Swim for (My) Life

On Wednesday I participated in the Swim for Life swim across Lake Washington. Teresa wanted me to do it last year, but they always do the event on a Wednesday morning and I couldn’t get off work…plus I hate swimming. This year, I figured it’d be a good confidence booster before Ironman Canada so I begrudgingly plunked down coinage to swim 2.5 miles from Medina to Madison Park. I told myself it’d be for a good cause (the Puget Sound Blood Center) and for swimming peace of mind leading into Canada. Well, it was for a good cause, but the swim was sucktacular. Sigh.

I woke up at 5:30 am and de-groggied as best I could before meeting my swim group at Madison beach at 6:15. The previous several days had been very warm and sunny in Seattle, so naturally the morning of the swim was gray, windy, and chilly. The Weather Gods seriously hate me. When we drove across 520 towards the swim start, we could see the wind whipping the water up against the floating bridge. Of course. The first time I do this stupid race, Lake Washington decides to release the Kraken and try to drown me. This is why I hate swimming.

We arrived at Medina and picked up our packets, then watched the wind swirl the chop up so it was nice and terrifying. Docks were swinging, swimmers were chattering and shivering, and I stared across the lake convinced that the shoreline across from me was getting further and further away.

Me looking like a paunchy old Asian man asking Sara if we really need to do this

There were four waves of swimmers distinguished by their swim caps: Fast, Less Fast, Respectable, and You Swim Like a Toddler with Raptor Arms (also known as the Pink wave). Naturally, Teresa stuck me in the slow wave because she wasn’t certain I’d even be out of the water by the time Ironman Canada started.

Slow in the water, but fast and fierce eaters

The event itself started at 7:30, but since I was going last I got to watch a multitude of athletes crawl into the water and promptly get bitch-slapped by the waves. I killed time by trying to look bad-ass in my wetsuit that gives me the illusion of having muscle definition:

It didn't work

Eventually it was our turn to climb into Lake Washingmachine. I lucked out since I breathe to my right and the chop was coming from the left, but that was the extent of my good fortune. The first half hour or so went decently — I swam fairly well with my group and sighted off our kayaker since I couldn’t see anything remotely sightable on the other side of the lake.

Soon enough, however, I stopped thinking, “Hey, this isn’t so bad” and returned to my regularly scheduled “I hate this shit, this sucks so hard” mindset. I thought about how warm and cozy Jason was still sleeping in bed (all you have to do to get out of Swim for Life is launch yourself 30 feet off your bike) and cursed Teresa for encouraging me to do this. (I tend to curse her a lot when it comes to swimming-related activities. When will the day come where I curse her for buying me a giant delicious cake?)

To make matters worse, the chop kicked up and I’d often find myself plunging my left hand into air as a wave would pick me up and toss me around like a rag doll. Even breathing to the right didn’t help much after a while — there’d be rotations where I’d try to breathe and end up catching a flood of water. Even worse than that was the fact that the kayak seemed to instantly disappear, leaving me with nothing to sight off. I’d look up and see the kayak, swim three strokes, and then look up again and see that the stupid thing had drifted like a mile away. I was still too far away from the shore to be able to see the condos prominently, so I just gave up and swam in a general direction, hoping for the best.

At one point I popped up to see where I was at, and while I was dutifully estimating how much further I needed to go, some kayaker from another group ran right into me. He apologized a million times while I tried not to get pulled underneath him. I just sighed, shoved away from the kayak, and resumed swimming. This swim was the suck.

After what seemed like several hours, two things happened: first, I finally spotted shore and was able to make out both the condo landmark and a bunch of people on the beach. Secondly, out of nowhere I started craving an English muffin with peanut butter on it. Fueled by ravenous hunger and the overwhelming desire to get the hell out of the water, I pushed on.

Unfortunately, simply spotting the beach didn’t insta-warp me to shore. I swear that from the time I spotted the crowd of swimmers who had finished the swim to the time I actually got there, I mysteriously swam an extra 4 miles despite the fact that the distance was only 2.5. It took FOREVER. I was so frustrated that I wouldn’t exhale in the water so much as force the air out of my lungs with a guttural scream.

I never felt so happy to hit the milfoil that grows close to shore. That tangly feathered nastiness was such a relief, and I dragged my frustrated, half-drowned ass onto the sandy beach. I took roughly two steps ashore before someone sneak-took my photo, paparazzi-style. I have no recollection of this whatsoever:

What Batman would look like if he were more Asian and could barely swim

I ran into Kirsten, my swimming buddy, who had also just finished. As I followed her to retrieve our gear bags from the kayak, I stopped to hoark a giant phlemmy loog in a horrifically un-feminine way. Kirsten smiled politely as I bashfully muttered something about how swimming makes me mucousy. I hung around long enough to steal a giant apple, then ducked out so I could go home and tell Jason how he missed such a joyous swim.

After the race, I received an email from the Swim for Life organizer that started off with this gem:

“In the middle of the night, five hours before the start of this year’s swim, the floating dock at Medina was rocking so violently in 40 mph wind that its two ends alternated being completely and loudly submerged. Not surprisingly, even though the wind had abated a bit by 7:30 AM, we still had our choppiest swim in 13 years and had more swimmers than usual requesting to get pulled from the water.”

My swim time was about 10 minutes slower than where I wanted it to be, but considering the conditions, I guess I didn’t do too bad. Hopefully things will go more smoothly in Canada — I guess if I can swim 2 1/2 miles in rough, ugly chop, I should be able to bust out 2.4 in a much calmer lake while drafting behind hundreds of athletes.

3 Responses to “ “Swim for (My) Life”

  1. teresa says:

    You will love me soon for making you do this one!!! It was a tough one for sure and you are super woman because of it!!! Love your muscles!!

  2. Sara Keogh says:

    Love the post. I was lucky to hear Mark’s advice to not believe that the shore was getting any closer. “You may think the condos are getting closer, but believe me, they NEVER get any closer,” he said. So I dutifully kept pretending nothing would ever get any closer. It was oddly helpful. Wish we had video of those swells.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    We might swim like toddlers with raptor arms but we did it ALL the way across the lake 🙂 Go us for getting out there (and T for making us!) and living through . You are MORE than prepped for the IM Canada swim!

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