that seemed closer than possible and had sparks coming off it.  To bed by midnight and then another 8 hours of sleep.  I feel almost human today, except for my continued sore throat and stuffed up sinuses.

I am still unsure if it was smart to undertake this race in my depleted state but I know myself well enough to know that I would be very upset if I hadn't done it.  Matt and I are forgoing the usual wine-tasting today for some quiet napping on the beach and floating in the lake.  We want to be home early enough for another good night's rest. 

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