Category Archives: Open Water Swimming

SF County to County recap

I love urban swims where there are lots of things to look at while I swim, so when I heard about a course along the whole shoreline of San Francisco, I knew I had to do it. It was a very early morning because we had to meet the boat in Sausalito at 5am, but I made it happen and got to see the sunrise, which was nice. At the dock, I met up with Sylvia the boat captain, Kerianne my feeder/supporter, and Zach the observer, and we had our safety briefing and headed down to the boat. Sylvia warned us that is was very swelly outside the Golden Gate Bridge so we would have to go slow on our way out.

If you look really closely, you can see the whale spout!

We loaded up the boat and motored out under the GGB and into the rougher open ocean. About a month ago, Kerianne and I both swam the South End Rowing Club Bay to Breakers swim, which covers some of the course that we were motoring through and we both thought it was really cool to see the route from the boat. When we were about halfway between the GGB and where I would jump in to start, Zach pointed over the port side of the boat and yelled “spout!” and sure enough, there was a whale spout about 200 yards away! We kept heading to our jump spot and the whale spouted two more times.

Heading out to the start with my fabulous crew! pc: Zach Margolis

We arrived at the jump spot and Zach checked the county line coordinates on the map. Sylvia does not usually tell the swimmer the water temperature because knowing the number can be mentally difficult since the swim has to happen regardless, but before I jumped in she looked at me and said, “Abby, the water is very cold here but I don’t want you to worry because it will only be that cold for about an hour.” I was very grateful to know this because I found out later that the water was 53 and when I jumped in it took my breath away.

Teamwork! pc: Zach Margolis

I started swimming north trying to find my rhythm while being buffeted about in the swell and chop. The swell was so big that I needed to stay farther away from the boat than I prefer and when i was in a trough, I could not see the boat in the next trough. In someways swimming in the big swells was really fun even though it was challenging and I just focused on trying to keep my stroke relaxed since I knew I still had hours ahead of me. I felt really bad for my friends on the boat, though. The water was cold and my fingers and toes were getting numb but I knew that I always get warmer as the swim goes on and that the water would get warmer too. The most prominent landmark that I could see was this big radio tower and I kept trying to pass it and never seemed to get beyond it. Now, I realize that its location within SF means that it is visible from the water most of the way and since we were circumnavigating, I was basically swimming around the tower. We were far enough from shore that I could not make out much detail but eventually I could see Seal Rock in the distance and knew that I was making progress.

Passing Seal Rock. pc: Kerianne Brownlie

After I came around Seal Rock, the water got much warmer and I could see Mile Rock beyond it and even glimpse the GGB in the distance. Around this point is when I started to have fun with the swim, partly I think because the swell was flattening out and partly because 2 hours in is around the time I usually start enjoying myself. Mile Rock looks like a giant cylinder sticking out of the water and it is such a cool piece of scenery to swim around. As we rounded Mile Rock, I asked Sylvia if I should be sighting off the center span of the GGB, but she said to sight south tower and off we went. As I headed toward the bridge, I noticed that Sylvia was shepherding me farther and farther south until I was aiming more for where the bridge connects with shore and not even the south tower anymore but I trusted her and didn’t worry.

Swimming backwards while waiting for the tanker to pass. pc: Kerianne Brownlie or Zach Margolis.

Suddenly, on a breath over my right shoulder I noticed an enormous tanker heading straight for the bridge. I looked up at Sylvia and said “Oh, Shit!” but she said that I was fine and that we were just going to swim in a circle and let the tanker pass. It sucks to have to swim in the opposite direction of my goal (feels like backtracking on the freeway) but I was grateful that this was going to only be a short delay and that we were safe. I relaxed my stroke through and tried to expend minimal effort while going the wrong way. As soon as the tanker passed, Sylvia said I could head back under the bridge and I turned and headed under the bridge. The water right under the bridge is super choppy because the water gets much shallower there (I think it goes from something like 300+ feet deep on either side to 100 feet deep under the bridge, creating turbulent water).

Just after passing under the GGB. pc: Kerianne Brownlie.

After I passed under the bridge, the water flattened out again and I was in water I know much better as my pod trains nearby but much closer to shore. I set the goal of getting to Alcatraz within a half an hour and focused on making my strokes efficient. Now I was looking for all the familiar landmarks that I know along this stretch of the water front. I was hoping to see Anita Rock but we were too far from shore for me to spot it. Soon though, I was able to spot the piers of Fort Mason so I knew I was going to pass Aquatic Park shortly. When I stopped for a feed even with Alcatraz and just passed the Aquatic Park opening, I joked to Kerianne that we had missed our chance to stop at the club and go to the sauna.

Just after passing under the Bay Bridge. pc: Kerianne Brownlie

After the feed, I waved in the general direction of the club and said “Bye South End! See you later!” Even though it should be about the same distance from the GGB to even with Alcatraz as it is from Alcatraz to the Bay Bridge, this next stretch of swimming seemed to take forever. I was trying to make it to the Bay Bridge in another half an hour and it ended up taking more like an hour to get there. Also, around this point my arms started to get achey from all the chop that had beat me up earlier. I had a feed with Advil in it and that helped a bit. I also wished that I had looked at a map because I realized that I had absolutely no idea how many miles the finish was from the Bay Bridge and thats not a question I allow myself to ask the crew, because the answer is rarely helpful.

pc: Kerianne Brownlie

After the Bay Bridge, the scenery became way less interesting as the shoreline was mostly bare except for shipping containers and cranes but I kept picking landmarks to work on passing. There were also interesting smells (not the good kind) accompanying this part of the swim. I count my feeds so I knew how many hours I had been swimming but I had no idea how much farther I had to go and its my rule not to ask even though I would rather know. At one point, I said something like “I don’t know where we are” to try to get someone to tell me what I had left but Sylvia just said “head for the airport” and I could not even see the control tower yet, so I just kept swimming. Finally, I could start to see the control tower but it was VERY far away so I told myself that I must have several hours left.

Waffle! pc: Kerianne Brownlie

When I stopped for my 5hr 30min feed, Kerianne told me it was my last feed and I was surprised but happy. She also added a waffle treat to my feed and I was very happy because I had meant to ask for one and forgotten. So now I knew i likely had no more than 30 minutes of swimming left and tried to pick up my pace. I kept looking at the boat when I breathed to my right looking for some kind of sign that I had passed the county line was done. I thought maybe they would blow a horn or wave or something but I just kept swimming. I finally someone put up their hands and shout “Abby, you’re done!” Apparently they had been blowing the horn for a while and I just did not realize!

pc: Zach Margolis

I climbed back on the boat (grabbing some floating trash along the way) and received big hugs from my friends. Overall, this was an incredible route to swim even though it was a tougher swim than I expected it to be. The total distance was 21 miles and the water temperature ranged from 53 to 56. My goal was to get as close to 6 hours as possible an my final time was 5hr 50min 19sec, a time I am very proud of. I could not have done this swim without the unparalleled support of Kerianne and Zach, the superior Piloting of Sylvia, all of my many training buddies and teammates, and everyone cheering me on at home!

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