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What pool?

US Masters Swimming @mastersswimming just tweeted:

Seattle Seahawks quarterback @DangeRussWilson includes swimming in his training regimen.  See you in the pool, Russel

What I find upsetting in that tweet is, after three years in Seattle, I’m still trying to figure out: What pool?

Another season is beginning and once again I’m looking for a pool. Two years ago, I looked around and came to the conclusion that no USMS team in Seattle was going to meet my training requirements. No two teams, for that matter. I tried BWAQ, the team in the really nice pool a half hour outside of town, but after two months of sitting in an added hour of rush hour traffic on my way from practice to work in Seattle, I gave up. I also tried HMST at the University of Washington, but I found there what I’d found at ORCA just a few months prior: a 90 minute swim in a crowded lane a few times a week doesn’t cut it. That isn’t serious training. There was no team for me.

And maybe that was the problem right there. In a city of 662,000, there is no Masters team. Let me clarify, there is one Masters “team,” Puget Sound Masters, but PSM is composed of 36 different workout groups, each with its own schedule, own pool, own payment system, and no connection to the other workout groups whatsoever. In 2015, the local LMSC had 1,686 registered swimmers, 1,348 (80%) of whom were part of PSM. With an enormous team like that, you’d think there’d be some leverage. But there is no PSM team.

Instead, what Seattle has is a disjointed hodge-podge of groups doing the best they can to each make it on their own. There are four viable workout groups at three locations (yes, two groups use the same pool) across the city each offering one workout per day with a total of 374 swimmers (the remainder of PSM swimmers are registered on teams outside of Seattle limits or unattached). Despite being on the same “team,” swimmers may not freely cross town to take advantage of a more convenient practice time with another workout group, and there are none of the benefits that come from having such a large membership. The workout groups don’t even share a website. In every way, they are individual teams.

To make it worse, the PSM landscape is set to change drastically in the next few years. The ageing UW pool (home of HMST, 85 swimmers) is rumored to be demolished in Spring or Summer of 2016 (though no official word is available), and the Juanita Aquatics Center (home of LWM, 83 swimmers) is slated for demolition in 2018 with no new pool in sight after 63% of voters rejected a ballot measure in 2015 that would have funded a replacement facility. The pools for 16% of the LMSC will disappear. Will the swimmers disappear with them?

Presently, Downtown Seattle has no pool that sustains a functional Masters program. Capitol Hill has two: one has two workout groups, the other has zero. Numerous athletic clubs and public pools in the area remain untapped by Masters, and unavailable to lap swimmers seeking some serious training. With no leverage, and no plan to band together, there will be no new training space.

Swimming in Seattle is in a crisis, or at best its in a stagnant state of neglect and disrepair with a further downturn coming soon.

So USMS,  it’s nice that Mr. Wilson has a place to swim in Seattle. I just wish I did, too.

Disclaimer: This past December, I applied for the open position as USMS CEO, but I don’t expect a call back.


Swimmer fails to cross Strait of Juan de Fuca” is what the AP reported the next day. Swimmer, me. Fails, what I did.

I remember thinking two days later, “today is the first day of my training for next year.” My determination and ambition lasted through the autumn, but something else crept in during that time. Doubt.

This had been my first attempt at planning a swim, and I had, as the press said, failed to complete it. I knew I was in good company in this body of water, with over a hundred other failed attempts on the books, a few people eventually returning for a successful crossing, but that wasn’t much consolation. What would I do differently next year? If I got it wrong the first time, what more did I know now to get it right the second time? As November approached, the thought of repeating a failure terrified me. I needed another plan.

First, I needed to prove that I could handle a big swim. I needed to be certain that I could train for and complete something big, and leave the planning to someone else for a moment. So I signed up for the biggest organized challenge I could find: 8 Bridges. And I completed it.

Second, I needed to prove that I could plan a successful swim. I needed to be sure that my assumptions worked and my preparations were adequate. So the Summer of Bert was hatched, a series of two original swims followed by the Strait, all inspired by the first person to cross the Strait. These first two would be training swims, big, big training swims. Dress rehearsals, if you will.

Third, I needed to prove that I could handle cold water. I needed to be certain that the cold wouldn’t get to me again. So I moved all of my training outside, effective immediately, and trained only in cold water from last summer through the winter to today. For the first training swim, I swam from Tacoma to Seattle in June, I swam in cold water three hours longer than the Strait should take, and I survived.

Finally, I needed to make the Strait look small and insignificant. And how do you make a five to six hour swim look small? Swim twice as long and twice as far. So for the second training swim, I swam around Bainbridge Island, I more than doubled the time I was in the Strait in 2013, and I survived.

And now, I’ve done all that. Now I feel I’m as ready to complete this little swim as I can possibly be. Wholeheartedly, I feel ready. I am ready. This will not be nearly as hard as the last two years.


My first swim for the year is less than one month away. So what did I do today? I sat on the beach all afternoon and drank beer with swim friends in between rounds of seaweed fights. After swimming five miles, of course.

At the beginning of the season, I knew my training plan needed to be different from last year for two reasons. First, my goals were different; I’m training for several cold saltwater swims rather than a multi-stage river swim. Second, my training last year left me feeling pretty blue most of the time.

My training started at the beginning of last July with the seemingly easiest of tasks: do nothing. What put me in such a bad mood through most of last spring was the absence of an off season, and I was determined to not make that mistake again. My rule was, from July through the beginning of this year, do only 7km per week. No more, no less. This kept me in shape, and made me yearn at times to go farther. Wanting to swim is a talent that needs cultivating.

With the start of the new year, I maintained the maintainable. I took a schedule of 7km per week and made it only marginally harder. The next week was an 8km week, because if I could figure out how to work 7km into my life, surely I could add a bit more without consequence. Then a bit more the week after. And now its a 26km week. To make things more challenging, I’ve been doing all my training in the Puget Sound. Through the rain and short days of winter, lengthening my swims as the days lengthened and the water warmed. Cramming as much distance as I can handle into the weekends with hopes that it will be easy to make time during eleven-hour workdays to get the rest swum before bed on Friday night.

There’s a few other things contributing to my generally good mood and consistent swimming this year. The regular adventure of swimming in open water versus the drudgery of distance pool workouts has kept me excited. There are some days when my first smile happens during my evening workout, and more often on Monday mornings forcing a smile is too much to ask, when I’m contrasting office banalities with my most recent sea lion encounter. More importantly, I’ve found people to join me. Our little group has grown to twenty-plus, and I’ve even had frequent same-pace company during part or all of my swims, weekend and weekday alike.

And that’s how I found myself standing knee deep at low tide today, draped in kelp and sargassum. Just another sunny Saturday morning 8km swim, followed by some lounging and swimming and sunning and drinking and smiling.

Distance swimming

It was after dark on a Sunday evening in February when, still wet from another city’s downpour, I slowly walked up to the light rail station at SeaTac airport. This was not an unfamiliar experience, returning to town alone with just enough time to get some food, get some sleep, and get back to the office the next morning. Barely over one year earlier, I’d returned to this airport from some unglorious destination or another every few days. Here was a ritual I’d repeated countless times since moving to Seattle, and countless times in a life before that.

Thirty-two days later, I was driving back to the airport to pick up a guest when it occurred to me: this sixteen mile drive brought me farther from home than I’d been in the past thirty-two days. Farther by five miles! For the past month, I’d done the opposite of what I’d done for the past four and a half years, not travel.

For thirty-two days, I was never more than nine miles from home. Nine miles is the driving distance from home to my beach at Alki. In that period, I made the trip to Alki sixteen times, and swam a total of sixty-four kilometers (I still swim in kilometers). My morning commute is currently 2.9km. This means on any given weekend day, I swim farther than my total daily commute.

As I was pushing myself to go farther in the water, I was going nowhere on land. Instead of exploring the world with a plane ticket and a passport, I was exploring the world with a pair of goggles and a few happy hours. I was getting to know the bottom of the sea and my swim family better than ever before. I’d fallen into a routine that is one of the most stable I’ve ever had, and it leaves me feeling unbelievably comfortable.

I finally found a routine that allows me to swim the distances my mind and body and soul all crave, without travelling the distances all of those wholly rejected not so long ago.

Dream huge, start small: 2015

Sitting in nighttime rush hour traffic on my way to swim practice, a place I’ve not been in a while. It is something I’ve done a hundred times, slowly crawling up over the West Seattle Bridge as the sun sets straight ahead. Last year, at this exact time in fact, I was doing just this.

A year ago, my priorities were distance, and my training reflected my fear that I wouldn’t be able to swim far enough or fast enough. Consequently, on a night probably much like this, I was headed to the pool beneath the Bridge to swim a lonely four or five thousand yards in a dreary small space. Pushing myself in practice meant swimming farther and faster just as often as it meant fighting back morose thoughts and the occasional tear.

As I crested the bridge, the sunset opened up ahead in an unseasonably bright and cheery sky. The exit for the pool was just ahead on the right. My turn signal click-clacked away as I merged onto the ramp of the next exit, the exit for the beach.

I haven’t been to that pool since May, or any pool for that matter. The day I got out of that pool, wrapped myself in a towel and drove around the corner to the beach to finish my workout was a beautiful day. And the providence that bankrupted the gym thereafter and ended my monthly contract was divine. So as I drove over that bridge, heading to a dark cold workout in the Puget Sound, I chuckled quietly at my unenlightened self of last year.

My training plan for this season is simple: dream huge, start small. The dreaming is done, and it is huge. Also a little intimidating, but oh so exciting. And I’ve started, small.

Starting small is great, because means I can do all my week’s training out of a pool in open water. Starting small is necessary, because the water here is only in the high forties. Starting small is safe, because swimming has released its grip on my life and it will take a few moments to work it back into my schedule. Starting big, like last year, would be emotionally disastrous.

This year, my priorities are distance, and luckily my fear is only the cold. My training will keep me out of the pool, and can only progress as fast as my body and the water temperature will allow.

There are eighteen weeks until this season’s first swim.  Until then, the Bridge that’s now behind me will continue to bring me to a place I love, a place I want to be. This will be a long, cold, and challenging year, but only in the very best of ways. 2015.

Take it too far – illustrated

The illustrated guide to the previous post: Take it too far.

Take it too far

Stage 1

Stage 2

Stage 3

Stage 4

Stage 5

Stage 6

Stage 7

Take it too far

Here is how to train for a long swim:

Dream for as long as is necessary. Then settle on a goal. Goals don’t happen without dreams, and nothing happens without goals.

Now stop dreaming and focus. Focus on your goal the way you focus on your breathing, your stroke technique, or your counting of laps during a long pool set.

This swim is going to be hard. (You knew that, right?) Make your training harder. Train longer. Train faster. Train colder. Train farther. Train before dawn. Train through sunset, through dusk, and into the dark. Just you and the inky abyss.

Study everything. Study past successes and failures, both others’ and your own. Study the tides. Study the course. Study the coasts and the towns along them. Learn physics, biomechanics, nutrition, chemistry. Learn to stay organized. Read everything you can. Never read motivational posters; they are the worst. Don’t blindly trust the experts, check their assumptions. Become the expert, check your own assumptions.

Make mistakes and learn from them. Ignore the tides and get stuck in a current. Drink too much the night before. Skip breakfast. Lose goggles. Forget your suit. Now make those same mistakes again. Understand what part everything plays, and know what to do when mistakes inevitably happen.

Now make your training even harder. Make it too hard. Too long. Too fast. Too cold. Too far. You don’t know what any of those things are! Stop whining, shut up, and swim.

Make friends. Make contacts. Make whatever you need to succeed if it does not already exist. Lose friends. Lose contact with the outside world. Lose touch with reality as everyone else knows it. Make your own reality.

Swim all the time. Swim through Love. Swim through Loss. Swim through all the emotions that come in between. Never ask if swimming is the cause or the cure. It is probably both, but knowing that won’t help anything. Swim as your life crumbles around you. Swim while you rebuild it. Never stop swimming.

You knew this was going to be hard, right? Accept it. This will be lonely and alienating. Your only friends will be swimmers, and even they won’t understand you. This is a path that few have taken, or ever will. Don’t expect many companions. Treasure those who join you.

Happy endings are never guaranteed. Accept that things are not always in your control. Train yourself to appreciate small victories. Everything brings a chance to improve, to learn, to succeed. At best, your training will be adequate and your swim will seem easy. Don’t dwell on the other possibilities.

If this doesn’t work: make your training harder. This will not be easy. But you knew that, didn’t you.

8 Bridges – fear

There are a lot of things to be nervous about before an open water swim: the temperature, the distance, the sharks, the navigation, the boredom, etc. It is no secret; I get a little feeling of superiority watching pre-race jitters occur before a triathlon swim, because really what could possibly go wrong in such a short swim?

Now I’m not saying I never get nervous before a swim. Turn the distance dial up past ten miles, or turn the temperature dial down below fifty degrees, or throw some tricky weather and currents in front of me, and I’m bound to start second guessing my preparations. But 8 Bridges is different.

I’m not worried about any one stage of 8 Bridges. Individually, there is nothing about them that frightens me. The water will be warmer than what I’ve been training in, but not too warm. The distances and required paces are easily achievable with how I’ve been training for the past seven months. This weekend’s training was the equivalent (by time) of swimming stages two and three. I’m not scared for any of swims, and in fact the exact opposite – I’m excited for all the swims: the scenery, the people, the atmosphere.

A few weeks ago, I was scared for the second morning of 8 Bridges. Rondi told me that it’s like hiking the Appalachian trail; you start off a bit stiff each morning but then get into the rhythm and it’s all wonderful. Maybe that was her experience on the Appalachian Trail, but my brief time on it was three days of pain, discomfort, bowel irritation, and constant damp. Not the ideal metaphor for a good time.

Throughout my training, I’ve been scared that my shoulder would start hurting again on day one and make the full swim impossible. It is pretty painful when it hurts, but the pain goes away in a few weeks and then I’m good to go. Sadly, I don’t have a few weeks of recovery between swims, I have maybe sixteen hours. Luckily there is PT. Over the past three months I’ve learned a bunch about my joints, muscles, nerves, and posture that, so far, have kept the pain from recurring. I’m being cautious, but I don’t think it will be an insurmountable problem.

I was scared for day two, the waking up early and jumping in after the previous day. But this weekend’s training has got me thinking maybe day two won’t be so bad. After this weekend, with some critical lessons in preswim nutrition, postswim nutrition, stroke technique, and general mental toughening behind me, I’m not scared for day two. Rondi was right, it really isn’t that bad. Look at me conquering my fears!

So now I’m scared for day three. I’ve not seen day three yet.

The Lake

On Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, with less than a month to go before 8 Bridges, I was in the pool starting up a long workout. I’d gone for a long swim in the Puget Sound the day before, but with temperatures hovering around 51F, by “long swim” I mean just over 4k. Not nearly long enough. So I resigned myself to getting some much needed yardage in the pool on that dreary overcast Sunday.

But reverting to long pool swims at this time of year is difficult, having open water so close and accessible and relatively warm. Somewhere in the midst of the first kilometer I gave up. But around that same time I had a beautiful revelation. 8 Bridges is not a cold water swim, nor is it a salt water swim, so why wasn’t I training in Lake Washington? Pride and preference and lack of imagination.

The next afternoon, I headed over to Seward Park to try it out. And it worked! That day was my longest swim of the season, completing two laps of the 2.4 mile circumference peninsula. It felt so good to be able to get into that peaceful mental state where movement comes without thinking and there is no other reality besides the aqueous one all around.

That mental place is somewhere I haven’t been in a long time. The Puget Sound is beautiful, exhilarating, and downright fun, but swimming in the Sound can be dangerous if you go too far. Survival requires thought, and the Sound requires survival. In warm waters of the Lake, there was no fear of hypothermia, no need to figure out the tides and currents and if I’d make it back in time. There was only swimming: stroke after stroke after analyzed, critiqued, and perfected stroke.

With June Gloom yet to show up and a bright sun shining down on the Lake’s low-60 degree water for the two following weekends, there was no reason to hold back. The first weekend of June I swam three laps on Saturday with another two on Sunday. Then four laps and three the next weekend. This was new to me, back to back long swims, but this is what 8 Bridges is, times 7 (or times 6, or times 3.5, depending on your method of calculation). This is the training I needed, not a glorious swim with starfish or a dismal swim in a small pool.

I chose Seward Park because it provided short intervals across a dockless stretch of shoreline where figuring distance would be easy, and where friends could come and go with me as they pleased. In the five swims and fourteen laps, Steph joined for four, Dan and Melissa for three, Alison for two, and Dave for one. Their company was wonderful; it kept me on pace and helped me forget what a lonely, dull place is the back of Seward Park, and what a gross body of water are the shallows near the start and finish.

Yeah, the Lake isn’t the greatest of lakes. Pretty soon the water will be up in the 70s, and I’ve had enough of dodging boats in the anchorage of Andrew’s Bay, and more than  enough of the duck itch (swimmer’s itch) I’ve been scratching at for a few weeks now. It’ll be a while before I go back.

While I’m looking forward to my return to the clear, cool, life-filled waters of Alki Beach, I will miss being able to swim for hours and hours the way one can in warmer waters.

Oh and this: Please don’t feed the ducks!

1,600 days of data

As of today, I have 1,600 continuous days of data showing my swim, bike, and run training. There are some small periods with more detailed records from when I was focusing on certain goals, like running paces, or swim duration, or what shoes I wore, but at a minimum I have recorded date and distance.

Tracking workouts has helped me greatly in establishing training goals, and in understanding my performance during events. At times, it has kept me motivated, when keeping a blue line near a yellow line was the only reason to jump into cold water. And an unintended benefit: being able to correlate training to and from the rest of my life.

At 1,600 days, I’ve made a new discovery that should be of great help after this June’s 8 Bridges. I’m not exactly sure how, but my goal for this summer is to do things other than work and swim and sleep. I’m going to talk to people other than coworkers and seals. I’m going to cook food that isn’t tacos, and eat it while sitting down. I’m ready to know what the people know, ask them my questions and get some answers. I’m going to…


…swim less than 2.5 kilometers per day!


“That looks fun,” I said to her as she returned to the wall.

The lady in the lane next to me was pushing a set of floaty dumbbells along the surface of the pool, and she had just spent the past four minutes or longer in shoulder deep water, feet on the bottom, face down, arms outstretched, spinning. And for the past four minutes or longer, I’d been watching her.

It was a ten past eight o’clock on a Tuesday night, and the last 100 yards of my 7,000 yard workout were eluding me. Somewhere over the past two hours, and past two weeks, I ended up on that downslope of the emotional rollercoaster. As I stood at the wall after a long, slow, tedious 6,900 yards with no desire to go any farther, something about this spinning lady entranced me.

What is was about her slow rotation, bright green cap, and uncustomary movements that caught and held my eye I cannot say. Spinning must have been for her either a workout, or something she really enjoyed doing, or both, because why else would she do it? Why was I doing what I was doing? Was it for any of those reasons?

“Well, you know,” she replied. Conversations with strangers are rarely begun by me, but watching her had really intrigued me. She added, “You must be more of a competitive swimmer.”

“Yeah,” I said in a tone that must have expressed what I was feeling right then about my own swimming, which was nothing positive.

“That’s alright.”

“It get’s old after a while,” I offered. Not the direction I meant to take the conversation. I just wanted to know about her spinning.

“Well, as long as you’re competing against yourself, always setting the bar higher, that’s what matter.” Normally, this would be that little nugget of wisdom you hang onto and cherish forever. But no, goddammit, I was clearly set on being a miserable human.

“Unless you set the bar too high.” She asked what was too high, and I told her how far I’d swum tonight.

It was the second time I’d thought about this during my workout. New York State’s motto is Excelsior, or Ever Upward. The sad truth about this is, it is impossible to go Ever Upward. Everything has limits. Read a Stephen Jay Gould book, he’ll tell you. And what are my limits? Sure I can go farther Upward, but do I want to? Is it a good idea? Is it safe?

“That’s a lot,” she replied. “Well, my workout is nineteen laps, but it usually stretches out to twenty-one.” Then, something unexpected. “Because at that point my suit usually starts to fall apart. It’s an old suit. Some things take priority, you know.”

We laughed. Thank you spinning lady in the bright green cap. You just cheered me up a little.

One hundred yards to go, and then there is a Cadbury Creme Egg waiting for me in the car.

Fighting burnout, stoking the fire

Traditionally, as the end of the summer comes, the leaves, the temperatures, and my training all begin to fall. But not this year.

By time late September 2013 rolled around, I still had weekly open water swims of over 7k. The Puget Sound is beautiful, and all I wanted to do was swim in it. Sounds harmless. Then I went and joined a swim team. Then I joined a second swim team. By late October, there were weekdays opened with a 5:30am swim practice and closed with an open water swim in the darkness newly brought about by Daylight Savings Time. As the months got colder, I added post-swim trail runs with some training buddies, and would continue to push the 6k mark as the Sound dropped into the 40s late in November. This level of training had continued since May, and my real training was to start in January.

Or so I told myself.

What I’d forgotten, or overlooked, or ignored in those playful autumn months is how important is my annual break-up with swimming. And now here I am at the end of March fighting total burnout. While my workouts are meant to be getting longer, simply getting in the water is regularly a struggle, and I’ve even begun asking myself why I’m doing it at all– the most dangerous of questions. In fewer than three months, I’m to be swimming 120 miles down the Hudson. By then, I suspect swimming and I will, in the best scenario, not be on speaking terms. The chances of us still being friends by June seem remote. And this is a terrifying prospect considering we’re only at the beginning of the season!

Now it is too late to take three months off, and there is no way to go back. So it becomes a mental game.

Last Saturday I stepped onto the Golden Gardens beach, warm hands in the pockets of the parka protecting me from the pelting rain. As I approached the newly-made campfire, a few confused faces noticed the lack of swim bag and towels. Midway through my workout the night before, as I thought about what would come with the following morning, the cold, damp, shivering sandy wetness that accompanies most Seattle swims, I decided I’d remain warm and dry on the beach. Only if the sun came out and a compelling reason presented itself would I swim. I needed a day off, a mental health day.

So I waved my friends off as they left on their swim in the cold, rough water. Then followed them with cameras. Then discovered that when they reached their turn-around point they’d see a wall-full of anemone. A few minutes later, Lisa shouted up from the water below, the wall was covered in starfish. Melissa, Guila, and Maria all said the same.

Then the sun came out. I’m glad I keep my swim bag in the car. The starfish were gorgeous, as always.

Haiku 2

To the victor

“Fame, money, and girls
are what it’s all about,” said
no swimmer ever.

Different strokes

Friday evening, in that brief period just after quitting time and just before the weekend begins, I attend my one organized swim practice of the week. Coach, team, the whole shebang. This week, it so happened we were given a set I’ve come to dread. It was a set that wasn’t all freestyle. Gulp.

In a past life, I was all about the IM and fancied myself a decent butterfly-er. Now, frequently pool-less, I am not and do not. But the four strokes still do have their time and place, which is something I need to remind myself every time I am encouraged to do different strokes at practice.

Here they are, in reverse IM order:

Freestyle: Specifically, front crawl. This is what one does when one wants to go someplace. Unless you are in absolutely no rush to get anywhere, or your name is Vicki or Sylvain, freestyle.

Breaststroke: aka breastroke. Want to see where your headed? Swimming through something nasty and don’t want your face in it? Just need to shake out those legs a bit? Then breaststroke is for you. If you’re at all like me, you certainly do not chose this stroke because you are trying to get somewhere quickly. It is best left for when trying to spot the next orange dot or silhouetted tree through foggy goggles.

Backstroke: The only acceptable time to swim on your back is when you are swimming under a bridge. At practice on Friday, after seventy-five yards of facing wrong-side-up, all I could think was; this set is stupid, no bridge is one hundred yards wide. As a bonus, admiring the skyward girders and trusses means you’ll miss those gloomy subaqueous shadows that reside beneath bridges.

Butterfly: Want to show off a little? Butterfly is a great way to do it. Yeah, I just swam 10k…and I can still do this!

Again today, I was subjected to an IM set. It was not hard and we never had to do more than twenty-five yards of any one stroke at a time. It gave me time to reflect. Maybe mixing it up every so often has its benefits, like getting my two arms back in sync while and working a few neglected muscles. But at what cost? Most of the time I’d rather just get through my workout and on to waffles.

What lies beyond the buoys

What they don’t understand,

those people who wander by while I’m undressing on a frosty morning,
or those people who watch me struggling to dress, shivering and covered in seaweed,
or those people who are my mother,

those people who ask:
Don’t you swim with a group?
Is the water too deep to touch bottom?
Do you get bored?
What if you get cold?

What they don’t understand, is

if you follow a path, you’ll end up where the path takes you;
if you hang with the pack, you’ll end up in the pack;
and if you find it unthinkable to swim at night by yourself right after eating in chilly water during a storm, you may just as well stay inside the buoys.

But there is a whole lot to see outside the guarded swim area, so maybe I should just let you look away while I quietly slip beneath the rope, where lies every place worth swimming to. Join me, or don’t.

Strait of Juan de Fuca, training 2 of 2

[Originally published in Please Tap on the Glass at USMS Blogs on 15 July 2013.]

WooHoo! It’s taper time! [Cue Team America music, cleverly sing “Taper Time!” instead of “Americuh!”]

Actually, pretty much every other week has been a taper since the last training entry, and the reason is counter-intuitive. I stopped moving around. Yes folks, I’ve not travelled for work in over five weeks. Once again, I have a permanent address (and my new mattress is being delivered in a few hours). But with the open schedule comes a choice of how to spend my time; I can all of a sudden choose when to train, and not let departure times dictate when I musttrain. It took a few days to relearn that skill.​

Making it harder to set a regular training schedule, the water in the Sound has been changing. Seattle has had an amazingly sunny spring (amazing if you’re into that sort of thing). Sun is something both Seattleites and algae love, and therefore Alki beach has been crowded with both. And where the algae bloom, so do the jellyfish.

Before we get to the jellies, let’s talk about the temperature. The endless sun here has been causing me a bit of trouble. In the evenings, with the downtown buoy reading 53F, the water at Alki (3 miles away) feels downright warm. Naturally, if you want to swim in cold water, you resort to waking at 4am to swim at 4:30 before the 5:11 sunrise. And with great pain (consider, bed to 53F in under 30min at 4am) comes great beauty. The beach at that hour is gorgeous. And all mine, no crowds.

Getting out of bed at 4am is a complicated set of mental gymnastics. “My waterbottles aren’t filled,” was my first excuse that kept me in bed. Lesson learned. “Jellyfish,” was the next, and legitimately so. I’d been doing a Matrix-style front crawl for days dodging the three to twelve inch blobs of terror, and had no emergency vinegar on hand. Turns out, those blobs don’t hurt. The egg-yolk jellies sting so weakly they can’t be felt anywhere but on the thinnest of skin, which is excellent because by mid-June they were unavoidable. There were days where I’d be wrist-deep in one while shaking off another that had draped itself across my goggles. I even managed to get a tentacle up the nose at one point (only mild irritation).

The height of my training was a test swim with SJDF kayaker Steve at the end of June. We left Alki and headed around the lighthouse and south to Lincoln Park on the flood tide, and returned four hours and 13.5km later on the ebb. Although I was tired after, it felt great. All of the experience from the past three years is paying off. And the best part: no Advil and no sore joints! My shoulder was pretty bad after MIMS last year, but I’ve been working on, no,conscious of technique since then and it’s paying off.

Following the four-hour swim, I promptly got on a plane and took a week-long roadtrip, then returned to Seattle for a few more days of solid training. One last big push. The 90min to 120min swims have been mentally draining after a long day at work, so I traded once-or-twice-weekly for daily short swims (60min to 90min). In addition, I tried making them more fun. I’ve been doing runs up the seawall stairs every kilometer, or swimming to the Anchor Park pier (2.5km), jumping off it, and swimming back. It’s very different than just doing 2, 3, or 4 trips to the lighthouse, and exactly what I needed to keep my focus as we approach…Taper Week! Woot!

Looking back, the past few months has held the minimum amount of training required to make this swim a success. Normally, I’d be disappointed with this. As I learned in the Chesapeake Bay swim a few years back, I’m a better swimmer than “made it out of the water alive,” and hence should act accordingly. But this swim has been about so much more than yardage. You’ve seen the posts about planning, right? Victory in this swim will be defined as jumping in and touching Canada. After the start, it’s easy. After the start, it’s just a 6 hour swim.