Monday, December 31, 2012

What can be more fun than pulling yourself out of a warm bed on a weekend morning and plunging into 40’s something degree water for up to an hour?  Doing it with a group of people who love it just as much as you do!  If it wasn’t for this amazing group of open water swimmers I wouldn’t have been able to adequately prepare for this Strait of Magellan swim attempt. 

Whether it’s Christmas Day, an extended time/distance swim day, gale force winds and big chop against the seawall kind of day, these guys are always there and ready and I am indebted to them for keeping me motivated and safe!  Laura Lee, Guila Muir, Sam Day, Greg Wolfe and many others!  Plus they allow me to be the very last one to strip off my warm clothes before jumping in!
We’ve done our best to duplicate the conditions expected in the Strait by swimming in current swept waters as cold as 46° but know the temps closer to the Antarctic will be in the 30’s.  Most days here have included wind gusts and air in the 30’s and water temps in the upper 40’s range. The water has been cold enough to start using a layer of Vaseline over areas not so well insulated such as tops of feet and sometimes on my face but haven’t resorted to mixing it with Lanolin to extend durability just yet. 

One of the more difficult aspects of preparation has been the ability to add insulation by gaining weight.  The initial target of adding 20 lbs. seemed easy at first but with a training regimen that has me swim, bike, and running 6 days a week it has taken serious work and planning just to keep the extra 10 pounds on.  But Christmas cookies have been helping lately. 
Many people think swimming in cold water (50’s and below) is nuts but I get much, much colder on a 30’s temp bike ride and on some chilly, breezy and wet winter runs.  Open water winter swimming is just a different kind of cold.  With repetition that initial shock really just disappears.  An initial hard sprint for 90 seconds then the thought process is focused on several items with the cold being somewhere down the list.  How long can I go this hard?  Are conditions good enough for less rotation and lower head position?  What is the frequency and direction of waves/chop?  Are we staying on course?  Why does it feel like I’ve been swimming for 45 minutes but it’s really only 7 minutes now?
It is truly amazing what we can condition our bodies to do.  Whether it’s a 140.6 mile ironman race, a crazy PR in crossfit or running a half marathon for the first time ever, we can condition our bodies to do just about anything and swimming for 90+ minutes in mid 30’s temp waters is no different. 
The worst part of the swim happens once we get out.  Especially when people are trying to talk with us right at the swim exit.  I apologize to anyone who thinks I was ignoring them but it honestly takes every bit of concentration to walk in a somewhat straight line to our gear bag, dry off and change clothes without stumbling or falling over.  That is the coldest part of the swim especially with the chillier breezy air temps we’ve had here recently.  A good heated car seat and cup of hot chocolate typically gets us back to somewhat normal in about 15 – 20 minutes.  And to the people at the swim exit, yes, the water is cold. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

In appreciation to all those who’ve prepared me for this challenge, including fantastic sponsors, amazing coaches, incredible open water swimmers, endurance athletes and supportive friends, here is the blog on my attempt to swim across the Strait of Magellan.

The Strait of Magellan (Estrecho de Magallanes) is a passage located at the southern tip of South America, among the Chilean Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego Islands. The area is officially known as Region XII of the Magellan and Chilean Antarctic.  Even for ships this passage between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans is difficult because of the unpredictable winds and currents.  Add the cold water and waves and this waterway has the reputation as one of the most dangerous and treacherous in the world (followed closely by Lane 4 of the SAC pool).

The currents sweeping north from Antarctica combined with winds coming off the mountains means this area connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific is filled with whirlpools and eddies.  Several unique phenomenon in the area also add to the excitement such as a double high water effect and the Williwaw.  The Williwaw is a sudden violent squall that lashes off the mountains at speeds up to 180 knots and create 1 to 5 meter high seas.

Safety is a huge concern for the swim so we will be utilizing assets from one of the worlds top navy for support and guidance during this attempt.  The Chilean Navy frigate "Elicura" will be our base of operations and escort during the entire time in the strait. 

Details of the Swim: The Strait of Magellan crossing is a 4.1 kilometer (2.4 mile) swim across the narrowest point of the strait in the Punta Delgada region of the First Narrows.  This area can see as much as 31 million gallons per second blast through during a maximum tidal exchange so the total distance traveled could easily reach 10 kilometers.  The jump window will be between January 18th and the 25th dependent on conditions.  Water temperature is expected to be 37 degrees which would qualify this as an extreme cold water swim.  Our target swim time is 90 minutes with a cutoff at 2 hours.  Swim gear will consist of textile manufactured swim shorts, goggles and swim cap (all supplied by TYR).  Support personnel following in zodiacs will wear full survival suits and safety divers in drysuits.  I've kept the option of wearing a neoprene cap open for now which would put me outside of the English Channel crossing rules.


Why Swim? The Strait of Magellan swim is considered one of toughest open water swims in the world with only a small number of people having attempted.  The type of challenge where only completion counts.  Preparation has taken two years and in that time I've met and trained with an amazing group of athletes.  Olympic swim team hopefuls, English Channel challengers, Ironman world championship competitors and Seattle year around open water swimmers.  This group of people make even the most difficult challenges look easy and have helped provide me with the training and confidence to make this attempt.  (Plus I also picked the short straw with team Williwaw)

Watch for more updates on local training, on-site training and jump day excitement coming soon!