Pennock Island Challenge – 8.2 miles August 4th, 2013

Swimming in two races, on two consecutive days, in two different S.E. Alaska towns was definitely challenging, but also incredibly rewarding…

On Saturday the 3rd I competed in the Sitka ‘Change Your Latitude’ 5k swim, the following day I was in Ketchikan, AK preparing to jump in the ocean again, this time for an 8.2-miler around a growingly familiar island called Pennock. This was the 3rd time I have competed in this race – 2006 I was a part of a 4 person relay team, in 2012 I was a solo wetsuit swimmer, and this year I also competed in the solo wetsuit division. My time from last year was 3:05 – I had hoped to finished in under 3 hours, but as luck would have it, the currents were not in our favor this time… I finished first overall in 3:26.

Let me back track for a moment – the previous day (Saturday) after watching my mom finish her 5k, we had about an hour to make it to the airport and hop on a jet to take the 30 minute flight over to Ketchikan. Luckily the race start/finish line was about a two minute truck ride from the airport… we made our flight with at least two minutes to spare – not too close! Once in Ketchikan we were able to check into the hotel and relax all afternoon, we were all very tired after the morning events!

Willie (the race director) had a simple safety briefing at 5:30, and to smooth out any last minute details swimmers and kayakers needed to know. I met Trent and Dylan, from Colorado, who were to be my escort kayakers. Dylan was about 13 and was kayaking with his dad – they both did a great job, although Trent was extremely nervous about taking me the wrong route … I kept telling him, “Well, you know it’s around an island right… if it’s not on our left side anymore, maybe you should stop and ask someone for directions” I couldn’t tell if he thought it was funny or not.

The morning of the race went well – I was able to sleep in until about 8, walk down to the breakfast diner, grab coffee and oatmeal, and eat breakfast in our hotel room while I was prepping my swim gear. At 9 I walked down to the harbor where I was meeting up with a boat captain, along with 10 other swimmers (some solo, some relay). Most swimmers were not wearing wetsuits, which seemed odd to me, maybe it’s the warm summer we’ve had? Anyways, I certainly was wearing one! At about 10 I started to squeeze into it.

All the swimmers were ready to jump in at 10:15, but of course the start time was 10:30, and not all the kayakers had made it out to the starting “kelp” yet… so we waited until about 10:25, jumped in, swam around long enough for everyone to pee and then someone (anyone?) yelled “GO”. So then we started swimming.

I worked on controlling my pace, as I normally do during the beginning of a race, but felt myself begin to take a strong lead on the group. I tried to slow myself down but gave up on that idea pretty quickly; I was far out in front, and tried to visualize the map I had studied the night before, “did Willie say to hug the shore inside the bottleneck… or stay in the middle of the channel…?” before I had a chance to really meditate on the topic, I realized I had slunk-ed back into 4th place. I looked around at the other swimmers, and realized they were all practically swimming on the shoreline, so I called to Trent and told him I was going to “follow those guys!”. I put my head down and swim straight to shore, I was instantly swept into a slightly less aggressive current. Trent had either misunderstood my instructions or forgot them because he was kayaking almost on top of me, and ended up crowding the other swimmers and escorts before he literally hit me with the kayak. I stopped for a moment, asked him to please allow more room between me and them, then kept swimming.

Swimming so close to shore was helpful in avoiding kelp beds, but more than once I found myself almost grounded on a shallow rock ledge that I had failed to see ahead. My kayak had to back paddle when this happened. I never actually acquired “beached whale” status, but it was close.

The time it took for me to reach the end of the island was a bit longer than I had anticipated – 1:37 minutes. I rounded the corner of the island and began the ~mile long section to reach the other side of the island. I hugged the shoreline again to avoid the heavy kelp, but felt a strong current pushing against me, I knew I had made the decision to stay close to shore with the knowledge that the current could possibly be stronger here, nothing could be changed at this point so I trudged on!

At about the 1:51 mark I reached the other side of the island and tried to pick up my pace a bit. I spotted my mom and Trevor in a double kayak they borrowed from a friend. I now had five people following along with me, all in kayaks! It’s like they were my posse.

Anyways, I continued on, kept with my feeding/drinking schedule of 30 minutes and began to count my strokes. A technique I use to keep my pace going strong and to keep focused when I am basically swimming a straight line, with no need to spot. My pattern was to count every other hand-hit, breath rhythmically to my left side, with an occasional spot to my right to see the other kayak, count to 100, then lift and spot forward to see how much distance I had gained. I repeated this pattern very steadily for the next hour or so, until 3:00 hours had elapsed. I could see the end marker at this point, I allowed Trent to keep guiding me for the next 15 minutes or so, but then I told him I could spot the rest of the race, he fell back a little bit and let me guide myself.

At 3:26 I touched the final marker, I had three motorboats around and at least three kayaks as well, the crowd was pretty great considering I was in the middle of the ocean! Trent gave me a ride with a rope hanging from the kayak, the boat captain helped me aboard, and like clockwork, the sun burnt through the clouds! It was around 2 pm when I finished, it was warm, sunny, friendly and to top it all off – they gave me hot chocolate and cookies as I watched for other competitors to finish their swims. The first four place solo swimmers were all women, something I am very impressed by! I can’t tell if we’re just plain crazier, or if we like to see how tough we really are? Either way, I think Alaska brings it out of us, but always in a good way, of course.

My recovery from these two swims only lasted ONE DAY. I don’t have another swim planned as of today, but as always “just keep swimming just keep swimming swimming swimming”

GO TEAM FARA!

Thanks for reading,

Kristin

Change Your Latitude 5k – Sitka, AK August 3rd, 2013

The travel from Juneau to Sitka was a quick and painless mid-morning 20 minute flight on Friday the 2nd of August. I was traveling with my Mom – Lisa, and my youngest brother – Trevor, both of whom were also competing in the swim the following day. We had a nice afternoon in Sitka sightseeing and relaxing at a family owned lodge on the dock. The event organizers decided to have a salmon feed / potluck that also served as the pre-race meeting. The dinner was located right next to the Salmon hatchery and was a beautiful evening! There were hundreds of jumping fish right in front of the building we were meeting in… incredible.

The next morning was very leisurely – we were able to sleep in until 7:30 and didn’t need to actually leave for the start line until around 8:30. In true Alaskan style, the rain returned on race morning, luckily it didn’t matter so much to us – we were going to be getting wet one way or another!

The plan was to start the 5k swimmers “around” 9:15, or about the time the first 10k swimmer would be rounding the buoy to start their second lap. So, around 9:10 we all waded slowly out into the water as we watched for the first place 10k-er. As we were cheering and watching from shore, a large head popped out of the water very close to the swimmer… “Oh, that’s just Earl” Kevin (the race director) said coolly, “he’s a sea lion that likes to hangout in the harbor, he won’t bother Patrick (the swimmer)”. I thought this would’ve been really cool to hear/see IF I wasn’t about to swim the exact same course that Earl and Patrick were on… Oh well. The start whistle blew and we all took off towards the breakwater.

For how small this race was, the start was particularly vicious – I was being jostled around quite a bit, especially by two other swimmers. The three of us took off, away from the pack. I let the two other swimmers set the pace, which was pretty quick. They seemed to know the course well – I later learned that one of these swimmers had actually set the buoys . . . I would hope he knew where he was supposed to go!

I made it out of the harbor area with no Earl sightings, and had connected with Jeff – my kayaker. I was still following the two bobbing pink caps in front of me, but somehow I found myself in the middle of a dense kelp bed, denser than anything I had previously swam through. At one point while navigating through the forest I was almost completely out of the water, the kelp was so buoyant and hard to swim through I thought I might get stuck in it . . . I gave up on trying to find a clear path and just muscled through it, after a couple more minutes of swimming though the thickest water ever, I made it out and felt like I was flying!

After getting through the dense kelp, I was able to swim through the other beds with relative ease, swimming with my head up or looking forward so I was able to plan ahead and find a clear path before I was trapped in another dense area. When I rounded the farthest buoy the water temperature dropped quite a bit and the chop increased – it wasn’t anything awful or unexpected and was managed with minor adjustments to my stroke.

I decided to hang onto my 3rd place until I rounded Battery Island and was sure I knew where I was in regards to the course. While rounding the island I followed very closely to the two pink caps in front of me, they were seasoned on this course and knew how close we needed to be to shore in order to avoid the kelp. This part was very rocky and filled with dozens of varieties of starfish to look at! It seemed a little sketchy to be swimming so close to such a rocky area while the waves were crashing around us – but it wasn’t for very long and the waves were realitively small.

After rounding the island it was a straight shot to the breakwater right outside of the harbor. I increased my power with each stroke, doing this helps me keep my breathing under control while speeding up my pace. I passed the first pink cap shortly after the island, but had to chase down the next cap for a few minutes. I checked my watch – :53 minutes had passed since the start. I felt I had roughly 1/2 mile left in the race. I felt strong and within another minute or two had passed the 2nd pink cap.

Another minute passed and I was back in the harbor, I could see the final turn buoy, but Jeff kept steering me straight into shore. I knew we were supposed to turn one final time and then swim straight into shore, but sometimes things change while the race is going on, so I stopped briefly to ask Jeff where I needed to swim to, “Straight to shore!”. I put my head back down and did just that! Another minute passed, Jeff yelled at me to swim towards the turn buoy, I didn’t stop to ask any questions and just did what he said. So with a little confusion I swam where he pointed – back out towards another buoy, and THEN I swam straight to shore and through the finish buoys.

Overall, I was very pleased with this swim, having my mom and Trevor swim and travel with me was a blessing – they kept it interesting and more importantly FUN! They both had great experiences for their first ocean swims and I was glad I was able to share the day with them. As always, we are all a part of Team FARA and are raising money to help fund research for the rare degenerative disease that is currently incurable. As of right now Team Ryan and Owen have raised $6,795 to help this cause, I hope to raise much, much more in years to come.

Thanks for reading and supporting,

Kristin

WOWSA World Championships Lake Memphremagog, VT July 6th, 2013

Around 4:55 EST my alarm went off – the plan was to wake at 5:00, pack all our bags into the car, load the two rental kayaks onto the roof, grab some coffee from McDonalds and hit the road by 5:30. The drive from Lydenville up to Newport was about 35 miles. The scenery was beautiful – rolling lush hills with endless trees, filled with sparse fog. My phone received a message from a weird number… “Welcome to Canada! You may call the US for X amount of money and use data at the rate of $15/MB!”… I switched to airplane mode immediately. While we were obviously still in Vermont, AT&T decidedly thought we were in Quebec; however, at the turning point in Lake Memphremagog I was within a mile of the border!

 

After arriving at Prouty Beach in Newport, VT, Evan and Nate unloaded the kayaks onto the beach in the designated area. We parked the car, walked back to registration, drank more coffee, applied sunscreen and some zinc, organized the nutrition and hydration bag for my “yacker” (Evan) and waited for the pre-race meeting to start at 7:30. Nate competed in the 3 mile swim with his Mom, Elizebeth, as his yacker – he did great too!

 

All yackers were to be in their boats by 7:45 and heading out past the first turn buoy where they would meet up with the swimmers. If you’ve ever seen one of these starts, you know how chaotic it is to find your swimmer/kayaker while everyone is franticly swimming around in the middle of a lake, now that I have a couple races under my belt I know a really great way to identify yourself is to use this “zinka” colored zinc to mark yourself in a unique way so it is easier for support crew to identify and spot you. Of course it’s a good idea to know what your kayaker is wearing, what color their boat is, what your number is, etc. I made a black, orange, and pink strip on my left arm – Evan was able to spot me very quickly without any problems.

 

At 8:00 the ten mile non-wetsuit wave (my wave), the ten mile wetsuit wave, and the “assisted” wave for the ten mile race started. I had a weird start, not sure why but once the gun went off I ran into the water with everyone else, but did a funky dive thing straight into the water right when I thought it was deep enough to do so. My goggles filled up with water – they’re open water specific goggles that blueseventy makes and are not meant to be used for diving – I was trying to get out in front of the main pack so I swam for about 15 minutes with water in my goggles. Silly me!

 

After rounding the first buoy I started my search for Evan – the idea was that the lower numbers were supposed to be at the front (closest to the buoy) and the higher numbers were supposed to be farther back from the buoy. I was number 2. I couldn’t find Even so I kept swimming, and swimming, and finally found him close to the back – apparently he missed that part of the meeting! It was ok, he saw me straight away and began to kayak towards me.

 

I focused on holding my pace back. One thing I learned from the SAKW was that I felt GREAT the first hour – go figure – but after that began to hurt (in more ways than one…). So I knew that being out front was an amazing and comfortable feeling, but being passed by dozens of swimmers still going strong after hours of swimming wasn’t… so I began to figure out how to pace a marathon swim. I focused on keeping my breathing under control – going back to breathing every 4th stroke and spotting every 8th stroke helped me do this. After the initial 15 minutes of a fast free-for all most of the competitors had settled on a steady pace. I wanted to hold this pace for the first half of the race, then depending on how I felt I would make a decision on the pace I would hold for the last half of the race.

 

After 35 minutes of steady swimming I stopped to get a drink of Gatorade. I kept swimming for another 25 minutes, stopped again for another chug of Gatorade and a bite-size snickers bar. The nutrition for this race was much less planned than it was for Key West. Which actually worked much better, although I wish I had a couple things while swimming, the cravings passed and I survived. I decided to listen to my body and give it things I would normally eat or drink, whatever I felt I wanted or needed I would take.

 

I felt great at an hour in, but kept reminding myself I had a lot of swimming left to do. I held my pace, but if I was gaining on someone I would pass them quickly then fall back into my pace. Another 30 minutes went by – more Gatorade and a bite of snickers. I was in 5th place overall at this point, I was very close to the two guys right in front of me. I swam another 40 minutes or so, I passed them both while they were stopped for a feeding – I used this opportunity to postpone one of my feedings to gain a little distance between me and them before stopping again.

 

I had Water and another snickers at around the 2:15 mark – I was craving some applesauce but didn’t have any with me. The snickers were like little energy bites! I was also having some left shoulder pain, which I had also experienced in Key West. I took two advil and tried breathing to the right side which only made it worse – I asked Evan to stay on my left for the remainder of the swim.

 

The next 45 minutes were by far the most challenging of the race. We had experienced some decent chop while crossing the lake, we had also been warned of the westerly winds that would most likely blow us off course. The yackers were advised to line the buoy up with a landmark behind them to help stay on course. The problem was that between buoy 6 and buoy 7 (I believe those are the numbers) there was about a 2.5 mile gap! The gap spanned an incredibly open and choppy area that made it impossible to line up any buoy, let alone see the next buoy. I stopped and asked Evan if he had a sighting on it… “no”. I was trying to focus on my swimming and keeping my strokes long and smooth, but had to switch to my “choppy stroke” which means I had to swim with completely straight arms and lift my head almost all the way out of the water in order to move anywhere. I also noticed we were being pushed substantially by the winds. I asked Evan to steer me into the winds and towards the general area we believed the buoy to be.

 

Mentally, I felt myself losing motivation. My shoulders were killing me, I kept getting a side ache from the weird stroke I was using to swim and I was too far behind the first two men to catch them, and was a comfortable distance in front of the two guys I had recently passed. I found myself settling back into my opening pace, whereas just 20 minutes prior had been increasing my speed and feeling very strong. This was discouraging and I knew it was because I had no visual on my next buoy. I really wanted to find it soon. We kept pushing into the winds, swimming almost diagonally to where we were trying to go. Evan got a bloody nose around here, this was distracting him and me. He seemed to be struggling a little in the dinky kayak we had rented – every time he had to stop paddling it floated off course and he would have to paddle quickly to catch back up to me. The winds had picked up more, the clouds were rolling in – I could feel us both on the brink of controlled panic – we needed to get a sight on the next buoy, quickly.

 

Right as the 3 hour mark rolled around we both got a spot on the tiny red bobbing buoy through the waves. I couldn’t see it every time I looked, but I had been relying on Evan to get me to the next buoy so I settled into a nice, slightly stronger and re-energized pace. The waves were still choppy, I felt very thankful for the seasickness medication around this time…

 

I rounded the ominous buoy and immediately spotted the next one (yay!). I began to inch towards it. The clouds had passed and the winds began to die down substantially. I began to feel hot for the first time all morning. It had been almost a perfect temperature for fast swimming – the water temp was roughly 70F and the air temp was about the same, but steadily rose throughout the race. I experienced a few cool patches while heading out on the course, but thankfully those were only patches and I didn’t experience anything like that while heading back towards the finish. I checked my watch after rounding the 2nd to last buoy – 3:30 minutes had passed since I started. I felt great, the advil had kicked in, I was starting to feel a little hungry, but knew it wouldn’t effect me while I was still swimming. I decided to have one more snickers and a large chug of Gatorade to give me a final push for the finish. I could see the final turn buoy at this point and knew the beach was just around the next corner. I put my head down and swam at a strong, steady pace.

 

I asked Evan to warn me if any of the swimmers I had passed earlier started gaining ground on me. I felt very settled in my current standing. This was a nice feeling to have as I rounded the final buoy – I felt strong, I was very close to my predicted time, I had very few aches/pains to worry about, and nothing had gone awry during the swim! I swam into the beach, stood when the water was shallow enough, and ran into shore across the finish line – 4:05 was my official time, first place female and third place overall finisher.

 

After finishing my SAKW last month, someone told me, “Now all the rest of them will feel easy!” this has proved true at least for this swim! I gained valuable experience, as always, but felt very confident and controlled in how I swam this race. Marathon pacing is quite a different and new experience for me, it may take time to learn how to swim all the different distances I will be racing, but I am excited and ready for the challenge.

 

As I recovered after my race (eating just about anything I could fit into my mouth), a few spectators came up to congratulate me – I handed out a few of my FARA donation cards, a couple people even handed me a cash donation on the spot! This experience has allowed me to explore my love for swimming and take it with me to places I never expected… it has given me the opportunity to combine my love of the sport with my love of my family and with both of those things bring something absolutely worthwhile and wonderful from them. I hope to turn these into lifelong passions and share them with as many people as I can.

 

Thanks for reading and THANK YOU for the continued support!

 

-Kristin

 

 

p.s. My strange Vermont prizes included: a pound of beef jerky, a half gallon of pure maple syrup and a hand carved wooden “woodel” made by a community member.