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

IMG_2861.JPG

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!

61106840_2327071070894742_3128710454809985024_o

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

P1020041

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.

IMG_1612_edited

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

P1020115

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!

 

 

 

 

A New Year’s Day 10k

My training buddy Rebecca’s husband decided it would be fun to swim a 10k on January 1st to celebrate the new year. They invited me to join them because I have been known to enthusiastically take on crazy challenges. As a result, while most other Angelenos were still recovering from their New Year’s Eves, 7:30 am on January 1st saw Rebecca, Tony, Colin, and me gathered in the cold beach parking lot. The air temperature hovered around 36 degrees and there was frost on my windshield when I first got into my car, making me want to crawl back into my warm bed. But instead I drove through the crisp morning air to arrive at the beach. Even fully dressed in my uggs, sweats, and parka, I was cold as we walked down to the sand and questioned whether I could make the full 10k in the sub-60 water. The sand was burningly cold and none of us wanted to takes our clothes off so we procrastinated by putting our caps on first and finally stripped down to our suits. Although the weather was pretty calm at this point, Colin told us that strong winds were forecast for later that morning.

We walked down the beach and the 58 degree water actually felt warm on my feet compared to the 37 degree air. The water took my breath away, but we turned south to begin our swim. I tried to find a rhythm in my stroke but it was difficult in the cold water. Despite the temperature, the water was crystal clear and I enjoyed flying over the sandy bottom. For this first length, we swam as a pack; four swimmers in line sprinting across the sea. I felt like maybe we were swimming against a slight current, but the chop got so bad later that it became impossible to tell.

Each lap to the rock and back sums to about 2.4 miles, so our plan was to swim this distance twice and then go north to finish up the 10k. When we arrived back at Tower 26 after the first lap, Tony’s father met us in the surf line and threw us water bottles so that we could refuel without having to lose body heat in the wind. The water was so clear that diving under waves felt dreamlike as we re-crossed the surfline.

The water inside the surfline was colder than the outside and standing still for that time made me really cold and I had to sprint to regain my heat. As we headed back south, I began to break away from the others and felt like I was flying across the cool water. When I got back to the rocks, I knew I needed to swim to the far end while the others swam to the near end so that I could rendezvous with them without having to wait and get cold.

I realized why I felt so fast swimming down to the rock when we turned around and started swimming into heavy wind driven chop. I swam over to Rebecca to say “this is going to be fun” and then we began to slog against the angry water. She told me that our next stop would be the “Casa” on the north side of Tower 26. As we headed north I tried to remind myself to keep having fun, even as the water slapped me in the face and splashed into my mouth on many breaths. I was basically swimming by myself at this point as the choppy water made it difficult to see my friends even as I knew they were actually close by.

I started to approach the Tower and chop seemed to die down so I just kept pushing toward the large brick building on the shore that would tell me to turn around. I arrived parallel to the building and could not see any of the others around me so after spending a moment egg beater kicking to get a higher vantage point, I decided to turn around. Finally I saw two pink caps approaching and swam over to them, however, it was Tony and Colin and Rebecca was not with them. We finally found her past us towards the pier; she must have passed me after I had turned around because her watch told her she needed a bit more distance to hit 10k.

Together we turned back toward Tower 26 and swam the last length of our swim, still feeling as though we were swimming against the chop despite having changed direction. We surmised that the wind must have also changed direction. As if to celebrate the end of our swim, several dolphins began jumping out of the water not even 10 yards away. By this point my teeth were chattering and I was shivering and couldn’t wait to finish the swim. Rebecca, Colin, and I decided to zigzag into shore to increase our distance and finish the 10k, while Tony swam several hundred yards north to finish his swim. We lost track of him at this point and had a few nervous minutes locating him on the beach afterward.

img_1743

 

 

 

Overall, this was a challenging swim mostly as a result of the cold but also the distance. This was Tony’s longest ocean swim and I am very proud of him for accomplishing his goal in the trying conditions. Despite how cold I was in the water, I actually rewarmed rather quickly after drying off. This swim served the important purpose for me of reminding me how much I love distance swimming and how satisfying it is to take on a challenge that seems daunting.

 

Following in their wake

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 Bridges Recap

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

IMG_2568

Swimmers and kayaks gather in the Hudson at the start.

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

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

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

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

IMG_2623

Approaching the Brooklyn Bridge

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

20 Bridges United Nations

Passing the UN

narrowed as we veered left to round Roosevelt Island.

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

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

P1010558

Swimming under many bridges close together in the Harlem.

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

P1010610.JPG

Feeding in the Harlem

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

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

P1010643.JPG

Entering the Hudson with the GW in the distance.

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

P1010632.JPG

I never did see the Columbia “C”

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

P1010666.JPG

Passing under the GW and by the Little red Lighthouse.

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

screen-shot-2018-07-17-at-9-59-28-am.png

After waiting for the cruise ship.

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

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

P1010775.JPG

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

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

P1010784

Giant smile after finishing

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

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