This was by far my favorite of the four swims! I enjoyed the time before the swim, and I enjoyed the time after the swim! Oh, I also enjoyed the swim… but mostly before and after.
All the swimmers and kayakers and other volunteers met on the dock at the marina around 3 pm to discuss the course of the race and safety precautions and what would happen after we finished. There were a number of kids participating as a relay team, and a few youngsters that were completing the swim by themselves. I was very excited to see a whole group of people that loved the same thing, that were younger than I was. You would think that these long, strenuous events would attract younger athletes, but the reverse is normally true. I am always amazed when I overhear a swimmer talk about their grandchildren or ask what they do for work and to hear, “oh, I’ve been retired for years!” Anyways, I was happy to see all the faces there, regardless of age.
Once all the swimmers and crew had been shuttled to the start, Kent had to place two yellow buoys out in the lake for us to swim around (the only swim that required him to do so). We were all happy to relax and hangout on the boat launch for the next hour. It gave the kayakers plenty of time to decorate the boats with glowsticks and for us to anticipate the ominous looking clouds that were surrounding us. I personally enjoyed this time, because it was one of the last times you got a chance to see most of the swimmers before we all headed out our separate ways. Many of the swimmers were from different states and different countries. Everybody had travel plans the following day, so this was a chance to snap some photos and express congratulations to everyone that had made it as far as Roosevelt.
Once the buoys were set, the kayakers were all sent into the lake together (all three waves of kayakers), then the first wave swimmers lined up with their feet in the water… around 5pm Kent sent them off then immediately asked the second wave to line up, he checked that all the glowsticks attached to the suits and goggles were “cracked”, then sent them off! Finally, the third and final wave of swimmers were lined up, “30 seconds!” and then he yelled “Go!”. Half of us ran and dove into the lake, half of us timidly waded in and started to swim head-up.
It took about 15 minutes to find my kayaker. At this point my goggles were bugging me and kept filling up with water because of the way I had zip-tied my glowstick to them. I adjusted them as quickly as I could, then kept swimming toward the first yellow buoy, then around the second. Then I started the long trudge across the lake. I allowed myself to think, “Wow, what perfect conditions we are having! Wouldn’t it be magical to have perfect conditions across the whole lake?” I immediately regretted thinking this… the winds picked up, I felt raindrops on my back, I had to dodge my kayaker as he was blown sideways across the lake. The conditions were the worst I have ever been in! I was shocked. I was anxious. I was getting cold. I didn’t want to lose my kayaker under any circumstances. I started to backstroke and breaststroke, since anytime I tried to complete a freestyle stroke I was met with a giant mouthful of water. I was worried about all the swimmers in the lake, and if conditions were to worsen how the few pontoon boats could possibly pull out and find all the swimmers and kayakers in time. I know how important it is to stay calm when in the open water, I let the water carry me, I didn’t try to force anything during this time. I just kept my kayaker in sight, kept a pontoon boat in sight, and prayed that the storm would pass soon.
After about 20 minutes, the water smoothed out, my stroke smoothed out, I had some of my water and food then tried to make some headway across the lake while the conditions were good. Another hour passed, I looked up to gauge the distance from the dam. I felt pretty close, but didn’t allow myself to get too excited yet. The sun set, the wind picked up a little, I didn’t move for about 15 minutes… then I felt the wind change and felt a huge push in the RIGHT direction.
The sky was completely dark, and everything disappeared, except the glowsticks. I imagined myself blindly following the light. My depth perception was gone, so I was also zigzagging toward the finish buoy. I couldn’t “see” the water, so it also disappeared. I felt like I was flying! I felt like I was invincible. I couldn’t believe it, but at the end of swimming over 40 miles in 4 days, I felt invincible and strong. As improbable as the whole thing sounds, everything was perfect. I felt incredible gratitude for being where I was.
Since this day was the longest, I tried to make some mental notes while I was swimming. This was also a great distraction from the cold.
I think around 2 hours in I still had numb hands and feet, my core was doing OK because I wasn’t shivering. However, I was still dealing with the numbness and to put it mildly, I was very cold. I remembered earlier in the day texting my mom and asking her to send “warm thoughts” my way… so I began to search wildly for those thoughts. I realized that the Saguaro cacti on the shoreline almost looked like people. I began to visualize all my friends and family there cheering me on. I focused my energy on really seeing that person in the cactus. I imagined they were literally cheering for me! I know it sounds strange, but when you are swimming for 7 hours with nothing to think about but the cold, the soreness, and how much farther you have to go, it’s nice to be distracted for a few minutes.
I don’t know if you’ll believe me, but by the time I had cycled through everybody I could possibly think of to make into a cacti, I felt my hands and feet again!
It is hard to describe the emotions and stages I encounter during a long swim like this, but they fluctuate immensely. In fact, there is really only one thing I know for certain when I head into a swim – I don’t know what is going to happen, but I do know I am going to finish. I have never had to pull myself from swim, and I have never had anyone else pull me from a swim. However, I know this is always a possibility, but for me, I can’t think it is before I start swimming. It messes with my mentality, and gives me a valid reason for not finishing. Strangely enough, the more I am challenged by cold, wind, chop, or a number of other unknown variables, the more I want to finish.
During Apache, I went through three stages of cold: hours 0-2 cold, hours 3-4 not cold, hours 5-7 cold. It was pleasant to hit the halfway point when I was feeling “not cold”, because I optimistically thought for awhile that I might not be cold again during the swim, I even felt a patch of water (it only lasted about 10 seconds) that I would have described as “bath water warm”. When I swim through patches like this I want to stop dead and not move again, but instead I realize that this will only last for a short time, make a mental note of that gloriously warm water, be thankful for it, and then prepare for a severe drop in temperature.
I was told once that, “a one degree drop in water temperature is comparable to a 10 degree drop in air temperature”, I have no idea if this is remotely true, but it helps to mentally understand what it is like to have a 5 degree drop during a swim. It is unpleasant, it has the potential to cripple you physically and mentally in a matter of minutes… especially if you were battling the cold already. I think one of the biggest factors that helped me conquer Apache this year, was my experience in the lake. I have made the mistake before of convincing myself that the water will warm up, that the distance will somehow not feel so far, or that the wind will stop and never come back. While these thoughts might help you get through a tough moment during a swim, they are unrealistic. The reality is, you have no idea what will happen. The alluring thing about this sport is that it is so unpredictable. The conditions change minute to minute. You have to be so flexible and open to whatever nature throws your way… The few things you have control over are: how you react to changing conditions and your nutrition. Pretty simple, right?
After I passed the Apache Marina which is just over halfway, I started to get cold again, there were no more cacti to distract me, so I started to count my strokes, which is another technique I have used to get through long swims. Normally, I count to 100 then I reward myself with a glance forward to see how much progress I have made. During Apache I knew I would only be disappointed if I looked up so often, so I changed 100 to 1,000… then 2,000… then 3,000… then 4,000. I thought it would be pretty cool if I could estimate the number of strokes I had to take to swim 17 miles. I wasn’t able to stay focused long enough to do this, I’ll keep it in mind for another day :-).
The last 4-5 miles of the swim was gorgeous. Two years ago I was battling cold and wind during this section, but today I had the pleasure of taking in the scenery and enjoying a beautiful glow on the canyon walls.
Then the last stage of the race, you all know this one: the “when will it end?!” stage. You start to question everything you thought you knew about the lake, the water, the temperature, where the “damn buoy line” (thanks Asha!) is. Then, you hear your kayaker tell you for the umpteenth time, “I think it’s just around that point there…” as he motions with his head toward what HAS to be the end of the lake. You somewhat pessimistically assume he must be wrong, again, and say “Okay!” as cheerfully as you can muster, “so this is the last feed then?”, drop your head, start your eternally rhythmic stroke and chug onward toward that. last. point.
Started at 10:30 am, the water was cold but bareable… I think because I was expecting it to be colder. It was probably around 63-64 degrees. Water and wind were both fine for about 45 minutes, then the wind really picked up and was blowing me and my kayaker all over the place.
The canyon had a lot of turns which caused conditions to change constantly. We went through sections that were very calm and pleasant, only to turn a corner and hit a strong headwind.
Taj fell behind me a few times, so I had to spot for myself. This was only through the choppy sections though.
I tried to catch up to another kayaker, but Taj ended up catching me. I rounded the last corner and felt a glorious tailwind! The last push was awesome, I had plenty of energy and swam the last 15 minutes to the buoy with no problems.
Lake Saguaro – April 27th, 2016
Hollie, Taj and myself arrived at the Lake Saguaro marina around 6:50 am. Most of the swimmers and support crew had already arrived, but the speed boats were still being dropped into the water. Everyone was busy getting gear bags ready and discussing their feed plans for the day. As we approached the end of the parking lot, I smelled the unmistakable scent of the aerosol can sunscreen, there were quite a few people spraying it all around themselves. The sun was not quite hot yet, but we were all starting to feel the heat of the day.
Around 7:15 am Kent (the race director) started to call out the names of wave 1 swimmers. He asked them all to line up with their kayakers and head down to the dock where the speed boats would load them and their gear. This whole process was repeated until all 3 waves of swimmers, gear and kayakers were boated out to the beach near the end of the lake.
The beach was tucked back in the canyons of the lake, about six or seven miles from the marina. The kayaks had camped out overnight on the beach (with supervision of course!) and were already waiting for their occupants to arrive. This process went incredibly smooth! It seemed as if every detail had been thought of and before long, the first wave of swimmers boarded the pontoon boat assigned to them and were being shipped off to the REAL starting point, by the dam about a mile further down.
Another 45 minutes passed before wave 3 was on board the pontoon and heading toward Mormon Flat Dam. At 10:05 am wave 3 started. The water felt very cold at first, like, “take-your-breath-away” cold. But after about 30 minutes of trying to control my chaotic breathing, the water miraculously warmed up. The remainder of the swim was warm, with a few cold patches.
Taj found me right around the 30 minute mark, I had been drafting off of another swimmer until then, and was also spotting off of his kayaker to conserve a little energy. When I saw Taj beside me, I gladly broke away from the mystery man’s feet and bubbles to pursue my own path!
I was feeling really great; I was warm, I was hydrated, the water was calm, the sun was shining… I kept thinking the conditions would change but they never did. There was one section around mile six that had a strong headwind, but other than the 15 minutes we spent battling the wind, the conditions honestly couldn’t have been better.
There was one rather annoying lesson that I did pick up on today. If there is not something major bothering you, than all the dozens of minor things seem to be more bothersome than usual! For example, I expected to be cold. I didn’t expect to allow the pressure from my normally comfortable goggles to agitate me. I suddenly noticed all of this soreness and discomfort in my shoulders and hips… looking back on the day, I am thankful that these were the problems I had…
I finished the swim at 1:35 pm, my time for the day was around 3 hrs 30 min. I am having a hard time remembering my exact time from 2014, but I think it was almost exactly the same. Overall, the swim went very well and I am looking forward to successfully finishing the next THREE days of swimming!
As far as my fundraising goes, I am very thankful and humbled to say that I reached my goal of $5,000 today! There have been so many generous donors that I would like to personally thank, but for right now I am happy to have accomplished one of my goals… now to finish the other one – Canyon, Apache and Roosevelt!
If you are interested in finding out what the atmosphere is like during S.C.A.R. take a look at this video. It captures the camaraderie we develop as marathon swimmers, the scenery we experience as we swim along canyon walls in the middle of a desert, and what our definition of “fun” is… Enjoy!
p.s. Thanks Kent for taking the time to make videos like this one!
The night before the race, I was feeling very good. The day before I had gone for a warmup swim in the Allegheny River with Darren, Chris and Kim. The water temp was very warm but still comfortable. I later learned it was the coldest of the 3 rivers at 75 degrees F. This was supposed to be the strongest current, but myself and Chris both noted at a break during the swim, that we could barely feel the current going against us! This was a nice surprise as I had been mentally preparing for a tough current in this river.
Later, back in the hotel room I was sharing with my mom, I mixed my carbo-pro beverages (3 water bottles, 1 gatorade) as well as my electrolyte mix (nuun). I stashed all my cliff bars, snickers, applesauce pouches and drinks in my swim bag along with my cap and goggles. I slept very well, but 5 am came early like always!
Everything was already packed and ready to go when I woke up, all I had to do was put my suit on, down my instant berry oatmeal bowl and chug my doubleshot espresso. The walk down to the start of the race was about 10 minutes for my mom and me; she helped carry the cooler bag that was going in the kayak to keep my drinks cool. She carried her own gear for the day (she would be on the main motorized boat with Darren, the captain and another mom). The race was ‘scheduled’ to start around 7 am, but a couple of the kayakers ran into parking trouble and did not arrive at the starting point until around 7:10.
At 7:30 Darren asked us all (five swimmers total) to jump in the river… after giving us a few moments to uh, “relieve” ourselves before starting, Darren did the final countdown and with as much gung-ho as a small gathering of marathon swimmers can muster early in the morning – we were off! I even remembered to start my watch!
The first thirty minutes flew, which is unusual for me – normally I need to adjust to the long, slow pace that I find most comfortable. However, myself, Chris, John and Sarah were swimming almost next to each other for about forty-five minutes, which made navigating somewhat challenging. The four of us had eight kayaks combined all trying to get into the positions on either side of us… I felt a little claustrophobic.
Heading down the Ohio river took about an hour and a half – we swam around Brunot Island then turned around and started the upstream battle. I was quite disoriented when we started the turn around, when I felt the current change I asked Max “Where is the island?” I didn’t realize we had already swam around it! I immediately felt the current change, and realized the next few hours would be tougher than I had anticipated. I would have to swim the 5k upstream in the Ohio, and then go directly into the next 5k up the Monongahela River. While the current wasn’t terrible, it was definitely noticeable. I continued with my 30 minute feed-times as I made my way up the river.
When I thought I must be getting close to the turn around buoy in the Monongahela, I started watching my clock, “3:45….3:55….4:10” Finally, I saw the tiny little orange buoy bobbing around in the distance. I was really excited as we got closer and closer because when I touched it, I knew I was halfway done! As we neared it, I could see the main boat was there waiting for us to hit the turnaround mark. I swam into it with my head up, saw Darren dive off the boat and start sprinting towards me… I wished he could give me some of his energy…
I decided to take a few minutes to relax and have some water and a cliff bar right after I touched the marker. After I felt ready to go, I turned around and headed downstream (YAY) the Monongahela River. I was hoping I would make it back down the river a little faster than it took me to swim the upstream part, but in reality it took about the same amount of time – I think I was getting pretty tired and sore at this point in the swim. I tried to rest a little on my back whenever I passed underneath a bridge, but that didn’t really give me much of a break.
My left arm really started to hurt at about the 18k mark. I had to stop and allow it to rest for a few minutes; it felt like I had pulled a muscle in my bicep. Everytime I tried to stroke, my arm would give out and shoot intense pain upwards. I tried breaststroke and backstroke, but nothing felt good. I asked for some Advil and allowed it to rest more. I did one-arm freestyle for a minute then tried my left arm again and it felt fine!
After I had gotten past that little setback, I realized I was starving I asked Max and Liz to change my feeds to every 20 minutes, and to give me half a cliff bar at each feed until I felt better. I also had a small snickers bar, yum.
We rounded the fountain at Point State Park and started the toughest river – the Allegheny. I was mentally prepared for a tougher current and started out feeling very strong. The main boat went past a couple times and cheered us on. Other than that there were quite a few larger boats travelling in the middle of the river as well as dozens of recreational kayakers all around us.
I stuck with my 20-minute feeds for the majority of the 5k upstream. But after we passed the initial starting point I felt like the flow of the river got stronger. My joints were starting to really hurt at this point, but my energy level was getting better after taking in more calories. After swimming for another hour I asked Max & Liz if either could see the orange turn-around buoy yet, “I think it’s just past that blue bridge up ahead”. I looked up; I saw the bridge but not the buoy. “Okay!” I replied enthusiastically… I knew I still had about another mile to go before I got to it, I said, “I’m just going to keep going until I get there, I’ll rest after we get there”. I put my head down and started to increase the power in my stroke. I did a mental ‘body scan’ to figure out where I could be more efficient in the water. My shoulders hurt, my hips hurt, my calves were on the verge of cramping, so I started to focus on my core – I tightened it up and worked on rotating through my stroke. To make the time pass a little more quickly, I would count my strokes up to 100 before I lifted my head to spot for the buoy. I saw the bridge approaching, we reached it, passed it, and I could still barely see the buoy… I was disappointed and it was mentally tough to keep up the pace I had set for myself, I was getting hungry and thirsty and knew I still had about 10-15 more minutes before I would reach the buoy. This was the hardest part of the swim for me, I didn’t want to slow down right before turning around and heading downstream, so I powered through until I touched it.
I looked up at my support and joked, “Right past the bridge huh?” We all agreed that the hardest part was behind us. I figured I had maybe another hour of swimming left to get to the finish, and it was all current assisted! I felt some relief in knowing I would be able to finish the day feeling satisfied with myself. After have a quick bite to eat and drink, we started back down the Allegheny.
The boat traffic had increased throughout the day, and I was getting slightly annoyed with the chop they created as they flew by us. I looked over at Liz who was right beside me now, she was fighting a strong headwind as I flew downstream with the current – it looked like she was working pretty hard to keep up with me.
My watch read eight hours, I lifted my head to see the last three bridges ahead of me. Max stopped me for my last break, and said; “I think you can make it the rest of the way without another break, right?” I put my head back down and tried to focus on counting my strokes as we made our way to the finish. Underneath one of the bridges I heard someone yell for me to stop. I turned to see the main boat stopped right behind us. Because of the increased boat traffic, we needed an escort to cross to the right-hand side of the river. They motioned for us to follow them, and we slowly made our way across. Once we were over safely, the boat sped off ahead to the finish.
I now had roughly 500m left and could see the finish buoy bobbing about 10 feet from the dock. I started to lift my head to spot every 20 strokes…10 strokes… every stroke… I could see my mom videoing me from the dock… Darren was jumping up and down cheering, making me feel like a rockstar. Other than that there were just a few people watching the finish, a few guys drinking beer and fishing, and the dozens of people aimlessly kayaking watching us with curious stares. I finished my 30k, clocking 8 hours 25 minutes of swimming up and down the three rivers. What a day, what a glorious day!
While the swimming part is over and done with (for now) I have to remind myself that the search for a cure is far from over. There have been some major breakthroughs recently that give my family and others affected by FA hope, but there is still a long road ahead. Through the help of many friends and family over the past three years, we have been able to raise $13,000! I hope that your continued support will help with the research that is being done, and that one day soon, the cure for Friedreichs Ataxia will be found.
TO DONATE NOW, CLICK HERE
I know it has been a grip since I last posted (before I completed the SCAR swim last May 2014!). But I have come out of hiding to give some exciting info on my upcoming RIVER SWIM! Three rivers. One day. Thirty kilometers. The idea is that myself and a few other swimmers will all start together and swim out and back the Ohio (10K), out and back the Monongahela (10K) and out and back the Allegheny (10K). These three rivers meet in the middle of Pittsburgh, PA.
Darren Miller has been the driving force on this swim and did a trial run last summer which went splendidly. This year is another trial run, hence the low number of swimmers attempting it. Darren is an amazing athlete and motivational speaker, I met him during the SCAR swim last year and was instantly impressed with his accomplishments. Click here to find out more.
In addition to training for this swim, I completed the AZ OWS Series over the past two months:
April 4th – Tempe Town Lake 4K
April 25th – Lake Pleasant 3K
May 30th – Canyon Lake 4.5K
Results can be found here.
I competed in the Female Distance Open Division.
As with my past big swims, I will be fundraising again this summer. Everyone that has donated in the past has been incredibly generous in their giving. Team FARA, and more specifically, the Juneau Joneses are very, very grateful for everything you have done to help find the cure for Friedreichs Ataxia. It is a beacon of hope in our family and fellow FA community. To date, the Juneau Joneses have raised nearly $14,000 since beginning two years ago in May of 2013 — far surpassing the original goal of $1,000.
My fundraising will continue through the next 7 weeks, until I jump into the rivers and swim roughly 18.5 miles on August 1st!
TO DONATE NOW, CLICK HERE
Over the past two weeks I have been getting work done on my shoulder by Geoffrey Bishop of ‘Stay Tuned Therapeutics’. He has joined the team of sponsors helping me to reach the finish line! I came to Geoffrey with soft tissue damage to my right back/shoulder due to the high mileage I have been swimming over the past couple months… on just the first day of seeing him, I left pain free and felt like I could swim a marathon! Since then I have returned for two more sessions and am happy to say I feel more confident and sure of my physical capabilities to finish the SCAR.
I am anticipating some pain to return over the course of the SCAR, but hopefully it will be at a manageable level… ibuprofen and positive thoughts have always taken the edge off in the past 😉
Here are some photos from my most recent trip to see Geoffrey (taken 5/2/14)
The Belton Swim Team participates and raises money for Team FARA.