Santa Monica Bay Swim

Santa Monica Bay Swim Recap

This season of marathon swimming has been unusual and unexpected. I thought that I would be swimming in North Dakota and Lake Michigan, and instead I got to complete two swims in the Pacific, a little close to home. The idea for the Santa Monica Bay Swim initially came from an off hand comment in June from a friend who suggested that maybe I should swim the bay. For the rest of the summer, I could not get the swim out of my head, and decided to book a boat and give it a go.

We boarded the Pacific Star in San Pedro to take the three hour trip out to the start up in Malibu. We all had our temperatures taken and wore masks and distanced. I’ve never really liked boats but I wasn’t particularly concerned about the trip, and figured that I would just sleep. The swells were large as we rounded the lighthouse to get out of Cabrillo and even though I tried to fall asleep, I ended up feeling very seasick and basically couldn’t stop throwing up. I cannot remember ever being that miserable. I ended up dragging my sleeping bag out onto the deck and sleeping on the floor of the boat for two hours before we got out to Malibu because it was the only way I could minimize being seasick.

Around 10:30pm my mom woke me up to tell me that we were arriving at Point Dume and I needed to get ready I. I was still so nauseous and didn’t even want to stand up but I slowly put my suit, cap, and goggles on and greased and put on sunscreen. I waited for the all clear to jump out of the boat. Jax told me that many successful Catalina swimmers have been sick on the way over and still had successful swims. This made me feel better even though I was dreading jumping in the cold water. The swells were big so I had to time it just right to get on the swim step and into the water safely. As soon as I hit the water I started feeling better. Jax accompanied me in the kayak over to the beach where I could tell the swells were breaking hard. Once Jax couldn’t get any closer to the beach in the kayak, I carefully swam in and almost got crunched by the pounding shore break, but managed to get my footing and get onto dry land. Something bumped my foot in the shallow water. I walked above the high tide line and there were a couple of people on the beach who wished me good luck on my swim. The boat gave a blast and I walked carefully into the water and swam back out to Jax.

Jax was accompanying me around the point and the swell was still quite large. She told me to use my eyes and ears to make sure I didn’t run into any submerged rocks but I didn’t see any so we kept going around the point. The wind picked up and was gusting and soon Jax couldn’t keep up with me because I wasn’t as affected by the wind in the water as she was in the kayak. I had to stop twice to wait for her to catch up so that we didn’t get separated in the dark water. Jax is one of the best kayakers I know and these were totally harrowing conditions. Eventually, Jax decided the best thing to do was the radio the boat have them come pick her up and I would just swim alongside the boat. I was not happy about this because I generally don’t like swimming alongside a big boat and much prefer having a kayak in the water, but it wasn’t actually a big deal because the captain did a great job and made it really easy to swim next to him. I had to wait and tread water for about 15 minutes while Jax caught up to us and they pulled her on board the boat and then we were off again heading south around Point Dume.

The water at the start had been quite warm but it quickly dropped and probably settled around 63° for most of the rest of the swim. After I started swimming next to the big boat, I finally began to find my rhythm and was actually enjoying myself despite how miserable I had been on the boat. For the next couple of hours, the swells stayed large and I was being tossed around a bunch but it didn’t feel like I was hitting them head on so it was okay. I was not too cold as long as I kept moving but for the first five minutes after stopping for each feed I would shiver until I got back up to maintaining my warmth. I wasn’t sure if starting a swim already kind of cold (from sleeping on the deck) and with absolutely nothing in my stomach (from repeatedly throwing up) was going to make me cold for the swim itself, but I seemed mostly okay and so I decided not to worry about it. I was continuing to swim alongside the big boat and take my feeds on a rope from the big boat and I was reminded of him swimming along my English Channel boat and feeding the same way three years ago. Every so often Steve would tell me that I was a little too far away and I would come back close to the boat, but I really didn’t have a problem following the boat in the dark. We were very lucky that despite the wind and chop it was a clear night with a full moon and I could see the horizon line the whole time which was making it feel more like grey light than pitch dark night. It was a completely different experience swimming under the moon!

At around four hours in when I was still alone in the water with just the big boat next to me, I started to hear dolphin chirping and suddenly there was a pair of dolphins swimming underneath me checking me out. They swooped back under me two or three times and I got to see them glowing in the moonlight. I’ve never actually seen dolphins during a marathon swim before so this is very very cool. The dolphin encounter could not have been more magical if I had imagined it.

I felt like I had a couple of support swimmers with me in the water for those few minutes. I knew that sunrise proper would be around six in the morning but around five the sky started to get lighter and I could see the horizon turning a bit orange. I was very excited for daylight because I was tired of the darkness and was actually having a bit of a hard time keeping my eyes open because I was sleepy but I knew that as soon as the sun came up I would be more awake.

One thing that was kind of funny was that in the darkness it was easy to make out the lights on the shoreline and I really felt like I was swimming across the bay, but when the sun came up a bit of fog rolled in and I couldn’t see the shore at all. I could’ve been out in the middle of the ocean for all I could see. As it got lighter, I took a feed and my mom told me that they were going to put a kayak back in the water with me now that conditions were slightly better. I was excited to have some company and glad there will be someone in the water during sunrise because I know that some kinds of animals like to come out around that time and I didn’t wanna be alone. Dan got in the kayak next to me and around this time also the water flattened out and I was finally getting the glassy conditions I hoped for for the swim. I picked up my tempo a bit trying to capitalize on the good conditions and make up some of the ground I knew I had lost in the time with big swell.

When the sun was truly up I asked Dan if I could swap to my dark goggles because the light was bothering my eyes in my clear goggles so I quickly changed my goggles and then we continued to head south. I felt like I was getting a push at this point while the water was so flat, but after talking to the crew later it turned out that the currents were actually quite swirly and we weren’t making nearly as much progress as I thought we were; I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time. I continued to follow my feed plan of a Carbo Pro every half hour with a GoGo Squeez apple sauce on the fourth half hour, but I did ask for the Carbo Pro to be made warm. After about 8 hours, I added Honey Stinger gels to my feed cycle and these extra calories really made a huge (and tasty) difference in my performance!

I was still thoroughly enjoying myself and laughing about how much I have been dreading doing this swim. By this point I had basically decided that the only way I was getting out before I finished was if someone had to pull me out because I had no intention of pulling myself out of it. At my next feed my mom told me that some of the classes at my elementary school The Willows, including my own 2nd grade teacher, were going to live stream my swim for the kids so when I stopped next, I waved hi and thanked them for watching me and supporting me. Dan was still in the kayak and was playing with my GoPro taking videos of me in the water. I asked him how far we had left to go and he told me 11 miles, which I was disappointed to hear because I had been hoping it would be closer to 8 miles. 11 miles meant 6 more hours in the water. Dan told me that at the next feed he and Jax were going to swap out.

I had to give myself a mental boost here because I was disappointed that I was going to have to swim for six more hours when I had been hoping it was just four. Part of me regretted asking Dan how much farther we had to go and part of me was just glad to know. I was just about to sing through the sound track of Heathers for the 10th time. Shortly after Jax got back in with me the wind started to pick up from the west and I knew we were starting to get the afternoon conditions that I was hoping to minimize but there still wasn’t much swell other than the wind chop. Because the wind was from the west and Jax I were to the east of the boat, we were both breathing in a lot about fuel fumes so Jax requested that we move to the west side of the boat instead. We were swimming on the west side now which took a little bit of adjustment for me but since I breathe bilaterally anyway it wasn’t a big deal to swap which side the kayak was on.

Around 12 hours in I started thinking about how my longest swim previously had been the English channel which was 13 hours and 15 minutes and then once I hit 13 hours and 16 minutes this would be my longest swim ever. Also around this point I thought that I finally had about four hours left so I started swimming very much feed to feed taking the swim in 30 minute intervals.

I was very ready to be done now, but also not feeling too tired and enjoying pushing the limits of how long I had ever been in the water before. The water was still quite choppy but since the wind was from the west at least I wasn’t taking the chop head-on. When I hit 13 hours 30 minutes I told Jax I was really happy that this was now my longest swim ever and Palos Verdes was becoming much clearer in the distance. When I had been in the water about 15 hours we were getting very close to some parts of shore but it seemed to me like we were heading for the North facing edge of the point when I knew that to finish the swim we needed to finish past the western point of the bay.

Jax, Dan, and I had a discussion and we all agreed that we needed to head further west and around the edge of the point into Lunada Bay to finish. This now meant that we had to turn and swim directly into the wind chop which was frustrating but we were just so close that I just wanted to get there. I saw a large fish of some kind underneath me and told Jax “there’s a big Fish”. Jax and I headed into a kelp bed because the water was calmer and we needed to get into shore. I spent about 15 or 20 minutes kelp crawling which was not fun to do but I’m sure it was funny to watch. Looking down at one point in the kelp I was surprised to see a turtle swimming beneath me. I had never seen a turtle in California before so I was very excited! Jax tried to get a picture with the GoPro but couldn’t get it out quickly enough and the turtle swam down away from us.

I decided that as much as crawling through the kelp was not fun, it was 100% worth it to see the turtle. Jax and I crabbed through the kelp getting closer to shore and Dan also hopped in a kayak to find the best landing spot for me. We headed in towards a rocky cliffy part to finish. It soon became clear that the way the surf was breaking and the way the cliff and rocks were slippery and covered in urchins and other dangerous things that I was going to need to finish by touching a rock connected to the cliff rather than completely clearing the water. Dan pointed out the best rock for me to use to finish and I timed it with the surf to reach and touch the rock to finish. I was a bit bummed that I didn’t get to completely clear the water on the finish but safety has to come first in these things and there wasn’t going to be a safe way for me to get out of or back into the water if I tried to clear it

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After I finished I hopped on the back of Dan’s kayak so that I didn’t have to crawl through the kelp again and he paddled us back out to the big boat with Jax right behind us. Besides the first hour and last hour of the swim, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I think that I trained well so I wasn’t ever horribly tired and my feed plan worked well so I never had a big energy/caloric crash.

As much as I was ready to be done when I finished I could have kept swimming for several hours if I had needed to and I’m really really proud of that. Most of all I’m really proud that as terrible as I was feeling on the boat I still hopped in the water and gave the swim a try. I’m so grateful to my amazing crew (Jax, Dan, Steve, Natalie, and the whole crew of Pacific Star) for keeping me safe and happy to have a successful swim! I am also super grateful for everyone who followed along and cheered me to the finish.

15 mile swim recap

Back when the beaches first reopened, I decided to plan a local swim so that I would have a training goal. I picked this particular swim because my normal training spot was contained within it and because 15 miles felt like the longest distance that we could do safely with only kayaks.

Photo Jul 25, 5 42 18 AMSo this “brilliant” idea is how I found myself standing on a beach in Malibu at 5:30 on a Saturday morning, getting ready to walk out into 59 degree water. We had arrived at the beach around 4:45 and it was so dark that all I could see were the lights on Malibu pier. I had to remind myself every few minutes that this swim was indeed a good idea. We brought the kayaks down to the water’s edge and I saw that there was almost no surf and the water was very cold, my guess would have been 56 but the thermometer told us it was 59. When Jax said “go” I waded out into the water, keeping my breathing even despite the temperature. My goggles immediately fogged up and I concentrated on trying find my stroke rhythm in the water and following Jax and Steve around the pier. 

The water was so cold that I was holding a higher tempo than I usually do at the beginning of a long swim but I knew I needed to create heat to have any hope of staying warm. At the first feed, I told Jax that the water was really cold and that I

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was not yet warmed up. I shivered my way through the next half hour and started doubting my ability to even finish this swim if I was so cold already. I don’t usually doubt myself at the beginning of big swims, but I was already starting to claw up at an hour in and really did not think I could handle many hours in that water. At the second feed, I told Jax that I was still cold. I told myself that the water would get warmer for every mile I could cover, even though I had no reason to believe that it would. At least the water was glassy, even if it was cold.

By the third feed, the air started to warm up and the swim started to be a little bit less miserable. Despite the temperature, I felt like I was flying across the glassy water IMG_0753.JPGwith a bit of swell at my back. I was taking the swim in 30 minute segments and they seemed to go by surprisingly fast as I enjoyed watching the fancy houses pass by and tried to guess where we were. Finally, about 2.5 hours into the swim, I started enjoying myself and while still cold, my hands and feet were no longer numb. 

I knew we were still a ways off but I wondered when we would be able to see the Santa Monica Pier. We could not yet see it but we saw two buildings in the distance that we thought were the buildings behind Tower 26, but later turned out to be a different apartment building in north Santa Monica. Finally I saw a landmark I recognized, as we passed the Getty Villa. Looking at a map later, this was about the halfway point of the swim.

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Not our T26 buildings

The buildings in downtown Santa Monica loomed out of the fog and I was really happy to be able to see buildings that I knew. They did not seem to be getting any closer, though, and I could tell the swell was no longer at my back. At the same time the chop was picking up.

I could finally see the pier in the distance but I felt like it wasn’t getting any closer. I felt like we were stuck in a swirl, where one minute I would get a push, just to be drawn backward the next moment. We pressed on toward the pier with rocks on our right side. 

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Passing the pier, I saw the buildings behind Tower 26 welcoming back into my home training area. While I was excited to be “home,” my stroke was struggling in the chop and I was starting to hurt. In addition, I now knew exactly the distance that I had left to cover and how long it would take. The baywatch boat was attached to the Tower 26 buoy so we headed straight for it.

As we passed the buoy, there were suddenly three other swimmers behind me and to my right. At first, I thought they were just other random swimmers and then I saw that it was actually Rebecca, Colin, and Iris coming out to keep me 

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company. I was so happy to see them that I almost cried into my goggles. I picked up my stroke to stay a bit ahead of them and having them nearby finally pulled me out of the funk I had been feeling since being stuck in the current before the pier.

We stopped for a feed about halfway between the buoy and the rocks and Iris and Colin peeled off and I thanked them for joining me. Rebecca stayed with me and I was hoping to make it to the Venice Pier for the next feed. As we were passing the rocks, Jax moved to my other side, because she could see my parents on the beach and wanted them to be able to see me. After the rocks, Rebecca said goodbye and I was alone again but in much better spirits than before my friends had joined. 

IMG_0790We stopped for another feed right before Venice Pier and the chop was picking up. I was really feeling ready to finish the swim but was also enjoying the sun and the blue sky. As we got closer to Marina Del Rey, there were lots of boats and people on jet skis and I was especially grateful to have Jax on Steve on either side of me. I knew that they would not let me get run over. 

The north jetty was visible and I was disappointed when Steve said it was time to IMG_0802.jpegstop for the 7.5 hour feed because I just wanted to get to the end. I fed quickly and powered forward toward the jetty. I passed the edge of the breakwater and tried to pick up my pace and headed to the rocks. I could hear people on the beach cheering for me and put my head down and sprinted. I carefully swam up to the rocks and climbed up on them to get a hand on a dry rock and finish. I was so happy to see my parents and my friend Katherine waiting for me at the beach! I also had a cheerleader standing on the jetty as I swam in, but couldn’t see who it was behind their facemask, so if this was you: please let me know and thanks so much!

I am so grateful to everyone who helped make this swim successful! I could not have done it without my parents’ support, my kayakers amazing skill, and my friends’ encouragement, both along the way and in every training session. Overall, some parts of this swim were harder than I expected and I am really proud to have completed it, despite my unusual training this year!

 

 

 

Different meaning of “local”

I was supposed to be swimming 36 miles down a river in North Dakota yesterday. Clearly, 2020 had other ideas. Like so many other athletes, I have had most of my planned events cancelled due to COVID-19.

Back in the latter part of 2019 (which honestly feels like a different century), I was looking forward to a summer spent training and working in Chicago. I decided to take advantage of this and plan a season of swims all mostly near the midwest. I was going to swim ENDWET in North Dakota and a 24 miler in Lake Michigan. I was going to keep my 2020 swim season “local”.

Fast forward to June 2020 and I have now been in California for 97 days and I am having to redefine local. I am planning a few exciting swims for later in the summer, all near to my Santa Monica playground (more details to come). I am making the most of this unexpected time at home and training as much as I can in the Pacific Ocean.

This weekend I made the most of being home by swimming a little over 7 hours in the ocean. On Saturday, I met up with my friends Katherine and Gino to start my planned 4 hour swim. We swam to the buoy where I attached my feeds and then headed a little over a mile south to the Venice breakwater, affectionately known as “the rocks”. The current was mildly flowing north, meaning we would get a slight push for our return trip. This first lap took a little over an hour and when we got back to the buoy, Gino swam into the beach and Katherine and I headed back to the rocks.

The second lap was pretty uneventful except for the unusually warm water and I started to think about how Katherine was going to have to leave after this lap and I would have to hope I could find some other people to swim with because I had promised my mom that I would never swim in the ocean alone. Just as Katherine and I were approaching the buoy, I saw a group of people that I know swimming back south. I quickly said goodbye to Katherine and turned back south with the group, choosing to skip my feed so that I wouldn’t have to catch up too much. We swam south to the rainbow tower, which is a little less than a mile from the buoy. When we stopped at rainbow, I realized my usual training buddy, Rebecca, was actually swimming with this group even though I thought she had decided not to swim that day. When the rest of the group went back towards the buoy, we continued south and swam to the rocks. I was very happy about this impromptu extension because I was hoping to complete 3 laps to the rocks.

When we arrived back at the buoy, I had been swimming for about 3 and a half hours and really wanted to swim for 4 full hours, but I had no friends to swim with anymore. The lifeguard tower was open, so I decided to pass the last 30 minutes doing laps between the beach and the buoy; each about 500 yards round trip. The water was so warm that I felt like I could keep swimming forever. I finished my last 30 minutes and headed into the beach satisfied with my patchwork 4 hour swim.

On Sunday, I planned to swim 3 hours but again needed to string together a series of people to keep me company. I met up with most of my usual Sunday group for the first trip to the rocks. The water was slightly cooler than yesterday but still warm. For the first lap, I was trying to find rhythm and shake off the soreness from my long swim yesterday. I was only moderately successful at finding rhythm, but the water was so flat that it was still a somewhat enjoyable lap.

After the first lap, Katherine joined me, Kristin, and Rebecca for another trip to the rocks. I enjoyed this lap much more and felt my body loosen up more. I pushed my pace on the way back, letting myself have fun in the glassy water. The conditions were so nice and I was just so grateful for the opportunity to swim. After that second lap, I still needed about 45 more minutes to reach 3 hours, but Katherine’s meter was going to run out and everyone else needed to be home.

Katherine and I decided that I would swim laps from the buoy to the shore and she would run to fill her meter so that we could keep swimming. As we were swimming in though, we ran into some of our SCAQ friends and Katherine told me to swim north to the pier with them and she would jog down the beach and meet up with us. This sounded like a perfect plan so I headed north with the SCAQ group and Katherine went to her car. When we were about 1/2 way to the pier, Katherine intercepted us and we set a speedy pace to the pier. At the pier we turned around to swim against the current back to the buoy.

As we approached the buoy, I built my pace and soon I was sprinting for the last couple 100 yards. It felt surprisingly good to sprint after months of not being in the pool. We swam into shore and I felt again like I could have kept swimming forever. I am certainly sore from the 7 combined hours of swimming, but also finally feeling like I am at a good place in my training.

So although I expected “local” to mean lots of Chicago lake swimming for 2020, it appears that staying local actually meant returning to my childhood home and spending the summer enjoying every minute I get to spent in the Pacific.

2020: The summer of working with what we have

What a wild ride 2020 has been! I have been resisting blogging because I have been practicing living in the moment and focusing on enjoying every day and opportunity to swim. The time has come for me to reflect on these last few weeks of training and the exciting opportunity to train at home rather than in Lake Michigan. I am still in California (surprise!) and have the unexpected chance to participate in some really cool swims in the coming months!

For the first block of weeks that I was home, I did the majority of my training in my parents tiny backyard pool.IMG_3090 This pool was great for maintaining my mental connection to the water and some endurance, but I certainly felt constrained by the space and my lack of creativity with tethered workouts. I am so grateful to be mixing ocean swimming back into my routine, since the beaches are back open!

My training buddy Hannah and I have been slowly building our weekend swims, IMG_5123alternating between my home beach in Santa Monica and her local beach at Shaw’s Cove. Santa Monica is usually flat and we can push our distance and speed, while Shaws provides the opportunity to practice swimming in challenging conditions. Each swim feels so special because it was only a few weeks ago that beaches were off limits to even swimmers. I was also pleasantly surprised by how much my tethered training seems to have maintained my swim endurance and technique.

COVID has also presented unique challenges to my normal training routine, but open water swimming also lends itself more naturally to social distancing than some other sports. I’m sure some people are curious about the precautions that we are taking so I will explain. My training group is small and we are very careful to maintain our distance, both in and out of the water. We park on the same street, put on our masks and get completely ready to get in the water at our cars. We walk down to the water, all wearing our masks and don’t share gear the way wet/sdcard/DCIM/100GOPRO/GOPR0014 normally might. Our training walks the fine line between staying close enough to keep eachother safe from a water safety standpoint and far enough to keep eachother safe from a COVID standpoint. As most swimming events have been cancelled this year, we are embracing our training and enjoying our time together!

I will reviving this blog to chronicle my training for the rest of the summer. Stay tuned for some exciting announcements in the next few weeks!

Lake Tahoe Length Recap

I’ll start by saying that I was unusually nervous for this swim. It had been 2 years since I had swum anything over 8 hours and this swim just felt long. Also, I have done enough swims at this point that its seem (at least to me) that everyone just expects me to be successful. It is not a bad thing to have people have confidence in me but it is stressful to worry about failing under those expectations. I even contemplated not posting about the swim until I finished because I was so worried about falling short of my goal. But, while I don’t like the pressure of possibly letting people down, I do value the flipside of having people hold me accountable to my goals.

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One of my other worries was that Lake Tahoe length crossings start around 9pm and occur mostly overnight. Not only do I usually dislike night swimming, most people who know me know that I hate staying up late. I researched the possibility of a later start and discussed this idea with many veteran swimmers, but ultimately decided that dark and flat outweighed light and windy. And so, I found myself watching the sunset over the lake with my crew waiting for our 9pm jump time. When I told my kayaker and guide extraordinaire Catherine Breed about my fear of swimming in the dark, she assured me that I would always be able to see the contrast between the mountains and the sky. This comforted me and was absolutely true.

It was surreal to stand on the beach in cap and goggles while vacationers dined on IMG_4510an outdoor patio behind me. Once they saw me and understood what I was going to do, I had a whole patio of people cheering for me. When John the observer gave me a 3 minute warning, I got in and splashed around because I do not like starting dry and then found my way back to dry land to wait for the count down.

Catherine was already in the kayak waiting for me and when John said “go”, I walked into the cool water and started to swim. I started swimming along the pier with Catherine on my other side, trying to find my rhythm and let my eyes adjust to the darkness. The water was warmer than the air and my stroke felt jittery in the excitement of the start. I had to remind myself that I wanted to use the first 3 hours to find my stroke and not to go out too fast. All the same, I felt like I was flying across the slightly bumpy water. I knew that the wind was supposed to die down by 11pm and that the water should flatten out too.

The first feed came more quickly than I expected and I fed quickly and continued finding my pace. I was so happy that I could still see the difference between the distant mountains and the sky, which provided context. Breathing to one side I could see the the dark mountains and distant city lights, and breathing to the other I could see the light son the kayak and the red light on Catherine’s head. The contrast was peaceful. I also had a green light on my goggle strap that occasionally illuminated my hands in the water. On the second feed, I remembered to look at the stars shining bright above me. I also asked Catherine to switch the kayak from my right side to my left which helped me keep my stroke more even and made my neck happier. Even though, I am a bilateral breather, I find that I can sometimes see much better on one side versus the other.

I never did see the moon, Catherine said that she could see it periodically when the clouds moved aside! The early parts of these long swims is mentally difficult because it is hard for me to ignore how far I still have to go. I gave myself until the end of the 3rd hour to find my rhythm and even though my stroke was feeling smoother, I was struggling with already wanting to be done with the darkness. I kept reminding myself to just swim for the next 30 minutes and get to the next feed. I knew once I reached the halfway point, I would feel re-energized, so I set the halfway point as a goal.

Although the darkness prevented me from seeing my progress, I finally started to feel like I was making some distance away from the southern starting point. Hours 4 and 5 were spent wishing for news of reaching halfway and feeling the air continue to get colder.

At the hour 5 feed, Catherine got onto the boat to rest and I swam beside the boat for a while. Anyone who has trained with me knows that I struggle to maintain a straight line in the water and darkness makes this much worse. I had a very difficult time telling the angle of the boat in the water, despite the many lights hanging from it. Several times, I found myself swimming perpendicularly away from the boat and heard the crew shouting at me to come back. They yelled that I should swim towards a dip in the ridge that was backlit. It was around 2am at this point and I could not figure out why it looked like the sun was rising over the northern hills. Finally I asked what the light was and the crew shouted “Reno!” and finally I understood where I was headed!

I was really not enjoying swimming just with the boat but instead focused passing the halfway point and making progress. Around 7 hours, I started to get more comfortable getting used to swimming next to the boat and they added a blue light which really helped. I asked if Catherine was going to be coming back in soon and when I stopped to feed at 7.5 hours, she hopped back in the kayak!IMG_4521

I was so happy to have the kayak back guiding me and felt like I was flying through the water. I kept wondering if I was going to hit a wall and stop feeling strong. Catherine said: “What’s your 10k pace? All you have left is a 10k and a bonus mile!” I58687389408__B7C219A3-7D1B-4B89-9843-5D025C65CBB5 2 knew that the few hours before dawn were when I was going to be the coldest and that it had to be around 5am so I was getting excited for the sun to come up and warm me up.

At the 8-hour feed, Catherine told me that I had about a 10k left and that if I could do it in less than 3 hours I would “crush” my goal time. I focused on descending each hour of the 3 hours and wondered if I would hit a wall sometime soon. I started having fun and feeling speedy in the water but also feeling very ready to be done. The sky was finally light and I switched to my dark goggles and started to feel warmer.

58688206136__909D34E6-8E3A-4489-B650-8FE6061602A2We began to swim into a small bay but I felt like I stopped making progress as the edges of the bay refused to get any closer. At the next feed, Catherine acknowledged that we were fighting a headwind but that I should keep pushing and I asked for an Advil at the 10.5-hour feed. We continued moving forward and when I sighted forward, I could finally see light glinting off the boats near the finish. These looked deceptively close and Catherine told me at the 10.5-ghour feed that she thought we were about 2800 yards away. I was disappointed to hear this because it meant that my time would certainly be over 11 hours.

The Advil helped a little bit and I kept trying to build into my fastest pace. Catherine p1020874kept reminding me to kick but I was starting to really really want to finish. At the 11-hour feed, Catherine asked if I wanted to take an applesauce as it would be my last feed. I thought that I was very close so I just had one swallow of applesauce before continuing to swim. I soon regretted this as I was still about 20 minutes from the finish. When I finally started passing boats, marking my proximity to the finish, my energy was fading and I was aching. I continued to swim to the beach, with Catherine guiding me and finally saw sand underneath me. I picked up my stroke tempo and swam up onto the beach. I stood up slowly and sort of hopped up onto the sand, finding dry sand and raising my arms. I was finally done. I stood there, looking back across the lake and couldn’t believe that I had swum so far.

p1020888I am so grateful to my whole crew for making this swim possible and especially to Catherine for supporting me in the water. I honestly do not think I could have done this swim without her. Overall, this was a very fun swim and I am very proud of how I was able to build it and how well my stroke held together for the 11 hours. I learned a lot about pushing my limits especially in terms of effort on this swim and can’t wait to translate these lessons onto future swims! Thank you so much to everyone near and far who cheered me on!

 

Anacapa Crossing Recap

Last year, back before I had found a job in Chicago, I planned to spend the summer in California and accordingly planned to complete California swims. The California swim that has most interested me for a while is the 12 mile channel between Anacapa Island and Oxnard. I decided that this swim sounded like both a fun IMG_2944challenge and a good stepping stone to prepare me for a Lake Tahoe crossing next month.

My mom and I drove up to Oxnard to spend Sunday night in a hotel and met our boat captain, Dawn, who showed us the beach where I would start the swim. This was a lucky opportunity because Dawn had decided that since the currents were favoring a Mainland to Island swim rather than the traditions Island to Mainland. We woke up up very early to meet our boat in the Channel Islands harbor at 3 o’clock on Monday morning and headed out of the harbor in the dark and around to the beach. I covered myself in sunscreen and Captain Dawn had me paint black stripes on my arms to keep curious seals away at the finish. I did not realize until it was time to jump in that I was very grateful for IMG_3755getting to see the start spot in the daylight.

I jumped in and started swimming to shore along the kayak to start, but the water was colder than I expected and I had to stop once to let my breathing settle. There was hardly any surf so I got to shore quickly and stood there waiting to start. I quickly realized that I had no idea if the boat could see me or would know if I started, so I shouted to Jax in the kayak to tell me when to go. Jax shouted to me to start so I walked forward into the water and started swimming. Surprisingly, I found myself enjoying swimming in the dark and focused on finding my rhythm and getting warm in the cool water.

The water was flat and I felt the water temperature change in patches around me, making it harder to get used to the temperature. Jax signalled me to stop for the first feed and I drank quickly and kept swimming. I planned to use the first hour of the swim to find my rhythm but also not worry about speed or feeling good until the first hour was over because it usually takes me AT LEAST an hour to feel warmed up at all. By the time the first hour was ending, the sky was beginning to IMG_3833get light, but the foggy sky prevented a beautiful sunrise. I could see the oil rig named Gina in the distance and knew that it marked 4 miles from the start.

I continued to try to find my rhythm in the cool water and aimed to pass Gina before my 2 hour feed. As we approached Gina on our right hand side, I started to feel like we were swimming in left-hand circles. One blessing in disguise of most marathon swims is that there are few reference points to for me to know how far I have traveled or if I have not traveled at all. I was happy that Gina would tell me that I had covered 4 miles and therefor give me a reference point for my pace, so I was surprised that being able to see the rig for so long was actually demoralizing. I still felt like we were swimming in circles and found out later that around this point we hit a current that made us drift and that is why Captain Dawn was making so many course adjustments to get us through it.

Once we finally passed Gina I focused on getting to 3 hours and maintaining my rhythmic stroke even as the water started to get choppier. The sky stayed foggy and I found myself wishing for some sunlight to warm my back. At the 3 hour feed, Jax told me that we were just under halfway across the channel and that I was holding a steady pace. I continued to push forward despite having a difficult time letting my mind IMG_3888wander. Every time someone on the boat pointed out a dolphin or something else to each other, I could see it and I found this more distracting then I would have expected.

At the next feed, Jax pointed out that Arch Rock was now visible on the horizon. Seeing Anacapa for the first time was very exciting and made me confident that I would be successful in my crossing. The wind was starting to build slightly and Jax had me move to the left side of the boat, which made a huge difference in terms of the wind and also made it harder for me to see what was happening on the boat, allowing me to let my mind wander and just swim. Although I usually don’t like to know distance specifics, I really appreciated that my crew was telling me the distance I had covered during each half hour segment; letting me set goals for how much I would like to go in the next one. The water was a gorgeous deep blue and I was finally starting to enjoy myself, even though the water was a bit cold.

As we got closer to the finish, there were more birds around and I could start to make out color on the distant island. At the 5 hour feed, a pelican landed close by me and I was surprised IMG_3904by how large it was. My crew told me that I had about 1.5 nautical miles left to swim. I asked Jax to give me an applesauce at the next feed if it was going to be my last feed. I continued swimming and noticed that the pelican was following us, landing closer to me each time. Suddenly, it swooped down and opened its beak, as if to taste my feet. luckily, both Jax and I noticed at the same moment and I dove behind the kayak, while Jax shooed it away with her paddle. She chased it all the way behind the boat but i still tried to follow us. This encounter was quite scary; never did I expect to be attacked by a bird!

There were still a lot of birds around and they were making me nervous swooping around. Jax took off her hat to have a better view around us to watch for birds. The island seemed very close now but I was also aware that we were turning slightly parallel to the island to counter a current that was trying to push us past it. At the 5:30 feed Jax told me that I would need to pick up my tempo to get through the last stretch and I was reminded of how I felt angling into the beach in France 2 years ago. Arch Rock seemed so close but I knew that I needed to continue on and finish at the true island. I could hear the lighthouse periodically, adding to the noise of the birds.

I picked up my tempo, trying to finish the swim as quickly as I could. I could see the ferry docked and also a buoy so I started aiming for the buoy. As the sheer cliff face got nearer, the water was lighter and I could see kelp belo me. I noticed that this green was a nice change from the blue water and white sky I had been seeing for the past hours. I swam up to the cliff Screen Shot 2019-07-24 at 10.42.04 AMface with Jax on my left and the boat stopped behind us. Taking care not to scrape my legs on the rocks under water, I reached up and touched the wall of the island. Everyone cheered but it felt somewhat anticlimactic to finish a swim without walking on dry land. I waved to a small group of people standing on some stairs on the island but they did not wave back, perhaps bemused by what I was doing. Jax and I went back over to the IMG_3936boat and Captain Dawn asked if I wanted to swim through Arch Rock for fun and I decided I should because who knew if/when I would ever come back here. Jax let me hop into the kayak to go over to the rock.

Swimming through Arch Rock IMG_3950 2was one of the coolest things I have ever had the opportunity to do. I felt like a mermaid swimming through kelp under the arch. Anacapa seemed to be both a beautiful and somewhat desolate place and I really enjoyed how remote and untouched it felt. I am so grateful for my amazing crew of people who supported me to achieve this goal!

Semana Nautica 2019 Recap

Even though I now live in Chicago, I could not resist a trip un to Santa Barbara to compete in the Semana Nautica 6 mile swim! Usually, my mom and I make a weekend of this swim, but this year I just drove up to Santa Barbara with my friend and kayaker, Jax. The drive was surprisingly easy and we decided to park at the finish at Arroyo Burro Beach and take an uber up to the start at IMG_2852.JPGGoleta Beach so that we would not have to deal with the car at the end. We arrived very early in the morning and picked up our rental kayak with plenty of time to get ready for the swim.

 

Even with more race entrants than ever before, the check in process was smooth and they marked both my hands with my race number. The weather was foggy and cool so I decided not to get in

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Foggy warm up jog

the water to warm up early before the race and instead went for a warm up jog on the beach. Soon, the kayakers were entering the water and we were lining up on the starting line between two flags.

The race director started the race and I ran into the water and dove through a wave and started swimming to the first buoy. In past years, the race course only had us rounding the pier, but this year we had to go all the way around a buoy and it felt like I was going to swim 6 miles before even coming close to the buoy. Jax had told me that she would wait for me on the left side of the pier after rounding the buoy. By following these directions, it was surprisingly easy to find Jax after OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe buoy and we started off down the race course. By this point, I could count 5 people ahead of me and at least one female competitor. I tried to stay ahead of the people behind me and not worry about the swimmers ahead of me. The water felt cool but not uncomfortable and I focused on maintaining a strong pace to set myself up to build the second have of the race.

Soon, Jax was signalling me to stop for my first feed and while I was drinking, she told me that I was swimming strong and I was currently in 6th place and the 2nd woman. The water continued to feel cool, but my body felt warm and relaxed and I was just thoroughly enjoying myself. The water was not as clear has it had been in past years, but there was also not as much kelp to swim through, so that was a plus. Jax pointed out the halfway point to me and we stopped for a minute to make sure that the lifeguards were able to get to the swimmer next to us who was signalling that he was too cold to continue.

After we passed the halfway point, I tried to build up my tempo and continued to feel strong and relaxed. After the initial sprint to the buoy, I pretty much didn’t see many other swimmers, but the race course was wide enough that they could have passed me without me realizing. I could see the dip in the coastal hills that marked the finish but could not really tell how far away I was IMG_2889.JPGfrom the last buoy. Jax signalled a feed and while I was drinking she told me that I was less than a mile from the finish. I picked up my pace and headed for the buoy. Soon, I could see the buoy getting closer and started sprinting. I rounded the buoy and sprinted into the beach. I ran up the sand and past the finish flag, where the race director put a shell necklace around my neck. They told me that I was the IMG_2888second woman and 5th place overall!

This race is always my favorite organized swim and I am so happy that I was able to participate! My place was pretty much set after the initial sprint and stayed the same throughout the whole 6 miles! This race was a good confidence builder for me, both in terms of colder water and racing pace! I am very grateful to Jax for supporting me throughout this swim and always!

 

8 Bridges Stage 4 Recap

One of my fantasy bucket list swims is a 120 mile journey down the Hudson River, divided into seven swims between 13 and 20 miles. Due to my grad school graduation this weekend, I could not tackle the full odyssey. Instead I came up to charming Garrison, NY to swim Stage 4 or the seven stage challenge. Stage 4 is a 15 mile swim from Newburgh Beacon Bridge to Bear Mountain Bridge through gorgeous countryside and past West Point and a castle.

My mom and I took the train up from NYC on Monday night and stayed at an adorable inn that reminded me of our airbnb in Dover. On Tuesday, we met the other swimmers at the train station and went one more stop to where the swim would start. It was crazy to see the river the entire train journey and know that I would swim it back! In typical New York Open Water fashion, the schedule was impeccably timed and we had plenty of time to get ready and I got to meet my kayaker, Lizzy.

I said goodbye to my mom and all the swimmers boarded a really cool solar powered boat, the Solaris, to head to the bridge for the start. When we got to the bridge, Rondi asked one of the kayakers if he thought the tide was slack enough to start and from the boat it looked like he was using a fancy red, stringy apparatus to measure the river flow, but it turned out he was just using his hand while eating red licorice. Rondi said “3 minutes” and I thought she meant until jump time, but soon we were all being shepherded into the water. I stepped over the edge of the boat and jumped into the yellowish water before I could second guess myself. The water felt cool but much warmer than Lake Michigan. Before I had much time to think about the water temperature or anything else, Rondi began counting down for the start.

When they said go, I put my face in the water, swam under the bridge, and began to follow Lizzy down the river. The water was choppier than ideal and even though the wind was favorable, I struggled to find my rhythm. At this point, all the swimmers were still relatively close together and I had a brief mental struggle between wanting to stay focused on myself and finding someone to pace/race with. I decided not to stress about racing someone else at this early stage in the race.

Because Stage 4 was famous for beautiful scenery, I did not want to miss any of it but the strong winds (though favorable) were causing me to feel like I was swimming very low in the water. Not struggling to get air or anything but almost tipped more downward than I wanted to be. This made it more difficult to see the scenery while warming up to the swim. The half hour before the first feed is always the slowest but the fast water and interesting surroundings made it pass quickly and before I knew it, Lizzy was signalling for the first feed. 

During the first half of this swim, I was really swimming feed to feed and my shoulders did not feel great and I had no rhythm. At some point, I just decided that it didn’t matter how I was feeling and I needed to remember to have fun. Around that time, I must have passed the castle but I was never certain that I saw it. 

The water got increasingly choppy and I also felt discouraged because I could see many kayaks ahead of me and thought I must be lagging behind everyone. I found out later that there were several “floater” kayakers who did not have dedicated swimmers and were instead looking out for everyone’s safety and they were messing up my count.

Around the 2 hour mark, West Point loomed in front of us and I was excited to finally see one of the Stage 4 landmarks, but annoyed at myself that I did not look at a map to see how much I would have left. After we rounded the corner at West Point, the water got markedly calmer and I finally started to find my rhythm. At the next feed, I joked to Lizzy that it *only* took 2 hours for me to start to feel good. 

Now I was having fun and playing with my tempo and speed and finally seeing some of the countryside. The next couple of feeds passed quickly and there were more swimmers around us now. I still had no sense of how long the swim would take and when I stopped for the 3 and a half hour feed, I was very surprised when Lizzy told me I only had 2 miles left. She told me to try to catch the two swimmers ahead of me and that if I could finish in under an hour, I had a shot at being under the record time. 

I could see the bridge through a gap in the hills and for once was glad that I had paid attention to the briefing, where we had been told that we would be able to see the bridge through a gap long before we were actually there. I picked up my speed and was able to eventually catch one of the swimmers I was chasing. I was sighting forward too often and the bridge just was not getting any closer. I could see that there was still one swimmer ahead of me, but I was already swimming at the fastest tempo that I could maintain.

I could tell that about 30 minutes had passed and I was glad that Lizzy seemed to have decided to skip my last feed. I didn’t really need it and appreciated not having to stop. Finally the bridge seemed to get closer all at once and I put on another burst of speed. Lizzy and I crossed into the bridge’s shadow and I continued to sprint to make sure I was all the way through the finish. Lizzy signalled to me that I could stop and it felt weird to no longer be swimming. I was surprised to feel sad that the swim was over, as I had just started enjoying myself. The safety boat, Agent Orange, was very close by and someone onboard shouted that I finished in second and was under the previous record time. I was disappointed in the second place finish but happy with the time. 

Before I had more than a few seconds to enjoy floating in the river, the jetski came over to take me back to Solaris. I climbed on board and got to watch the rest of the swimmers finish the swim. 

This swim was the perfect training opportunity for me at this point in the season. It was certainly a confidence builder to know that I could grind out a 4 hour swim in racing conditions without having completed a similar training swim. The best part about 8 Bridges was undoubtedly the camaraderie. Both heading to the bridge and heading back to the dock after the swim, all of the swimmers were together on the boat and had time to chat and get to know each other. I met swimmers from around the country and really enjoyed this social aspect of what can be a very solitary sport. 

 

El Cruce Cancun Recap

This past Sunday, I took a break from the cold water of Lake Michigan and raced the Cruce Cancun 10k from Cancun to Isla Mujeres. I was not sure what to expect from this swim because I knew the water would be warm and there could be up to 1000 participants. I was also very worried that weather in Chicago would keep me from ever getting to Cancun at all. Despite my worries, we arrived in plenty of time and woke 604BD4DF-338E-4CA6-85CF-4BDA0384CB30up before 6am on Sunday to head to Playa Caracol for the race start. Even though we were told to arrive before 6:30, we ended up spending a lot of time just standing around and waiting for the start.

Finally, it was time to get marked with my number (in sharpie, very large) and put on sunscreen and grease. Soon all of the swimmers began gathering on the small strip of beach and waiting for the signal to start. This swim mandated the use of swim buoys for visibility and safety so it was quite crowded on the sand. I did not hear any starting sound but suddenly all the men rushed into the water. The women’s start would be 5 minutes back so now I listened carefully to make sure I didn’t miss the signal.  They sounded the starter and we all ran into the warm, clear water and headed for the first marker.

The first half of the course was marked with boats with yellow flags moored at regular intervals and navigation was not too difficult. I started to find my stride in the warm water and tried to set myself up strategically so that I could follow another swimmer and not have to sight as frequently. I realized that I was swimming too fast to keep following her though, so I passed her and continued on my way, starting to wish I had a kayaker to follow. My buoy didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would, although I did feel it catch behind me if a particularly large wave hit me.

At this point, I started wishing I had paid more attention to the course map, both for directional help and to know how much of the race I had completed. I could still see the sandy bottom spread out below me and I saw a stingray swimming along. After what felt like and hour, the yellow-flag-boat markers were replaced by large yellow triangle buoys. I saw a kayaker off to my left and decided to stick close to him so that I didn’t have to sight as quickly. After a few more yellow buoys, there was a red triangle buoy and I wondered if it was the last buoy, but then I saw another yellow one past it. I am sure that if I had actually looked at the map, I would know why there was a red buoy but in the moment I had no idea.

I saw two women swimming ahead of me and decided to build my speed and try to pass them. Although I didn’t know how much more distance I had to cover, I risked increasing my speed and I am very glad that I made the choice to get into the race mindset. The next time I sighted forward, I saw another red buoy and wondered if THIS one was the last buoy but when we got there, the kayaker told me to make a sharp left turn. I was bummed because the beach was so close but now I realized that there were several more yellow buoys along the shore before I could finish.

The water continued to get shallower and swaying sea grass replaced the previously sandy bottom. I was very aware of how warm the water felt now and I was missing my swims in cold Lake Michigan. Each time I passed a buoy I hoped that the kayaker would tell me to turn to shore, but each time I was disappointed. During this whole stretch of water, I did not see a single other swimmer. Finally he told me we were at the last buoy and that I should turn to shore and aim for a pair of Coca Cola flags on the beach.  I could barely see them but I did my best to aim for them and up my speed a bit more. The ground continued to get shallower and I saw a man in front of me and tried to dolphin along the bottom to catch him. I ran up the beach and through the finish shoot. Someone put a medal around my neck, while another person took off my timing chip, and a third told me that I was the 2nd woman. I was surprised because I had not felt very fast during the whole race. I later found out that I was the 22nd finisher overall out of maybe 800 competitors!

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2nd place finish!

Overall, this swim was the most fun race I have done in a long time and I hope I can come back to beautiful Cancun to do it again! This race was fairly well organized especially for such a large group and I definitely understand the personal buoy requirement, as there were times where I was completely alone and glad to be IMG_7849more visible. I would recommend this swim to anyone who is looking for a good, fun, warm, gorgeous, swim! I also want to add that I am so grateful to my mom for supporting me on this swim even though she would have rather been lounging by the pool.

 

Lido Key 7 Miler

This weekend my mom and I headed down to Lido Key in Florida, so that I could swim in a race around the island. This race was a warm water 7-miler and a perfect way to start my open water season! My mom and I met up in the Tampa

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Repping Chicago in Florida

airport and drove down to Lido Key, which is near Sarasota. Not only was I excited to get to compete in a beautiful warm water swim, but I was also thrilled to get to spend the whole weekend with my mom! When we arrived at the hotel, the wind was blowing at 15 mph with gusts of 25+ and the water looked angry. Although we hoped it would calm down by morning, I was worried that the race could be cancelled due to poor conditions.

By Saturday morning, the wind had mostly died down and the ocean looked much happier, though still not calm. We drove out to the start and met up with my kayak escort, Pat, and the other race participants. The women’s race started at 10:05, 5 minutes after the men. Although I do appreciate the diminished chaos provided by wave starts, I do hate spending the first half of the swim catching up to and passingP1020065 the swimmers in the wave ahead of me. After the starting gun went off, I had a hard time finding Pat, but once I did, we were off and heading for the first bridge on the course. The swim started on the island’s northern corner and we started to make our way clockwise. During this early part of the race, I just tried to position myself well and get into a rhythm.

I had my first feed right after I passed under the John Ringling Bridge. At this point in the course, the water was very shallow and my fingers brushed the muddy, weedy bottom on each stroke. I think maybe the buoys were blown inland by the winds. I was grateful during this stretch that I am fairly short, because if I was much taller, it would have been very difficult to swim in the shallow water. I was spread far enough from any competitors that I wasn’t really racing at this point, but I focused on finding my rhythm and trying to keep a consistent distance (not lose ground) from any other kayaks that I could see.

Just over an hour into the swim, Pat and I approached bottom corner of the course and I could see breaking waves ahead of me. I pressed forward, feeling myself lifted by the smaller waves and diving slightly under the larger ones. At this point, the water turned from muddy green to bright blue and I knew we were moving into the open ocean side of the island. After we passed the waves and came around the corner, I felt the ache in my arms from pushing through the rough patch.

P1020090This part of the swim, along the long stretch of white sandy beach, was by far the most beautiful and I started to really enjoy myself. Even through my dark tinted goggles, the water, sand, and sky were so bright. The shore curved away from us and I couldn’t tell where the turning point would be, as the beach seemed to stretch on forever. Suddenly, Pat called to me that there were breaking waves ahead and the water began to get very shallow. I was getting buffeted by white water and feeling disoriented. When I see surf, I try to get out past it so I started swimming perpendicularly away from shore, but the water kept getting shallower.

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Swimming along the beach

Finally, I realized that Pat was trying to motion me back toward the island and I decided to trust her even though I was totally confused. Eventually I realized that the waves I had seen were breaking over a sandbar and there was actually a deeper channel between the sandbar and the shore. I felt dumb that I had wasted time trying to “get past” the surf and tried to pick up my pace and make up the lost distance. I also really regretted not studying the course map more closely before the race.

We came around the corner and finally left the long stretch of beach, and I wondered how much of the race we had left. I saw a swimmer up ahead and pushed myself to try to overtake her Even though I knew there were at least several female competitors ahead of me, anytime I saw a pink-capped swimmer ahead of me, I pretended that she was my only barrier to winning the race and this helped increase

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Running into the finish

my motivation. Soon we approached another bridge and the course narrowed ahead of us. Pat stopped me to give me another feed and told me that she thought we were almost at the finish. I decided to pick up my pace a bit and caught up to another swimmer. We swam next to each other between our two kayaks for a bit and began to approach another swimmer. I broke away from the first swimmer and focused on catching up to the girl in front of me. I sighted in front of me and could just barely make out the yellow buoy marking the finish shoot and continued to push past my competitor. I was able to keep building me speed and sprinted past the girl and approached the finish shoot. I swam until my fingers scrapped the mud and stood up to run through the shoot.

 

My final time was 3 hours, 6 minutes, and 7 second and I placed 7th out of 35 womenP1020122 and 14th out of 69 total individual competitors. Although I am frustrated that my navigation cost me some distance, I am generally happy with my performance in IMG_1620this early season race. I certainly learned a lot about how good navigation can become instrumental to a strong finish. Overall, this race was a very fun way to begin my open water season and quite well organized and managed. I will need to come back someday \and see if I can improve my race plan and performance!