Stories of Struggle and Growth
One aspect of marathon swimming I’ve enjoyed is seeing my capacities grow and change over the years. I put on my SCAR sweatshirt this morning and remembered when I first heard of the event and thought, wow I don’t think I could ever do something like that!
We often hear stories of fantastic swimming at all levels, but don’t often get to hear how people gradually got to those levels and what struggles they faced along the way. Sometimes it seems like skilled marathon swimmers always had it in them, rather than they started with a low ability and moved up to a high ability. Would anyone be willing to share about a swimming skill they started out weak on, but then were able to substantially improve through a lot of practice and gradual change?
I’ll start! The first time I did Portland bridge, I got 5k in and thought, “I don’t know if I can do this”. My arms were sore in places they’d never been before (I’d only trained in the pool) and I remember feeling vaguely bad. I kept going, and finished (even after my kayaker dumped and had to get bailed out). I gradually increased my training volume and started training more in open water. For the next 5 years, I did 10k races and another couple Portland bridge swims. Then I was ready for END-WET and so on! While I sometimes don’t meet my goals, it has been remarkable to see myself do things I didn’t think I could do when I started out. It’s exciting to see other people do the same, regardless of what level they start from.
I also really struggle and have struggled with cold temperatures. Still not where I’d love to be in this area, but when I started a few years ago, I could only take 1 hour of 64 degree water and now that temp is almost never a problem for many hours and an hour at 50F feels about the same as that hour in 64 once did.
Anyone else want to share something they improved on with a lot of time and effort?
That's awesome! I hope this doesn't bore you to death, @LakeBagger but it's also one of those things I find a real problem.
My big headache has always been the struggle with the cold and qualifiers hanging over my head. I lose sleep over 6 hour qualifiers in 15c until they're done. Chilblains are quite normal. It's always been the thing I worry about when I book a swim. So much so, that I took to doing them in Bude Sea Pool so if I couldn't manage, I could safely get out. I always waited until the water hit 15.5c and it was a sunny day. I'd also stop for a hot drink every 30 minutes.
This year I decided to go to a swimcamp run by a friend. After doing a few 3 hour swims, she put a big group of us in the sea at 6.30am on a dull and foggy morning in Hythe. She didn't tell us the water temperature. I admit I really didn't want to do it and had already decided it wouldn't matter if I got out. I said as much to another friend and he said, "Let's just get it done, hey?"
It was a struggle after 3 hours. My teeth started chattering after 2. At each hourly feed I told my friend I couldn't do it. She would give me a hug and send me on my way. She let me reduce my feeding interval to 45 minutes after those first 3 hours and hugged me every time I came in to feed. We weren't allowed out of the sea for feeds. She and her helper swam them out to us. (Slavedrivers! No respite for us!)
I finished that qualifier, so did 14 other swimmers. Then she told us it was 14.1c (57f). If I'd known, I'd have talked myself out of it. I'd have been too afraid to try 6 in that.
Two things I learned from that one. She knew I was cold but I could have a decent conversation with her at feeds so she knew I was still alright and told me I was. There was no brain fog, no slurring of speech. That support made a massive difference.
I also learned to be "comfortable being uncomfortable", instead of thinking that NOT being comfortable meant I couldn't do it. As a confidence builder, it was huge. A real eye opener.
@KatieBun Wow, what a great story with an awesome ending! It really does go to show how what we believe we can or can’t do limits us beyond our physiology.
Such a good point, maybe discomfort sometimes gets processed by the mind as a sign of impending failure and can become a self-fulfilling prophecy rather than just another signal from the body.
Exactly the kind of story and insight I was hoping for, thanks!!
Lake really great story from Bun!
Im so Sad i have few ( maybe 15 or 28 story) but my english is so limited! So sorry!((
I think one day.i hope be befor 2040y and i hope have enough money for my dream CH i come to LA 6 or 8 month befot atemp and will improve my english !))) That is plan!
When i have a luck and be with my great friend Jack ( one so famous American) i realised my english skills improv imediately!
Ps now serious Sey me somthing: after u big ow how and when u ready go back to swim? Have motivation for quick back or no?
After my Madeira adventure i have so many works and no swim! Plus i do extrem preparation for that 30k! Just 42 days ( 6 rest total 36 swims) after so many months rest and dolce vita!)))
But tomorow i hope have time and luck go to pool! But i feel not have mood swim more 1 or 2km! Ok stop just wondering whot u feel after big swim and when u are ready again training serious?
All the best and health to all
@Openh2o we understand exactly what you're saying, even if you have plans to work on your English.
It's really hard to go back to the pool after a big swim. If you only want to do 1 or 2k, just do that!! Your big story this summer was your 30k. Be proud! Plenty of time to get back into it.
Always i listen my body! From so many years and that work for me!
But for me is interesting another ow fan how feel after or befor?)))
I say befor have some friends good swimmer but they no fun no pleasure.nothing just train!
That no interesting for me.no talking with him!
U know. Now i remembur one story ! I dont know maybe interesting!
On pandemic ( last years) they find way swim.train and so! Summer have just one ow in my country.but great ow!
Know u i swim more.more fast and strong compet him!
But on final 500m i know him (how will feel after) i decite swim slow and finish after them! I dont know is that right?!? But i have my joy and fun from ow last summer! But for them is so important time.place and so..!
Ok most important everybody find some pleasure from whot he do!
All the best
@Openh2o I think that sometimes you train up and accomplish a big goal and then your brain says it is time to take a rest. Other times you accomplish your goal and that motivates you to continue to a bigger step. Over time, it really doesn't make a difference. I think you have a great attitude for life. You swim because you enjoy it. That's a pretty good motivation.
Regarding your English. You are also training in learning English by being on this site and probably other English speaking sites. The more you have been on this site and interacting with people, the more your English is improving. It's like swimming. The more you do it, the better you become. You sound like a really interesting person and I wish I was able to speak your language as well as you can speak mine. (Actually, I don't even know what language is your native language, truth be told.)
@Openh2o I think your delight and appreciation for swimming and life is a valuable quality/skill. I enjoy how you always encourage us all the find joy in this activity! I’m curious: have you always been so appreciative and driven to find joy, or is it something you have actively worked on over the years? Like, is it a quality you’ve always had, or one you developed by choice? or some of both?
I did my last big swim of the season a couple days ago. I’m looking forward to swimming wherever and whenever I want to and doing all my other favorite activities (hiking, xc skiing, jogging etc). I also am driven by delight and want more than anything to enjoy my time in the water, but I haven’t always been that way and that attitude is something I’ve had to work at developing over time.
Support from friends and coaches makes such a HUGE difference. I can tell you it did for me too.
I'm not at the level of @KatieBun. But so much of my progress as a swimmer I owe to the friends abd coaches who believed/still believe in me.
When I first heard about a mile open water swim, I was an injured runner kvetching about not getting to run and half-heartedly swimming in my local pool. But seeing the swim announcement, it occurred to me... here's something I can compete in (no grand ambition, you understand.... compete w myself). I gradually worked my way to a mile. That took about an hour. No good. Last person to finish the previous year did 45 minutes. So I had to give up my beloved easy breaststroke and do the whole thing freestyle. As it happened, the lifeguard was a triathlete and a good swimmer. He began to encourage and give tips and tell me I'd be fine. It was my 1st open water race, although I had learned to swim in a bay, fortunately.
When the day came for the event, I was certain I was in last place and would be pulled. Instead, a wonderful kayak volunteer came by and told me I looked great, was doing fine, had a nice stroke (not sure I believed that but happily grasped at the straw). I finished and to my surprise wasn't last.
Another coach a few years later encouraged me to join an ocean mile. NO WAY! The ocean scared me! Rogue waves.... sharks.... noooo! But the coach was persuasive and I swam and survived.
Then someone recommended a 5 mile swim. Not gonna happen! Too far! But that niggling "why not" voice that had initially gotten me into longer and longer runs culminating in marathons and a Boston qualifier piped up. So a friend sent me a training schedule, assured me I could do it. Okay, while battling chop and seasickness, I decided during the swim, this will be a one and done deal for me. Then a friend offered to kayak next time I did it (#2). Then I learned that my cousin had kayaked for swimmers and before I could say "shut up, self!" I asked him if he'd kayak for me next time I swam (3).
I started working w my current coach who helped me bring my time down, assigning "you can't be serious" workouts. The 5 miler became an annual event (except for 2020). (4-9)
Heard of a plan for an 8 mile swim. Noooo....yes!
First attempt got me to 7 miles, finished 2nd attempt.
Could I make double digits? Yes. 2019 my coach guided me, encouraging/prodding/scolding/encouraging through 11 miles. Not MSF rules, strictly speaking. So I learned to not touch the boat, not take assistance coming out of the water.... did the 2020 8-miler, the Kingdom 10k, and STS MSF rules.
"With a little [no, a lot of] help fr my friends.
Wonderful account. Thanks for sharing this, @dpm50
Unfortunately a lot of people don't believe in me and think my goal in marathon swimming is unrealistic. My goal is to become a elite competitive swimmer in high level FINA 10 or 25 km races.
Well then, I'LL root for you! If someone had told me early on that I would be swimming 5, 8, 10, 11 miles, I'd have asked them what they were smoking!
PM me if you need cheering on!
At the very first moment I started open water swimming I already knew that I would like to swim such distances, but I am moving to pool swimming now due to the traumatic experience in the Channel.
Haha the English channel takes many victims along with may channels and straits - the reason it is called a challenge
Gotta learn how to walk before you can run.