After much rescheduling and plan changes, I finally completed my 6-hour cold water English Channel (EC) qualifier swim today. In order to qualify, I needed to swim for 6 hours in water below 61 degrees fahrenheit. The Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica has hovered between 57 and 60 degrees recently, and today it was 57. Though I didn’t need to complete this swim until closer to my EC window, which is July 29-August 6, 2017, the water temperature has been so perfect recently that I couldn’t resist giving it a shot while I am home for winter break. Though I am usually confident in my ability to complete a swim, I’ll admit that I honestly didn’t think I could stay in the cold water that long because I haven’t really begun acclimatizing yet (aside from walking around in the snow in shorts). Regardless of whether I could complete my 6-hour goal, I knew that this swim would test me both mentally and physically.
My amazing kayaker Jax and I began the swim at Tower 26 and planned to head south to Marina Del Rey. The surf was larger than I expected, but Jax expertly maneuvered the kayak into the water as I gasped when the cold water rushed over my body. Once we were through the surf, we turned south toward the Venice Breakwater and I tried to find my rhythm as my hands and feet grew numb. The first half hour dragged on and I wondered if I was crazy to try this swim now. I though about a message from my friend Charlotte Samuels who told me to “just remember to focus on the sun that is at your center and not the extremities” in order to stay warm in the water. The next hour felt really long as we passed the Venice Pier, arrived at the MDR breakwater, and my stroke still felt choppy and out of rhythm. We turned and headed back north and I looked forward to my next feed because it was my first apple sauce feed!
After the 2 hour applesauce feed, I began to feel my stroke smooth out and I felt warmer in the cold water. At this point, I focused on getting to the 3 hour half-way point, not even letting myself think about the second half of the swim. Jax told me that my stroke looked good and I was averaging 2.2 miles per hour. I was happily surprised to hear this because I felt like I was dragging through the water against the south flowing current. When I finally reached the 4-hour mark, I was elated to be 2/3 of the way done, but also painfully aware of how much more I still had to go. I was starting to get cold and my shoulders were aching, but I could almost taste the victory. As Charlotte said to me, “just remember every minute is a minute closer.”
We were heading back towards our starting spot at this point and I was feeling very done. At the 5 and 1/2 hour feed I told Jax to tell me as soon as I could head into the beach and I would turn in. Jax finally told me I was done and I turned straight in and swam to shore.
This swim taught me many things that I will apply to future swims. Next time I do a swim, I want to try heated feeds because I like my later feeds better when they had been warmed up by the sun. I have also learned methods to convince myself to keep going even when I want to quit. I told myself that before I could stop the swim, I had to have a good reason. I remembered how when swimming legend Gertrude Ederle was encouraged to quit during her channel crossing, she responded “What for?” When I felt like quitting during this swim, I asked myself that same question and it motivated me to know that I was choosing to be in the water.
While this swim was a lot more miserable than I expected it to be, I am very glad that I was able to complete it now and I have one less thing to worry about in my Channel preparations.I really appreciate all the help and support from all my teammates, my kayaker Jax, and my parents in helping me complete this important goal.