When you do a marathon swim like the English Channel, Catalina or even MIMS your planning starts years in advance. First, you secure the best possible boat captain you can for a successful attempt (this isn't as easy as it sounds). Next you start hand picking your team. This is what I deem the most important part! Your team consists of crew, kayakers and observers. Next step is to organize 13 people's calendars to get everyone in the same place at the same time. As everybody knows, that's half the battle! This takes months on months of planning and exacting every detail. If you nail all of this, you are putting yourself in a fantastic position to have a successful swim.
It's a lot of work preparing, quite a bit of time organizing. That's all out of the water. The next part is in the water. The amount of dedicated time and training that goes towards completing goals like this is the most incredible part. Anywhere from 2-6 hours a day swimming, 1 hour lifting, 1 hour core, teaching spin classes and this is what my training schedule for the 2010 season looked like.
2011 training season was far different. I was lucky if I made it to the pool 2 days in a row. Even more luck if I could find the will to stay in longer than an hour. Everything was different, especially my priorities. The very best way to explain the lack of training...real life got in the way of my hobby life. It happens. There are years that your life gets so busy and there are shifts in priorities where it's very difficult to maintain the same level of training. It's sad, frustrating and detrimental to your mindset. I'm not at all making excuses, it is what it is, plain and simple. Luckily enough all of my hard work towards my professional life ended up paying off and I achieved the goals I set out. So going into the swim I was already up one!
A week and a half before Catalina I swam 19.8 miles in Stage 5 of the 8 Bridges, Hudson River swim (see 8 Bridge, Hudson River blog for more info). The last 3 hours of that swim took a lot out of me but I did a TON to help recover as best as possible! Well, I should say I did a lot; a ton would be an exaggeration since I had my brother's wedding the week before!! Thankfully I hung up the party shoes at the beginning of the week and started thinking about my next huge goal.
This swim was the most overwhelming of them all. This was it…this was the big one to finish the Triple Crown! The Triple Crown club has fewer members than US Presidents! This is big time in our sport. I also know that I am all about the one and done principle. Finish the first time and then move on. The only problem, I was so out of shape...would I be able to withstand the elements? I'm getting older, my body isn't reacting like it used to (laughing that it has come to the point where I am actually saying that out loud.) Recovery time is longer, injuries are easier to come by. How much longer can my body hold out? I had to sit back and put it all of out of my head. I had one focus, one priority...finish Catalina no matter what happens! I should tell you, I have a terrible case of sea sickness! I know...who the hell chooses this sport with sea sickness? Yeah, that would be me! I have never done anything the easy way.
So, to back up a bit, I land in LAX on Thursday morning. My swim is scheduled for Sunday night around 11pm drop time. Thursday I just tooled around, checking into the hotel, got the rental car and got situated. Once situated it was time for dinner. I traveled for 10 years on my own and got very used to having to have meals alone on the road. So I decided to grab a bite to eat in Long Beach. I found this little Italian Restaurant through Zagats that was unbelievable! I was so excited! All I wanted was some good pasta and that hit the spot. I went to bed early because I had a big day planned for Friday. I was heading to La Jolla! This is my favorite place on earth to swim. The people are beyond wonderful, the views are incredibly breathtaking and the swims are truly 5 star! If you're lucky, you will even have fun sea life to play with. I usually get to play with Dolphins so I get incredibly psyched to see what is next when I am there. When I swim in La Jolla I meet up with the GREAT Anne Cleveland to train. This woman is incredible. She is a role model to all of the open water Swimmers. She has swum more miles than people log on their cars! She was also inducted to the International Swimming Hall of Fame a few months ago! She was going to be one of my observers for my Catalina swim and I was thrilled about it!
I got to La Jolla early in the day and decided to look around and go shopping. That didn't hold my attention long because I really just wanted to go swim. I went to the La Jolla Athletic Club and asked them if they would let me check in early as Anne's guest and they were more than welcoming! All I kept thinking was, honestly, these people are so damn sweet out here! I got dressed and went down to the beach. I decided to take a swim alone. I was a bit petrified seeing as they were looking for a 16-foot Great White right near the swimmers area earlier in the week. But I figured I was faster than some of the people out there swimming laps so that would work in my favor. I decided to head out on my journey to the first buoy and back. Nice and short. On my way I stopped because I heard something under water. Right next to me a Sea Lion popped up and started barking at me playfully. I just started hysterically laughing! These things are absolutely enormous! He swam away and I decided to finish up my swim. I chilled out on the beach and waited for Anne to show up. She came with my other observer Gracie. We hit it off right away! Her husband would be kayaking for me on the swim and I was so put at ease meeting her. Again, all I could think was, these people are awesome out here! I explained my lack of training and mindset. They got in with me to swim anyway. We went out to the sticks, then out to the caves where I got to practice my finish on the beach inside the cave. It was hysterical! I don't know who laughed harder, me or them!
On the way back I swam up to a sun bathing Seal Lion and took a few underwater photos. He was looking right at me just chilling and taking in the sun. True CA breed! Unfortunately, I just missed my dolphins. They were out there with us; I just didn't get to see them. Glad they showed for the occasion! But it was time for some grub. We headed over to Bubba's for some great pulled pork and drinks. We got to sit and gossip like school girls for a few hours and then it was my time to depart. I had such a wonderful day with Anne and Gracie. I was so psyched they would be coming on the boat with us for the swim. These are the exact personalities I need on the team!
Saturday was my day with my parents. Dad has never been to CA so I decided to give him a "European Christmas Vacation" style tour of CA. Man, if their cameras weren't up and ready, they missed the shot! We started in Santa Monica and Malibu. Gorgeous Coast line but all the development took away from the natural beauty. Next up we went to Venice Beach, Manhattan Beach (which they LOVED), Huntington Beach, Sunset Beach and finally Long Beach. It was 5 hours of driving but a great day. We stopped in Huntington for lunch at Duke's and Ice Cream. My mother said that I always swam my best if I had Ice Cream the night before (mom's know everything). Finally we were all exhausted. l had a Catalinaversery dinner to get to for David Barra. His entire crew was out in CA so he decided to get everyone together for the anniversary of his swim. I rushed back to the hotel, changed and a got back on the road.
I drove back to Venice Beach to meet up with David Barra and his Catalina crew for dinner to celebrate David's amazing 16-hour swim last year. A true testament to his physical and mental strength!!! David became the 40th person to complete the Triple Crown and did it in spectacular fashion. He swam all three swims in less than 3 months. INCREDIBLE!!! Dinner was so much fun. Beth Barnes (Kayaker) came with Lynne Cox (modern day pioneer in open water swimming, and one of my role models. I read Lynne’s book for my first open water swim.) Roz and Harris, friends and crew for David, were there along with John Huminek, David's wife Clare and I. It was such an amazing evening! What a great group! We got a pre-view from Lynne about her next book; we got the pleasure of catching up with Beth, Roz and Harris. It just was an A+ evening! But the fun had to come to an end. We were all exhausted and tomorrow night was my planned swim.
Game day!!! I had confirmed with John, meet the boat around 7/8pm, launch at 9pm, and drop at 11pm. I spent the day in bed sleeping. Honestly, I don't think I have slept so much in a single day since I had mono! I wanted to make sure I was fresh as possible for an overnight swim. Finally 6:30pm arrived along with all of my crew. The plan was to review the feeds, schedules, medications, roles, basically everything that everyone would be doing on the boat. I went through my agenda and tried to give them as much possible info about me as a swimmer as possible so they knew what to expect (that's half the battle). Questions were asked and answered and then the phone rang. The boat will be an hour and a half late getting back from the fishing trip. My first thought...will this affect the swim? Everyone assures me no so I go with the flow. Not at all upset because it gives me an additional hour and a half talking to my crew. They are all so awesome so just getting to hear their stories is entertainment enough.
Around 9:45 we all start moving down to the docks, the boat had just arrived and they were spraying it down from the trip. It would be another hour before we depart. I am surprisingly relaxed. I have learned that swims can be delayed for many reasons, you just have to go with the flow. We loaded the boat and next thing I know, other than the Captain, I am the only one on the boat awake. I'm actually thankful my crew is getting some down time to relax and I'm getting some alone time before the swim. It takes about 2 hours to get to the Island and by the time we arrive people are milling about starting to get everything ready. I am dressed and ready to go. First they need to get into place for the drop, next they have to get the kayaker in the water, and lastly they get back into place to drop me into the water. John Huminek will be doing his first leg with me at the beginning of the swim. The rules changed this year and a swimmer is only allowed 3 hours of support swimming. So we knew John would start me off with the first hour and David Barra and John would both get in the last half hour with David getting in for an hour when I was suffering at some point in the swim. I was standing there at the gate waiting for John and when he was ready it was time to go. We jumped in and swam to the Island right underneath the Boy Scout camp. I can not tell you how much kelp was in the water. It was like trying to swim over prickle bushes that had long vines that would get wrapped around your limbs. I couldn't put my face down because my goggles kept getting ripped off. We landed and John took a few photos before we got started. I stood there waiting for the horn and finally I hear Anne's voice yell, "What the hell are you waiting for, go!" I yelled, "No horn start?" she said, "No… go!” I started to laugh and said, "Ok, John, let's go!" We crawled over the kelp and made our way back to open water. I had to stop to clear the kelp out from my suit. Then the swim began. I was so thankful John was in with me for the start. That kelp experience in the pitch black alone would have been a lot for me to swallow.
Before I go on with the story I want you to understand my goal for this swim. I'm out of shape, my mind is very nervous about this swim and my body is still exhausted from 8 Bridges. My goal was to finish. I didn't care if I had to swim double arm backstroke half way while dragging a biting shark...I was going to finish. The boat Captain asked me what my goal time was before we started and I had such a hard time answering...as fast as humanly possible wouldn’t work as an answer!! Just finishing would have me thrilled. People threw around numbers for times as to what they thought I should finish in and I just nodded. I have no freaking clue how long it will take me to finish! How's this....I'll finish when I finish? LOL!
On the way out the conditions were nice but the swells had kicked up and I knew it wouldn't be long before the sea sickness kicked in. I had taken all of my meds but that is never a sure thing. It was a beautiful night and I was trying my best to make the absolute best of the situation but truth be told...I was sea sick...bad! The lights on the boat were making me incredibly dizzy; the rolling swells were absolutely killing me! Within the first hour every feed I had taken was back in the Ocean. It sucked! I knew I was screwed. I have never made a come back from being sea sick to finish more than two miles of a swim. This was not good. An hour later, I lost the rest of my feeds. This process repeated for up to 5 hours. The last time I was sick I thought to myself, “You need to pull yourself together if you want to finish this swim!” I had just tried to take more medication but it bounced right back up. The swimming was fine. I have swum in far worse! I just could not keep a thing down.
Finally as the sun started to come up the conditions started to flatten out. At no time did I consider getting out; at no time did I consider quitting. It wasn't in the cards for that day. I just needed to figure out how I was going to stay in the water. Finally, I decided my course of action. I was going to change everything! I was going to chew a dry pill and sip water every 15 min. I started drinking about 1-2 ounces of water each feed. Finally, after about an hour of water I had them start adding fuel back into the feeds. They were hounding me to have GU but I knew it would never stay down. So I refused. Finally, I was over being harassed so I started to lick the GU. It was the only way I could get the calories in without sending them back out. I was WAY behind the 8 ball when it came to calories burned versus calories taken in. I could slowly feel myself losing weight. Not good! Water is still 66 degrees and when I can't fuel I have tremendous troubles managing my body temp. I knew I was starting to enter very dangerous grounds. I needed to start keeping fuel down. I was starting to get pains in my torso and fluttering heart beats warning me that things needed to change and they needed to change NOW! At this point I had about 10 NM left. I just had to keep swimming and keep the fuel down. Next check point I had 8.2 miles left. I asked for David to jump in for an hour and I swear Gracie was reading my mind because she started to laugh and said, “We actually planned to get him in at your next feed.” I started to laugh and thanked them. Off I went. When David jumped in I was at a low point. I had zero fuel in me. I had struggled through a painful 12-13 miles with nothing but sheer will to go off of. Things had to change quick! I started trying to take in a bit more fuel each feed so I could get calories in me. Swimming with David that hour was a god-sent. He got in and put together a pace that I could hold. He helped get my head and body back to the same place and keep moving forward. At the end of the hour I was sad to see him go but excited because I knew when I saw him in the water again that meant I was close enough to finish.
People always say it is so much harder to watch land in the distance because it never gets closer. I feel so differently. Seeing land kept my eyes on the goal and helped me never take my mind off the goal. I was finishing. No questions, no double judgements, I was finishing! Seeing land once it was light, even though it was a silhouette, kept me focused and determined.
The next three miles I struggled but held myself together. I could feel the lactic acid building in my muscles. When I didn't get calories in everything hurt, even my toe nails. I didn't complain. I was stung over 200 times (little electrocutionists), I didn't complain. I was freaking starving but so nauseas. I didn't complain. I tried very hard to be positive and polite. Here are all these people working their butts off with no sleep and probably not feeling well from the earlier conditions. None of which are complaining. None of which have wavered. I needed to stay strong for them. I needed to finish this swim as much for my unbelievably rocking team as I did for myself. It was our swim, not my swim. It was from the start and it will be at the finish.
Thankfully, this is where all the excitement started! We saw a family of whales! AND THEY WERE 50 yards away from me swimming!! Talk about AWESOME! All I ever wanted was to swim out in the open water with whales and I finally got the opportunity. I was so damn excited! But back to work. Finally we hit the 5 nautical mile mark. I told them I would need them to start ticking down the mileage each feed to give me something to look forward to. I started to pick up the pace...way too early but I did anyway. I started my swim at 2 knots per hour (2 miles per hour) somewhere in the middle dropped to my low of 1.7 but brought it back to 1.97. All of a sudden I looked up and got a bit nervous because it looked like a scene from the movie Birds! There were freakin birds EVERYWHERE (if you look closely in the photo you can see a Dolphin tail as the Dolphin is diving down)! When I stopped everyone was screaming my name so I got a bit nervous but they were telling me that there were dolphins diving underneath me near the boat. I saw them pop up in front of the boat and dive down right below me. This is now officially the BEST SWIM EVER! I don't care about everything from before, these moments with my sea creatures made the entire swim for me. But back to work.
We were less than 4 miles left. I brought my speed back up to 2. I wanted out. I wanted to be done. No qualms about it, I wanted TO BE DONE! The land was getting closer each feed, just not fast enough. I caught myself looking at David on the boat screaming in my head, "Take off your shirt! Come on already! Get in the freakin water!" Then all of a sudden he was right next to me (in swim time things actually do happen all of a sudden). You get to a point in your swim where just everything comes together and you are completely overwhelmed with what is going on. I had hit that point. He said to me, "I can see the red roofs." I started to laugh and said, "I think I said the same thing to you on your swim." He said, "No, you got in and said Let's go for a swim." I started to laugh and all of the overwhelming feelings melted away. I had 1.4 miles left and David was going to do it with me while John swam next to us and took pictures! Thank god for my team, I never would have finished without them! That was my last feed; it was time to finish hard. David got in and put a swift pace into effect right away. I did everything in my power to stay with him. I knew there was a plan in place on the boat and I should respond to the challenge. All of a sudden the boat stopped forward movement and started honking. Everyone on the boat was screaming. I could see the beach. I could see the rocks on the beach. I could see the bottom. I could see the shoreline. I could see John standing there taking pictures. I could feel the bottom. I swam up to the shoreline and the water was pulling back hard with each wave so I grabbed a boulder and held on. I didn't want the current to pull me back out so I would to have swim in and finish again.
I was done. When the water came back in I got up and started to pull myself up the rocks. It wasn't easy but I was able to get out. I cleared water and sat down. A wave came up over my toes so I got up and climbed another 10-yards up to dry rocks and sat down. It felt so damn good to be on land. There were people on the beach watching that we joked about. David came over and gave me a hug. John got a picture of us both then David jumped up and got a picture of John and I. I was thrilled!
Now I had to choose a rock (it's a marathon swimming tradition, kinda like our trophy). I couldn't figure it out so I grabbed a few boulders and put them down my suit. I tried to get back in the water but fell on David. So I waited for the surf to go out and just allowed it to pull me. I swam straight over to Neil who had put up with me all day and congratulated and thanked him. I proceeded to double arm backstroke to the boat so I could stretch out my shoulders. When I got to the boat I had to unload my rocks before I could get back on the boat. I was proud I still had enough energy to hoist myself up into the platform and back onto the boat. Man did that hurt like hell! Throughout the swim I tried my best to be McGyver and tell time by the location of the sun. I was sure I swam a 12+ hour swim. I said something to John and David on shore and they both just shrugged. My first thought was, "OMG I went slower than 12 hours and they are just trying to spare my feelings!" I shrugged it off and was just thrilled I finished. After I showered on the boat my observers had my final time...9 hours 49 minutes and 58 seconds! I was shocked and asked them to do the math again! Everyone was laughing. Reason being...everybody spent 10 hours watching my be sick, take 20 minute feeds because I couldn't get anything down, stop countless times to re-plan or watch whales and dolphins play. There was no urgency, there was no attempting to break the 10 hour mark. I was able to power through the tricky currents to bring it home as quick as humanly possible :) I was absolutely thrilled...saved the best for last!
The celebration begun! It ended a few hours later with everyone at In and Out Burger! It's official, I am the 43rd person in the world to complete the English Channel, Manhattan Island Marathon and the Catalina Channel! Now that's America baby!
I share the success of Catalina Channel with my crew:
Anne C.: Thank you for all of your supportive advice and enthusiasm throughout the entire event! You are a fantastic role model and someone I truly love splashing around with! :)
Gracie: Welcome to the family! I knew right away you would be a fantastic addition to this crazy group. I can't thank you enough for your motivation throughout the swim!
Neil: I can't thank you enough! Your expertise on the kayak was noticed immediately and appreciated throughout! Your calm nature kept me relaxed and determined to finish. Thanks for all the laughs and your protection all night/day!!
David: Thank you, thank you, thank you!! This has been a fantastic journey that started last summer and will never end! Your timing was impeccable and your support was incredible. Thank you!
Clare: I'm so sorry you missed David's journey last year but I was absolutely thrilled you could be part of my journey this year! Thank you for all your time and effort! The pictures and videos are phenominal!!
John: Thank you for all of your support and all of your motivational words throughout the past year! It has been such a blast swimming with you guys and I am so thrilled we were able to share this experience together!
Mom: I wonder if you are the first Triple Crown parent??? Can't wait to get our tattoos together :) I can't thank you enough for everything you have done from these crazy swims to my complete and utter melt downs. You deserve this Triple Crown as much as I do. THANK YOU! I love you Annie Fannie!
Dad: FINALLY...I was able to get you on the boat and for the best one too! Thank you so much for coming and supporting my swim (and my crazy hobby)! Love you Dad!
I share number 43 in the Triple Crown club with all of my crews:
Anne: Catalina Channel
Gracie: Catalina Channel
Neil: Catalina Channel
David: Catalina Channel (and technically Manhattan if we count us swimming against each other)
Clare: Catalina Channel
John: Catalina Channel
Mom: English Channel, Manhattan Island Marathon, Catalina Channel
Dad: Catalina Channel
Deni: English Channel
Jaime: English Channel (and every other swim I have done that isn't on this list)
Suzanne: Manhattan Island