Category Archives: Catalina Crossing 2016

Countdown to Catalina: 1 more day

Tomorrow I will set off from Catalina Island and swim through the night to the California mainland. Today I completed my last training swim with Gino in Manhattan Beach. He did 6 hours (4 laps) and I joined him for and hour and a half (1 lap). My stroke is feeling smooth and strong and I am so ready to go!


Acupuncture needles in my head and ears!

I have been preparing in many different ways this week including mixing my grease and getting acupuncture. I went to an acupuncturist to protect against seasickness and anxiety leading up to my swim. I have been checking and rechecking all of my gear and feeds, just to make sure that I have everything I need before I get on the boat.

I have 19 bottles that I will prepare so that I can stick to my feeding schedule, where I feed every half hour. With the number of bottles I have, I can make two bags that will last 6 hours each.


I use narrow mouth bottles so that I don’t lose any of my feed!

Since I need 3 bottles every 2 hours (with the 4th feed being an apple sauce), each bag will have 9 bottles and 3 apple sauces and can be switched out when my kayakers switch after 6 hours.


My gear is all packed!

My swim will start on Catalina Island at a place called Doctor’s Cove and will aim finish at Terranea on Palos Verdes. You can follow my progress on my GPS tracker of on Outrider’s Spot tracker!

I want to thank all of the amazing people who have helped me get to this point so far! The list is so long and I am so lucky to have such wonderful teammates, training buddies, friends, and family all helping me achieve my dreams!

To see previous countdown posts:

2 Days

3 Days

4 Days

5 Days

6 Days

7 Days

8 Days

9 Days

10 Days

Countdown to Catalina: 2 days

Since I have two days left before I begin my crossing, I thought I would define two important principles of Marathon Swimming that I will be adhering to:

1. Unassisted

This means that I will be swimming entirely on my own power without supportive contact with the boat, kayak, or any other people. An example of supportive contact would be hanging on to the kayak. I will only be wearing standard marathon swimming attire: swimsuit, cap, goggles, ear plugs, and grease.

2. Nonstop

This means that once the swim starts, I will not be getting out until I finish on the mainland. I will not be hanging on to the boat or any floatation device, and will only be treading water when I am feeding.


To see previous countdown posts:

3 Days

4 Days

5 Days

6 Days

7 Days

8 Days

9 Days

10 Days

Countdown to Catalina: 3 days

Have you been enjoying following my preparations for the crossing? Have you been bitten by the marathon swimming bug? Perhaps not, but are you ready to watch me as I swim across the Catalina Channel? Here are three ways you can support me during my swim:

1. Follow a Live Tracker

Follow my live tracker at to see me swim across the channel in real time! There is also a tracker on my boat, The Outrider, which will also show my progress. While these are relatively accurate, please don’t freak out if something goes wrong or it freezes; it is much more likely to be a technical issue than anything else.

2. Post on Facebook

My support swimmer Paige Christie and my mom Natalie will be taking over my Facebook and Twitter (@openwaterabby) for the evening to post updates about my progress. Feel free to post messages and Paige will write them on a whiteboard for me to see! I will love to know that I am not alone even though I am the only one swimming.

3. Support my mom

My mom Kim will be staying on the mainland because she would be too nervous to see me in the water all that time. You can support my swim by messaging Kim on Facebook to keep her calm while I am in the middle of the ocean!

To see previous countdown posts:

4 Days

5 Days

6 Days

7 Days

8 Days

9 Days

10 Days

Countdown to Catalina: 4 days


While there are only four recognized strokes of swimming, I have found that there are also four unique “strokes” of open water swimming.

1. Feed Stroke 


A swimming stroke performed by floating on one’s back and kicking while frantically chugging liquid from a bottle.

2. Sighting Stroke


A swimming stroke performed by raising one’s head out of the water to look forward in hopes of catching a glimpse of a landmark. Often the whole head clears the water, while at other times just the eyes come out of the water.

3. “Forever” Stroke


A swimming stroke performed at a speed and tempo that an athlete can maintain “forever.”

4. “Almost Finished” Stroke


A swimming stroke that only occurs when one is very close to the end of a swim and finds some extra energy to increase speed

To see previous countdown posts:

5 Days

6 Days

7 Days

8 Days

9 Days

10 Days

Countdown to Catalina: 5 days

All my actual training is already in the bank, so to speak. At this point, my heaviest training is behind me and as I taper, I need to trust that I have already done everything I need. Here is a list of 5 things I am doing now to prepare for Sunday’s swim.

1. Check the tides and currents

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 1.26.04 PM

I have been (somewhat obsessively) checking the predicted tides for Sunday night and Monday morning on a variety of weather websites. I have also been monitoring the currents on Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System. Not that I can do anything about the conditions during the swim, but it is nice to feel mentally prepared for what I might face.

2. Visualize

Watching videos of other people’s crossings as well as imagining what my swim will be like has been a helpful mental exercise. I am not great at staying focused on visualizations for long periods of time, but I have been able to visualize small parts of my swim to help me prepare.

3. Write up my plans

Because I will spend the whole swim in the water (duh), and my crew will be on the boat, it is imperative that I write up exactly what I want them to do and how I want them to do it. For example, exactly when and what I want to be fed. There is of course some flexibility, but it is good to have an outline to build off of.

4. Check (and double check) my lists of supplies

I do not want to be scrambling to find anything the day of my swim. I have lists of all the supplies I will need, including exactly which goggles I want and how many. From caps to nutrition to suits, I want to make sure I have a surplus to be prepared for any eventuality.

5. Relax

Many people know that I kind of hate tapering (when yardage decreases and rest increases), because I get bored and restless, but I also know that it is important to be well rested for a long swim like Sunday’s crossing. I will be filling all the extra time I will have over the next few days with resting, stretching, and generally relaxing.

6 Days

7 Days

8 Days

9 Days

10 Days

Countdown to Catalina: 8 days


I have learned so much through training for my Catalina Crossing, both in and out of the pool. Here is a list of the top eight lessons marathon training has taught me (in no particular order).

1. Tough days teach me the most

While it can be harder to enjoy the days when the ocean is rough and uncooperative, these training sessions often teach me important lessons about perseverance and determination. I hope to have good weather during my crossing, but if I face challenges, I know I will have done everything in my power to prepare!

2. Aches can go away if I just keep going

Sometimes the best thing I can do when my shoulders hurt is keep going and often the angry limb will simply “forget” that it was hurting.

3. My brain can overcome feeling cold

Though it is not pleasant to be in water so cold that my hands and feet go numb, I have learned how to use my brain to overcome the challenge of cold water.

4. I can actually enjoy tapering

During my usual college racing season, I dread the time at the end of the season when we cut our yardage and swim less than before. This time however, I am enjoying the ability to rest more and prepare mentally for my crossing.

5. Training is more fun with other people

About half of my training has been with other people while the other half is completed alone. I have learned that I not only enjoy myself more, but I also swim better when I train with other people.

6. Stopping is sometimes harder than continuing

At the end of a long swim, even if I am physically exhausted, it can be difficult to stop because my body has been doing the same thing for so long. Paige Christie described feeling this at the end of her English Channel crossing when she said, “Your brain has been swimming for so long, you feel like you could hop in and swim the whole way back and you’re kind of fine with it.”

7. How much I can look forward to applesauce

You may not really get this one until you have done a long swim but my usual feeds are flavorless for when I get an applesauce every fourth feed, I get really excited! In my head, I tell myself, “3 more feeds until and applesauce,” and then “two more.” It is surprisingly strong motivation to keep swimming toward my next applesauce feed.

8. Having fun makes hard training better 

This one is kind of obvious but even just smiling through a tough workout can make it better. I suppose its a “fake it until you make it strategy.”

Check out my previous countdown posts:

9 Days

10 Days


Countdown to Catalina: 9 days to go

Though I am not a very good singer while on dry land, I rely on music to help me get through many tough workouts, both in the pool and the ocean.To celebrate that I am nine days out from my Catalina Crossing, I have compiled a list of the top nine songs that I like to hum when I need a boost (in no particular order). Some of these may seem unexpected, but I am a secret lover of musical theatre and often use Broadway’s upbeat tunes to set my pace. I have written previously about music in Playlist of a 5k swim and Music That Moves Us: The Importance of Beats in Swimming.

1. “My Shot” from Hamilton, an American Musical (or really most of the songs from this show)
This song has a solid beat behind it as well as a positive never give up message. For those who have not seen the show, this song comes at a point where the title character must decide to act and as a result secures his importance in the American Revolution. The refrain “I am not giving away my shot” nicely parallels the determination needed to successfully complete a marathon swim.

2. “Maps” from FunHome

This song comes from my current favorite musical and helps the protagonist grapple with her father’s life and death within the same small area of rural Pennsylvania. A line that particularly resonates with me says “I can draw a circle/You lived your life inside.” This is almost opposite to one of the purposes of marathon swimming, which is to explore the unknown. This song is simply beautiful and easy to sing along to.

3. “Magic to Do” from Pippin

I am not sure why this song always seems to pop in my head while i am swimming but it is very upbeat and has a positive message. The chorus is about having more to do in life which is similar to my coach Kim’s saying that “there is always more toothpaste left in the tube.” In other words, a tired marathon swimmer can find the extra energy and determination to complete a swim.

4. “Billionaire” by Travie McCoy

This song seems to pop into my head if I cannot think of anything else to swim to. I like poetic quality of this song and I think the line “Oh every time I close my eyes/I see my name in shining lights” can be applied to the way I visualize my swim when I am in bed at night. Remember the Name

5. “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles

This song is especially helpful when the weather is less than optimal. Even when the sky is grey and overcast, I can make myself feel a little bit warmer by singing about the sun!

6. Glee’s “Start Me Up/Livin’ On a Prayer

I don’t let myself sing this song until I am at least halfway through any given swim. While I was never a huge Glee fan, I really like this mashup because it combines songs with two similar messages into one. Both songs talk about pushing through boundaries to achieve a goal.

7. “Remember the Name” by Fort Minor

I don’t actually know the words to this song beyond the chorus but I think it really captures the essence of a marathon swimmer. The chorus goes “This is ten percent luck, twenty percent skill/Fifteen percent concentrated power of will/Five percent pleasure, fifty percent pain.” If this song were really written about marathon swimmers there would almost certainly be something about the percentage of crazy we all harbor.

8. “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People

While I don’t use this song for it’s message, I do like the tempo it provides to my swimming.

9. “Put on a Happy Face” from Bye Bye Birdie

So this song may seem like an odd choice, considering that I detest the musical Bye Bye Birdie, but the message to smile through hardship can be helpful during difficult training swims.

Check out my previous countdown posts:

10 Days


Countdown to Catalina: 10 days out

I am finally ten days away from my Catalina Crossing and I couldn’t be more excited! For the next ten days, I will write a series of countdown posts to mark the days up to my swim. This first article will center on 10 things and people I am thankful for leading up to my swim (in no particular order).

1. An amazing team for my swim

I know I will be in good hands on the boat and in the water because I trust every member of my team completely!

2. My family’s support

From encouraging me after a bad workout to cheering on my successes my family has always been there to provide much needed support! Besides emotional support, my parents have also helped support my athletic pursuits financially.

3. A great place to train


Even on the days where the air is cold and I would much rather stay in bed, the natural beauty of the ocean where I am fortunate to get to train helps motivate me. I can’t help but be thankful that I live so close to so many amazing places to train in open water!

4. My training partners Natalie, Gino, and Eliza

Knowing that there are other people training along side me helps me work hard everyday. At the same time, we are able to push each other together to achieve success separately.

5. Smith College Swimmers and Coaches


I am so thankful to have a whole team of bananas cheering me on from all over the world! I hope I can make them proud!

6. My marathon swimming “big sister” Paige

abby and paige2.jpg

Paige has been there from the first day I said that I wanted to do a marathon swim. She is the first person I turn to to share both trials an triumphs encountered throughout my training! I am so happy and honored that Paige will be on my boat during my swim and I know that she’ll be looking out for me.

7. My coach Kim and his training plan

Kim snowball.jpg

Coach Kim Bierwert has successfully coached six English Channel swimmers and I am very grateful that he chose to coach my Catalina Crossing. Though he cannot accompany my crossing, he wrote my training plan and is always willing to help me.

8. My crew chief Rebecca

abby and rebecca.png

My crew chief Rebecca has guided me through the whole process of preparing for my crossing and I know she will keep me safe throughout my crossing. She is always ready to offer some calm words when I am fretting over some detail.

9. Team Santa Monica Swimmers and Coaches

TSM Castaic

I trained with Team Santa Monica throughout my childhood and I am thankful for the dedication, work ethic, and love for the sport the swimmers and coaches there instilled in me. I swam in my first open water event with TSM and they helped to foster my love (or addition) for ocean swimming

10. Everyone who has supported my training swims

after the finish

I could not have arrived at this point in my training with out the support of all the paddlers and supporters who have helped me through training swims, races, and other preparations.

Countdown to Catalina: 7 days

While I felt that I had plenty of experience in ocean swimming leading up to my Catalina training, there have also been many firsts that have occurred as a result. Below is a list of seven things I did for the first time during my training.

1. Swim with dolphins

I have seen dolphins in the wild, both while paddling and from the beach, but I had never seen them while swimming. I have now seen them many times while swimming and also had one swim under me once. Read my account of the encounter here.

2. Win an open water race

While I have competed in many ocean races in varying distances and have won my age group, I had never won the women’s division overall. At the Semana Nautica 6 Mile Swim 2016, I finally did.

3. Feed from a kayak

I have now learned how to feed quickly from a kayak and how to stick to a feeding plan. Being able to feed quickly helps me stay warm as well cover distance more quickly.

4. Actually like my feeds

Before beginning my Catalina training, one of the things I was most worried about was the fact that I had never found a single energy or sports drink that I liked. I even ordered a sample kit from one company and I am sure the lifeguard enjoyed my facial expressions as I tasted them each day! Finally, based on a suggestion from Charlotte Samuels, I tried CarboPro which basically tastes like sugar water and is very easy to digest.

5. Swim in the dark

Training to swim in the dark is very important for a Catalina crossing because the first part of the swim will take place over night. I have done many training swims before sunrise in order to prepare.

6. Swim farther than a 10k

Before beginning my Catalina training, I had never swum farther than 10k (6 miles) at one time. Now, I have completed many 12k (8 mile) training swims and one 21k (13 mile) training swim.

7. Teach someone else about ocean swimming

During my training, I had the privilege to introduce my friend Eliza to ocean swimming! She has been training in lakes and reservoirs for a Plymouth to Provincetown crossing and it was really fun to share my love of ocean swimming with my teammate.

Check out my previous countdown posts:

8 Days

9 Days

10 Days

More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About My Catalina Crossing.

As my swim date approaches, many people have been asking me for details regarding the logistics of the crossing as well as the safety precautions, so I decided to put together this information post to outline what really goes on behind a marathon swim. While I will go into detail about the specific roles of the team for my crossing, there are so many more people who are also helping out behind the scenes.

Why am I doing this swim?

swimming to antarticaI have been enchanted by the idea of swimming the Catalina Channel ever since I first picked up Swimming to Antarctica by Lynne Cox when I was 11 years old. It took until now for me to gain the confidence and abilities that I needed to train and do this swim. I am really excited to see where this challenge takes me.

Where/when will I swim?

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 12.43.12 PM


I plan to swim from Catalina Island to Palos Verdes, crossing the Catalina Channel. In a straight line, this distance is approximately 20 miles, but currents and other factors are likely to increase the distance I will swim. My pace is about 2 miles/hour, but this is also influenced by currents and weather. I will begin my swim from Catalina sometime in the middle of the night on Sunday, July 24th. The swim starts at night because the water is calmer and there is less shipping traffic to deal with.


How will I feed during the swim?

carboproapplesauceOptimal marathon swimming nutrition is a very personal choice that depends on a variety of factors including caloric need, digestive necessity, and flavor preference. Throughout my training I tried plenty of feeding drinks that I found to be nasty, but I know others who swear by them. The timing of feeds also differs for every swimmer. I feed every half hour on either one scoop (100 cal) of a  carb powder called CarboPro dissolved in 10oz of water or squeezable applesauce (60 cal). My feeding plan follows a two hour cycle where I get CarboPro for the first three feeds and an applesauce for the fourth. The CarboPro is unflavored and basically tastes like sugar water and the applesauce has cinnamon and basically tastes like apple pie filling. By feeding every half hour, I ensure my energy never dips drastically but there is also enough time in between to digest. In terms of the logistics of a feed, my kayaker hands me a bottle and I kick along on my back until I am finished. I am practicing keeping my feeds short in order to save time and minimize heat loss that occurs when stopped.

What safety precautions are there?

OutriderI will have both a motorized boat (Outrider) and a kayak accompanying me on my crossing and making sure I am safe. Dr. Christie (Paige’s father) will also be on board as an extra precaution.

Who else will be on the boat?

I have several team members who will make my swim possible and each have specific roles during the crossing. In addition to Dr. Christie, I will also have a boat captain, crew chief, two kayakers, a support swimmer, and two observers.

The boat captain is in charge of everything nautical and navigational during the swim. He will also provide a wealth of knowledge as he has been on many, many successful Catalina crossings. My captain is John Pittman and his boat is Outrider (fun fact: he was also the captain for Rebecca and my friend Charlotte Samuels’ swims).

My crew chief‘s job is to make sure all other members of the team are working together and to look out for the best interests of the swimmer and will also be my coach during the crossing. My crew chief is Rebecca Nevitt, who swam Catalina in 2014 and the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim in 2015. I know that I will be safe during my crossing, because Rebecca will take care of me.

The kayaker stays along side the swimmer for the whole swim and makes sure they are safe. In addition to providing safety, my kayaker will also handle my feeds. I have team of awesome kayakers, who I will highlight later.

The support swimmer is allowed to swim for 3 separate 1 hour segments during my crossing. She is mostly there to provide emotional support to me as the swim gets tougher. My support swimmer is my friend and mentor, Paige Christie, who crossed the English Channel in 2014 and is currently completing the 120 mile 8 Bridges Swim in New York. I know that even when the swim gets really hard, Paige will be there pushing me to keep going.

The observers are there to make sure my swim adheres to marathon swimming rules, track my progress, and record my official time.

Will my parents be on the boat?

My parents will not be on the boat. As much as I love them, they will be way too anxious and I don’t want to be worrying about them worrying about me. They will be monitoring my swim via a live tracker while firmly on dry land.

How have I prepared for the swim?

My training plan was written by my coach Kim Bierwert and consists of 5-7 pool swims that are each 5000-7500 yards (3-5 miles), 2-3 short (2-6 miles) ocean swims, and one long (8+ mile) ocean swim, per week. When I swim in the pool, I swim primarily alone but when I swim in the ocean I always swim with at least one other person.

My training buddies have gotten me through so many tough practices, both in the pool and ocean.  Back at Smith, when I was first beginning my training, my main training partners were Eliza Cummings and Desi Stoyanova. Eliza is training for a different marathon swim, the P2P on Cape Cod, and Desi is always up for a grueling practice. In Los Angeles, I have been training mainly with Gino Hanrahan, @NatalieRadtke, and Rebecca Nevitt. Gino and Natalie are also training for Catalina crossings this summer. It has been awesome to be able to train with such amazing and passionate people!

What is the water temperature and will I wear a wetsuit?

The summer water temperature in the Catalina Channel can range from the high 50s to 70, and is currently around 65 degrees. By marathon swimming standards this is not actually that cold, but still requires acclimatization and training. I have been training in the ocean (60-69 degrees) to help my body become used to swimming in cold water. Marathon swimming rules dictate that swimmers can only wear a normal porous suit, cap, goggles, and earplugs.So I will not be wearing a wetsuit. Also, I really hate swimming in a wetsuit so I’m not complaining.

Can you track my swim?

There is a GPS tracker available on the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation that will go live on the day of my swim.