Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Bay

I thought I may have trouble getting to sleep on Friday night but I slept very well indeed.  Matt and I had been going to bed a 1/2 hour earlier every night for a week, and rising a 1/2 hour earlier to prepare ourselves for an early day on Saturday.  We were in bed by 9PM and the morning of the swim I was up early and felt refreshed.

We picked up Jen, met Mario and Pedro at Granville Island, checked out our boat and took off for Sandy Cove by 6:30AM.
Mario and Pedro at Sandy Cove

When we arrived, Matt, Jen and I went ashore to hear the last minute announcements and prepare for the swim.  I was still remarkably calm and jitter free.  I knew I had done the work, trained hard, and that I was more than capable of crossing the bay, even with current.  Having heard that it can be cold  on the beach waiting for the race to start, I had packed a parka with fur lined hood, but we were blessed with a very warm, humid day.  There were low clouds and the air was remarkably still.

Susan Simmons, who would be the winner of the womens race that day, introduced herself to me and asked me to join her and the other solo female swimmers for a brief moment.
Gearing up with the other women
Talk about a class act! Susan, a very successful and experienced open water swimmer, had quietly gathered all the women together for a very inspirational talk.  She told us that no matter what happened we should be proud of ourselves for training and just getting in and attempting a solo swim of this magnitute.  She took the time to be generous and kind and blew me away.
5 of the 6 solo women - Susan is second from the right
 The organizers let us know it was getting close to the time that we would need to start so Jen and Matt gave me their final wishes then made their ways to the boat to take off.  The boats had to be about 400m off shore behind the Jericho Rescue boat.  The swimmers had to pass Jericho Rescue and then could be picked up by their boats.

When it was just the swimmers left, Pete and I shared a smile and wished each other luck.

When the gun went and we started swimming it was a little disconcerting, as it always is when I start a race.  "What the hell am I doing - I can't swim this" is my usual first thought.  But after a few minutes I begin to fall into a rhythm and it turns into "Oh yeah, I know how to do this.  It's just swimming".

I stroked out to beyond Jericho Rescue and saw Pedro waving to me from our boat.  It was heading right toward me and I fell in beside it and started to find my pace.  Swimming south from the boat there was some chop but as soon as the boat directed me to turn toward the East, it seemed to calm down and I relaxed a little.  The water was warm - about 18 degrees - and I just focused on letting my mind go.

A weird thing was happening and I realized that though I had never really conciously thought about it before, it had happened before in races.  My nervousness manifests itself as a sort of muscle weakness so it feels like my muscles have turned to liquid inside of me.  They work fine, I am able to kick and pull well, but they just feel, well, liquid.  There is no better way to describe it.  I wasn't uncomfortable in any physical way, but it really bothered me mentally.  So I just started counting my strokes and thinking about relaxing my head and neck and breathing nice and easily.  This odd sensation continued on and off for about a 1/2 hour before subsiding complelely and I made a mental note to pay more attention to it at the start of other races to try and figure out what it is.

I swam east just off shore about 400 meters for about 45 minutes.  The rest of the pack had swum south straight out across the bay but our team's plan was to swim east to take advantage of  shelter from the current and to give us a shorter distance across the current.   Although I was unaware of this, just before we turned south to tackle the current Jericho Rescue paid us a visit and asked Matt if he knew we were pretty far east from the rest of the group.  He said he did and that was part of our plan.  

When the boat crew turned me south I felt the current almost right away but I was expecting it, so I wasn't surprised.  I increased my stroke count and began plodding away at it.  15 minuts in I had my first feed. 

We had planned my feeds as follows:
1 hour: carbs & electrolytes dissolved in 500ml water
1:30: carbs & electrolytes dissolved in 300ml water
2:00: caffeine dissolved in 300ml water
2:30: carbs & electrolyes dissolved in 300ml water
3:00: caffeine dissolved in 300ml water

After the first hour of swimming it felt great to stop and drink.  I was pleasantly surprised at how wonderful I felt.  During the lead up to the race the only thing that worried me was how I would feel about swimming so far from shore and over deep water but it didn't bother me at all.  In fact, I kept trying to put distance between myself and the boat so I could feel more all alone out there.  It was so freeing to be swimming in the green, green water fighting the current.  I felt in control and strong.  After the race Pedro told me each feed took between 3 and 5 minutes, and I am defintely going to have to work at reducing this time in the future.  Note to self: practice backstroke.

I turned and kept swimming.  Matt tracked my swim and said as soon  I turned south and hit the current I dropped from 3km/hour to 2km/ hour and then as the current increased to 1.5km/hour.  To get my mind off the struggle I paid attention to the sky and the clouds parting to let the sun through.  I couldn't believe how warm I was!  The water was a beautiful green and the visibilty was fantastic.  I would rotate, look up and note the birds and the clouds, rotate, let my vision roll through the emerald green water for a while and then back up to the sky.  The chop had increased and I was missing every few breaths because of waves but I was having a blast.  The euphoria of a great day on the water overtook me.  I kept wanting to pinch myself, I was having such a good time.  When the crew stopped me at 1:30 for my second feed I yelled up to Jen that the water was fantastic and she should come in to join me.

Gorgeous day for a swim!
I pushed on after my second feed but the current had increased.  It was starting to get tough and I had to bear down and start counting strokes again "1, 2, 3, breathe, 1, 2, 3, breath...".  To avoid boredom and to get an extra breath in now and again I altered my breathing pattern "1, 2, 3, breathe, 1, breathe, 1, 2, 3, breathe, 1, breathe...."  My focus was better now, tough water always does that to me.  I just counted and breathed out underwater, blowing raspberries.  I don't know why I do that, but when it gets hard, I let out my breath with a kind of noise, singing into the ocean.  It makes me feel happy for some reason.  When I cleared the outgoing shipping channel they let me know and I turned to see a freighter just about a kilometer behind me heading out to sea.  Earlier on shore the organizer had warned us that a ship was scheduled to head out and that we would be pulled so it could pass if we hadn't cleared the outgoing channel in time.  Any time we spent waiting it out would be added to our race time.  I was very relieved to see it behind me and awed at how big it was.

When Pedro signalled my next feed I asked if we were out of the incoming shipping channel yet.  Matt said that he thought we may have a few more hundred meters to go so I asked to forgo the feed until we were out.  I felt very strong and was reluctant to get out of the mind space of working hard.  I just wanted to grind it out.  I kept swimming for another 10 - 15 minutes until I saw the "Feed" sign again.  By then I was beginning to feel the current weaken.

I asked "Are we out"?
Matt replied that he thought we were.  I had my feed and Jen told me to lengthen out my stroke, relax my shoulders a bit and deepen my kick. 

It felt great!  Woo HOO - I had made it through the hard part!

The current was gone by now, I had just had my first caffeine hit and the long strokes felt easy.  After the hard current swim I now felt like I had just entered the pool and was doing some easy laps.  The sun was out, the water was flat(ter) and Matt called out that I had increased to 3km/hour again.  I was swimming on the port side of a freighter and my crew pointed out the pack on the starboard side.  We were about a kilometer apart but they were only slightly ahead.  The current had pushed them further west and my swim east in calm water had countered that.  In terms of the angle,  I was much closer to the end point.  The tide had also shifted by then, and I was just starting to get a ride in.

That's when Jericho Rescue stopped by the boat again.

I had a sinking feeling as I saw that it wasn't just a quick check in.  I called out to find out what was happening.  Matt was talking to one of the men.  They were having a conversation.  Mario leaned over and told me just to keep swimming so I put my head down and started to stroke.  I was confused as to what the problem was but it didn't take long for me to find out.

They had come to tell Matt that I was to be disqualified and pulled from the race.  According to them we had not cleared the incoming shipping channel and it was past the 2 hour cut off.  Matt argued that by his GPS point we were clear of the channel but  Jericho Rescue deferred to the organizers.  Matt called the organizers on the phone and they in turn deferred to Jericho Rescue.  In the end no one would budge.

It was so frustrating because I felt strong and in control, and knew I had more than enough to finish the swim.    In the lead up to this race I had thought that it would be difficult, I had thought that I may finish after the 4:00 time limit, I had even thought that I may have to give up.  But I had never, never, thought that I would be pulled.  Rules are rules I know, but it is so frustrating to know that you are more than capable, but will not be allowed to do it.  That's sport, I guess.

I was a little in shock climbing out of the water and being hugged by Matt and Jen.  I could see that Matt was gutted too.  After dropping the boat off we went to Kits Beach to check in with the medical team and meet all of the wonderful, amazing swimmers that were there to cheer us on.   It was so hard to look at them and tell them I had failed to cross the bay.  But a nice brunch with everyone did a lot to buoy my spirits - there is something really special about the Sea Hiker swimmers that I have met and become such good friends with in one short year.  I kept looking around myself at the table in awe of my coaches, friends and fellow swimmers.

Until I finish Rattlesnake I will hold off making any decisions about what this outcome means for my race season next year.  Unfortunately, I have now come down with a cough/cold that had me flat out with fever for two days and still weak, tired and worst of all - out of the water.  But it's ok.  One way or the other I will finish this swim.  They can pull me out of the bay but they ain't getting me out of the lake until I climb out on my own two feet.

The best team EVER!

Finally, what can I say about the best team a girl could ask for?  They got up at 3AM on a Saturday morning, got onto a boat and then cheered and laughed, fed and instructed me. They were also disappointed at the outcome but were the first to console me.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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