My first DNF, and possibly best swim yet
On Monday, I swam a race I didn’t finish…my first ever DNF!! I’m disappointed, of course, but it was also great learning experience. Here's what happened, for those who might be interested.
I really love swimming events in the Northeast Kingdom (NEK), a corner of Vermont and surrounding gateway towns. Known as “the kingdom”, the area has plenty of clean lakes, surrounded by mountains, trees, and friendly people. Monday’s swim was part of the “Swim the Kingdom”, a week-long event with a different lake each day. I arrived in North Hatley (QC) on Sunday, one of the gateway towns, with the intention of doing a double-crossing of Lac Massawippi (29km) on Monday.
I knew going into it that I might DNF, and talked about it with my kayaker Gary over dinner the night before the swim. I had been out of the water for a bit leading up to the swim, and was worried about how my shoulders would handle the distance. But it would be good training all the same, even if I didn’t finish. The goal would be correct stroke form, and focus on staying relaxed. Gary has been guiding marathon swimmers on these lakes for years, I’m pretty fortunate he’s willing to share support and insight.
We set off at 5:20am, into a dark foggy dawn. There was a light breeze, the water was flat and perfect. I used the first couple of hours to warm up, focusing on forward momentum from body rotation and long glide, both of which help protect shoulders. I was thrilled to learn my 10km mark was about 3hr4min, nearly a personal best. My lower back was a little sore, so I really tried to engage my core more. When we reached the bottom of the lake, I cleared the water, stretched a little, and went right back for the return leg, convinced we were going to finish.
And things quickly went downhill over the next 4km. I took another dose of ibuprofen for my back, but it didn’t help at all, and the pain got steadily worse. And, I had broken a cardinal rule – my new feed plan (moved from maltodextrin to UCAN) had been tested lots in training but not in a really long swim, and I used a new flavor in a few of my feed bottles (containing a different type of sweetener), which I knew was a risk but didn’t realize how bad it would be. I both overfed and couldn’t handle the aftertaste of the new flavor. It’s the first time I’ve felt sick during a swim. I stopped feeding altogether, and it settled a little, but I had no backup options to use for the remainder of the swim. A mistake that could have been easily avoided.
We made it to 19km, and I asked to be pulled. I was still stroking well, but with every body rotation my back hurt a lot, and there was no way I could finish the distance like that. I always come away from a swim with lessons learned, so here they are, they might be helpful for anyone looking to increase their swimming distance:
If you’re working to improve your technique, don’t make the mistake of focusing on one area, look at the entire chain of movement to see what needs work. I had been focusing on shoulder health and body rotation during practice and open water training, but not actively working on strengthening my core to support those movements. My back was sore as a result of this, problems amplify the longer the swim distance.
It’s good to practice your feed plan in training but you need to work on it in conditions as similar to your race as possible. This is probably obvious to most athletes, but it’s not as easy when the distance you’re swimming is much greater than your training swims, and you've got race day nervousness too. I could have planned better, and done a few really long hard swims at Meech, supported with a kayaker carrying my feeds. Any Technosport kayakers or SUPers interested in joining me?
It’s ok to be the newbie, and to make mistakes - everybody has to start somewhere! I got to spend the day with some very experienced marathon swimmers, I can definitely learn from them and keep swimming to figure out what works for me.
So with that, we’ve decided to delay my crossing of Memphremagog for another year, to give me time to continue learning and training. I’ll be back at Massawippi next year though, looking to put that double crossing on my swim resume!
And if anyone likes and uses vanilla cream UCAN, I’ve got a ½ tub I’m giving away…for free! 😝Message me 😊😊