Virtual Channel Swim – Part 5 – To the Cap!

My good friend Sarah sent me an awesome workout plan for a week – just when pool swimming was starting to wear me down.  A virtual channel swim.  She divided the English Channel into parts – Dover to the British Shipping Lane (9.25km), British Shipping Lane (7.4km), Separation Zone (1.85km), French Shipping Lane (6.5km), and French Shipping Lane to Cape Gris-Nez (9.25km). I was positively ecstatic about the idea.  My imagination was already incorporating memories from my trip to Dover and my experience as crew with the boundless possibilities of what might happen with my Channel swim.  I thought it might be fun to blog about the different parts of this adventure.

 

My stomach was sloshing and… burning.  My shoulder was uncomfortable – I had to pay attention to it and every stroke.  The night was dark and I felt eyes of constant concern watching me from the boat.  They were still smiling, though.  Tight, pressured smiles.  Thin.  But smiles, nonetheless. They know I’m going to make it.  At least… Natalie’s face says I will.

 

Back at the Keene YMCA, I am not upset or angry or ungrateful.  I just want this feed mix to work.  That’s all.  I don’t want to feel like my stomach is pit of volcanic debris.  I don’t want to dread every flipturn. That’s all.  I’m sorry if that’s uncharitable, or too much to ask.  I don’t mean to be a whiner.

 

It was probably because I hadn’t eaten anything since lunch 6+ hours ago.  I started to tremble during the first half hour, I was so hungry.  (I just forgot! …sometimes I do that…)  I think all of my feed problems are exacerbated by an empty stomach.  They seem to be worse like that.  And I mixed my feed in the car and got most of the powder all over my pants.  I probably didn’t get the ratio right.  Plus, I’m using the wrong bottles and I think I’m gulping down air, too.  That’s probably a problem.  It will probably work under different circumstances.

 

Just… not the ones where you’re trying to swim to France. 

 

How appropriate. An upset stomach and my shoulder just bothering me enough that I don’t want to work it too hard.  Ugh… I was so looking forward to really pushing it the last mile and 1125 yards through the current to Cape Gris Nez!  I really wanted to own it!  I was going to work hard and get out on the ‘wrong side’ of the pool again! Sigh… Live to fight another day, I suppose.  It’s no good pushing too hard now.  It’s not the real Channel.  It’s the YMCA.  The shoulder will be fine after tomorrow. I’ll get a massage to take care of it.  Next week I can go to yoga again!  I can and I will! That will fix everything!

 

I so wanted to be in the English Channel in my mind, but my stomach was just a wreck.  I wasn’t able to fight it off very well at all.  Sarah had said to think about working hard for the last bit.  I wanted to, but didn’t want to strain myself.  I knew my spirit had all manner of fight in me, but I didn’t want to push my body to any breaking point.  I know, after the Memphre swim, if I’m this close and this is the only thing wrong with me – I am going to make it.

 

The other thing she had said to think about was how I wanted my crew to articulate the last bit of the swim.  The very last bit.  The swim-hard-and-fast-now-or-you’ll-miss-the-cap-and-be-swimming-for-hours command.  Is there a non-negative way to put that into a quick verbal command?

 

“We’re coming up on France and you need to pick it up or you’ll miss the Cape and be in the Channel for some more hours with your stomach feeling like death and your shoulder hurting.”

 

Nah… too wordy.

 

“Swim faster!”

 

No. Definitely not.  That just makes me angry.

 

“Pick up the pace!”

 

Ugh.  They all sounded like death sentences.  I was so miserable, it was hard for me to feel like I could do any of them.  I knew I could go faster.  I could!  But I didn’t know if I could go fast enough.  The ambiguous commands just seemed unkind and too demanding and somehow suggestive that whatever I had to give wouldn’t be good enough.

 

What do I want to hear?  What are the words I most need in the sea-tossed, angry Channel, wanting so bad to get through the tide to the other side? Thinking of home.  Thinking of everybody back at home.  How privileged I am to be who I am, knowing the amazing people that I know.  What would they tell me?  They would tell me to have fun.  They would tell me to be well.  They would tell me they love me.  But those aren’t commands… I need a swimming command.

 

I wish I could say that I thought of something.  I didn’t.  I struggled and struggled to find some words, but nothing worked.  It was only later, when I wasn’t feeling sick – that I concocted a mental strategy.  I live in my head.  I dream in technicolor.  And I see things - I see words - so much better than I hear them.  Whereas a command would feel impossible to me – probably picturing something would not.  So I packed away a mental image for that part of the swim… and a very special song that always speaks to me.  And then – whatever I hear – however they say it… it won’t matter, I don’t think.  Because I will know what I have to do.  I will know I can do it.  I will be prepared.

Anyway – all of those thoughts came later.

In the Channel, it was night.  My stomach was so unhappy.  My shoulder was content to move along steadily and to do nothing above and beyond just that.

I guess it really doesn’t matter when I get to the finish – I am apparently convinced I will finish at night.  It could be that I am just imagining the most miserable situation, but being in the dark doesn’t seem to be contributing to my misery at the moment.  I know, I’ll just start AND finish the swim at night- all 15 -18 hours.  It’d be fine!  Totally possible.

And then… at long last… the 5 miles dripped away with the time to a collected puddle in the past.  I was approaching the end of the swim.

It seemed impossible. The cliff looming before me.  Impossible.  But, I just have to touch above the waterline, right?  That’s all.  I pulled up just before the cliffs and peered into the darkness.  

Would a spotlight light the cliff?  What if the waves bash me into the cliff?  Even gently, that could be kind of painful.  How would I know I touched high enough? How would I know when I’m done?  How far back would the boat have to stop?  Donal had an hour long swim back to his boat.  David had 2 minutes.  I can’t remember what Sarah said as I grab onto the wall of the pool – feeling sick.  Maybe the cliff is too confusing a place to land.

I stared up at the pile of rocks.  Not a beach – just a pile of rocks.  I dragged myself up to crawl atop them and get clear of the water.  That’s the rule if you land on rocks or a beach – you have to get clear of the water.  I have to get clear.  I slipped and fell back into the water.  There wasn’t anything to place my feet on.  I tried to clamber up, again…

I hoisted myself up, out of the pool.

And then I was there.  Standing on the French soil.  And I lifted my hand in the air for the observer to again note the time.  I turned around to take in the scene before me…

It looked oddly like a pool deck.

I didn’t let myself imagine the feelings I would feel.  I didn’t want to place a definition on them or paint them ahead of time.  I didn’t want to think about the words I would say or plot a course for my actions.  I didn’t want to plan it.

When the time comes, I want to live that moment right then.

Well… except for one thing…

I looked down, trying to find a pebble to stick down my swimsuit…!

Then I walked around to the ‘right side’ of the pool, very slowly, holding my stomach, and I picked up my water bottles.

“When you stopped swimming,” The lifeguard declared, “I just wanted to cheer for you!  You’ve been swimming for hours!”

“Oh, thank you,” I said.  I looked around – the pool was mostly empty at 8:30pm on a Friday night.  I had been her only entertainment – me and my private struggle to France.  She had no idea where I had been in my mind and still celebrated my simple victory.  I felt so honored by her appreciation, it seemed to wash away the twinges of regret I felt at not swimming the last bit as fast as I should have.

“That really means a lot to me,” I said to her.

I drove the hour and a half home, waiting and hoping for my stomach to settle… musing through the lessons I learned:

1. I’m pretty uncomfortable with the night+sea+cold swimming concept.

2. I still need to figure out my feed.

3. I need(ed) a mental strategy for the last bit of the swim.

4. I still need to work on exhaling through my nose and not my mouth.

5. I still need to be mindful and attentive of my shoulders.

 

But I know I can make it during a work week, with a three hour daily commute, when I work overtime.  I know I can swim with an upset stomach.  I know I can swim with a hurt shoulder.  There are a lot of things I know I can do.  I think I’m pretty close to being well prepared for this adventure.  I have been very diligent to keep myself well ordered for this swim… and I can’t wait for the day that will be ordered for it!

It’s 2014, guys.

I am going to swim the ENGLISH CHANNEL!!!

Virtual Channel Swim – Part 4 – French Shipping Lane

My good friend Sarah sent me an awesome workout plan for a week – just when pool swimming was starting to wear me down.  A virtual channel swim.  She divided the English Channel into parts – Dover to the British Shipping Lane (9.25km), British Shipping Lane (7.4km), Separation Zone (1.85km), French Shipping Lane (6.5km), and French Shipping Lane to Cape Gris-Nez (9.25km). I was positively ecstatic about the idea.  My imagination was already incorporating memories from my trip to Dover and my experience as crew with the boundless possibilities of what might happen with my Channel swim.  I thought it might be fun to blog about the different parts of this adventure.

 

Finally through the Separation Zone.  We are in French waters. Halfway there.  Maybe more than halfway.  I am starting to feel the fatigue.  Giddy.  Silly.  I’ve said things to my crew that were only funny to me.  Then I assure them I’m not crazy.  France is just ahead somewhere.  I’ve never been to France before.  And I get to make my debut by swimming!  What a life I get to live! It’s the first country I will get to stand on for the first time after having swum there…

 

I was really tired when I pushed off from the wall at Pico Sports Center in Vermont.  It was early morning and I was late because I overslept after getting home late the night before.  I contemplated this briefly for a moment.  I guess it was a lot to ask.  A virtual channel swim during the work week when you have a 3 hour daily commute and work overtime…

 

I look up at the boat.  I wonder if the boat captain or crew checked us into French waters already?  The fog makes everything eerie and soft.  The ships moving in and out of the fog disappear as soon as they appear, sometimes.  Did I actually see them?  Or just think I did?

 

I am going to be late.

 

No, like… really, REALLY late for my appointment.  But I have to swim.  I have to.  It’s only a season of my life – this dream.  It’s only now that it gets to be this important.  Only a season and then, the way that all seasons go, it will be done.  In my normal life vision after this season – there are more dreams and more things to do and there is a pool in Rutland, Vermont that I can swim in three or four times a week and talk to kids about swimming and maybe litter their lanes with kickboards and make them swim through them…  Or not.

 

…I am so tired.

 

No feed today.  I don’t need it.  It’s only 2 hours of swimming to get through the French Shipping Lane.  Only 2 hours.  It’s kind of neat that to break the English Channel into parts like this.  I like the empty feeling in my stomach.  I really, really like it.

 

My muscles are so tight and tired…

 

Oh wait. They really are tight and tired…

 

Oh, but out here… out here in the elements and the salt and the wind:  I’m just on the other side of halfway! That’s always, always, always one of my favorite places.  It’s like the ‘if nothing has stopped me yet, then nothing can stop me now!’ point of the swim.  I know it’s the Channel and nothing is ever really certain about the English Channel.  But there are a few things I know about me.  And this feeling is one of them.

 

“Cause we are alive… we are strong… can’t watch it go for nothing… watch until it’s gone… we are down… we can choose… we’ve got nothing else to live for, nothing left to lose…”

 

I wondered about my shoulders.  Would they start to feel sore?  I wondered about adding Advil to my feed.  The good news is that this feed seems to be working!  I thought about those times when I get really tired and swim with my eyes closed.  I wondered how many pairs of goggles I should have with me.  I wondered if I would have to change them… and should I try to find a better kind now?  It must be too late for that… goggle shopping.  Who knew swimming could be so high maintenance… or that I could be so particular about things like goggles.  Well, it is swimming – you don’t get to wear much, so you better make it count.  I laughed.

 

It wasn’t long until I was at 4 miles.  I had made it.  Even though I was going to be late. Even though I was tired.

 

After all, after this- I’m not halfway done… I’m mostly there!

Virtual Channel Swim – Part 3 – Separation Zone

My good friend Sarah sent me an awesome workout plan for a week – just when pool swimming was starting to wear me down.  A virtual channel swim.  She divided the English Channel into parts – Dover to the British Shipping Lane (9.25km), British Shipping Lane (7.4km), Separation Zone (1.85km), French Shipping Lane (6.5km), and French Shipping Lane to Cape Gris-Nez (9.25km). I was positively ecstatic about the idea.  My imagination was already incorporating memories from my trip to Dover and my experience as crew with the boundless possibilities of what might happen with my Channel swim.  I thought it might be fun to blog about the different parts of this adventure.

 

The separation zone is what they call the 1.85 km strip in the middle of the English Channel between the shipping lanes.  It can sometimes have debris or mats of seaweed collected throughout it, although, I don’t recall having seen any during David’s crossing.  The problem with the debris is that it’s a problem.  The problem with the seaweed mats is that they can get jellyfish trapped underneath them.  Sarah had her crew steer her around them as best they could.  Seeing as how this is a virtual channel swim and my crew are being more productive by not kayaking in the swimming pool next to me, I decided to not try to swim around anything.

 

But, it’s a pool… what is there to swim around in the first place?

 

I grabbed an empty lane, collected a whole bunch of kickboards, and littered my lane with them.  There was no way I could avoid hitting something, now.  I proceeded with the next 2,000 yards focusing on several things.

 

  1. Keeping my mouth closed while swimming. (I do this by envisioning swimming with a kazoo.)
  2. Keeping my head down, even though I knew I was going to hit stuff.
  3. Maintaining a steady pace, even though I knew I was going to hit stuff.

 

I sunk into the water to push off from the wall… and was already stressed out.

 

I didn’t feel anything for quite some time.  I tried not to let myself hesitate as I moved forward, knowing I was bound to collide with something, eventually.  Something brushed against my feet as I kicked along, and then I reached forward and my hand landed right on top of something…

 

… and it slid forward on the kickboard completely useless – destitute and abandoned on an island on the surface of the water.  I laughed and pushed the kickboard aside and kept swimming.

 

A great mat of seaweed washed up over my head just as I turned to breathe.  I had already started to turn and lifted my face into muck.  I didn’t breathe in, somehow managing to stop myself, and kept swimming, trying to negotiate with it to leave me alone without losing stride.  

 

I laughed when it just wouldn’t disentangle itself and picked the kickboard up off of my head.  This was actually rather challenging.

 

Keep your head down.  Keep your mouth closed. Keep your stroke strong.

 

Each collision brought some new challenge.  I managed to free myself sometimes by rolling one way or another.  There were only a few times when I had to really stop because I was hopelessly tangled up.

 

I made my 2,000 yards, laughing.  This was, perhaps, the most fun I’d had during a swim in a long time.  I forgot how hard it was to not look up when you know there are jellies or debris in front of you.  I forgot how upsetting it can be to swim with company who are not friends.   But what I mostly forgot… was how much fun pool swimming all by yourself can be when you just get a little creative.

Virtual Channel Swim – Part 2 – British Shipping Lane

My good friend Sarah sent me an awesome workout plan for a week – just when pool swimming was starting to wear me down.  A virtual channel swim.  She divided the English Channel into parts – Dover to the British Shipping Lane (9.25km), British Shipping Lane (7.4km), Separation Zone (1.85km), French Shipping Lane (6.5km), and French Shipping Lane to Cape Gris-Nez (9.25km). I was positively ecstatic about the idea.  My imagination was already incorporating memories from my trip to Dover and my experience as crew with the boundless possibilities of what might happen with my Channel swim.  I thought it might be fun to blog about the different parts of this adventure.

 

During the 7.4 km of the British Shipping Lane, I am my steadiest and my strongest.  I feel settled, but still excited – still wondering how I could have made it here at all.  Still wondering if it’s too good to be true.  Grateful.  Happy.  Singing songs, thinking about the people I love, and laughing to myself at this adventure.  At this life.  What a life it is that I get to live!  Watching the large ships passing around me – the size of cities – thinking about how small I am.  How small in such a vast world, in such a vast ocean… how small.  But when there is a big fight over a little thing, it’s not a little thing is it?  I guess I’m not so little at all.  Even I can make a difference.

 

First things first. I have to finish getting to the British Shipping Lane.  I pushed off from the wall in the pool in Keene, NH and started the last 1,125 yards of the first part of the Virtual Channel Swim.  I was so darn excited to get to the wrong end of the pool and get out and walk around and get back in and start swimming again.  When I did, in fact, get out; I announced, to the wall, cheerfully, “Ta DA!”  And then I felt somewhat silly as I made my way around the pool deck, avoiding the children and adults back to the other side.  I got back in and started again.

 

I look up at the boat, carved white against the blue sky and green-blue sea.  My crew were smiling in the sun, laughing at some joke I couldn’t hear.  They looked so happy, every single one of them.  My heart just soared – everything is going so well…

 

Well, isn’t that a fun little thought, that everything will just be perfect!

 

I look up at the boat.  A dismal, gray, cloudy sky sent a steady rain.  The boat rocked in quiet waves.  How I love the waves… I just love them.  I can’t explain why.  The resistance is so steady and insistent.  Yet, it is possible to move forward through them.  Somehow, this body moves forward.  I looked up at my crew, buried in rain gear and coats against the cold.  They were still smiling, though.  Every single one of them.  Laughing at some joke I couldn’t hear-

 

Do I always picture people smiling?  I pulled up pictures of all my other friends.  In every single one, bright brilliant smiles lit happy faces.  Eyes shining.  Laughter.  Co-workers, too, even!  Huh.  In fact, I found it difficult to picture people without smiles.  Do they smile because they are in my head and I am happy?  Or do they smile because when I am around them, they are happy?  Or because I only remember them when they are happy?

 

I look up at the boat.  Stark against the white backdrop, my crew stands grave and unimpressed in their dark suits.  Members of the Italian mafia sent to protect me.  Or maybe Secrete Servicemen, with white cords dangling from their ears.  Their straight, somber faces seem chiseled from stone… until they see me looking at them… and then they smile!

 

I laugh and the bubbles burst out around me as I come to the wall and stop for a rest.  I just decided to do my same distance set for every part of the Virtual Channel Swim.  One 200 at a time, I was going to get all the way across.

“Oh my gosh!” a little girl one lane over draws my attention with her declaration.  “The pool is SO COLD!”

“Ugh! Why is it so cold?!” Another one exclaims.

“I’m freezing!” She says.

“You’ll get used to it,” Says an adult voice.

I laugh more as I push myself away from the wall again.

 

Stop laughing! You’re getting saltwater in your mouth.  Mouth closed, mouth closed while you exhale! The gritty texture of the salt in my mouth… blech!  Don’t open your mouth until the very last minute when you inhale.

 

I’ll have to put together a feed schedule including rinsing with mouthwash every hour or hour and a half.  I keep reminding myself not to exhale with my mouth open. It’s probably one of the hardest things to remember when I swim.  Eric asked me why I don’t just duct tape my mouth shut.  I had answered that I have to be able to open it to inhale.  He then suggested I carry something in my mouth to remind me.

 

The green ocean water yielded as I turned my face – small white spray flying up in the air as I inhaled through the chamber of the kazoo…

 

There’s nothing in any marathon swimming rules anywhere about not having a kazoo.

 

Cause if you never leave home… never let go… you’ll never make it to the great unknown…

 

Fresh and strong.  Steady. The sea and the waves.  Wind, weather, water, it doesn’t matter.  I am where I am supposed to be.  Doing something I am meant to do.  Stroke after stroke after-

 

My arm tumbles over something and I find myself hugging a noodle to my chest. Is this a CS&PF approved noodle?

 

The only scene in my head that worries me during this part of the swim (besides sudden hurricane force winds) is the idea of the sun setting during this time.  With only a third of the swim under my belt, and night coming… I find myself on edge. I cannot help it and can only comfort myself, for now, by trying not to worry about it.

 

I made it to the end of my 5 mile set triumphantly, only to realize that my hurried math was wrong and I actually overswam the British Shipping Lane by a half a mile.  It doesn’t matter, over-achiever, you will probably be pushed by all sorts of currents and swim longer in general.

 

“That was a long swim,” The lifeguard says as I pull myself out of the right end of the pool in Keene – which is different from the right end of the pool in Glens Falls.

“Almost 6 miles, I think,” I say.

“Wow,” he said. “How do you keep yourself entertained that long? I would get so bored.”

I giggle and shrug.

 

Virtual Channel Swim – Part 1 – Dover to British Shipping Lane

My good friend Sarah sent me an awesome workout plan for a week – just when pool swimming was starting to wear me down.  A virtual channel swim.  She divided the English Channel into parts – Dover to the British Shipping Lane (9.25km), British Shipping Lane (7.4km), Separation Zone (1.85km), French Shipping Lane (6.5km), and French Shipping Lane to Cape Gris-Nez (9.25km). I was positively ecstatic about the idea.  My imagination was already incorporating memories from my trip to Dover and my experience as crew with the boundless possibilities of what might happen with my Channel swim.  I thought it might be fun to blog about the different parts of this adventure.

 

I took a quiet step off the back of the boat and plunged into the cold night – allowing the water to swallow me with bubbles and sound and chaos and disruption.

 

Remember to exhale.  You already have full lungs of air.  That was what Gary had advised when I jumped off the boat into Alcatraz.  Most people hyperventilate when they jump into cold water, because they forget that they already have lungs full of air. I wonder how cold it will actually feel?  How shocking?  Jumping into the Alcatraz swim wasn’t that bad and that’s much colder.

 

A quick swim into shore.  The sounds of the cobbles and the pebbles and the stones on Shakespeare beach and the water slipping through them… that hushing sound – the Dover Lullaby.  Such a signature sound of the English Channel and Dover Harbor.  Swim toward it, until the lullaby is a roar around you.  Clamber out of the water and up on the dark, quiet beach.  I can feel the pain of the stones under my feet – 

 

…there’s a best way to walk on them, though.  What was it the swimmers at Dover Harbour said? I can’t remember it.  We’ll fast forward that part for now.  

 

Raise my arm in the air and wave.  The observer will note the time.  And then it’s my turn.  My turn.  To begin.

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Miss Adventures Update

Goodness!  I am a bit behind on the blogging, I suppose!

 

I do apologize, my dear readers, lots of things have been happening and changing – but the good news is that I am smart and beautiful and strong and amazing and SWIMMING LIKE A FIEND!!  Because it’s 2014 and I’m going to swim the English Channel!

 

So here are some wonderful things that have happened recently:

 

1 – Intrepid Athletics has a new website!  You can read all about us on there!  http://www.intrepidathletics.org/  Keep your eyes peeled for fundraisers, t-shirts, and fun, community happenings in the near future!

 

2 – All of my doctor’s appointments, dentist appointments, paperwork, applications, waivers, forms, releases, contracts and all of that for the English Channel and Swim Across the Sound are complete and accepted!  Folks! WE ARE DOING THIS THING!!!!  I am SOOOooooo excited!

 

3 – I am going to be working in Rutland!  My work takes me all over and now it will be taking me back home!  I am quite excited to be starting up on a project so near to the city that I love.

 

4 – AND… The Miss Adventures of Swimming blog has just hit 10,000 views.  Happy year plus anniversary to all of us!

 

So there you have what’s happened recently.  What’s going to be happening next, you ask?

 

1 – May 3rd – Cold Water Challenge – a 5.2 mile race in the ocean in CT. It should be perfectly frigid!  I can’t wait!

 

2 – July 4th-12th – Stay tuned! I’m going to be putting together my own challenging swim camp of two-a-days and adventure swims.  I might just be coming to a body of water near you!  And the cherry on this sundae will be finishing up with Kingdom Swim on Lake Memphremagog.

 

3 – August 2nd – I will return to Swim Across the Sound.  Hopefully I will get to swim this time!

 

4 – September 1st-6th – My English Channel Tide!  It’s only 157 days away!

 

So there you have what’s going to be happening.  Wanna know what’s NOT going to be happening?

 

1 – I am not going to get a puppy.  I don’t care how cute they are.  I don’t have time.

 

2 – I am not going to have a baby.  I don’t care how cute they are.  I don’t have time.

 

3 – I am not going to get married.  I don’t care how cute they are.  I don’t have time.

 

*Note: There really wasn’t any chance of any of the above happening, anyway.

 

I also don’t plan on learning any extreme sports, playing any full contact sports with Vikings (including hugging), or doing anything that could be harmful or dangerous.  I also don’t plan on spending money foolishly because – goodness! – this is an expensive gig!  I also don’t plan on the Zombie Apocalypse occurring.  And nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

 

I think I will be able to get back on a regularly scheduled blogging program in the next couple of weeks, and thanks, everybody for all your encouragement and support!