Wednesday, June 29, 2016

My First Marathon Swim

That Dam Swim, 2007

shivered in the early morning air as the flotilla slowly made its way twelve miles up the lake. When we reached our destination, a spot somewhere off Hog Island just below Wheeler Dam, we formed a line and some of us silently slipped into the water. 

Forrest and me just before the start.
“Are you ready Zane?” Tim Zeulke shouted out.

“Ready,” I shouted back.

“Ready swimmers?” he sounded again.

“Ready,” was the reply.

“Go,” he shouted.

And we went.

All of us thrashing the water like old maids beating at an angry snake. Destination: Pat Wilson’s house somewhere near the dam on the other end of Lake Wilson. Time: Early morning of September 15, 2007. Temperature: Dang cold. Event: That Dam Swim, a twelve-mile open-water marathon. Reason: Well, see below.

For me this all started back in mid-June, the 13th to be exact, when on a routine bicycle ride, Brian Waldrop and I went crashing into the pavement at twenty miles per hour. My injuries, besides road rash, were a wounded right elbow (which did my swimming no good) and a sore heel. The sore heel, which at the time seemed the least of my worries, eventually proved to be the worst of my worries, ending my running and darn near driving me crazy. When it became apparent that I would miss some running events very dear and important to me, I began longing for some substitute, some goal, some physical challenge. By chance I ran across That Dam Swim on the internet, and I knew I had found what I was looking for. Immediately this odd race put its hooks into me like a frog-gigger nabbing a big bull. I was caught, hooked, speared, run through.

As we began swimming, some of us solo swimmers and some relay teams, I was immediately distressed over the state of my gastro-intestinal system. With an estimated eight hours of swimming ahead, any discomfort at this point was a major crisis. Added to that problem, I had goggle troubles from the get-go. There is an old dictum never to try anything in a race that you haven’t already done in training. I broke the dictum; I paid a price.

In training, my goggles would drive me nuts after a couple of hours, so before the race, I decided to order a mask thinking one of those would be more comfortable. The mask didn’t arrive until two days before the race, but I wore it at the start anyway. It leaked. It fogged. It mashed down into my left eye. It felt terrible. I screamed. I prayed. I cried. I did have two more pair of goggles in the boat: the pair I had been training with and a brand new pair just like the ones with which I had been training. Forrest, my boat crew, couldn’t find the old pair so he handed me the new pair and, though they were better, they also gave me problems. Finally, in frustration I tore those off my head, sank them in the lake, and swam goggle free for a mile or two. Eventually Forrest adjusted the mask and it then worked flawlessly for the rest of the race.

Besides the goggle issues, I had to attend to necessary business in seventy-five feet of water. Three times! Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention and out of necessity, I invented a completely new stroke. I call it the doo-doo stroke. It’s not pretty and it’s not fun, but it can be done and I did it. After using the stroke the third time, my stomach felt better and finally, three miles into the race, I settled into a swimming rhythm.

Believe it or not, I saw some pretty scenery. When I run, I rarely see anything. When I run, I rarely think anything. However, swimming long distances in a lake leaves one alone with his thoughts. In addition to my thoughts, every breath on my left side revealed a steep rock face disappearing into the water or a thick forest of hardwood trees or a beautiful house built on the lake or birds soaring in the air above.

Feeding proved to be difficult and we were decidedly under practiced at it. In the boat, Forrest possessed a laminated copy of an elaborate feeding schedule I had painstakingly worked out through experimentation on my long training swims and extrapolation from past long runs. Starting at 45:00 minutes, the schedule then dropped to 40, 35, and finally 30 minutes for the remainder of the swim. We forgot the bananas, leaving them in the motel room, and the Cliff Bars proved too difficult to chew in the water. Consequently, over the course we simplified the feeding to Gatorade and Gu with an occasional Advil thrown in.

I suppose it is because my heart rate is a bit lower swimming than while running that I can think in the water. As I stroked away, my mind kept going back over the events that led to Forrest and me being here. The bike crash, of course, was a prime factor. But once the idea of this swim was hatched, there were a host of logistical problems that had to be conquered before the attempt could even be possible. First, there was the issue of a boat escort. Without an escort, no one could participate. I asked my dad. He said no. I asked my wife. She said no. I offered to pay my wife. She still said no. I asked my son. He said yes.

Several miles down the lake, a tugboat with some barges was pushed against the bank. At the start, Pat Wilson told us that he had talked to the boat captain who told him that the boat would be at that spot for two hours. At my second feeding, one hour and twenty minutes into the race, the tugboat was still maybe mile or more up ahead. Knowing I had to clear the boat before he pulled off the bank, I increased my stroke frequency and swam with a sense of urgency. When I got behind the boat, probably some two hundred yards off his stern, it was like swimming in a river. His prop-wash was creating a current far out into the lake. I felt a lot better when I passed by far enough to know that he couldn’t back over me. I looked ahead and way off in the distance was a point of land jutting out into the lake beyond which I could not see. Next objective was to swim to that point.

After I secured a boat escort, there were some issues with the boat itself. I own a fifteen horsepower Yamaha, but I decided on just taking a simple trolling motor. Security, as well as ease of towing and launching, were factors in that decision. I purchased two marine batteries, got the tail lights on the trailer fixed, and bought a clip on seat to make things a bit more comfortable for Forrest. Before the race, we only took the boat out one time to practice. Forrest had never operated the boat, so we went to Roebuck Lake where I taught him to drive on water. We even practiced feeding, and I was shocked at how difficult it was. Treading water is not hard, but pulling up one hand, filling that had with a bottle of Gatorade and a packet of Gu, and trying to eat and drink is much more challenging than I ever imagined. The race rules are that solo competitors cannot touch the bottom (no way to do that in Lake Wilson) or the boat or a crew member. Forrest had to hand me my food and drink at the end of a long pole.

Swimming up the lake toward that point eventually became a dreary event. It seemed like I was on a treadmill going nowhere. Eventually I learned to watch things on the bank and to measure my progress by them. Gradually that point did get closer. Since Forrest had my Garmin GPS watch on, I knew exactly how far we had come: 4.7 miles and I had done the doo-doo stroke three times, fought several rounds with my goggles, and passed the tugboat. Now I was getting closer to the big point on the lake.

The logistics for this adventure extended far beyond securing a boat driver and preparing the boat. Before committing to the swim, I was swimming just 6,000 yards per week. My access to a pool (DSU’s) was extremely limited. I had to swim more frequently and work up to much longer distances. After brainstorming, I contacted Jerry Nobile who has a fish farm just outside of Moorhead. He gave me permission to swim any of his ponds at any time. Now I was in business.

But even the simplest of things like driving to Muscle Shoals, Alabama—well-- just driving out of Greenwood, Mississippi proved to be no small chore. Friday morning when we loaded the truck and drove around behind our house to hook up the boat, we found it full of water. This meant we had to remove the plug and bail water for thirty minutes before the boat was light enough for us to hook up to it. We weren’t even out of town before a car full of hysterical people pulled along side of us blowing the horn and pointed frantically towards the back of our truck. It’s just water, I thought and tried to ignore them before I glanced over my shoulder. “Good Godzilla! The boat’s gone!” I shouted. Boat, trailer, all of it gone.

“Oh my God!” Forrest shouted as I did a u-turn on 82 bypass and sped back the other way. When we got on top of the overpass, there she was on the side of the road looking like someone had left her there on purpose. We did another u-turn, hitched that boat in record time, found a high gear and got out of town before the police could discover us. Before we were too far gone, though, I did stop at M&S and purchased a set of safety chains. There are no lessons like the ones you learn the hard way, and I’ll never again pull a trailer without safety chains.

If I can just make it six miles I kept thinking as I stroked along. If I can just make it the first six miles. I looked up to find that finally we were almost to the long sought after point. “See that red triangle sign?” Forrest asked me when I pulled up once to look around.


“That’s the half-way point. That’s six miles.”

I didn’t ask him how he knew the sign was the half-way point. I assumed somebody from another crew told him although I hadn’t seen anyone in a while. But my head was in the water most of the time so what did I know.

“What does the Garmin say?” I asked.

“Five point eight miles.”

Hot dog. That sign IS half way. I had learned from running, from doing twenty-milers alone, that the mind is half the battle and focusing on the distance covered is a huge motivating factor for me. I can rarely think about how far to go, but I’m better served thinking about how far I’ve been. The glass must be half-full.

Friday night before the race, we met at Ricatoni’s Restaurant in downtown Florence. Let me tell you, Florence, Alabama is a beautiful town and Ricatoni’s is a neat place. My instructions were to show up at 6:30 and tell the waiter that I was with the swim. When I did so, Forrest and I were led to the back of the restaurant and ushered up a long flight of stairs which led to a rough but neat-looking loft. There we found tables set up and our meal was being prepared, and while we stood around other participants began to trickle in. Soon the place was bursting at the seams with swimmers, paddlers, and the local swim club members. I met a lady named Squealy Mason from Birmingham, Alabama. She was one of those people who never met a stranger. We talked about training and she found it fascinating that I did the bulk of my training in Jerry Nobile’s catfish pond. Several people thought that was interesting. When asked if I had ever encountered fish in the water, I told them a couple of stories. First, I told about the time a catfish ran into my hand while I was swimming. It startled me so severely and I flinched so violently that both hamstrings cramped up. Then I told them about being attacked en masse by a whole herd of hungry catfish. I explained how the fish are fed by a truck that throws out their food in the form of pellets and when the pellets start hitting the water, the fish swarm to the top. Once I was swimming when it began to rain, and the fish, apparently thinking they were being fed, swarmed me like a huge school of piranha trying to bite my flesh off. Squealy’s eyes got as big as tennis balls. The way she and some others looked at me, I could tell that they thought either I was a wildman, a liar, or definitely someone abnormal. Maybe all three. Later I heard Squealy talking to one of the race officials. “I’m terrified of catfish,” she was telling him. “That man over there,” she said pointing to me, “almost got eaten alive by a whole school of them!”

If I can just make seven miles. I feel better than at the start. No bowel issues. Well, not the bowel issues I was having, but I was feeling a bit queasy from the chop. The wind was from the north at ten to fifteen miles per hour. This created choppy water that made me feel as if I might get nauseous. But I’m stroking steadily. Forrest is doing a good job. I’m past the big point. As we rounded the point, I began to notice people on their decks, which came out over the water, and I wondered what they thought of this spectacle. Did they even know a race was going on or did they think these people in orange swim caps followed by boats were eccentric swimmers out for a daily workout? The volume of time was starting to work on me. I began to wonder why I was doing this. My biking buddies are doing an MS 150. I could be with them right now. We could be talking and drafting one another and . . . . Forget it Zane. You are here. Keep swimming. I knew from experience that my wonderings of “why?” would disappear if I could just make it to the finish. I wasn’t really having fun, but I was sure that getting out of the water at the end would be a thrill. That was a lesson I had learned at other endurance events I had completed.

My son had made our reservations since he works for Hampton Inn in Greenwood, so we got a really good rate. It turns out that the Hampton Inn there is not too far from Ricatoni’s or the boat landing where we would launch the next day. That’s one of the things we did after arriving and checking in. First, we took a nap, and then we found the boat landing and a place to eat breakfast the next morning.

I made seven miles, but I was starting to get tired. Overall I felt fine, better even than at the start. I had discovered that breathing on one side only helped keep me from feeling sick to my stomach. Normally, I liked to breathe every third stroke, but with the choppy water, that was too much head movement. Breathing on one side reduced my head movement and prevented the motion sickness that was threatening my well-being. Overall, I was feeling fine, but my arms and shoulders were beginning to feel the strain. If I can just make eight miles. Eight miles. I am trained for this. I can do this. I have a right to expect my body to go this far. Eight miles. I kept swimming, feeling good but with tired arms and shoulders.

We were up at 4:00 a.m. the morning of the race. By the time we dressed, got all of our gear together, hooked the boat up, and made it to the Waffle House it was already a quarter till five. We ate and arrived at the launching area a bit early. This was intentional because I’m such a sorry trailer backer that I wanted to have the boat launched before anyone could show up and watch. We succeeded in launching the boat without an audience, and I sat in the truck while Forrest was just gone. Twenty minutes later, he popped up at the truck out of breath.

“I bailed out the boat. You didn’t put the plug in and it almost sank.”

“Oh great. What else can happen?” I shouldn’t have asked because I was destined find out.

I got my last feeding at 8.6 miles. It was Gatorade and Gu and absolutely delicious. After that, Forrest started to lag behind me. At first, this irritated me, but then I realized what was happening. The battery was dying. He had swapped the first one out at about 4.something. Oh God, please. Let it last. Let it last. If I can just make 9 miles. I’m almost there. Nine miles. Nine miles is three fourths of the way. I thought about my training. I knew I was under trained for this, but I had done as much as possible after I had committed to the race. The other solo swimmers I talked to at the pre-race meeting had all trained specifically about a year for this event. I had only known about it for seven weeks. My longest training swim was 11,000 yards, about half the distance. I was forced to stop that day because of an aching right triceps muscle. That same triceps was now starting to ache. I didn’t mind suffering, but if that triceps tore, I could never swim three miles with one arm. Please, God, Just give me three more miles. I looked around and saw that Forrest was falling farther and farther behind me. Race officials had made it very plain at the pre-race meeting that if anyone’s boat failed, that swimmer was out of the race. “No escort, no swim.” I understood their rational for the rule, but how can a man swim this far and quit because of mechanical failure? I looked back again. Forrest was dead in the water and the wind had blown him into the bank. I was now an illegal swimmer subject to disqualification. But there was no way I was going to stop. Please God, help me.

When I had first contacted Pat Wilson of the Shoals Sharks Masters Swim Club to inquire of the swim, he asked me about my training. “Maybe you need to get up a relay team and then build up to the solo swim next year,” he told me. Clearly he did not think I could do it. When I told my wife about my plans she said, “I don’t think you can do it.” When I told my bicycle buddies about the race, they just sort of looked at me. “You know the English Channel is only twenty-one miles,” Davo finally said somberly. When I showed the information sheet about the race to my swim coach at Delta State, his only reply was, “This is crazy!” When I talked on the phone with a participant from last year’s race and he asked about my training, he said, “Maybe it’s not your year.” As the race got closer and Penny and I were driving home from a daytrip to Jackson, the subject came up. “This is the craziest thing you’ve ever done,” she said. After a few moments of silence, I responded, “You’re right. This is the craziest thing I have ever done.” And I wondered myself if I was reaching too far. Could I really do this?

This IS the craziest thing I’ve ever done. Why didn’t I listen? Dang it, I ain’t stopping. At that point, I thought about people: Cagri, my swim coach at Delta State who said this was crazy; Jerry Nobile, whose catfish pond I did my open water training in; my brother Quinton, who asked me how in the world does anyone swim twelve miles?; my wife, who said I couldn’t do it; Petya, my former Masters swim coach who still seemed to be interested in my swimming; Pat Wilson; people at work; people at church; my biking buddies; my mom and dad; all of these folks knew I was doing this and they would all ask me what happened. How could I tell them I didn’t make it? I have to finish, I have to. I knew Forrest would call the race’s safety director. And I also knew they would come for him and me both. I swam awhile and then looked back and saw a ski boat tying Forrest on to their boat. Boy that was fast. They’ll be coming for me next. I swam harder. The closer I get, the more likely they are to let me finish. I ain’t getting in that boat. Swim hard. I looked back and they were about the same distance behind me. I swam some more and looked back again. What’s going on back there? They’re not getting any closer. My gain. Swim. I’m over ten miles for sure. If I can just make eleven.

Later I found out that the boat which rescued Forrest was a relay team. I beat a whole relay team. It was Squealy’s team and after the race I rubbed it in. Then a large pontoon boat came motoring up with its bow pointed straight for me. It’s them. I could see the That Dam Swim T-shirts they were wearing. They are going to tell me to get in the boat. I can’t do it. They’re probably pretty pissed. My argument is: Which one of you would have stopped? How can you swim this far and quit? I was imagining a giant argument with the race officials. They would disqualify me and tell me never to come back to their race again. You could have been killed by a bass boat out there swimming all alone. You knew the rules. You were to stop when your escort lost power. But I would counter, Which one of you would have swum that far and stopped?

As the boat drew closer I became nervous. I recognized the man and woman. They were not members of the Swim Club, but instead were volunteers who had already crewed a relay team. Still they’re going to tell me to get in the boat.

“We’ve been sent out here,” the woman yelled at me when they got close enough, “to be your escort to the finish.”

I began to cry. Thank you Jesus.

“How far?” I asked.

“You’ve got about three fourths of a mile to go,” the man yelled back.

I started swimming but while I did, my chest convulsed as I silently wept. I’m going to make it. I’m going to make it. And they know where Pat Wilson lives. I’m not in trouble. I’m going to make it. The big pontoon boat blocked off a lot of the chop and gave me smoother water in which to swim. I swam harder than I did anytime of the race. For at least a mile I swam hard and then pulled up.

“You’ve got about a half a mile to go,” the man said.

I hope he knows where Pat Wilson lives. I swam on.

I pulled up again. The man was up front on the deck of his boat. “Over there,” he said pointing up into a cove. “See that dock with the people standing on it? That’s the finish. They’re waiting on you.”

And there it was 200 yards away. I savored that last little swim. This was my Olympics, my Mount Everest, my English Channel.

And I did it. I saw Brad Lynch record my time (7:34:21 – 4th place solo swimmer) when my hand touched the ladder. After climbing out, I left my mask on so they couldn’t see me crying. People were congratulating me. Then the couple who escorted me those last couple of miles motored up and climbed out onto the deck. I was so grateful and so overwhelmed that I couldn’t speak. I just extended my hand first to the woman and then the man and mouthed the words, “Thank you.” A little later, Brad asked me about catfish pond training. “It got me to the finish,” I said. Thank you Jerry Nobile. Thank you Forrest. Thank you everyone who helped.

Thank you Jesus.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Weak Links in the Chain

The opening paragraph of my little "History of Chicot Challenge" contained the assertion that long swims reveal weaknesses in the body (and sometime faith). I did not, however, in any of the four parts of that essay address those weaknesses. Well, if you were looking for it, waiting for it, this is your lucky day.

If you go far enough in the water or on foot or on a bicycle the weak links in your body are often exposed. For me, the Challenges have been a steady revelation of what I needed to pay especial attention to over the next twelve months until Chicot came around again. When I crawled out of the water at Chicot I, my hands had been in pain for a couple of hours. The next day, I had visible knots on the tendons on the back of my hands and lower wrists to go along with the stiffness and soreness to those areas. Weak link exposed.

I could not find anyone who had ever experienced such a thing and not wanting to spend money in the medical field (because I was convinced they would not understand and merely prescribe me anti-inflammatory meds), I was left to my own to ponder my course of rehab. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I had a strength/flexibility imbalance between the muscles on the top of my forearms and the muscles on the bottom of my forearms. The muscles on the bottom being the ones most actively engaged while swimming (i.e. pulling the water) and the muscles on top being the antagonistic (i.e. opposing) muscles. 

This brings me to a hard earned lesson and that is the importance of antagonistic as well as stabilizing muscles. In the past, I had performed strengthening exercises only on the prime movers for whatever sport I was training for. This meant for swimming, I hit the lats, pecs, shoulders, and triceps while ignoring the muscles in the middle of the back and biceps. I didn't work the forearms at all. There is a symbiotic relationship between the prime movers and their opposite muscles that I don't fully understand, but I'm beginning to appreciate.

To address my problem, I began to work the muscles on the top of my forearms. I did this a number of ways. One was to deposit a very light set of dumbbells (5 lbs) where I like to watch TV and while relaxing in front of the tube to do reverse wrist curls. I did more aggressive work outdoors at Plate City Gym. To make a short story long, it worked. Over the following years, whenever I became a little lazy on the top of the forearm work, the pain reappeared on my longer swims. This has happened enough to know that I rightly identified the problem as well as the solution to the problem.

This brings up another issue that I can't pass by: the issue of isolation vs compound movements. If there is anything that gets on my nerves it is the absolutists whom I continue to bump into when reading literature in the field of exercise physiology. For instance, I read a number of articles and watched some videos that expressed in no uncertain terms that Crossfit is the way all athletes will train in the future. Nothing else will work. The problem with that position is it is simply not true. I admire Crossfit, and I do incorporate some of their moves into my own regiment. But Crossfit is not the end all of fitness. It just is not and no single form of workout is or could be.

Another absolutist group is the Pose Running sect, a strange bunch that says their way of running is the only way to run and no one else is running correctly. This, like many of these athletic fads, is a theory that came about in someone's head while possibly drinking too much wine, certainly not while running. If you follow their instructions on how to run (yes, they describe in detail how to run), you will find their method is actually impossible. What they describe is running in place. It literally does not work, yet they insist that they do it and so should everyone else. Crazy. Usain Bolt can't run. Marathoners can't run. Olympic sprinters, football players, kids on the playground all are doing it wrong. You can't make this stuff up.

Had enough? Here's some more. Recently, I read an article that said science has proven there is ONE way to build strength. That one way is sets of three reps. Anything else, the three-rep evangelist said, is not strength training but some other form of training. That brings up a whole separate issue. Many people are invoking the name of science, but of course they rarely mention the study that allegedly backs up their claims. But how can anyone in the name of science or any other name say such a broad and obviously false statement. All those athletes and strongmen who went before weren't even strength trained, according to this theory. They just thought they were strength training and thought they were strong and made the rest of us think the same thing when they squated 1,000 pounds or bench pressed 600+. You can't make this stuff up!

Want more? No one is more dogmatic and nothing is more faddish than the current compound movement versus the isolation movement gurus. We only move and perform in compound movements and never compete using muscles in isolation, so why isolate muscles in training? That is logical. Unlike some of the other fads I have covered, it actually makes sense. But again, to totally rule out forms of exercise that have worked for decades is uncalled for. For instance, if training is specific (a long established exercise maxim that I agree with) and if we only compete with compound movements (which we do) then swimming long, long distances (which I did and do) would totally prepare my body for the rigors of those long swims. The problem is it doesn't. BUT, you protest, you are resorting to anecdotal evidence. Two responses. First, anecdotal evidence is evidence. Maybe it is not proof, but it is evidence. Second, some of the fads I have discussed aren't even based on any evidence. They are based strictly on theory. And that is the case with the current compound movement versus isolation movement sect.

Once more, I like compound exercises, not because they are the only way to do things, but because of their economy (work more muscles with fewer exercises) and because they place a larger load on the heart and THEORICALLY add a little boost to the VO2 max machine. But sometimes, and especially with a weak link, the best thing to do is to isolate a muscle and strengthen it. Is this not self evident in the case of my forearms? If you will argue against that you will argue, plain and simple. I care not to argue for the sake of arguing. 

Enough of the hand pain and forearms. Chicot Challenge II brought to light another weak link. I swam the last few miles of that one with a severe pain between my shoulder blades. Sound familiar? Antagonistic/stabilizing muscles once more proved to be the part of my body that needed bringing up to code, so to speak. This time I didn't have to ask to think to meditate. I went immediately to Play It Again Sports in Jackson, purchased some heavier dumbbells and started to work. I always hated bent rows and one-arm bent rows, the opposite of my favorite bench press that works my prime movers for swimming. Note: if you hate an exercise, that is pretty strong evidence that you need to do that one. If you hate it, most likely you are weak and inefficient in that move and therefore can benefit from performing that exercise. To make a short story long, I began to pay more attention to my mid-back and for Chicot III, all was well.

Chicot III revealed pain under the shoulder blade which is one of the rotator cuff muscles. So you know what I did for the next year. Now I am either stretching or doing some sort of light dumbbell work whenever I am watching TV. All seemed well for Chicot IV. I had solved all the problems, strengthened all the week lings, right? Chicot V brought one more weakness to light. While training for my latest big effort, I began to experience some neck strain. Then the Tuesday after Chicot V, I awakened in the early hours of the morning on my right side. I rarely sleep on my right side, and when I moved, a muscle in my neck pulled. I hope you never go through that. To make a short story long, although my neck is not yet 100%, I have already started working on it. What's next? Where is the next weak spot? I have no idea; I hope nothing. Only time can tell.

Monday, June 27, 2016

6/20 - 6/26

With the big swim over and a week of rest propping up this tired body, I finally got back to training last week. My neck is still improving, and already I have been doing some gentle exercises for it. 

Monday I ran 6.51 miles and did some major yard work and was able to walk 2.76 miles while getting the lawn in shape. For some reason I can't remember, I was not able to get to the pool.

I did hit the pool Tuesday for 3,000 meters, did some light weightlifting, and ran 3.54 miles. The yard came in for more attention which allowed me to walk an additional 2.49 miles. For the first time in months, I included a paddle set in my pool work.

Wednesday I swam 3,200 as

10 X 50 @ 1:15
500 small paddles
2 X 100 @ 2:30 with medium paddles

In addition to the pool, I ran 3.18 miles and walked .46.

A party at Twin Rivers, Thursday, forced me back to the fish farm for the first time in weeks. Immediately I noticed some changes. All but one of the aerators were gone from my pond and the water level was at least a foot lower. I drove around to the ditch side and sure enough they were letting water out. This means they are either draining the pone or lowering it to seine. A text message to David inquiring as to what was going on with the pond has remained unanswered. A 2.41 swim was followed by a 3.1 mile run at home to finish the day.

Friday I swam 2,400 at the pool, ran 2.41 miles and walked .31. In the afternoon, Penny and I drove over to French Camp. She was off work and I wanted to take a picture of a truck I saw off Highway 407 when I did the Great Noxapater Journey Run. The truck was gone. We ate at the Council Cafe and did a little shopping and riding in the area. I dropped two of my business cards off at some of French Camp Academy's business and left a comment about being willing to swim for them if they want to do a fundraiser. I don't know if anything will become of it, but I would love to offer my services to French Camp Academy. I believe in what their ministry. They have a nice lake to hold the swim in, and their radio station would be the perfect vehicle for publicizing the event. I want to use my talent, as much as possible, to help other people. I don't know how many years of good swimming I have left, but if the Lord opens any more doors to swim for others, I will go in while I still can.

Saturday I did 22:30 on the bike trainer and then shuffled 7.07 miles. I also did a little walking and some weightlifting for the legs. And Sunday I did some upper body weightlifting, rode the trainer again, this time 24:00, and followed that up with a one mile treadmill run at a 3% incline. 

For the week, I

swan 12,477 meters
ran 26.81 miles,
lifted weights three time, 
pedaled 46:30 on the bike trainer, and
walked 7.64 miles. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

History of Chicot Challenge (Part IV)

Having a pontoon boat on the water gave the swim a whole new feel. Professional, organized, protected. Remember how all this started. Chicot I, besides the Commonwealth article, had no fanfare, a sparsity of planning, and little organization. It was only Randy, Robin, me, and a big lake. We just went out and did it.

As the swims got longer, however, the logistics became more complicated, the crews grew larger, and the buildup more intense. But once I experienced a swim with a pontoon boat, I knew there was little chance of going back to the more primitive conditions. Not for Chicot anyway, but maybe for a shorter personal swim. I do have some things in mind. That, however, is for another blog post.

Besides giving the paddlers a chance to rest and providing me more protection in the water, the pontoon made it possible for my wife to be there in 2014, and my daughter to be on board in 2015. Maybe it's vanity, but the more eyes on me, the better I swim. And having the two most important women of my life on the boat at the same time made the swim extra special. Randy and Robin were also there. Justin was back for the second year in a row. And new to the swim was Shane Ray who paddled and swam support, and Trevor McClain, the first member of Team Centerville to be in the crew.

Chicot IV was announced as a 19.0-mile effort. The plan was to start at Ditch Bayou, turn south on the big lake and swim a little less than two miles, cross the lake and then swim up lake to the State Park. Notice what was different about the course: no Connerly Bayou. I want to go up that thing in a boat one day, but my swimming in there is done.

The swim went well. The water was flat, I felt good, and the crew performed exemplary. Randy even swam with me for two and a half hours straight. That was old-time fun and reminded me of the good old days when we trained together in the catfish ponds. Just below the causeway, we saw a couple of people standing on the bank and holding a sign. We veered in toward shore and found Bethany and Evan Theilman. That was a very touching moment for me, and I cried a little bit. 

Robin even swam some when we got on the upside of the causeway. Randy was in the kayak the last few miles. At some point, I took the Garmin from under my swim cap and gave it to Randy. I knew we were going to be a few tenths of a mile short. "Get me nineteen," I pleaded with the tall guy. "We'll get it," he responded.

Swimming past the landing was difficult when every cell in your body is screaming, has been screaming for hours to stop. But we went past the landing, out into the middle of the lake, and looped around to finish with exactly 19.0. Several members of Centerville Baptist Church were there: Gerald and Debbie Johnson, Kelsey McClain, Sheila and Bridget Mitchell. They all had their pink Chicot shirts on and I could see them from more than a mile away. Bridget gave me cookies. Bethany and Evan relocated to the landing and were there when we came ashore. I was moved by their support and once more was amazed that we pulled it off.
Team Centerville along with my daughter (center front)
and Justin and Randy (back left).
Since I have recently written about Chicot V, I will be brief. A few differences should have an impact on future swims. One was the course. Every year I have swum a different route. I think we finally stumbled upon the best one and the plan is to use the same course for next year's swim. This will allow us to get the mileage really close. All we have to do is add any additional distance to the leg towards Greenville. We turned this year at exactly two miles on the south end and on the north end we turned at a land mark. So now the course can be adjusted easily and accurately.

Another difference, of course, was the crew. Gone were the old mainstays, Randy Beets and Robin Bond. I can never thank them enough or repay them for what they have done in the past swims. But coming all the way from North Carolina? Randy did it twice. To expect both of them to make that trip is too much. So I rebuilt the crew and then with the change of date, I lost three of the new crew members. Justin had previous plans as did Danielle and Tristan. To make a short story long, we did not have a lot of experience out there, we had no support swimmers, and for the first time ever, we had only one kayak. Nevertheless, everyone performed perfectly, I didn't seem to miss having someone in the water with me, and one kayak was enough. In short, I now have a new crew and one that now has experience.

I also have a new attitude. My own emotions were my biggest adversaries during the buildup to Chicot V, but when it was all over, I was and remain the most encouraged and determined I have ever been. God has given me a gift and He has guided my stumbling into this event that uses that gift for others. It's not that I am a great swimmer. But I do have an ability for developing swim endurance. I didn't discover this ability until I was in my 50s. But by His grace, I have not squandered this one. I don't know how long I can keep this up, but while I have the vigor, health, and desire, I plan to keep swimming.

Oh, one more thing. I started this essay (in Part I) mentioning the weaknesses these swims reveal. I bet you think I forgot about that. I did. But since I just remembered, I think that will make a good topic for another post because I have a bit to say about that and the topic crosses over into the realm of exercises physiology. So look for an upcoming post titled, "Weak Links in the Chain."

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

History of Chicot Challenge, (Part III)

To this day, Chicot II (2013) remains the toughest swim I ever did. I knew pretty early on it was going to be a long day at the office. The water was choppy, the weather was threatening, and by half way in I wanted out. But my crew: Randy, Robin, and my son Forrest, pushed me on to the finish. Once we had to take refuge from a major storm under the causeway. We had begun that day at Lake Chicot County Park, directly on the other side of the lake from Ditch Bayou. The plan was to swim back towards Greenville for a mile or two before turning around and finishing at the State Park. Instead, with a storm stalled over the State Park, we eventually turned back towards the County Park.
Swim morning 2013

Besides the distance, 16.0 miles, and the course, a major change in the Challenge for 2013 was a switch from the American Diabetes Association to the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi. Only days after the swim, I received a text message from Mary Fortune of the DFM. In short, she said she had seen the article on my swim and asked me to consider them if I did another such adventure. On my way to Masters Swim when I got the text, I pulled over and wrote back that I would like to talk to her later. She called immediately.

Smart lady.

We chatted and she told me a bit about the history of the DFM and some of what they do. Later I checked them out at, and I also looked over their website at In 2012, I had mailed money to Alexandria, Virginia when right here in Mississippi we have more diabetes than virtually everyone in America. With 100% of donated funds staying in the State of Mississippi, and 89% of every dollar given going to its charitable purposes, it was a no-brainer. Any diabetes swims I would do from then on would be for the DFM.

I suppose Chicot II is one of the reasons I have always been nervous before my big swims. I never feel confident and the 2012 swim is always in the back of my mind. I know a swim can go from good to bad to worse. It's happened. To me. It ain't fun. 

Be that as it may, Chicot III, 17.7 miles, was fun. New for 2014 was the addition of a pontoon boat which I rented from South Shore Cottages. Justin Nunnery piloted the boat in addition to doing some support swimming with me. Joining Justin were my wife, Penny, my irrepresible son, Forrest, Paul Brown, Randy Beets, and Robin Bond. Randy swam and paddled. Robin paddled. Paul and Forrest had to leave about half way through when I was swimming up Connerly Bayou. The bayou was a little weird, beautiful but disconcerting. I was nervous the whole time we were in there and when we finally got back to the main lake and were rejoined by the pontoon, I felt like a new man. And having my wife, Penny, on the boat gave me tons of inspiration. 
The ride back to Ditch Bayou (Chicot III)

Bethany Theilman of the DFM and her son Evan were waiting on us at the boat ramp at the State Park. Bethany rounded up some fishermen and their families, and I was greeting to cheering, handshakes, and congratulations upon exiting the water. It was a good day. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

History of Chicot Challenge (Part II)

The trouble with being hooked on open-water swimming and living in Mississippi is there are no events around here. Since I accidentally found That Dam Swim while poking around the Internet, I thought I could find a wheelbarrow load of races if I just made a little effort. I was wrong.

People in Mississippi don't do open water swimming. There is a one-mile event in Vicksburg and of course there are triathlons, but no marathon swims. I could not find any in Louisiana, Alabama, or Tennessee. I did find a 5K in Georgia and lots of event in the Northeast and the far West. But down here, nothing. And to make matters worse, That Dam Swim disappeared. Later I found out that the event was reduced to a 10K, but the race director never contacted me or responded to my inquiries into swims.

It was four long years later before I did another big swim. Once again, by accident, I found Swim the Suck Ten-miler in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a race named after Suck Creek that runs into the beautiful Tennessee River. I recruited Randy Beets to do the event and we got in on the race its second year. Founded by English Channel Swimmer Karah Nazor, this race quickly became a destination swim, and there I met open water swimmers from around the country and world, and just like with That Dam Swim, the experience was positive. I finished the race wanting more. 

We did our first Suck, as people call it, in October of 2011. Then sometime early in 2012, I received a text from Randy that he had just finished a neat kayak trip on Lake Chicot, thirteen miles of beauty, he said. I think he was scheming on me because he knew I had done a twelve-miler, and I had expressed to him the desire to swim farther. When I responded to his text with: "That sounds like it would make a nice open-water swim," he immediately shot back, "I'll crew you if you want to do it."

A shot from Swim the Suck.
When someone offers to crew you (paddle in a kayak beside you, feed you, protect you, and guide you), you don't say no. So a quick check of the calendar revealed that my birthday, June 2, was on a Saturday that year. We set that as the date, and I began to train. We called it The Fattie Chicot Challenge (later I reduced the name to The Chicot Challenge) and Robin Bond wanted to help. About three weeks before the swim, I decided to turn the Challenge into a fundraiser for diabetes. Since everyone has heard of the American Diabetes Association, I chose them as the recipients of the money. My interest in diabetes was fueled by my mother's experience with the disease and by me living long enough to run headlong into the condition over and over and over. I basically buried a church one member at a time due to diabetes. Diabetes ruined my mother's health. My mother's mother was a diabetic as was her grandmother and her great-grandfather. Both her sisters were diabetics. My wife became a diabetic. I could go on, but let me just say this. My dad raised me have a consciousness concerning heart disease. But over time I have come to see that it is not heart disease I need to fear but diabetes.

At the end of Chicot I.

To make a short story long, we did the swim starting at the State Park and going to downtown Lake Village and back. We raised a little over $1,200. Although Randy told me the course was thirteen miles, I had to swim 13.94 to make it back to the landing. Just like the other swims, Chicot I set my soul on fire. For a few days afterwards, I didn't want to think about swimming. But it wasn't too long before I yearned for more.

Randy shot and edited this video.

Note: On Chicot I and II, we did not strictly follow English Channel rules. We did on Chicot III - V.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Slim Week

The week of 6/13 - 6/19 was one of the slimmest on recent record. That's OK because I'm in recovery. Monday I shuffled a short 2.2 miles and did a little walking. Then early Tuesday morning I woke up on my right side and when I moved, a muscle in my neck pulled. It was extremely painful and Tuesday was a day of misery. I felt I had to go to work since one day in our summer school equals a week and a half in a regular semester. Periodically my neck would spasm causes such pain as to prevent me from moving or breathing for a few seconds until it relented. Wednesday it was much improved but still an issue so I didn't do anything physical. 

By Thursday I was improved enough to run 4.24 miles and in doing so I discovered that I had lost a bit of endurance. A lot of endurance. My thighs got that crampy feeling about 2.5 miles into a slow shuffle. Wow! But that's OK also because it will come back. It hasn't been gone that long and it will come back quickly as I resume my running. Friday I swam for the first time since Chicot but only 1,100 meters because it was bothering my neck. I tread water with John for an hour and thirty-three minutes and got a little work that way.

Saturday I was feeling well enough to go for a longer run and did 6.3 miles of running and .73 of walking before lifting some weights for the lower body only. And I bet you can guess what I did Sunday. That's right, besides going to church, I pretty much did nothing, first at Hillbilly Heaven, then at home, and finally at Mom's. It was a pretty easy week and I needed that. I did not need the neck issue which is still with me. In fact, it is worse today, and I don't know why. I do know this. My neck will be the body part of focus for the next twelve months as I prepare for Chicot VI. Prayers desired, please.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

History of the Chicot Challenge, (Part I)

I am always left with a deep-seated glow and a lot of thoughts after the Chicot Challenge. These adventures do a lot of things for me, but one of them is they expose weaknesses I didn't know I had. Those weaknesses are usually physical but in the case of the Chicot 2016, they revealed flaws in my faith also.

Looking back it now seems so simple, so clear. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. But in the midst of struggle, one's perception is often skewed, as was mine. I had begun to think I may have been on a fool's errand. But God showed me that He was indeed walking this journey with me and if by chance I didn't get it, He showed up in the clouds at the end of the swim. It was as if He were saying, "Just in case you missed it, Dummy, here I am." I hope next year to have and exercise a bit more faith. I could write a long essay on that, on the faith aspects of the swim-- and maybe I will in the future-- but what follows is a brief history of the Chicot Challenge and the physical weaknesses the swims have revealed in me and how I responded to each one.  

First, let me explain how I slid, almost accidentally, into marathon swimming. The year was 2007 and I was injured for running, a partially torn plantar fascia I think. Yearning for some sort of physical activity and goal, while surfing around on the Interweb, I stumbled upon "That Dam Swim," a twelve-mile open water swim at Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Immediately I was intrigued and paid the registration fee before I had half an idea what I was doing.

That swim presented a number of hurdles I had to get over, not the least of which was where to train, how to train, and who to be my pilot. At the time, I was swimming twice per week at DSU, hardly enough training for a good start on such a long swim. I joined Twin Rivers Recreation Center for access to their 50 meter pool and secured permission to swim Jimmy Nobile's catfish ponds. That solved the where. The how was still a mystery, however.

I emailed the race director about how to train and he sent my question out to everyone registered for the event. In return, I received all sorts of answers and on my way to work one morning I even got a phone call from someone far far away. I can't remember his name or where he was from, but he told me he was shooting for a minimum of 22,000 yards per week which was approximately how far 12 miles is. That was like driving down the highway at 60 miles per hour and throwing the car into park. Or reverse. I had upped my swimming to a whopping 10,000 yards per week, and I thought I was tearing it up that surely I was on my way to success. The 22,000 number showed me of how naive I was. I had never even done the simple math. I had no idea how inadequate my training was and without that phone call, not doubt I would have wound up being a DNF (Did Not Finish) at the event. Now I had a clue, but only a clue, of how to train. I still had to secure a pilot. 

I asked my wife. I asked my dad. They both said "no," so I changed tactics and approached my son, Forrest, with some cash in hand. He said, "yes." The next problem was Forrest's vessel. Since I owned a very small aluminum boat, I hatched a plot. I rigged up a trolling motor on it and purchased two marine batteries and off we went to Muscle Shoals. Until we got out on the lake race morning with the other swimmers, we had not idea that we still had no idea. Every body else had kayaks or motor boats. We looked like the Beverly Hillbillies on water. It was too late to change anything and too early in the morning to be embarrassed. 

The day was full of missteps on our part. The biggest one was that the battery/trolling motor method we had chosen proved to be inadequate. About eight miles in, much to my chagrin, Forrest began to lag behind me. After a bit, I was really getting pissed until I looked back and saw the wind had blown him against the shore. Then even I could put two and two together. I swam the last four miles without a feed and part of it without an escort until the swim folks sent a boat out to pilot me in. To make a short story long, I finished the swim and the charge I got out of that was indescribable. I was hooked on open water swimming. Hooked.

(Some where I have the write up I did on That Dam Swim. I will try to find that and post it here).

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Team Centerville: Chicot 2016 (6/11)

The night slowly gave way to morning on Ditch Bayou as I sat in my truck and waited on the team to arrive. William Moudy drove up first. We chatted in the growing light about the church about families about people we both knew. Gerald and crew; his wife, Debbie; son-in-law, Trevor; daughter, Kelsey; and my wife, Penny came up a bit before 6:00. Like ants, we scooted to and fro loading things onto the pontoon and making final preparations. Despite our plans to start by 6:00, we didn't make it.
Penny is getting me marked up.

Penny ministered last rites: greased me down, applied Desitin to prevent sunburn, and wrote names on my chest, arms, and belly, names of diabetics who would symbolically make the trip with me while I swam and sometimes prayed for them. I decided to go off the boat ramp closest to the pontoon in spite of its steepness. With the ramp's incline and the algae that grew on the concrete, I knew the landing would be slicker than greased owl doo doo for sure. Consequently, I sat on the ramp close to the water and butt walked to the water's edge. Once my hinder parts touched the water, I slid neck deep into the bayou like a kid on the playground scooting down a steep slide. Standing chest deep in the water, I asked Gerald to pray which he did, asking God for His protection upon us all. Then, at 6:38 a.m., I began swimming towards the big lake for a day of fun and, well . . . more fun. Lots of fun. So much fun I could hardly stand it all.
Praying before the start.

It had not been all fun and games leading up to the swim, however. Looking back, I am almost ashamed at how down I had become at times. At several points I was discouraged over a lack of sponsors, training frustrations, training fatigue, and slow fundraising. But my emotions began to turn when a large donation picked up our fundraising efforts to where they needed to be and brought my spirits along for the ride. And before Saturday, June 11 was over, I was whelmed and then overwhelmed with emotions, good ones, that paid me in full for every real or perceived effort and disappointment I had experienced along the way.
Swimming out of Ditch Bayou

All that aside, I started the swim with my usual mixture of excitement and trepidation. People are always telling me I have the swim in the bag, but to me it seems a bit hubristical (Yeah, I coined that one) to presume on the kind of distances I have been doing in the Chicot. I swam out to the main lake and headed back towards Greenville. The water was flat, and I felt smooth and I stroked along with Trevor close by in the kayak. The Garmin was under my swim cap and it buzzed for one mile then for two. The plan was to cross the lake at two miles so we did. The pontoon had caught up with us long before this so we were all together now.
Trevor giving me ice cream. I like Trevor.

After crossing the lake, we began the long trek towards the causeway, one stroke at a time. In my mind, I broke the journey into subsections. First after crossing the lake was the trip to Lake Chicot County Park (directly opposite from Ditch Bayou). The next leg was to downtown Lake Village, and then onto the causeway. The weather was nice and the crew appeared happy. Whenever I fed, the crew always gave me words of encouragement. About the time we made it to Lake Village, Denise Turner of WXVT called. I had contacted Woodrow Wilkens and he had arraigned for her to call the boat and come out for an interview. 
Denise Turner of WXVT shooting as the
pontoon approaches Trevor and me.

I later saw on a video Penny recorded that the reporter was shooting as they motored up. She then asked if she could talk to me so Trevor stopped me and right there in the water I got interviewed. Neat. One odd thing, though, was that I noticed a current while we were stopped. The water was flowing down lake by a half or maybe three fourths of a mile per hour. In the video, you can even see the bubbles moving that way. That was very surprising to me to have that much current in a lake. Anyway, she asked a few questions, thanked me, and then Gerald motored her back to the Visitor's Center from whence they picked her up.

After that we resumed our slow-motion journey toward the causeway. I still felt pretty good, but I had one problem all day. Forty minutes into the swim I had to pee which I did not too long after that, but I was having trouble getting it out and my bladder never fully emptied. This meant that after peeing, it would only be a short time, maybe ten minutes before I had to go again. So all day I suffered from that discomfort. I don't know what I can do about that next year, but it will be on my mind between now and then.
The part of Team Centerville that wasn't on the boat was on
shore waiting for us to finish. Pictured are Gary and Beth
Moore, and Sheila and Bridget Mitchell.

Eventually, we made the causeway, turned, and headed back towards Lake Village. Trevor and Gerald swapped out paddling from time to time with whoever was on the pontoon serving as pilot. One thing that was especially memorable was the rain. Twice. The first shower only lasted six or seven minutes. The second shower was harder and lasted twelve to fifteen minutes I am guessing. I didn't notice any flashes and once I stopped and asked Trevor if there was any danger. He said he had not seen any lightning so we kept going.
Trying to climb up an algea-slick
boat ramp at the finish.

We made it back to Lake Village. We made it to the Visitor's Center. We made it to the place where the bank is clean and you can see the highway. Just after we passed the clean bank/highway seeing place, we could see Ditch Bayou. "There it is," Trevor said. "Where?" I asked. "See those roofs," he answered pointing. "We are almost there. All you have to do is sprint to the finish." But I knew better than that. Although it was encouraging to see the finish, I knew from experience it was a lot farther than it looked. We were at 20.0 miles so the finish should have been 1.1 or a tad over. I didn't think that was only a mile. It wasn't. It turned out to be 2.38. That's right, I finished the day with 22.38 miles of continuous swimming, and when I crawled out on the ramp at Ditch Bayou, I was one relieved and happy man.

To my surprise there were a number of people gathered there waiting on me to come in. Once, at Chicot III, Bethany Theilman of the DFM collected up a bunch of  fishermen to cheer when I cam ashore. But from what I was able to gather, these people had heard about the swim on the radio and came out to watch me come in. Several of them even made donations on the spot. Not only that, but one man was so overcome with emotion he could hardly speak as he hugged me and tried to thank me for my efforts. That was very touching to me, and once more I felt ashamed at how many times I had been discouraged in the preparation and build up to the swim.

Kaitlan Sudduth of the DFM was there as were the rest of Team Centerville: Brother Gary, Sister Beth, Bridget and Sheila Mitchell. They all had their Chicot T-shirts on, and their presence was a blessing that I am still feeding on today. All in all, it was a wonderful experience. I did the longest swim of my life, was blessed by the support and encouragement of faithful friends, church people, and exited the water without suffering too much. The fundraising, which for so long had looked so slim, took an upturn and as of this writing we are at a little over $2,500 which beats our previous best by over $700. To call the swim a success is no exaggeration.

Next year? Well, I have tried not to think about it, but that has proved to be impossible. It is still a little close and as Katy Jones put it, "It takes a while for your brain to re-crazy." She nailed it. Actually, I had decided previous to this Chicot to do a pool swim in 2017. My wife keeps saying, however, that we need to keep Chicot going. I think she is probably right. This far out, plans are never very firm, but right now I am thinking a pool swim and Chicot. Maybe a package deal, something called "Double-Dip Diabetes Swims" consisting of "Pool Fools" (I will recruit some other swimmers to swim with me) and the "Chicot Challenge VI." 

What do you think?

Help me think, pray, and scheme. Some members of the church have already approached me about selling shirts next year. Believe it or not, I am getting that buzz in the belly, that eagerness to set another goal and go for it. My brain is beginning to re-crazy.

Someone who had gathered at Ditch Bayou to see the finish took this picture and gave it to Debbie Johnson who gave it to my wife. Jesus is in the clouds, holding up one hand in front of Him, rebuking the enemies: lightning was not allowed, alligators could not bite, and boats/jetskiers could not strike. We were guarded.

P.S. Since I completed this draft, Denise Turner of WXVT called Wednesday afternoon and asked if I was up for another interview. She came by the house and shot a few minutes of footage on our back patio. They ran the story on the Ten O'Clock News that night. Wow.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Alabama Rustic Campers

6/6 -6/12

Some week. Good week. I did the big swim, but here I will only report the numbers, and I'll do a full write up on the Challenge later.

Monday, I swam 4,100 meters at Twin Rivers and ran 2.01 miles. Tuesday I swan 2,200 meters and ran 2.02 miles. I also saw Tracey Robertson and Gordon Ditto at the pool and they both purchased a Chicot shirt from me. Wednesday I swam 2,000 and since I was so tired, I did not run at all. Thursday I did another easy 2,000 meter swim and ran 2.02 miles. That gave me 10,300 meters before the big swim which is a bit more than I have done during event week in the past.

Friday, I slept in as long as possible and then napped and hung out with the cats. Eventually, I got up, finished packing, and headed for Lake Village. Once in my room at the Lighthouse Inn, I only got out only once and that was to get a pizza from Fox's. I slept pretty well and was at Ditch Bayou by 5:30 am. The crew was on time, but I still only managed to start swimming at 6:38. To make a short story long, I swam 22.38 miles in 13:53. That gave me an all-time record for the longest swim and the biggest swim week of my life.

For the week, I

swam - 46,309 meters,
ran - 6.05 miles, and 
walked 1.6 miles.

Full write up with some pictures later.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Ready or Not, Here It Comes

Nerves. I have never had them like now. Actually, I feel several things, and I feel them more than I ever have. I'm not complaining. It's good to feel. The opposite of feeling is apathy or death. Neither of those has much appeal to me. What I am feeling is excitement mingled with nervousness and stirred up with a dash of fear. Fear you ask? Yes, fear.

Having confessed this to several people already, my cup runneth over with simple platitudes: "You will be fine," is the most common one. I do appreciate the effort, but those just aren't doing me any good. And since I already decided feeling is a good thing, I don't really want relief. I want to feel right up until the start of the swim.

I guess one reason for the fear is the unusual circumstances of this year's Challenge. By unusual, I mean the delay. But having come to the position that the delay was providential, why should it cause me to be nervous of my fitness? Faith tells me that it will all workout better and that my taper/long swim/taper will leave me more fit than ever. But never having done it this way leaves room for questioning, for doubt. I choose faith, but doubt lingers at the door, pushes at the door, threatens to kick the door down.

Another reason for the fear is the number of eyes that will be upon me. The Greenwood Commonwealth is doing a story that should run in today's paper. And through the Facebook Event Page, a lot more people know about this year's Challenge. Not only that, but I sent Woodrow Wilson of WXVT a Facebook message. He wrote back instantly that they would be there. From that I presumed the DFM had already contacted them and they would show up to shoot some footage. 

The attention is good for several reasons. One reason for the swim is to raise awareness of diabetes, its risk factors, how it may be prevented, and to raise funds for the DFM. The attention also holds me accountable, accountable for my training and my performance on swim day. Furthermore, the attention should help me in the later parts of the swim when I am really tired and possibly tempted to quit.

Sorry about the belly.
The negative aspects of the attention is the pressure it brings. If I fail, I do so in front of a lot of people. Without the possibility of failure, however, there would be no real challenge and this thing is called the Chicot Challenge for a reason. It was/is designed to challenge me, and I hope simultaneously challenge and inspire others to be more physically active.

All that aside, I thought of that little ditty we used to yell out when we played on the schoolyard and in our neighborhoods: "Ready or not, here I come." That is also true of this swim. The training is done; yesterday I washed the kayak and parked it in the driveway to make it easier to hook up to Friday; I have begun to pack, to get my gear together, to make a list and check it twice; I have been gathering names, names I will have written on my body as I swim, names I will call before God and ask Him to help. If you have names of diabetics, people you know, love, send them to me, and I will carry them with me on this swim.

To make a short story long, judgment day is here and once more this swim is a short drama of a long life. We live and strive and pray and experience and then we stand before God and answer for it all. Saturday I answer for my training, planning, diet and performance. I fear that; I love that; I want that; I want to flee from that. Ready or not here it comes.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


We don't hear the word "providence" much any more, but if you read American Literature from the Colonial Period, you find it everywhere. If the early Americans believed anything, they believed in God and that He was looking out for them, that He intervened in their lives. The word breaks down etymologically into two parts: pro = before, and video = to see, thus its parts mean "to see before." The idea is that God sees before and makes preparation for us to give us victory, safety, deliverance.

Today it seems people are more likely to assign to luck the things that early Americans assumed were the works of God. I still believe in providence, as do many others, and it seems the height of ingratitude to credit anything or anyone but God with God's work. Let me give you one example from a few years back. I asked my dad to drive me to Minter City Methodist Church and drop me off. I then spent the next six hours running and walking home. I get a charge out of these things. The day was cold, and I was well prepared for my journey except for one thing. I forgot to bring gloves.

I'm pretty good at forgetting things, and God is smart enough to know this. As I trotted along Highway 8, I told God I needed a pair of gloves. Just a few more tenths of a mile and . . . you guessed it: I found a pair of gloves on the shoulder of the road. They fit perfectly, and I was comfortable for the rest of my journey. One can approach that incident in one of two ways: it was just happenstance, or it was providence. I suppose some people may think it is the height of pride to think that the God of the universe would concern Himself with a shuffling forgetter such as me. I think it is the height of ingratitude to be unthankful for God's gift. I think these differences in outlook are more than a mere mental approach but rather have to do with a bent of the heart that sends our minds down one path or the other. The Bible says that every man has been given the measure of faith. Some embrace that faith and nurture it. Some do not and that is the difference.

Looking back over this year's Chicot Challenge, I am beginning to see God's hand moving in the midst of my blindness, frustration, and ineptitude. We pushed the swim back one week due to the weathermen's predictions. The fact that those predictions did not come to pass can result in a lot of second guessing and even frustration. My wife, however, told me the other day that she had been dreading the swim during the week it was originally scheduled, but that she was now getting excited. For some reason, I feel the same way. I was not ready, at least mentally, for a swim of that magnitude. I feel more prepared now and I like my wife I am getting excited. Could God be in the arrangement providentially moving the swim to a better time? Were there problems, danger awaiting us on the lake on June 4 that God saved us from? Only heaven will reveal that or God may chose not to tell us then. But I do know of one blessing that the delay has brought.

I lost my room on Ditch Bayou when we postponed the swim. Last night my wife and I drove over to Lake Village area to take care of some business and while we were there we decided to drive into town and try to find a room. I could just sleep at home, but I need as much rest as I can get to swim all day. On the way to town, Penny noticed a vacancy sign that I failed to see. We turned around and went back to what turned out to be Lighthouse Inn. Funny, I had never noticed that place before. Not only did they have room, but it was much cheaper than the one I had on the bayou. Furthermore, when the proprietor found out about the swim, she gave me, unsolicited, a substantial discount. And the Lighthouse Inn is only about a mile from where we start the swim. Thank you, God. 

I now have more motivation for this swim than any I have ever done before. I now firmly believe God is working to give us success. That belief is powerful and comforting. I hope the crew shares that faith. I think they do. Thank you, Lord.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

No Good Deed

Perhaps you've heard the old saying, "No good deed goes unpunished." Who first said that? What does it mean? Is it true? and does that assertion agree with the Bible? I've been thinking a lot about this one lately so I hatched the idea to peck out some of my musings.

First, I did a little googling and decided as often is the case that the origin of this saying is probably lost for ever. One site claims Oscar Wilde as the originator of this proverb. Somewhere I came upon another claimant to the title of author to these words, but I lost the source and have not been able to track it down. But I guess that really doesn't matter. More important is the veracity of the claim.

I don't like to admit it, but I have had my share of the being on the emotional downside in 2016 as I have trained, planned, and prepared for this year's Chicot Challenge. Way back in January-- or was it early February?-- God used Danielle Meerholtz to lift my spirits for a while. It was a typically Tuesday night-- or was it Thursday?-- at Masters practice. I had come in early and swum, then swum the Masters practice, and had stayed late and swum some more getting in as many yards as I could. As I crawled out of the pool, Danielle was there and we struck up a conversation. She asked me what I was training for and when I told her she immediately offered to help. Unfortunately, the swim was postponed for a week, and she and two other crew members dropped out due to previous commitments. Too bad because I am sure I would have enjoyed swimming with her, and I think she would have gotten hooked on Lake Chicot. Despite the fact that she will not be at the swim this Saturday, she still played a role in keeping my spirits up.

Sponsorship has been one major area of aggravation and bewilderment. I have knocked on a lot of doors and have even had help from Coach Terry Moore in trying to secure some help in putting this swim on. I managed to secure one sponsor, Conerly Shoes and Performance Sports. The temptation to get down over that has at times been almost overwhelming. My thoughts on the subject are all over the place. I am even thinking of not attempting to get sponsors in the future. If I can't pay for it, I won't do it. It will save a lot of time and emotional energy just to fund everything myself. Anything I plan will just have to be within my budget.

Publicity has also caused me to sag in the spirit from time to time. The Commonwealth is skipping the swim this year and I am pretty outdone with them. I can't for the life of me understand why a man of my age swimming that far is not a compelling story in and of itself. But the fact that it is for a charity adds to my bewilderment. And to top it all off, approximately six months after the Commonwealth skipped the Challenge for the first time, Charles Corder, the managing editor, had a toe amputated due to Type 2 Diabetes. How can he, they not get it? I don't get how they don't get it.

I didn't even mention all the training woes and how every week something or somebody wanted to take every single day from me. And the weather issues that make ramping up mileage in the spring time a nightmare. All of this weighed heavily upon me. Not only that, but having to delay the swim by a week while the fundraising was creeping along at an all-time low. These things had me about as low as a grasshoppers toenail when I came home from the pond from a training swim the day the Challenge had been scheduled, June 4th. I had received a Facebook message a few days before from somebody wanting my mailing address so he could make a donation. I noticed the envelope on a table when I got home. I ate my supper and then lazily opened the mail trying to guess how much the donation was for. The typical gift is for $25.00, sometimes $50. I hoped maybe this time it will be $100. The largest single donation I ever secured for the DFM was $150. I gasped audibly when I looked at the contents of the envelope. "What's wrong?" my wife asked. I handed her the check, and then we both wept.


That's right. Someone gave a $1,000 donation to the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi. And just like that, all the frustrations, disappointments, and discouragements were all washed away. Now I am excited about swimming this Saturday, and I know my labors are not in vain.

So, is it true that no good deed goes unpunished? Perhaps. Satan always opposes us when we attempt things for God and our fellow man. But it is certainly a fact that no good deed goes unrewarded, for the Bible tells us that "whatsoever we sow, that we shall also reap" (Galatians 6:7). It may take a while to see the results, but God always gives back and just seeing that $1,000 check to the DFM was payment plus interest for everything I have gone through in putting on and swimming the Chicot Challenge. Thank you, Lord.