The following is a post I originally wrote for the 8 Bridges blog.
On the train to Stage 6 early yesterday morning, I was curious as to how I would know when to stop swimming. In two attempts, I had not made the final bridge of the stage. Would my Alex just yell? Would he whack my shoulder with the paddle? Would Agent Orange blow the air horn? This was all a mystery to me!
The swim started out a little rough. It was choppy and a bit difficult to catch my breath and get into the rhythm of things. The beginning of a marathon swim can be like that. You think to yourself, “So, I really have to do this for three or four or six + more hours?” You look to find your kayaker and try to stay on course. Breaths come in short, gasping bursts. After a while, things begin to even out and you find that cadence to your stroke, play that song in your head (this and this were yesterday’s tunes), and the mission of the day comes into focus: swim.
I knew that we were flying downstream when I realized just how quickly the Tappan Zee disappeared. Last year, it seemed to linger there like a horrifying specter, teasing, and taunting me with its cold steel. Saying, “You’re really slow, Laura. Get out now.” This year, the bridge was gone before I really even had a chance to look for it. At one point around Yonkers, we passed a green buoy at such speed, I thought for sure there must be a seal pushing my feet. This was going to be a good day.
When I looked to my left and saw Spuyten Duyvil, the reality that I would make the bridge officially set in. I allowed myself to look at the bridge just a little bit, and decided to make like smoke and oakum and gun it for the bridge. I wanted to feel that ending, and I wanted it NOW!
Nothing could have prepared me for the euphoria I felt when the shadow of the George Washington Bridge came over me. I felt like Peter Pan when he finds his shadow in the Darling’s nursery. It was “my very own shadow.” The shadow told me that I was there, I had achieved a goal almost two years in the making, and that I could truly celebrate. My brain had the dopamine rush that comes from eating frozen custard on the Ocean City, NJ boardwalk, smelling the salt air, with my loved ones close by. I want to hang on to that shadow feeling for those lonely mornings when I am walking to the pool before dawn this coming winter, because it that feeling that makes the early wake-ups and work outs worth it.
The euphoria continued as I celebrated in the water with Alex (which included eating my peanut butter M&M feed since I told him I wanted to push through the last feed and eat them at the end) and saw Agent Orange heading over to pick me up. To celebrate my success is one thing, but I could not wait to revel in the success of everyone in the open water tribe. Hugging and smiling and laughing all of those who are there with you on this journey is the watertight seal on the feeling that hits when you reach the bridge and say, “I’m done. What’s next?”
The following is a post I wrote for the 8 Bridges blog. On some level, I knew within the first few minutes of splashing into the washing machine like Hudson River on Monday that I was probably not going to make it to the Mid Hudson Bridge. The chop felt, in some ways, worse than last year’s Stage 6. So, in that first hour, I began to make my peace with God, the Hudson, and myself. I wanted to quit right then and there. A day on Launch 5 with Rondi and the crew sounded positively delightful. But bad conditions or not, I had business to attend to. As a way of coping with the adverse conditions and still continuing to swim, I decided that the goal (and my stroke) of the swim would have to change.
My initial goal was to make it to the Culinary Institute of America. The school is not too many miles away from the finish so it would be a long swim, and I was also still holding out hope that my sister (an alum of their baking and pastry program) would have had students there throwing baked goods at the swimmers. Sorry that that didn’t happen, everyone. I tried! As the south wind howled with sustained winds of 15 MPH and gusts of 35, it became harder and harder to anchor myself in the water, and even to breathe. On one occasion, I took a full nose and mouth full of water and came very close to tossing up my last feed. I could not get the words of the greatCanadian songsmith Gordon Lightfoot out of my head, “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turns the minutes to hours?” As we were tossed around, I figured CIA would not happen. I would have to find something delicious elsewhere…and I did!
The more realistic goal became to make it to my peanut butter M&M feed. Peanut butter M&Ms are my mid-swim treat. They taste good on land, but imagine how amazing they are in the river after spending hours battling chop and pulling and kicking with only very small and quick breaks. I nearly jumped out of the water with excitement Free Willy style when Alex shook my blue bottle and said, “Well, look what I have for you!’ I made it! My favorite feed, and the new goal set to keep myself from ditching the river too early!
Shortly after those delicious, rainbow colored delights, I simply said to Alex, “I hurt.” I decided it was time to call it quits. I do these swims for myself and for fun, and it was starting to not be so fun anymore. I did not want to put my body through anything unnecessary when I have another stage of the swim on Saturday. Why waste all of my energy now, when I will be back in the river so soon? So I abandoned the swim about 15 of the 19 miles in. It was a shockingly easy decision, and while I was disappointed I did not make the Mid-Hudson, I was happy to have made it that far in water and wind that tempestuous.
Congratulations to all who braved the river yesterday (kayakers included since they really had their work cut out for them), especially the two amazingly strong swimmers who made it to the bridge! We are lucky enough to get to swim in this river for 7 days every June, and for that, we all come out on top.
The Emotions of a Marathon Swim... Told With Some Help From the Characters of Disney/Pixar's "Inside Out" FEAR
What, this swim is how long? What if there is a south wind?* What if there is lighting? What if there is torrential rain? Do sharks swim in the Hudson River? What if I jump off the boat like a duck and humiliate myself in front of all the cool swimmers?* What if my feeds upset my belly? What if I get knocked unconscious by a sturgeon?
Ugh, Desitin, I love that your 40% zinc oxide keeps my skin sunburn free, but like, I just CAN'T with your putrid odor.* It reeks, and I just hate it. ICK!!! I just took in a whole nose and mouth full of river water. Ack! Ack! Get it out! Gross! Gross!
STOP BLOWING, SOUTH WIND! JUST STOP! I HAVE HAD IT WITH YOU MESSING WITH THE EBB TIDE! YOU WANT A PIECE OF ME!? IF YOU THROW ONE MORE WAVE IN MY FACE I AM GOING TO LOOSE IT! YOU'VE ALREADY RUINED ONE SWIM FOR ME, DON'T YOU DARE RUIN ANOTHER!*
Looks like I am not going to make it to the bridge again. I won't get to celebrate and stroll into work like a hero in the same way. I wish I could take those final strokes under the bridge and hear the boat blow the air horn. I trained really hard for this. It was a lot of work. Maybe I am not such a good swimmer? I really just want a hug and a blanket right now.*
I love swimming! I love the open water! I made it 15 miles with waves crashing over me the whole time, and it was really really hard, but I love the challenge! I am surrounded by an amazing group of swimmers and have people back on land who love me just for me! I get to eat a big dinner tomorrow night and snack all day! What should I eat!? I got to spend a day doing what I love with people I love. What could be better than that!?
So there you have it.
*This happens EVERY TIME I jump off a boat.
*I did not put it in on my face, and I got burned. I will next time no matter how bad it smells.
*This is edited a bit. In real life, there were some choice words here.
*I really did almost just stop swimming and take a mini nap because I was sad. Luckily, that did not last too long.
The following is a post I wrote for the 8 Bridges blog.
“You’re swimming how FAR, in what TEMPERATURE, WITHOUT a WETSUIT!?”
Explaining marathon swimming to people is really fun. I will admit that I thoroughly enjoy the ego boost when some of the triathletes that swim at my home pool look at me completely gobsmacked when I answer those questions. Positive reinforcement like that certainly makes the hours logged in solitary pool confinement feel worth it! But the idea I strive to get across to those hearing about our sport for the first time is that one of the many things that makes it so special is that as a community, we value the struggle over the triumph.
A quote attributed to Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee, sums it up better than I ever could: “The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”
This quote is incredibly important to remember in a sport where a change in the wind or weather conditions can affect whether or not you reach the finish. You can swim every day, eat the healthiest food you can find, put in extra hours of dryland, and study your charts, but if lighting strikes or you face a strong headwind, you will have to face the unpleasant fact that you will not finish the event you have been training for. You may feel upset, angry, want to curl up into a ball and hide from the world. But the fact of the matter is, you jumped into that water that day, which is a major accomplishment in and of itself. And, more importantly, you likely struggled along the way. You probably spent months waking up before the sun, and had to resist the magnetic pull of your pillow and warm blanket. You probably had to say no to a lot of fun social events because you needed to get to bed. Your bath towels probably smell like chlorine. Your grocery bill (or at least waffle budget) probably skyrocketed! You have probably doubted your ability as a swimmer and athlete on more than one occasion. But you didn’t quit. You jumped off that boat, and began to swim, despite voices inside your head telling you not to. That is the true triumph!
My hope for my fellow swimmers as we swim downstream next week is that everyone achieves their goals, and we all get to swim under those bridges with beaming smiles. But if that 100% completion rate is not met, my hope is that after getting out the negative emotions of not finishing, we all feel the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that comes from having reached for greatness. Just by reaching for it, you are already there.
Ta da! Here is my color coded, delicious, Coach Bonnie approved feed plan for both Stage 2 and Stage 6. I am feeling pretty good about the feeds. All of them taste great, and seem to work well with my body. The liquid feeds will be Carbo Pro mixed with a Nuun tablet. Nuun is awesome! It has light electrolytes and delicious flavoring. I prefer tropical (basically a pina colada) and the cola flavor. I did have an...interesting... conversation when I bought my tub of Carbo Pro. I called Jack Rabbit Sports to confirm that they had some on hand. The smug gentleman on the other end said, "You know that is not a protein shake, right?" Now, in the movie version of my life, I will respond to his smugness with, "Noooo s***, Sherlock! CARB is in the name!" But real life me just explained that indeed I did know that CARBO Pro was a CARBOHYDRATE supplement, and I am an endurance athlete. Anyway, I ended up getting the tub for $7 thanks to a huge store credit from volunteering at the Battle of Brooklyn 11 miler last year. That night got even better when a hungry Francis and I split some delicious fries at Five Guys next to Jack Rabbit. We are not the most impulsive couple, especially as far as dining out is concerned, so it was quite a treat to have an impromptu yummy snack. Hold Fast, Laura
On Monday June 8th, I will be swimming Stage 2 of 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim. This is likely going to be my toughest swim yet due to its intimidating distance (19.8 miles) and not quite as strong tidal assist. It is still assisted by the tide, but it is not as strong as some of the other stages. Another challenge: five days later, I will be jumping in the Hudson again for the 15 mile Stage 6. Faithful blog readers will remember that I swam Stage 6 last year, but was pulled just shy of the George Washington Bridge. It will have to be a pretty quick recovery!
I chose Stage 2 for the challenging distance and gorgeous rural scenery, but also because I will get to swim past the beautiful Culinary Institute of America. My sister studied there from 2010 to 2013, and graduated with her degree in baking and pastry studies. I have so many fond memories of visiting her there and, of course, devouring many delicious meals! But I also have a very fond swimming memory from there. Casey and her friends from the Baking and Pastry Honor Society volunteered at the 2013 2 Bridges Swim, where I swam the hilariously short 2.5K loop. That swim fell only a few short weeks after my paternal grandmother passed away suddenly. It was very therapeutic to be with most of my immediate family at an event with some semblance of normalcy. We spent the rest of the day at CIA and ate delicious take out from the Eveready Diner, since the resident assistant extraordinaire was on duty. It was also lovely using my sister's private RA bathroom to shower post swim. After Francis and I got back to the city, I remember curling up into bed while he watched Star Trek: Voyager, and feeling incredibly lucky to have an amazing swimming support system, and to be small part of such a great community of athletes. I still think of that day whenever I hear Jerry Goldsmith's beautiful theme to Voyager. I am hoping to channel that wonderful memory of family and good food when I am feeling tired or ready to quit Stage 2.
Savvy motivated volunteer right there!
Some course information courtesy of 8 Bridges. The two bridges are the Kingston Rhinecliff and the Mid-Hudson. It also goes by FDR's home and presidential library. Anyone who knows my family and its shared (well, mostly shared) love of all things historical will not be surprised that the FDR house was one of the first places we visited when Casey got into CIA.
Hoping for good weather, calm water, and a north wind!