Following in their wake

I stand at the water’s edge, too afraid to pass through the crashing waves. It’s my first week of junior lifeguards and I am 12 years old, and I have no idea how to navigate the ocean, a skill the other kids manage so expertly. My instructor tells me he will swim along with me and slowly we enter the water and round the buoy together .

Legacy plays an important role in many sports, and marathon swimming is no exception; we are obsessed with tradition. We even go so far as to pay homage to our history by modeling the gold standard of our uniform on the clothes that Matthew Webb wore to first swim across the English Channel in 1875. By swimming in only a bathing suit and cap (just as Webb did), we acknowledge the line of swimmers that came before us, while being initiated into that same selective club.BlanketMarathon swimming is also buoyed by a variety of other quirky traditions. When I first set out to swim the English Channel, I was following in the wake of several successful Seven Sister swimmers. The tradition of marathon swimming excellence at Seven Sister schools reaches back beyond our first English Channel swim in 1984. In 1929, Smithie Eleanor Studley Hurd made history by becoming the first woman to swim the Hellespont, between Europe and Asia. With this legacy comes the double-edged sword of increased pressure to succeed and the ability to stand on the shoulders of the women who swam before. This tradition of success is preserved in a blanket, embroidered with the name of each Seven Sister English Channel swimmer. I looked forward to the day that I would be able to stitch my name and pass the blanket on to the next successful channel swimmer. I’m so excited that I now get to pass on the blanket to a swimmer from Wellesley, Melanie Kaplan ’12, who just crossed the English Channel this past week.

Another tradition that is perhaps unique to my circle of marathonIMG_0883 swimmers is to gift a book to a successful or aspiring swimmer, partly as a way of initiating them to the club. While at Smith, I was willed Lynne Cox’s Swimming to Antartica, and I passed it on to another Smith distance swimmer, adding my name to the list of previous owners inside. In congratulations for my recently completed Triple Crown, my training partner Rebecca gave me Dangerous When Wet by Shelley Taylor Smith, with notes from both the author and Rebecca inside. One day, I will pass it on to another swimmer!

I also have had the pleasure of adding one of my own books to this tradition, by gifting Dover Solo by Marcia Cleveland to another friend, Rachel Griffin, who just completed her first marathon swim by crossing the Catalina Channel. Gifting a meaningful book lets swimmers help each other get excited and inspired to attempt ever greater challenges. Not only do we pass on books that have been owned and read by previous swimmers, the books themselves contain stories of challenge and triumph within their pages.

When I first entered the sport of marathon swimming, I was most often on the receiving end of these legacies, benefitting greatly from the wisdom and encouragement of my mentors. Though I still have so much to learn about myself and the sport, I am excited to also step into the role of mentor and to help others reach for their goals.

The four 9 year olds eagerly rush into the water, showing no fear at the waves that equal them in height. I follow behind, reminding them to dive deep to get under the break. I am helping my friend Rebecca chaperone her son and three of his junior lifeguard friends around the buoy. They are much more confident in the water than I was at their age. One boy lags behind and I swim next to him. Together, we round the buoy and head for shore. 

20 Bridges Recap

I’ll start off by saying that I didn’t know what to expect with this swim, but that it turned out to be the most fun marathon swim I have ever done! On Saturday at 6:45am, my parents and I headed to the North Shore Cove, down in Battery Park. I knew that this was bound to

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Swimmers and kayaks gather in the Hudson at the start.

be a “hurry-up-and-wait” situation, but NY Open Water did such a great job of making sure everything was running smoothly! I was given lucky number 13 as my race number and by 8:00 we were loading the boats. Our boat was called the Bella Vista and it was the nicest escort boat I have ever had for a swim.

My splash time was 9:20 so we motored over to the start at Pier A and I waited for the signal to jump in and get towed to the start on a jet ski. the observer briefly outlined the landmarks that I would pass along the swim and things I might experience. She told me that many people didn’t enjoy swimming in the Harlem River and that I should not let that discourage me. I jumped in and ended up having to tread water for a bit while I waited for the wave of swimmers before me to start.

The water in the Hudson felt pleasantly cool and cleaner than I expected it to be. My kayaker, Agnes, told me that it was time to start, so I began swimming with the city on my left and Agnes in the kayak on my right. I had only swum around one pier when Agnes told me that we needed to stop and wait for a ferry to pass. I was a bit annoyed that they couldn’t have just had a us wait at the start but I also trusted the organizers and knew that stops for boats is just the way of this swim. The ferry passengers waved down to me as they passed.

We continued around the bottom of the Battery, buildings towering above us on the left. Agnes and I turned into the East River, and I began to feel the strong current pulling me up the river. I saw the Brooklyn Bridge (1)

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Approaching the Brooklyn Bridge

looming ahead of me and decided to play a game with myself and see if I could count all 20 bridges. I couldn’t see any other swimmers or their boats and felt alone in the water. The Manhattan (2) and Williamsburg (3) Bridges came up quickly and I tried to find my rhythm in the choppy water. I felt stings in my suit and was surprised that there were sea lice in the brackish water. I searched the Manhattan skyline, waiting for the United Nations building to mark that I was passing Midtown. It took awhile to pass the Queensboro Bridge (4) and the river

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Passing the UN

narrowed as we veered left to round Roosevelt Island.

As we continued up the East River, I felt like Agnes was herding me toward the wall to my left, and I later learned that she was following directions from her radio. I was feeling very stressed at this point because I had just taken my 3rd feed, which meant that it was approaching 11:00am and I knew I needed to pick up my pace to to make the tidal change at Hell’s Gate. I told Agnes that I was going to push my pace a little, and asked her to tell me when I could relax. The sprinting helped me find a rhythm a little, but I still felt generally terrible as I swam under Ward’s Island Bridge (5) and into the Harlem River. It took me about 2 and half hours to reach the Harlem River and I must have passed Mill Rock around this point, but I didn’t notice, I was just felt so relieved to have made the tidal change.

Up to this point, all I had been thinking about was “make the tidal change,” because I knew my swim could end at only 2 hours in if I missed this crucial point, so once in the Harlem, I allowed myself a minute to mentally regroup. P1010551.JPGMy observer had warned me that the Harlem can feel like a slog as it is far less current-assisted than the East River, and I certainly felt this as I began to make my way through it. However, as I continued down the river, the flat and calm water allowed me to stretch out my stroke and for the first time in the swim I felt good and strong. During this part of the swim, the Harlem River is fairly narrow and I could see three bridges (6-8) close together when I sighted forward. It was so much fun to swim under the bridges and was a good confidence booster to feel like I was making progress quickly. I felt a little bit like I was swimming under bridges in a fairytale river straight out of Disneyland. I had fun counting bridges (9-18) and felt strong and smooth in the water.

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Swimming under many bridges close together in the Harlem.

I began to see other kayaks and escort boats around me periodically, and tried to pass any that I could see. The water in the Harlem was certainly warmer that the East River, but I never felt uncomfortable and the water was far cleaner than I expected it to be.

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Feeding in the Harlem

When I passed the 5 hour mark, I allowed myself to act as though the swim was halfway through because I knew the flood tide in the Hudson River would occur around 7pm (9 hours and 40 minutes of swimming).

Around this point, the river widened out and we turned and passed under the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge (19) and into the Hudson. This bridge was so low that I could have touched it if I wanted to and the escort boat had to veer right to a open part in the bridge, where it was under construction. The chop in the Hudson hit me like a slap in the face compared to the calm Harlem and the water was beautifully tree lined on both sides.

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Entering the Hudson with the GW in the distance.

I could see the George Washington Bridge (20) ahead of me but didn’t let myself get too excited, as I had been warned that it is farther away than it looks. At the same time, I couldn’t help but pick up my pace a little and try to find a new rhythm in the choppy water. There were swimmers and escort boats all around us now, and I had fun trying to catch up to and pass other swimmers. I was looking for the Columbia “C” but never saw it.

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I never did see the Columbia “C”

I finally passed under the GW Bridge and realized that I had not done a good job of studying landmarks on the West Side of the city.

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Passing under the GW and by the Little red Lighthouse.

Agnes told me that the GW was around 200th street so I had that as my only reference of where I was. I kept pushing on and playing with my pace, and soon I started passing piers on my left. I still felt very strong at this point and was thoroughly enjoying flying down the Hudson, even though I was swallowing water on the majority of my breaths. Agnes signaled to me that I needed to swim into a cove on my left and let a cruise ship pass. I was disappointed to have to waste time floating but was also grateful for a few minutes of rest.

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After waiting for the cruise ship.

I floated for about 6 minutes next to Pier 96, along with another swimmer right near me and two more ahead of us. I asked Agnes about how much longer she thought we had left and she told me about 4 feeds which I took to mean 2 hours. I thought we were closer than that but quickly shook off my disappointment. Agnes told me that I should take my 6 and a half hour feed while we waited, and soon we were back on our way down to the Battery.

I counted the piers I passed and caught a few more swimmers, as Agnes and my support crew cheered me on. I could see the Freedom Tower just ahead of me to my left and knew that I was getting very close to the end. I saw a safety jet ski pass very close to me and wondered if I was nearing the finish even though it hadn’t been 2 hours. Regardless, the clock tower marking the finish was visible just ahead of me and I started to sprint. I couldn’t remember exactly what point I needed to pass to finish the swim, so I decided to just keep swimming until someone stopped me.

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Agnes raises her arms to tell me that I have crossed the finish line.

Eventually Agnes turned to cut me off and said “Abby you’re done! You did it!” I climbed onto the jet ski and he took me over to the river wall to say hello to my mom and my teammate Meri, before giving me a ride back to the boat.

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Giant smile after finishing

As soon as I was back on the boat, I exclaimed, “That was so much fun!” and I had a huge smile on my face. The observer told me that I had finished in 7 hours and 42 minutes and I was thrilled to have completed the swim in under 8 hours. 

 I think I can say that this was the most fun I have ever had during a marathon swim. I am so grateful to all the people who helped me make this swim a reality, especially my parents, my coach Kim, all my swim buddies, my amazing  kayaker Agnes, and all the incredible people at New York Open Water!

 

 

6 mile swim recap

My mom and I drove up to Santa Barbara this past weekend so that I could compete in the Semana Nautica 6 Mile Swim for the 5th year in a row! We spent Saturday exploring Santa Barbara and trying to stay cool in the 90+ degree heat. On Sunday, we arrived at Goleta beach and met up with my kayaker, Greg, before listening to a pre-race briefing. I had so many friends also competing in this event, and it was really fun to see everyone having fun and working hard.

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Race map

The race began around 9:15am and I sprinted into the water, passing the white buoy marker on my left side and skirting the side of a large patch of kelp. I was ahead of most of the field, with 3 men ahead of me, including my training buddy Gino. As soon as we passed the end of the pier, I decided to crawl across the kelp, rather than try to swim around it, which would add at least 200 yards to my swim. While this was a gamble, it turned out to be a good choice, and I quickly met up with Greg and turned my attention to finding my pace.

P1010132I felt strong in the cool water and focused on smoothing out my stroke and letting my breathing calm down after the initial sprint from shore. I could see Gino’s brother, Michael, in the kayak ahead of me and a double kayak ahead of him, as my breathing steadied. The first 30 minutes went by quickly, and before I knew it, Greg was signaling that it was time for my first feed. While I was drinking, Greg told me that there were two swimmers ahead of me and two fairly even with me but way to our outside. There was a lot of kelp this year and many swimmers decided to stay far outside of it, but Greg took me on a more direct inside line, while still avoiding most of the kelp.

The water on the inside of the kelp bed was very calm, almost glassy, and I felt like I was making great time toward the finish. At the second feed, Greg told me that we were about halfway through the swim and that I was maintaining a slight lead over the other women in the field. I pushed on, trying to build my pace a little, and P1010193working hard to avoid having to crawl over any more kelp. The third feed came up quickly and I was still feeling good and enjoying the swim. The sweet GoGoSqueez applesauce was a welcome break from the salty water. I continued to fly across the water and began to near the point marking the entrance to Hendry’s beach and the finish line. When I took my fourth feed, Greg told me that I had about 3/4 of a mile left and that he could see the buoy at the finish. I started sprinting, gaining on the blue-capped swimmer ahead of me, who turned out to be a guy. I caught him as we neared the buoy, and we sprinted into the beach together. We crossed the surf line and sprinted up the beach, crossing the finish line together.

I finished tied for 3rd place overall and was the first woman to finish the race. I am so grateful to my mom Natalie for all her support this weekend and to my paddler Greg for his amazing guidance. This swim felt so strong and I am very excited to see what I can accomplish next weekend in Manhattan. If you want to follow along during that race, please see track.rs/abby/ and track.rs/nyow/.

Last 6 hour swim and time for taper!

We are less than 2 weeks away from our Manhattan circumnavigation and Gino and I competed our last 6 hour training swim yesterday! I was nervous about this swim because I am feeling very ready to start decreasing my yardage, but I am glad that I didn’t let my laziness get in the way of completing this swim.

I actually felt stronger as the swim went along, even as the conditions remained challenging and choppy. Gino, Jax, and I met at the Tower 26 parking lot at 5am and the sky was just starting to get light. We started our swim just in front of the tower and headed north to the Santa Monica Pier, before turning back south and stopping for our first feed. The current and chop were pushing steadily north and we had waves in our faces as we pressed south toward the Venice breakwater. I could hear dolphins calling to each other through the water and I stretched out my strokes, digging deep with each pull. When we were approaching the rocks, I saw a dolphin swim underneath me.

It took us about 2 hours to reach the Marina Del Rey breakwater and we turned back north, knowing the current would now be at our backs. As we were passing the Venice Pier  for the second time, the sun began to emerge from behind the clouds, warming our backs. I was surprised by how good I was feeling in the water and how much I was enjoying the long swim, especially compared to the other 6 hour swim we did last week.

We reached the Santa Monica Pier again in around 1 hour and 30 minutes and turned back south to finish the swim. The chop once again hindered our progress, but I was still feeling strong and picked up my stroke tempo a little to counter. When we reached the Tower 26 buoy, we needed another hour and a half of swimming, so we pushed on towards the Venice breakwater.

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Smiling during a feed!

It seemed to take us forever to reach the rocks and we turned around to complete our last leg. Gino and I both continued to  swim quickly back to the buoy, and I felt as if my energy was building and I would have felt good to continue if the swim had been longer. As I look ahead to my Manhattan swim in 10 days, I am confident that this swim, as well as the rest of my training, has prepared me well!

I plan to blog again with another training update before I start my swim but here is link to track my swim on July 14th! I will be escorted by both a kayak and a boat and the tracker will be on the boat (which may not always be right next to me, so don’t be alarmed if the tracker jumps around a little!

One month!

I have alluded to it on here but I am not sure if I have announced it officially but, I will be swimming around the island of Manhattan on July 14th! That means that yesterday marks one month until I will begin my swim. I have been training hard in both the ocean and the pool, and am excited to continue building and training. As I look ahead to the next month, I thought I would answer some of the most common questions I have received about this swim.

1. What is the course?Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 2.45.29 PM

I will start the swim at Pier A and swim around the island counter-clockwise, finishing back at Pier A. This swim will take me through the East, Harlem, and Hudson Rivers, in that order and I am very excited to experience river swimming. I have swum in the Hudson once before to participate in the Spurten Duyvil 10k and I can’t wait to dive back in!

2. Is it safe to swim in those rivers? 

This race is super well organized and I am not worried about boat traffic or anything like that. I also think that the rivers get a bad rap because of their proximity to such a large urban center, but they aren’t all that unsafe to swim in. Recently, there has even been research into the ecosystem of the Hudson.

3. Will I be swimming alone?

There will be 15 other swimmers completing the course on the same day as me, including my training buddy Gino. I am very excited about this aspect of the event because I expect it to create a community feel that can sometimes be lacking from the often solitary sport of marathon swimming.

4. How is this swim different from other ones I have done?

As mentioned above, this swim takes place in rivers, which means it won’t be salty or have as much buoyancy as the Catalina or English Channels. This swim is also a circumnavigation rather than a channel crossing, so I will never be very far from land, which will be interesting and provide more reference points during the swim, for better or worse.

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I have already received so much support from friends and family and am so grateful for my amazing community. I am also excited to announce my partnership with my new sponsor GoGoSqueez!  Their applesauce pouches keep me fueled during every one of my marathon swims! I am happy to answer any other questions you may have about this swim so feel free to message me!

 

How lucky we are…

Anyone who knows me knows that for the most part, I simply love to swim. However, my training has recently hit a bit of a stall, though not for any particular reason. I have felt sluggish in the pool and not super motivated to swim fast as I prepare for my Manhattan swim. Maybe I am feeling this training slump because I just finished college, or maybe it is just the normal motivational drop that often happens after a successful long swim (and I am only noticing it because this is my first time doing two marathons in one summer).

Regardless of the reason for this temporary lack of motivation, I finally had a swim this morning that I thoroughly enjoyed! My friend Gino and I are a little over a month away from our Manhattan swims and are planning to swim a total of 8 hours this weekend split into 2 on Friday, 4 on Saturday, and 2 and Sunday. Today, I met Gino at the beach at 5:20am and it was still dark outside. I like to complain about being up before dawn, but in reality I actually love being awake before everyone else and driving to the beach when the city is quiet. We entered the water as the sun began to rise and I was painfully aware of how much colder the Pacific is in California compared to Maui. I love getting to watch the sun rise over the coastal edge of the city while we swim.

We swam south to the Venice Breakwater and I saw two large dolphins pass very close on our right. My stroke felt smooth and strong as I swam next to Gino and matched his tempo. Together we swam south, and I hummed songs to myself as we cruised along. At the breakwater, we turned back north and swam through some very gross seaweed patches.

I was still feeling great in the water and loving the cooler temperatures. As we neared our starting point, I began to hear the dolphins again and suddenly we were surrounded by the pod, with some animals swimming directly towards us. I had never seen so many dolphins at one time before and was simultaneously scared and amazed to be swimming among such powerful animals. As we passed them, it occurred to me that we are so lucky to be able swim in the ocean pretty much whenever we want and have these experiences that others only ever dream about! We swam all the way to the Santa Monica Pier and turned back to swim our last half hour back to the tower. My stroke still felt strong and I didn’t want to get out of the water and could have kept swimming. We swam through the small surf and walked out onto the warm sand. I am so grateful that I have these opportunities and can spend my summer in such an amazing place. A huge thank you to all my friends who help make these adventures possible!

Slowest 10 miles I have ever swum (But I made it)

With our bags all packed, my family and I drove to Mala ramp to meet the boat and begin the swim. When we arrived, they were just lowering the boat into the water and I put on sunscreen and grease while they got everything else situated. My sister Jenna took the time to exclaim, “Abby, I am so glad I get to come with you on this swim, but f**k you for making me wake up at 5:00am.”I had a quick talk with the boat captain, Justine, and told her that I prefer to swim along side of the boat rather than following behind. next thing I knew, I was standing on the beach beside the ramp and slipped into the water to begin my swim.

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Standing on the beach before the start

I swam past the harbor entrance and kept sighting the boat to swim up along side it. I swam over a few turtles and imagined that they were wishing me good luck on my swim. For the first half hour, I played catchup with the boat, and it seemed like every time I got remotely close, the boat would speed away from me again. At the first feed, I asked the captain if she could slow down and let me swim beside her and after that I was much happier. During the second half hour, my stroke started to stretch out and the conditions were relatively calm. I periodically felt mild jellyfish stings and I joked to myself that this was the ocean taking revenge for the very few I experienced in the English Channel.

Up until around 1.5 hours, I could clearly see the bottom beneath me and then suddenly I was far enough out and all I could see was blue. For the next 2 hours, my stroke remained steady and I was pulling good water and feeling great. At the 2.5 hour feed, my mom told me that I was IMG_3541.JPGhalfway to Lanai and I kept swimming strong with music playing in my head. The 3 hour feed came far more quickly than I expected and I was told I had already covered 6 miles and was on pace for a 4.5 hour swim.

I continued to swim for about 10 minutes, staring into the blue and humming to myself when I noticed a largish grey shape swimming by far below me. I blinked a few times to make sure I wasn’t seeing things, my heart racing as the shark cruised by. I quickly swam to the boat and told them that I saw a shark, my heart pounding in my ears. Justine called me over to the side of the boat and told me to look around and see if I still saw it and asked me if I wanted to get out and end the swim. I didn’t see anymore signs of the shark and opted to keep swimming, with the team on the boat on full alert looking for fins.

I kept swimming, but couldn’t seem to calm myself down. My arm tempo was good but I wasn’t pulling any water and I could tell I was going nowhere. I was so nervous, but seeing the boat team staring out at the water was helpful. I began to feel the adrenaline fading and my energy was slumping and I was still going nowhere. the waves and wind picked up and I felt a bit washing machined. I continued to make little progress and at each feed was told that I was 3 miles away. After the swim, I found IMG_1066.jpgout that at some points during this 2 hour stretch, I had actually gone backward. This part of the swim was probably the toughest spot I have ever been in mentally during a marathon swim. I kept thinking to myself, “how am I going to swim around Manhattan if I can’t even cross this 10 mile channel?” At the 4.5 hour feed, my mom asked me “what do you want to do?” and I said “keep going.” This made me think of the story of Gertrude Ederle‘s channel crossing where her response to her trainer tell her to get out was “What for?”

I started thinking that if I was still making no progress when I hit 6 hours, I would consider calling the swim. This, in part, helped motivate me to dig a little deeper and I began to pull a bit more water with each stroke. At the 5.5 hour feed, my parents told me that I was making good progress again and had less than 3 miles left to go! I kept pushing forward and I could finally tell that I was getting closer to Lanai. I thought about all the swimmers who inspire me. I thought about my training buddies Rebecca and Gino and how I knew they were cheering me on.IMG_0445.jpg I thought about Lynne Cox and how she pushed through much rougher conditions than I was facing. I thought about my friend and teammate, Paige, pushing me forward. All these people helped me get through the rough parts of this swim. With every breath to my left, I saw this little green fish painted on the side of the boat and imagined it cheering me on.

At the 6 hour feed, I was told that I had less than 2 miles to go and I pushed on. As the swim got longer, I kept reminding myself that if I chose to get out, I would have to come back and do it all over again and this helped me stay motivated. At the 6.5 hour feed, I could see that I was really close and I asked if there was a particular landing spot I should IMG_1349.jpgaim for. Justine responded, “just get to shore!” And I turned to swim straight into shore. I left the boat behind and swam over a reef. The water got shallower and warmer and in front of me I could see waves crashing over another reef. I carefully swam over the break and found myself in a shallow rocky area. I picked my way over the rocks and finally cleared the water and turned to face the channel that I had just crossed.

Most marathon swims are really a team effort, but this swim in particular would not have been successful without my parents, my sister, the amazing boat crew, and all the people (near and far) sending me their support. This swim was far tougher than I expected it to be and certainly tested my mental toughness. I am so grateful to everyone who cheered me on and glad that I was able to accomplish this goal.