Tag: open water

My Brother’s Ted Talk

So my brother spoke at TedxPortland.  If you aren’t familiar with Ted Talks they are a series of talks by experts on a variety of topics.  A lot of them have a motivational speaker type of feel but not all of them.  In my brother’s case he was asked because he is the founder of Poler LLC which is a popular clothing and outdoors brand based in Portland.

He speaks about using technology to expand your life not minimize it, to help you get out into nature instead of isolating yourself.  It is a good reminder to me as someone who does spend a lot of time with media of different kinds to get outside and share that adventure with others.  I particularly like how he used the example of water as swimming in lakes and rivers is such a powerful experience for me.

This weekend I am going to Bear Lake for a race and since I haven’t been feeling that well I was wondering if it was going to be worth it.  My race is probably not going to be the greatest but listening to my brothers words made me glad I am spending some time in the beautiful water. Who cares about the race!

What do you guys think about what he has to say?  Do you find yourself phrozen to your mobile devices? What do you like to do to get connected with nature?

GSL Open Water Swim 2015

My friends I am a finisher!  Today marks my 4th finish at the Great Salt Lake Open Water 1 Mile Swim!

gsl1This year it was my own fault I was nervous because I hadn’t trained that much.  It had also been since the last GSL swim that I had swam in a race and only twice in practice.  A side of me wondered if this would be the year where I wouldn’t be able to pull it off.  I really did.

gsl3Luckily my friend Etsuko decided to swim this year and she was so great to drive and get me out the door in the water!  All my friends are amazingly supportive and put up with my worrying.  Thanks guys!

Last week I was really worried because my sleep had been especially bad.  Not getting to bed till 3 or even 4 and then settling with 4 hours of sleep or less was brutal.  I was afraid I’d show up to the race with only 3 hours of sleep!  But then the strangest thing happened.  All of the sudden this Wednesday- Friday I went to sleep earlier and I found I was waking up earlier (very unusual for me).  It ended up being no problem waking up at 6:30 for the race which I thought was a mini-miracle.

It felt very old-school at the race with a lot of faces I haven’t seen at races for a while.  My friend Kate was there and she totally rocked her swim.  She finished 6th in the one mile!

gsl4The oldest swimmer in the one mile was 63!  That’s what is so great about this sport.  You can participate at most any age.  What a blessing!

It was a little nerve-wracking because the weather report was calling for storms starting as early as 9 am.  We had some strong wind but nothing that stopped the race thank goodness.

This year because the water was so low we did not do the straight shot to the Black Rock beach.  It was a loop starting on a beach and then looping some buoys and heading back to the  marina for the finish line.  At first it felt a little bit like Utah Lake because it was so shallow.  We went way out practically to the first buoy on feet before beginning to swim.  This time I decided to break up the swim in 50 stroke batches which was good because the wind was very strong.

The first segments were definitely the most difficult as the wind was pushing us around pretty strongly.  I ended up doing a lot of breaststroke so I could keep my eye on the buoy especially at that beginning.  The problem was I had my eye on the wrong buoy!  So, I ended up backpedaling and doing more work than I needed to do.  Stupid me!

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One of the advantages to being last is I get a lot of paddling support, meaning the kayakers are there to kelp and encourage me.  This is very motivating and their kayaks give you something to sight (which I am not very good at anyway).  Because I was mixing up the breaststroke and freestyle  I didn’t worry too much about sighting on the freestyle but it is something I am working on.

The kayaker, my friend Sarah, was great, encouraging me to stop less and the last 2 segments I got with very little stopping.  She also helped me get some water  and other assistance.  Thanks Sarah!

Open water swimming is the strangest thing because the buoys really do feel like mirages, that you are never going to get there.  It seems like you are on a swim treadmill sometimes and not getting anywhere.  The key is to not worry about anyone else and in the words of Dory “just keep swimming”.

And that my friends is what I did- I just kept swimming.  I didn’t give up.  I pushed on through and I am a finisher!!  Wahoo!

This makes it the 8th official (91th unofficial) race I’ve swam and finished in.  I am proud of what I have done.  Proud and grateful.  I promise if there is anything in your life which you want to do but fear you can’t- go for it!  If I can do it you can too.  Surround yourself with good people, prepare more than I did and go for it! What have you got to lose after all?

One day it could be you looking down at your medals reminiscing about every last race they correspond with.  What a blessed person I am.  Thank you Salt Lake Open Water and thank you for supporting less than perfect swimmers in the club.  I feel so blessed and now on to Bear Lake and Deer Creek!

medals(Sorry if this post is a little disjointed.  I’m super tired from the race).

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!

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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

Destination Swims

SLOW Newsletter, Volume 2, Issue 1

I am very fortunate to be the editor of the newsletter for our local open water masters swimming group Salt Lake Open Water or SLOW.

Each quarter I get the task of assigning articles and profiles to members and I enjoy making my little contribution to the community that has helped me so much.

This quarter I put myself in charge of writing an article on Destination Swims.  I think it turned out pretty well so I thought I would share it with all of you.  It is a great way to travel, make new friends and see the beautiful lakes and oceans with fellow masters swimmers.

Destination Swims by Rachel Wagner
One of the benefits of being a member of SLOW is not only meeting up with open water swimmers here in Utah but around the globe. With a little research and reaching out to new people we can have fun and rewarding experiences in the water wherever we travel.

There are several types of approaches to destination swims. Josh Green and Kate Pettipiece both met up with masters groups in Colorado (Grand Junction and Montrose respectively) when traveling there for other reasons so they could stay in shape and ‘not miss a swim’.

Other SLOW members have planned their vacations and travels around open water swim races and groups. Erin Jensen has done 4 swims as far distant as Florida and Hawaii:

“For all four, I knew that I wanted to go on vacation, but I didn’t care when. I wanted to make sure that there was a swim happening or else why would I go? The last time I had a destination swim was in Florida.”

Especially oceanic/lakeside vacations will often have established masters groups and open water swims and so it is easy to contact them and plan your trip without too much effort. Of her most recent swim in Florida Erin said:

“Using Google search, I looked up the different Master Teams websites. I found two in Florida, but on opposite sides of the state that worked within my free time. In looking at cost of the trip, I ultimately decided on which one was going to be cheaper for me to get too So, last May I swam the 2.4 mile Hurricane Man swim. It was fabulous and a wonderful experience”

Developing relationships with other open water swimmers can be particularly helpful when it is a location we often visit. I visit my parents in Sacramento area frequently but have never actually lived there. In 2012 I looked up ‘Sacramento open water’ on google and came up with a meet up group called The Sacramento Swimming Enthusiasts who met about 15 minutes away from my parents’ house at Folsom Lake.

destination swim

This proved to be particularly helpful in 2012 because I was getting ready for my first 5k and I did my first test 5k during that trip. They were all much better swimmers than I was and so not only did I have a great time but I learned some new techniques, got some tips, and trained hard while visiting my parents (plus got a break from the fam…).

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to meet up with them again because my visits to home have been brief and crammed with stuff but I hope to and really enjoyed my experience.
This May I am traveling to Tampa to visit a friend so I searched facebook for a masters group there and found Tampa Bay Open Water

Swimming and have already contacted them and plan swimming together. They are a new group so were very receptive to meeting me and learning about SLOW. I’m really looking forward to it.

There are many ways you can come into contact with swimmers when you travel. Social media platforms like facebook, twitter and meet up.com all feature clubs and races with a simple search. Google can take you to websites and blogs for groups and individual swimmers.

Also, the USMS website has a club finder section that can be helpful. In fact, that’s how I first heard about Deer Creek swim in 2011 and met Jim Hubbard.

So on your next vacation see who you can swim with. You will find it enriches your trip, produces meaningful relationships and helps you become a better swimmer.

DNF is Not a 4 Letter Word

For those of you who do not follow me on facebook you might not be aware of the recent drama in my life.  It started in the summer when my new friend Tanya and I started training together.  She was new to open water.  New to swimming in fact.  She is a student of my friend Kate who is a fabulous swim instructor for adults.  She’s introduced so many people to swimming and open water over the years and has helped me tons with my own stroke.

In July Tania mentioned to me that she wanted to prepare for a race but didn’t feel she would be ready for Deer Creek in August.  The next obvious choice was to take the trip out to Slam the Dam in Las Vegas at the beginning of October.  I have done this race in 2011 and it was a lot of fun.  I figured why not?  (I had signed up last year but various dramas kept me from attending).

So the training began and we got to blackridge pond as often as we could and we both saw improvement.  More importantly we had fun and became dear friends.

Tania and me.
Tanya and me.

Tanya is honestly good for my ego because she thinks I’m such a good swimmer.  I love to swim but pretty much always know I’m the slowest girl in the room and I’m ok with that.  I get the job done and that’s all that matters to me.  I’ve told Tanya repeatedly over these weeks ‘this is a hobby.  If it isn’t fun you are doing something wrong’.

That said, I’ve had nagging doubts about my abilities all along.  With my back and other chronic pain I haven’t been able to train as hard as last year, it was frustrating for me to feel like I wasn’t the swimmer I was just a few months ago.  These anxieties were made worse by the realization of a strict time limit at Slam the Dam.  For some unknown reason the park service would only give them until 11 am and then everyone has to be done.

This only gives the 1.2 mile swimmers 1 hour to swim.  The organizers have told me it is ‘plenty of time for a swim’ but they don’t understand or aren’t interested in nurturing new/nontraditional athletes.  My best time on a 1 mile swim is 53 minutes. At Deer Creek my time was 1 hr 2 minutes for 1 mile.

To make matters worse they sent out an email last week saying “If you are not adequately prepared mentally and/or physically, do not race”  What does that even mean?  I’m not mentally prepared for life let alone a race.  I mean who feels adequately prepared for something so monumental?  I bet if you asked Michael Phelps he’d tell you things he wished he’d done or worked harder on.  To me this was baffling and kind of mean-spirited. (and I begged for some kind of an accommodation but no go)

They have also made it clear that you will be pulled from the water if you go over time, which I’m ok with but I just wish the time limit didn’t exist.  It honestly makes me sick inside.  Sick for my friend.  Sick for me.  Sick for all the other new swimmers who will be discouraged from participating.  A side of me wants to throw in the towel and not make the effort to drive out there and be humiliated…

But where’s the victory in that? I’d say there is about a 50/50 chance depending on weather, current, course, strength, stroke etc that I finish the race.  My GSL time after all was 1 hr 24 minutes so not even close to the cut off time because of the strong current. (Thank you Utah races for not having a time limit or at least a strictly enforced one).

50/50…so I either succeed and have a triumphant moment or I get a DNF (Did Not Finish).  Even now there is a side of me that shudders when I say those words.  It is so outside of my nature to not finish, and yet isn’t it always a possibility in any endeavor?  At least anything worth doing can be a success or failure?

The funny thing is  the ingredients are nearly the same for a finish and a DNF- both have training, goal setting, driving, racing, happy friends and lots of people who say to me ‘I could never do that’.  The only difference is me and my pride.  Kind of silly…

I love what JK Rowling says about failure. ” It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default”

I don’t want to fail by default.  For me a DNF will be a DNQ (Did Not Quit)

swimmingHow do you guys deal with DNF’s and potential failures in your goals?  Its especially hard when it is so outside of your control.  What are your strategies?

I can definitely promise you this- I will not be swimming Slam the Dam again anytime soon.  If they only want athletes with a specific set of skills than they have got it.  This will be the last year myself or my blog are involved.  Too bad really…

I’ve gotten some great encouragement on facebook from the swim forums.  Thanks everyone!