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  • Writer's pictureNadine Bennett

Swim #1: Clubhous Swim 14km

Updated: Jun 25, 2023

In 2022, I signed up for a series of swims as part of a personal challenge - to swim 100 kilometres or more of unassisted marathon swimming in a single season. You can read more about that here if you like! The swims all take place in the Northeast Kingdom, which is the northeast corner of the state of Vermont, in the United States. Locals refer to it as the NEK, or more simply, "The Kingdom". With its rolling hills, forests and waterways, it's simply spectacular, a truly magical place to spend your time.


Here's my report for the first swim in the series, the Clubhouse Swim (14km).

Photo credit Kathleene Marcil, the dip in the treeline (center, to the right a bit) is the US/Canada border

SET-UP AND START


The Clubhous Swims are named after the Cluhous itself, which is mission central for Kingdom Games, situated at the end of a picturesque laneway on Derby Bay. Phil White, race director extraordinaire, stops whatever he's doing to greet you with a smile and hello. The swims are capped at 10, it's meant to be a low-key way to get together and head out on the water for fun and adventure. I showed up at 8am, got a big hug from Kathleene my friend and kayaker, unloaded my gear, and wandered around with my coffee while waiting for the other swimmers and kayakers to show up.


I was feeling pretty good, calmer than usual. In the days leading up to the swim, I did a lot of writing and reflecting on the subject of having confidence, and posted some deep thinking on my facebook page. I was surprised by the number of people who reached out, turns out I'm not alone in struggling with self-confidence. I'm working on going into these swims accepting that I sometimes have fear, but knowing it doesn't own me.


Adding to my joy, I knew the roster well; the Rivards, Pam and Charlotte. I love getting to swim with friends, we're so lucky! We grabbed our radios, and headed down to the start at 8:40am. The swim leaves from a small beach a few minutes away from the Clubhouse, down a short path to the Memphre watching station (shown below, top left), and down a ladder to the beach and water, with the islands offshore in the distance. It really is a stunning spot.


ROUTE + CONDITIONS


The Clubhous Swims offer up 4 different routes of distances varying from 3.2km/2miles to 19km/12miles. Depending on weather conditions, Phil may let you combine them to get whatever distance you're looking for. It's a really great way to work your training.


A thunder storm was looming off in the distance, so we were instructed to not use the longer route going all the way out to Île Ronde just in case swimmers needed to be pulled from the water quickly. Instead, we took a slightly shorter route around Île Province (9km/5.6miles), added a loop around the smaller islands (3.4km/4.5miles) and then headed back to the start (1.6km/2.6miles) for a total of 14km/8.7miles. I was happy to cross the border into my home country of Canada, and back down into the US again, it's my favourite part of the swim!


We did have to exit the water for a few minutes on Cove Island at 9km when we heard a rumble overhead, but otherwise we had clear passage the whole way. Very little wind and mostly flat water. It apparently rained quite a bit, but you know, I didn't notice, because I was already wet. Phil and kayakers, on the other hand, toughed it out for us.


THE SWIM


I had set my intentions beforehand, and told Kathleene - this was going to be a training swim, to test out some of the things I'd been working on with coach Shannon over the past year. I started off strong, the water was calm and I held a decent pace for the first 2 hours. I was the slowest of the pack, but I don't compare myself to others, I'm there for me, so I kept my focus on what my body was doing. I worked through a number of cues for body, head and arm position, and even threw in some leg press, which is new for me.


I noticed throughout the swim that I was carrying a lot of tension in my lower back, maybe my core wasn't engaging enough, I had to keep actively relaxing my back muscles. As we closed in on hour 2, we rounded the back of Île Province, and I felt the current pick up under me and had to start working harder to try and keep the same pace. At a feed stop partway around the island, I noticed from my watch that I had slowed down, but I reminded myself that I was there to learn, not push too hard.


I also noticed that my right arm was getting sore, and then shortly after my left one was aching too. At 12km, I decided to head back to shore, not wanting to injure myself. Kathleene took a lot of pictures, really nice ones, so I was able to go back and look at the time stamp on each one to see what what happening with my body. My arm recovery is a work in progress, I still use my hand to lead too much, effectively lifting my arm out of the water instead of using my scapula to move it forward. As a result my arms got sore.


But when I looked through the pictures, I also noticed a lot of really great things. Low head, streamlined body, just enough rotation. And my lower back didn't hurt at all afterwards, which is amazing! Data from my watch shows my stroke rate slowed down a little bit, but that's not surprising based on my arm pain. I tend to have long strokes and glide anyhow, so lower stroke rate isn't a bad thing in my books. I sighted a lot during this swim, no reason really, it was just so beautiful with fog rolling over the emerald hills and islands.


FEEDS


I used the swim as an opportunity to test out a different fuel product, SFuels Race+ Drink. I was in touch with another fat-adapted swimmer who uses it, and got the low-down on what she does. I tried it in the days leading up to the swim, and figured I could take the chance using it on the swim.


I couldn’t get a water temp from anyone the day before the swim, which made it hard to know whether warm feeds would be best. I figured the water would still be a little chilly (it ended up being 16-18C/60-64F, perfect), so I went with warm. It mixed fairly well in warm water, I broke up a few little clumps with my mini stick whizzer. I used large 30oz Bubba thermal bottles to hold the feeds, I had a hard time finding anything better for long kayak-supported swims. I numbered the bottles in order of use to make it easy for Kathleene and each bottle carried a specific number of carbs that increase as the swim progressed.


But out on the water, I completely miscalculated my intake. Drinking from the thermal bottles made it tricky because I couldn’t really see how much I had taken in, it's so much easier to get it right when the bottles are clear. The flavour wasn’t great either, I could taste the salts more, so chugging it down wasn’t easy. As a result, I didn't take in as much feed as I needed to. I ran out of energy a bit at about 2 hours into the swim. I still managed, but I could tell my zip was gone. I’ll continue testing the fuel on training swims, not sure I’ll switch yet from UCAN. We’ll see.


CHAFE


It’s amazing how you forget the simplest of rituals when you haven’t done them in a long time. I used Body Glide on my shoulders under my suit straps, but i forgot to use it to the sides of my bathing suit, and I forgot to shave my armpits. Both got chafed pretty good. I'll add it to my prep list for the next swim.


BODILY FUNCTIONS


I normally don't have any issues peeing on a swim, not matter what the water temperature, which is super important for keeping your kidneys happy. But I had a hard time, especially in the latter half of the swim. I didn't take in as much fluids as I should have, so there wasn't as much there as usual to pee out, but I actually couldn't go even when I tried to force it. Next time, I'll make more of an effort to trying peeing when sitting upright at feeds, instead of waiting until I'm horizontal and swimming. It was concerning, I've never had this issue before.


REFLECTIONS


It was a great day on the water, love being in the Kingdom. I took a minute at the end before getting out to catch my breath and take in what we'd just done. And to finally pee...


A huge thanks to Kathleene for guiding me around, keeping me safe, and making me smile. And to Phil White for having us all over to play in his backyard, see ya again soon buddy!


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