When I sent Glenn the link to Kingdom Swim (KS), I didn’t think he’d even check out the site, let alone sign up. But less than a minute later he emailed back saying, "The 10-miler looks good. I’m in." That was in January, right after we’d spent time with open-water superstar Fran Crippen. Fran made it look easy, and his enthusiasm for open water obviously had an effect on us. I took a gulp and signed up for the 3-mile Kingdom Swim. So there I was — a freestyle-challenged breaststroker, faced with the task of preparing for a 3-mile swim.
The swimming prep was pretty easy: Build gradually on my daily workouts (from a typical 3000y to around 3500y), and build gradually at my longer Saturday workout (from 3500y to 6100y on the final week before KS). From marathon training, I knew that Goal #1 is to get to the starting line without injuries, so I was religious about doing shoulder-strengthening exercises, and about including backstroke, breaststroke, and kicking into those longer workouts.
I was able to do 5 or 6 open-water lake swims before the race, and these were key for mental and logistical preparation. On most of them, I was accompanied (oops, I mean GUIDED) by my husband, Kermit. At Kingdom Swim, all the 3- and 10-mile swimmers must have a kayaker with them at all times, and Kermit was my "yakker." It took several training sessions before I came to the understanding that HE was in charge, not me. I needed to trust him totally to guide me from buoy to buoy. As Phil White, Kingdom Swim’s outstanding race director, advised the yakkers: "Remember: Swimmers are waterlogged, stubborn Idiots, who want to swim and swim and swim and who will swim you right into Canada if you let them." Once I let go and admitted that my yakker was in charge, we became a true Team.
The start of the 10-mile swim was spectacular, as 80+ swimmers high-stepped into the water and began swimming toward the "Start Buoy" some 200 yards off shore. Beyond the buoy was a flotilla of nearly 200 kayaks of all shapes, sizes, and colors. As the 10-mile swimmers rounded the buoy, half the kayakers peeled off to link up with their swimmers. The other half moved into position to await the 3-mile swimmers, who started half an hour later. I was in the second group, and it was my goofy pink bathing suit that helped Kermit pick me out from the crush of swimmers. We locked into formation and sailed a straight course from buoy to buoy.
The 3-mile swim went by in a flash. I kept thinking everything was PERFECT — the water temp, the air, the taste of the water, and the way the light was filtering through the top layer of this incredibly beautiful lake at the border of Vermont and Canada. For the first mile and a half, I settled into a long stroke, focusing on just a few basic things like keeping my head down, my breathing relaxed, and my pull nice and shallow.
I found myself thinking about the freestylers with whom we’ve worked, and what I learned from them. So many strong visual images! For part of the race, I was trying to look like Fran Crippen, sighting with just my goggles above the waterline. As I rounded each buoy, I tried to execute Sara McLarty’s special freestyle/backstroke turning technique. For most of the race, however, I was seeing underwater images of Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen and her high-elbow catch and straight wrists. I could hear her talking in my head, telling me "Don’t hold your breath. Relax your breathing." At buoy #7, when I was swimming breaststroke through a weedy area and trying to fight off some foot cramps, I was seeing images of Amanda and Brendan getting into streamline on every stroke. And as I rounded buoy #8 with less than a mile to go to the finish, I saw flashes of Scott Tucker’s 12-beat kick, as I tried to get a little more umph out of my own 6-beat kick. Of course, I don’t look ANYTHING like these great swimmers, but their images gave me direction and focus.
With all this visual help, and with sighting help from Kermit, I felt like I was swimming with a posse of superstars. I was able to finish strong and have already marked my calendar for next year’s race and for a 4-mile swim next month on Lake Willoughby, another crystal-clear lake in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.
Many thanks to Phil White for making Kingdom Swim possible, and for Kermit, Glenn, and Rachel for making it fun. The event allowed us to meet new challenges, new friends, and a new way of swimming.