Summer training begins!

My training for this summer’s English Channel swim has been building for months, but the open water part is just starting to ramp up. I have been doing most of my open water training with my friend Rebecca, who is also training for an English Channel swim! Rebecca has the same swim window as me (July 29-August 6th) but with a different boat pilot. This means that we could actually be crossing the channel on the same day!

Today Rebecca and I met at tower 26 to complete a 3-hour training swim. Because we didn’t have a kayaker for this swim, we planned to complete 3 laps and head into the beach after each lap to grab a drink. This worked pretty well, although I definitely prefer staying in the water the whole time! The current was pushing north and the water was super bumpy, especially when we were swimming south toward the Venice breakwater. We started out heading south and though the water was warm, I couldn’t find my rhythm. This was not unusual, as it sometimes takes me awhile to warm up, so I just kept on swimming. For the first lap, I kept veering too far into shore and we had to duck a few waves until we straightened out our course. The first half hour seemed to drag on, but as soon as we turned around to head north, we got a push from the current and our pace picked up a little. Soon we were back at our starting point and quickly grabbed our drinks and headed back into the water.

I found my pace much more quickly on the second lap, even though the water was still pretty bumpy. Rebecca and I swam past a group of triathletes and they warned us about a dead pelican they had passed a few hundred yards away. So now all I could think about was swimming into a dead pelican the way that Lynne Cox swam into a dead dog during a race in the Nile. Every time I hit a piece of seaweed, I thought I was about to look up and see a floating bird carcass.

We finished the second lap and realized that it had taken about 2 1/2 hours, meaning that our last lap could be a short one! We headed out for our last lap and I still couldn’t get my tempo right, but I just kept swimming anyway. We turned around to head back and some paddleboarders told us they had just seen a huge pod of dolphins heading the other way. We continued to swim back to the tower and when I took a sighting stroke I saw a fin in the water 100 yards ahead of me. Thinking of all the recent shark sightings I started to freak out a little. Rebecca assured me that it was just a dolphin and soon we saw two more fins headed right for us. The dolphins were maybe 10 feet away as they swam past us. It was so cool to be so close to the dolphins, but also thrilling because they are such huge animals! Rebecca and I headed back into shore and were happy to be finished with our workout!

Although my swim tempo was not ideal, it was the kind of training swim that helps me build confidence and learn how to keep swimming even when I don’t feel good in the water! It is so nice to have a training buddy who shares my goals and makes training really fun. Looking ahead to the rest of the summer, I have plenty more training before I embark on my channel crossing!

 

 

The Power of Choice

“I choose to be here. I choose to do this.” Most people who have trained with me have heard this phrase at least once and I think it is important to restate now, as I am just finishing my second week of channel training. While the big milestones that come with getting stronger and training hard are exciting and often remind me why I love this crazy sport, the daily work of arriving at the pool before the sun is up can often be draining. It helps me refocus to remind myself before I jump in the pool or walk into the ocean that no one is making me train and that I am choosing to work toward my goal. In this type of training, there is no coach watching to make sure I swim and my friends and I motivate ourselves to work hard together. I am not sure if reminding myself that I am choosing to be there actually helps me perform better, but this act certainly helps me enjoy the grueling training more. As a marathon swimmer, I experience the unique training mentality necessary to reach my goals.

Just as with any athletic event that involves advance training and planning, my goal to swim the English Channel sometimes overwhelms me because it seems so immense and yet so far away. As such, there are times where it is necessary to focus on the big picture of my swim, just as there are times when I must think only about the daily act of training so as not to be distracted by the hard work I have ahead of me. Somedays I need to think about how I will feel looking across the channel before my swim, while on others I need to ignore the pressure of the swim and focus on doing my best in an individual workout or set.

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The Smith College distance crew.

At the same time, it is also important to have fun even while training hard and my friends help me look forward to each workout. My friends also remind me about the importance of choice when they join me for my workouts, even though they are not training for a marathon swim. I am so grateful that my teammates Desi and Haley choose to do my workouts and keep me company.

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Me as a younger swimmer.

Choice is something that has been present in my swimming from an early age. During my first year of competitive swimming, I often complained about going to practice and my parents told me that I could quit the sport or I could commit to my training; it was my choice. My parents’ inclination to have me be in charge of my athletics served both to allow me to grow invested in my swimming and also to save me from feeling pushed into the sport as many of my friends were. I believe this approach has contributed to my lifelong love for the sport and I am grateful. I will continue to make the choice to show up at the pool and train everyday and when I stand on a Dover beach looking across the Channel at France, I will know that all my choices have prepared me for the challenge ahead.

T-Minus 5 months

So I just realized that my team and I leave for England in almost exactly 5 months. This both an exciting and scary realization, but also fitting as I plan to start my “real” channel training on Monday. Of course I am not starting from nothing, all my training from my Smith season will become a base on which my channel training will build. In season, I train a lot of butterfly and IM and now my training will change to include more freestyle and more volume. For example, an “in season” set for me might include 200s butterfly on repeat and this type of set will now become 500s freestyle holding a specific pace.

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Me and the Smith distance crew!

I competed with my team at NEWMACs last weekend and I am sad that our competitive season is over, but also looking ahead to my channel training. I cannot wait to start training; partly because it will feel good to have a goal again, and partly because I am just plain excited. I am also nervous because officially starting training will make it real that I will be pushing off from England and heading to France sometime in July or August. This swim has always been an abstract goal of mine but now it is a real goal with a deadline. I am so grateful for all my teammates and everyone else who have helped get me this far already and I cannot wait to see where this training and sport will take me!

6 hour English Channel qualifier!

After much rescheduling and plan changes, I finally completed my 6-hour cold water English Channel (EC) qualifier swim today. In order to qualify, I needed to swim for 6 hours in water below 61 degrees fahrenheit. The Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica has hovered between 57 and 60 degrees recently, and today it was 57. Though I didn’t need to complete this swim until closer to my EC window, which is July 29-August 6, 2017, the water temperature has been so perfect recently that I couldn’t resist giving it a shot while I am home for winter break. Though I am usually confident in my ability to complete a swim, I’ll admit that I honestly didn’t think I could stay in the cold water that long because I haven’t really begun acclimatizing yet (aside from walking around in the snow in shorts). Regardless of whether I could complete my 6-hour goal, I knew that this swim would test me both mentally and physically.

My amazing kayaker Jax and I began the swim at Tower 26 and planned to head south to Marina Del Rey. The surf was larger than I expected, but Jax expertly maneuvered the kayak into the water as I gasped when the cold water rushed over my body. Once we were through the surf, we turned south toward the Venice Breakwater and I tried to find my rhythm as my hands and feet grew numb. The first half hour dragged on and I wondered if I was crazy to try this swim now. I though about a message from my friend Charlotte Samuels who told me to “just remember to focus on the sun that is at your center and not the extremities” in order to stay warm in the water. The next hour felt really long as we passed the Venice Pier, arrived at the MDR breakwater, and my stroke still felt choppy and out of rhythm. We turned and headed back north and I looked forward to my next feed because it was my first apple sauce feed!

After the 2 hour applesauce feed, I began to feel my stroke smooth out and I felt warmer in the cold water. At this point, I focused on  getting to the 3 hour half-way point, not even letting myself think about the second half of the swim. Jax told me that my stroke looked good and I was averaging 2.2 miles per hour. I was happily surprised to hear this because I felt like I was dragging through the water against the south flowing current. When I finally reached the 4-hour mark, I was elated to be 2/3 of the way done, but also painfully aware of how much more I still had to go. I was starting to get cold and my shoulders were aching, but I could almost taste the victory. As Charlotte said to me, “just remember every minute is a minute closer.”

We were heading back towards our starting spot at this point and I was feeling very done. At the 5 and 1/2 hour feed I told Jax to tell me as soon as I could head into the beach and I would turn in. Jax finally told me I was done and I turned straight in and swam to shore.

This swim taught me many things that I will apply to future swims. Next time I do a swim, I want to try heated feeds because I like my later feeds better when they had been warmed up by the sun. I have also learned methods to convince myself to keep going even when I want to quit. I told myself that before I could stop the swim, I had to have a good reason. I remembered how when swimming legend Gertrude Ederle was encouraged to quit during her channel crossing, she responded “What for?” When I felt like quitting during this swim, I asked myself that same question and it motivated me to know that I was choosing to be in the water.

While this swim was a lot more miserable than I expected it to be, I am very glad that I was able to complete it now and I have one less thing to worry about in my Channel preparations.I really appreciate all the help and support from all my teammates, my kayaker Jax, and my parents in helping me complete this important goal.

 

 

A cold swim and lessons about the best laid plans

I finally finished my junior fall at Smith College and arrived back in Los Angeles yesterday. I kicked off my trip today with a nice 3 mile swim with my friends Rebecca and Chris. The water temperature has dropped significantly in the last few weeks and was 57 degrees for our swim today. By open water swimming standards that is not actually very cold, but as I am not acclimatized yet, it felt quite chilly to me. As we entered the water in the dawn light, I had to remind myself that I wanted to be there and that the training swim was just a stepping stone to my goals. As my friend Paige says, “its all mental”. I gasped as I put my head into the cold water, and we headed toward the Venice breakwater about a mile away. As I swam, my hands and feet grew numb but my body warmed up with the movement and I felt strong and fast in the salty water. Fittingly, the song Sunrise from In The Heights played in my head, while the light grew brighter around us. When we had covered abut half the distance to the breakwater, we realized that we had swam diagonally out to sea rather than along shore, because we were accidentally citing off a moored ship instead of the Venice pier. The water was so flat that once the sun came up we could see very far in all directions, and I was struck by how beautiful it was out in the water. When we reached the rocks, we turned around and headed back to our starting point, this time spreading out a bit more since the visibility was so good. I pulled ahead, swimming at my own pace so that I could stay warm in the chilly water. By this point, my hands and feet were fairly numb and I balled my hands into fists a few times to “un-claw” them.  When we reached our starting point, Chris said goodbye and Rebecca and I picked a building about 1000 meters down the beach to make the swim a little longer. As we headed to the building, I felt as if I was swimming on a treadmill and never getting any closer. Once we came level with the building we turned to make our final pass back to the start. This part felt much quicker and I swam shallow and could see straight through the clear water to the sandy bottom below. We exited the water and the sand felt odd on my numb feet. Though I had been cold in the water, the walk back to the car was by far the worst part of the whole endeavor. I started to shiver and had trouble zipping up my parka. This swim was one of the coldest I have ever completed and I certainly learned a lot about the mental and physical effects of cold.

I had originally planned to try to complete my 6 hour qualifier for the English Channel on Thursday and this swim was a tester to see how I would handle the cold. However, it rained significantly today, which means that storm drain runoff makes it unsafe to swim f0r a few days. Therefore, I cannot attempt my qualifier tomorrow. You know what they say about the best laid plans… I have postponed my swim until later this week, so stayed tuned! As I am learning, being adaptable and ready to change plans is a big part of Channel training and I am sure this skill will come in handy in the future.

 

Smith Relay Meet

Yesterday SCSD had our first real meet of the 2016-17 season. We hosted Mount Holyoke College and Westfield State University for a meet entirely composed of relays. The relay format made the meet feel like it was moving quickly and I enjoyed swimming all the events as a team rather than individually. Before the meet started, our assistant coach Zach surprised us with team bag tags, which was super exciting because I have always wanted a bag tag!

Though I usually swim a maximum of five events at our meets, at this meet I was entered in eight out of the 12 relays. The meet began with 1 meter diving and it was fun to watch my teammates dive really well.

In the first half of the meet, I swam the 50 fly in the 200 medley relay, the 100 fly in the 3×100 fly relay, the 100 back in the 3×100 backstroke relay, and the 50 free in the 200 free relay. In the second half, I swam the 100 fly in the 400 medley, the 50 fly in the 200 fly relay, the 50 back in the 200 back relay, and the 100 free in the 400 free relay. Though it was tough to swim so many events in one meet, it is good to know I can perform even when I feel tired. As coach Kim always says, “There is no such thing as fatigue!”abbyjanedesi

My major takeaway from this meet is that I need to work on figuring out how to sprint earlier in the meet and finding my feel for the water. Overall, our team performed really well and I cannot wait to see where this season will take us!

First meet of the 2016-17 season!

The 2016-17 Smith swim and dive season was officially started yesterday at the intra-team Wilds vs. Bunches meet (our team nickname is The Wild Bunch). This meet is always one of my favorites because of the low pressure attitude and because I often get to swim some unusual events. It was extra special this year because we are celebrating my coaches 40th season coaching at Smith. This year I was on Team Wild and had fun cheering on my teammates throughout the meet.

This meet always starts off with a cheer competition between the two teams for an extra 5 points. Our team captain had the idea to make a giant cut-out of our coach Kim’s head to use as part of our cheer, so had some good team bonding sticking a giant head to some cardboard and a pool cue.

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Our larger than life Kim Bierwert head

After meet warmup, the cheers started and we brought out the giant head to huge cheers and laughter from the crown and coaches.

I am very happy to be back to racing in the pool because it makes a nice change from long ocean swims. I got to swim the butterfly leg of the 200 medley relay to begin the meet. My first individual event was the 100 backstroke, which was fun because I have only swam it once since high school. The biggest thing I focus on when swimming backstroke is tempo, and I sprinted to a 1:12:06, which is college personal best for me.

My other two events were the 200 backstroke and the 200 butterfly. It was very unusual for me to swim one backstroke event, let alone two, and I now have a new found respect for backstrokers. In my opinion, the 200 backstroke is one of the most painful events there is (and I regularly swim the 200fly and 400IM). I finished my swim in a decent time and my coach told me that I should pick up my tempo because what I had just done was a perfect demonstration of 800 IM tempo.

After the 200 backstroke, I got to watch my marathon swim buddy Eliza destroy her personal best in the 500 free. She won the event by about a minute and swam her fastest time ever by 3 seconds! Watching her swim was exactly the pump up I needed before my 200 fly. My friend Desi and I were the only swimmer entered into the event and we swim really well together, so we knew the it was going to be really fun. Swimming with Desi exemplifies the synergy that Kim always talks about, where people swim faster together. I went a 2:23, which is within 5 seconds of my tapered time from last season. Considering that we’ve been training really hard, I am super pleased with my swim.

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Sometimes when I swim butterfly, I come up really high and look really angry.

After the meet, we had a brunch to celebrate Kim’s 40 years of coaching at Smith. Wild Bunch alums from as far back as Kim’s first year coaching came to Smith to celebrate everything he has done for us. I have always appreciated the history and camaraderie of our team but it was amazing to see all the generations of Wild Bunch in one room, celebrating the man who has been instrumental in our success.

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Past and present Wild Bunch with Coach Kim.

Overall, it was a really good meet and I am super excited to see the amazing things our team will do this season! I love my Wild Bunch, thanks for a great meet!