Nov 22, 2010

Qualified for English Channel, Conquering Ones Doubts

This one is for Mary Weybright! A friend who is battling for her life and demonstrating such courage and strength that by comparison makes my meager efforts herein nothing.

You go girl!

Bright eyed and bushy tailed this past Saturday I arrived at Seal Beach, CA for nothing more than a training swim or at least that is what I was telling most others. I now can admit my ego was a bit bruised when I retired from my attempt not more than a month ago stopping with cramps at 4:45 into the effort. With the encouragement of Doug, Marcia and others I delicately stepped forward in the weeks leading up to this effort working even harder in practice focusing on my mental game. I have now learned that in marathon swimming, the mental game is what separates the wheat from the chaff.  

So, here I am getting ready with Beth Barnes just before embarking on my swim. No doubt the IU swim tee-shirt was the basis for my success. The phoenix has risen, or at least for me a pigeon! What a corn ball, hey Katie! (FYI. for those of you that don't know, my sister was a stud muffin IU swimmer, twice to the Olympic trials, multiple Big Ten champ, etc, etc,) so we have fun with such things in our house! Need I say anything about Purwho, MICHu...

In usual fashion, talking about food and energy in feeds became central to the swimming effort before the jump. One of the theories I had from my first failed first attempt was that my substitution of warm tea (which seemed logical, warmth during a cold swim) was actually substituting energy out. Thus I simply ran out of glycogen and likely sodium and potassium leading to cramps. This time was to be different, no tea. So my usual mix of 100 mg (Maxim Carbo loader, 4 scoops), 1 pouch of Gatorade pro and a partial scoop of protein in 10 oz. of water would do the trick. I calculated that this provided me about 700 -900 calories per hour Yummy!.

While this rib sticking thick liquid actual tastes pretty good after 6 hour worth of feeds every 30 minutes, needless to say one gets hungry for solid food. We also mixed in one GU PAC every hour and some fresh water to rinse out the salt that was pickling my tongue. Like eating a meal after getting your teeth drilled by the dentist with Novocain.We also threw in a few Cliff bar pieces, this was so so. I really didn't want to introduce anything to new this time so rice pudding, oatmeal were left at the dock as were the bananas. Beth provided me with some maritime superstition about them, although I think it was from slipping on the peal and not eating meat. Too much grog!

I found my way to Seal Beach, CA in the capable and encouraging hands of Beth Barnes (www.Ikayak4u.com, she does a great job) via a long trail of relationships. Marica Cleveland (my coach) who had suggested I look for warmer places to re-qualify led me to Dick Sidner in Indianapolis where things were a bit warmer. Mother nature however threw me a curve ball and as most know things got cold quick here in the Midwest. Dick graciously led me to Jim Barber, Victorian Rian and Mallory Mead who themselves like Marcia are English Channel, Catalina Island and other huge swim success stories way beyond my skills. Thank you all for encouraging words and the link to Seal Beach.



The weather Saturday was 'Doverish' later said Anne Cleveland a friend of Beth's (who fits right in with those mentioned above) which I am glad she said later rather than earlier. At the start it was 54f air, grey, drizzle and a yucky wind whipped 15-20 knots coming on-shore. The salt water averaged anywhere from 59-61f for a pleasant day :) Beth made a great safety call after discussing with beach life guards the pounding surf issue and decided the swim would be around an island called Naples, which is a three mile loop just inside Alamitos Bay.

Here is a map link:
http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&client=safari&rls=en&q=alamitos+bay,ca&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=Alamitos+Bay&gl=us&ei=I8rqTL6iLNPMngfx5YiqDQ&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=title&resnum=1&ved=0CBYQ8gEwAA


So off we went. Jumping in was the usual, a few heart pounding strokes. The water felt just fine. We were swimming by beautiful homes and huge yachts, which in retrospect I appreciate now they were at dock due to the weather otherwise I would have been dodging them all day. Below is a little backstroke warm up which as many of you that know for me is faster than my freestyle (Go figure!).

You notice the funny floating islands, well this is another tall seasonal story, yes they are for Christmas. I guess each year they float these islands with Xmas lights shaped as a tree all around the Island. They have a celebration turning them on (drinking more grog and watching 'The Grinch' - I'm embellishing a bit here). This was hilarious. Then the pelicans came in force swooping down, around us and the docks no doubt sizing me or maybe Beth up for a meal. Not sure if Beth made it without getting pooped on? But this wouldn't matter since several times during the swim the sky open up and poured rain so hard it looked like fog.






Around 41/2 hours I did feel a tightening of my triceps, as if I had little to no power but I was able to stroke comfortably but felt like like effort was much greater than before. I wonder if i was at the point of depleting my bodies carbos (glycogen) to fat. Perhaps someone that is 'in the know' can offer a better explanation. But I pushed through this time relaxed actually quite comfortably. I think the first failure taught me a lot about what this felt like and how to work through a tough patch. Good news this time I did not ever have a pang of pain like I did with the hamstring and glut cramps. 


Obviously a happy camper near the end. Those GU Pac's and Maxim mix did the trick as I worked through 5 hours, then 51/2. I was really comfortable now and easily could swim on. My daughter, Rachel will no doubt like the fact I borrowed her IU swim cap just for this occasion. 


For those of you again 'in the know' of open water swimming, I consider myself an anomaly. I have a slower stroke rate than most, averaging 47 per minute all the time, ever time. During my swim I actually took it out for a stroll at 45 per minute the first hour or so I recall Beth saying and then picked up a bit as the day went on to 47-50. Judging this against what I hope someday are my peers, they tear up the water with rates as fast as 55-70 and they do this for hours! Of course I think their nuts and just plug along (the tortoise)  plop, plop, plop... One thing for sure my stroke is very efficient, I have a long reach and long extension out the back. Marcia has been helping me train to lower my head down (like above in the picture) to relieve the C 5,6 and 7 joint pain and increase distance per stroke. I now in a pool rarely take more than 5-6 full cycles in 25 yards. Having Beth kayaking on my right side made the day a piece of cake on my neck. I did breath to the right ever so often more for relief than anything. 

So in the end, as my training partner Doug said, 'you hear-by have punched the ticket'. Must be a saying from silly sport that uses a ball or something??

While failing at my initial attempt was no fun, I do look back now and know I am much stronger, mentally tougher for it. Getting in an additional long cold training swim is worth its weight in gold having now done this twice. I look forward to endless laps in a pool (30,000 yards per week and up) for several months. I hope to steal away to somewhere warm and do a long swim this winter. Next up is perhaps some training in Tampa Bay, FL with an eye on a 24 mile race across Tampa Bay, FL in April. While the water will be relatively warm, by English Channel standards, this is no joke swim and will be another serious test. I will be ready, I am ready. Thanks to my wife Jennifer, daughter Rachel, Doug, Marcia, the Indy folks, Barrington masters and Club folks and Dave Barra for keeping me up and on track through this great experience.

I will finish as I began with a some thoughts about Mary Weybright from Indianapolis, IN a long time family friend. 

Anything I have offered above, is shallow and a meager description of a selfish endeavor compared to Mary's fight. Mary you inspire me to give back, to do better and to offer more. I think of you often during my swims. Many times you give me the strength to push on.

You see, Mary is lying in a hospital bed, now for many months, clinging to life day to day, fighting the battle of her life. Her husband Nick, the kids and family nearby. Mary is fully aware of her challenge and the multitude of health issues that confuse the very best medical experts. I cannot comprehend this strength. She is one of life's true selfless teachers, a beacon of hope for never giving up despite the most dire times! Lying in her bed starring death in the face every day, she takes time to write little notes to friends and family to see visitors and give kind looks and a warm handshakes. During this Thanksgiving season, perhaps Mary can teach us all to deal with life's little setbacks differently. To work through bad days, to graciously compromise work challenges, to shrug your shoulder at being bullied at school or to simply give back in some way to others less fortunate.

I am not very good writer. Perhaps learning from Mary's strength and adding what I simplistically describe as a 'One Stroke at Time' approach to my life's journey, Mary has taught me (us) to deal with life's challenges.

Perhaps this Thanksgiving, you might offer the same support to those around you as Mary has offered? Have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving.

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