Thursday, November 3, 2016

Losing and the Aftermath

I'm a proud fan girl.
This morning, the day after the Cubs won the 2016 World Series, I wake up a Cleveland Indians fan. And not only a fan, but a season ticket-holder who attended every home playoff game of the 2016 post-season. In person, I watched my team battle against the odds and the injuries and win its first two series only to lose after leading three games to one, in an epic battle in Game 7 of the World Series - a game that will go down in history as one of the greatest game sevens ever.

It was devastating and heartbreaking and frustrating and all of those things at once. But it got me to thinking. Who am I most heartbroken for? Myself? Not really. I'm still a fan. Do I feel sorry for Cleveland? Kind of. We all have to get up this morning feeling like "we" came THIS CLOSE to greatness but ended up back in Cleveland, often called the "mistake on the lake." Do I feel sorry for the players?


And I know that they probably all get on airplanes and go back to their homes and families in different parts of the country and don't have to live here with the disappointment of another failed championship. They get their huge paychecks and forget about it, right?

Except, based on everything I've witnessed and read and heard, I don't think that's really the case with this team. They are much more than working professionals collecting a paycheck. They're a TEAM.

And I empathize with them because I've been a competitive athlete my whole life. I grew up in a competitive athletic family, and I know what sports disappointments are all about. I know that football losses ruin Thanksgiving dinners. I know that injuries ruin track seasons. I've cried over many of these things, not only for myself, but for my high school teams and my college teams. And I know the heart of an athlete. I know what our Cleveland Indians players are feeling right now. And I know that they will take this with them into next season and it will haunt them.

It will haunt them because of HOW CLOSE it was. I think a blow-out would have been easier to handle. I know this because I, too, came THIS close to a championship and it still haunts me to this day. When I was a senior in high school on the swim team, I lost a state championship by one-tenth of a second. I always wondered what my life would be like had I won. Would people have treated me different? Would I have liked myself better?

I will never know. But I do know that my feelings for the Cleveland Indians have not changed.

And it makes me realize that, as athletes, we do what we do because we love it. We come back the next year and try again. It took a long time for me to get back to the sport I truly love, but I swim now and I keep pushing my limits.

And it also makes me realize that we should never, as I have done in the past, let our sports performances define us or tell us whether we are worthy or not. And I will not judge professional athletes on whether they win championships or not. They can be heroes to us for so many more reasons. For making us realize the human potential. For taking us back to the kid inside us. And for their charitable contributions and actions. Those are the important things they give us.

And those are the things we should recognize in ourselves.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Cold Water Swimming I: Self-treating Hypothermia

A few months ago, I committed myself to learning how to swim in cold water this fall. Or to state it more appropriately, to teach/adapt my body - and mind - to handle cold water while swimming. I gained advice from talking to people and reading blogs and online resources like these:
I decided to start my cold-water-acclimating-process with cold showers. If you know me, you know that cold showers are my Fifth Ring of Hell. The only things worse are vomiting continuously or having a root canal. In fact, my usual shower temperature is slightly hotter than "scalding." Obviously I had a big dilemma.

But a commitment is a commitment, so I started cold and went colder... until I could do it without screaming... and then without wincing... and finally, without even thinking twice before jumping in. It's hard to believe, but I even started to enjoy cold showers, especially after my pool swims. (It helped that the pool water was 83 degrees F.)

But cold showers last about five minutes, and I needed to be able to swim for hours in cold water. So I waited. And waited. And, atypically, it took until October this year for fall weather to come to Cleveland. Lake Erie water temperatures have finally begun to drop. (Seriously, we wore shorts to the first two Indians playoff games #goTribe).

I went for my first sub-70-degree swim on Saturday. There was only one problem - the lake was VERY rough. According to the NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL), the wave height was close to 4 feet (I swim in a spot directly to the left of the date under Lake Erie Wave Height in the figure below):

I took some video to try and show how bad the chop was:

 And the water temperature - about 68 degrees F - was warmer than the air temperature:

The water was surprising comfortable, and I lasted 30 minutes before I got tired of swallowing (potentially contaminated) water and fighting the chop. When I got out, the wind and the mid-60s air temperature was enough to cause all my fingers to go completely numb in about 5 minutes. There were people on the beach who commented that I was "crazy" and that they "admired me" for my dedication. I laughed and quickly made my way to the car. I drove home with the heat on high and took a 30-minute hot bath as soon as I got there.

My next attempt to swim in cold water was Monday. I waited until Monday because I decided high surf AND cold water were one-too-many tough conditions to handle at this particular stage of acclimation. Lake Erie was much calmer on Monday: 

Here's vid:

But it WAS a couple degrees colder - at about 66 degrees F (you can see the little band of 66 near where I swim):

On Monday, I lasted 45 minutes. I started to note changes resulting from the cold water, and some of them were just a bit scary.

First of all, let me state the obvious: getting in cold water is never easy. The colder it is, the harder it is to jump in all at once because, as I learned in London last December, it feels like you've been punched in the chest. The two-degree temperature difference from Saturday was noticeable. I waded in to my waist slowly, then jumped fully in and started swimming. After about 30 seconds, I snuffed out a sense of panic by forcing myself to relax and embrace the water. It worked. In no time, I was enjoying my swim unfazed by the cold. My body actually seemed to get used to it quite quickly.

What I learned from reading was that in cold water, I must keep swimming and stop only momentarily. Since I was alone, I remained close to shore by swimming back and forth in an area about .25 miles wide. I only stopped to turn and sight. I didn't start feeling the effects of cold water until 30 minutes had passed when I started to notice I was losing control of my left pinky finger. But I wasn't shivering, and I didn't "feel" cold. 

I swam 15 minutes more then decided to pack it in when the water started getting choppier and I was having a little difficultly in both hands with keeping my fingers together. My feet felt fine and I still wasn't shivering, but I didn't want to push it while I was by myself. I swam to shore and immediately put on a sweatshirt.

It was at this point things went downhill in a hurry. The air temperature was in the low-60s, and I was in the shade. In a matter of minutes, I struggled with numb fingers to unscrew the valve on my swim buoy. I needed to get my car key! Shivering, I grabbed all my stuff and started running to the car. I stopped - in the sun - only to put my shoes on (also with much difficulty). When I got to the car, I started it and turned the heat on full blast and changed out of my wet swimsuit. I was seriously bummed to find I had left at home my thermos of warm apple-cinnamon Skratch hydrationBut I had stopped shivering and assumed I'd be fine, so I started the drive home.

But I wasn't fine. Something was not right. I felt disoriented. I felt like a I was in a fog. I started to panic. I called my husband Jim, but I could tell I was having trouble speaking and stringing words together. He said I sounded weird and "out of it." I pulled into a McDonalds parking lot. It didn't seem possible I might be hypothermic because the feeling had already come back in my fingers and toes. But I was having trouble keeping my eyes focused. And my increasing anxiety was probably making it worse.

I called Jim back because talking to him made me feel less "foggy." I noticed my hands were shaking. He told me to get some food - that maybe I was hungry. I sucked down two carbo gels that had been in my bag for ages, and then I sat and waited.

About ten minutes later, I started to feel a little better. The car had become a sauna and it made my skin feel hot, but internally I was still a little chilled. The important thing was that my brain began "working" again, and I was finally able to focus enough to drive home. I'm still not sure what made me disoriented, but I ate well before I swam, so I can't fully blame it on simple hunger or lack of nutrition. I think the cold had something to do with it - and I'm judging from my past experiences with hypothermia.

Two things are certain. I need a lot more practice in cold water. And I need to take quicker and better care of myself post-swim.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Swimming to the Moon, a Race Report

Number 52: not my age, but close enough!
My last open-water swim event this year was Epic Racing's "Swim to the Moon," an event that takes place somewhere near Hell (Hell, Michigan, that is). I suspect the reason I chose this event was because I loved the name. It's actually several swim distances - one-half mile up to 10K - that take place in a chain of lakes near Ann Arbor (Jim, with his two degrees from Ohio State University, in fact, finds this region of the USA to be his personal version of Hell, as he is surrounded by Michigan fans).

I chose the 10K... because.. why not? It was a lake swim so the water would likely be calm and warm, unlike the ocean in my last one.

We stayed overnight about 30 minutes east of the starting line, which was at Halfmoon Lake. The 10K swims across Halfmoon Lake and through channels and small lakes connecting it to Patterson Lake, where it turns around on private property, and goes back. There's also a 5K that starts at Patterson Lake and goes to the same finish line as the 10K. At the turn, 10K swimmers are required to exit the water and can partake of any nutrition or other items they stashed there in a special-needs bag.

I got very little sleep in the two nights before the race because I've been battling anxiety issues (which, incidentally, have nothing to do with pre-race jitters... just dealing with health problems and family issues). When the alarm clock rang race morning (Sunday), I could barely open my eyes, and the last thing I wanted to do was deal with a race that might take about three hours. But I had made a commitment, and I reminded myself how much I love swimming. I would make the best of it.

That morning, unlike the two weeks leading up to it, saw a drop in temperature into the low 60s. This meant that the water temperature, at 76 degrees, actually exceeded the air temperature. It also meant I didn't bring warm enough clothes to wear that morning. All I could think was: Oh great! This time I'll get hypothermia BEFORE I even get in the water!

But there wasn't a lot of time to wait around, and by 6:30, we were standing on the small sandy beach being accounted for as we were shuffled through the starting line arch to wait for the gun.

Early morning start under the moon.
Everyone was mumbling about the cold. Some people were actually getting in the water to keep warm. My fingers started to get numb. It took a little while to count everyone - so long that I decided to put my raincoat back on to keep warm. I was told by one group of men that I "could use a little more weight in order to stay warm" (I assured them I'm trying, maybe swimming in progressively-colder water next month will take care of that).

One way to keep warm.
After a quick singing of the Star Spangled Banner, we were finally off. Here's a video of the start:

In about five minutes, I had completely forgotten about the cold and was now in the melee of arms and legs and people all trying to spot buoys in dim morning light. That didn't last long (the dim morning light or being stuck in the melee), and before I made the turn into the first inter-lake channel, the sun was out and illuminating the far side of Halfmoon Lake. It was quite beautiful - I was no longer feeling tired but just happy to be swimming along at a speed that allowed me to appreciate the day.

Just before we took that turn - and based on my swim the day before, I determined the distance to be about a mile - I settled into a pace that had me swimming steadily alongside two others: a man and a woman. I would go into the first channel with this little group.

Before the race, a guy had told me the channels were shallow and you could walk through them. What he really meant was you might HAVE to walk through them. I found myself completely tangled up in weeds and trying not to run aground. I had to keep my underwater arm-pull against my body just to avoid punching the ground below. Unfortunately, the woman swimming next to me occupied the slightly deeper water, and I couldn't force myself into her space without sending her into another bank of weeds. I had to back off in order to get into her wake and avoid beaching myself or slamming into the wooden uprights of a foot-bridge over the channel. The two of us also had to stop a few times to find course-marker buoys.

Once we cleared the first channel, as long as I stayed close to the course markers, it was smooth swimming. I had only one or two run-ins with weeds until the second channel. Our little group stayed together through the second channel as well, which was equally shallow and treacherous and included swimming through a huge-diameter metal pipe (that had another bridge over it).

I found myself actually grabbing onto the weeds a couple times in a desperate attempt to pull myself forward. The first time I did it, the image that leapt to mind was one of standing on the pool deck and yelling at my swim team kids for grabbing onto the lane-lines during backstroke to pull themselves along. (They always think I don't notice that.) Hey, it works! I will have to come clean when I see them again.

When we finally reached Patterson Lake, the sun was well up. I stopped for a moment to free myself from a weed that had wrapped itself around my neck. My watch had us at 2.29 miles. Swimmers would now be on their way back. I got my bearings and started swimming toward the next bright orange buoy, only to have a stand-up paddler blowing a whistle at me and pointing me in the perpendicular direction. Swimmers were being directed to swim "directly into the sun" (what kayakers were telling us). By the time I was able to see the next marker, I had almost burned out my retinas, and spotting anything was now an issue. I almost had a head-on collision with a swimmer going in the opposite direction.

Finally I stopped. The girl next to me stopped. The guy next to me stopped. We had to flag down a kayaker to give us directions. It was then I saw the boat with a guy on the back carrying one of the big orange markers. Apparently the buoys had blown off course. He dropped this one directly in front of me and just like that!.. we were back on course.

When I made it to the beach turn-around, the first thing I saw was the time-clock. It said 1:19:something. Before the race, I told Jim that the 10K would probably take me close to three hours - at best, 2:45. This was very good news indeed. I was half-way through and under my predicted "fast" time. A volunteer handed me my special-needs bag containing nutrition.

The woman I had been swimming with gave me the slip on the beach and got back in the water well before me. I had a 21-oz bottle of SkratchLabs hydration mixed with Carbo-Pro, and I needed those calories. But I also didn't want to just "swim through" the second half of this race, so I drank only 3/4 of my bottle and ran back into the water to chase her. The guy from my original group was right alongside me.

He was the clobbering-type swimmer and his stroke was so strong it was like he had a tractor beam - I kept getting pulled toward him as though I was stuck in a gravitational pull. I had to get out of that influence so I swam hard and fast and pulled out in front.

Swimming the flip-side of Patterson Lake was easier because we were pointing away from the sun, it was a clear day, and the markers were now obvious. When I reached the channel, I realized that I was right behind the woman in our original three-some. I did not want to lull myself into swimming her speed again, so I worked hard in in the channel to get ahead. Instead, I swam off course and ended up in that group again - the three of us with me stuck smack in the middle.

Upon exiting this channel, I finally had enough. I swam hard to wrestle myself free of the group and the weeds.

I got out ahead and finally had the last two miles of this race all to myself. There was a lifeguard on a paddle-board who kept coming around to make sure I stayed on course, but I had no problem whatsoever spotting buoys and enjoying swimming hard to the finish. I stopped a couple times when we got back into Halfmoon lake to check my watch. With about a half-mile to go, my stroke finally started falling apart. Overall, I wasn't really that tired, I was just having trouble getting enough strength to keep a strong underwater pull. But I was alone in the water, and I told myself to enjoy it because it was almost over. I did backstroke just to look up at the clear blue sky, and then I flipped back over and pushed to the finish.

Getting out of the water after swimming for that long was a weird experience. It felt a lot like "the wobble" when you first step off the bike in an Ironman. I almost fell. I was disoriented for a few moments. Embarrassingly, it was caught on video, and since I have no shame to speak of, here it is:

My finish time was 2:39:03. And even though I swam hard, my second half was less than a minute faster than the first half. Awards-wise, I finished second in my age group (33rd overall) but the first female masters swimmer was also in my age group, so my time was actually third in my age group. I have a long way to go because there are some really fast women over 50.

Beer glasses are always the best trophies.
And I'm still loving this swim thing... and ready for the next one.

Just for kicks, here's the GPS plot from my Garmin:

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Importance of Bilateral Breathing in Open Water Swimming

In the past month, I've been spending quite a bit of my pool time re-learning how to bilateral breathe. As I've written before, upon my return to regular swimming about 15 years ago, I gravitated toward breathing on my right. I just did what was natural, and it has served me well for many years of competitive swimming in triathlons.

Now that I'm pursuing open-water swimming as a sport, I find my single-sided approach to breathing has become a liability. I've been doing it in my open water swims because it comes naturally and also because it's easier for me to swim in a straight line that way. When I breathe on my left, my weak side, I actually start to turn in that direction. Swimming in circles is an excellent ability if you're stuck in a round pool, but it won't help me get from point A to point B in open water.

Thus, I've accepted swimming slower for however-long-it-takes, and forced myself to breathe on the left during many of my swim sets. Although it's beginning to feel more natural, I will know I've conquered it when I do it without thinking. I have moments of encouragement when I start a set of hard 50s automatically breathing on the left. After the first one or two, it becomes a chore, and I go back to automatic right-breathing, but a little progress is better than none at all.

The real significance of being able to breathe bilaterally became perfectly obvious to me yesterday, when, after a stressful morning, I decided what I really needed was a swim workout with NO stress.. no walls, no flip-turns, no lane-lines, no boundaries. As they say: be careful what you wish for.

I checked Lake Erie conditions (Ohio Nowcast) then drove up to the lake, and without a second thought, jumped in with my swim buoy in tow. There were other people swimming and conditions looked perfect (i.e., calm) to me. See?

Perfect, that is, until I actually got "out there." It was choppy -- not bad enough to make me stop swimming, but bad enough to make me wonder about how bad it was. People here always talk about Lake Erie and its changing conditions. "It doesn't take much to whip up the lake," they say. "It's the shallowest of the Great Lakes," they say. This all means something, but I've never been sure what.

All I know is I've raced in some very bad open water conditions, some so bad that races were cancelled mid-swim and swimmers drowned. And, Lake Erie yesterday was nothing like those conditions. But a little chop in Lake Erie is bad - for other reasons - reasons that make bilateral breathing so important.

Lake Erie chop follows no rules. There is no rhyme or reason (or more importantly, rhythm) to it.

I was reminded of a passage in one of my favorite books, The Outermost House by Henry Beston, that describes a unique wave pattern on the Atlantic coast of Cape Cod. Anyone (including me) who's ever watched or swam in those waters knows it. It's easier to catch waves or swim in waves when they have patterns like this. Lake Erie chop has no pattern which makes it nearly impossible to settle into any sort of breathing rhythm, especially swimming parallel to the shoreline. And the shoreline itself changes drastically from sandy beaches to sheer rock cliffs and back every few hundred yards, which also creates all sorts of conflicting wave patterns.

The whole time I was swimming parallel to the shoreline, all I could think about was the last time I swam in short chop - in Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2011. Even then, although I had to fight the waves, I was able to get my breathing in rhythm with the swells. In Lake Erie, I had no such luck. But I did discover that breathing toward the north (into the waves) was much more beneficial and I swallowed less water (contrary to what's described here even thought it's a very good article overall). When I tried to breathe toward the shoreline, facing south, waves would break over my head and engulf me and I couldn't get air, but when I breathed on the low end of the swell, facing north, I had no problem.

I stuck it out for 1.5 hours and managed a dismal 2.5 miles, but I was exhausted from the fight. And I learned, first-hand, that in addition to training in rough conditions, I need to keep training myself to bilateral breathe because no one knows what will happen during extended open-water swimming. Even if everything looks calm on the beach that day.

The video below is what it looked like when I got out. I've been told the rule-of-thumb is don't swim if you see white-caps off-shore.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Back to the Black Line

Remember this?
I took a few days off after my cold-water revelation last weekend to decompress and to abuse myself by doing a 180 - running in a Midwest heatwave marked by several "heat advisory" days this week. (Note, running is my other zen sport, it's my self-medication.)

When I DID get back in the water, I was reminded of two things: (1) the task at hand, oh so long ago, before the Glastonbury festival, before whipping myself into endurance-racing mode - i.e., re-learning proper technique - and (2) teaching my body how to survive, or thrive, in cold water. Now that I think about it, one of these things may benefit the other.

Here's my thought: if I learn how to swim better, I should be faster, right? And if I'm faster, I will be out of the cold water quicker - right? Yeah yeah, I know I still need to learn how to SWIM in cold water because I certainly haven't forgotten how quickly hypothermia sets in... I'm sure there's an equation for conduction or convection I probably (should have) learned in heat transfer class when I got my engineering degree.

I survived for more than 5 minutes.
I was reminded of my crazy English swimming compadres in London in December (remember that?). They were able to swim in sub-50 degree F water for long periods of time because their bodies had been slowly acclimated to it as the temperatures dropped. If you remember my blog posts about that experience, I noticed a difference in my own ability to withstand cold water even after the second time. And in my previous post, I told you about the advice from Ocean Games race director and open-water swimmer Corey Davis - his recommendations were to take cold showers and extend my open-water swim season into the colder months.

So, that's the plan. But in the meantime, while the water is still warm, I need to determine how to perfect my swim stroke so that I spend less time in that cold water. 

The last thing I did with respect to THIS goal was to get video of my swim stroke underwater. Here it is:

And, whoa, talk about revelations! There's a LOT to improve on. I may have the high-elbow thing going for me, but my underwater pull is ridiculously wide. There's not nearly enough water being grabbed and pulled back. Ineed to get my forearm under my body so I'm moving through a smaller area. I have also recently realized that I swim faster when using a pull-buoy, which I think might have something to do with my right arm not going as wide and breathing on the left.

But I needed more than hunch. I needed data. I'm a scientist after all.

So... here's my (pseudo-)scientific analysis...

I first noted that if I don't think about it, I breathe naturally on my right without a pull-buoy but naturally on my left WITH one. I've been baffled by this for years (since I started swimming again after more than 15 years away from the sport). When I was a competitive pool-swimmer, I could bilateral breathe with no change in my stroke. But now, it's a struggle to breathe on my left. WITHOUT a pull-buoy. I am convinced this means something - like one whole side of my body is weak. 

I started experimenting in the pool in the past several weeks. At the end of my workouts, I swim 50s with and without a pull-buoy and concentrate on what my arms and legs are doing. Here's what I've found (and it's extremely annoying): without a pull-buoy breathing naturally on my right working very hard to keep my body and kick streamlined, my 50-yard time is within one second of my time with a pull-buoy breathing naturally on my left. The difference (i.e., the annoying thing) is the very little amount of effort I have to put in while swimming with a pull-buoy. 

What could possibly be going on here? Are my legs or my kick causing massive drag? It's hard to believe that I'm not getting at least a tiny bit of propulsion from my kick. Is my pull different when breathing on different sides? Am I in a different position in the water?

After studying it the best I can (it's not easy to study with detachment from an internal state), it does, indeed, feel like I'm getting more from my pull when I breathe on my left. I come up with two pieces of evidence: being right-handed/right-dominant, my right arm is stronger, and when breathing on my left, I rotate in a way that keeps my right arm under my body instead of way-wide like in the video. Further study Also revealed to me that I turn my head to breathe at a different point in the stroke cycle on each side. Breathing right, although it "feels" natural, it's more awkward to the stroke and there's an obvious momentary lapse in my kick.

And therefore, this week, while I recover mentally from the failed race finish, I've begun doing drills to fix my bilateral breathing and sync my kick. It's not natural just yet, and it probably won't be for a while, but hopefully I'll have something to show in a month or two.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Playing Ocean Games (a.k.a. "Finding Corey")

Post-swim with race director
and living-testament to the human spirit, Corey Davis
It's not often we have the opportunity to be truly inspired by a another human being. But there are miracles (there's that word again) all around us and many of us will live our entire lives and never notice them. If you've been reading my blog, you know I've undergone many changes in attitude and the choices I make and that I have been fortunate to witness the power of the human spirit - mostly through music and friends.

But since this blog focuses mostly on my athletic pursuits, I will post about my latest swim event at the Ocean Games, a nine-mile swim in Ocean City, MD, where I witnessed what could be viewed as a lapse into my "disaster magnet" (read: negative) luck of old, but I was rescued this time by amazing humans and my new-found ability to see miracles all around me.

Most endurance athletes spend many years training to perfect their race performances. Very few people are born with bodies that can sustain high levels of activity over long periods of time. And even if someone is athletically-gifted at birth, it takes years of training and experience to get to the top of their sport. For us non-elite athletes, it's even harder and requires many more of those years and experience just to finish well and accomplish goals.

Knowing this, it was surprising to me when I experienced a high level of success very early in my "careers" as both a marathon runner and a triathlete: I qualified for Boston in my first marathon, and I qualified for Kona in my first Ironman (which, I might add, was only my fourth triathlon).

Go big or go home, right? There was no reason for me to start out "small" in my latest sporting pursuit, open-water swimming. My previous early-success pattern gave me a false sense of security, and eight years of competitive swimming from age 14 through 22 did nothing to deter me. I believed I had the ability to accomplish big things right away.

But I'm 51 and we all know trends don't last, and my first year of open-water swimming, although fun, has already become both a curse and a blessing.

And I don't mean curse in a bad way - more like a curse in an uncomfortable way. Because I have to make mistakes first this time. Early success is actually the curse. It always resulted in the devastating mental process of setting unreachable goals for future races, and for years I interpreted less-than-stellar performances as failures.

Now, even though I've given up the stress of Ironman by choosing to do the thing I enjoy most - swimming - I still chose a nine-mile ocean swim as my second open-water event. Live and learn, right? And I was about to find out how stupid... or ridiculous... or utterly hilarious... that was.

And it started out in classic Disaster Magnet fashion.

The kayak is almost bigger than their car.
The reasons I chose to swim in Ocean City had as much to do with the race support and travel as the distance. First of all, my great friend Doug (who lives near DC) agreed to be my support kayaker. He would feed me and guide me and get me through this thing. His wife and two daughters and my husband Jim would all be there, and I looked forward to spending time with them as much as I did having them as race support. They were a few of the true blessings of this weekend. It was like gaining a loving sister and brother and a two wonderful nieces for three days.

But the Disaster Magnet curse was not about to go down without a fight.

The day before the race (Friday), Doug and I decided to practice a bit to determine how kayaker support worked for us: which side he would be on, how close I could swim to him, etc. Jim also came out for a kayak lesson. We put the kayak in very shallow - and hot! - water on the bay side of Ocean City. During the swim, I caught some seaweed on my legs and arms. And shortly after, I felt some itchy stinging pain on my arm and my ankle and had to stop for a moment.

It wasn't seaweed. It was JELLYFISH! I panicked. I grabbed onto the kayak, terrified. I think I almost flipped Doug and Jim into the water trying to get away from the stinging jellyfish. GET ME OUT OF HERE. We turned around, but on the way back, I swam face-first into a jellyfish, and completely flipped out, grabbed onto the back of the kayak and had Doug just paddle me in. Fortunately, the face-sting was so quick and light that it never even registered as a rash. My arm sting was so superficial that after I swam in the ocean water a little, it wasn't even noticeable.

Disaster #1, averted!

Pre-race with Doug, all smiles.
That night, Doug, Jim, and I went to the race meeting, got briefed on the next day's event and how it would work, and then went back to the house we were all sharing for a very nice dinner. Everyone was happy, calm, and ready for the next day.

Until 5:00 am.

I had been sleeping well - again, most of my readers know about my anxiety issues that keep me up all night, so this was sort of a miracle (I owe my new-found ability to relax to my friend Olly). Something woke me up. It was still dark. I heard Jim come into the room and sit on the bed.

"I'm sick."

I shook off the sleep.. what? Did he have a cold?

"I'm vomiting."

Disaster #2 hit. Jim - and Doug's daughter Erika - had food poisoning. This was NOT GOOD. Doug's wife was also feeling ill and may have a touch of the same thing. Panic. I frantically searched for answers... was I next? Was Doug next? We all ate the same food last night. But we also had sandwiches for lunch. Jim and Erika were the only ones that ate ham, so I concluded that to be the culprit. But it didn't matter, Doug and I were going it ALONE. All of our transportation plans for the next day were washed out, and it would be the first big race in 14 years that Jim would miss. For a few minutes, I considered not swimming that day, but Jim urged me to go saying it would make him feel even worse. I understood - for him, I needed to start this race.

Me 'n Doug race morning, still smiling:

That morning, the conditions were announced on the Ocean Games Facebook page. The current was north-to-south and the race would swim down the shoreline in that direction. The water temperature was 74 degrees F. Perfect - I felt relief as I had already decided not to wear a wetsuit for two reasons:
  1. In the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, I overheated in my wetsuit in 74 degrees F.
  2. If I'm going to continue these open-water challenges, I need to swim without a wetsuit because that's usually the rule.

It looks friendly enough.
Fast-forwarding to the start of the race. I remember two things at the starting line. One was that Jim was noticeably absent. The other was I talked to a surfer named Drew who was questioning the decision to swim north-to-south because everything pointed to difficulty in this direction: the wind was coming from the south and the waves were coming from the southwest. But to me, the surf looked almost non-existent. All I could think of was how awesome it will be to finish a nine-mile ocean swim.

And my feelings were validated when I hit the water at the start and swam out to meet Doug in his kayak. The water temperature was ideal and I was smiling to myself for at least the first two miles. I stopped to feed mostly on schedule and I didn't feel at all taxed through the first three miles.

But then something changed. The surf got a little rougher and my hands started going numb. It happened pretty quickly. I tried swimming harder to warm up. It worked a little. I tried stopping and drinking warm fluids. I asked Doug to get me closer to the shore where the water was warmer (but rougher). I kept swimming, but I kept losing more feeling in my hands. I also started to shiver. It was discouraging when Doug said most of the swimmers were in front of me.

Around four miles, I stopped and tried to warm up, but the sun had gone behind the clouds. My teeth were chattering, and I was starting to shiver uncontrollably. I didn't want to quit, but Doug saw the writing on the wall and signaled to the lifeguard on shore.

The lifeguard came out and towed me in. All I could think about was getting warm (although Doug said I kept turning around saying I wanted to finish, but I don't remember that). When I was finally out of the water, the lifeguard and a bunch of beach-goers came over to warm me up. My whole body was shaking and I couldn't make it stop. A man gave me some gatorade, and a woman named Ashley (I'm surprised I even remember her name) and her two children put their towels over me and she held me while I shook uncontrollably waiting for EMS. It was a small thing, but the best of humanity was embodied in those people, and I don't think I ever thanked them.

Miracles all around.

The EMS guys took my temperature at 93 degrees F (not my personal Disaster Magnet record, but close). They gave me a warm IV and took me to the ER where I was covered with warm blankets and my temperature returned to almost-normal. I called Jim, who was laid up in bed with some of the worst digestive issues of his life, and he actually came to the hospital to pick me up. I don't know which one of us looked worse, me or him, but it was nothing short of miraculous.

I actually felt ok, but tired. I drove him back to the house and picked up Doug's wife Kaz to go to the finish line to collect Doug, their car, and the kayak (kayakers were required to stay on the water for race support even if their swimmer dropped out).

I had no idea how much time had passed, but Jim said my iPhone (in Doug's possession) was registering him still out on the water. Ocean city traffic was horrendous and it seemed like forever before Kaz and I got to the finish line. We (miraculously) found parking and walked onto the beach where she immediately spotted the kayak. Doug was exhausted but he looked good. He told us he was able to help another swimmer complete the three-mile race that day. That made me so so happy.

Miracles, I say.

As for me? Was this Disaster #3?

Not by a long-shot. For the record, I'm sad that Jim and Erika got sick - that was the biggest bummer of the weekend. And, I'm sad about having to abandon my race. In fact, I cried A LOT at the hospital. But, surprisingly, the fallout from this event is very different than other races I've DNFed. I don't think I'm a crap athlete this time. I got hypothermia. It wasn't something I had any control over (this time). I'm glad I started this race, and I wouldn't have done anything differently. I had the strength to finish, just not the ability to withstand the cold. I have none of my usual regrets.

Curious, I asked one of the race officials if anyone else got hypothermia. She said at least one other swimmer dropped out but for unknown reasons. I talked to a few others at the finish and was told the water temperature definitely dropped from the starting line. It may have been due to the wind ushering in colder water. And then the biggest miracle of the weekend happened.

Looking for stats on finishers, I approached the announcers table. The race director, Corey Davis, was there. He asked how it went, I told him I had to drop and just left the ER after being treated with hypothermia. His biggest concern was if I was ok. Then, he thanked me a million times for supporting the race (I think I told him we came from Cleveland). We had the most amazing conversation. Corey imparted a huge amount of his knowledge to me about open-water swimming (especially in cold water) and gave me some tips on training for next time.

Corey isn't just anyone. He's actually a huge inspiration to all who know him and I would have felt very fortunate to have had just a moment of his time. He is the survivor of a horrific accident that left him unable to walk due to a traumatic brain injury. The doctors and his determination in rehabbing have allowed him not only to stand on his own two feet again but to return to a very active lifestyle. He founded the Ocean Games to give back to the program that helped him and give hope to people who suffer similar injuries. You can read his story here (or watch the short video below, his recovery is quite remarkable).

Talking to Corey changed me. I have been able to put the entire thing in perspective and learn my lessons thanks to my new attitude and our conversation. One of Corey's most recent accomplishments was completing a 17-mile paddleboard race. Seriously, I can't even STAND UP on a paddleboard without falling down! Corey did 17 miles after being told he would never even walk again!

I am determined to enter this race again next year with the goal of finishing and doing it as a fundraiser.

And I have been able to look at all the blessings of this race instead of the curses.

So, what if I finished? Then, I might have a lot more open-water miles under my belt. I might have a lot more confidence in myself going into my next open-water challenge. I might be jumping up and down and patting myself on the back right now. And I might have impressed some people.

But, I wouldn't have learned the lessons I learned this weekend. I wouldn't know how unprepared my body was for cold water. I wouldn't have a plan for dealing with the cold water in the future. I wouldn't have been treated to the best of humanity in the form of Good Samaritans. And I wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet Corey Davis, one of the most extraordinary humans I've ever known.

And so, let the miracles continue...

Monday, July 11, 2016

Good Pain, Open-Water Zen, and the Stupidest Idea Ever.

Everything hurts today. It's that good kind of hurt. The kind of overall pain that lets me know I pushed myself through something unusually difficult yesterday.

And that's because I did. Yesterday I did my longest-ever open-water swim. And it was my first solo open-water swim in Lake Erie. It wasn't completely "solo," but I'll explain in a moment.

If you read my previous blog, you know what I'm up against. I needed to do a swim before this weekend that was long enough to prove (to myself only) I could push through something longer than my last race at 4.4 miles. And I didn't want to swim that long in the pool because, frankly, when I'm in the pool for longer than 2.5 hours, I have been getting sick of the chlorine and the monotony of the lane-lines. I've never needed to train in open water for experience because, as I've said many times in this blog, I've always been at home in the open water.

But I WANT to swim in open water. My soul has been longing for it ever since I conquered the fear in La Jolla cove. And yesterday, I had several soul-affirming moments in the water, and I felt compelled to write something.

This weekend, I knew two things: (1) I wanted to swim in open water and (2) for at least as long as I've swam in the pool. But I had no idea WHERE to swim.

Don't laugh. Even though we have a Great Lake on our doorstep, the conditions in Lake Erie are not always conducive to swimming. On Saturday, I checked the USGS Ohio Nowcast to find that almost all the Lake Erie beaches within an hour drive of my house were considered "unsafe for swimming" due to high levels of bacterial contamination. This was not a good sign. I started looking for other swimming holes all over Northeast Ohio. I had all but resigned myself to swimming "laps" in one of a few small lakes south of where I live.

The dogs here like swimming
almost more than I do.
Then, another one of those miracles happened. Sunday morning, I checked the Lake Erie conditions again to find that several west-side beaches had been given the green light! And I was off, dragging my overly-obliging husband Jim with me just in case something happened (it was my first time doing this alone).

I decided to do several out-and-back swims in order to stop and get fuel and hydration regularly - and also to get an idea of how much and how often I needed to consume during a long-distance swim of more than two hours. The water was perfect temperature (maybe in the upper 70s F?) so I didn't need a wetsuit. I took along a orange New Wave Swim Buoy so I was visible to boaters and jet-skiers (first time using this) and could carry my phone and nutrition in it.

My goal was to swim at a pace I could maintain for three hours. I swam east along the shoreline - which I eventually realized was with the current - for just over a mile and then turned around and swam back to the beach. The first two miles were steady and I never felt taxed at all. The water was beautiful, the sky was blue, the sun was out, people were jet-skiing and speed-boating and what-not, and I was able to get into a rhythm and just forget about everything. It went by pretty fast. When I got back to the beach, I drank about 250 liquid calories (Carbo Pro mixed with SkratchLabs hydration). Jim confirmed that the Find-My-iPhone app was working and he could see where I was during the swim.

Somewhere between the boats and the shore.
For the next hour, I decided to set out in the opposite direction. Here's where I was no longer alone. As I started swimming out, I saw another orange buoy in my peripheral vision. I swam toward it thinking it might be fun to swim with somebody for a bit. Maybe he/she could help me, maybe I could help him/her. When we got closer, we stopped and discussed it. Although he had planned on swimming for 1.5 miles, I told him I was going 2 miles, and he decided to go with me - we set off.

I lost him in my sights about five minutes later and figured it wasn't meant to be. But after about 20 minutes, I stopped and looked around and realized he was still with me, only about 50 yards closer to shore. I smiled to myself at how far out I was and kept swimming. When my GPS said I had gone a mile, I stopped and looked around. I saw my fellow-swimmer's orange buoy and waved to him when he looked up. He swam over.

"That's about a mile," I said and we stopped to talk. We both bobbed away on our buoys and talked for about 10 minutes. About why we were out there - his name is Jeff, he was training for an Ironman and getting back into athletics after a divorce. We talked about our jobs. We talked about art (I am NOT making this up). Then we talked about swimming. He summed it up better than I could in one phrase: "Swimming gives you that zen feeling."

He was right. Zen. That's what it is. It's similar to the feeling you get from running. It's peaceful, reflective, and gives me a feeling of one-ness with the world. I find this to be especially true in the water. I met a woman on the beach yesterday who doesn't know how to swim but she also had this indescribable sense of wholeness near water. Maybe our souls have a deep connection to the place from whence they came. I don't know, but I feel something intensely spiritual when I'm in open water.

We turned around and swam back to the beach. The surf got a little rougher on the way back even though we were with the current. I had an easier time with it than Jeff did, but I waited for him when I got back. He was done, I was going back out. We said our goodbyes, but not before I found out he and I are connected through his sister's marriage to a good friend of mine. And thus, Cleveland continues to be the largest "small town" ever.

My GPS had me just over four miles in just over two hours. Jim helped me fuel up once more, let me know he was ok waiting yet another hour (he's a saint) - and I headed back out toward the east. I decided to swim until I hit five miles then turn around. My arms were starting to feel very heavy (especially right after the stops), and I had to work to stretch them out to take long strokes. But I never got the "I really want to stop" feeling like I did in Chesapeake Bay. I was happy, I was "in it," but I was tired.

I pushed through to five miles. And then decided to do the stupidest thing EVER. I can't even blame it on delirium or water-logged-brained-ness because I was totally conscious and aware of what I was doing.

I'm so NOT a selfie person, but I wanted a selfie. So I wrestled with my buoy to pull out my phone. I had to deflate it almost half-way just to get the phone dislodged. I didn't even know if it would work because the phone was in a plastic bag. I may be stupid, but not stupid enough to take my phone out of the plastic bag. I bobbled on my half-inflated buoy and took a picture.

Then it happened. As I was treading water, trying to open the buoy, I dropped my bagged-phone in the water.

My heart stopped as it sank downward out of sight.

Panic came in a split-second. All I can articulate are the instantaneous thoughts that went through my head. Oh my God! Jim is going to KILL ME! What was I THINKING? The buoy instructions clearly state "NEVER TAKE YOUR PHONE OUT WHILE SWIMMING." Oh my God! Can I dive down to the bottom to retrieve it?? How deep is this water anyway? How much will a new iPhone cost?? Oh my God! What have I done?!?!?

And just like that, my fingers miraculously caught the phone, and I pulled it out of the water.

Here it the photo, never to be repeated:

Relief swept over me. I turned toward the beach and swam back. Perhaps due to the adrenaline rush, I swam back much faster than I swam out. The whole time I thanked God for my quick reflexes and spent the rest of the zen moments wondering if I should tell Jim what happened.

When I finally crawled out of the water, my GPS said: 6 miles, 3 hours.

I was done. I felt good (for many reasons), but my arms were sore and my neck was badly chafed from my cap. But my pace was steady. And I have enough confidence to start the nine-mile swim, now only five days away.

Here's the Garmin plot of my course - apparently, I can't swim a straight line:

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Swimming and Racing in the Grand Scheme

A week from today, I'll be toeing the line in my longest swim ever - a nine-mile race in Ocean City, Maryland. I don't know what I was thinking when I registered for such a long distance as my second open-water swim race. Well, yes I do. I was thinking: no problem, I'll have plenty of time to train. Go big or go home, right?

However, at the time of registration, I had no way of knowing I would be going to the Glastonbury Festival only three weeks before the race. I didn't factor in the eight-day hiatus from training - or the jet lag. Now, I find myself up against the wall and not at all confident in my current ability to finish nine miles.

Swim first,
ask questions later.
The difference this time is that I don't lack the confidence in myself. I don't have that fear anymore. I'm actually looking forward to this race even if I cannot finish. I'll be doing the thing I love - swimming in the ocean - where I feel most at home. If I don't finish because I don't have the training or racing experience behind me, then I don't finish. It will be because I didn't do what I needed to do to get to the finish line. And it will not define me. I've sloughed off the burden of assuming I'm a crap swimmer or a crap athlete because I don't finish a race.

What I WILL do is kick myself for not thinking ahead. (Obviously, I'm already doing that, but not as an excuse.) In fact, I'm laughing at myself because of how ridiculously unprepared I am for a potentially grueling experience. It's just that it's not the ultimate goal.

One thing is for sure - I would never have missed Glastonbury for all the training in the world. I will happily live with that. The lessons I learned there were more powerful than those training or racing could have taught me.

In fact, the only reason I'm writing this particular blog post is to put it "out there" so that when the going gets tough, I can remind myself I wrote this. It's a commitment for me to honor. To not give up. To tell the story of the struggle. If I don't get to the finish line, I will have to be dragged out of the water unconscious.. or injured.. or sick because of nutrition mistakes. It will NOT be due to lack of will.

I want to finish, but most of all, I want to enjoy the process. I want to make mistakes. I want to learn. Swim races are not the goal for me. Swimming is. The act of swimming, that is. Open water swimming gives me a high and a challenge no other sport has given me. It's me against myself. When I'm out there, I don't feel competition around me. I only feel the water.

And that's what sport should be.

Hopefully I'll look this happy after 9 miles but I'm not expecting to.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Never Underestimate Natural Alternatives to Working Out

At least two of us got a workout at
Glastonbury has become the gift that keeps on giving. I have learned more about life, love, community, friendship, and spirituality in the last two weeks than in the last two years. But there was another offshoot I never expected.

I learned about exercise.

Before we left for our trip, I was in the midst of heavy swim training. My options were to stop all training for eight days or figure out how to train without a pool in the middle of 200,000 people. Without looking like a complete fool.

I thought about bringing my running shoes. I even found a video of a Glastonbury 5K run that takes place every year. In retrospect, I'm glad I didn't attempt it. I can't imagine how anyone could have run in that mud.

I did, however, bring rubber resistance cords I use to simulate the arm motions of swimming in the absence of a pool. I actually told Andy I planned to do some kind of workout while we were at Glastonbury. 

Not good for running shoes unless you
want to leave them behind.
His answer? "Hahahahahahaha!"

He laughed not because he thought I wouldn't have time to workout, but because he knew I wouldn't need to.

And I now know getting around the Glastonbury Festival is a workout in and of itself. The place is huge! When I said there was a 5K run, I meant: there's a 5K run that takes place completely within the festival grounds. (And it isn't a looping course.)

The truth is that when we were at the tent, I never once had the energy or the desire to pull out my cords. That opening-day multi-mile trek from the car to the campground with heavy bags and deep mud was one of the hardest workouts I've ever done. I was sore for days. In fact, I was surprised people weren't keeling over with heart attacks from the exertion. I suspect everyone goes home in better physical shape than they arrived - well, unless they just parked themselves in front of one stage. (Although, this year, even THOSE people probably got a workout trying to stay un-stuck in the mud.)

Mud in the walkways
Mud in the fields
Mud everywhere
The rest of the days weren't as bad as the first, but they WERE exhausting just getting around in the mud and walking in heavy mud-covered boots. By the time we were in our sleeping bags (1-2 am?), no amount of loud dance music and people talking all around us was able to keep my usually-restless soul awake.

It was a daily physical workout, but I wasn't convinced it would keep me in shape for my sport of choice - swimming (or running, even). I guessed I would find out when I got home.

The first workout I did when I got home was short because I ran out of time - 2500 yards of swimming. In was surprised it didn't feel like I had taken  nine days off. The next day I did 7100 yards. Another surprise - I hadn't lost much speed. Maybe there was something TO those "workouts" we inadvertently got at the festival.

But the biggest surprise came yesterday when I went for a run. I had run only once, five miles, in the week following the festival and only once, three miles, the week before. Yesterday, I ran ten (!) miles. In less than 80 minutes! My hamstrings are only a tiny bit sore today and my quads don't even feel like I ran yesterday. I'm still wondering how this happened. Is it possible all that hard work, especially on the uphills, worked just as good as running and swimming for fitness?

I think it's safe to say it doesn't matter how you get your fitness. Just get it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Glastonbury, the Adjective

ELO on the Pyramid Stage
What happens when 200,000 people gather annually in late June on a giant patch of farmland in Somerset, England, for several days of music and a general celebration of the arts?


It's called the Glastonbury Festival.

I never thought I'd see it firsthand. Glastonbury was always that elusive thing in the future I could never get to. Like the perfect house in the perfect location that you build when you retire. Like Shangri-La. Like the pirate ship you find by following the treasure map.

Like a dream.

It existed, but it would never be part of my reality.

Every year, my friend Andy would ask me. It was THAT sort of question: "WHEN are you coming to Glastonbury?" To him, it wasn't a question. It was a necessity. A command. You love music as much as I do? You feel it deep within? It moves you in ways you cannot explain? You must go to Glastonbury. It's a calling. Why?


I knew the Glastonbury Festival was great. I knew it was huge. I knew the performances were special because I had seen them. Just not in person.

I had never WITNESSED them. I didn't "get" it.

I do now.

Glastonbury isn't hype. It's the real thing. It's 200,000 people living in a communal space to experience something intangible - but palpable. It's all around. It's about people coming together. To celebrate. To make the world a better place. It's friendship. It's peace. It's love. It's respect. For your fellow man. For the environment. Everyone knows it. They feel it. 

The musicians feel it too. That's why they play Glastonbury when they get the opportunity. The rain doesn't matter. The mud (oh my, the MUD) doesn't matter. It's a calling. They know they must play there. Why?


Miracles happen everywhere at Glastonbury. Some of them are small. Some of them are show-stopping. You hear them. You see them. Most of all, you FEEL them. And when you leave Glastonbury, you are not the same person you were when you arrived. Your heart will be bigger. Your senses will be more acute. Your friendships will be stronger. And your mind will be wider.

Let's talk about those miracles. 

The first miracle was how we managed to get tickets in the first place. Let's just say it was a miracle. One of those karmic miracles. We never planned on going to Glastonbury this year. But when I found out Turin Brakes were playing, I said the right thing to the right person (that's you, Rob) and somehow, a miracle happened - a pair of tickets - landed in my hands. I will be forever grateful. 

The only bad news was we had a mere two months to sort out logistics.

The second miracle was how little we paid to get to England. After preparing to drop a huge chunk of cash on airfare with only a two-month lead-time, we found tickets to London from Toronto on Air Canada cost about half the price of flying out of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, or Detroit. It was only a five-hour drive for a direct flight to Heathrow.

Now, let's get real - I have no idea how to navigate a festival, and thus, we needed massive help. We needed another miracle.

I took the standing offer to attend this thing with Andy and Caroline (they go every year). In retrospect, I can't imagine doing it any other way, and I will be forever in their debt for their generosity and help in packing, getting there, and getting around. Glastonbury was the greatest experience because of them. They ARE the third miracle.

Our last day - in the rain and mud, with our dear friends,
awaiting Coldplay on the main stage.
In the weeks leading up to our trip, Andy wrote daily, sending us information, links to videos of various bands, packing list advice. He and Caroline purchased food, drink, inexpensive day packs, air mattresses, and pillows for us. Andy even sent photos of the trolley he was building to carry our stuff to the camp site. I couldn't ask for better friends, and I feel happy tears welling up just writing about them.

So, let's talk camping.

It was nothing short of a miracle that we actually found a place on high ground to put our two tents. We had almost given up when we found a spot - a spot almost as far away as you could get from where we would need to be for gigs. But it was high ground - a small miracle.

We had to sleep on a slope - that's when we were taught one of the great festival lessons. Never sleep horizontal on sloped ground because you will roll into each other. Saved yet again by the wisdom of A&C - we never had to make that mistake.

Getting to Glastonbury with A&C via car also yielded some life lessons. I found out exactly what were the three most useful household items: gaffer tape (duct tape), cling film (plastic wrap), and cable ties. The fourth might be bin bags (trash bags).

Scenes from packing and camping:

Packing the car
See what I mean about useful
household items?

The view from our camp site,
watching the sun go down on Wednesday
Our temporary home for five days.

Now, let's talk about the mud...

It rains in England. A LOT. And Glastonbury 2016 was not just a music-fest, it was a mud-fest (officially dubbed "the muddiest Glastonbury ever" by The Guardian). I received my PhD in mud and mud navigation this year at Glastonbury. I now know all the different consistencies of mud. I know how to tell the depth of it. I know how to walk in it so it doesn't splatter all over me or the people around me. I know how not to get stuck in it (although this was the hardest lesson and needed the most practice). And I know that no matter how much mud you have on your wellies (rubber boots), you can always add another layer, especially if you creatively mix it with hay, wood chips, or confetti.

There was no patch of ground free of mud. At times it was more than ankle-deep, and often had a cement-like consistency. If you stop moving for an instant, your boots (and you) will stay in the mud. I got stuck while waiting for Travis to come on stage. But you know what happened? You guessed it - another miracle. People I didn't know all around me helped pull me - and my boots - out of the mud. This happened several times during the festival.

Scenes of mud around the fest:

The main entrance gate was treacherous
Pyramid Stage
The Other Stage
The Park Stage

Selfie with mud 
This was in the Croissant Neuf tent,
where I saw Travis 

On Monday they had to tow cars with giant tractors
because of the parking in mud
The mud created a living hell from the car to the gate to our camp site. I swear it took us two hours to cart our stuff about two miles. By the time we reached the top of the hill where we camped, the trolley wheels were coated with about an inch of mud all around, and the four of us were soaked in sweat from the exertion. It felt like the last mile of a marathon. It was truly a miracle we made it with all our stuff. In fact, the whole journey from the car was littered with deceased trolleys and bags - victims of the mud.

Most of the mud came from rain early in the week, but the weather forecast continued to predict a lot more rain DURING the festival than we actually got. But as luck would have it, the sun came out often and gave us many more miracles in the form of relief from the cold and wet conditions. 

I never appreciated the miracle of a blue sky more than I did at Glastonbury.

This guy was as happy as I was about the blue sky

There were so many things I learned at Glastonbury that I would never have learned. Here are some of them:

It IS possible to put 200K people in one place without violence breaking out.

It IS possible to go without a shower or bath for five days if you have wet wipes, a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and dry shampoo.

I learned new words at Glastonbury. (1) out-trolley, verb, used in a sentence, "Andy was out-trolleyed by the guy who installed mountain-bike wheels on HIS trolley." (2) Glastonbury is an adjective as well as a proper noun. In a sentence: "Brighton has a very Glastonbury vibe" - or, better, when someone offers to help his fellow man: "That's a very Glastonbury attitude."

Now, let's talk about the flags.

Flags are everywhere at Glastonbury. In fact, it seems like there's an unwritten competition going on  - the best flag competition. You can make a flag for ANY reason: country, county, football club, motto, musician (lots of Prince and Bowie flags), family, and my personal favorite of the weekend, the flag that just said "Flag."

Yes, there were GoT flags also.
And finally, let's talk about the performances, since that's the primary reason for the festival.

Every musician's performance at Glastonbury rises to a new level. Each show is no less extraordinary than the one you saw previously. Granted, it seems to reach a crescendo Sunday night (Coldplay blew everyone out of the water, so to speak), but the artists all seem to understand what you're expecting and what you've endured to get there - the traffic, the camping, the rain, and especially the mud.

Travis played the tiny Croissant Neuf Tent
for the venue's 10th anniversary
Fran Healy of Travis
Travis in Croissant Neuf Tent
Muse fireworks
Muse on Pyramid Stage
Hell Stage
KT Tunstall played an amazing set
in a tiny bar at the top of a hill.
Madness played to a monstrous crowd on the main stage 
Beck was the last gig before Coldplay
and tried to whip up an exhausted rain-soaked crowd
ELO played on the main stage Sunday afternoon
but couldn't bring the sun out even with "Mr. Blue Sky" sing-along

I'm going to use Turin Brakes as an example because of their unique and unfortunate time slot Saturday night up against the biggest acts of the weekend. Their tent stage was packed solid. They stood on stage in awe of US - their fans who gave up the opportunity to see one of the biggest acts in the world - Adele - headline the Pyramid Stage (not to mention New Order on The Other Stage). They were acutely aware of the crowd expectations and, wow, did they deliver a stunner!! There was not a single disappointed fan in the audience.

The packed Avalon Stage for Turin Brakes

And, ok, let's talk Coldplay. 

Whether you like him or not, it's undeniable that Chris Martin - who has one of the biggest hearts in showbiz - is on a crusade to save the world. Every single word he uttered and every move he made on the main stage Sunday night illustrated his dedication to giving his audience their greatest memory of the 2016 festival. And it WILL go down in history as one of the most epic.

Chris Martin went it alone on "Everglow"
when his piano was out of tune with Will, Jonny, and Guy

As for my best...

The singular most memorable moment I had at Glastonbury was not in the music or the weather or the logistical miracles. It was a tiny little statement by Andy as we were walking back to the tents one afternoon. 

He said to me, the world is looking everywhere for peace and love and people living together with tolerance and respect for one another - and it ALL happens RIGHT HERE.

 At Glastonbury.