One third of the way into my training program for an upcoming iron swim I thought it would be a good time to put my body to a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) stress test. I needed to make sure I was on the right track; that I was training my body to handle the special challenges I will have to face during a 34k swim.

My three big MS concerns: 1) the impact of overheating on performance, 2) my ability to manage fatigue while training at a high volume and 3) the overall impact of the stress of high volume training on my body.

I packed my bathing suit, cap and goggles and headed to Maui for a one week training camp hosted by Infinity Swimming. If you don’t have MS, your likely thinking, “A one-week swim camp in Maui? I can do that, even if I don’t know how to swim.” For those of you who do have MS, you get the challenges and risks that lay ahead: 1) overheating in the tropics and 2) fatigue from travelling & the stress of in a new environment – either of which could trigger an MS attack. Add to this the high volume swim demands of the camp and I would have my perfect MS stress test.

To be sure I was taking full advantage of my upcoming test I swam 12k prior to boarding the plane for Maui. This is the most I have swum in a single session and it was designed to kick-start my fatigue. After a quick bite at John’s Place– turns out the Ragin’ Vegan Burrito is a fantastic recovery meal – I headed to the airport for 8 hours of travel and a two hour time zone switch. I arrived in Maui 9:30pm. Greeted by my good friend Len, we headed to Hale Mohalu, my home for the upcoming week.

Day one was a spare day, no scheduled swim. I spent the morning having fun snorkeling with my fantastic house mates – Len, Carol and Diana – and a few other of my favorite pool mates – Kate, Deb and her husband Tracy. I discovered this swimmer is really not meant to wear a lot of equipment in the water and quickly disposed of my wetsuit, snorkel and mask.

The afternoon was used to acclimatize to my new environment and find the fresh mangos, papayas, pineapples, avocados and macadamia nuts I would need to get me through the next few days. In the evening, we headed off to a traditional Luau for Len’s birthday and then back to our Hawaiian home to wait for our 5th housemate, Lauren, who would arrive later that evening.

The camp began early Sunday morning with a 4k open water swim with a Maui swim group at Maluaka Beach Park. The water was much warmer and kinder than the waters of the Strait of Georgia. Marine life was abundant below us. So much so, that we saw a wee little shark along the way. That evening we met at the outdoor pool in Kihei for our first pool swim (3k).

I have a bit of a reputation for being a super planner and border on the side of overtraining – in an over preparing kind of way. That evening I did the math (7k x 6 days=42k) and had a Wahine Diva moment. It simply wasn’t enough as I was already swimming this amount back home.

The next morning I spoke to one of my coaches, Dale Robinson. He offered to open the pool 15 minutes earlier each morning so I could jump in and add 1k to my swims each day. He also offered to stay later if needed. He is an incredibly kind and giving man.

Janet Renner, the Kihei Valley Isle Masters coach and a fantastic open water swimmer with an incredible swim legacy, agreed to let me jump in with her club for a few sessions as well. With the additional swims I would be able to add enough to my volume to test my MS beyond what I had in Victoria.

For a one week period, I woke up each day at 5:20, walked to the Kihei pool and swam from 6:00 to 8:00 am. Evening swims were from 6:15 to 8:00pm.

Here’s a quick look at the kilometers and focus for each day:

Sunday 7k

Open water and Aloha easy swim
Monday 7k Back + Free
Tuesday 8k Distance (1500)
Wednesday 8.8k Distance (fly)
Thursday 8.9k Mid distance (200/400)
Friday 7.8 IM
Saturday 4.5k Best average threshold

Sunday morning was our last official swim as a group and it would be time trial day. I decided on that day I wanted to give something back to the fantastic group of swimmers and coaches who had inspired me so much throughout the week. I dove in for warm-up adding 1.5k to my Maui mileage and spent the next hour photographing my new swim mates in their natural environment – the pool! During that time I had the privilege of witnessing some incredible swims including a number of personal bests.

MS Stress Test Results

Infinity Swimming’s Camp in Maui was the perfect place for me to find out what I needed to know as I prepare for stage 2 of my iron training. Both Dale Robinson and Danielle Brault are incredible coaches (and people) who are truly devoted to the sport and thrive on seeing their swimmers succeed. Swimming under Janet Renner for a brief time was an unexpected bonus.

All of the swimmers added a huge wave of positivity to the experience. When you are with a group of people who enjoy what they are doing and work hard to swim well you can’t help but get caught in their current.

As for my MS here’s what I learned:

  1. Overheating is to be avoided, particularly overheating from threshold training. On the day we worked on best average threshold my arms and legs went numb. Frustrating but it is my reality.
  2. I can manage my fatigue when high volume training. I suspect eating lots of fresh raw food from the vine and massive doses of vitamin D helped. I will increase my vitamin D intake and raw food consumption as part of my training regime.
  3. Over a week I swam 52k. Add the 12k prior to leaving and 1.5k from the last day and my total test volume was 64k – not a lot if you are in your 20s but when you are 48, ugh. The good news is my body can manage the stress of high volume training. The not so good but managable news is I cannot add threshold training at the same time – this is where my MS likes to jump into the mix and stop me in my tracks. I will have to settle for a slower pace.

Mahalo to my coaches, house mates and swim mates in the 808!


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