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First open water swim of summer 2018

One of my goals for my last week at Smith is to explore the local area, which is sadly something I’ve done a rather bad job of throughout my years at Smith. My friend Eva helped me on this quest by introducing me to a beautiful lake about 30 minutes away from Smith in the town of Ashfield. The drive out to Ashfield wound through the beautiful Western Massachusetts countryside and we arrived at the lake under a clear blue sky with a little bit of wind.

IMG_8863We weren’t quite sure how cold the water would be so Eva brought us both wetsuits, just in case I wanted to wear one. One of the masters swimmers I swim with sometimes had told me that Ashfield had been hovering around 52 degrees, so I was a little nervous about the water being too cold for me to muscle without a wetsuit.  I decided to wait until I felt the water to make a decision; my dislike of swimming in wetsuits fighting my desire to not freeze. When we got to the lake the air was around 60 degrees with some wind but the water felt warmer than I expected, maybe around 58 and I decided to give it a go without a wetsuit.

We waded into the lake and agreed to check in with each other often but also said that we didn’t have to stay super close to one another, as the lake was empty. We swam straight across the lake and tread water for a little break at the other end. It was so good to be back in open water, and I felt like I was flying across the lake. We turned and swam back to our starting place and decided to take a second lap. On the second lap the wind picked up and I thoroughly enjoyed swimming into the chop on the way there and flying with the wind at my back on the return. Eva is training for a half Ironman and we paced each other well across the lake. I counted my strokes for one length and decided that each round trip was roughly equivalent to 1000 yards. I took one more lap because I was still enjoying the cool water and wanted to take full advantage of the visit to the lake. I wish I’d had a thermometer to take the water temperature because it really felt cool rather than cold and after 3000 yards my hands and feet weren’t numb and my fingers had not yet started to claw.

I cannot believe that I have been at Smith for 4 years without discovering this amazing open water swimming location. I am so grateful to Eva for taking me on this adventure and braving the cold water with me! This short excursion back into open water certainly has made me excited for the many swimming opportunities that this summer will surely hold.

Announcing Maui Channel Swim!

I am so sorry that I have been out of the loop for a little while, finishing up my undergraduate career at Smith College. After I graduate in a few weeks, my family and I will be heading to Maui for vacation and I will get to do a swim that I have dreamt about since I first visited the island. I plan to swim the Auau channel from the island of Lanai back to Maui sometime between May 29th and June 1st.

Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 9.16.38 AM This swim has a straight line distance of 8.8 miles and has been completed by around 150 people since 2000 and several more before that. Although this swim is shorter than many of the marathon swims that I have been training for recently, it also presents new challenges, including warm water and wildlife.

The water temperature between these two islands hovers in the high 70s, which is similar to the temperature of many competitive swimming pools. I have never done an ocean swim in water this warm and am excited to discover the unique challenges this will present! I have been training almost exclusively in the pool at the moment as I am still in Massachusetts, but my training has been going well and I hope to get an at least one ocean training swim completed when I am in California before heading to Maui.

I don’t have a date set for the swim yet because my boat captain prefers to watch the weather and decide on a date once we are on the island! I will update this blog once I have more details but you will be able to follow my swim at track.rs/abby.

 

A Christmas Day swim and some musings about goal setting

Yesterday I swam in the Pacific Ocean for the first time since leaving for school in August. Upon arriving at the beach, I was equal parts excited to be in open water again and nervous for how I would react to the cold water, which is sitting around 59 degrees right now. I met up with two fellow swimmers, Gino and Karl, at 7:45am for toes in at 8am and we agreed to aim for an hour swim, just to see how we would fare in the cold water. In the back of my mind was also the knowledge that around this time last year (on December 27th to be precise), I completed my 6 hour 60 degree English Channel qualifier.

For this swim, the water was the clearest I’ve ever seen in Santa Monica, with about 8 feet of visibility. We swam south towards the Venice Pier and I felt my hands and feet tingle in the cold water, but I was also feeling warmer than I expected and I was flying through the clear water. We swam for 30 minutes heading south and then turned back north to get back to our starting point. As we got close to the end of the hour, I did start to feel a little cold, but as long as I was moving I stayed warm enough. Around this time in a cold-water swim, I reach a point where my skin is cold but I am creating enough heat to keep my core warm and it is a really cool sensation to feel like my body is the same temperature as the surrounding water. At these moments, I feel like I could just disappear into the water. When the tower marking our starting point came into view, I was glad to be done and ready to get out of the cold water. This short one-hour swim felt a lot longer than I expected, probably because I am used to training for shorter distances in a pool right now.

The juxtaposition of this one-hour swim with the anniversary of my 6-hour qualifier brings forward the question of whether the goals we set can also sometimes become limiting factors for our performance. Said a different way, why is it that when I set the goal of swimming for one-hour does one hour feel like the longest I can do, but when I set the goal of swimming for multiple hours this arguably feels as long as the one-hour duration. Does this mean that psychological factors are telling me when I am “done” more so than physiological ones? For me at least, goal setting and goal sharing is a necessary part of achieving success in any athletic endeavor. I need concrete outcomes to hold myself to, and I like to share these with others so that positive peer pressure will also help hold me to my commitments; knowing my training buddies will be at the pool is sometimes the one thing that gets met to trek through the snow to the pool in the morning. What does it mean for goal setting if our goals also hold us back?

Thanksgiving Day swim

To celebrate thanksgiving this year I decided to check out a new open water spot that overcomes an unusual setting to provide an unparalleled swim experience. The group is Lucky’s Lake Swim at Lake Cane in Orlando, FL, just 5 minutes from Universal’s Harry Potter World. Swim coach, yo-yo collector, dermatologist, and swim enthusiast extraordinaire Lucky Meisenheimer opens his lake front home every morning to allow swimmers of all ages to enjoy the spectacular swim venue.IMG_7635

I found out about this swim through a post on the Marathon Swimmers Forum and the group members were very helpful in answering my questions on Facebook. I have never seen anything quite like the set up at Lucky’s. My mom and I arrived at the property and followed the signs past Luckys house and down to the water front. Walking in at 7:15, we were early for the 7:45 swim, yet were greeted by a smiling swimmer in a swim shack on the dock. I signed a waiver and was given instructions for how to complete the 1000m clockwise crossing. I watched as the man dumped fish food into the lake and a school of about 20 3-foot-long carp came out from under the dock and swarmed the flakes of food. 

The word welcoming doesn’t even begin to describe the attitudes of the regulars whoIMG_7654 began to arrive soon after I was given my green cap (worn for the first 3 crossings) and my Orange safe swim buoy (required for the first 25 crossings). I was the only first timer and they made a big deal about taking my picture in front of a #1 sign.

 

At exactly 7:45, the group began to wade into the water, past the 2 alligator statues half submerged into the sandy bottom. I followed a few guys in gold caps (meaning they have done 100 crossings) and started to swim along the buoy line toward the other shore. The murky water was a little eerie but a comfortable 71 degrees and I tried to find my rhythm, pulling the orange buoy behind me. The buoy wasn’t as annoying as I thought it would be and I barely noticed the strap around my waist. After the first lap, a swimmer named Peter introduced himself to me and invited me to swim a few more laps with him. I followed him back out into the lake and we swam 4 more laps, for a total swim distance of 5K. 

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Left: Signing the Wall of Fame at Lucky’s Lake Swim. Right: Signing the wall of the White Horse Pub in Dover, UK (Aug, 2017).

After the swim, I was invited to come into the house to sign the wall of fame and get my “swag”. I climbed up on a ladder to reach the ceiling and felt like I was back in the White Horse Pub in Dover. They showed me the Olympians that had signed the wall and I saw several names I recognized. Apparently, my 5 crossings is probably the most ever done by a swimmer on their first visit to the lake.

I met the famous Lucky himself and thanked him for his hospitality. Lucky is

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Lucky and me celebrating after the swim!

nominated for WOWSA Man of The Year and I can’t think of anyone who deserves this recognition more than him. This swim is an incredible experience and should be a part of any swimmers’ trip to Central Florida. I hope I can come back and swim with this awesome group again soon! Thanks to Lucky and the whole group for making me feel welcome and safe in a new environment.

 

 

A Thank You Post

Now that I have had a few weeks to digest my channel swim, I have decided to write a dedicated thank you post for all the people who have made achieving my dream possible. There have been so many people who have helped me in big and small ways to move toward my goal! Although I was in the water by myself and my swim is called a “solo”, the channel truly is a team endeavor.

My parents and my sister Jenna have supported me (even though they thought I was a little crazy) from the day told them about my dream to one-day swim the channel. From driving me to early morning practices to making sure I eat enough before a big swim my parents are always behind me. Jenna is always there if I need a piece of advice or cheering up for any reason. My girlfriend Maddy has been a huge support for me by keeping me positive and also helping me refocus whenever I hit a setback during my training. Even though she sometimes thinks my sport is crazy, she has been incredible and kept me sane throughout my road to the channel.

My crew in England, specifically Coach Kim and Paige, were also instrumental to my success, both in the months leading up to the swim and during the swim itself. Coach Kim was one of the first coaches who helped me believe that I could actually swim the channel and helped me turn an abstract dream into a concrete goal. He also stood on the deck of the ship watching over me for the entire 13 hours of my swim without any breaks. I honestly believe that my success is in large part due to Kim’s dedication and confidence in me. Paige has been a friend and inspiration to me since I first tracked her Channel crossing in 2014. She supported me during my training through both her friendship and also by answering all my crazy questions. It was amazing to have someone to talk to who had already been through the mental and physical challenges I was taking on.

My training partner Rebecca was also a huge part of my achievement. Not only did Rebecca and I train together throughout the summer and the past few years, we were also able to swim the channel on the same day. Rebecca has helped keep me grounded during our training and also motivated me to show up and be my best at every training session. Swimming the channel has a tremendous mental aspect and having a training partner to share that burden with is really amazing. I am so glad we were in England together and that we swam on the same day; this is a connection we now share! Knowing that she was in that water with me (even though I couldn’t see her) and that she was experiencing similar things to me was helpful motivation while I was pushing through the channel.

My team and all the swimmers I have trained with over the past year have supported me and made all the training and hard work fun and exciting. The Wild Bunch believed in my ability to succeed and kept me motivated throughout my training. The swimmers of the Santa Monica Bathing Society and Tower 26 kept me company in the ocean and made very training session new and exciting. All the Culver Plunge morning swimmers have encouraged me to work hard every day and also put up with me sharing their lane during long workouts.

My training was supported by a number of fantastic kayakers, including Jax, Melissa, Maddy, Gino. These four individuals have spent an ungodly amount of time supporting me from a kayak and keeping me safe in the water. Without their support and guidance, I would be a very lost and hungry swimmer during my long training swims. In addition, their positive attitudes kept me motivated throughout my training. I am so greatful for all the support, thanks so much for cheering me on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

English Channel Recap

Let me start off by saying that I keep going over the events of the last few days, trying to get my thoughts in order so I apologize if this recap is a bit jumbled. It is still sinking in that I have accomplished this goal!

My mom, Coach Kim, Paige, and I arrived at the dock at Dover Harbour around midnight on Monday night and

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On the dock with Rebecca

met up with Rebecca, who wa also going to be swimming. Together we waited for our boats to arrive, and chatted nervously about the upcoming swim. Once the boats arrived, everything moved very fast, which was good because it gave me no time to be nervous. We met the captain and his crew, and as we headed around the harbor wall to Shakespeare Beach, I put on my cap and goggles, and Paige helped me grease up. We pulled up to the beach around 1 a.m. Tuesday and I jumped over the side, into the cold, dark water. I swam up to the beach, adjusted my cap and waited for Rebecca to join me so that we could start at the same time. Once we were both on the beach, my boat sounded a siren and I plunged back into the water. I swam over to my boat and began find my rhythm in the dark water.IMG_4818 I felt like I was flying over the waves, though I was struggling to stay close enough to the boat. I was supposed to swim on the port side of the boat (so the boat was to my right) but my stroke tends to turn left and I kept drifting too far to the left. Every so often, Kim would beckon me back close to the boat, where the water was slightly calmer.

Usually when I do long swims, the half hour leading up to the first feed seems to drag, but I was honestly so ecstatic to finally get my shot to swim that before I knew it, Kim was signalling me to feed. Throughout the next hour, I continued to enjoy the chop and my

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arm turnover rate felt fast. Around 3 a.m. the sky began to get light and I could see where the sky and sea met. I kept thinking to myself, “I can’t believe I’m actually swimming the English Channel” and I also wondered if this sense of excitement would wear off. Sometime around here I had my first jellyfish sting but it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be, so I just kept swimming.

Between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., the sky continued to lighten and I was still having a lot of fun in the waves and not really feeling cold yet. Coach Kim continued to stand at his perch on20476391_10154746263965976_2789000286769480111_n the boat and it meant so much to see him every time I took a breath! He did not move from that spot for the entire 13 hours that I swam.

By 6am, the sun was just peeking out and I was starting to feel cold. I began thinking that that if I got any colder, I wouldn’t be able to make it to France. My hands and feet were totally numb and I was feeling shivery. But I just kept swimming, hoping to warm up IMG_4916eventually. As we continued towards France, the water did seem to warm up a little and I gradually got feeling back in my hands and feet.

At this point, I was about 6 hours into the swim and starting to wonder where I was in the channel. There were lots of jellyfish so I thought maybe I was in the separation zone, but it also seemed too early to be that far. I tried to see what direction the tankers were moving in but this was aIMG_4932 flawed plan because I didn’t actually know what direction the boats were supposed to move in and they seemed to all be moving in the same direction no matter where I was. Eventually, I gave up and just focused on moving forward.

I was still seeing a lot of jellyfish in this area, but most of them were far enough under the surface that I didn’t worry about getting stung. I thought that jellyfish must have a nice life just floating along under the water. At my next feed (probably around 8 hours), I told IMG_4968Kim that I was feeling hungry and he told me to keep swimming. I swam for another half hour, working really hard to increase my tempo and pull water. When I stopped to feed again, Kim told me that Captain Mike had a treat for me and he handed me a few chocolate chewy candies and they tasted so good in my salty mouth.

The French coast was clearly visible now and I just wanted to get there. At the next feed Kim told me to keep pushing and that I had two Puerto Rico Training Trip practices left. This translated to about 4 hours IMG_4961and was not the answer I wanted since I thought I was much closer. I kept swimming anyway, telling myself that the sooner I got to France, the sooner I could get warm and dry and get something to eat. These thoughts motivated me to pick up my tempo and push toward France. Kim told me to think of each 30 minute segment between feeds like its own workout and this helped encourage me and separate each effort. For the next few feeds I kept hoping Kim would tell me that I only had one or two segments left to reach shore, but I also didn’t want to ask how far away we were.

Eventually Kim told me that I had a few feeds left and I asked him whether this meant two more feeds.

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Asking Kim if I only had 2 feeds left.

He replied that a few meant a few and that I needed to just keep swimming. France was clearly on the horizon now but didn’t really seem to be getting any closer. I kept stroking forward, thinking about how much I wanted to be on shore and how much I wanted a bite of real food. I thought I probably had only one or two more segments at this point so I kept pushing towards France, with my mom, Coach Kim, and Paige cheering me on from the boat. When I thought I only had one more feed left and Kim stopped me, I asked if I could skip it but he said no so I fed and then kept swimming. It was really good that I didn’t skip the feed because it turned out I had about 45 minutes left and I was starting to feel slightly light headed and very hungry.

I saw France straight ahead of me and could almost feel the sand in my toes, but the current was pushing me to the left so instead of swimming straight in I IMG_4948had to angle way right. As a result Kim kept calling me back over to the boat so that I could break through the current and swim into the beach. At the last feed, Kim told me that Paige would hop in and swim with me into the beach. I was really excited for the company and the boat stayed behind while we angled into the beach. There were tons of jellyfish floating along underneath us but they were far enough down that we didn’t get stung. Soon I could see sand and rocks below me and as the water became shallower, it also became much warmer.

I stood up in the knee-deep water and struggled to find my balance. Paige yelled to the people on the shore not to touch me and I stepped up onto the beach. Once on dry sand, I turned around and raised my arms. Looking across the Channel IMG_4988that I had just swam across, I felt my achievement. It felt so odd to not be swimming anymore but I was also really happy to be finished. I picked up a shell from the beach and swam head up back to the boat with Paige. I climbed on board and Kim gave me a big hug. My mom made me a gooey peanut butter and nutella sandwich and that was honestly the best sandwich I’ve ever had!

I am so grateful for this amazing opportunity and all the people that helped me get to this point. I couldn’t have achieved this goal without the unending support of my parents and sister, Coach Kim, and Paige. A huge thanks to the entire Wild Bunch for supporting me in and out of the pool! Thank you to all the coaches, swimmers, family, and friends who have cheered me on, from across the pool or across the world. It is still sinking in that I am a Channel swimmer and I am so happy to have finally achieved this goal.