Thursday, June 26, 2014

Reflections on Stage 6

Two days have passed since I jumped off a boat under the Tappan Zee Bridge and set off to swim to the George Washington Bridge. Two days of processing and thinking and sharing and recovering from what is easily one of the best days of my life.

Most of you already know that we faced very tough conditions, and I came only one mile short of the bridge before being pulled. In all, only 4 AMAZING swimmers made it the full 15.7 miles out of the 12 of us who jumped in. There were times when I turned to breathe, and waves would wash over my head giving me only small pocket of air in which to breathe. Other times, I would crash back down of a wave and let out a little "Woo!" which amused Teddy (my kayaker). Now, I don't mind a little chop. I grew up letting myself get pummeled by waves, and love the feeling of being carried up into them. This chop, however, created by a 10-15 MPH southeast wind severely diminished the tidal assist of the swim and made the event unusually difficult. 

First, let me get out the negatives of those last few miles. I had to come to terms with the fact that I would now have a DNF on my otherwise untarnished record. My arms hurt a lot. I had to deliriously ask for a song, and Francis and an awesome swimmer named Mike Gemelli sang my second favorite sea shanty (yes, I have a ranking of sea shanties. I am an old salt at heart). All I wanted to do was climb aboard a boat and curl into a little ball. I wanted to sing a very sad Paddy Reilly song about the Great Hunger (Irish Potato Famine of the 1840's) called "Fields of Athenry". I immediately called myself a failure, to which Teddy sternly corrected me. He reminded me that I had just swam 14 miles in awful conditions, and for all intents and purposes had a successful swim. Even after this pep talk, I still responded "NO!" like a petulant two year old when he went to take this picture, while we waited for the boat to come get me.

A forced one smile. The best performance of my acting career.

But then, something changed. I realized that Teddy was right. I had just accomplished something incredible. While it is not what I originally intended, the goal and plan had changed when I hit that washing machine like Hudson River. I swam further than I ever had before, kept my stroke rate at 68 and above (even when I hurt), and did not quit until I had to for safety. Roy Malinak pulled me on Launch 5, and kept me from crying by affirming that I really had done a great job and gave it my all. I really do not like crying in front of people (there's no crying in baseball!), so I am grateful that he helped me keep my pride. Then, I got a huge hug from Janine Serell. Andrew Malinak assured me that no matter what happened that day, I still had my amazing Pawnee Porpoise shirt (Porpoise Call!). My swim mom Eileen Burke told me how proud and excited she was that I performed so well in those conditions. Could it really be that I did okay even though I did not achieve the rest of my original goal? 

That is both the beauty and the beast of open water swimming. You plan and train and plan and train. The Beast: Something as simple as a change in the wind will keep you from achieving a fixed goal. The Beauty: You can take from that change a different goal and accomplishment and use it to become a better swimmer, and all around human. I listened to this while walking to the pool before every workout. It is the intro to the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney. It features the vocal stylings of James Earl Jones and music from The Perfect Storm score by James Horner. My dad has been an audio engineer with NBC for over 30 years, and I used to pitch him songs to use in various pieces. In 2000, I was really into the score from The Perfect Storm. Much to my 11 year-old delight, the editors used my music suggestion! There is a line towards the end that speaks to what open water swimming and all endurance sports truly are- "Where a people value most dearly, not the triumph, but the struggle. Hold high any who dare reach for greatness."  I am currently in touch with the writer to explain to him just how much his beautiful piece means to me.

Now for the positives:
* Swam further than ever - more than twice as far and more than twice as long.
* Gained more of an understanding for people I interview as part of my job since I was interviewed by a news crew right before splash time
* Stoke rate was between 68-70 THE WHOLE TIME!
* Completed a marathon swim (10K+)
* I have a text message string of comedic gold! Francis was on a boat and was keeping my family up to date.  The way my family deals with anything nerve wracking (like me swimming in a wild body of water) is with humor. 
* Bonded even more with my amazing open water community
* Wore a great orca hat

Hat made by Bobcat Hats.

* Did not give up until I had to
* I communicated with a very important person in a unique way. I usually talk to people who are not there in the water. Everyone from my grandmother to people from work to my dead cat, Edward. Francis' father passed away a few months before we met, so I never got to know him. At one point in the middle of the swim, his face came into my mind, and I asked him for some help. It was a very poignant moment.
* I'm more amped than ever to keep this up! Even though it hurt, I am ready to keep training and going onward to the next challenges. 
* My Hold Fast stayed on the whole swim!
I tell ya. The Devil's at the wheel of that there phantom ship. You better hold fast.
* Francis and Mike Gemelli singing to me from the boat. 
What do you do with a drunken sailor? What do you do with a drunken sailor? 
What do you do with a drunken sailor?  Early in the morning?
Put 'em in a long boat till his sober. Put 'em in a long boat till his sober. 
Put 'em in a long boat till his sober. Early in the morning.
Woah, hey, up she rises. Woah, hey, up she rises. 
Woah, hey, up she rises. Early in the morning.

* Francis on a jet ski! I didn't get to see it, but wow!
* Camaraderie. Have a mentioned that the open water community is AMAZING!

The Thank You List
*Coach Bonnie. Without you, I never would have made it this far. Thank you for the rides to the beach, workouts, phone calls, and blintzes.
*Lori King. The big sister I never had. Thank you for the phone calls and constant pick me ups. I could not ask for a better training partner. I also must add that Lori totally crushed Stage 7! She's amazing!
*Ted Gruber for being a great kayaker and not letting me give in!
*Francis. You have gone above and beyond the role of supportive boyfriend. Thank you for dealing with my training brain, rubbing my sore muscles, and almost always saying "have a good swim" when I got up at the crack of dawn to head to the pool or beach.
*My parents. Thanks for being there at the end of the swim! I was really happy when I saw you on the dock, even if I did not look it right away. 
*David Barra and Rondi Davies and Launch 5 for running such an amazing event. It is so much work, but you guys make it look easy.
*Erica Pepitone for decorating my desk at work! What a great surprise when I got to work today!
*CIBBOWS for giving me an extended family.

So, what is next? Well, a week of no swimming. Then, I am going to try to be in the top 3 female early morning swimmers at Lasker Pool in Central Park (right down the street from my apartment!) because of the sweet trophy. More open water swimming with CIBBOWS because, duh, they are awesome. Plus, Francis' triathlon is about a month away and I want him to be ready for the Hudson. Swimming in the fall when Coach Bonnie makes her triumphant return from Cali. Training hardcore for more 8 Bridges next year and Ederle. Maybe add in some lifting/dryland activity. I hate both of those things, so that will be...interesting. 

Planning a few other related blog posts, but until then....

Hold Fast,

Friday, June 20, 2014

Feed Plan

In case you were curious as to what my feed plan looked like, here it is! A feed plan is the schedule of what I will be eating every 30 minutes in the water. I have it mapped out for 6 hours. Hopefully, I will be finished before that! Yes, it is color coded. 

Splash Time- 10:30 AM
What’s In The Bag?
Green Bottle- Water
Orange Bottle- Water with Gu mixed in
Blue Bottle- Peanut Butter M&M’s
Chia Vitality
Gu Gels- Chocolate and Vanilla

Feed 1 (0:30)- Chocolate Gu
Feed 2 (1:00)- Water with Gu
Feed 3 (1:30)- Chia Vitality and Water
Feed 4 (2:00)- Applesauce and Water
Feed 5 (2:30)- Vanilla Gu and Water
Feed 6 (3:00)- Applesauce
Feed 7 (3:30)- Peanut Butter M&M’s and Water
Feed 8 (4:00)- Applesauce
Feed 9 (4:30)- Chocolate Gu and Water
Feed 10 (5:00)- Applesauce

Feed 11 (5:30)- Vanilla Gu

The applesauce is a very sentimental for me. I grew up eating delicious homemade applesauce that my great-grandmother, grandmother and great-aunt used to make to go with pork chops and red cabbage (and really almost any other dinner). I now go apple picking and make sauce every fall with the same recipe. While I am using store bought applesauce in little individual pouches because they are easier in the water, having applesauce be a part of my swim makes me feel connected to them in a way. I also think about my paternal grandmother who passed away right before the open water season last year, and how she used to go "Oh Blessed Mother!" when my dad would tell her about my swimming. She said this a lot when he would tell her that I had absolutely no fear of waves when I was only 6. They all loved the water as much as I do, and while I often wish that they were here to see me become a marathon swimmer, I know that they are still here with me. 
Nanny (my great-grandmother) and I reading Mother Goose. April 1989.
Senior Prom 2007. My shoulders were a lot smaller back then. Great-Aunt Alice (left), Grandma Kay (right)

Mmmmmm. I can smell it now!

Hold Fast,

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Origins: Hold Fast

Less than one week to go before Stage 6! Today was my last 5:45 AM pre-work swim! Francis hummed "Pomp and Circumstance" as I deleted that alarm from my phone. I am incredibly proud that I did not once give in to the temptation to take one of the many available cabs that gather outside my building so early in the morning! I am overjoyed that I can stay up past 9 tonight, even thought I know that I will probably not make it much past 10.

Today's post is an origin story of sorts. 

Every open water race, Francis writes the phrase "Hold Fast" on my fingers like so...
Hold Fast is a nautical term that was used to help sailors persevere in storms and battles. Sailors had to hold tight to the riggings to help their ships weather storms, so this was also a call to hold on. It comes from the Dutch "avast" (think Pirates of the Caribbean) meaning to stop. I first came across this phrase in high school when I saw and read Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

Old Joe Plaice (the one who has brain surgery on board, for those of you familiar with the movie) has hold fast tattooed on his fingers. He also says one of my favorite lines from any movie: "I tell ya. The Devil's at the wheel of that there phantom ship. You better hold fast." My friend John and I were obsessed with this movie! We both used to cantor and sing with a group that did music for the 9 AM mass on Sunday mornings (nerd alert!), John was getting nervous before doing his first solo psalm. Before mass, I grabbed a pen and wrote Hold Fast on my fingers. Before he went up to sing, I put my fists together so he could read the message, which made him laugh. He went on to deliver an exquisite performance of Isaiah 12: "Cry out with joy and gladness, for among you is the great and holy one of Israel.'

Hold Fast to me means persevering through struggle. It is my in-water reminder to focus on my swimming and not the pain, push harder, and make it to the finish. Hold Fast, along with the tried and true "Just Keep Swimming" from Finding Nemo, and the new "Let It Go" from Frozen are my three mantras that will hopefully keep me going to the finish at the George Washington Bridge, Sandy Hook, and whatever other open water challenges are on the horizon.

Hold Fast,

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway-2.5 Hours in 57 Degree Water

Less than one month away from Stage 6. Some days, I feel like I could swim it without any problems, and other days I find myself wishing I still had several months left to train! I know I am ready, but uncertainty is always lurking behind every door. The only way to calm this uncertainty is to just get out there and swim!

Thursday May 29th is a day that I will always remember. I took a personal day from work, and woke up at 4:30 to head out to Brighton Beach with Bonnie and Lori. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, made some coffee, kissed Francis goodbye, and before I knew it, there we all were staring at the beautiful Atlantic. 

The hills in the distance are the towns of Highlands and Atlantic Highlands, NJ. AH is my hometown! Always a great comfort out in the water!
The air temperature was a chilly 55, and the water temperature a "balmy" 57. On the beach, Lori and I figured out a feeding plan and a basic ideas for the swim. My plan was to go as long as I could go, but no less than 1.5 hours. We procrastinated as much as possible, but at 6:30 Lori and I were in the water! 

It felt amazing! Cold, but as usual, I stopped feeling it after a while and was just able to focus on my swimming and enjoying the gift that is the ocean. I did my first "feed" alone about 40 minutes in. It was a delicious salted caramel GU gel that I had tucked into my cap. I have done several of these feeds before, but this one was particularly hard because I lost a lot of my dexterity and ended up tearing it open with my teeth. Another 40 minutes went by, and I met Bonnie closer to shore. I had some water and applesauce, and was able to "keep everything down" (no puking). Bonnie also told me that I was holding a great stroke rate of 70 strokes per minute. 

A special shout out here to the fabulous Barbara Held (who I observed during her amazing Ederle Swim last summer). Barbara, when Bonnie told me my stroke rate, the first words out of my mouth were "Are you kidding?! That is Barbara Held high!" Thought you would like to know.

Just that little bit of encouragement and knowledge that I did not look like an uncoordinated duck was able to keep me going. My stroke rate dropped slightly in the next set...but that was due to some fear. A huge flock of seagulls were swarming really close to me. I know enough about marine biology to know that means there is something really tasty right underneath the surface of the water. My question was what was exactly chasing those fish UP to the surface?? Not cool! Luckily, they stopped and I regained some focus. 

After another feed, I was able to get my stroke rate back up. 2.5 hours later, I was still going, but getting kind of cold and tired. The main way to make sure your body is not too cold yet is to see if you can move your pinkie to your thumb. I was able to on my right hand, but my left pinkie just wanted to stay extended. I have an amazing coach who knows exactly where to draw the line between a tough workout and hurting myself, so she told me to come on out. Being the perfectionist that I am, I wanted to keep going towards 4 hours sub 60, but I also would rather not hurt myself this close to my swim. It was an indescribable experience! I had successful feeds, remained strong, and most of all, thoroughly enjoyed myself!

After the swim, the three mermaids went and did what all good swimmers do: EAT WAFFLES...and talk about swimming! A swim family is really crucial since it is such a lonely sport day to day, so what better way to bond than over waffles and swapping "my worst swim" or "my best swim" stories.

Bonnie and I then went to the New York Aquarium where we saw penguins sunning themselves, seals swimming through the water with grace,  and the most adorable sea otter ever taking a nice little snooze right at the glass. These sea creatures are a big source of inspiration.
I named him Bill.

Now, there was one big instance of pain. But it is not what you think... I forgot to put body glide on my neck and that combined with a suit that was a too loose led to this "suit hickey" for the record books.
Kraken-1. Laura-0.
Wish I could say that I got in a fight with the kraken, but no. It hurt a lot. Plus, I had to go to work the next day, and did not want this showing. I busted out that concealer brush and his it the best I could. Slightly embarrassing sharing this oh so beautiful picture, but it will ensure that I never make this mistake again! Several applications of Aquaphor and Desatin later and it is almost completely healed!

Big thanks to Coach Bonnie and Lori King for being the best big swim sisters a lady could ask for. I am amped and feeling really ready to tackle this and any challenge, all thanks to an early morning, friends, some cold water, and waffles.

Hold Fast,