The Kingdom Swim: Nothing Short of Magical (Part III)


Reaching a goal can be quite an emotional experience and if I had my choice, I would let someone else take over while I’m processing what just transpired. In addition, after swimming for so many hours, it’s just hard to stop. My body goes haywire. “What? You don’t want me to keep on swimming? But… Then feed me!!!” At times like this, I wish I had a friend with me, like dear Sarah during GCBS last year. But I don’t have that choice, so soldier on I must. It helps to have little goals: #1 eat, #2 say goodbye to my wonderful kayaker, #3 shower, #4 attend award ceremony, #5 rest, #6 eat again.

It took a while to do all those things. I even had to go into town following the awards to run an errand (MISSION CREEP!) before I could sit in the beer tent and put my feet up. Since the ten-miler was also the 9+ Mile USMS Open Water National Championship, awards were given six-deep into each age group. Since no age group had over six participants, everyone who stayed for the awards got USMS hardware to hang on his/her “I-love-me wall” or to make his/her head coach proud. Wahoo!

Hanging out in the beer tent turned out to be one of the most enjoyable things I did on my trip to the Northeast Kingdom. Oh, yes, the beer was great despite the fact that I’m not much of a beer drinker, but the company and the conversation were even better. I was still star-struck by the swimmers I’ve heard of and admire, who turned out to be quite friendly and unassuming. Plus I got to meet many swimmers from the East Coast, who were happy to share swimming stories and plans. What a lovely evening it was! During that time, the last swimmer to finish the Border Buster came in, and all the swimmers in the beer tent walked down to the beach to greet her and cheer. Reminiscing of that moment still gives me goosebumps. What a wonderful sport this is, in which its athletes celebrate each other’s triumphs, no matter how long it takes to reach those goals. Dinner at Prouty Beach was delicious and plentiful and by a surprising turn of events, I was committed to applying for the 2017 installment of SCAR. I capped the evening in Newport, surrounded by swimmers enjoying well-earned ice cream cones.

The following morning, I packed my campsite and started the journey back to South Florida, already awaiting my return next year to the magical Northeast Kingdom of Vermont for the Border Buster.

Lessons learned

Kayak escort – Swimming while escorted by a kayaker represents a whole new level of the sport for me. It incorporates the notion of teamwork. Swimmer swims. Kayaker guides. Swimmer lays out logistics. Kayaker keeps her eyes and ears on safety. It is so much easier to follow one’s kayaker than to attempt to spot a buoy! For my next supported swim, the Suck, I’ll already know what works. I had a fantastic escort who kept me right on those buoys.

Hydration (CarboPro/Gatorade mix) – I brought more than I thought I needed. I nearly drank it all. But then again, I swam longer than I thought I would.

Nutrition (banana/apple baby food in squeezable packets) – I didn’t eat at all. My stomach never felt like it needed food, though I was afraid that if I did eat it, I would get stomach cramps.

Pacing – I was very pleased with my pacing once I settled in. I was also glad that during training days that I was feeling off, I saw the workout through completion. That gave me the confidence that I could finish the swim even though I wasn’t feeling fantastic.

Speed over time elapsed.

Adequacy of training – A rule of thumb is to swim the distance of one’s race in a week as a minimum. I stuck to that rule, but added long swims of increasing length every other weekend. My mentor had recommended breaking those long swims by stretches of time, twenty to thirty minutes each, with a little rest in between. Three weeks before the race I did my longest pool swim, a 13K, followed two days after by a 10K time trial. I felt my training had been right on point, though when my mentor asked me what I would have done differently, I said I should’ve swum more at a tempo pace. Something to be discussed with my coaches…

TRACK.RS – A new tool offered to marathon swimmers by the Marathon Swimmer Federation. Not only TRACK.RS provides the swimmer with post-race data, such as the actual location and speed vs. time, but it also allows one’s ‘fans’ to follow one’s progress in near real time. Once I returned home, many of my friends commented on how fun it was to check on my progress. I blushed.

The Kingdom Swim: Nothing Short of Magical (Part II)

Race day

Notwithstanding the nerves of the previous week, I always wake up calm, cool, and collected on race day. Most of the time I stay in that frame of mind. Despite the conscious tapering, hydrating well, and extra rest, I woke up feeling off. It was nothing related to food, or camping, for that matter, since I’m an avid camper. It was just an off day. One must adjust on days like those, whether they happen during training or racing. I just accepted that fact and decided that I would swim very slowly. After all, I’d never swum ten miles before.

Out of my tent’s window, the Border Busters took off at 5:30 am. I was surprised at the racket they made; their strokes sounded like a flock of birds taking off from the surface of a lake. I wished I were starting my race that early, too, but the championship race was not supposed to commence until 8 am. I had plenty of time to eat breakfast, don my tech suit, cover myself in Extra Strength Desitin, and check and re-check my feeds and gear. By the time my kayaker arrived at the beach, there wasn’t much left for us to do other than load the kayak and turn on the GPS transmitter for the tracker.

My kayaker and I had discussed logistics the day before. This was also my first supported swim, so my instructions were based on what my mentor had advised. I asked my kayaker to keep the kayak next to me (as opposed to ahead or behind) and on my left. I breathe on both sides, so picking the left was merely an attempt at staying on course, since I tend to pull to the left.

The kayakers took off ahead of the swimmers, who started at 8 am.

Stampede! (Photo: Phil White)

A peaceful feeling overcame me as I waded in the lake waters and dove. I love water. I love swimming. I wasn’t concerned at how long the race would take. I acknowledged my physical discomfort and just took it along with me. For the next few hours, I would be the aquatic creature I’ve always wanted to be. It was comforting to know that I wouldn’t have to touch land for hours.

The kayakers had mustered by the first buoy; I found mine right away. It wasn’t hard! I was already lagging behind the bulk of the field after only one mile. The water was 73F. Pleasant, but I always welcome colder temperatures. The forecast called for a maximum ambient temperature of 74F, clear skies, and a NW wind less than 9 mph. The course was a clockwise loop around the US portion of the lake. For about 2.6 miles, we swam generally north along the west shore of the lake, passing the small Whipple Point light. Time seemed to fly. I was taking feeds every twenty minutes, which is my norm training in the South Florida heat. During that leg of the race, I could’ve changed the interval to thirty minutes, but kept the usual one in favor of staying hydrated and being disciplined. Ten miles is a long way and one doesn’t know what the course might throw at a swimmer later on.

The ten-mile course.

My kayaker and I had decided that before crossing the lake, a 1.7-mi stretch, I would take a feeding to then cross without stopping. We’d learned the day before that there is a current that pushes swimmers north the closer they get to the islands on the east side of the lake. We were advised by the experienced kayaker not to stop for feedings. Crossing the lake was my favorite part of the whole swim. Every time I breathed to my right, the mirrored surface of the lake reflected the cloudless sky. I felt I could’ve swum forever.

Crossing Lake Memphremagog. (Photo: Phil White)

Reaching the next buoy near Black Island, my kayaker and I looked behind us. Swimmers and kayakers had been pushed off course. Swimming around Black Island, Cove Island, and Bell Island was a treat. These small rock promontories are covered in trees and the most beautiful houses nestle among them. Lenses of cold water pleasantly surprised me during the 1.2-mi jaunt around the islands. But once we turned south, along the eastern shore of the lake, the water gradually turned warmer. The navigational chart shows those depths to be equivalent to the ones on the western shore of the lake, so I attributed the rise in water temperature to the rise in air temperature. Following the 2.5-mile stretch between Bell Island and Indian Point, emergent vegetation signaled the low depth of the water. It was the only part of the lake where I saw large schools of fish. It was also where I was seized by a sneezing attack. Between sneezing and laughing I’m certain I lost plenty of time. I felt I had kept my speed fairly constant throughout the race, which is what I aim for. I’m a slow swimmer: I don’t delude myself with a top placement, but I take pride in consistent pace.

Past the emergent vegetation, I had another mile to go. By then it was early afternoon and boats were leaving the Newport docks headed north. Their wakes slipped under my kayaker and me. At one point, such a pronounced wave lifted my body that I popped my head up in time to watch the kayak being side swept. When I sighted the Prouty Beach campground, with about half a mile left in my race, I decided to give a ‘sprint’ a go. Why not? I’d been swimming at the same speed for hours and I wanted to finish my first ten-miler with a little unplanned fun, even if I was the only one who knew about it. I was surprised to still have gas in the tank. The water now felt Florida-warm, but even so, I was so happy to be ‘almost there’ that I paid it no mind.

Near the beach, I was afraid of what would happen when I stood up, but I did so without losing my balance. I waded back to shore, where a volunteer told me my time and I promptly forgot it, though I held on to the notion that it was much longer than my goal time. I thanked my kayaker; her navigational skills and on-point assistance made my race experience the best it could’ve been.

The Kingdom Swim: Nothing Short of Magical (Part I)

Hello, Newport!

As a newbie marathon swimmer, I had planned for the Suck to be my first attempt at the ten-mile distance, but I decided that I wanted to do the Kingdom Swim’s Border Buster, a fifteen-miler, next summer. In order to qualify, I needed to do a non-current assisted swim ten miles or longer. Given the time of the year and my experience, I opted for the ten-miler in the same venue as the Border Buster: Lake Memphremagog in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. I had a little over two months to train for it.

I was not prepared for the beauty of the locale, though a place name with the word ‘kingdom’ should’ve given it away. It was nothing short of magical. Driving on I-91 from Hartford, CT, the landscape took my breath away with the gorgeous mountains, the deep green pines and their sweet smell, the meandering rivers, the granite cliffs. I reached the lake at the end of the day, when the sun was hiding over the tallest mountain peaks, turning the water surface into a silvery mirror. The scenery stole my breath and brought me to tears. I can never help but think how blessed I am to be able to do what I love the most in these gorgeous natural settings.

My journey ended at the campground in Prouty Beach, Newport, which was nearly full. I pitched my tent on a spot overlooking the beach and went for (what else?) a swim. It was dusk and I didn’t want to waste time putting my contacts on. At the closest beach, I waded in and found the water surprisingly warm, in the mid-70s, perhaps. I didn’t stray too far from shore for fear of not seeing anything and for that reason never really got away from the submerged vegetation. My little swim felt fantastic after a whole day of planes (no trains) and automobiles.

The view from the Prouty Beach campground.

The day before the race I woke very early. I had forgotten sunrise is just after 5 am during the New England summer. What else is there to do but to go for a swim? This time I tried the main beach and didn’t find as many snarling plants. Buoys were already out, so I swam to the closest one. One other swimmer shared an otherwise deserted lake.

Around mid-day I went into Newport for sign-in and to board the Northern Star for a cruise around the buoys located within the US portion of the lake. Lake Memphremagog is a glacial lake, so it is long and narrow. Most of it lies within Canada. Luckily, my kayaker was able to join me on the boat. It was quite a useful experience to be able to look at the course together and learn from another experienced kayaker who had joined us.

Lake Memphremagog from the Newport docks.

Later that afternoon, Phil, our race director, gathered the swimmers at the Gateway Center in Newport for a safety briefing. Glancing around the room, I recognized many a swimmer from the marathon swimming world. How exciting to be surrounded by swimmers who’ve accomplished such feats of courage and physical prowess, which in my mind can only be accomplished with hard work, dedication, discipline, perseverance, and yes, heart. At that point, this race started to morph into something I didn’t expect it to be, but couldn’t yet put my finger on it. Swimmers promenaded along the lake shore in good fun. The night ended with a delicious pasta dinner and lively music.

Gang of swimmers. (Photo: Phil White)