Tag: GSL

GSL 2016 Decision- Rewarding or Fun?

gslSo I need help from all of you. I am trying to make a decision.

This June 4th is the Great Salt Lake Open Water Swim. If I swim it I will be my 5th time completing the 1 mile race. Here’s my struggle.

It’s EVIL but very REWARDING!

When I say evil here’s what I mean. You step into the water and your skin burns. Your pores sting and you feel your hands and toes getting chapped and swollen. Your nose gets raw and then your throat starts to burn and your tongue gets numb.

Then there is the race. They always seem to have to start the race in a weird spot. Twice we have been climbing over rocks to get to the starting point.  Then there is nothing to sight while you swim so it is hard to keep up morale. You feel like you are on a swimming treadmill and aren’t making any progress. You don’t have your own kayaker like at deer creek to motivate you (although normally I’m so far behind that I have one by default!).

The water saps energy from me so it is exhausting and brutal.

But then and here’s the rub…

I FINISH!

gsl1I get that medal and hear my friends cheering me on and it is all worth it. It’s great because it was so hard. It’s an accomplishment because I really pushed myself.

But aren’t things like this supposed to be recreation, supposed to be fun? I’m super out of shape so I guess I’m nervous on that front but I’m sure I can do it. It will just be insanely hard. A side of me thinks why put myself through all that?  Especially when I can do Bear Lake and have a much more pleasant experience with time to train in July.

What do you think? Should I do it and make it a 5-peat or take a break for a year?  What would you do if you were me?

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GSL Open Water Clinic

It’s official 2015 open water season has begun and life is happy for yours truly.  Next week is the GSL 1 mile swim and it will be my 4th year swimming it.  I am probably my least prepared for it but I had a test swim today and it gave me more confidence for next week.  They said I swam about .9 miles today and it wasn’t too bad so I think it will be great for the race.  Please pray I will be able to sleep next Friday because that could be a problem since the race is early in the morning.

Today was the GSL Open Water clinic and it was a huge success.

DSCF8005The water was very warm at 75 degrees.  This is why they have the GSL swim so early in the year because the salt and position makes it heat up very early .

Getting in the Great Salt Lake is an experience.  Your whole body reacts to the salt. Your nose and any other tender spots burn, your skin tingles and the water feels heavy like no other.  As you are swimming you can feel the salt sucking strength from your body as you quickly get dehydrated with no relief. People think it is like the ocean.  It is nothing like the ocean.  5 times saltier than the ocean in fact!

open4It was so funny some tourists from New York asked us for tips during their stay and where they could buy “local shrimp”.  I didn’t know what they meant at first and realized they were talking about the brine shrimp!  These are microscopic organisms that live in the Great Salt Lake, the only living organism in the lake.  Certainly not the kind of shrimp they were hoping for!

This year the water is very shallow and it seemed extra potent.  It’s so shallow they had to take all the boats out and have them in the parking lot.  We started at the marina and then they had about 5 buoys set out going towards the south beach.  The GSL swim has always been a straight shot to the Black Rock beach but this year they are doing a loop to one of the rocky beaches because of the water (if they did Black Rock it would have to be half swim half run and I’d be out).

I have decided this year to swim in batches of 50 and as I was testing out my stroke I think it will be good to alternate breaststroke and freestyle.  Sighting is so hard in Great Salt Lake even with buoys and the current can be very strong. There is something so motivating about swimming breaststroke open water because you can see your target dead on.  It is a little bit slower probably but it feels faster in the moment which is very encouraging.

Open water is such a mental sport.  It always feels like I am never going to get to the target.  I tell my friends it feels like you are on a swimming treadmill.  Even when you are very close it seems like you aren’t going to make it to the final destination.

But today I went out of the marina area and then about a half mile and then swam back to the marina.  Gordon told me it was .9 of a mile so pretty close.  This has given me great encouragement for next Saturday.  I was really nervous since I haven’t swam open water since last July but now I feel confident.  I’ll be tired but I know I can cross the finish line!

open 2 DSCF8012 openMy friend Etsuko is swimming open water this year (hurray!) and her friend could not understand why we would get in that stinky ‘cesspool water”.  It’s hard to explain.  Sometimes the swims give me anxiety and stress me out but there’s nothing like the feeling of finishing especially at GSL.

There is something about the human experience that needs to occasionally do hard things.  And people don’t expect a big girl like me to do something hard.  With my feet issues I can’t run or do anything like that so when I first went to open water it was like finding my home.  It was where I belonged with all the other misfits who love the water.  Even among swimmers a very small percentage do open water.

I’ve had so many people I’ve taken to the lakes and they hated it.  It was dirty.  It was gross.  It was cloudy.  But then every once in a while there will be someone like Etsuko, my friend Abby or myself who love it.  We love the challenge.  We love being out in nature.  We love the unpredictability.  We love the comradarie and family but at a certain point we just love it.

It’s like when you love key lime pie you can say a few things that you like but it in the end comes down to your taste buds just like it.  Same with me and open water.  It is hard.  It makes me nervous and I doubt myself sometimes but I love it.  It fits me and I am SOOOOOO Excited for the summer.

I hope you can all find your athletic match and hopefully it can be outdoors enjoying the beautiful, crazy and sometimes stinky world God has given us.

Stay tuned for tons of fun open water updates this summer and all the excitement of next weeks big race! Go SLOW!

In Defense of GSL

I was asked at work to write a blog about a fun thing to do in the outdoors in Utah. So I put together this post on the GSL.  Most of it will be review for regular readers but I thought I might as well share it.

In Defense of the GSL

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Utah?  Most Americans would probably answer 1. Mormons and 2.  Great Salt Lake (maybe skiing or the Olympics for 3rd?).

I’ve lived in Utah for most of my adult life and the interesting thing is until 2011 I had never been to see the Great Salt Lake.  I had driven by it but not stopped to take a look and certainly not swam in it.  I would bet 80-90% of Utahns were like me and had never set foot near the Great Salt Lake.  This is funny because daily buses of Chinese tourists come up to take a look at it.

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Why don’t people go to the Great Salt Lake? Well, the long and short of it is- it smells.

One blog said:

“Yea, I was going to say, who would want to stink like the Great Salt Lake!??! You can smell it as you start to drive near it. My daughter went on a field trip there, and her shoes stank for at least a week. A co-worker once went out there and her shoes stank up the whole office afterwards.”

Sounds pretty unpleasant right?  WRONG!

finish-gslI was in the ‘who swims in GSL?’ camp most my life but in 2011 I discovered open water swimming and my life has never been the same.  As great as pool swimming can be (I love any kind of water) there is something special about being out in nature where the water is unpredictable and full of surprises.

And no body of water is more unpredictable than the Great Salt Lake. It’s a totally unique and exhilarating experience.

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You step in the water and your skin prickles.  My friend calls it going for a quick pickle. Every pore in your body reacts and burns (people think it is like the ocean and it is not at all). It’s a wild experience but to me that is part of the fun of it.

There are so few times in life we can do something special and when I swim the GSL I can honestly say I’m 1 of only a handful of dedicated swimmers who have that same experience each year.  That’s pretty cool! Plus, it really is beautiful.

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The older I get the harder it is to be genuinely surprised by anything and each time I swim in the Great Salt Lake (or any open water) it feels new and unexpected.

Every year on the first Saturday of June my swim club Salt Lake Open Water (SLOW) sponsors a 1 mile swim in the Great Salt Lake and it is tough in every way.  But it is also exhilarating. I have done it 3 times and each time goes down as one of the best days of my life.

finisher
To challenge and conquer nature is an experience every human being should have.

Some tips:

  1. Make sure to go early in the summer (May and June) because later there are too many spiders and bugs.
  2.  Always go with friends when open water swimming and wear a safe swimmer so you are visible to boaters.
  3. Keep a swim to an easy return level because conditions can change rapidly at the GSL (windstorms can come on and I’ve been in 6 foot swells without warning)
  4. You will have brine shrimp (only living organism in the lake) on your body and suit but it washes right off.  (There is a hose to rinse off in. Rest comes off in the shower. No big deal)
  5. Contact SLOW on facebook and find out when swimmers are going and join in.  There are members of the Wasatch Front Polar Bear Club who swim GSL year-round!
  6. Have great goggles. I usually tuck an extra pair into my suit because you do not want to have goggle problems at GSL
  7. Drink lots of liquids before and after because that salt will dehydrate you fast
  8. Where possible have a kayaker accompany your group giving water, checking safety etc
  9. Count your strokes.  This has helped me so much with open water. The shoreline can feel like a mirage but when you focus on 20 more strokes, 50 more strokes, you will get there.  I promise!
  10. Sighting can be helpful but GSL is tricky since nothing grows around it that’s why best to go with group.
  11. Smell does not last for weeks.  Take a hot shower and launder your clothes in hot water and you’ll be fine
  12. Oddly the smell is much worse just outside the lake than when you are swimming in it.  I don’t know if you just don’t notice it but it really is a non-issue in the water.
  13. Wouldn’t recommend shaving anywhere right before going in the GSL.  It will burn!

gsl2014

I’m probably not making it sound like very much fun but swimming in the Great Salt Lake is an adventure.  It’s something you can gather with friends and take on together.  It’s a beautiful part of my home state and I recommend everyone give it a shot, smell and all.

Open water swimming also teaches me about life every time I am in the water.  The shoreline can feel so far off but if I push through and don’t give up I will prevail.  That’s one of many lessons I’ve gotten from the sport over the years.

Oh and you do float which is kind of cool!

interview-photo

Here I am getting interviewed after my 2013 race, which was incredibly difficult for me to finish but I did it!

Next time you are in Utah let me know and let’s swim GSL together!

GSL 2014

Another amazing open water swim race has come and gone.  Honestly I’m so exhausted I don’t know how much I can write but I will do my best.

I’ve often said I race partly for my swim family, partly for nature, partly for fitness but mostly for life.  Every swim teaches me something profound about life and this was no exception.

Here I am before the race:

before raceI was really nervous as I always am.  Great Salt Lake is so unpredictable and my last 2 years have been very tough for me, even 2012 when I was so well prepared was a beast. Both of those years there was wind advisories and the races were nearly cancelled.  I was praying so hard that we would get smooth water for once…

And my prayer was answered. Smooth water!

When you enter the Great Salt Lake it is like no other experience I can describe.  Your whole body screams with all the salt.  Your tongue swells up, your nose burns, and any soft skin let’s you know quickly it doesn’t like it.  All this adds to the challenge.

But luckily I decided to go for it and this year my friend Anna came with and she did amazing! A lot of my other friends weren’t in town or didn’t swim for one reason or another.  In fact, it looked like over half the swimmers were new to GSL.  There was one group from California that flew in for the race.  They go to races as friends all over the country.  How fun is that!

So they started the race in an odd way.  We had to climb over all these rocks and I had flip-flop sandles on.  I felt like I was going to slip and break my ankle.  It was kind of nuts.

Here I am trying to get down to the start:

DSCF5601Then the race started and within the first 5 minutes all the sudden my whole right side cramped up.  I felt like I could hardly move.  It seemed like I would have to pull out with that much pain so early on.

Luckily there was an awesome kayaker who helped me calm down and encouraged me to try another stroke so breaststroke it was. It seemed to strain my side less and after about 3 sets of 100 the cramp was mostly gone. (I count strokes in batches of 100)

I was still doing a lot of breaststroke but then worked in 100s of freestyle and even got a 150 in.  It was so shallow that it was hard to do a freestyle stroke for a lot of the race.

There’s me in all that water. Surrounded by nature and all that water.  It will never get old.  So beautiful!:

S0015609See how close the kayaker was?  He was a lifesaver and was so encouraging.

I also decided to not worry about sighting and just swim.  The current was very light so I didn’t have to worry about getting pulled inward like I did last year. I was confident enough in the kayaker that I knew I could just swim.  With my lazy eye sighting is not my strength but it’s especially hard at GSL because there are no trees or big objects to sight on so it’s sort of a fruitless enterprise.  I’m glad I abandoned it all together.

So, I kept going in batches of 100 strokes.  Another one and then rest 20 seconds, and another.  Finally I got to the spot to run in and it was probably 200 yards.  I actually speed walked because I was worried about turning my ankle on that type of rocky/sandy beach. (Plus I was exhausted).

Eat your heart out Bo Derek! 🙂

DSCF5621Here’s the crazy thing- cramp, stops, breaststroke and all I finished in 1 hr 4 minutes.  Last year it took me 1 hr 23 minutes!  Almost 20 minute faster this year!  I still can’t believe that!

It just goes to show a lot of obstacles can be in your way at the beginning of your goal but if you keep going, do 100 more, and then another, and another, you will finish.  Like I said, swimming teaches me about life. And what a perfect lesson to learn this week starting a new job for new company, doing something new!

I will never forget crossing the line and knowing I did it!  Cramp and all I did it! Please take my story and set a bold goal.  People of all shapes and sizes can do awesome things.

Thank you to the organizers, kayakers and my friends for cheering me on both at the race and away. I might not have done the race at all if it wasn’t for all the wonderful encouragement.

It feels good to be Rachel today!

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A brick of salt for a salty race. Love this photo
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My awesome kayaker. Such great support
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Anna did amazing. 35 minutes first GSL/open water race!
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We did it! I love my open water family

GSL Open Water Swim 2012

So I did it.  After all the hard work, training, anxiety, practice and even a last minute sinus infection I made it!  I completed my goal and swam the Great Salt Lake Open Marathon Swim.

Hail the conquering hero! Me and my medal!

It was definitely the most difficult race I have done so far both physically and mentally.  They almost had to cancel the race because of wind storms that had come in but luckily they abated enough in the morning to allow us to go forward.  Nevertheless, it made for choppy ocean-like conditions.  To make matters worse it was too windy to put out the normal course buoys.  These are helpful during the race because you can measure your progress more easily than looking at the finish line.  You have more to sight off and it is mentally more encouraging to know ‘I’ve done a 1/4 mile or 1/2 mile.

With no buoys I had to press forward and there were more than one occasion where I wondered if I could do it.  At one point I did some back stroke just to relax a little and not feel so stressed.  It helped (I think the kayakers thought I was crazy when I did that!).   I stayed close to the kayakers and that was helpful because they had a better vantage point to the finish line.  Plus, they were very encouraging.  (I need all the encouragement I can get in the water).

When I was 1/3rd of the way through I developed a strategy that helped me get through the race.  I figured I could do 100 strokes at a time and that would make the race seem smaller, kind of mini-goals.  Plus, the counting gave me something else to think about besides ‘wow, this water is salty.’ or ‘how come that finish line isn’t getting any closer?’.  After the 100 strokes I did a little bit of breaststroke just to use my legs more and feel like I was sighting better, shake things up a bit.  Then I rested for 20 seconds.  I’m not saying this is the fastest strategy but on this day with this race it worked.

Done!

I always learn something from these swims that I take away for my life and that’s my take away this time- you don’t have to conquer the obstacle in one mass endeavor, that feels too daunting.  However, if you can divide it up into manageable portions you can accomplish just about anything.

This week I got a blessing from an elder in my church and it said ‘if I have faith I will swim well and my swim will be an example to others’.  When you are out in those storms it’s hard to have faith in yourself, in the hours practiced, in the time spent mentally and physically preparing, but is that not the essence of faith.  It is believing in something that you haven’t seen, like crossing the finish line.  If I could believe, I could keep swimming, and I MADE IT!

Here I am at the finish line:

Thanks so much for all your support and love.  I feel overwhelmed.  Thanks to all my swim friends for helping me and becoming some of my most dear friends.  Thanks to my family and other friends for all your love and support. Thanks to my trainers and coaches for your guidance and help. Thanks to Josh and Gordon and everyone else who gave so much to make the swim happen. Most importantly thanks to God and Jesus Christ who carry me through all challenges and believe in any goal I set.   I am so grateful.

Hurray!!!!!!

Kate, Esther and I at the finish line
Me, Kate and Esther- showing off our muscles and race ink!
Esther, Kate, Jim Hubbard (who originally introduced me to open water), and me
Me with my new friend Etsuko. Both Etsuko and Esther are new to open water and they did great!
A group of my swim friends at the finish line.

Scary Swim

So today I was planning on swimming at my gym with my swim coach this morning but he ended up cancelling.  Soon after that I got a text from my friend Erin that KSL was planning on filming some GSL swimmers for their coverage of the race this Saturday.  I figured it would be fun to be on TV and nice to get a swim in before the big race.

Erin, Kris, Josh, Goody, Chad and few others were there and we waited for the KSL team for about 45 minutes.  Finally we got the word they weren’t coming so we went in for a swim.  It was windy but in the marina the waves didn’t seem so bad but once we got out into the open water it was another story.   Almost immediately I was carried away in high steep waves (some in our group have guessed 4 ft, others 5 ft).  Pushing through I made it to the first buoy (the tide was pushing you out so getting to the buoy wasn’t too hard but it was getting back that freaked me out.)

I started to push for the white buoy wanting to keep up with my friends but about half way there I realized I wasn’t going to make it.  I actually got kind of scared and believe me it takes a lot to scare me in the water.  I’m a pretty tough cookie.  Josh saw I was struggling and told me to keep following the waves to the rocky beach and get out.  He was very kind to guide me to the shore. (I have the best swim friends!)

There was a scary patch before the turn to the beach loaded with huge rocks.  I was nervous about getting banged into the rocks and getting hurt.  My friend Erin said she would carry me back to the marina if needs be (I really do have the best swim friends!).

The nice thing is when you are in the heat of the stroke you don’t really feel all the chaos.  It’s not until you get up for air that you get scared.  I think there is something to that.  Remember how Peter was calm on the water until he started to look at the waves and then he felt fearful…Something to think about.

Anyway, I made it through the big rocks injury free (I am super scared of an injury that would screw up all my training!).  and then made it to the beach.  When I got out of the water I realized how much I had been kicking.  I felt like my legs were rubber.  It was hard to even half way stand up, especially on those rocks!

Josh went up to the marina and got my flip-flops (reminder to wear better shoes to the lake!).  Eventually I found my legs and made it back to the solid ground.

You might think this experience would make me more nervous for Saturday and maybe it does a little bit (it would hard to be much more anxious about it than I already am but that’s just my personality) but there is something about facing your fears and coming out on top that is exhilarating.  Seeing nature in all its majesty and  power is scary and awe inspiring at the same time.

But, I remember that my friends will be there on Saturday and there will be lots of monitoring to keep things safe.  I have trained hard and done the best I can.  I survived today and I will make it on Saturday.  So, if anything I am more confident than ever before for my race.  Maybe Saturday will seem like a piece of cake compared to today! In that sense today could be a real gift.

My twitter after getting out of the water- “So victory today at GSL. I didnt die! Really rough waters. Scary!”

It was a victory and I made it through. 🙂

GSL Clinic 2012

The medal I WILL be getting next Saturday!

Today was a great day! As you all know I’ve been training for months to get ready for the first race of the open water season- the Great Salt Lake Marathon Swim next Saturday.  To help us prepare Josh and Gords held a clinic tonight at the lake.  There was a good turnout with a lot of new swimmers (I’ve had 3 salt swims so I’m experienced 😉 ).

I went down with my friend Heidi.  It was her first time in the GSL so that was fun.  It’s always fun to carpool with a swim friend and chat.  They really are the best people I know.

Anyway, we started with some instruction from Josh and Gords about open water safety, equipment and the course.  I really appreciate the time they and their families give to introduce others to and support the open water community.

My friend Heidi and I after the swim

I bought a safe swimmer today.  This is a devise I’ve been meaning to get for a while.  It helps you be more visible in the open water.  Plus, it provides floatation if an emergency occurs.  I recommend any open water swimmer purchases onehttp://www.utahopenwater.com/p/safeswimmer-device.html

Then we got in the water.  It was cold at first but really not that bad.  I felt strong and got some sighting/swimming tips from my friends.  The nice thing about the GSL is you get tired you can relax and float!   The salt is still kind of shocking (My friend calls it going for a quick pickle!).  We swam around a 1/2 mile and it felt good.  I feel more confident than ever before about next week.  All my training is paying off!

One of my goals this summer was to introduce someone to open water swimming.  I’d love to nurture someone’s talent the way others nurtured mine.  Well, I have a twitter friend who I’ve never met but we chat on occasion.  I’ve told her about open water swimming and encouraged her to sign up for her local swim in September.  Today she said “thanks! I’ve been thinking about doing it for a couple years now, but you have inspired me to actually go for it!” That made me feel really good. It’s amazing how connected we all are to each other in a positive way. The idea that my little life might inspire another makes me so happy.  I’m glowing!

Today was one of those days that makes me happy to be me!