The Swim Genius knows many an expert swimmer. Please allow me to introduce Sydne, she is the proprietor of SwimCrest - https://swimcrest.com/. She offers youth lessons, triathlon, and open water coaching to individuals in the Amherst, MA area. Please see Swimcrest.com to experience world-class coaching, and book a lesson to experience the Swimcrest facility that consists of an architecturally award-winning pool!
The Swim Genius asked Sydne if she would be willing to share the article below, and she responded with a great big yes. She's the best!
This article is a personal favorite, it does a great job of describing the bond, and individual responsibilities of each member of the team.
By Sydne Didier;
As open water season approaches and as I prepare for my next big swims, my lovely husband and I have put together a list of basic instructions for acting as kayak support for an open water swim. Please feel free to comment, add suggestions, disagree, and to share with whoever might benefit. I know I’ve said it before, but this long distance swimming thing is TRULY a team endeavor. Swimmers like me could NOT do it without the incredible assistance and support we receive from those amazing kayakers and support crews who help make this happen.
Kayak Support for Open Water Swimming
Remember that this is a set of guidelines that are specific to one swimmer in particular (Moi!), and that the needs and requirements for each swimmer and kayaker will vary. Communication is key. Know your swimmer, and swimmer, know and thank and love your kayaker!
This list is specific to kayak support only, for distance swimming, and does not include instructions for documentation of a marathon swim or a power boat supported swim.
TO BRING FOR KAYAKER:
Waterproof watch and stopwatch – something that can alert you to when the feed time comes up and something to measure stroke count (stroke/minute)
Sun shirt – be careful about the sun. If there is no wind, you might suffer from too much heat as you won’t be moving fast enough to kick up a breeze.
Tylenol or Ibuprofen because your back might start stiffening up
Easy to eat snacks – protein bars, sandwich, nuts
A whistle in case of emergency or to alert boaters or the swimmer
GPS device to track swimmer’s course
Bottle for going to the bathroom in (Yup. Sorry about that!)
Plastic/Waterproof bag for your personal items. (Phone, keys, towel)
Bring a change of clothes and store them in a water-proof bag. You’ll feel gross when you’re done
Possible additions: Glow sticks and waterproof flashlights if your swimmer will be swimming in the dark
TO BRING FOR SWIMMER:
(Most, if not all, of this will be supplied by swimmer)
Cooler for drinks/feedings & bungee cords, if necessary, to hold cooler to kayak
Carabiner and rope to attach to feeding bottles, or, if preferred, a feeding stick for delivery
Extra PDF (Personal Floatation Device)
Extra goggles and caps
Aquaphor/Vaseline or whatever your swimmer uses to prevent chafe
Care bag/kit waterproof for swimmer which may include shoes to wear post-swim, warm clothing, glasses, and whatever else the swimmer needs to have with them at the end of their swim
Gummy Bears! Or your swimmer’s preferred in-water treat
Safety and Caring for your swimmer
Know the Emergency Action Plan for the swim, and understand what happens if there is lightning, if the swim must be called for safety reasons, and understand how you and your swimmer will communicate and act in case of emergency. Know the guidelines for race communication and how race/swim directors will make decisions and/or communicate those to you.
Stay on the preferred breathing side of the swimmer – know what side that is!
Stay level with the swimmer’s head so she doesn’t have to lean up or back to see you.
Feed times should be approximately every 30 minutes or unless the swimmer tells you otherwise beforehand. She might push her feed if she feels she can overtake a competitor. That’s fine but only if you have agreed beforehand that she can only push the feed for a certain amount of time – no more than 10 minutes, for example. You don’t want her to bonk immediately after a big push.
Know what your swimmer uses for feeds, and the composition of what is in their bottles. This is important in case you need to mix a feed for them. (Generally, you should not have to do this. But it’s best to be prepared just in case!) Some swimmers may opt to vary their feeds each time, while others prefer consistency. Know what your swimmer prefers.
Know and understand the feeding delivery system for your swimmer. Will you throw them a bottle? Use a feeding stick? When and how will hot feeds occur, if necessary?
Count the stroke rate per minute once between every feed. This will give you information to share with the swimmer when there is a break for feeding.
You are the boss when it comes to the swimmer’s safety. If she ignores feeds, starts to slur her words, has an erratic stroke rate that is getting more erratic over time, she might need to get pulled.
Know and understand the signs and symptoms of hypothermia.
Does your swimmer have medical conditions and/or allergies you need to be aware of? If so, have a plan for how to handle any medical issue that may arise. (For example, I have Raynaud’s Syndrome, which can cause intense discomfort and may cause my hands to look stiff or awkward.)
Watch if the form breaks down – be aware of arm placement, midline, and kick.
Talk about the best way to signal the swimmer. Her goggles might be fogged up meaning she can’t see you very well and her ears could be filled with water.
You might be tempted to paddle up or back or even around the swimmer because it can be boring. Don’t.
Be aware of who is around you – if you think the swimmer is able to overtake another competitor in the same age/sex group, be sure to offer that as an option during a feed, particularly after the halfway mark. If there’s a competitor about to overtake your swimmer, be sure to see if the faster swimmer is or isn’t in the same age/sex group. Your swimmer is going to be upset if she gets passed by someone in her age/sex group but won’t care if the person isn’t in her age/sex group.
If you can, take some video of the swimmer at different points of the event. This is helpful for the swimmer to see her stroke after the event. Only advisable if the water is calm and you don’t have competitors nearby.
Your swimmer may go through all of the Stages of Grief during the swim. Be patient with, ahem, some occasional moodiness. Think about ways to keep their spirits up during those harder moments. A well-placed smile or silly face can go a long way!
Before the swim, familiarize yourself with the course map, and pay close attention during the pre-swim meeting. Go over the course with your swimmer before the start of the swim.
At the start of the swim, there will be a lot of kayakers desperately trying to locate their swimmer. You likely won’t be able to find your swimmer for a little while. Don’t freak out. Stay cool, stay on the side, and just look up and down for her number. Your swimmer won’t really need you for the first ten minutes anyway and the field will spread out pretty quickly. If you can, wear something on your head that is easy for your swimmer to see (maybe a handkerchief around your hat?)
You are the boss in terms of staying on course. If the swimmer starts to change direction or thinks she knows better, let her know how wrong she is. You have a clearer perspective on the route and the swimmer should defer to you.
Your swimmer’s view of the water is limited so do not assume she can see potential obstacles.
The wind has a tendency to move the kayak more than the swimmer. Take that into account when you are navigating.
Don’t let another swimmer draft behind your boat or behind your swimmer. If that happens, you need to tell the competitor’s kayaker to control their swimmer.
There are usually a bunch of novice kayakers in the group who don’t know how to be safe around swimmers. Be sure you are aware of this possibility and have a way to either control the novice or to get in between the dangerous kayaker and your swimmer.
Be sure you look around and enjoy where you are. You likely would never have found yourself in a kayak in this particular body of water. Appreciate the opportunity.
Don’t bring music. Stay aware of your surroundings.
I never wear shoes when I’m in a kayak. Bring a pair in the boat, though, as you might need to make an emergency exit on shore and you’ll want something on your feet if you need to walk.
Know that your swimmer is filled with gratitude for all you are doing, and that this sport would not be possible without your generosity of spirit. Marathon swimming is a TEAM sport, and while the swimmer tends to get the glory and those big bucks (ha!), this is about the TEAM. Your swimmer thanks you. Truly.
The Swim Genius would like to add, there is nothing quite as comforting as looking up, and see your favorite person sitting in a kayak. BTW, when swimming, any person in a kayak has a 99% chance of being your favorite person. We love you! We appreciate you! We need you!
If you would like to republish content please contact The Swim Genius at SwimGenius@Outlook.com
The Swim Genius has noticed a common theme in the athletic community, there is a lot of buzz around the word "Taper". Just to be clear, I’m not speaking about a "Tapir", as defined by Wikipedia; “Tapir is a large, herbivorous mammal, similar in shape to a pig, with a short, prehensile nose trunk. Tapirs inhabit jungle and forest regions of South America, Central America, and Southeastern Asia.” Taper is a little different, ok really different. As defined by The Swim Genius: "Taper is the process of reducing the training load on your body, in preparation for an upcoming event."
The Swim Genius has received a lot of questions lately from students, and fellow swimmers. There has been an immense amount of chatter about who is tapering for what, and how long that timeframe should be? The Swim Genius can only speak from coaching and personal experience, but if you are audacious enough to sign up for an event that will take up near a day to complete, you should probably taper for two full weeks. This two weeks will be hell, and people around you may start to distance themselves. Why? You are an addict; dopamine, adrenaline, testosterone, and progesterone are your best friends, and without opening up those channels, you’ll feel the itch. After about four days of not working out, you begin to operate on a hormone imbalance. Symptoms of withdrawal include: crabbiness, bitchiness, short temper, loss of filter, and completely unnecessary emotional outbursts without provocation, in summary, you may become a hot mess of a human being. The Swim Genius would go so far as to say, you’ll become cantankerous. Your dopamine channel, assists with such things as emotional stability, and pain management. While sedentary, you may feel the need to take medication that are otherwise not needed, such as NSAIDs. You’ll probably feel like crap, and others will notice!
Note – Feel free to forward this article to explain your erratic behavior. After all it’s better than screaming at them, and crying in a dark corner for no apparent reason.
Taper will pay off when the event comes around, two hours in, you will feel great, because you get your fix. Eight hours in you’ll not feel that great, but still be moving, and twelve hours or more later, as you complete your task, the glory rises up, and makes those two weeks’ worthwhile. Fight the addiction, take in some extra calories, refine your nutrition, get body work done, you’ll need the rest, and stored energy.
Training tip: Practice the compiled distance within the scope of a full week multiple times prior to the event. Stack the distance with back to back workouts, within 24 hours, so that you are still resting, but pushing your overall maximum. Within one month of the event, schedule a “test out” workout, this can be breaking through your current training ceiling in a single effort, or over two days completing the combined distance, or timeframe necessary to complete the event. After your “test out” you should begin the taper process.
You may not be that audacious, or in other words, “bat shit crazy” like “those people”, but still qualify for mainstream crazy. For instance you are going to compete in an event that pushes over your top practiced distance, or hits that mark. A taper period of a week, to two weeks will do the trick. It’s about healing the micro tears in your muscle, allowing the fascia to loosen, and unbind. Giving your body that time to be at its peak, so that all of the training can pay off. Get some body work done, not right before your race, but three days ahead of time is good. There is a sweet spot in there, because even the body work requires recovery. Give yourself the gift of time to heal up, loosen up, and most importantly get your mind right! New distance, always comes with new pain, be mentally prepared, so the stroke demons don’t rise up, and begin asking questions that knock you off track.
If you are competing in an event that lines up with normal distances you currently train at; give your body a day, or two, or five. Increase your calorie load on those days to get a bit more energy. Recharge your battery, detoxify with good food, good sleep, and occasional massage.
Now, for those that over train leading up to your event. Lesson coming, take notes! Stop! Now! You’ll be lucky to finish, especially if considering one of those events that take up the bulk of the day to complete. For a lesser event, you’ll probably finish, right about where you’ve been training, but you won’t exceed your expectations, and you may have an external win, but an internal failure. What does that mean? An external win is when everyone tells you that you are an inspiration, amazing, and you receive great praise for your accomplishment. This may be accompanied by an internal failure; an internal failure is when you finished well, but bonked in the last couple of miles, and gave up the podium, an age division finish, or just got schooled by someone who generally doesn’t come in as fast. Guess, what, they tapered, and you didn’t! This is a sign of overtraining.
You should not be training in close proximity to your event, rest is mandatory. To keep the BS meter in check, The Swim Genius sucks at this because The Swim Genius falls into the bat shit crazy crowd. An addict in every sense of the word! The Swim Genius feels like crap after the dopamine crash, and then starts to take pills to offset the lack of training. Through torment, personal and viewed, the training timeframe is the years and months leading to opportunity. Taper is a two week insurance policy to ensure that all of that training will be available when opportunity arises, because going in tired only marginalizes your ability. Greatness is when that insurance pays dividends, and you forge that opportunity into a medal that hangs on your neck! It’s that important! Don’t mess it up!
Now pull of your tear soaked britches, and start resting, you over trainer! Yep, talking to you!
The Swim Genius
Are you a glucose fueled athlete? Do you use gel packs, but don’t like them? The Swim Genius dislikes them too! The Swim Genius has a sensitive tummy, and needs to keep that bodacious figure in check, for after swim photo opportunities. That dextrose hits the stomach, churns and bubbles, and then The Swim Genius is fighting gas, and stomach cramps. That’s fine if you are upright on a bike, or running, it’ll pass soon enough, but laid out in freestyle, not so much. The Swim Genius had similar situations happen with all of the carb powders, the corn derivatives bubble.
So what is The Swim Genius to do? The Swim Genius reports to the lab for some late night concocting, and eureka, a solution is found, using all of the simple household items you may already have!
Here is was came out of the lab: the base “gel” formula, gelatin, in the form of collagen, and for the vegan crowd, you can use pectin. The benefit of gelatin is it’s a protein formulation, that helps you to repair, and recover. Think about it, your joints, ligaments, tendons, fascia, ears, nose, skin are all reliant on collagen for repair, and elasticity. Yeah, you should have it in your diet, (unless vegan) so why not? Can’t think of a reason, unless vegan.
Ok, so what’s next, corn derivatives, starch, wax, and dextrose? Nope, been done, and they suck. Bubble guts so bad, the Bee Gee’s are singing back-up, and The Swim Genius is barely Staying Alive. Not groovy at all, not even a little bit. Let’s go with a good old fashion apple. Apple sauce, which will break down a bit slower as it’s bound in fiber, and apple juice for the quick jolt of energy. Does it upset The Swim Genius sensitive stomach, nope, ok, good to go!
If you read a package of good old fashion gelatin it’ll say; “Add 4 packets to 3 cups heated to boiling juice – 1 cup cold, stir until dissolved – refrigerate”.
This will give you a large supply of chewable consistency gels, and yield 4 cups. Please be aware, as they warm, they lose this consistency, and turn into a true gel, so packaging is a consideration.
The Swim Genius found that 4 cups is far too much to use in a training environment and the consistency is not ideal, so The Swim Genius cut the liquid down, increased the gelatin, and this worked well.
The Swim Genius recipe
1 - Cup Apple juice
1 - Cup Cinnamon apple sauce. “Cinnamon is a natural anti-inflammatory – easy bonus”
6 - Packages for Knox Gelatin / Pectin (Double for harder gels)
2 - Tablespoons of Chia seed – because endurance athletes love them.
This is The Swim Genius base… Heat juice and sauce until boiling, microwave works, add in gelatin, stir until dissolved, add in additional items as desired, refrigerate. Yields 2 cups – approximately 20 1x1 chewable cubes when cut.
Suggested add in’s
-Gas X – yep, The Swim Genius has done it – it works, cut the caplets and mix in, or tuck a caplet into the gel after it’s set.
-Carb powder, not for me but to each their own.
The beauty of this, it it’s literally create your own solution, that will suit your independent needs, and you no longer need to be reliant on gels that cause stomach irritation. The Swim Genius‘s favorite part is gelatin is a natural protein base, and it’s commonly the only protein that The Swim Genius take’s in on distance swims. The Swim Genius found that the recovery cycles for everything 10K+ has been much shorter than they once were, and the distance is more comfortable.
Of course, The Swim Genius looks fab in the after swim photo, you will too!
THIS IS A FREE SWIM GENIUS FEATURE - Write your swim experience and get it published on The Swim Genius. Contact: SwimGenius@outlook.com
I want to start my recap of my 2017 End Wet swim by saying, I don’t think I’ll ever be quite the same, the level of respect that I have for ultra-marathon swimmers has grown exponentially. It’s one of those things; once you’ve broken through, you realize that you need to honor those that came before you, and celebrate those that come after.
My story starts as we drop the kayak, and check out the start, looks like a river. I do a little marketing on Facebook, because I’m supporting a charity effort. I get back to the hotel about 9:45PM, and Ryan (Best friend, and paddler extraordinaire) says “Sleep fast.” With every intention, I set my alarm for 3:30AM because we had to report to the bus by 4:30AM. Sleep fast, yeah right, I tried, I really did, next thing you know I look at the watch; 11:20PM, I must have fallen asleep shortly after to reawaken at 3:13AM, no reason to snooze till 3:30AM, I’m up! I guess we are going to do this on less than four hours of sleep. Adrenaline is jacked, so it might just work. The night before Ryan says, “I’m going to sleep on the bus,” I responded, “Me too.” The bus pulls up, it’s a party bus, with a full sound system, and LED light show. The only things missing are a brass pole, and disco ball. Needless to say, no sleep, but we did jam out to “Eye of the tiger.” It was odd.
We get out there, after about thirty minutes travel, I immediately strip down and start applying lanolin oil to my pits, Aqauphor over the top of the oil, and zinc oxide over exposed skin. Start time is in fifteen minutes, so we’ve got to move. It’s cold with an air temp in the lower 50’s, will warm to mid-60’s, but I don’t feel much, due to sleep deprivation, and adrenaline. I take in two granola bars and a feeding out of my daily allowance, along with a sip from one of the camelbacks that we tied to the top of the kayak.
As we line up to get in the water; one of the smallest crowds I’ve been a part of, I start to feel the cold. I’m so deep in thought about what I’ve got coming up, that I forget to yell out, “We are all winners!” which I commonly do prior to a race. I’m looking forward to the water, I’ve been in taper for two weeks, so the itch is bad. I hear “Go,” we all start to dive in, it’s not the normal sprint, and ease back, it’s all ease. My first thought, “Oh my God, that’s dark.” The difference between the morning light, and the pitch black of the river is at sharp contrast. On the bright side, seventy-two degrees feels really good at the moment, and there is the continual hope of a warm day.
Getting started the water feels great, it’s my first time swimming in a river so I’m calibrating every sense. I’m stroking well. The cold is noticeable, but I know that the day will warm, and I’ll be ok. Through the day it would become apparent that if I wanted to be in the current, I could not reasonably expect to swim in seventy-two degrees. The slip stream of the current is colder, and you know when you are in it, because you’re hitting sticks, and other debris. So, you start making the decision early, and this decision continually changes, given your ability to find the slip stream. To be, or not to be, in the current? That’s a relevant question.
Back to my original thought, I’m stroking along, and have settled into a bilateral breathing pattern that is to the following rhythmic chant. “Muck muck, North Dakota tree, muck muck, Minnesota tree, muck muck ND, mm, MN ect…” Ryan caught up to me a while back, the kayaks launch after the swimmers. I look at him with relief now and again, to have a best friend at my side is a true gift. The water is heavy, and grows heavier through the day because you’re stroking against the river, and it’s dirty, so it’s not light like your local pool. It’s not the consistency of mud, so it’s viscous, but thick enough to know the difference. At this point, I think of the 5k’s that I swam with paddles, and begin to think, “Glad I did, I’ve got this”. I think my shoulders will hold.
Two miles fly by; then my right hand strikes an underwater tree between my pointer finger, and thumb, my hand folds, and rolls to accommodate the blow. The same branch, I think, then scrapes down my left side left side, and it feels like it takes my left nipple clean off. To clarify any question you may have about visibility, I never see the branch. Undeterred, I think; “Great, mile two and it’s going to be a long ass day, if I have to swim with a broken hand, and no nipple.” “I’ll blead out before the end, because how would I clot?” Needless to say, I don’t plan on stopping, so I checked the nipple, still there, but there is a scrape, “Ok, and the hand?” “Hurts, check back later.” The analyst in me says; “Indicates a slight overreach at the top of the key on your right, level out, stroke clean.” After this ten seconds of thought, I just start to laugh to myself, happy in the fact that I still have two nipples. Celebrate the small things! Pun intended.
I didn’t realize who it was, but I’m gaining on a fellow swimmer, later I find out it’s Elaine. I pull up next to her, the Butterfly guy, John is also near. We have a bit of a race for a moment. Elaine, and I would continue this through about mile eight, where upon she would pull ahead for the duration, and I would think to myself, “You’ve got to swim your own race.”
Feedings are going well, for the first eight or so miles, I’m feeding on the forty-five, with a fluids stop in-between. Ryan would air drop my food, consisting of my nut balls, dates, and cheese. I found that going into Chicken, Star, Soldier, or Backstroke while chewing was a great way to maintain buoyancy, and stretch muscles that needed a changeup. After the eight mile mark I asked Ryan to separate my feedings, cheese and fluids on one interval at about twenty five, and nut balls, and dates with fluids on the alternate. Another lifesaver was my inhaler, allergies have been a constant problem in my life, this water, and the pollen in the air began making breathing difficult. Early on, I asked Ryan to dig out the inhaler, the first two of eight total puffs is taken in about this time, along with the first two of six total pain pills, acetaminophen. The only other med taken in the day, is every other nut ball has a Gas X in it, unwanted buoyancy can be a really bad thing.
I’m swimming pretty well at this point, I feel like my muscles have warmed up. People say I’m crazy, but it’s common for me to feel tight prior to the five-mile mark. Through the prior two weeks of taper I was extremely tight, and suffering from headaches, so, I’m relieved when I begin to loosen a bit at mile eight. Air temperat ure is still cold, water temp is the same, colder in the slip stream. I’ve stayed in the channel as much as possible, hitting random debris, and the continual chill is just part of the gig at this point. Right hand? “Still hurts, check back later.”
“Yeah,” I’ve been looking for it, the big fifteen-mile mark, Thompsons bridge. I’m closer to the North Dakota shore on my approach but notice that there is a small gathering near a probable boat ramp on Minnesota side, and begin to drift in that direction. I have high hopes of seeing my wife, babies, and parents. As I heard them scream, “Go Daddy!” I pull my head, wave, placed my hands in the shape of a heart, quickly submerged due to the effort, level out, and begin stroking again. I immediately begin a river of emotion; To have their support, for my little girls to see me live a fearless life. It’s not only the support of my family, but it’s the support of the swim community that I’m a member of, all of the Brothers, and Sisters; warriors of stoke, and kick. All of the people following my efforts, and those that have donated to my cause. I’m out here trying to benefit children faced with the adversity of an injury that can only be seen as unfair, these children, so close to my heart, are imprinted, because I was that child. The thought, from prior writing rolls, “Be a hero to the childhood you,” “Well; Here I am, in pain, I’ve just crossed my longest swim on record, have overcome my disability, all the odds, raised money for a great cause, have more support than I can fathom, and oh shit, only have twenty-one miles to go.” The tears roll, filling the bottom edges of my goggles, I figure it’s just saline, no harm there, and let them flood. This goes on till my next feeding because just the sensory of it all is overwhelming, much less the emotional toll I begin to feel.
Mile eighteen, half way. It’s pure coincidence, but I have a feeding at this time. I’m doing my normal thing, and Ryan says: “This exact spot is half way!” I smile for lack of words, Ryan and I hold a small personal celebration. I don’t know what he is thinking, but I’m thinking, “That was a really long half way.” I think we were both spooked by the grandeur of it all, and for the first time, I understand why boat captains never tell an English Channel swimmer how much farther they have to go. If that distance sinks into your mind, and you are unprepared to fight off the demons that come with it, your journey will get longer with every passing stroke. I go a bit quite, and with a wince of pain break the seal on my goggles for the first time, to let out the three mile tears. Goggles have been digging in for some time, and I have a constant pain under my eyes. I place them back, trying to avoid the exact placement as before, with little luck.
We get back to it, I begin to settle back in, my mind is a bit damaged by the whole half way thing, but I start to shake it off, “Life begins, where your comfort zone ends,” is on repeat until the magnitude of the distance begins to fade to background. I start up a single side breath pattern, and at the next feeding take another couple of pulls off the inhaler. My lungs are beginning to tighten up again, and I can feel my stroke start to wane a bit. Additional things start going wrong, I’ve had a nagging pain in my left hip, and my left should is feeling the stress, there is pain there too. I’m right handed, so it’s no surprise that my weak side is starting to revolt. Right hand? “Still hurts, check back later.”
The arms are still moving, the current is still running, and I’m still hitting sticks so things are ok. As my stroke begins to fall off, I decide to try different ones, and start cycling through the base stroke structures of all of my Masters students. I try this, and that, much like Goldie Locks until I find something that fits the moment just right. I’m glad that I have, it’s Andi’s, an arm entry just off the top of the cap, with extension high in the water, a little shorter than my normal pattern. Then a clean under body sweep, slightly shallower than my normal pull. All paired with an even six beat kick. It’s efficient, effective, and most of all comfortable. I call this stroke pattern home for the next eight miles, and then need to recalibrate a bit.
Mile twenty-four is memorable, that pain in my left hip has become significant, and is effecting the entire left side of my body. It’s started to lock, and I’m trying everything in my power to get it to loosen or pop. Since I don’t have a right hip, I’m not a big fan of breast stroke, but I start up a breast stroke, to move that hip in a different way. I stop, try to stretch it manually, I try to get it to pop. This has been going on and off for miles, when I finally decide to ditch my six beat kick, and try a three beat kick. This just feels weird, and I’m growing frustrated, but stick with it short term.
A couple of new distractions would present themselves: The support boats were really good about throttling down, you could hear the screws in the water come to a stop. I could even tell that one of the boats needed to replace the spark plug, because when firing back up, it would click, click, click, and then you’d get a whiff of gasoline over the water. This was disturbing, but I came to the satisfaction that it was in the name of safety. At mile twenty-five, the river widens, and the current drops to a point where you can’t feel it at all. The river stays this way for the next ten miles, making this a prime boater spot, and non-support boats fly by, casting a large wake. One in particular caught me, I pull my head, and say, “what the hell was that?” Ryan patiently responds “boat wake”. I then notice that Ryan is positioning the kayak to protect me from wake in future events; What a great guy!
Soon enough I hear more screws in the water, not slowing, I lift my head to see a fellow competitor being boated off the course, this is difficult to see. I’d had a conversation with this individual the night prior on the finish dock, while checking out the river. We discussed flow, and the goal. It was a short but impactful conversation, he’d traveled a long ways for the opportunity, and it was heart breaking to see him, center boat, wetsuit down, being pulled. I could still feel his strong, solid hand shake, and see matter of fact southern confidence of his smile. A true bad ass, this didn’t change that at all. Just to step to this line is an accomplishment!
Left hip continues dying a slow, and painful death, I stop again, in an effort to stretch it. I’ve been working in broken three butterfly drill, because it doesn’t want to move at all. This is tiring, it’s locking, and fast. I would later learn that this was my Psoaz. The Psoaz is a tricky muscle group that connects the spine to the pelvis crossing the body back to front, and after hours of pain it no longer wants to move. Don’t ask me how the physics work, I find myself treading water with my right leg only, left leg in both hands, I’m bringing it up to my chest, and then with a jerk with my left arm, I swing it out to the left, while trying to rebalance with my right arm. “Holy hell, it popped!” As the nerves in the leg recoil, it’s like a shot of cold water runs down my leg, dizzy euphoria sets in. The good thing, my left hip is moving again, not as much pain, but still there. I shake out my arms, and start back up, still trying to master a three beat kick, I’m swimming wounded.
This is about the time, my mind desperate for something to distract it from the task at hand, focuses in on some electrical poles high above at the moment. They become entertainment, before I even realize the thought has crept in, I’m sixteen years old, in my best friend Tony’s basement, watching a VHS bootleg copy of; The Life and Times of Brian, by Monty Python. The poles to the power lines resemble crosses, and I begin to sing to myself; “Always look on the bright side of life”, and then mentally whistle the rest of the chorus. This repeats over, and over, I’m becoming slightly annoyed in my inability to whistle at the moment, and think, “It’s totally worth it for a smile.” I pick my head up, and sing out loud; “Always look on the bright side of life!”, then I whistle; not in my head, but I whistle that bad boy out! Ryan looks, and smiles, he knows me so well that this does not worry him, he knows I’ve not lost my mind. He knows me so well, that he knows the entertainment has value.
Swimming, swimming, Right hand? “Still hurts, check back later.”
The next surprise gets labeled under; Expect the unexpected, as if that’s possible. No wetsuit, because I want this to count, nine plus hours, the cold is setting in. Unfortunately, it’s not cold enough to numb me, just cold enough to hurt. I’ve been this cold before, just two weeks prior in Okoboji I’d done a 14 mile test out swim, in 55 degree water, but I had the wetsuit on. This is 68-72, but no wetsuit. The staple in my right knee, that protrudes the bone a bit, just under skin surface, appears to be closer to the temperature of the water, than that of my body. As the cold penetrates the bone, my entire right leg begins to ache. I can’t explain the ache, it’s like arthritis I suppose, but if you metal in your body, you probably know it. This is my entire leg, and I’m mentally trying to will it back. Moving is more important now than ever, if you get chilled, then you have to move, or hypothermia will set in. Fact: the body loses heat four times faster in water than in air, water is much more invasive.
These are all apparent struggles coinciding within what I call the longest ten miles. I mentioned it earlier, the current drops out as the river widens between miles twenty-five, and thirty-five. I’ve not mentioned the wind, we’ve been swimming into a fifteen to twenty mile per hour wind, all day long. This only effects the water when there is a quarter to half mile stretch that is due north. In those stretches I’m fighting the annoyance of six-inch head slappers. In this segment of the swim, with the river wider, and current dwarfed, I’m fighting these small waves. I begin to tire of it, and again as a form of distraction start trying out new stroke patterns. I still have my lungs, and my buoyancy control so I begin to wonder if I can dive under them. Ok, new goal, new stroke, dip head left, drop left shoulder, high right arch in the right arm, place it forward, a couple of butterfly kicks to secure a dive, and try to swim under getting a couple of meters per stroke. This works for a while, it takes the pressure off the left shoulder (still in pain), and for a moment takes the head slappers out of the picture. I thought I may find a lower current, which did not work out, but it was notably fun to create a new stroke. I have a student; Tracy, who had a high sweeping right, and three beat kick, so I adopt his stroke pattern for a bit, and we are forging ahead.
The dive stroke format eventually messes with my stomach, over the last eight miles it turns four times, but I manage to hold it. I start to count down, “I didn’t swim twenty-eight miles, to lose it in the last eight”. I check in with Ryan, “How are you doing”, he responds; “I just want to stand up”, my response “Me too!” We both chuckle. Mental fortitude continues; “I didn’t swim twenty-nine miles, to lose it in the last seven.” My body, cold, and in pain, tries to find relief in my mind. My mind responds with a dream of warm saline, and a tramadol drip. The only way that I can describe the pain is; Surgical recovery pain, but instead of being in a hospital bed with narcotics, you’re working with dopamine, and adrenaline. Surgical pain in comparison is required, and every moment of this, you’re a volunteer, “I can stop, and the pain will subside.” “I won’t stop!” “F the pain!” Mental stamina needs to stay intact, “Always look on the bright side of life”, “Life begins where your comfort zone ends”.
I know I’m close to the end, but I can no longer track time. I’ve been tracking the sun all day, but the evening is cloudy to the west, the night is coming on, and I can’t see the sun. I’m trying to track time, but can’t remember well enough, I begin to panic because they said that they would pull us at 9:01PM, as that is official nightfall. I’m freaking a little, I don’t think it’s that late, but at this point who knows, am I going to get pulled due to sundown cutoff? “I can’t see the sun!” Four miles to go, counting down, and doing some math, energy VS food, I’ve lost interest in feedings, but take in some more cheese because it coats my stomach, and I know I’ll need it.
I Start to think, “I don’t ever want to do this again”, then I think “Pain is temporary, glory is forever”. “Life begins where your comfort zone ends”. Ryan says, “Sarah is texting, when can we see the bridge?” I can’t see the bridge, more panic sets in. “No sun, no bridge, no good; I did not swim thirty-four miles to get pulled in the last mile!”
Ryan and I turn a corner, and I see three bridges; “What the hell, which bridge am I supposed to see?” “I know I’ve got it now, I try to swim with a bit more pep, the pain is real, the exhaustion is real, but I’m going to make it.” Soon after we see the bridges, we get to the fork in the river, and the adjoining river creates a swirl current. I feel current for the first time in four or five hours. I pick my head up and say, “Current, I feel it!” Ryan says,” I know, it’s weird.” After I get out of the swirl, it begins to push me again.
I can see, “The bridge,” my family is on it, they are cheering me on. I again make the heart with my hands, because this is the best way to communicate what I feel. I start looking for the dock. I stood on this dock merely twenty-four hours prior checking out the river, speaking with the brave southern gentleman mentioned earlier. I’m told, I just have to touch the dock. I’m flashing through descriptors for what I just experienced, all of them have swear words in them, but I have the presence of mind to know my babies are there. I pull myself up just enough to rest my shoulders, and lay down my head in a moment of exhaustion. I say, “That was a really long swim”. That’s all the description I can manage. Getting out, my body is extremely heavy, and begins to shiver uncontrollably. My daughters are again being there to warm, and comfort their daddy. My wife steadfast, and supportive standing beside me, holding me up. This is the best part of my day.
My attitude about the swim begins to change, the second that it’s over. It’s a worthy challenge, the magnitude of the accomplishment, and glory begins to hit me. I get some warmer clothes on, and report to the canopy, where there are some chairs, and a last piece of Boston Cream pie. I’m offered, the pie, and accept with a “Hell Yes.” Elaine, our accomplished swim leader for the day says: “Thanks for pushing me”. I respond, with an element of surprise “I pushed you?” She replies: “Yeah, I kept thinking, who is this guy, and why won’t he go away.” She later tells me her English Channel time, it’s seven minutes more that my finish time, so I do some quick math to figure her overall difference, surprised that I’m capable, I think “Shit, I could totally swim for another twenty five minutes to thirty minutes, if it got me to France”. This goal just became real! A couple minutes after finish, and my drive, is back.
Right hand? “Still hurts, check back later.” Be brave, be stubborn, swim with grace upon your every stroke, and make it!
Philanthropist, Swimmer, Author of; Saved with Honu – A Story of Adversity.
$2,212.00 Raised for Omaha Children’s Hospital. Thank you!
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