Monday, May 18, 2015

SCAR Swim: Epilogue

It has been a little more than a week since I toweled off the last of the Salt River from my shivering frame. I'm not sure if the significance of completing SCAR just hasn't set in yet, or if, like most of life's mountains, it looks smaller in the rear-view mirror than it did through the windshield. Dozens of people have asked how it feels to have accomplished this feat. It's hard to answer that. I suppose I feel... content. Pleased for the new relationships, memories, and beauty I experienced. And further convinced that the limitations we place on ourselves are arbitrary; based more in fear and cultural expectations than in reality. I was terrified of this swim. Terrified. I barely slept the 4 or 5 days before. But in the end, it wasn't terrifying. It just was

Here are some thoughts/lessons learned:
  1. People are awesome. Liz Fry swam a DOUBLE. Every day. She started at the finish line, swam to the start, turned and swam to the finish. She has found access to the dark recesses of her mind that I wouldn't even know where to look for in my own. Cole Gindhart, a 23-year-old upstart who'd never even swam more than a 20K before SCAR, called his shot back in January (admitted he was "going to try and win" on the MSF forum), and then delivered. Also, while he quietly disputed he finished second on stage 1, he didn't complain or ask Kent to count the hanging chads. Instead, he put on his big-boy pants (and goofy hat) and proved his point in the water, a trait I'd like to impart to my own children. Way to go, kid. And Shearin, my ninja Kayaker, who endured a 21-hour beating on my behalf. I recently heard (but have not verified) that only 1/3rd of the kayakers finished the stage. I never doubted Shearin was going to finish. Not for a second. I later heard he'd been training to make sure he was in good enough shape!! Seriously? Who does that?! People who are awesome, that's who.
  2. The mind is more important than the body. I was talking to a fellow swimmer before Stage 4 that had surprised me by not finishing Stage 3. I asked him what happened. "I didn't feel that good at the start, so I thought I'd see how I felt at the Marina. If I felt like I couldn't make it, I'd get out there." Mystery solved. This was a fit, capable dude. But IMHO, if you consider options, I think your odds of finishing something like SCAR drop precipitously. You can't entertain any outcome other than the finish line or negotiate with the quitting voice. I'd have quit otherwise. I'm a quitter by nature. I think deep down, we all are. You've got to play without a safety net on this. No Plan B.
  3. Training. My training was adequate, but not ideal. My standard, almost-never-miss, weekly volume is 15K (100% master's interval workouts). From January through April, I upped my baseline to 20-25K, just by adding 1-2K at the beginning and/or end of masters and added weights/dry-land 3X per week (always right before swimming).  I also added long swims on the weekends (started with one 10K in January, then added 2-3 K per week). I started stacking back-to-back long swims in March.  In April I did several 3-day in a row long swims (50K in one 3-day weekend).  Total volume in final weeks was 50K, 50K, 50K, 30K, 60K, 60K, 70K, 30K. Approximately half of my long swims (10K or longer) were up-and-down ladder stuff (e.g., 1K, 2K, 3K, 4K, 3K, 2K, 1K) because I like ladders. The rest were straight swims with 30 second feeds every 45 minutes. What I wish I'd done: (1) Lots of rough, cold open water. 100% of my training was in the pool (too busy/lazy to drive out to a decent lake). (2) More race-pace long interval sets (1K/2K). I trained plenty for surviving. Not enough for performing well.
  4. Expectations vs. Reality. SCAR was both easier and harder than expected. The overall toll this sort of back-to-back mileage took out of me was worse than expected (worst problems: tendons in hands, wrists and forearms).  It wasn't that I expected it to be easier. I just had no frame of reference for it. Nothing to compare it to. On the other hand, enduring it was easier. Most of the time, anyway. Not sure if it was the distracting beauty; the camaraderie and greatness of the other swimmers; the positive examples and attitudes of everyone (especially my kayaker) or some combination of all. But 80% of my time in the water, I felt mostly pleasure. The other 20% was hell.
  5. There's a recovery period. I tried to go back to the pool last Thursday (5 days after SCAR). Big mistake. I felt up to my normal master's workout before it started, but by the end of warm-up, I knew I wasn't ready. Sharp pains in shoulders, triceps, lats, forearms, wrists and hands. I finished the workout, but I had to grab the wall during a few sets and the afternoon was totally shot. Even though it was a pretty average workout, I was nodding off at work. I went back today. Much better. Pretty normal, in fact. 
  6. Mortals can do this. I'm no marathon swimming stud. I'm just an old dude who likes to swim. I frequently hear/read people say things like, "I'm not ready this year, but I would love to do this race someday." You definitely need a pretty solid OW background for this, but assuming you have that, you're ready. Sign up and train.
  7. Leadership, administration and support. I've already said this, but I can't say it enough. Fantastic group of hardworking people pulling this off. From the owners who let us trample our greasy bodies all over their boats, to the kayak haulers out before sunrise and in after sunset, the amount of effort, planning and sacrifice that went into this was impressive. That starts with Kent, the reluctant director of this event who, as far as I can tell, doesn't undertake this heroic effort for money or fame, but for the love of our sport and our community. God bless you, brother. You altered my trajectory.
The last few hours of Apache, I probably vowed a hundred times, "I will never do this again." Now, I'm not so sure...


  1. What a wonderful account from last year, and a heartbreaking, inspiring rendition of this year. I wish I was better at identifying you at the race so I could give you a giant hug.
    In for a hat trick?

    Kathy (1/4 'smart money')

  2. Thanks, Kathryn. I thought I might sleep in on Day 3. I called my wife the night before and warned her, "If the weather looks anything like last year, I'm turning off my alarm and going back to bed." She said, "No you won't." HA!

    I'll have to ponder next year. I'll be back for sure. Just not sure when.

  3. Thanks, Kathryn. I thought I might sleep in on Day 3. I called my wife the night before and warned her, "If the weather looks anything like last year, I'm turning off my alarm and going back to bed." She said, "No you won't." HA!

    I'll have to ponder next year. I'll be back for sure. Just not sure when.