Guest Series: Ned’s SCAR Swim Challenge – Part 7

Finally, Ned has sent on a few photographs! Here is his report from Day 3 of the SCAR Swim Challenge, the Apache Lake 17 mile swim:

I woke in a hotel room with no phone, no web, no fridge, no cooking facilities and no open restaurant. It must not have been a pretty sight: sitting on the edge of the bed, covered in the first lot of zinc waiting to dry, eating three day old spaghetti and meatballs out of the largest zip lock bag in the world – with my right hand (the fingers alone just didn’t do it). It must have been pretty bad because I think the CNN weather girl changed the station from her side.

Photograph – Ned Denison

Headed up to the start of the Apache Lake swim (Day 3).

Down to the marina and Kent had arranged 50 breakfast burritos. It settled well on top of the spaghetti and I got to meet Darren Miller (completed six of the Oceans Seven swims) and a big hug for Jen Schumacher. Darren wasn’t really up on the cadence of the swims and deferred on the burrito thinking we were swimming in a matter of minutes. The wind was cold/howling and Kent decided to run the swim with the wind (thereby denying me my best chance of taking Gracie). The kayakers were transported first up river and I went to sleep (with jeans, wool socks/cap, three under-layers and a hoodie) in the back of an empty U-Haul trailer. I woke to 27 swimmers (in summer garb) who had figured out the wisdom of my trailer and we chatted a while longer.

Photograph – Ned Denison

The crew in the back of the U-Haul truck, Ned sleeping in the back…

It was then up the river by boat – another 40 minutes or so and onto the starting beach. Everybody brought a spare suit for Greg – just in case.  Again, it was up the river to yet another dam another set of buoys.

Kent billed this as 17 miles and I packed 8 litres of High5. I sprinted at the start out of fear. Something in the water was making a menacing growl and I was thinking 6+ feet of BIG HUNGRY catfish. Gracie and Sarah again took off and Jen passed me as well. She didn’t give me even a small smile or a wave – so I gave her a little bump, just for old time sake. A fourth lady passed and at about 3 miles I had a big gap behind me. The next 30 minutes must have been crap because as we passed half-way my “lead” had reduced by 80%. It was time to decide what this swim was going to be. Was I just going to try and slog it out? Or was I going to pick it up a bit and not let them pass me (it is NOT a race)?  I just imagined it was Gábor Molnár behind me and picked it up a bit. I pulled away from all but one, who was like the terminator!

I then made a very big mistake. Kent had said that the marina was the second or third point and I calculated the remaining number of right arm strokes. The sun was hot, the jet skis scary and the damn terminator just kept coming. At one point, my kayaker wasn’t sure if we went to the right where the three killer jets skis emanated or to the left where we could see a gap. She studied the map while the terminator kept coming and coming. She declared less than 2 miles through the invisible gap and off we went: I reset my counter to 1,400 right arm strokes. She handed me the last bottle maybe 100 m in front of the terminator (now probably just a skeleton swimming) and when I saw the finish it was “sod the drink” and sprint (ok, it was thrash wildly and gasp) the 500 m or so. It was 6½ hours or so… On to the boat and cheering for the terminator, who suddenly morphed into Liz Fry. We were fifth and sixth and Liz was the first with a cold beer. The sound of the beer opening was barely audible to me with ear plugs standing next to Liz – but it brought Greg O’Connor flying around the corner at an Olympic pace to claim the second and third beer.

We headed back and passed cheering all the remaining swimmers. Mo gave the biggest wave and the buzzards had by now come to the same decision as the rest of us – Mo had 20+ years of world class swimming left! My arms were seriously hurting but I still managed to find a massage table … and go back for seconds.

Photograph – Ned Denison

Mo Siegel – there are now “awards” but he isn’t doing too badly!

Dinner was festive and it was the absolute reminder of the swimming marathon class I had been enjoying. At least two of the kayakers are world class swimmers! And perhaps as special, I was swimming with some of the swimmers who contribute the MOST back to the sport: Greg – Boston Light organiser, Liz – Swim the Sound and Dave – 8 Bridges, and there were others: Gracie, Becky, BarbCatalina organisers … and others.

Mo was clenching his fists ready to go back to battle the bed bugs when Liz, Bob and I confessed to 20+ river bites. Mo calmed and headed off before he found out that nobody else had a single one. The start mystery was also solved: Darren missed the breakfast burrito and his stomach was growling after the 2-ish hour start gap. I was close: 6+ feet of BIG HUNGRY DARREN … a sound which will give me nightmares and probably affect the wildlife birth rate in the canyon for years to come.

A very pleasant evening was drawing to a close when Dave casually remarked: “I am taking you tomorrow, Denison”. Shit, the 10k night swim might not just be star gazing.

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Guest Series: Ned’s SCAR Swim Challenge – Part 6

Here’s Ned‘s report from Day 2 of the SCAR Swim Challenge in Canyon Lake:

All the swimmers and kayakers (and kayaks) were transported upriver to a start location a few hundred metres from the dam (for the next lake up).  I was in a sleek speed boat with some world class marathon swimmers!  Towering cliffs, cactus and soaring buzzards – very cool, and this place is now in the top 10 locations I have EVER visited: Yosemite, Okavango Delta, Ngorongoro Crater, etc. The trip took a long time and I did wonder – are we really going to swim all this?

The boat transport required two trips so we hung out on a small beach for an hour or so. Again, I tread carefully when going to pee as any hiss and rattle may not be trouble with my old plumbing. As we started getting into our suits and putting sun block on (in my case – again all over zinc) a ripple of fear and revulsion spread through the crowd of nearly fifty.  It was threatening to knock Canyon Lake out of my top 10 and well down to bottom 10.  Greg O’Connor had forgotten his swim suit and was threatening to swim naked. Liz Fry looked ready to scramble up the cliff. I produced a spare set and basically saved the day. This kind of evened it out my “swim cred”  – as earlier I was the only one to lay on the ground to take a nap before the swim, providing a kind of jungle gym experience for a few hundred ants.

Again, we swam upriver to the buoys below the dam and went on “5, 4, 3, 2, 1”.  I held the lead (it is NOT a race) for a good 112.5 m before Gracie went steaming by. Twenty minutes or so later, I think, Sarah passed me with Dave Barra hot on her heels. I picked it up and stayed with them.  The pulled away and I was 1% cheering Dave for taking on the ladies and 99% trying to remind him, by telepathy, that it is NOT a race.

I stopped the 1% cheering when they vanished from sight around not one but two corners. The day was hot (what else) and any boat traffic resulted in echo waves. Despite the frantic waving of Cimarron, my kayker, I was half thinking to insist on my right-of-way as the passenger tourist steamer (fake steamer) entered my narrow channel. I eventually moved to the canyon wall.

Things improved as I found Dave two miles into the swim. It was a great finish – earlier than I thought. Call it a sharp right then a 500 m sprint into another buoy line in front of another dam with a cheering group of earlier finishers and volunteers. I climbed on (about 4th and first male home), congratulated Gracie and the others and joined the cheering section. Soon so many came in that we needed to off-load onto a transport boat and headed back in.

Cimarron brought her massage table and YES, I was first home! We again snacked and chatted in the sun and could see Mo Siegel coming in strong. At 60+, Mo is an inspiration and took no offense to his personal flock of circling buzzards…

That evening we moved to the Apache Lake “resort” by long, twisty dirt road … and went off the grid. Kent arranged a sightseeing boat and we saw the desert stars – MAGICAL.

Guest Series: Ned’s SCAR Swim Challenge – Part 5

No email from Ned today, just a text:

Completed swim in just under 3 hours. Canyon Lake is one of the top ten pretty places I have ever seen. No internet coverage…

Today is the longest swim, 17 miles in Apache Lake.

Guest Series: Ned’s SCAR Swim Challenge – Part 3

Here is Ned’s account of his first day of the SCAR Swim Challenge in Arizona:

I headed off to the pool today with Gracie while the others went shopping for water, trackers, video camera mountings and other stuff… Small world – she grew up with Julie Galloway who swam the channel while living in Dublin.

There was sort of an invitation to train at the local school pool, so she did all the talking as she is a swim coach and recently broke the long standing Catalina speed record. In her words: “Your reputation probably hasn’t reached Mesa, Arizona, Ned.”

She made her pitch to blank faces at the pool until a swim coach came up to me and said:  “You look like you are here for the SCAR swim. Welcome and swim as you want.”  Gracie claimed that it was the lumpy middle aged man in a Speedo look that did it … but she looked unconvinced.

I put on the zinc and some sun block stuff that she laughed at. She had 15 varieties of Southern California surf stuff. It was 104ºF with a blistering sun.

The girl can swim! I did manage to blast past here at one point. Ok, so she was sculling feet first at the time… 3,500 m – just to get the arms moving again and off to  lunch.

Liz Fry‘s (English Channel 2-way swimmer) sister hosted us with ribs, corn, beans and potato salad and my last beer for a while. I met Dave Barra (organiser of the 7 day Hudson River swim) who helped answer my staged swim questions a few months ago and Tori Gorman from Sydney, who brought regards from Dougal Hunt, who also swam the channel while living in Dublin. The world gets smaller and Tori spent a month in Dover last summer and met the Cork gang!

We then moved over to a sports bar for the official gathering … and met three more swimmers I knew from before and a few friends from Facebook. Lots of different mental approaches in the room: a few there to win, a few to prepare for the Manhattan race, some to complete and a few to have a lash (with seemingly no regard to completing). In fairness, a lot of confidence in the gang but it is early in the season and a lot of early season nerves.

Back at the house, it was like a scene from the TV show “The Wire”: white powder everywhere as about 50 bottles of carbo-drink and recovery drink was measured, mixed and divided between the freezer and fridge. My preparations were on the simple side, Barb has several varieties and Gracie was a real chemist with loads of different powders. Roger muttered something about drinking a can of Pepsi and the ladies looked concerned. I went to bed – Roger is a very experienced marathoner and will be fine in the 10 mile swim on Wednesday.

I need to swim in the shade if I am going to last the sun.  Despite seven sun bed sessions in Cork, I can feel a big burn coming!

Off to sleep now muttering “poli, poli, poli” – Swahili for “slowly”. Just like climbing Kilimanjaro, it is a long way, so go slowly.  The Cork translation would be “take it handy”. I have confidence for the 10 mile lake swim on Wednesday and this will help me.

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Guest Series: Ned’s SCAR Swim Challenge – Part 2

Ned‘s report from yesterday morning:

Tuesday, 30 April 2013 – 6:00 am (local time)

The plane trip out has left me with big fat swollen ankles – not a pretty sight.  Let’s hope they return to normal because they are so big that they’ll be a drag.  On the bright side, maybe they will help float my legs?  The toughtest past of long freshwater swims for a 6 foot 6 incher is that my feet sink and the shoulders pull that extra drag, forever, for four days.

My skin is stil in bad shape after the Guildford event: chlorine/windchill combination. This will not help as the temperature here was 105ºF and there is a blazing sun. Ah, how much sun could you get swimming 37 miles?

I met Kent, the organiser, who did confirm that Day 3 is the 17 mile swim. And there I was for the last few months smiling every time I saw Alan Rodgers train at Source, thinking: “he has no idea how hard the 16 miles in Lake Zurich will be”…

On Monday, our gang chatted, ate, shopped and relaxed. Gracie and her husband arrived at 3:00 am last night from San Diego to complete the house! She set the all-time (male/female) speed record in Catalina at the end of last year and no training does things like 17 mile pool swims in 6 hours. She will be my competition for the fastest here and my plan is simple: start 3 hours ahead of her, which might give me a chance.

The 50-strong group of swimmers and kayakers and volunteers meet at the sports bar tonight to do the briefing at at 5:15 am local lime we start the walk down to the first lake. Scary stuff!

Somebody please remind me why I find the need to keep challenging myself? Please! You don’t have much time – anyone?

There’ll be another update later today on how the first swim (in Saguaro Lake) went and Ned might even send us a picture or two…

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Guest Series: Ned’s SCAR Swim Challenge – Part 1

Over the next few days, I will be carrying reports from Ned Denison who is currently taking part in the SCAR Swim Challenge in Arizona. Here is the first installment:

It’s Sunday 29 April. I arrived in Phoenix Arizona at about 7:00 pm. I was met by Barbara Held (Triple Crown swimmer) and her Fire Captain friend and kayaker, Lee, in the biggest pickup truck I’ve ever seen.

My flights from London took about 16 hours. At the best of times, this would make me a bit sore but it was only 27 hours after completing the 1 mile every hour for 24 hours  in Guildford. Very sore, very old … and faced the daunting prospect of meeting Roger Finch (South African Triple Crown swimmer) and his lovely wife, Leslie, and he will want t0 have some beers…

I coped with one beer but must have missed some detailed of this 4 marathon swims in 4 days event: SCAR. I was sure it was three 10 mile swims plus 10 km night swim. It seems it is two 10 mile swims, a 17 mile swim then the 10 km night swim.

So, while I had no plan to enter Zurich this year, I seem to have drifted into a swim of the same distance. Just checking on Amazon for spare body parts…

There will be another update from Ned tomorrow. Hopefully, he will send on a few photographs too! Here’s a video from last year’s challenge to give you a feel for it:

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