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  • 6 Hour Qualifying swim: COMPLETED

    The Channel Swimming Association requires solo swimmers to complete a 6 Hour swim in 60 degree or less water in order to attempt a solo crossing of the English Channel. On Sunday, May 10th, 2015, I did just that!

    So many thanks go to Silver Tree Marine in Deep Creek for sponsoring my swim and donating a pontoon boat for support. It made the swim so much more safe and took so much relief off of my shoulders going into it. Thank you, Lauren O’Brien McCann and Katelyn O’Brien from Silver Tree Marine! You guys rock! 

    The day before the swim, Joe, Krista, and I drove up to meet my dad and his girlfriend, Nellie at her parents house near Deep Creek. We had an amazing dinner (thank you Nellie!) and relaxed under the stars talking about swimming, our plan for the day ahead, mountains, fishing, and bears. Yes, bears, which made me have bear nightmares. 

    After an interesting night sleep, tossing and turning from the bear dreams and nervousness, I woke up in darkness around 5:15am and sat in bed thinking about my fear. By the end of the day, I would learn it wasn't as scary as I had feared.  

    Krista helped me get covered in sunblock and body glide, while Joe prepared the hot thermos and my water bottles with "cookie water" (aka. Hammer Perpetum protein powder + water, it's Orange Vanilla, but I swear it tastes like coookies. Yum!). After a stop for coffee, we loaded our gear onto the boat and took off. It was a beautiful morning, clear skies and flat water. 

    The water was 58 degrees around 6:45am and Joe said it was time to jump in. YIKES! I know 6 hours is half of what I need to be able to do in the Channel- but 58 degree water is scary no matter what! I understand after training and acclimation, 60 degree water shouldn't feel cold, or at the very least, it should feel duable. I've experienced being cold, uncomfortable, and even mild hypothermia in the past few weeks training in open water.  I've also experience being comfortable, in control, and empowered by swimming through it, but I really felt unsure of how it was going to go. It's hard to trust the training you're putting in until you experience what being prepared feels like. I also think it's important to remember the dangers about cold water. It is scary. It should be. You should be prepared. And, even if you are prepared, open water is a monster, and I think it's important to remember that. My fear is good. I'm feeling braver as I prepare more, but I think fear and respect for the water is safe, and while I always plan to be prepared, I always plan to be safe. So, yes, jumping in, I was scared.

    After a second coat of sun block and body glide, I jumped into Deep Creek Lake on Sunday just before 7am, and the water remained between 59 and 60 degrees until I finished just before 1pm. Covering over 12 miles, my stroke rate remained constant around 60 strokes per minute and I averaged a speed of 2.3 miles per hour. I'm really stoked about that. 

     

    I was shocked when I jumped in- but not because of the cold, which usually takes my breath away for a few seconds- I was shocked because it didn't. I jumped in and felt okay. I thought, wow, it's working! Yes! I swam for an hour before taking a feed, which really allowed me to stretch out and get a feel for the water. It was smooth and beautiful- other than the patches of thick pollen on the water, which felt a bit like hair, eww. The pollen later vanished as the wind picked up. Non the less, I've been sneezing ever since. The lake was so flat for a while. It was quiet on the lake and beautiful. It felt like cutting through silk. I love that. 

    For a while, I could feel parts of my core heating up, protecting my body. I felt the chill on my toes, finger tips, and inner arms. I could even feel my shoulder blades warming up. I went through a stretch were I felt very comfortable. The sun was warm on my back and arms, which I tried to focus on and soak in. That mental exercise has been my favorite with the cold- I close my eyes, relax my jaw, and focus on the heat on my skin. Stroke after stroke, inhale and exhale, I try to feel only that- the sun. Even when it's cloudy, I practice this. I now think it's magic. 

    I also went through a stretch were I felt cold. It was around 3.5-4.5 hours. The wind had picked up and the water temperature dropped a degree. I felt my toes go numb and my teeth hurt a bit. I had a few thoughts of nervousness- not that I couldn't stand it, but that it would get colder and my body would feel worse. But it didn't, and even feeling that was interesting. It's really quite impressive how our bodies protect themselves. 

    Around 4.5 hours, I was feeling excited that I would finish. I knew I would about 2 hours in, but now I was excited. I took it in and enjoyed it- I slowed down a bit. Joe told me, but I knew it. Swimming for time is a lot of fun. I've never experienced it before on such a large and specifc scale. I've always swam trying to get somewhere. The other side. The finish line. It was wonderful knowing that even kicking on my back was part of it. It didn't get me far- but it was fun. 

    This is my Happy Mother's day message we sent my mom. My hands are making a heart- hard to see- but she got it. :)

    I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again, my crew is the best. My wonderful fiancé, Joe Mahach, one of my best friends, Krista Mahler, and my dad, Jack Pumphrey, are the perfect combination of support.  

    Over the course of the swim, they charted the course and my dad drove the boat- not an easy feat when you are traveling at swimmer speed. Joe and Krista tracked the water temperature, my speed and stroke rate, prepared warm drinks, "cookie water," and Gu. They monitored my condition, mental and physical and with the white board they made me smile with messages, kept my pace up, my mind focused, and entertained me when I needed it. My dad even facetimed with my sister- I could hear her cheering!

    My favorite "mental tests," some of which Krista & Joe gave me, some I did on my own included: naming Jungle Book characters (Joe + Krista knew more than me, but we did learn the the girl's name is "the girl"), sending messages to my mom & sister via text (Lick Luck, Laura), quoting Marcell the Shell, repeating over a over again "A tiny horse!" because of the toy horse I had found in the pool, and playing 20 questions.

    20 questions- I was to think of an animal while I swam and they asked questions via the white board. I would wave my hand no or give a thumbs up while I keep swimming. The game got slightly confusing when I briefly forgot the definition of a mammal- my confusion, which I did stop for a moment and explain, I got confused, but not hypothermia confused, I'm really okay! So, naturally, Joe then guessed penguin, the correct answer, because he knows me, not because my clues were helpful. A penguin is a bird, Katie, a bird. I knew this then, I know it now, but in the moment, it was a lot to think about. (hehe)

    My point about the mental tests is that while my crew was extremely safe in paying attention to my condition, they also made it so fun. I love open water swimming, and I am beyond excited I was prepared enough to enjoy the 6 hours in the cold water, but I love swimming with Joe, Krista, and my Dad beside me. They know when to push me, when to be honest, be silly, they know when to lie or tell me not to worry about it.  They know me. 

    Around 5 hours, I felt my toes warm back up, my pinky toes the last to feel the heat. We had been doing "pick ups"- an idea I got from one of my favorite books, Dover Solo, by Marcia Cleveland. Our pick ups, the last 5 minutes of every half hour, I would sprint. It helps break up the time, warms me up, and sprinting usually brings my stroke back to a good place if I felt sloppy. But at the 5 hour feed, Joe told me to pick it up. "Put in a solid half hour" he said. "Push your speed and lets cover some ground." So, I did. 

    Throughout the swim- I thought about a big, ugly catfish my sister had caught in that lake when we were kids. I thought about my brothers flipping our canoe on purpose. I thought about laying on beaches, I played songs in my head, and most often, I would count to 4, over and over again, to keep my pace- I do that a lot. It was a wonderful swim. 

    I can usually tell when a half hour has past, I pee like clock work during swims- so when I feel it coming I know I'm close to a feel. Nearing the 6 hour mark, I was starring at Joe and Krista to see if they would put up the "GO!" sign to sprint for the last pick up or if they'd just tell me to stop and that would be it. I knew something was coming, it was getting close, I was very anxious.

    I looked over and saw Joe and Krista high five- it was a great feeling to see that.

    They then held up the GO! sign, I turned it on, and about 5 strokes later they flashed the STOP sign- such trickery! I laughed and flopped over! I had done it! YAY! 

    It's such a mixture of feelings learning I could really do it- 6 hours in 60 degree water- swimming over 12 miles. I'm really excited and very proud. It was hard, but it was wonderful. I'm also a bit more nervous. I am going to swim the English Channel in 2.5 months. This swim put me one big step closer. There are several phrases I repeat to myself and have written places around as reminders- one of them is- You have to earn the right to go to England. After the meters I've been putting in and this long swim, I really think I am getting there. 6 hours and over 12 miles without tapering, without rest, and I felt great. I really do feel I've come a long way, and I am getting closer. 

    I climbed onto the boat so excited! We had a giant group hug and they all basically said, I told you so. As I ate several donuts and drank a beer, I just smiled. We all talked about the swim, Joe and Krista squeezed in on either side of me to warm me up, and I felt so happy! Days later, I am still glowing.

    We did it.

    6 hour swim in cold water, 60°F or less: CHECK! 

  • TRAINING WEEK: April 13 - 19th - 36,000 meters

    TRAINING WEEK: April 13 - 19th - 36,000 meters

    Mon 4/13: 3,600 meter swim

    Tues 4/14: 3,000 meter swim + 3 mile run

    Wed 4/15: 5,600 meter swim + 60 min. Hot Yoga

    Thurs 4/16: Double day: 2,000 meter AM + 5,000 meter PM

    Fri 4/17: 4,000 meter swim + 90 min Hot Yoga

    Sat 4/18: 7,500 meter swim

    Sun 4/19: 5,300 meter swim

  • 157 days away and counting..

    150 days until I leave for England, and 157 days until my tide starts and hopefully I start swimming....

    It's March, which means its a mixture of snow, ice, and gross stuff here in Baltimore. Waking up in the dark and cold hours of the morning is hard, and often painful, but training is going well. I'm putting in lots of hours and lots of laps in the water. I'm feeling stronger and stronger everyday now. And for some odd reason, I'm enjoying myself! I know swimming the channel is going to be hard, but so is training, and I'm still smiling.

    Sure, I have days where I feel like I just don't want to jump in water at 6am. Sure, there are lots and lots of mornings that staying under the covers is the better choice. Sure, on my rest days I don't even shower because I just want one day where I stay dry. Sure, I can't reach anything on top shelves, not because I'm short, but because I'm too sore to reach over my head.

    But, hey, buck up. No one said this was going to be easy.