Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Thinking Mode

I've been doing some thinking. Yeah, I know.

But this thinking started because I've been doing some feeling. 

In the words of BB King, "The thrill is gone."

I'm talking about marathon swimming, or more specifically the Chicot Challenge. 

That is a bit of an overstatement to say the thrill is gone, but in the past the thrill has been, well, more thrilling. I do this swim for several reasons. One is I like the challenge of a long endurance event, one long enough that I have to train and plan and suffer for a long time just to pull it off. I do it also for diabetes, to raise awareness of the disease and funds for the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi. I have hitched my wagon to this group because they do a great work here in Mississippi, and I've lived long enough to see how devastating this condition is. I view diabetes as a threat to America, one that needs to be fought.

Another reason is I still like to show out for my wife. After the last one she hugged me and said, "I am proud of you." That caused my heart to nearly burst. I also liked showing out for my daughter on the last Challenge. Our son, Forrest, has been part of several of my swims. He has experienced three Swim the Sucks, two Chicot Challenges, and numerous training swims in various bodies of water. This was Andrea's first. She told me later that she went to her job the next week and and told her her co-workers, "My dad is superman." That made me cry. 

My own health is part of my motivation. The Challenge makes me train hard, train for months, eat better, and think about everything I do. I am more healthy and more fit for doing this every year than I would be without it. The Challenge is part of my attempt at preventing myself from becoming diabetic. And finally, there is the adventure aspect. Getting into a large body of water and swimming for hours on end brings an inner glow that I cannot begin to describe; it is just impossible to put into words. Now, however, I have swum so many miles in that lovely lake that it feels no more exotic that climbing into my own bathtub. That last reason, the adventure aspect, has diminished in Lake Chicot. So in some ways, the thrill is gone. 

I want a new challenge. 

I need one.

By the grace of God, I hope to swim next year, and I hope to raise funds for the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi. But I may or may not do Chicot Challenge V. At the present everything is on the table. Up for thought and decision are the distance, the name, the crew, the T-shirt design, and the place. Especially the place.

I have been spending a lot of time on Google Maps, looking at water and dreaming. I've looked at Enid Lake and Sardis Lake. I intend to make a day trip to both of these and do some recognizance. I need to take either a small boat or the kayak and go look and measure some possible routes. Both of these lakes are long and somewhat narrow which bodes well for wind. Enid, however, I fear may not really be big enough to get the king of distance I want without doing laps. Sardis, I think may be a very nice venue.

The water that has most been on my computer screen and in my mind, however, is the Tennessee-Tombigbe Waterway. There is room enough to swim for years there and never swim the same place twice. Having learned all I could from the internet, I decided it was time for a day trip, so Penny and I loaded up and drove over last week. I saw the water with my eyes, found a landing, stopped at an information center and picked up maps and brochures.

The advantages of the Tenn-Tom are many. It is a long, narrow channel, averaging a hundred yards in width and sometimes more. This of course is good for the wind issue. Also good for the wind issue is the fact that the water level lies lower than the surrounding land than does the water level at Lake Chicot. The channel runs north and south which is also good for the wind aspect. Additionally, there are dozens of landings. Although we only looked a two, one of the brochures I picked up lists all the major spots: landings, campgrounds, dams, locks, etc. Not only is there a listing but mileage numbers are listed for each location. That answered one of my major questions: was there enough distance between dams to do a twenty plus mile swim? The answer is heck yeah. From that brochure alone I can calculate swim after swim after swim. And they are all in new water. Just thinking about swimming there puts the butterflies in my stomach. The thrill is back.

On the negative side, going to the Tenn-Tom would be a logistical nightmare. Getting people and a pontoon and kayaks there, in and out of the water in a timely fashion would be a huge undertaking. It's doable and the challenge of that is a two-edged sword. It is one of the disadvantages as well as one of its advantages. Advantage you say? Yes. Pulling it off is part of the appeal.

Staying at Chicot still has some appeal. We know how to do a swim there. Several of the crew members live in the area. I sleep the night before less than fifty yards from where I wade into the lake and start swimming. We rent a pontoon boat at the start. The lake is not heavily trafficked, is clean, is pretty, is long leaving room for even farther swims. One of the strongest reasons for staying there is I have spent several years building that name, the Chicot Challenge. Not long ago I was in a place of business in Greenwood when two employees asked me, "When is the next Chicot Challenge?" They know the name and expect another swim.

Recently, I responded to an old Greenwood friend who commented on Facebook that if I ever wanted to do a swim in the Reservoir (Ross Barnett), he has a pontoon boat for support. Cha-ching! In the past, I once I took a day trip there and did some scouting and then put to bed the idea of a swimming the Rez. But I called Larry and we chatted some, and he suggested I come down one day and we ride around and measure some things. That is exactly what I need to do. There are several advantages to holding the swim in the Reservior. We will have the support of a pontoon and a pilot who knows the water well. Also we would be close to the DFM members like Bethany Theilman and her son Evan who have driven from the Jackson area to be at the finish of the last two Challenges. That would simplify her day, assuming she would want to be there at the conclusion of the next one. Furthermore, Larry assures me he can secure an interview with WLBT TV which should be a boost to fundraising. And maybe, the Clarion Ledger would do a piece since the swim would be in their area. 

So I have a lot to think about. For the past four years, and this one makes five, I have concluded my open water season with Swim the Suck in the Tennessee River near Chattanooga. That is some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen and the Suck, as it is called, has become a destination swim for open water enthusiasts from around the world. Really. I am registered for this year and I will compete once again. But I have toyed with the idea of not doing that one anymore. One reason for that thought is the expense. There is a large entrance fee, a long drive, and a motel bill to go along with it not to mention the meals. Financially, it hits hard. In the past, it has been a father/son outing, a competition with Randy Beets, and a super open water experience where I have met legends in the sport. But beating Randy Beets has also lost some of its thrill, Forrest now is involved in so many things that he is not as excited about the Suck as he once was, and my wife has never been able to make the trip. I feel a little guilty for such a pleasant trip in her absence. 

Besides the expense, however, if I dropped the Suck, I could do a second fundraising swim each year, maybe a swim in the Rez. I could keep Chicot in the early summer and go to the Rez in the fall, after Labor Day when football and hunting seasons start, the water cools, and the traffic on Ross Barnett begins to thin a little. Then maybe Forrest and I could go and do some swims in the Tenn-Tom just for fun. We can haul the kayak over there and do out and backs. Or Penny could drop us at one landing, spend her day shopping in Columbus, and pick us up at the next landing. 

There is a lot to think about but the later option is where my heart and mind are presently. Bethany, I would appreciate some input from you and Irena. If I swim in the Rez, I need a name for the event. Also, any other ideas y'all have about where and when and how, I will be glad to entertain. Right now I am in the thinking mode.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Luvie's Longer Report

I finally started training for the Heart O' Dixie Triathlon. Luvie is so happy. He has been following me around like a dog. The past few years, after the Challenge, I just wanted to run and swim. Then I berated myself when fat lady after fat lady passed me at the HOD. They passed me on the bike and run. Not this time.

Actually, I have been on the trainer a couple of weeks and the week before last I got out on the road once. But last week I was on the road twice doing a brick both times. The week looked like this:

M - bike 24.59
      run 2.06 (brick)
      walk  .34
      swim  3,100 meters

T - run 4.03
     walk .18
     swim 2,300 meters

W - bike 26.32
      run 2.4 (brick)
      walk .55

Th - run 3.02
       walk .27
       weights upper body
       swim 3,000 meters

F - run 4.25
     walk .19

S - run 6.36
     walk .52
     weights upper body
     walk in yard 1.75

Su - walk with Jeff .52

  run 22.07
  walk 4.7
  weights two times
  bike 50.91 miles
  swim 8,400 meters

Now I am letting breakfast settle before I go out for another, longer brick. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Go Suffix, Young Man

OK, I'm already done with the trans words. They bore me now. I have a new obsession. I'm dropping prefixes and moving to suffixes. Or one suffix. The suffix de jour is -ist. I decided I like it better than -er. The latter is an occupational ending I have often used for myself and others. However, that was before I discovered a more excellent way.

Before I launch into the superiority of -ist over -er, let's review a few er words we commonly use. Some of these are

and others (see what I did there).

There is nothing wrong with any of these. In fact, I have worn several of these hats myself. I have been a lawn mower, well not the machine but the boy who pushes the machine. I was a preacher for a couple of decades and now make my humble living as a teacher. But in my vast reflection, I decided that -ist is a more refined and elevated set of terms to describe some of my personal activities and maybe yours too. Instead of a calling myself a variety of  -ers, I now prefer to be known as some its. An -ist is defined as 

 a person who practices or is concerned with something, or holds certain principles, doctrines, etc. (definition stolen from someplace).

Now, would you rather be a writer or a novelist? Would you rather be known as a runner or a runnist? a shooter or a shootist? a swimmer or a swimmist? One set of terms is much better than the other, superior even. Not convinced? At your daughter's wedding do you want a piano player or a pianist? Do you want your prescription filled by a drugger or a pharmacist? Do you want those drugs made by a chemicler or a chemist?

I think you see I am right. The question I have is why has this not taken hold in our society that is obsessed with getting the precise correct word for groups and things and ideas? Old terms pass away and new ones take their place. I don't know why this hasn't happened with athletics. I suppose one possible answer is like ice-cream as an endurance food; it's just too obvious for people to notice, so I decided to record it here so when the fad hits I can say I already figured that out. 

By calling myself a runnist instead of a runner, I remove the need to perform well. I run and the pace of my running is inconsequential because I am a person who is concerned with the whole idea of running (see the definition above). I practice running at slow speeds, and I am concerned about running doctrines such as tempo runs, stamina, fartlek, interval training, depletion runs, and all sorts of alchemy the young and talented but uninitiated know little or nothing of. I remain in the sport and improve as an expert on running even while my ability to battle large ladies in local 5Ks decreases.

There are sad exceptions. Have you ever noticed if you ride a bicycle not one calls you a cycler but a cyclist. Why do pedallers (see what I did there) get that kind of respect when the whole professional lot of them has been a cesspool of PEDs? We call people who commit sexual assault rapists not rapers. These need to change one way while runner and swimmer change the other way. Failing to do this is discriminatory against the rest of us noble but struggling athletes.

As a swimmist, like the runnist, I remove the need for speed as I not only practice swimming, but ponder 85% pace, flip turns, breathing patterns, turnover rates, critical swim speed sessions, energy systems, paddle workouts, kick sets, and more and more and much much more. Dude, I am an expert on these doctrines, a coach in waiting ready to be discovered and rock the world, a muse able and willing to invest my vast knowledge and wisdom into the life of some future Chicot Challenger. I really hope it works out that way, that when I am no longer able to do it myself as a swimmer, I can, as a swimmist, guide someone else who still has some prime who is still just a swimmer.

Anyway, away with old, dull, and limiting terms. Stop selling yourself short. Start a revolution of terminology on Facebook, in private conversations, in the checkout line at the grocery store. Proudly proclaim yourself an -ist. Become a snob and be somebody.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

New Trends in Trans

I have become infatuated with trans- words. They have long been a part of my vocabulary, but now they are all the rage in my thoughts and for the first time in my writing. Yes, in case you are wondering, this is in part inspired by current events that have highlighted the ubiquitous nature of trans- words and trans- concepts. For instance, trans fats are about to become illegal in food here in the good ole USA. This is a good thing, I think. And then there are all those other trans- words screaming in your mind right now because we have heard then ad nauseum. Well, don't get nervous, I'm not about to barf or go political here because I never do. Barf. What I am going to do is discuss the trans- phenomena and introduce some new words that I coined all by myself.

First, however, let me take you all the way back to my youth to when I first became interested in trans- words. I was eleven, or was it twelve? and I had a job mowing lawns in the neighborhood. I was prosperous enough to walk to Gibson's, a mere half mile away, and slap down twenty bucks for a little black box that produced sound if I put in batteries and twisted on a couple of knobs. Only yesterday I looked up the trans- word. This is what I found.

transistor is a semiconductor device used to amplify and switch electronic signals and electrical power. It is composed of semiconductormaterial with at least three terminals for connection to an external circuit. A voltage or current applied to one pair of the transistor's terminals changes the current through another pair of terminals. Because the controlled (output) power can be higher than the controlling (input) power, a transistor can amplify a signal. (Wikipedia)

Get that? Me neither. But what I did get that day at Gibson's was a transistor radio. It played music. Or it transmitted music (see what I did there?) that someone else far away played. Oh, the joys of trans was just beginning.

In those days we had what was called transport trucks that roared up and down the highways and filled young boys with the dreams of adventure on the road. They were a lot like the eighteen-wheelers we have today, but I have lived long enough in a society that is transmogrifying (see what I did there?) to know that periodically terms for the same thing, group, or object change, and if you keep using the old term, you become an -ist and the price you pay for being an -ist is steep and terrifying. Besides all that, men who drive transport trucks-- I mean eighteen-wheelers-- usually have tattoos and big arms. I don't want to offend a man who has tattoos, big arms, and coffee stains on his T-shirt. That is a sure fire way to become a whooped -ist.

A few years back, I went to seminary and read about transubstantiation, and learned how to translate Greek and Hebrew into English. Before that I went to college and read the transcendentalists, and transcended ages and epochs through literature. I was too old to play with the transformers that my grandson had, toys that are too cool for mere children. One day, however, I was alone in my daughter's house and I found one, a transformer. I was born in the wrong age.

And then there are the current trans- words. Bruce Jenner is transgender. Both the people who are for or against this go crazy and make all sorts of stupid statements meant to shock and shame the rest of us into conformity of nonthink. For instance, "God doesn't make mistakes," is one I have heard over and over. Well, God made man and man made mistakes and one of those mistakes was original sin. With original sin came a change in ALL of nature. Mistakes happen in nature because of sin. So, what do I think of Bruce Jenner? I don't. The way I see it, that is his or her business and it is between him or her and God and I have no desire to waste my precious brain power, or the lack thereof, on this whatever it is.

Then of course there is Rachel Dolezal and the new-to-me concept of transracial. I will only say that somewhere along live's long road I came to the stunning and liberating realization that I don't have to have an opinion about everything. Some things are simply a waste of thought, which brings me to the concept of transcerebral. This is one I coined, as far as I know, and it means we live in an age where reason and logic are essentially misunderstood relics. People emote and confuse their emotions for thought and their emote-thought has to be correct because it is theirs and if you don't agree you are stupid, evil, and belong to the wrong political party.

There is one more new trans- concept that I recently discovered in this transcerebral world. This is the joyful reality that some of us are living through transageism, the phenomena of not ageing the way the rest of the population does. I think it started a few years back with George Foreman re-winning the heavyweight boxing championship at grandfather age, but just like the last trans- word, I coined the term in part because I myself and transageing right before your very eyes. Yes, there is proof. Take my Chicot Challenges:

    Chicot I (56 years old) swam 13.94 miles

    Chicot II (57 years old) swam 16.0 miles

    Chicot III (58 years old) swam 17.7 miles

    Chicot IV (59 year old) swam 19.0 miles


I am not ageing like the general population. And this exciting new biological experience is not just physical but mental as well. My wife constantly tells me I need to grow up. But I don't want to grow up. My granddaughter says I'm silly. That's because I'm transageing. My dad used to say when people get old they relive their childhood. I am reliving mine now, and I am having more fun than ever. If you are not transageing, give it a try. Go outside and play and go inside and dream. Both of these, playing and dreaming, are catalysts for transageing which has to be good for you despite the lack of scientific studies.

Besides transageing, I think I will become a transageist, a person who champions the benefits of growing old and young at the same time. If you stop and think about it, that's what this blog always was, but I just didn't realize that until now. Better late than never.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

12:17; 12/17

While I was swimming the Chicot Challenge, unbeknownst to me a crises was brewing on West Harding Street in Greenwood, Mississippi. My aged mother, who has had more health struggles than Job himself, fell, landing on her face, and producing wounds of an unspeakable number and severity. My sister called the ambulance which transported her to the Greenwood Leflore Hospital where they tapped out, so to speak, and pronounced her beyond their capabilities. She had a broken nose, a split nose, multiple bruises, and damage to her upper lips that the attending doctor declared beyond his ability and the ability of any physician in town to repair. She needed a plastic surgeon. So it was off to Jackson, to a burn center that had several competent plastic surgeons on staff.

She suffered a devastating fall, an ambulance ride to the local hospital, a long ride to Jackson, heavy medications, surgery, and the slow post-surgery recovery that always comes with being put under anesthesia. So what was her main concern after waking up? Was it: 

a) Will I survive? 
b) How long will it take to recover? 
c) Will I have permanent scarring? 
d) When can I go home? or 
e) How is Zane? 

If you chose e) How is Zane? then you probably had a mom like mine.

It is no exaggeration to say that the worse she is the more she seems to worry about me. When she was hospitalized almost constantly in the winter and spring of 2012, her chief concern was, "Did you get something to eat?" I was asked this over and over both to my amusement and annoyance.

"Mom, I have a debit card. I know how to get to the cafeteria."

I think I already wrote in this blog somewhere about the time I was staying with her when she shuffled in on her walker and brought me a bell. 

"What?" I asked.

"If you need something, ring the bell."

I guess I will always be her little fair-haired boy and I don't mind, in fact it's quite touching, but it makes me a very poor care-giver. Whenever I am with her, she wants to know if I have eaten, have I had a nap, do I want to watch something on TV? do I want to take all the newspapers home? did I notice the Diet Cokes in the refrigerator? etc. 

Recently I became Facebook friends with an elderly woman I knew while I was growing up. She had a daughter my age, and two sons, one older and one younger than me. We went to the same church so she remembers the little fair-haired boy my mom sees every time I try to take care of her. Over the past few months, anytime I posted something about training or the swim on the Chicot Challenge IV Event Page, she always responded, "Now Zane, you be careful."

I was always amused.

And touched.

Thank you, Mrs. Browning. I will be careful.

Anyway, to make a short story long, that Saturday when I was swimming for twelve hours, my mom asked my sister over and over, "Have you heard from Zane? Did he finish the swim?"

Finally, Carol was able to give her an answer, "It's over. He swam it in twelve hours and seventeen minutes."

"Twelve seventeen," Mom repeated. She was quiet a second. "That's your dad's birthday."

Monday, June 22, 2015

Luvie's Longer Short Report

With the help of Buddy Bones and Luvie, I had a pretty good training cycle over the past seven days. After missing a solid week of swimming, I got back in the water twice for only a total of only 3,934 meters. But I don't feel bad about that. I swam Chicot for nine miles with a paining shoulder. Job number one right now is to get the shoulder well. I had no issues while doing those two short swims, and I also did upper body weight lifting two times with no adverse reactions. However, I went very light and will slowly work my way back up. I have also been doing some rotator cuff work, internal and external rotations. I think I am OK, or will be OK, but I don't want to go through anything like this again. I have been down on the Yazoo River Trail a couple of times but I stayed out of the woods and on the pavement. 

The week looked like this:

M - run 4.63, walk .37
      lift weights, upper body

T - Run 7.4, walk .6
     weights, lower body

W - bike trainer 24:00
      run 4.21, walk .55
      swam at pong 1.14 miles (1.834 meters)

Th - bike trainer 30:00
       run 3.26, walk .27
       pool 2,100 meters

F - run 11.52 miles, walk .17

Sat - bike 21.06 miles
        walk 2.03 miles
        weights, upper body

Su - walked 1.08 miles


ran - 31.02
swam - 3,934
lifted weights - three times
rode bike trainer - 54:00
biked - 21.06 miles
walked - 5.07

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Vlog

Just a quick note on EndangeredSwimmer the Vlog. If you like this blog, you should also like the YouTube Channel that goes by the same name. You could make me very happy by subscribing to the channel because the more subscribers I have, the more my videos have the potential of being seen (YouTube will start adding them to certain playlists). Or so I am told by someone who purports to know about these things. I certainly don't. Also, I am thinking that it might help me with some potential sponsors for next year's Challenge. If I can show that my blog posts and videos are read and viewed often, maybe some people, whose products I already use, will give me a little help. It's worth an effort. One of these sponsors is a Mississippi company whose product was the major part of my nutrition for the nineteen mile swim. I was so satiated that I didn't even eat supper that night after the swim. No joke.

As of this writing, I have posted 92 videos under ten Playlists. These lists with the number of videos are as follows:

  • Buddy Bones (8)
  • Why I Hate Randy Beets (6)
  • Catfish Pond Training (7)
  • Cats (22)
  • Jeff (14)
  • Dad (5)
  • Chicot Challenge II (11)
  • Chicot Challenge III (10)
  • Chicot Challenge IV (2 and I am adding 1 per week)
  • Seldom Seen (2)
Count on me to post a new video no less than once per week and likely more often than that. I have actually averaged one per day since starting the channel. 

Guess what? It's Friday and it feels like this is the first one in forever that I have had to myself. I always interpreted being off on Friday as a gift from God, so when someone messed with it I counted it as not only an irritant but as a sin. When we had to work four Fridays during the Spring semester, I felt like the gift from God was being stolen from me, and I was not a happy camper. Finally, it is just me and the day. Well, me and Buddy Bones and the day. Well, right now it is me and Jeff and Luvie and the day. But a little later me n Buddy Bones are headed to Carroll County for a long run in the hills. Wuhoo!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What's Not to Like?

I have sat on this secret for a long time but conscience will allow that no longer. Individuals have been allowed to peek behind the curtain and people who have worked my swims are aware of my endurance secret. I have discovered THE endurance food. Really, I have.

I'm amazed when I read long Facebook threads on Did You Swim Today? or on Evan Morrison's Marathon Swimmers' Forum, about long swim nutrition. Product after product is mentioned but mine never makes the list. How can it be that I'm the only one who knows the perfect swim food? But it's true and I decided to go ahead document my practice and let the world know because I figure one day this is going to hit the news and no one will believe me then when I say I've done it for years.

Are you ready? Drum roll-- the ultimate endurance food is ice-cream. Allow the good stuff to melt and pour it into a squeeze bottle. That's all you need. What's not to like? 

Over the years I have gradually gone more and more to drinking this good-tasting liquid during my extreme endurance events. I first did it while on one of my adventure runs, years ago, when I took refuge from the heat inside a small country store. I bought the usual Gatorade but as I was leaving the business, I noticed the ice-cream freezer by the front door and those ice-cream sandwiches threw a craving on me. I purchased two, not one, consumed them with glee, and then proceeded to reap the benefits for miles to come. They went down easy, tasted great, and gave me noticeable energy. What's not to like?

There are limitations with stuff, however, but not from a nutritional standpoint. Ice-cream has everything your body needs to be like the Energizer Bunny and just keep going. It is dense with calories containing copious amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and fat; it has moisture enough to keep me peeing after eleven plus hours of swimming; it has all the electrolytes your body needs and lots of them; and best of all it tastes good, really good. In the past, I have done marathon swims on Gatorade and gels. Flavor fatigue always became an issue and feeds became a chore. Not so with ice-cream; it always goes down easy and makes feeding fun. In the recently completed Chicot Challenge, I swam from feeding to feeding. "I get ice-cream in thirty minutes. I get ice-cream in thirty minutes," was the soundtrack of my mind. What's not to like?

For the life of me, I can't figure out why this is not standard practice in running as well as swimming. I predict one day it will be and when it is you can say you heard it first here on EndangeredSwimmer.

Monday, June 15, 2015


I went a whole week without swimming and I don't even feel too ad about that. Last week, mostly I ran, lifted weights one time, and did some walking. And dreaming. I did some dreaming. My dreams, daydreams, have been centering around adventure runs as well as possible new locations for marathon swims. Penny and I have chatted about riding over the Columbus and exploring the Tenn-Tom. I have never been in that waterway but almost every time I open up Google Maps, I wind up there. I need to learn where the boat ramps are, and how far it is between the dams, and how much current is in the channel. From my online snooping, there seems to be a fair amount of moving water for at least a couple of miles below the dam that is just north of Columbus, Mississippi. My guess is by the time you get down stream a few miles the current disappears. Any current, however, would be better than none and help out in making some fast miles. 

I suppose what I'm really looking for is adventure. Even if I don't move the Challenge to Columbus, I would love to take a long splash in a new body of water. That just seems exciting. I reckon it seems exciting because it is exciting, which is one reason my day dreams are often a furious search for new roads to run or ride a bicycle on or new lakes to swim in. Last winter, Buddy Bones and I ran several levees I had not shuffled before. That was a bushel basket full of fun. There are a couple of more levees, the end of one road or two, and some adventure runs ending in other towns that can keep me stimulated for about one more year. But before another winter passes, they will all be done and like Alexander the Great, I will sit and weep over no new kingdoms to conquer.

There is lots of water around here, but one of the problems is finding water that's not terrifying, not authentically dangerous. Here in the delta, we have lots of logs, stumps, fish hooks, sunken refrigerators, submerged cars, and alligators, not to mention heavy metals, high levels of bacteria, and pesticides. So there are lots of lakes and bayous that not even martin Strel would swim. 

Sometimes I scoot out of the state when I am on Google Maps and go to places like Arkansas and Oklahoma. I have done some swimming in Arkansas, although it has been a few years. Well, sort of. Chicot is in Arkansas, but just right across the river from Mississippi. But Penny and I used to vacation regularly at Hot Springs and stay in a little condo on Lake Wilson. One could swim for weeks and weeks in Wilson and never touch the same molecule of water. I want to go back. I have also swum DeGray Lake, and although I have not been in Lake Ouachita, I have driven by it and it is a huge thing that could provide a ton of adventure. 

Closer to home, besides Columbus, I have had my eyes on Sardis, one of the flood control lakes built by the Corps of Engineers. I've done some serious swimming in Grenada Lake. It is the closest to Greenwood and Forrest and I went there a couple of years ago and I swam across one of the large branches. But Grenada gets pretty rough sometimes because it is wide and subject to the ravages of wind. Sardis, however, is long and narrow and may be long enough for a Chicot-like effort. And then there is Enid. 

What to do? Time off, a kayak, a GPS watch and a day trip is all it takes to answer some questions and see if these lakes are worthy of a day of endurance. After three more days, my summer class with end and the time will exists.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Small Lessons are a Big Deal

Well, the Chicot is done and so am I. I've had a leisurely week, at least as leisurely as I could make it. I didn't swim at all. Really, not one stroke. Actually I am a bit behind on posting so I think what I will do now is give a brief rundown of taper week. 

If you read this blog, you know my emotions were like a yo-yo the two weeks before the swim. They always are, but I had some real reasons to be concerned. The fall and shoulder injury a little over three weeks out sent me into a near panic. I did have some shoulder pain during the swim which is one reason I have not been in a hurry to get back into the water. Besides that, I've been working the run and having fun doing so. I'm attempting to lay a good base for some exciting adventure runs with Buddy Bones this fall and winter.

To give you an idea of how I do a radical taper before a marathon swim, let me start with the 2014 event week. I was running very little in '14, so what you see below is just about everything I did that week.

M - 2,200
T - 1,800
W - 1,600
Th - 1,400
F - 0
S - Chicot Challenge III, 17.7 miles.

Going into event week this year, I was insecure in part because the week before had only been 12,000 meters. In 2014, I totaled 26,100 the week before. Big difference.

Below is what I did this time.

M - 3,100
T - 2,000
W - 1,818 (open water)
Th - 1,500
F - 0
S - Chicot Challenge IV, 19.04 miles.

I also ran 20.36 miles for the week which did not affect my swimming muscle freshness, but did seem to contribute to an overall fatigue that I carried into the swim. Besides being tired, I did not sleep well the night before. Still I performed well and emerged from the water feeling like a million bucks. But within an hour I crashed like a burning airplane and experienced the deepest fatigue of my life. That wasn't really a bad thing because I enjoyed some powerful good sleeping over the next few nights. 

What is the lesson or lessons? I'm not sure, but I am always on the prowl to learn something. One lesson, I suppose, is to relax, more than one way can work. I tried to follow last year's training jot for jot and tittle for tittle, but things beyond my control prevented that. When the training varied, I felt compelled to adjust the taper. The two weeks above are not identical but they are the same model, however. They both drastically reduce swimming volume, and they both cut back some each day as the big event draws near. Maybe the biggest and best lesson is the one my pastor preached Sunday before: All things work together for good to those who love God who are called according to His purpose. This ties back in to the fist lesson: relax.

These might seem like small lessons, but I think they are a big deal.

To all who gave, prayed, encouraged, helped, cheered, and/or showed up at the finish, let me say one more time, thank you very much. Only God in heaven could ever reveal to you how much you blessed me.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Real Hero

The topic of heroes has been in the news a lot lately, but I care not to enter the contemporary debate. I do want to mention that when I was a boy, we had heroes and we lauded them. Batman, Superman, and cowboys wearing white hats were just of few of the people young boys looked up to. Slowly these gave way to professional wrestlers and moves stars who couldn't control their alcohol and drug abuse. Let me tell you about a real hero and if disagree, I'll meet you outside.

Last night, I was watching television in our daughter's old bedroom while my wife did the same on the couch in the living room. Without looking her way, I became aware that she was on the telephone with our Baby Girl. I knew that because several times I overheard her attempt to say something but fail to get her word in edgewise. A sure sign, I've seen it before.

I got up to get a glass of cold green tea and walking through the living room allowed me to hear my daughter's voice coming out of my wife's cell phone. She was loud and sounded highly emotional. That and the look on my wife's face told me that something had happened, something was amiss, something was wrong.

After getting my tea, I resumed watching TV knowing full well I would get a blow-by-blow of whatever the conflict had been as soon as my wife got off the phone. It wasn't long before Penny walked in and told me the story.

That very day Zane, our eight year old grandson, came inside and told his mother, our daughter, Andrea, that Aiden, a neighborhood kid, was in their pool and had a couple of other boys with him. Their pool is an above ground one, but the largest above ground pool made. It has a concrete bottom, is forty-one feet long, and one end that is eight feet deep. This is a real pool and not something for uninvited and unsupervised children to be in. 

Andrea shot out the back door, scolded Aiden from the pool, and then began to look for the other boys. At first she didn't see them, but then there they were drowning on the bottom of the deep end! She immediately jumped in and attempted a rescue but got in trouble herself and was in danger of drowning. 

Then a hero appeared.

The hero jumped in, dove to the bottom, and pulled one of the hapless youths to the surface where Andrea could hold him above water at the edge of the pool. The hero went again to the bottom and rescued the other victim who had no chance without help. 

By this time, Paul, our son-in-law, was outside, dragged the boys out of the pool and began CPR while the ambulance made its way to the scene. Thank God both both boys survived. And thank the selfless hero whose life-saving action that day will most likely never be seen on TV or written in magazines as "brave." I know what you're thinking. No, it wasn't our grandson who saved two lives yesterday; it was our ten-year old granddaughter, Caitlin, the best person, the sweetest, the most loving person I ever knew. If you want to know what a real hero is and what she looks like, I have lots of pictures.
My hero and I enjoying chips at No Way Jose.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Life in a Day (Chicot Challenge IV)

I wish I could remember who wrote it, but not too long ago I read in a Facebook post where someone called extreme endurance events, "Life in a day." Why didn't I think of that.

The parallels are stunning and many and maybe that is one reason I am drawn to outrageous events like adventure running and marathon swimming. One of the parallels has to do with how these things have their beginning. Like life, they often have their genesis with someone else. My life started with Roger Hodge marrying his high school sweetheart and moving her and their life to Greenwood, Mississippi. Daddy carried me in his arms and walked me home from the Greenwood Leflore Hospital a little over fifty-nine years ago. In some ways I feel as if I have been in his arms ever since until he suddenly left us in November 2013. When he died, I was shocked to discover how insecure I felt to face life without him.

The Chicot Challenge, which has now had four editions, began with a series of innocuous text messages between me and arch rival Randy Beets.

"I just made this amazing thirteen-mile kayak trip on Lake Chicot," Randy wrote to me in early 2012.

"That sounds like it would make a good open water swim," I responded.

"I'll crew you if you want to do it," he shot back instantly.

And thus the Chicot Challenge, my baby, was born in the mind and experience of someone other than myself.

On Saturday, June 6, 2015, at approximately 6:30 am, Chicot Challenge IV began when I started swimming in Ditch Bayou, stroked out to the main lake, and turned right, back towards Greenville, Mississippi. Like life, I was filled with youthful exuberance and energy. Also like life, I possessed a bit of a boy's naivete. Despite weeks of worries and struggles and doubts, those had all vanished like fog fleeing before a rising hot sun when I pushed off the boat ramp and started my journey. The cool water, was inviting, embracing, encouraging. I had the feeling I could swim forever. 

Three kayakers accompanied my early efforts. Randy Beets, who can be blamed or blessed for all of this trouble, Robin Bond my mercurial mermaid who cares for me like a little baby while I'm in the water, and Trevor McClain a member of Centerville Baptist Church who was making his first appearance at the Challenge. I wondered if he knew what he was getting into. How could he?

The pontoon, captained by the irrepressible Justin Nunnery and carrying my wife and daughter, Andrea, and a new convert, Ben Ray, finally got its stuff together and caught us not too far into the journey. As planned, we went a mile and a half towards the lower end of the lake, away from our ultimate destination before we crossed over to the other bank and headed up lake. On that far side of the oxbow, the water was easily two degrees cooler, and I found myself thanking God and hoping the whole lake would be that temperature for the rest of the day. Not to be, though, but I have no reason to complain about conditions. They could not have been better. Like life, this Challenge has repeatedly taught me the value of prayer. For this edition, I had asked person after person to pray for the weather that day. God answered those prayers in a favorable way. There was no threat of rain with its accompanying lightning, no wind to speak of, and we even had a cloud over later in the afternoon that stopped the heating of the water. Thank you God.

When we made it back even with Ditch Bayou, we once more crossed over the half mile wide channel to the town side of the lake and began our long, slow trek towards familiar sights, the Visitor's Center and downtown Lake Village with it's boat ramp, swimming area, amphitheater, quaint buildings, and neat churches and homes. While swimming, just like in life, I sometimes found myself thinking I was missing out on much. The kayakers get to see it all, I thought. Lucky them. I'm stuck looking into the water and seeing no fish, nothing but a green darkness.

When we drew near the Visitor's Center, I was reminded of a verse in the Book of Hebrews: "Seeing that we are compassed by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside the sin that doth so easily beset us and let us run [swim] with patience the race that is set before us." The deck far above the water was packed with people. I wondered if anyone up there knew me or knew what we were doing down below. Whatever the answer, I definitely felt watched for a while and having eyes on me always makes me perform a little better. 

We made Lake Village somewhere around 12:30, I think. I suppose I should have someone on the pontoon taking notes because just like in the rest of life, if you don't write it down, you forget a lot. The numbers get lost in my brain despite the fact that I try my best to remember them for the sake of writing up a report later. Robin dutifully fed me every thirty minutes and reported the time and distance at each feeding. "Three and a half hours, and 6.1 miles," was a typical report. That one I made up because I don't remember how far we were at three and a half hours. I wish I had that skeleton of numbers to hang this commentary on. 

I had made this portion of the swim, from Lake Village to the causeway, before. Several times in fact. I knew from experience not to look too far ahead, not to gaze at the causeway but to only sight off the kayaks and the shore to my left. Looking at the causeway several miles ahead is like being Sisyphus. I made that mistake once and it almost broke me mentally. Like life, which we have to live one day at a time, a marathon swim works best by being motivated by the future but lived in the present. Small goals. Short goals. Don't look too far ahead. Just try to make it to the next dock, the next house, the next tree. Swim down a mile. Then swim down another one. 

Along the way, Robin and I had chatted about the distance. We don't pre-measure these course but decide on a route and guestimate how far it will be. When we announce a distance, we go to the Challenge with the determination to swim at least that far. I was certain we would be close to nineteen miles with the dog leg towards Greenville. When we got to Lake Village, we knew within a tenth of a mile or so how far it was to the landing at the State Park. We were going to be a little short, close but about a half mile short.

We had mentioned going up into Connerly Bayou, a long narrow serpentine body of water that connects to Lake Chicot just south of the causeway, a levee/bridge that dissects the upper third of Chicot from its southern section. We swam up it for a mile and a half last year. It is beautiful up in there, but I was nervous the whole time and really didn't want to go back into the primeval waterway, as I had perceived it. Like life, I had faced that fear once but I was not eager for a rematch. Sometimes you have to leave well enough alone and not put yourself in unnecessary danger.

I forgot to mention that Ben, a new swimmer and buddy of Justin was on the boat and swam some early on before we made it to Lake Village. I didn't however, know that he was in the water for much of the time because he swam behind me, fearful, I learned later, that in his inexperience he would crash into me in the water. Long before we got to Lake Village, however, I spotted a yellow swim cap to my right. Someone else had gotten in. Who? I did a double take and saw it was Randy. The big guy swam with me for two and a half hours. Two and a half hours! We were side by side all that time and it was some of the most enjoyable swimming of my entire life. Like life, marathon swimming goes better when you have someone at your side. It doesn't seem as difficult that way. If he can do it, I can do it is a natural byproduct of that experience.

When we finally drew near the causeway and the opening to Connerly Bayou, Robin said, "Look Zane," and pointed shore ward. Being a bit nearsighted, I could only see a couple of people standing on the bank and holding some sort of sign or banner.

"Who is that?" I asked.

"I don't know."

Robin and I, along with the pontoon, veered straight for shore to get a better look. Drawing near I could see it was Bethany Theilman, of the DFM, and her son, Evan, holding a sign that read, "Go Zane" with a drawing of the lake and the DFM logo on it. I cried in my goggles. Just like life, sometimes people don't know how much they touch you.

We drew even more near the causeway which always makes me a little apprehensive. Swimming under bridges is one of my irrational fears. I don't have a clue why, but it just scares the doo doo out of me. I had, however, been under this one several times so the fear of this particular one was beginning to wear off. Still it seems like a dangerous place because of the volume of boat traffic that passes under the bridge. There is no room for a swimmer and a boat at the same time. Just before going under, I looked up ahead and then I looked behind me. To my rear was Robin in a kayak and the big pontoon boat. Just like life, having someone bigger than you backing you up often gives you the courage to go on.

When we made it under the bridge and into the upper part of the lake, I tried to shoot right and head for that shore. My thinking was if we went all the way right, we could then cross back to the left for an additional half mile, which was about how far I figured we would need to fill up nineteen miles. Robin would have none of it, however, and took the left track and hollered at me to come her way. I relented not wanting to be outside of her protection, so I followed her towards the left shoreline. 

From the causeway on, the swim began to mirror the long difficult times that life often throws our way. Gone was the early exuberance and energy. In its place was the growing discomfort of a long, long effort and the knowledge that there was still a long, long way to go. We were a little over fourteen miles now, but with five miles left and a slowing pace, my mind was saying, "Stop, it's too much."

Somewhere around here Robin got out of the kayak and into the water with me. Justin took her place in the small boat. It was neat swimming with her, and like Randy earlier, her presence gave me a temporary boost, relieved the monotony, and added to the belief that I could do it. In life people often do that for us and we for them. Sometimes just being there in time of need is enough to touch a life that needs a touch. 

Despite Robin's swim, this section of the swim became a grind after she got out and I was alone in the water again. My left shoulder had begun to hurt around mile ten, and the miles were coming ever more slowly. My Garmin watch, which I had under my swim cap, was set to buzz and vibrate at every mile. It seemed now that every mile was forever in coming.

Still, we drew inexorably closer and closer to our destination, the State Park boat landing. But the weariness now was more than physical, it was mental as well. Like for so many people in their advanced age, I was ready to be done, ready for the end. I wanted the final destination. At the end, I was expecting to see Bethany Theilman, her son, maybe Irena McClean, and several people from Centerville Baptist Church, Sheila and Bridgett Mitchel, Gerald and Debbie Johnson, along with Kelsey McClean. I couldn't give in. To stop early would be to cancel the celebration of the journey's goal. I couldn't let them down, myself down. I had to make it. 

Slowly the watched buzzed for mile fifteen. At this point, I was going from goal to goal. My second longest lifetime swim was sixteen miles. So I swam for sixteen. When I got the sixteenth buzz, I set my sights on 17.7 because that was my longest swim ever. Finally the watch buzzed for mile seventeen. I knew it would have to buzz for eighteen before I knew I had broken my record. I must have been going awfully slow because I thought about stopping to see if the Garmin had stopped, but finally I felt and heard the eighteenth buzz. Not long after that eighteenth buzz I looked up and far in the distance I could see pink T-shirts, Chicot Challenge T-shirts, on a dock up ahead. They looked like angels and the landing looked like heaven. Just a little while longer and I will be there and it will all be over. 

Randy had replaced Justin in the kayak. I stopped, pulled the Garmin from under my swim cap and took a look. It read 18.34. I gave the Garmin to Randy. 

"I think we are going to be a little short," I said. "We have to get nineteen miles.

"I'll get you nineteen," Randy responded softly but resolutely. 

So we drew even with the landing and then kept gong. That hurt. I wanted to shoot for the finish, but I knew how bad I would feel the next day if we didn't go the full nineteen. Finally, Randy did a u turn and we headed straight back for the ramp. The angels came into clear view. Trevor, like Gabriel, stood on the ramp, in the water, ready to help me cross over and enter into rest.

"There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God," the Bible says in Hebrews 4:9.

I had just entered mine.
My angels. Front row: Bridget Mitchell, Sheila Mitchell. Andrea Turner, Kelsey McClain, Gerald Johnson.
Back row:Justin Nunnery,Trevor McClain, Randy Beets, Zane Hodge, Penny Hodge, Debbie Johnson.
Not pictured: Robin Bond. Picture stolen from Bethany Theilman or Debbie Johnson?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Ready or Not

Event week is finally here and as usual I am a bundle of nerves. Actually I am vacillating between fear and peace, between doubt and faith, between panic and “whatever.” The bottom line is I have done what I can to prepare and that is all I can do. That is something Tom Flanagan told me a couple of years back when I was about to have a nervous breakdown due to the weather preventing a lot of my training. He said, “All you can do is all you can do.”

I suppose one thing that threw me into this latest tizzy has been the forced deviations from last year’s model. In Chicot III, I was so strong for so long that I felt like I had found the formula and I would follow it to a “t.” I couldn’t follow the formula.

I was in an extremely good place physically and mentally until I suffered that fall last February and another one a few weeks ago. Then things just came apart both in my body as well as inside my brain. I know I sound like I whiner, but I am. I always become doubtful, fearful, anxious as the event draws near.

This happens even in training. If I have something really big on the agenda, I will nerve up as the big one approaches. Sometimes I develop diarrhea before a long training run. With nerves like that, who needs trouble?

Despite my own self-doubts, God has tried to comfort me in several ways and I suppose it would not be right to resist that, it would be sacrilegious. He did it at church with the pastor’s message and the prayers and the encouragements from the people. He did it after church through nature, through reflection, through reading. He has done it through friends. He has done it through Jeff. He has done it through the cats. So I am trying not to resist but to enjoy, to anticipate, to have good feelings.

Justin Nunnery, the boat captain of the crew called yesterday. It was good to hear his voice. He has taken care of several things for us as he lives in that area and has done some of the legwork with South Shore Cottages from whom I will rent a boat and a room the night before and from where we will launch the swim. I told him that we will pray and then just go out and have fun. That’s the plan. That’s the hope. I want everyone to have fun.

I also found out a few days ago that the old gang is coming back. For the longest time I thought Randy Beets and Robin Bond would not be at this edition of the Chicot Challenge. That caused me some severe sadness, especially while I re-watched a lot of the old footage of the past swims. While watching these videos, I was struck with nostalgia and with how happy the crew seemed. I miss a lot of that while I am face down in the water. Sometimes I think my swim is causing torture for everyone involved.

Anyway, as we used to say on the schoolyard, “Ready or not, here I come.” Saturday morning at approximately 6:15 am, I will swim off the boat ramp at South Shore Cottages and begin what I hope and pray is a fine adventure for everyone on the boat and in a kayak. A couple of people from the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi, Bethany Theilman and Irena McLean, as well as some friends from Centerville Baptist Church are supposed to be at the finish, at the boat ramp of the Lake Chicot State Park. I don’t want to let them down.

Maybe herein lies some of the appeal of endurance athletics. I recently read somewhere that someone called these things, “Life in a day.” That works for me. There is the birth of the dream, the gestation of that dream into action, training, and planning. Then there is the event itself, the beginning of the journey, struggles along the way, and at last victory, the finish. The conclusion for this event will be sort of like heaven, the re-uniting of friends, the celebration of an accomplishment, the end of struggle, and the beginning of rest.

I’m not nervous anymore. 

I can’t wait. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Feeling Reflective

Last week was troubling in several ways. First, my swim volume dropped precipitously due to weather, lack of energy, and loss of zeal. I know it does a lot of good to complain about the weather but sometimes I can't help myself. I got weathered out of a few swims and had a couple cut short. I would have been much happier had I been able to train as much as last year on the week before event week when I got in 25,000 meters. This year it was only 12,000. Another reason for my angst has been my left shoulder which has slowly progressed but still gives my pause. Then, while swimming the pond, my right shoulder started paining me. !!!!!!!!!

Monday I spent 12:00 on the bike trainer, shuffled 3.12 miles, and lifted some weights. At Twin Rivers, I only swam 2 X 1,000 due to some funny feelings in my shoulders. Note the plural.

Besides 12:15 on the trainer, Tuesday I ran 5.72 miles and went to the pond. I thought I would get a long swim in, but I was so tired I only did 2,622 meters. I think the weather may have been a factor too. I didn't write it down.

Wednesday there was a party at Twin Rivers, but by the time I found that out I was short on time and more short on energy. I ran 3.16 miles and then watched some reruns of Finding Bigfoot. 

Thursday  was another disappointing day. I did 13:15 on the trainer and 4.05 on the feet. Then I went to the pond with the idea of getting in that last big swim. I stopped after 3,845 meters. I was just done. 

I was sure Friday was the day I'd get the last big swim in. But at the pond, I sat in the truck and watched the lightening strike all about. Then I went out and shuffled 4.12 miles while I waited on some clouds to pass. When they did pass, I was once more too tired to swim hard or far. 

Saturday I went out for a 10.52 mile run and didn't even try to swim. I just had no mind or energy for it. Geez.

Sunday I went to church while Penny went to her dad's where we had plans to celebrate his birthday which is on the same day as mine. At church, Gerald prayed for me and so did the pastor. That touched me deeply. Brother Gary preached Romans Chapter 8, and I felt like God was speaking to me to have faith. One verse we are all familiar with is 8:28-- For we know that all things work together for good to them who love God who are called according to His purpose. I sensed God was challenging me to view all the struggles I've had in preparation for this swim as interventions from God to work things out His way. A few weeks back I was in a good place mentally and physically. Then I suffered that fall and both mind and body sort of fell apart. Now, I am trying to rely on my faith to carry me through and make up the difference in what I couldn't and can't do for myself. 

After leaving service, I drove to Hillbilly Heaven, which is only five miles from Centerville Church. I walked up to the cemetery where Louise is buried.

For the week, I 

swam only 12,660 meters,
ran 30.17 miles,
spun 50:30,
lifted weights once, and
walked 5.07 miles.