Riverkeeper 4km Open Water Swim 2022

Driving to pick up my friend Louise this morning on the way to the Riverkeeper Open Water Swim, this thought popped into my head, “why do we sign up for these kinds of events? Why do we put ourselves through these challenges?”

This is why:

For the people you meet and become friends with along the way. No one gets to an event like a 4 km open water swim alone.

I certainly could not have done this without the amazing human hugging me in this photo.

Friendship. Camaraderie. Support. Confidence. Community. Strength.

People. It’s the people that make these kinds of events so worth doing.

Seeing people chat and hang out before the race – talking through their nerves and encouraging one another. Then at the end, seeing and hearing people cheering, talking about their race, congratulating one another, hugging, laughing, and just being so dang nice.

This is why I do these events. Yes, I get nervous. Yes, I have lots of self-doubt. Yes, I am tired afterwards. But all of this is so worth it when you see your friends accomplish big goals and do the thing they weren’t sure they could do.

Today I battled my head for the first 1 km. I had serious thoughts about stopping. My brain was a swirling cauldron of negative self-talk. But I tried to remind myself of the people rooting for me. And I kept swimming. Right arm. Left arm. Keep going. Make it to the sailboat – if you still feel like garbage then reevaluate.

And guess what? I got to the sailboat, turned left and hit the most beautiful calm water. The sun was shining. And then I started swimming. I relaxed.

I heard Lesley’s voice reminding me to reach and roll. I could hear Filippo telling me to stay relaxed. I remembered meeting Louise at the pool for the first time and our locker room chats. I imagined I was swimming with Nina at Murphy’s Point. I thought about Megan and how she is so graceful in the water. I remembered the early days of open water swimming with Aimee, Julie, Diane, Tom, Nadine, and Candace – how they encouraged me and welcomed me to their swimming group.

Friends. People. This is what it’s all about.

Bring On The Bay 2022

Two years ago when I started swimming with the Britannia Swim Gang, I was adamant that I would not swim Bring On The Bay (BOTB). Nope, just wanted to be in the water swimming – no events/races for me.

Thanks to my swimming friends who slowly but surely planted seeds encouraging me to get out for more swims, convinced me to join a masters swim club, and helped me set some swim goals – I changed my mind and today, I did the Bring On The Bay 3 km swim.

A few years ago I gave a talk at the Bushtukah S.W.E.E.T night where I talked about controlling the controllables, having a support system, believing in yourself, and harnessing the power of the reset button.

Well, I tell you – I used these tools and more today during the 3 km swim from the Nepean Yacht Club to the Britannia Yacht Club.

In the days leading up to today’s swim – I was nervous. I was freaked out. I was making this swim into something more than it was. At one point I even heard the voice in my head say “this swim is bigger than the cyclocross world championships and the taekwon-do world championships”… Yes, I was steadily doing a good job of creating a very large anxiety tornado.

Thankfully I have an incredible support system of people who know me and know that I tend to place immense pressure on myself. The text chats, phone calls, hugs, real life conversations – they all made a massive difference for me. Thank you.

Thanks to Lesley we have been practicing and thinking about different scenarios that could have happened today. We practiced jumping off the dock. We practiced not sinking when landing in the water. We practiced swimming in traffic. We practiced sighting when the water feels alive. We practiced accelerating. We were ready. Each week and each practice, we slowly but surely chipped away at the controllables, so that today we’d have the composure to respond and react without panicking.

Knowing that we had done this practice and that I had swam 3 km multiple times this summer – really made a big difference for me. On Friday I finally managed to stop making this into more than it was. It’s a swim. I can do this. I can do the distance. I’ve done the work to control the controllables.

The swim went by in a blur. I have my watch set to vibrate every 500 meters so this helped me know where I was along the course. When I felt the 2,000 meter vibration, I could feel myself smiling inside. I was doing it! I was getting close! I can do this!

The water was bumpy and frothy. It wasn’t windy but I presume this was due to the number of people in the water this morning. The sighting practice we’ve been doing paid off huge. I still managed to drift wide but thankfully there were some very helpful kayakers who didn’t hold back with yelling at me and getting me pointed in the correct direction.

I hit my trusty reset button multiple times today. Swallow water – no problem – this has happened before. Nauseous – no big – this happens when I swim in bumpy water. Need to get some gas out – burp it out – this happens to people with ileostomies and barbie butts. Feeling a bit too close to people – head down – accelerate and keep on swimming. Voice in my head is telling me I’m tired – talk back immediately – I’m not tired – I’m doing great – keep swimming – right arm, left arm. Feel myself sinking – use my checklist – suck in my gut, tighten my bum, reach and roll, look back, alligator eyes, keep the legs together, breathe, exhale.

When I climbed that red ladder and landed on the dock with wobbly legs, I was overcome with emotion. A combination of relief, celebration, pride, and fatigue – I finally believed I could and I did it.

It was so awesome to see my friends and hear them cheering for me. It was so fantastic to hear about everyone’s swim and to be surrounded by smiling people.

Having a body that allows me to do things like swim, bike, play hockey, and enjoy life is a true gift.

Three years ago I was nervous about swimming with an ileostomy. Two years ago I started open water swimming. And today I did a swimming event. (And in August I’m swimming the 4 km at Riverkeeper)

Believe in yourself. You are whoever you want to be. You can do that thing that seems out of reach right now. I did it – and so can you.

Doing Hard Things

Here’s what I wrote in my journal this morning:

Very good sleep – though I almost stayed in bed. Not because I’m tired – but because I was looking for an excuse to not go and do my 3,500 meter swim. But I’m up and getting ready to go. Bit slower than planned, but I’ll get there and do it. Swim goals for 3,500 meters: bilateral breathing (remember to breathe out of my mouth), punch in the gut (tighten core), relax (no reason to panic, I can do this, this is mental more than physical).

And then when I got to the river I sent Marc a text, I wrote:

Starting in about 10 minutes. Feeling nervous.

When I got in the water I had to give myself a big pep talk and remind myself of my goals. And then I just started doing it. Right arm. Left arm. And repeat. Thinking about being long, relaxed, and streamlined. At points during my swim I was aware of everything – the bubbles on the water surface, the weeds, the rocks, the shoreline, and the sky.

And then at other times I was fully in the zone. It felt like I was gliding across the water with zero resistance. My breathing felt natural – like I was walking and not face down in the water.

It takes me a long time to swim 3,600 meters. Today it took me 1 hour and 41 minutes. This is a long time to be alone with my thoughts. There is no one to talk to, no music or podcasts, or anything to look at.

It’s me, the water, and my brain. I had the usual fight with my brain, working hard to quiet the irrational shouting about drowning (I wasn’t drowning!) and the weed alerts (it’s just grass under the water). For most of the swim I simply talked to myself.

Remember what Josh said about to get better you have to push through where you are. At this point, to improve you need to push your limits a bit.

Confidence comes from experience.

Imagine you’ve been punched in the gut – try to stay on top of the water.

Slow down your kicking and relax your legs. Think of your Sunday walking pace.

You’re doing it. This is awesome. Two years ago you had never swam in the open water. Three years ago you weren’t even swimming.

Reach. Relax. Breathe. Head position. Alligator eyes. Legs together. Breathe on the left side now please. Don’t forget to look where you’re going.

And then it was over. I had planned the swim so I would finish it at the buoy across from the dock. This gave me 50 meters of coasting and chilling out when I was done.

So, why am I telling you about this?

Because I think it’s important to have a reminder that everyone has doubts and struggles when they’re trying to meet goals and push their limits. I need to remember that if it’s hard for me, very likely it’s hard for those around me. It may look easy, but believe me – it’s not. There is a lot of practice and training that most people don’t know about.

This applies to everything – sports, art, writing, teaching, and anything you do for a job or fun – every day is a bit more practice, a bit more struggle, a bit more learning, and slowly you develop advanced skills that allow you to keep practicing, struggling, learning, and developing.

And here’s a photo because every blog post needs a photo…

Trying Hard Not To Give In

I’m trying hard not to give in to the pressure to do all the things and be all the things. But damn, it’s hard to silence the noise that keeps shouting about all the things we need to be doing this very instant.

I recently turned 50. I’m very relieved to make it to 50. Many people don’t make it this far, so I consider it a gift to have another birthday. I don’t feel old. I don’t look old. I don’t live old.

But one thing I have noticed is the abundance of articles directed to women of a certain age. Articles that tell me I should be doing all of these things:

  • Lifting heavy weights (ideally 3-5 times a week) to build bone strength and fight off the ravages of menopause
  • Walking every day for a minimum of 30 minutes to slow the onset osteoporosis and to support my mental health
  • Doing yoga or pilates daily to keep my body loose and my mind relaxed
  • Moving my body with a minimum of 30 minutes of cardio per day to keep my metabolism firing, relieve stress, build muscles, and to help slow aging
  • Find a sport/activity I enjoy and set goals so I can be motivated and engaged
  • Challenging my brain daily with activities like drawing, playing word games, learning an instrument, reading, etc.
  • Cooking my meals from scratch to minimize the harmful impacts of additives, sodium, trans fats, and all the other bad stuff that comes in packages so I can help ward of disease and ill health
  • Cutting back on carbs and getting more protein because well, menopause and metabolism and being a woman (or is it eating more carbs and eating more protein?)
  • Getting a minimum of 7-9 hours of sleep a night so I can let my body recover from daily stressors and be ready for the next day
  • Taking time for myself so I can be a kind and gentle human
  • Growing my own vegetables, planting a pollinator garden, getting rid of plastic, composting everything, and more to do my part to slow climate change
  • Spring clean, autumn clean, winter clean, and summer clean the house from top-to-bottom to get rid of clutter, eliminate dust, and live a more organized and therefore relaxed life

Really? Like really? How is it humanly possible to do all these things? Lately I’ve been overwhelmed by trying to do all the things that in theory will mean I can be healthier, less stressed, have a healthy brain, better mood, and make the most of this one precious life.

Frankly, it’s too much. Just thinking about it makes me want to sit on the couch, eat salted soda crackers slathered with peanut butter, guzzle Diet Coke, and watch cooking shows.

I like to think I’m not alone in this. But maybe I am? I don’t know.

So, I’m trying not to give in to the pressure of what modern experts are telling me I need to do to live my best life and be my best self.

P.S. don’t worry. I’m okay. Just needed to get this out of my head. I’m currently sitting on my back deck, surrounded by our 32 trees, listening to the birds, and enjoying being far away from the suburbs.

Gratuitous photos because every blog needs photos to help with clicks and SEO…

I like this one! Be proud of your stoma – it saved your life!
This is 50! Showing off my Ottawa Women’s Cycling Club kit. Remember – She Who Dares Wins!