Friday, July 24, 2015

Portland Bridge Swim intro

In the Hudson River 8 bridges is a 120 mile swimming odyssey. On the Willamette 8 bridges gets you to about the halfway point of the swim. So if swimming under bridges is your thing Portland is the place.
Total distance covered is just under 11 miles (maybe 10.8) current assist is nowhere to be found. The finish is the St. Johns Bridge, which is suitably dramatic. Really the finish is the beach about 20 feet north of the bridge but it is the bridge you have to look at, or not, for the last 3 miles.
I actually got a call out at the pre-race meeting as having traveled furthest for the swim. (Just shy of 3000 miles) Really I didn't fly out to Portland just for the swim. But since we were planning a trip to Portland this summer anyway we might as well come for the weekend of July 12th.
Here is a list of the Bridges and their mileage on the swim
Sellwood (start)
Ross Island (mile 2.5)
Tilikum (mile 2.7)
Marquam (mile 3)
Hawthorne (mile 3.4)
Morrison (mile 3.7)
Burnside (4.1)
Steel (4.3)
Broadway (4.8)
Fremont (5.4)
Burlington Northern (9.5)
St. Johns (finish at 10.8)
Now that I've listed them out I see the halfway point is actually at the Fremont Bridge, which is number 10 and that most of the good spots for spectating are on the first half of the swim.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Newburgh-Beacon to Bear Mountain

Usually before a big swim I get a little nervous. Usually this is just about the swim. On Wednesday I was nervous about the swim, about the drive, and about rolling out of the house in the early morning with two little kids in tow.Turns out they were great. We got to the Beacon metro-north station with time to spare and I could see Launch 5 on the dock.
I got gooped up (diaper cream), the rest of the swimmers and kayakers arrived, and we all piled onto Launch 5 to head out to the starting point just north of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. I thought about the last time I swam this way and that made me feel good.
Once in the water there was a count down from ten and then we were swimming.
Maybe there are other swimmers that don't experience this, but for me everything always feels terrible at the start of a swim. The water feels cold even when I know the temperature is fine. Breathing feels hard. My arms hurt. Maybe this is a question of experience but all that didn't feel so bad this time. Or maybe I was just happy to see the bridge disappear so fast.
I felt a tiny little twinge in my left hip flexor, like it was about to cramp up. It didn't.
My feeds were evenly spaced 30 minutes apart, which of course means the wait for the first one is the longest. Usually after a few feeds I notice my legs feel all heavy and rubbery. This time I felt it on my very first feed. So as I swam I asked them what the problem was. Naturally there was no answer.
I want to keep this in mind for the next time someone asks what I think about while swimming for hours.
Once I settled into my rhythm I started to notice just how scenic this leg downriver is. Relatively flat water and my normal 3 stroke breathing pattern let me get a pretty good view of both sides of the river. It amazes me that such a short distance north of NYC on a busy shipping channel mostly what was looking at was tree covered mountains.
I felt like I was going to crash into Storm King Mountain. It was so close. I kept telling myself that it couldn't be as close as it looked. It seemed like I could just reach down and touch it because I was swimming right over the roots of the mountain.
Bill, my kayaker, told me we were picking up current and had passed the 5 mile mark. I think that was on my fourth feed, two hours in.
We passed a tanker going upstream. This reminded me just how big everything was. It didn't seem close, just big. The wake didn't bother me at all just lifted me up and down. Bill nearly disappeared behind a wave a few times and then everything was smooth again. A few minutes later we got caught in an eddy that it left behind. For a little while I swam in place. I could actually feel the water pushing me around.
This is the time in a swim when I feel the best. The water was comfortable with an occasional warm patch that felt truly luxurious.
I spotted a few other boats, this time on my left. A sailboat, a ferry. I wonder, can they see me out here? One of a handful of lunatics happily swimming down the Hudson?
After about 3 hours (or maybe 31/2) of some of the most beautiful flat water that you can expect, the river changed. A little chop combined with some rolling waves reminded me that I was tired and had been swimming for a while.
Bill flagged me down and when he gave me my feed he asked if I needed anything different. I wanted to ask for that nice flat water again. I didn't ask but I got it anyway. All those rolling waves just faded away.
Looking at the map now I would guess that when I first got a look at West Point I was around the 9 mile mark. And I was probably past the 10 mile mark before I lost sight of it entirely. I had another feed right in front of it so I got a good look.
Do things look bigger when you are swimming past them? I've seen West Point before but that was the biggest it ever looked.
I didn't know the mile markers at the time and I think I prefer it that way. I might have had three more feeds after West Point, there might have been more. I lost count.
I told myself I would swim until I finished, until they pulled me, or until that little twinge in my hip flexor finally cramped up the way it had been threatening for hours. I really was beginning to think it was going to be that last one when Bill flagged me down for a feed and told me it was probably my last one.
I looked and there was the Bear Mountain Bridge, and it wasn't all that far away. 
"Just keep doing what you're doing." he said
I can't explain how motivating that simple phrase is.
I knew that cramp I was afraid of was not going to happen. I kept telling myself to just keep my rhythm and don't pick my head up to sight. Soon enough I could see the bridge even without picking up my head.
I swam into the shadow of the bridge before I was actually under it. I flinched. After swimming under a clear sky for so long, suddenly being in shadow feels strange.
And then I was under the bridge. And then I was past it.
There was an extra little bit to swim to Launch 5. Pulling my legs up to the bottom step at the back of the boat was hard. I missed the step on my first try. But I managed to climb aboard without much help.
I tried to clear my ears and almost fell over. So I decided to stand still for a little while. Then I had my bag. A bag that contained a towel and a shirt. And a slightly melted chocolate bar.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Victory over the Fenns at Spartway

Here is a brief Q&A consisting of some questions people have asked me and some that I just made up. 

How did you train for it?
Mostly by swimming and lifting heavy things. Also a little bit of running.

what was the toughest obstacle?
The bear crawl right at the beginning. Bear crawl starts out moderately hard. But going uphill increases difficulty one step. Extra long distance gets at least another increase (maybe two) I'm guessing about 200yds of bear crawl uphill. Oh yes and doing this on extremely course sandpaper adds one more step while simultaneously causing tremendous pain. So if my math is correct and you would normally rate bear crawls at a 5 out of ten on difficulty this obstacle would get a 9 and an asterisk to indicate terrible pain and possible bleeding hands.
The fact that this was the first obstacle actually had me wondering what I had got myself into.

What was the easiest?
For me: the low walls. At 5' or maybe a little less I figure they are only there to annoy shorter people. (then again those shorter people probably had an easier time with the bear crawl so who really got the better deal?)

Which obstacles am I best at? (compared to the folks around me)
Climbing(rope and walls)
Also  for some reason the overhead ball slams. Everyone around me seemed to be moving in slow motion on that one.

Which ones am I worst at?
The box jumps at the end. This time I was the one moving in slow motion.
Also the heavy jump rope. Never done that before. Maybe there is a knack to it. But I kept losing my grip on the rope, mistiming my jumps and generally looking like a klutz.

What would I do in training to run it better?
I should run more. Regular running might mean I could recover from a tough obstacle while running to the next one.


So I completed the Spartan Sprint at Fenway this weekend. I've done the local Mud Run three times now but this was my first experience with one of the big name events. So first the basics:

Who: The Spartanrace people
What: The Spartan Sprint
When: Saturday 11/15/14
Where: Fenway in Boston
Why: I've been wanting to try another obstacle race

Next the bad points: Fenway was crowded and cold. Also, compared to a nice state park, dirty. This made spectating relatively unpleasant. Lesson learned. Don't bring the whole family. At least not to this venue. More signage and/or crowd control would have been useful. Something like "Race start: that way" "Spectators Here and Here"
The race course suffered from a little bit of the same problem. We spent a lot of time running narrow stairs and through the stands. So most of the time there was no passing; everybody just trots along together.
All that out of the way the course was tremendous fun

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Joke's on Me

On Tuesday I did my biggest swim ever. I was pulled frustratingly close to the GW bridge because that thing was just not getting any closer. On Wednesday I went for a nice easy swim in Laurel Lake. On Thursday I picked up a glass of water and suddenly it felt like I'd been stabbed in the shoulder. On Friday I felt a little tickle in my throat. I spent Saturday on the couch with a fever.

So maybe that swim took a little more out of me than I thought.

Friday, June 27, 2014

8 Bridges Stage 6 Intro

There is a conversation going on Marathon Swimmer's Forum about DNF's. So it feels appropriate to be writing about my first DNF. It's funny, because in many way this is my best swim to date. But I'm still frustrated.

So what was good?
Nutrition: I felt solid for a full six hours. None of that aching hunger that usually starts showing up after 3 to 4 hours.

When I swam Kingdom Swim 2012 I finished in 5:27. That was my previous longest time in water. It was too long. That swim sapped all my motivation for weeks.

On Tuesday I spent 6:30 swimming in what, for me, is very rough water and I felt fine. Obviously my arms were aching, as well as my neck and my stomach a little And my legs were all rubbery. But the next day I was still fine. Tired, hungry, sore, but already looking for my next swim.

My stroke count was steady the whole time. Even at the end when I was really starting to feel it. 

I suspect this is almost all due to nutrition. More calories and better calories. Better nutrition means swimming better a few hours in and it means feeling better afterwards. I guess this is not news.

Also, it can't be said enough: The race directors, volunteers, and crew of all the support boats are fantastic. Thanks for making another little trip down the Hudson possible for me.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Laurel Lake

Wednesday night. The day after my biggest swim ever. Six and a half hours in the water and boy are my arms tired.

But I felt pretty good for all that and decided to join up for a swim in Laurel Lake. The water felt a touch colder than the Hudson, even though it wasn't. I thought I would just take it nice and easy. Really stretch out my stroke. The swim is a rough triangle about 1.5 miles altogether. It felt good to swim towards something that wasn't moving away from me. The relatively flat water felt glassy smooth  after a day in the Hudson. I guess I really am a lake swimmer at heart.

Naturally as soon as we reach the furthest point there is a rumble of thunder in the distance. So the last leg of the swim turned out to be faster than I intended.