Swim the Suck 2017

A magical swim down the Tennessee River. Towering gorges, rock formations and the leaves displaying a hint of ginger as they threaten to change into the colors of fall. The water a crisp 75F, flowing gracefully in parts, holding steady in others. The majority of the swim felt this serene. I like to recall those moments and note what I was doing to keep the feeling of calm, fluid swimming alive.

As in any marathon swim, there were the moments where the swimming felt anything like magic.

Around mile 8 I was slipping. The overcast skies did not allow a ray of sun through, and my cold hands and feet were bothering me. My neck and shoulders were starting to fatigue and I could not decide if I was hungry or not, thirsty or not, able to keep going or not. I had anticipated to feel this way at some point during the swim. Training in the summer was disrupted by a long family vacation overseas with minimal training. I was picking back up with about 6 weeks before the race – my focus here was on carefully increasing volume in a way that I was not going to injure myself or get sick, and to practice my SwimEQ skills during every swim. These are the skills I most needed at mile 8.


I decreased my swim intervals from 30 minutes to 15 minutes and used this extra rest time to assess my needs. I also then allowed myself as much time as I needed to breaststroke, and then transition into smaller manageable freestyle intervals. The extra rest time also allowed me to enjoy my surroundings, to get my mind back to calm – green. I saw steep forested inclines reaching up to the low hanging grey clouds. I saw many pieces of soaked wood and fallen leaves floating along with me. I allowed the cool water to soothe my tired body. I saw Damian sitting on the kayak calmly paddling along with occasional chuckle as he chatted with nearby pilots. I saw the swimmers near me, most of them we had shared several miles together in close proximity. I saw the aqua ducts of Raccoon Mountain and heard the swoosh of a speed boat from time to time. I wondered about my amazing friend Kirsten Sass who was racing in Kona – had she started her swim yet? How was she feeling in the water? This time may have felt like an eternity, but it was a morsel in the 10.36 miles of the swim, a half hour in my 4 hours and 46 minutes of swimming. It was time well spent and I enjoyed this time of grounding as much as the swim itself.

The final mile and a half into the finish was sweet and I felt like I had executed a great day of swimming. I began to process the day already – what did I do well? What can I do differently for the next swim? What did I learn about myself today? Making mental notes to become a better athlete, a better coach, and a better person.



Swim the Suck 2017

Chattanooga Tennessee

Look, listen, feel, swim.





24 Mile Tampa Bay Marathon Swim

I went back and forth for several weeks wondering if this 24 mile swim was something I could complete – and by complete, I mean finish in a decent time and without injury. Normal concerns for a race you have never done, or waters you have never swam in, or the longest race distance to date.

My race partner and best friend from Australia agreed she would join me a in 2 person relay, and we began to train in December. Those self doubts did creep in over the weeks, but in the end we decided together that the only way we would ever know if we could complete this race was to give it a go. No telling otherwise.


I took this thought and made some tiered goals. 1, finish safely and have fun doing so. 2, 12 hours would be a great target. 3, under 12 hours would be a bonus. Of course you are at the mercy of some unpredictable and uncontrollable factors in open water swimming, so the goals were floating. At the end of the day, whatever we were dealt with, take it and don’t make it worse by things you can control – nutrition, hydration, temperature control, motion sickness, and above all mental clarity.


Training for me was built around a busy work and family schedule, and I was most happy with remaining consistent during this time. I sequentially increased swimming time, made a list of swim focal points to prioritize, and tested nutrition and medication. I did the bulk of my training in the Endless Pool, not being able to get into the lake with the cold winter temperatures. Every session involved visualization of the race itself – I had studied maps and videos of the race and read race reports. Every session involved ways to strengthen my emotional intelligence – training my brain to remain calm no matter what the situation was. I felt prepared for race day.


A few days before the race we began looking at the forecast. It looked ok, some light winds and swell. Such a big part of open water swimming is the unpredictability of conditions, that can change in an instant. So neither of us were surprised when April 22nd arrived and off we went, St Petersburg to Tampa, up the Tampa Bay, swimming in 6 very distinct sets of conditions.  They were 8mph headwinds and moderate swell, crosswinds and large swell, tailwind and swell, dead flat, squirrelly storm swell with outgoing tide, and the final 2 miles of calmer rolling waves. A little something for everyone! The day was mostly overcast, and this combined with a vigorous sunscreen application schedule had us sun safe all day which is great…but I did miss the warmth from the sun during my down intervals in the boat. The land air temperature for the day was in the 80s, but out on the water in the wind, it was fairly cool. I was glad for the large thermos of hot water to keep my tea cup full and my insides warm all day. We swam the first half of the day in 30 minute intervals, then dropped to 25 minutes and then down to 20 minutes for the last 6 miles. I felt consistent and relaxed for the most part – just 2 sections where my mind got the better of me temporarily.


The first was in the section of crosswinds and large swell – during this time our kayak and paddler were onboard the main boat dealing with a leak that had caused the kayak to capsize. It was extremely difficult to navigate in the large swell, with poor visibility to the boats ahead. In the end, I decided the best I could do is try and go in the right direction, and not waste any more energy from becoming stressed and tense. It was nice to give myself that permission, and just swim on.

The second time, was in between the Gandy and Frankland bridges. The water was like a washing machine, and again visibility poor coming up to the Frankland bridges. I was having trouble seeing the pylons, and aiming for the middle, I wanted to make sure I was not going to be smashed into the concrete by the waves. Rationally, I knew the kayak was going to guide me through, but that was not good enough at the time. So I slowed down approaching the underpass and took it pylon by pylon. Once under the first bridge I could relax back into my stroke and took the second bridge with ease.


We were extremely fortunate to have friends on board the boat to support our swim – great crew makes the day so much easier! They were superb at keeping track of time, making sure we were drinking and peeing, eating and feeling good. And our expert kayaker who guided us through the waters with communication from our seasoned boat captain. The whole team made the day a success. I am eternally grateful to them all. It was a pleasure to share the experience with them.


Seeing the white sand of the beach finish was like nothing else. My husband and kids were there cheering us on, so proud and relieved to see us heading in. The final 50 yards were so shallow we walked in, taking our time and chatting about the day – the race director was giving us the hurry along to get out so he could clock our time (11hr32min) once we hit land. That really didn’t matter, we were enjoying the moment and what we had accomplished that day. I will never forget that feeling.


Thanks Darls, great day, love ya!

When I next find myself in a moment of self doubt, I will be reliving this experience from the early training weeks, to the sun setting on our race finish, and know that anything is possible if you give yourself a chance.

Coach Dinah