by, October 3rd, 2011 at 03:58 PM (5191 Views)
Yesterday I awoke early for the 5am check-in for the 17.5-mile Ederle swim. Happily I had not received any late-night calls, and the swim was on. I ate, showered, fixed my one just-in-case hot thermos, packed the rest of the thermoses and feeds from the fridge, and was off. We were all meeting up at North Cove in lower Manhattan, where the boats would load up for the trip to Sandy Hook for the race start. As soon as I opened the taxi door at North Cove I was surrounded by wonderful people offering help—my friend Caitlin who just had shoulder surgery insisted on carrying a couple of bags with her good arm!
It was still dark, but tons of people were already there, and there kayaks were lined up on the ground. I greeted everyone, including David and Clare, who would be crewing for me on the swim. They helped get my 5 (yes 5) bags over to the check-in area, once we determined where that was. I saw Hannah, who was crewing for my friend John, and we did a cookie/brownie swap-off with her. Rondi (also on John’s crew) came by and gave me a good-luck mascot for the swim—an adorable seal puppet:
We named her Gertie in honor of the swim.
It was drizzling and a little chilly, so I put on my swim parka (over my sweater and wool pants and rain jacket—I had come prepared). I checked in, and got my cap and bag tag. The plan was for the swimmers to finish the race at South Cove, while the escort boats and kayaks would continue on to North Cove (about a half mile away) to dock and unload, so we were allowed to check a small bag with towel and clothes to have at the finish until we were reunited with crew and gear. I was happy to unload one of my bags—that made just 4 to make sure got loaded onto the boat.
My kayaker Vlad found me, and we chatted a bit—feeds overview, positioning, etc. We had exchanged emails back and forth, but I didn’t actually meet him until the morning of the race. I knew he was very experienced in the waters I would be swimming in—he had paddled for both Ederle record swims earlier this summer (Elizabeth Fry’s double, and Lance Ogren’s one-way). I felt fortunate that he had agreed to kayak for me, and lucky that everyone involved in my swim (kayaker, crew, boat captain) had been able and willing to rearrange their schedules to be available for the swim’s postponement to Sunday. (NYCSwim had to scramble to fill some holes for several swimmers, but were able to make sure everyone had all the support they needed—an impressive feat.)
There was a lot of time as we waited for the boats to get in and loading to begin, and between swimmers, crews, and boat observers there were tons of good friends I knew congregated all in one place. I milled about getting and giving lots of hugs and good wishes—there was so much positive energy and excitement in the air. Boats arrived and started loading by race number. I was number 14 of 20, so it took a while but finally we were called down to the dock (where there was room for 2 boats to load at a time). We fit the five of us (swimmer, 2 crew, kayaker, official observer) plus the kayak onto the boat and cast off. It was crowded on deck with us plus the boat captain and mate, but with the kayak wedged through the cabin door it was impossible to move down to that part of the boat. It took a little doing, but we were able to maneuver it back far enough for me to climb down there with Clare for the boat ride out.
Below was a bed and upholstered bench covered with pillows, and the captain urged me to take a nap on the way to Sandy Hook. I wasn’t really sleepy, but I lay down and closed my eyes, and when I opened them again the sun was up and it was a fine morning, with blue sky showing through the clouds. The ride to the start took about an hour, and was very bouncy as we motored through the waves. I kind of wanted to be up on deck so that I could see the course in reverse, but I could tell that everyone on deck was getting soaked as waves splashed over the sides and front of the boat. I decided that it was best to stay below and keep warm and dry, plus there wasn’t much choice with the kayak blocking the stairs up (and the going too rough at full speed to move it again). I had counted on having some time to go over procedures and feeds in more detail with crew and kayaker on the way over, but it seemed like that was not going to happen, and I regretted not doing it on land when we had plenty of time. I was glad I had talked to Vlad a little about these things, and had written all the important things out for my crew regarding feeds. I knew that all concerned were experienced at this, and was confident they would figure things out if I didn’t get to explain everything as thoroughly as I’d planned on before I splashed.
I called up to the deck and got them to send down my swim bag, and changed into my suit, which was a little challenging in the rough conditions. Clare sunscreened me up, and I got my cap and goggles out and did my inhalers. I could hear on the marine radio that previous waves were starting, and knew that I would be splashing soon. We finally arrived near Sandy Hook, and the kayak and kayaker were unloaded. I went up on deck and quickly explained how I was feeding and where everything was located, and gave Dave the laminated sheets I had prepared:
On the radio I could hear them calling my wave to the beach, so I quickly undressed and put lube on anywhere that might chafe. We were supposed to get in the water and swim to the beach, but my boat was still about a mile or two from the place on shore where swimmers were congregating. Dave asked the boat captain to get me closer in, so he did, but other swimmers were already ashore and the race organizer was getting ready to go. I could hear some back and forth on the radio about number 14—uh-oh, that was me. Dave assured them I was on the way. Finally we got to a good place near the start, and I hurriedly jumped in and swam towards the other swimmers on the beach. As I was walking out of the surf the others started running in—I guess my wave had started! My friend Tobey said something to me as she went by, I couldn’t tell what, and I turned around and joined them. The race had started!
I was kind of giggling at this point—one of my big concerns about swimming to an on-beach start at Sandy Hook was that I would get cold onshore waiting for my wave to start. No worries there! But I hadn’t really had time to get take my bearings on the beach, and wasn’t sure which direction from shore we were supposed to head. Presumably roughly from the direction we had come on the boat, yes, but there were some tricky currents to ferry through not far off the beach, and we had been instructed to swim at 2:30 to 3:00, but in relation to what I was not at this point sure. So I just followed the other swimmers in my wave, and ended up swimming next to Tobey, and then on the other side of Tobey’s kayak, until my own boat and kayak found me. After that things seemed easy as I settled into a pace, and I felt confident and happy stroking along with Vlad by my side, catching occasional glimpses of my boat and my crew onboard.
Heading into this swim I was feeling a bit torn. It’s a wonderful and amazing course, and part of me wanted to swim it as at sightseeing pace, taking my time and taking in all the beauty along the way and savoring the privilege of being able to swim under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, by the Statue of Liberty, etc. But . . . it would also be my last race of the season, and I wanted to honor that by giving it my very best effort, and pushing myself to see how I could stack up against a strong field of contenders. I struggled with trying to define for myself what I wanted from this race, and decided that the challenge for me would be to keep myself open enough to take in the experience while also being focused enough to swim hard. I wasn’t at all sure if I could achieve this narrowed-but-permeable consciousness during the stress of a race, much less maintain it over 6+ hours, but I decided I would try. I spent last week trying to imagine what it would be like to push myself when my muscles were achy, or my breathing labored, while also noting the water rush pass me or appreciating the sight of the bridge or the sky or whatever else passed by.
And that’s pretty much exactly how it went on Sunday. I felt like I was pushing myself beyond comfortable the entire time. Throughout the swim, my stroke count was about ten percent higher than it was when I swam the 8 Bridges stages, which were of comparable length. I even kicked more, or at least more emphatically, than usual. But the entire time I was also constantly taking in and loving everything around me—the blue-and-puffy-clouded sky, the undulation of the waves, the feeling of being surrounded and supported by the water. I waved to the Romer Shoal Lighthouse and the Statue of Liberty as I passed by, blew a kiss to the VZ bridge as I backstroked under it, and was excited by the ever-nearing skyline of Manhattan. The whole swim was simply joyful, and was the kind of peak athletic experience where the more energy I expended, the more I felt like I had to give. It’s hard to arrange into a coherent narrative things that I experienced so moment-by-moment, but here are some highlights of the swim:
· The water off of Sandy Hook was sparkly, and much clearer than the water at Brighton has been since the sediment flow from the Irene floods. It stayed that way until somewhere near the VZ bridge.
· The VZ bridge and Manhattan were visible from very early on in the race—from my 2nd feed on or so. I had seen pictures of Manhattan Island taken from far away, where its skyscrapers just seem to rise magically up out of the water, but seeing it in person and from in the water was amazing.
· There were places where the water was doing interesting things (probably when we passed through channels or where various rivers/oceans were meeting up). One minute I would be in a space where the water was all cool and flowing quickly in one direction, only to suddenly pass into a section of warmer water that seemed to be bouncing against itself chaotically. The water really seemed alive around me.
· My feeds were delicious, and I’m told my stroke count picked up a bit after each one. Having kind people bring you food while you’re out in the water seems like the ultimate luxury.
· Passing by big cargo ships is really cool, and I got to swim right next to a couple that were anchored. They’re so huge! I kept thinking, where else would I get to share the water with these monsters? It made me appreciate the fact that I was swimming through NYC harbor.
· My muscles were definitely achy and fatigued by mid-way through the swim, but I didn’t feel like it that was slowing me down. I had the option of taking ibuprofen during my feeds, but elected not to, because in the I-want-to-experience-it-all spirit of the day I was kind of enjoying the sensation.
· Boats can be really noisy underwater—as we neared Manhattan things got louder and louder. But the Staten Island ferry topped them all. Most boats whir or whine; it sounded like a clanky jackhammer. Still, cool to see such a recognizable icon chugging by.
· There were little translucent jellyfish friends swimming along with me at several points throughout the race. They didn’t sting but kind of tickled.
At my first and second feeds (30m and 1h into the swim, respectively) I worried a little bit that I was swimming too fast and would get tired, but I trusted my training enough to know that if I got too fatigued I could slow down and recover, just like I do in workout. As the day went on and I kept feeling good, I felt increasingly proud and happy that I could swim so hard for so long. I kept thinking about all the good open-water experiences I had had this summer, and how each of them had in some way prepared me for this.
Manhattan grew closer and closer. Vlad told me there was about an hour to go, and I was excited but also a little sad that I was nearing the end of the swim. I tried to pick up the pace, and focused on getting good pulls on each stroke as the water grew choppier around the Battery. I stopped for a feed, and Dave told me from the boat that it would be my last one (it was a pb&j pop—I’m glad I got that one in)! I finished the pop, took a sip a water, then headed towards the finish with all I had in me.
There was a little confusion at the end—we had been meant to finish at South Cove, but the water was too choppy to get swimmers out there, so instead we swam past South Cove across an imaginary line to finish the race. I could see the buoys at the place I thought the finish should be, and wanted to swim in there, but Vlad and Dave were able to communicate the change to me so I swam on past them. (It helped that Vlad was on my right, between me and the buoys—I was pretty determined to get to them and might have if nothing had been blocking my way). After I swam past the cove and was declared done, I got to have a little easy warmdown swim part of the way to North Cove before the boat picked me up. There were people standing by the railing along the river, and I waved to them and did backstroke. I could hardly believe it was over.
After I got on the boat I learned that I was the 3rd swimmer in, which surprised me—I hadn’t seen them, but I assumed that all the swimmers in the last wave had passed me. Only two had—Evan (EVMO), who won the race and set a new course record, and Emma, a delightful 16-year-old from upstate who is a familiar (and fast) sight at nycswim races, and who now holds the women’s course record. I was really happy for them both. When the times from the various waves were sorted out, I finished 5th overall—a result that I’m very pleased with. My time was 5:55:43.01, which makes it my longest swim to date. I’m just thrilled to have had such a great day on the water, and such a fine experience to finish my open-water season. A lot of credit goes to Vlad, for finding me fast water to swim in, and to Clare and Dave, who cheered me on and made the day so easy and comfortable in so many ways
I hung around in North Cove and cheered in returning swimmers for the next few hours. It seemed like a long time had passed since I had greeted everyone that morning in the rainy dark. So many swimmers had amazing days on the water—kudos to all who participated, and to NYCSwim for doing so fine a job coordinating such a complicated and extraordinary event!
Update: Vlad has posted his beautiful photos on the day and account of the swim.
2011 Summer Races:
ü Saturday, May 28: Great Hudson River Swim (1.6m) (1st woman, 17th overall, 28:39)
ü Saturday June 18: MIMS relay, 9:30 start (1st relay team, 7:36:34)
ü Friday, July 8: 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim, stage 1: Rip Van Winkle Bridge to Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge (18.3 miles) (5:50, 4th of 5 finishers)
ü Monday, July 11: 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim, stage 4: Newburgh-Beacon Bridge to Bear Mountain Bridge (15.2 miles)(5:35, 3rd of 6 finishers)
ü Sunday, July 17: Grimaldo’s mile race, Coney Island (26:47, 8th overall, 2nd woman)
ü Wednesday-Friday, August 3-6: USMS LCM Nationals, Auburn, AL (800 FR: 11:10.57, 4thin age group; 200 BK: 2:56.01, 4th; 50 BR: 42.19, 5th; 400 IM: 6:36.41, 10th)
ü Saturday, August 6: USMS 5K National Championship, Coney Island, Brooklyn (1:24.22; T27/120 overall; T-7th woman; tied for 1st in age group)
ü Saturday, August 13: USMS 2-mile Cable Championship, Lake Placid, NY, (49:17; 18/143 overall, 5th woman, 1st in age group)
ü Saturday, September 3: Lake Quassapaug (Middlebury, CT) swims (3m, 1.5m, and .5m)
v Saturday, September 10: Governor’s Island 2-mile swim (cancelled)
ü Sunday, September 11: New York Harbor (CIBBOWS) 10k swim (3:19:52, 4/8 overall, 1st woman)
ü Saturday, September 24: Little Red Lighthouse 10k (1:37:05, 67/240 overall, 21st woman, 1st in age group)
ü Sunday, October 2: Ederle Swim (Sandy Hook, NJ to Manhattan, 17.5 miles), (5:55:43.01, 5th/16 finishers)