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.

 

I will be swimming tomorrow!

My family and I arrived in Maui yesterday afternoon and have been settling into our hotel, while awaiting news from our boat captain, Justine, that the conditions look promising to swim. We received a call this morning that tomorrow promises the best weather of the week. The lead up to this swim feels so much more relaxed than when I was in England and so different since the weather is less changeable. I am so excited to begin my swim!

In around 12 hours, I will begin my swim on the coast of Maui and head over to Lanai. Although I had originally planned to swim the other direction, Justine believes their are more benefits to starting on Maui and I am trusting her expertise. Besides, I think it is kind of exciting to swim from a place I know well (maui) to a place I have never been (Lanai). In the same way that my Catalina swim was special because I had spent my childhood staring out at the island, this swim is special because Maui is one of my favorite places in the world.

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Just a little pre-swim hydration

The swim is about 9 miles and I hoping to finish within 5 hours, but the water is fairly warm (around 77 degrees) so I am not worried about getting cold. You can follow my progress here. This swim is important as I look ahead to the rest of my summer and will be both a milestone and a training opportunity. In July, I will be completing a 28-mile circumnavigation of Manhattan and this swim in addition to the rest of my training will help prepare for that swim. For now, I am off to bed to prepare to swim between two islands!

The first swim is the longest (baby, I know)

In preparation for my upcoming Maui Channel swim, I have been doing plenty of pool training, but have had little access to open water. Yesterday I went for a 3-hour training swim to remind my body and mind what long swimming feels like. My former club teammate, Serafina, escorted me on her paddle board and we made our way from Marina Del Rey to Santa Monica. The water was colder than I expected it to be and I initially had a difficult time finding any rhythm in my stroke. Because the current was pushing north pretty strongly, we had decided to turn around slightly before halfway to give ourselves enough time to return.

As we rounded the Venice pier, my stroke began to smooth out and remembered why I enjoy ocean swimming. I was flying across the water, with the current pushing me steadily north. I didn’t see any dolphins, but I could hear their songs surrounding me in the grey water. Serafina signaled that we had been swimming for an hour and I stretched out on my back for a few seconds. Two dolphins passed us by on the outside and Serafina told me she had seen several more earlier in the swim. I was still feeling a little chilly at this point and we decided to swim north for 10 more minutes before turning back against the current.

We turned south and I definitely noticed that I was no longer feeling the current giving me a push and instead fought against it with each stroke. We passed the Venice breakwater and stopped to check in for a minute, as the swell was getting larger. We swam back around the Venice pier and made surprisingly good time, even with the current against us. At this point it was clear to me that we would get back to our starting point before the 3-hour mark and would have to swim around a little to fill up the rest of the time. We reached the jetty and swam north again for 10 minutes and back to the jetty to finish the swim. Even though this swim was *only* 3 hours and I have done many swims that are a lot longer, this swim felt very long. In hindsight, this was due to a combination of forgetting to bring food, unexpectedly cold water, and that this was my first long swim of the season. Overall, this was a successful swim and I am grateful to Serafina for meeting me on a random weekday to make this swim happen!

First open water swim of summer 2018

One of my goals for my last week at Smith is to explore the local area, which is sadly something I’ve done a rather bad job of throughout my years at Smith. My friend Eva helped me on this quest by introducing me to a beautiful lake about 30 minutes away from Smith in the town of Ashfield. The drive out to Ashfield wound through the beautiful Western Massachusetts countryside and we arrived at the lake under a clear blue sky with a little bit of wind.

IMG_8863We weren’t quite sure how cold the water would be so Eva brought us both wetsuits, just in case I wanted to wear one. One of the masters swimmers I swim with sometimes had told me that Ashfield had been hovering around 52 degrees, so I was a little nervous about the water being too cold for me to muscle without a wetsuit.  I decided to wait until I felt the water to make a decision; my dislike of swimming in wetsuits fighting my desire to not freeze. When we got to the lake the air was around 60 degrees with some wind but the water felt warmer than I expected, maybe around 58 and I decided to give it a go without a wetsuit.

We waded into the lake and agreed to check in with each other often but also said that we didn’t have to stay super close to one another, as the lake was empty. We swam straight across the lake and tread water for a little break at the other end. It was so good to be back in open water, and I felt like I was flying across the lake. We turned and swam back to our starting place and decided to take a second lap. On the second lap the wind picked up and I thoroughly enjoyed swimming into the chop on the way there and flying with the wind at my back on the return. Eva is training for a half Ironman and we paced each other well across the lake. I counted my strokes for one length and decided that each round trip was roughly equivalent to 1000 yards. I took one more lap because I was still enjoying the cool water and wanted to take full advantage of the visit to the lake. I wish I’d had a thermometer to take the water temperature because it really felt cool rather than cold and after 3000 yards my hands and feet weren’t numb and my fingers had not yet started to claw.

I cannot believe that I have been at Smith for 4 years without discovering this amazing open water swimming location. I am so grateful to Eva for taking me on this adventure and braving the cold water with me! This short excursion back into open water certainly has made me excited for the many swimming opportunities that this summer will surely hold.

Announcing Maui Channel Swim!

I am so sorry that I have been out of the loop for a little while, finishing up my undergraduate career at Smith College. After I graduate in a few weeks, my family and I will be heading to Maui for vacation and I will get to do a swim that I have dreamt about since I first visited the island. I plan to swim the Auau channel from the island of Lanai back to Maui sometime between May 29th and June 1st.

Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 9.16.38 AM This swim has a straight line distance of 8.8 miles and has been completed by around 150 people since 2000 and several more before that. Although this swim is shorter than many of the marathon swims that I have been training for recently, it also presents new challenges, including warm water and wildlife.

The water temperature between these two islands hovers in the high 70s, which is similar to the temperature of many competitive swimming pools. I have never done an ocean swim in water this warm and am excited to discover the unique challenges this will present! I have been training almost exclusively in the pool at the moment as I am still in Massachusetts, but my training has been going well and I hope to get an at least one ocean training swim completed when I am in California before heading to Maui.

I don’t have a date set for the swim yet because my boat captain prefers to watch the weather and decide on a date once we are on the island! I will update this blog once I have more details but you will be able to follow my swim at track.rs/abby.