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MIMS relay report, part 2

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The very first part of the around-Manhattan swim is always against a current, as swimmers round the southern tip of the island before finding north-flowing water in the East River. I wasn’t sure how hard this part would be, or how long it would take—some MIMS veterans told me they hardly noticed a current here, while others thought it had been pretty rough swimming, and these perceptions were not always correlated with swimmer speed. When the horn for my heat sounded, many of the faster swimmers quickly got a ways ahead of me, but I thought I recognized Victoria and Michael swimming right with me in the first few hundred yards. With only 10 swimmers in our heat who were rapidly spreading out, our kayakers were able to pick us up quickly—Sergio was beside me after about 100 meters, and I could see him from the very start working his way over to me.

I could see that I was making progress, but it seemed slow going. I quickly lost sight of most of the other swimmers. As I got to the Battery, I could see the big orange Staten Island ferry docked to my left. I tried to pick up the pace—I definitely didn’t want to get stuck waiting for it to pull out after the other swimmers in my wave had passed it. (The ferry doesn’t stop for the race, and its schedule is one reason the race starts and ends where it does, so that swimmers are still fairly clumped together as we go past it. If it’s pulling out or docking, you have to tread water and wait for it to get out of the way before continuing on.) Once past it, I saw the ferry terminal for Governors Island, and then Governors Island itself to my right. After some more stroking, I felt the water swirling around as we entered the East River. I looked up and saw the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges in front of me, and the river stretching out beyond them. It was a lovely sight

We passed a busy heliport, and I turned over for a few strokes to see how close the helicopter I could hear was. Soon after, my boat came into view, and I saw John and Rondi onboard waving enthusiastically and giving me thumbs up. (Rondi was our crew for MIMS, and had been invaluable in the months leading up to the swim as a source of training advice and encouragement, and as regular workout buddy, and friend.) I waved back mid-stroke, the same way I do if I’m already in the pool at Riverbank when Rondi arrives on deck. It was good to see them, and now that I had my kayaker and my boat beside me, and had gotten into the current in the East River, all that was left to do was swim along for the rest of my 2-hour leg.

I passed under the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge in quick succession, and did 8 strokes of backstroke beneath each to enjoy the view. After a while my kayaker held up my feed bottle, which he had gotten from Rondi on the boat, and I turned over on my back and drank some juice-and-water mixture. I remember feeling a little disappointed that 40 minutes had already gone by (that’s how often I was feeding), because I was having so much fun and didn’t want the 2 hours to end! The water became choppy after the two bridges, and there was some big boat traffic that went by. The chop soon became really fun rolling waves that verged on body-surfable, and I had fun playing in them as I stroked along. There wasn’t much wind—I think the waves were mostly created by the wakes of other boat traffic, and their reflection off the seawall to my left.

Sometimes my boat would drop behind me, or even disappear then reappear on the other side. I had learned during the Hudson River test swims I was part of not to worry too much about where the boat was—the first time I swam with one, I tried to keep it in sight the whole time, and wondered why it was moving to different areas in relation to me, and whether I should react in some way. But after swimming with a boat, and more importantly being on the boat when others were swimming, I learned that, like many things in life, the boat’s movements were often not about me, or at least were not some code that I should worry about deciphering. Boats go where they need to to protect swimmers from other river traffic, to pass things off to kayakers, to avoid smaller vessels or other swimmers, or even just because someone on board wants a better angle for a picture. My kayaker stayed mostly to my right, which is my preferred breathing side, and I relied on him to guide me to the best available currents during the swim.

Somewhere in there I did a second feed, did backstroke under the 59th Street Bridge (feeling groovy!), and just mainly kept on stroking along. I didn’t see any other swimmers for quite a long stretch. I breathed to my left every now and again to keep track of the Manhattan landmarks that passing by. It seemed that I was going pretty fast (I later learned from Rondi, who was wearing her Garmin and tracking our pace, that the current helped me along to an 11+minute mile somewhere along this stretch!) I saw Roosevelt Island, where I had picnicked a few weeks earlier, pass by on my right, and I remembered the fisherman throwing fish heads back into the river there. Luckily I didn’t run into any! At one point the kayaker said something to me—I stopped and rolled over so I could make it out: 10 minutes left.

Shortly before it was time to do a changeover I passed a kayaker I recognized—it was my friend Cristian from CIBBOWS. I knew that my friend Julie must be somewhere nearby, since he was kayaking for her. He waved and gave me a thumbs up. I could see John getting ready to jump off our boat. A few strokes later I looked behind me and he was approaching. He tagged my leg, we said “beginning” and “ending” per MIMS rules, then gave each other a high-five. I swam over and climbed up the boat ladder, and that ended my first leg.

Once I got on the boat I gave Julie and Cristian a wave and thumbs up. I then looked ahead of us, and I was amazed to see a flotilla of boats, swimmers, and kayakers. It seems the three waves had all converged around the entrance to the Harlem River. The current there is pretty sluggish compared to the swift water of the East River, and it had compressed the field together right as swimmers from waves two and three were catching the wave one swimmers. The course also narrows at that point, so things got pretty congested—it almost looked like we were entering a marina with all the boats ahead of us. John was simply flying through this field, He passed wave one and two swimmers, then started passing folks from our wave who had gotten ahead of me. It was truly impressive to watch.

Meanwhile, I put on a few clothes over my suit—no need to change completely since it was a warm day—and got some snacks and drinks. I had 2 hours before my next leg, and I spent it eating, relaxing, cheering, and waving to all the swimmers, kayakers, crew, and observers I knew as we went by. Many swimmers don’t like the Harlem River—the current is slightly against them at the start, the water is a bit more oily and tannic, the architecture and bridges are not as iconic and towering as those you see earlier and later in the race. But John really likes this section—it’s generally flatter and warmer than the rest of the course, and you can get into a good stroke rhythm and just power along. It definitely worked for him!

On the boat we could see the race leaders in the distance. Rondi had written down the numbers of many swimmers, so we knew whom we were passing and who was still up ahead. In addition to being interested in where we were in the field, we wanted to know how the race to win the whole thing was shaping up. There were a lot of impressive swimmers doing MIMS this year, and much speculation going into the swim about who would come out on top. It seemed like Erica Rose was out in front at this point, with Aussies John van Wisse (a 3-time MIMS winner) and Ollie Wilkinson battling it out behind her. I had met them all, and wondered how it would turn out.

As I watched John pass the wave 3 swimmers, I realized that many of them would probably pass me back again on my next leg—that’s how it goes when one relay swimmer is substantially faster than the other. I decided that I would try to stay ahead of as many of them as possible for as long as I could once I got in the water again.

(to be continued . . .)

MIMS Relay Report Conclusion

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Updated October 31st, 2014 at 08:55 PM by swimsuit addict