Rhode Island Swim Enthusiast

Rise and Swim

Coach's Blog

  • 29 Oct 2020 1:52 AM | Christina Lorenson (Administrator)

    Last year I made the goal to participate it the Memphremagog Winter Swimming Festival in Newport, Vt.  At the festival they cut a 2 lane, 25 meter pool out of the frozen Lake Memphremagog  on the Canadian border of Vermont. In it, they hold events like you would see at a swim meet – 100 yard freestyle, 25 yard breaststroke, even relays. No neoprene allowed. It was an amazing event, well run, with terrific volunteers, energy, and camaraderie.

    My training plan: just keep swimming outside once or twice a week.  As the water got colder, I had two rules. First rule: stay in water where I could stand up.  That way if hypothermia set in, I could exit the water quickly.  Second rule: When the water got below 40 degrees I only required myself to swim approximately 50 yards out, then back to shore.  Since the longest event I was doing was 100 yards, that seemed sufficient to reach my goals.  Between wading in time and swimming, this equaled about 5 minutes of submersion.

    I had two amazing women who stuck it out with me for the training.   We developed our own post swim routines.  First was having a changing station on the shore, in order to get out of the wet swimsuit as quick as possible and into warm dry clothes.  Second, I was fortunate enough to be swimming somewhere that I felt safe leaving my car running with heat.  That way I had a warm environment to swaddle myself in as soon as possible.

    They say that when you submerge yourself in cold water that your blood leaves your extremities and surrounds your core to preserve heat to the vital organs.  This was true in my experience in that my hands and feet were the most uncomfortable, even slightly painful, during and immediately after swimming.  There is also an after cool event.  Once you leave the water and the blood starts to return to the extremities, the blood gets cooled down and your core temperature begins to drop.  

    You might read this and ask yourself “why?” I think the broader question is why do people push themselves to exceed limits, whether it is swimming in freezing water or climbing Mount Everest?   Everyone’s answer may be slightly different. For me, the answer was in the satisfaction of accomplishing a challenging goal and the physical thrill that came after the discomfort had subsided.  I feel the true mark of an athlete is not measured by skill but the willingness to push through discomfort to do your personal best.

    For those who want to try winter swimming this is my advice:

    • 1.)    Swim regularly, once or twice a week is enough
    • 2.)    Get use to the idea of being uncomfortable
    • 3.)    Be safe. Don’t do it alone and stay close to shore to be able exit quickly if in trouble.
    • 4.)    Learn to recognize the signs of hypothermia and how to treat. Notably, if you feel confused, your stroke becomes slow and sloppy, or you have slurred speech exit the water immediately. Get out of your wet suit and swaddle yourself in thick clothing and blankets. Do not use hot water, especially on the extremities, or extreme heat that can damage the skin and even cause irregular heartbeats.  Seek appropriate medical attention.
    • 5.)    Develop a post swim routine that works for you to get dry and warm as quickly and safely as possible.

  • 23 Sep 2020 12:38 AM | Christina Lorenson (Administrator)

    A 10K, classified as a marathon swim, became a bucket list item several years ago.  Each year something would get in the way – work obligations interfering with training, shoulder injuries, and scheduling conflicts.  A few years ago, one of our local swimmers started organizing a 10K swim off Conanicut Island, better known as Jamestown. This was a perfect way to reach my goal, since it was local and was at one of my favorite places to visit.  This was the year that everything fell into place and I was finally going to become an official marathon swimmer.

    The longest official swim I had completed before this was a five-mile swim across Lake Willoughby in northern Vermont. I finished, but the last half felt like a slog, and in my post event analysis, I felt I did not train enough or fuel properly. This time I wanted to be better prepared. For my 10K training I got three 5-mile swims completed as well as a couple 3 to 4 mile swims. This was in addition to my 2-mile swims, 3 times a week. On my 5-mile swims, I made sure to practice fueling. I had a plan and was feeling strong.

    Event day – excitement was high, and the weather and water conditions looked in our favor. With the kayaks lined up, safety briefing complete, we were off.  Our course started at Fort Getty, went around Beavertail Lighthouse and up to Mackerel Cove Beach. As usual it took me ½ to ¾ a mile to really get my rhythm, but I was pleasantly surprised when 40 minutes had passed for our first fuel break. A quick drink, head back down, and I was feeling good.  Another 40 minutes, another fuel break, and Beavertail light house was distantly in sight.  But as I approached Beavertail, I started to get a mild headache. I was asking myself if it was it my goggles, but I had not had any issues during my training. I swam on, reaching the edge of the Beavertail, seeing the cars lined up in the first parking lot.  That is when the conditions started to change. Every time I would breath to my left I would look up and the same cars were there. I asked my kayaker if we were making any progress and he said that we were. He would point out the buoy that was our turning point, but I could not see it without stopping because of the 1 to 2-foot swells. The good news was that I could tell that the buoy was getting closer, but the swells were getting bigger and my headache was turning into sea sickness. I would have to take a break every 100 to 200 yards, do breaststroke, and assure myself I was getting closer.  

    I finally made it to the buoy where the welcomed sight of some of my dear swimming companions in one of the support boats greeted us.  They warned us to stay more to the right because the waves were pushing people to the left toward the lighthouse.   After rounding the buoy, the swells were getting bigger and my sea sickness worse.  I could only take 10-20 strokes and then I would have to stop or switch to breaststroke or backstroke.  Every time I would go back to freestyle, I would feel terribly nauseous.  I tried drinking more and focusing. This is where the mental game got tough.  I had to talk myself into not quitting, to keep pushing on, even if I had to swim breaststroke to the end.

    That is when first big wave nearly capsized my kayaker.  I swam for a short stretch and then when I looked to my left he was gone, vanished, nothing in sight.  I could not see a capsized kayak or person in the water.  The panic that my kayaker and friend had just lost his life for me to swim was immediate.  I started to swim in the direction that I thought he would be and searching for him.  Then a large wave surprised me from behind. It crashed over me, brought me down, and took my cap and goggles right off my head.  It felt like I was under water forever. I kept thinking “bubbles float up” to make sure I did not get disoriented.  This was when I knew I was in trouble.  In the state that I was in, I was not going to be able to swim against these waves. That was when I made the decision to take my chances on the rocks.  In front of me I could see a flat group of rocks where I could land.  I focused on those rocks and let the waves take me there.  I remember lots of people watching me as I landed and gripped to the rock. Waves kept knocking me, but I was able to brace my foot behind me and keep my ground.  The rocks were full of muscles that cut my hands and legs, but the adrenaline kept me from feeling any of it.  I finally was able to stand and walk to an inlet where I could get out of the water.  

    It was at that point that I was able to see a boat pick up my kayaker – he was safe!  I then saw the boat go to where they would think I would be in the water. I waved my swim buoy in the air to try to get their attention and let them know I was on shore.  Once I saw they knew I was safe then my situation hit me. I was miles from my truck, and I had no phone.  Even if someone lent me their phone, I didn’t have any useful numbers memorized.  During this an exceedingly kind woman was attending to me and even offered to give me a ride – a gesture that has even more significance during the COVID pandemic.  I was soaking wet and had blood running down my legs from all the cuts. By then a rescue vehicle had arrived. After I was assessed for my injuries, they returned me to my vehicle.

    Two weeks before my incident, a 14-year-old boy drowned at Beavertail.  The conditions around there are known to be unforgiving.  It is not lost on me how easily I, or my kayaker, could have died.  But after that is my disappointment in my performance.  If I were not so sick, perhaps I would have swum more to the right and not gotten caught up by the surf.  I wonder if I had drunk more, maybe I would not have gotten as sick. This was the day that I was to become a marathon swimmer, but I failed.  

    This is when you ask yourself, which is more important - achieving the goal or the effort in trying to accomplish it? Is it about the journey or the destination? In every failed attempt, there are lessons to be learned, new knowledge that can be applied to the next endeavor. I know that I am stronger from my experience and will be able to apply it to my next attempt. And there will be another attempt.

  • 22 Sep 2020 2:31 PM | Christina Lorenson (Administrator)

    My first sport and love as a child was swimming.  When I was 2 years old, I jumped into our apartment swimming pool (I had to be rescued but I am told I did a good job keeping my head above water).  I was 8 years old when my mother made me join the swim team so, in her words, "I would learn how to lose.” After 10 years of competition I hung up my bathing suit, stressed out by the pressure, and wanting to put my energy toward my lifelong dream of becoming a veterinarian.

    I did not return to regular exercise until my mid-thirties when I picked up running. When leg injuries benched me from running, I would turn to the pool.  It was undeniable how good I would feel after a swim, compared to the pounding my body would take from running. During one of my injury periods, I discovered the joy of the of open water through acquaintances at my local YMCA. The thrill of swimming in the ocean with its varying conditions could not compare to swimming laps in the pool. It was the difference of running outside verse running on a treadmill. Nothing was more satisfying then tackling a tough current, rough surf, or a new longer distance. When running became unsustainable, it became my new passion and escape.

    I tend to be a goal-oriented person.  The more excited about something I get, the bigger and better I want to try to do it.  When I started running, I quickly wanted to do a marathon.  When I got my first tattoo, I picked a large jaguar on my back that took 4 ½ hours.  Thus, it has been with swimming.  Over time I have looked for new challenges to push myself. It is here that I will chronical some of my experiences.

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