2 Weeks to Go to the first Swim Window!

Wow! I can’t believe how quickly time passes! I am about 2 weeks away from the first swim window for my attempt at swimming across Juan de Fuca Strait.  Under the guidance of my pilot, Mr. Gordon Higgins, and my lead safety & observer, Ms. MJ VanBergen, we have selected the best possible tides. We have three days to work with:

  1. July 30
  2. July 31
  3. August 1

Our hope is there will be little or minimal wind on one of those days. If there is, we will wait until our next window which  is 2 weeks later.

Jill Yoneda, a good friend and a Great Bear swimmer has confirmed that she too will be jumping in the water. Jill had surgery not too long ago and was not sure she would make the attempt. I am thrilled her recover has gone so well and really happy she will be in the water at the same time as me.

It has been an interesting year for me. I am not sure if it is my age (52) or the natural progression of Multiple Sclerosis; I have had a number of “symptoms” that I have surfaced since my attempt at 105km last year in Lake Cowichan. I have done all I can to manage them and swim on…

There are 4 challenges that come with this swim and I have worked on through various aspects of training this year to help me prepare. Here’s a wee bit about each:

Challenge 1: Distance (30km+)

My distance training was interesting this year. I found I was not doing nearly as much as I did in the past which I think makes sense as this swim is a lot shorter than some of my swims of the past. But at the same time I am nervous about the distance. Throughout the winter I jumped in the pool at the local YMCA for my standard 10km sets.  My typical set is 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 700, 800, 900, 1000, 900, 800, 700, 600, 500, 400, 300, 200 and 100m for 10km. To spice things up a bit I challenged myself with a few fun sets this year:

  • 100 x 100 IM SCM @ 2:00 (taking off 10 seconds from last year)
  • 100 x 100 fly SCM @ 2:00 (with fins – thank goodness for fins!)
  • 5 x ((10 x 100 IM) + (10 x 100 kick)) LCM @ 2:15

I also managed to grab a seat in a 70km Voyageur Canoe expedition. I ironed it for 12 good hours of paddling. It was a great opportunity to test my endurance and  paddle in the water I would soon swim in.

Challenge 2: Cold Water (8 to 12C)

I have become fairly comfortable in cold water. Last year I was able to swim back to back 25km swims in Great Bear in water that was 14C on the first day and between 14 and 17C on the second; 8 to 12C is a whole other pool! To help prepare myself I jumped into the cool waters of Juan de Fuca Strait throughout the winter – always under the watchful eyes of my partner, Ray Estes. At times, surface temperatures were as cold as 3C. You can really feel the burn in waters this cold. I would often go into flight (panic) mode when first getting in and would have to draw on all of my inner strength to not get out. I could not swim in this water for long, but over time was able to stay in for 15 to 20 minutes.

One of my favorite cold water swims was with my favorite open water friends Beluga Bill. I was up island (Vancouver Island) for the weekend. We met at a beach near his house in Qualicum Beach. I was grateful for that day as Bill gave me some great tips for getting over my sense of panic.  I don’t think be believed me when I said the water was 3C. He found out that day!

Challenge 3: Currents & Wind

The swim will start just before the tide begins to ebb and will end on a flood. The water will pull Jill and I into the middle of the Strait during the Ebb and then push us toward Victoria on the flood. This part is predictable. What is less predictable and more difficult to manage are the currents.

Juan de Fuca Strait is know around the word for it’s crazy currents and wind.  It’s not uncommon for the winds to reach 30 knots in the afternoon. Combined the two can be lethal. The hope is  that we will find a calm day within one of the windows but things can change when you are out there!

I’ve done quite a bit of weight training this year to help build my power so I can swim through some of the currents if needed. I have also spent a lot of time doing kick sets – during one 10km workout I kicked 5km. I typically don’t kick very much when I swim in open water, but I know I can if I need to engage my legs.

While in Great Bear this year I spent some time swimming against a strong current and winds gusting up to 27 knots. Despite the conditions I was able to move forward and swim for several hours.

Challenge 4: Mental Strength

I often hear people say that 90% of the swim is mental. While I disagree with the percent as one has to physical prepare for a swim of this nature, I agree with the sentiment. A lot of what happens out there will depend on me, and my desire to move forward. I know there will be moments where I am tired of being cold and want out. And there may be times where I am spinning on a current or times when I think I am close to shore but really have a long way to go.

Each time I jump into the water I am preparing mentally. The goal is to finish the set. And each time I get in the cold water I am preparing mentally. I am learning how to stay calm in the cold and find comfort where I can.

There are many inward moments that I have had throughout the year that have helped me prepare mentally and there will be many more between now and the swim. The most important however, will be how I feel on the day of the swim.

2 thoughts on “2 Weeks to Go to the first Swim Window!

  1. Susan,
    You are amazing!
    Thanks for sharing your experiences, plans and feelings. It is a privilege to read them.
    We will be thinking of you at the Gorge Swim Fest on July 30th from and will give you a shout out from the stage.
    Can you provide details of where you plan to enter and exit the water?

    1. Jack. I will make sure you have more info prior to the swim. You will be able to follow it on a spot tracker. Hopefully you can come jump in the water and swim the last 500 m with me as I get close to shore in Victoria 🙂

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