Sunday, June 13, 2010

6.12.10 Manhattan Island Marathon Swim

What a day! There are some things you do in your life where you need to step back and take stock of the path you are going down. Today was certainly one of those days!!!

It started when my eyes flew open and I looked at the clock...4:22am! I had to force myself to go back to sleep, it wasn't time yet! Finally at 4:45am I turned off the alarm and got up. My crew was up and getting the final things together before heading out to meet the boat. Today my crew would consist of my mother Anne and friend Suzanne (yes, the same Suzanne from the Channel stories). Once they left I got back into bed and tried to sleep for another half hour. Luckily, the swimmers didn't have to meet until 6am (although I could have showed up at 7am and nobody would have noticed the difference). I just didn't have any more sleep in me...I just wanted to get in the water. So I got my suit on, checked to make sure I had everything, had a protein bar and was off to the races. Luckily I found a cabby willing to drive me the 1-mile to the start.

At 6am I walked up to South Cove and David Barra and a few other fellow swimmers were already there waiting for the start. We were all anxious to get in the water. We waited a little over an hour before it was time to strip down and start applying the suntan lotion and A&D. It was actually quite humorous looking down the benches lined with swimmers as the clothes started dropping and all the lotions a goop came out. It was a mess!!

At 7:20am all I wanted was TO GET IN THE DAMN WATER!!! I'm not the patient type (shocker) so the waiting is really tough on me. I was able to locate both kayakers and get their attention as they came down from North Cove. The team was in place and ready to go. I was was finally time to get in the water. MIMS is different than the English Channel and Catalina because it is a race. This race is very difficult to get into. It takes time, patience, qualifying and then finally being selected. It was all coming to a head as the lucky 26 were lined up in numerical order and asked to jump off the wall into the Hudson at South Cove. We were then lined up in the water, there was a photo and a countdown. 1....finally....GO. GO. GO!!!

Talk about BEDLAM!!! For every swimmer there are two kayakers. We has 26 solo swimmers and a handful of relays so there were kayakers everywhere!!! We got off to a decent start and I was able to find my kayaker (taking way too much credit here...he totally found me) and we were on our way. My thoughts...this is going to be a long day! A large group formed at the front and quickly moved into the East River. We were going to catch up with our boats right around the Brooklyn Bridge. As I swam I got glimpses of the city. It was just so beautiful and peaceful that early in the morning. My kayakers located our escort boat and off we went. Conditions were choppy and the wind was howling. We knew at the start that the Hudson was going to be a force to be reckoned with especially with the wind in our faces.

We start and finish at South Cove. So we swim South in the Hudson and directly into the East River. Phase 1. We immediately swim under the two bridges and made the turn North. The best thing about swimming in this event was knowing where I was at all times. I would think...B, M, W...UN Building, Mill Rock, Foot Bridge, Randall's Island, Yankee Stadium, etc. etc. I was able to click off landmarks as I went so I could actually calculate forward progress. Once we made the turn I could feel the current start to pick me up. I could tell we were swimming fast but had no idea yet how fast. First three Bridges were gone in a flash. On my left I saw the Empire State Building. All I thought was...when you see this coming home, you know you are almost there. Next thing I know I am speeding by the UN. Cool building but no time to be a is a race after all. Next thing I know my kayaker moves me in close to the wall near the FDR. I see him look up so on my next breath I sneak a peek at what he is looking at. It's my Dad, my sister Jaime and her fiance Dumas!!! I got so excited I was waving while swimming and giving them the thumbs up. I was praying they could see it because they were running at full speed. At that moment I realized I was absolutely hauling!!! I was actually being sucked down the river...NO JOKE!!! I didn't find out until after the swim that I was swimming 6mph and the cross suction feeling under the water was actually whirlpools from the LI Sound, East River and Harlem all coming into one place. It was actually an amazingly cool sensation to feel the pull of a whirlpool in the water!

Next thing I know I was dumped in the middle of the Mill Rock area. It's time for a feed. When I stopped I heard SO many people cheering for me! People were screaming my name from the shore, others were yelling GO EDGEMONT (the HS I teach and coach at). It was such an amazing feeling that people actually came out to NYC to watch the craziness. It's so unfortunate because people never actually understand what this is all about until they spend a day either chasing a swimmer or crewing on a boat. Then they get the first hand experience of what these athletes are really made of! It truly is pretty cool and very inspiring...that is how I got here! So I waved to the people yelling as I took my feed and was on my way again. I took no more than 10 strokes when I saw Dad, Jaime and Dumas on my left again. A mile later there was a woman screaming my name on a bridge and taking pictures. Having all these people there cheering me on really helped inspire me to work my butt off and not disappoint them. So knowing I was about to collide full on into the current in the Harlem, I picked up the pace!

Phase 2 of the swim...East River was done, now it was time to move onto the Harlem. Definitely my least favorite of the three. The East River was fine, no issues. The Harlem....well, what can you say about the Harlem???? It is very narrow, there is debris everywhere from all of the construction going on, there is a distinct chemical taste, you run into quite a bit of garbage (or tires) and on top of that there are 2 kayakers and an escort boat for every swimmer along with press boats, NYPD boats, Coast Guard boast and officiating boats. Tight quarters for all that motoring! The Harlem started off ok. We passed the Foot Bridge, came up to Randall's and then hit Yankee Stadium. Then I hit the wall. I was tired from picking it up against the current, I was really sick from the chop in the Hudson (I get really bad sea sickness when I swim) and the fumes of all the boats so close was really making me sick. From Yankee Stadium to the Boat Basin I really had a tough time. At one point I mentioned to Eric (one of my extraordinary kayakers, my second kayaker was Ned) that I was tired. Eric leaned over and said, "You can't get tired now. Not after you came all this way." I forgot how that might sound to someone not familiar with the mental games that happen in a swimmers head while they swim. I started to laugh and said, "Eric, I'm tired but I am certainly not getting out. We'll be finishing this today." You could tell it was a load off hearing that. But it was time to try something new. I switched my feed from the gatorade fuel to the water fuel. SMART!!! It started to work. My stomach started to calm down and I started to get a second wind. It was time to make the turn towards the Columbia "C". As we made the turn I made a really bad realization...normally when you take a stroke you can see the bubbles and your hand in Open Water. When I looked down, I couldn't see farther than my SHOULDER!!! I almost panicked but knew we would be out of the gross part soon. It was like swimming through a mud slick. We got to the Columbia "C" and we stopped for a feeding. Eric leaned over his kayak and said, "Well, this is where the race starts, how you feeling?" I said, "I've hit my second wind and I am ready to race!" So off we went. At this point we had to swim under the Sputyen Duyvil bridge while it was closed (moments later a train came tearing across it). It was REALLY COOL!!! The bridge was only a few feet over head and you could see every detail of every beam.

Phase 1...done, Phase 2...Done...Phase 3 Hudson River with winds against us and some nice chop! Now for the hard part. We came out of Spuyten Duyvil and made the turn towards home...which you could not see at all! We started heading down the Hudson for the second time today but it was far different from the first time! The winds had really picked up and were coming directly at us. The chop was tough but beatable (thank you Jim for the Lake training against the winds....thank you mother nature for giving me a tough Channel day). Not only did I know I could push pass the chop but I knew I could race in the chop...if my stomach allowed it. We started adding GU at the feeds. This was helping a bit with the energy level so we kept it up at every feed. Right after my feed before the GW Bridge I heard a crash up above. I stopped and looked at Eric and he said to keep going that I was fine. I heard an ambulance but didn't realize it was above me. I happened to see Eric texting and had no clue what was going on. So I just kept swimming. Swimming under the GW Bridge is truly a remarkable thing! It is so iconic and beautiful that I really just took in the moment. I started to think about my friends and family who were coming to the finish and just got so excited! I really needed every bit of support they had that day. I don't think they realize how much a swimmer pulls from their support when they are in the water! We emerged the other side of the bridge to a major surprise. There were 3 helicopters circling on the other side of the bridge. I thought it so odd because I haven't seen helicopters fly under the GW Bridge since 9-11. Next thing I know there is a deafening sound right above me. I stop because I am being pushed down into the water and getting crushed by weird waves. When I pop up I see a helicopter about 10 feet above me and the pilot looking right at me. I am blind but I could read that writing up close and personal...NYPD RESCUE CREW. Evidently, as we were swimming under the bridge someone jumped off. I didn't find out until later that night when Eric confirmed it as his friend was on the bridge taking photos of the swim and saw what was going on. The accident I heard was a car that crashed into the jumper's car. So sad!

It felt like it took forever to get to the Sewage Plant! But once we got there things started to speed up a bit. There was quite a bit of racing going on in the Hudson. I was with Lance Ogren exchanging the lead after every feed for god knows how long. Finally I hit a rough patch where more sea sickness medication was needed STAT! I felt it coming on but tried everything in my power not to allow it to overtake this swim. Unfortunately, it caught up to me. Luckily, it wasn't even close to as bad as Tampa. Got everything out of my system, put my head down, butt up and went back to work. FINALLY we reached the first Pier. I knew things were going to start speeding up. I was ticking off the Piers and started to get excited to finish. As I got excited I started to speed up. Cruise liners...check, Intrepid...check, Chelsea Piers...check!!! It's time! We stop for our last feed and Eric says, "You have anything left in the tank?" I said, "Yeup, what are you thinking?" He said, "Well we have been trailing these two swimmers all day and I would really like to beat them." (we had been about a mile behind but really made a surge in the Hudson). I looked up and they were pretty far away. I turned to Eric and said, "OK". He said, "Put on the afterburners and go get them!" I started to laugh under water and took off...I can actually say that in a literal sense. We were about 1.5 miles from the finish and I picked it up big time.

The finish....this is the best part of the entire day and worth every second I spent training over the last year! We knew that was my last feed. I had already passed about 3-4 swimmers in the Hudson but there were 2 more up front. I knew we were gaining but had no idea at that point if we even had a prayer. As I was swimming I was seeing streets tick off knowing I had less and less room to catch them. We arrived at the last marina before North Cove and I looked up. They were in range! I started to sprint as hard as I possibly could. I had no idea how long I could hold on but I kept repeating...GO!!! YOU CAN REST WHEN YOU'RE DEAD!!! Halfway between North and South Coves I caught the first swimmer....all I had to do was get in front and I knew I could hold it to the finish. I catch her and I see her try to keep up and can't. I look up and see the second girl up ahead and just in front of her the buoys marking the finish. Dare I say it...I started to kick!!! Anybody who knows me or has seen me swim knows I don't kick...EVER! I think I maybe kicked 3 times across the entire Channel! But if I was going to kick, now was going to be the time. I put absolutely every bit of training I had behind that sprint and about 200 yards out I caught her....100 yards out I passed the very last part of the race I touched the ladder first. Richard Clifford told me countless times going into this matter what, hold on in the Hudson. Anything can happen and it's the person who touches first that finishes first. I didn't get first but damn it felt like I did!!! I stayed in the water to thank my kayakers and gave the boat captain and my crew a big wave and thumbs up. I was absolutely thrilled we were able to finish strong and know that there was nothing else left in the tank. I left it all out on the water and was just so proud of the entire team. Official time: 8:10:41 (the next girl in was 8:10:54...IN A MARATHON!!!!!) Official Place: 5th overall, 2nd female and best of all...1st American to finish! Pretty cool if you ask me!!!

It was a great day! What did I learn...after reflecting on the path I am taking...I am in the exact spot I am supposed to be in right now. I absolutely LOVE teaching and coaching my HS kids at Edgemont. I absolutely LOVE coaching swimming with the Marlins. And I absolutely LOVE the fact that I can do absolutely anything I put my mind to and then share it with all of these kids I teach!!! That alone is so rewarding! These kids inspire me to give 110% at all times, to use a soft touch and be a better person every opportunity I get. Thank you for that!

I would be remiss if I did not thank a load of people....

: What can I sacrifice, you feed me, you keep me in line, you protect me, you take care of me and you yell your freakin head off at me!!! all seriousness, thank you! You were stellar out there on the water...even know you got the trees :) I love you!!!

Suzanne: Thank you for making this journey with us! I am so excited you wanted to come on the boat and be part of the team. You guys were absolutely wonderful all day! I'm glad you had such a great time on the boat as well.

Eric Capers: You were a rock on the water! You were kind, you pushed, you kept me in line, you were PATIENT and you kept me motivated and in the race until the very last stroke! I can't thank you enough for all your hard work and time caring for me on the water. You really were fantastic!!! Thank you so much!!!

Ned Moore: Thank you so much for sharing your first kayak around Manhattan with us. I was thrilled to have you there with a smile on your face and your positive attitude through out the entire swim. I know it doesn't look it but I hear every word that is muttered on the water and really took all the positive feedback to heart as I swam. Thank you for shining a bright, fun light on this swim!

Peter Muff: Thank you so much for volunteering to bring your boat all the way over to Manhattan, miss your son's baseball game to escort crazy swimmers around an Island then have to make the trip all the way back home!!! You helped keep me safe and within regulations all day long. Thank you so much for your time, your support and keeping my mother wildly entertained throughout the day!!! She had a blast with you!

Friends and Family: You were all over the course...some were running after me and most were screaming my name. I am truly blessed to have so many people come out to share in this day. At the finish I had a complete stranger pull me aside and tell me what an amazing group of people I had out here cheering for me and clearly I was the home town favorite. I was beaming with pride. Thank you for inspiring me to push harder, swim faster and not give up!!!

CT CREW: You guys are amazing! You are role models every day, every training swim, every race! I am so honored to be associated with each and every one of you!!!

Jim Bayles: Thank you for the training partner and the many Lake swims where we practiced windy conditions, race finishes (who the hell thought a marathon would every come down to the last 200 yards???), the "no-fuel" TBC 4-hour swims, the food after and mostly for all of the advice! Looking forward to more great swims to come!!

Richard Clifford: Thank you for the countless dinners and glasses of wine (more often than not too much wine)! Oh yeah in all that wine drinking there was quite a bit of advice. In all seriousness, thank you for helping me wrap my head around this race. I hope this doesn't mean we are done with our sessions...I hear Ruby's calling for a celebration drink!!!!

To all the swimmers: Congratulations on a fantastic, successful day!

Two down (English Channel and Manhattan), One to go (Catalina Channel) for the Triple Crown! Until the next big one...

Peace Out!

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