I did it and I feel like a different person for completing it!
After training for 12 weeks, I swam the Rattlesnake Island 7km Open Water Swim in Peachland on Aug. 9. I have heard people talk about their running marathon stories and they all say how powerful the experience is and now I understand. I guess anytime we complete something that takes extraordinary effort, we are changed in some way. How we are changed depends upon how we respond to the pain, difficulties and challenges that come in the way of reaching our goal.
Leading up to my “bucket list” swim, I followed my training plan fairly well. I also knew that rest, nutrition and hydration were particularly important in the few days prior to the swim. With that in mind, I was more careful to eat real foods and drink lots of water, both of which would give my body the fuel it needs to perform. I did well here too, until the day before the open water swim.
The swim start time was Saturday morning at 7am, so we left on Friday for Peachland, but before we could reach our destination, our vehicle broke down and to make a long story short, we ended up on the side of the road until 10:30 pm without cell service, proper food and without water.
By the time I climbed into bed that night, it was midnight and I had to be up by 5 am. This was not how I had planned for this event to start! My husband Alf was my kayak support, so we woke after too little sleep and prepared to do the 7 km swim. Wet suit, goggles, bathing cap, swim buddy and timing chip – check. Salt and electrolyte tablets, water, energy drink – check. Extra goggles, de-fogger, snacks, water, paddle, and lifejacket for the kayaker – check. Ok, I think we are ready!
One hundred other swimmers had already left in a ferry to Rattlesnake Island to start their 3.1km swim while 49 of us waited for our 7km to begin. I waded into the water to warm up and wait for the start. Although, most serious athletes don`t appreciate people trying to “chat” just before a race begins, I always try anyway and I found this group more chatty than the triathletes I’ve tried talking to in those races.
What I found out in my conversations however was that none of these athletes were what I would consider “normal.” In our conversations, at some point, I heard all of them say, “…when I did Ironman…” I was more worried now. What kind of people actually do this race! Well, it was time to find out.
I should have expected the water to be choppy. I mean, how often do you see Okanagan Lake smooth? I had practiced a couple of open water swims in choppy water, but apparently not nearly enough. I swam the entire race in one and a half to two foot waves. Although, the waves don`t make me nervous, it just takes more energy and there is defiantly a technique to swimming well in choppy water. Alf had to put the skirt on the kayak so that he didn’t take in water.
As I mentioned in my previous article, swimming in open water is very different than swimming in the pool. Another challenge of the open water swim is sighting. In the pool, it’s no problem to swim straight when you follow the nice black lines painted on the bottom and ends, but in the open water, you need to find a focus point to site which should be higher rather than lower especially when you can see very little for the waves. Thankfully, since I had a kayak to support me, I could just follow him, but at times, even the kayak was difficult to see over the waves, not to mention the difficulty keeping any kind of straight line with the wind and waves pushing you.
I noticed most of the group of 49 take an early lead ahead of me. I know that I am not supposed to worry about this, but it still bugged me and then the thoughts began in my mind, “You are too slow. You will not make the cut off time! Why are you at the back? Why are you ALWAYS at the back?”
I knew that these thoughts were not helpful and I had to consciously focus on other things to fight off being discouraged.
Somewhere during the first kilometer, the leg and foot cramps began. I kind of expected this, (due to my lack of hydration the night before), but I didn’t think it would have begun so quickly. At times, my right foot was completely and involuntarily flexed and my calf muscle in a painful knot. I had it in my mind that I wanted to swim without any stops until I reached Rattlesnake Island, but the first cramp, made me stop and I had to take my first salt tablet.
For the following hours, I continued in the pattern: swim for a few 100 meters, leg cramp and try to keep swimming through it by kicking one leg and letting the other float, cramp gets worse and have to stop to work it out, continue….
Needless to say, I was feeling discouraged long before I reached Rattlesnake Island. I was tired of fighting the waves, my leg was constantly cramping and I was way behind almost all of the other swimmers. When I reached the back side of the Rattlesnake Island, the water was calm and I thought it was a good opportunity to touch the Island, take a bit of energy bar and enjoy the scenery for a minute. The boat volunteer however shouted out a reminder, “You know there is a cut off time in this race, right?!” That bugged me, but I put my head back down and started back into the waves for the last half of the swim.
Many more thoughts swam through my mind, another that reoccurred was how proud my Dad would have been to see me finish this race. How, if he was alive, he would have been at the finish line or maybe even out in a kayak cheering me on.
Other thoughts kept coming: “Will I beat the time cut off or will they make me get in their boat?” “I didn’t work this hard to not finish. I have got to finish!”
It seemed like the finish line was never getting any closer and when I found out that I’d already completed 7km with the finish line still far away, I felt discouraged again. Alf seemed to know what to say each time I got discouraged. Sometimes he’d cheer me on and say, “Good job, keep going.” But this time he told me to get behind a swimmer that had just come up in front of me.
This seemed to be the right thing to say because my competitive nature kicked in and I don’t remember much about that last kilometre. I was so happy to see that finish line and proud that I had finished it! As I tried to remind my legs how to walk, I looked up to see my good friend Merv standing there. He was smiling and gave me a hug. I looked and saw Louise there too who hugged me. I can`t describe how much them being there meant to me and I thanked God that in the absence of my Dad, he gave me these friends.
I finished second to last and had swum 8.14km in three and a half hours. A 75 year old man finished in front of the swimmer ahead of me. Others didn’t make it. The fastest was a young lady who finished in less than two hours.
I felt emotional for almost two days afterward especially regarding all the people who had supported me throughout, leading up to and after the event. Your interest in cheering me on and in asking me how my swim was meant so much to me.
I would definitely do it again. I would have a better understanding how to prepare, but yes, I would do it again.