Tuesday, May 23, 2017

swim camp!

I'll tell you what. I had to dig deep and put on my big girl panties for this one. My first solo vacation...if you can call a weekend full of activity and swim training a "vacation".  I found out about the camp by signing up for a swim event that Paula invited me to do in early June.  The organization, Wave One Swimming, had the info on the website when I went to sign up for the Washington Crossing event.  I sent an email to a few people to see if there was any other interest, but it didn't really fit into anybody's schedule or plans.  Except... I was still intrigued and the timing was right.  I sent an email through the contact form on the website, and while I never got any response, I went ahead and signed up!  Once I get an idea in my head, I have to act on it, so I did.  This is very much out of my comfort zone and I was proud of myself for even getting this far.

I arrived at "the Cottage" around 3pm on Thursday and was the first to check-in.  I sat out on the back deck overlooking the ocean until more people arrived.  First there was Andi who flew in from NY, and then Jillian, from NC, who had found me on facebook through the event website a few weeks prior.  Immediately Andi said she was going to go for a swim.  Both Jillian and I seemed to want to swim, but were going to wait for the group that was going later.  Instead, we hung around the house and met the others as they started trickling in.  Eventually the group migrated over to the hotel bar while we waited on dinner and further instruction.
The schedule posted to the website... I still have no idea what 'Hands Across the Ocean" is??
This schedule, which played into my decision to sign up for the camp, was almost immediately thrown out the window.  We had an email from the head coach, Denis, earlier on Thursday saying there was no agenda for day one; no time frame for introductions, no orientation, and no optional swim.  I started kicking myself for not swimming earlier with Andi.
Yep..that's $9 glasses of wine in plastic cups.. yikes!
I was extremely disappointed the optional swim was canceled.  I mean... I was there to SWIM!  That was literally the primary goal.  And not for nothing but this was not a cheap weekend, and the price per swim just went up about $27.  With no other set activities for the day, Jillian and I headed back to the bar, got in a couple mile walk on the beach and explored some of the local nightlife.  When we made it back to the house, we realized we had missed group introductions -- oops!  But.. nobody had told us what time anything was happening!  At this point, I was seriously questioning my decision to sign up and crossing my fingers things would get better.

That's me to the left of the girl (Jillian) in the pink shirt, across from the brick wall.
Friday morning started with yoga, as promised, though not on the beach because somebody had objected to that (and I later learned that there were a couple folks whose opinions mattered more than others).  Yoga was awesome though, probably one of my favorite yoga classes that I've ever taken (granted, there haven't been too many).

We all changed into our swim stuff and met at the house for some classroom-style swim instruction.  I was a little shocked the emphasis seemed to be mostly on how to win races versus acknowledging and working towards individual goals, but there were definitely some very good tips and advice that came out of this discussion.  Finally it was time to go to the bay and get in the water!
The first swim of camp started with a series of open water drills.  I know drills are super helpful, and I found meaning in all of them (and I am definitely glad we had them!), but I was starting to get a little antsy to actually SWIM.  My biggest goal for this camp was to get in as much open water swimming for distance as I could.  As we set out on the actual swimming portion of this workout, I was pleased that I was keeping up with the middle of the pack... at least up until somebody swam into me and knocked off my goggles.  I fell behind as I had to stop and adjust.  Still, we got a swim in, so I was happy.  I think I did about 1500 yards this swim really trying to focus on the techniques we practiced in the drills.

We headed back to the house for lunch and free time.  It seemed most people were content to sit around, but Jillian and I decided to go on a beach walk.  We got in another 2 miles which made me happy - neither of us are the type that enjoy sitting around doing nothing, so it was good to get out and get in another activity.  Swim camp was improving.
Next up was the first ocean swim.  I have done a few ocean swims, most recently the Tiki Swim in San Diego, and did OK, but I am really not a fan.  I took the coaches' suggestion to wear fins for this swim, and watched as most of the group took off.  I was very hesitant to get in and was grateful there were a few others hanging back also, because now we were kind of on our own; not without a coach, but without the comfort of a huge group.
Jennifer and me...what are the odds?!
I got in and made my way through the waves, though I was still super uncomfortable with being in the middle of the ocean.  The wind was crazy and we were all definitely getting tossed around.  I'm not sure you could call what I was doing "swimming" but I was in there and I was moving along.  I looked up and saw Jennifer right next to me and we managed to stick together the entire time.  Having someone around you makes all the difference in the world.  Denis, who was on a surf board and came to tell us we looked good but were too far out, so we started making our way back.  Finally after about 800 yards, Jennifer and I decided we'd had enough and "swam" back into shore.  Not a long swim, but in the ocean, so success.
The shower felt so good after a day of activity!  Andi, Jillian and I decided to walk into "town" and relax with a couple ciders as a reward for our hard work.  We stopped at a grocery store to stock up on wine and water (the tap water in the house was DISGUSTING) and headed back to see what the deal was for dinner...cause still no itinerary.  When we got back, people were just sitting around, and we were starving, so we ended up turning around and going out for pizza.  We returned to the house to find we missed the analysis of the swim videos that were taken of all of us earlier - d'oh!  Luckily, Denis agreed to show us our videos anyway, and I will say that it was hugely beneficial to see myself swimming and have little things pointed out to me.  I am doing better with keeping my head down, but really need to work on keeping my arms straight through the entire stroke (versus curling in on the bottom half).  Friday was decent.

Saturday morning, we moved yoga to the beach due to popular demand and it was great, despite sand getting everywhere (literally, EVERYWHERE).  Again, I really enjoyed the yoga session and think it was a great complement to the swimming.  Then we all packed up to head to our Stand Up Paddle board lesson. 
I'm not entirely sure how I feel about our paddle board excursion.  I loved the idea of SUP as cross-training and working on balance, and I loved being out on the water doing something different.  However, one of our guides was a huge jerk who kind of ruined part of the experience.  He constantly yelled and berated everyone for not going fast enough, not listening to instruction, not being able to read the currents well (he was literally heard saying "you must not be a very good swimmer if you can't read these currents better").  I can't stand up or kneel on the board for too long at a time because my feet and knees start to hurt/cramp, so I have to rotate.  In order to switch, you have to stop paddling for a second, which I got yelled at for.  I was told not to even bother standing up if I couldn't balance.  Umm... a) I can balance, and b) isn't this a learning experience anyway?!  Overall though, I think it was a good experience and would do it again; maybe at a different outfitter.
As it was already lunchtime and we still didn't have any kind of itinerary, a few of us were concerned we weren't going to get in 2 swims this day, but we were assured we would!  Unfortunately, we were told both of them were going to be in the ocean.  I know that getting more ocean swim experience is the only way I will get more comfortable with it, but this was not my goal for this weekend.  Nor was it advertised that this would be an ocean swim focused weekend; I would not have signed up for that.  This partially feeds into the idea that the weekend's activities seemed to cater around a few swimmers' who had a prior relationship with Denis.  Luckily, there were a few of us that felt this way, and our amazing yoga instructor (and swim coach), Leslie, agreed to divide the group and take some of us to the bay.
Can't say enough good things about this group!
Jennifer, Andi, me, Jillian, Leslie and Jay
The individualized instruction and support of this small group was absolutely amazing and was my favorite part of camp thus far.  Leslie was on the paddle board and was able to notice little things that we each were doing.  We took a few breaks during the swim for feedback and were able to apply what we learned immediately.  Apparently I don't kick.. ever!  Leslie also provided some additional drills that were specific to what I needed to work on to improve my stroke.  We swam a little over a mile during this workout.  Great workout!  I am so thankful for Leslie's willingness to break apart from the main group and provide more personalized swim sessions to those of us that wanted it.  She really listened to our needs and worked with Denis to help make the activities beneficial for everyone.  The individualized instruction we got was invaluable.
We had about an hour before the next ocean swim was supposed to start, but Jillian and I didn't want to wait.  There isn't much you can do in an hour, and we'd rather have that break to chill out a bit before dinner.  Leslie agreed to take out a group in the ocean earlier, so we jumped at the opportunity.  It ended up only being the 3 of us, but I felt a little better today!  I won't say it was easy, but I swam a half mile and did OK.  Then, we paused to check in with what we wanted to accomplish, and Jillian surprised us with her sneaky little plan... a suggestion to swim the half mile back against the current... WHAT??  I agreed, and while I considered quitting a couple times, I made it!  I felt incredible that I had met that challenge... Super pleased with that workout!
We found Jennifer as we started getting out of the water.  Nobody was there for the "official" second swim of the day, so Jillian offered to get back in with her, but I was spent after that against-current swim.  The group finally showed up and Denis offered a relay idea, practicing entry and exit with the waves, but I was done, both physically and mentally.  Jillian and I headed back for showers and a little wine before the team dinner. We all stopped for ice cream and then had a restorative yoga class to end the day.  I loved this day!


Unfortunately, swim camp ended on kind of a sour note for me.  We gathered at 7:30 for the final swim of the weekend.  In the beginning of his talk, Denis suggested that maybe we could divide into a couple groups again, based on our goals for the morning.  We were going to the ocean and had the option of swimming against the current, with the current, or both.  But when we got down to the beach, and a few of us said that we wanted to swim with the current, he had changed his mind and said that we were only going out as one group and we had no choice but to swim against the current with everybody else.  He actually got a little snippy about it.  Conditions looked even worse this morning than the previous couple days and I was nervous...and pissed that this was our only option.   I really wish there had been more options to accommodate a wider range of individual goals; not everybody was there to master ocean swims and win races...and certainly not everybody felt comfortable with the single workout presented to us.
Andi decided not to get in because it looked too dangerous.  Jennifer, Jay and I held back as the rest of the group started off.  I wanted to get in, even though I knew I wouldn't go long.  Jennifer and I agreed to try to swim to the next hotel.  We made our way into the waves and went straight into survival mode.  I'm not sure if experiences like this do more to make me more comfortable, or do more to make me never want to swim in the ocean again.  Denis did stay back with us and tried to encourage us, but I have a mental block when it comes to ocean swimming.  I also felt that because I was so hesitant with ocean swims, Denis assumed I was a novice swimmer and treated me as such.  I am a decent swimmer; not that I need to prove myself to anybody, but want my coaching to be commiserate with my ability and experience. Also.. It's hard for me to think about technique when I am struggling for survival.

About 7 minutes in, Jennifer grabbed my attention and said she was considering calling it and going in.  I said I was going to try 3 more minutes to make an even 10, and she agreed, but less than a minute later I said eff-it and we made our way to shore.  We hadn't even made it halfway down our own hotel!  Jay got out with us, and the 3 of us stood around talking about what an awful experience that was.  I didn't want to end camp on that note and suggested that maybe the 3 of us go over to the bay.  Without a coach, we wouldn't venture far, but at least it would be something that more resembles swimming.  As I was letting Leslie know what we wanted to do, a lifeguard called Jennifer and Jay over and reiterated what we already knew, that we had no business being in the ocean in those conditions, especially trying to swim against the current.  We walked over to the bay and did a short workout.  The bay also had a strong current so we got practice swimming against that.  Glad we got in that short bay swim, but overall I was disappointed with how the morning went.

I returned to my room and took a shower, packed and started loading up my car.  Then I noticed the final yoga class starting; of course since I wasn't with the big group and there was no itinerary, I had no idea, so I missed that. Bummer!


I have really mixed feelings about swim camp. Leslie helped make this a positive experience after a rocky start.  And I will forever be thankful for the group of women I met, especially Jillian, Andi and Jennifer.  We challenged each other and gave tough love when it was due, but most of all we encouraged and supported each other.  I really enjoyed both our swim sessions and my down time with this group.  If not for Leslie and these ladies, I probably would have hated swim camp!

I should add that nobody at this camp was UN-supportive.  In fact, they were all very nice.  I enjoyed my conversations with Brian, Janet, Anita, Tom, Susan.... it just so happened that they weren't part of the little sub-group that had formed and I clicked so well with.

At the end of the day, I am super thankful for the experience, and I do think that I gained a lot.  I met some great people.  I got some ocean swim exposure.  I challenged myself.  I got some great feedback on my technique and some drills I can continue to practice.  And most importantly, no time in open water is bad time for my immediate goals (bay swim!).

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