Tuesday, May 3, 2016

LP Swims P2P

This post originally appeared in the #TeamSelkie blog

Screenshot 2016-04-07 12.46.58

On July 9, 2016 at 04:00 U.S. Eastern Standard Time, I am plunging into the chilly, dark, and foreboding waters off of Plymouth, Massachusetts, and plan to not set foot on land until I swim 19 miles to Provincetown, Massachusetts. Nineteen miles of salty water, waves, eating every 30 minutes in the water (more on that later!), and critters who will hopefully let me pass through their home peacefully. I come in peace, my aquatic friends!
The P2P Swim or Cape Cod Bay Swim has been on my list of possible swims for about two years. I visited Cape Cod with my family when I was a kid, and fell head-over-heels in love with it. On the Cape, you feel like you are in the woods and on the beach all at the same time. Majestic humpback whales feed off of the plankton rich waters of Stellwagen Bank. Playful seals just hang out on the beach where people sunbathe. Every corner is full of the rich, nautical history of some of U.S.’s oldest settlements. The Cape was heaven on earth for a history-obsessed kid who really just wanted to be in and around the ocean all day every day.
I also had the honor and privilege to be friends and neighbors with Eileen Burke, the first recorded woman to swim across Cape Cod Bay. What are the chances that of all the streets in New York City, I would move to the same one as such an inspiring and accomplished marathon swimmer? We met swimming with CIBBOWS, but most of our time together came on 05:30 train to our respective pools. We talked about school often, since she was a teacher and I created educational videos for a living, but mostly, we talked about swimming and our beloved ocean. Listening to her impressive swim resume was inspiring, but it was the excitement about swimming across Cape Cod Bay that was most infectious.
Eileen passed away in October 2015, after a brave battle against pancreatic cancer, leaving a gaping hole in the New York and Massachusetts open water communities. In addition to her friendship, she did one very important thing for me before she died.  A swim must call to me in an almost primal way before I decide to do it. It is not just because of how physically grueling it is, but because a swim requires everything you have. Marathon swims require months of lonely pool and dryland training, as well as painful (and sometimes gross) trial and error of feeds and goggles and swimsuit tightness. They require a lot of training, and this is all in addition to working a challenging full-time job. Given the time-sucking nature of our chosen extracurricular activity, I don’t think many marathon swimmers can just pick a swim without feeling some sort of connection or sense of purpose for swimming it. I am often asked when I will be swimming better known challenges like the English Channel or Catalina Channel, but in all honesty, those swims are not calling to me right now. But swimming across Cape Cod Bay? That called me. Eileen commanded the swim to call to me.
I have been training in the pool for the past three months, and am really looking forward to getting back in the ocean off Brighton Beach. No, it’s not the Brighton Beach in East Sussex, although if Selkie CEO Jeremy Laming wants to fly me over, I would be more than happy to come swim. 😉
In future posts, I plan to detail who my awesome support crew will be, safety and feed plans, and summaries of my two big prep swims: 6 hours in the Atlantic Ocean and an 18-miler in the Hudson River. I am extremely nervous about swimming in total darkness, the wind not being in my favor, and the aforementioned critters, but excited about the opportunity to swim “America’s Channel,” and once again feel the euphoria that comes with a long swim.
Hold Fast!

The Time I Almost Turned Back

This post originally appeared in the #TeamSelkie blog.

During the winter months, I am primarily focused on pool and dryland training. During these hours solitude, I very often find myself reflecting on my journey as an open water swimmer: the challenges, the triumphs, the countless bowls of oatmeal. The one story that I always find myself coming back to is that of my first open water race on May 27, 2012.
I returned to swimming in the fall of 2011 after a two year hiatus. I was now in a new job with more predictable hours, and was drawn to competing in long distance events after I watched a friend run the New York City Marathon. I joined a pool near my office, swam about 4 days a week, and found a great triathlon training group (Jersey Shore Triathlon Club) to swim with once the water warmed up. The group was hosting a 2K swim called the Lava Swim, and I decided to enter.
Full disclosure, I wore a wetsuit for this race! My marathon swimming friends may be quite shocked at this, but I was training with triathletes, and assumed that a wetsuit came with the territory. And full honesty, I LOVED swimming in it. I was lucky to get a suit that fit me like a glove and made me feel like a superhero! I now swim fully under English Channel apparel rules, but I did have fun with my suit.
After three Saturday open water sessions, it was time to actually race. It was one loop of a very well marked and monitored course in Barnegat Bay. I was very lucky that my mom, sister, and boyfriend all accompanied me to the beach to help cheer me on. After sitting in the rain, shimmying into my sleek Orca wetsuit, and studying the course, I got into the water with butterflies that felt like pterodactyls in my stomach. I had swam the distance in the pool and at my Saturday sessions before, but still could not imagine all of the swimming that lay ahead of me. Could I really do this? What if I got tired? What if I got lost in the scrum and someone whacked me in the face? What if my goggles leaked? When the start gun went off, I put my face in and began to swim, but immediately found myself hyperventilating. I could barely catch my breath. My heart was pounding. I questioned why I was not into a calm hobby like stamp collecting or knitting. I 100% wanted to cry and turn around and head back to the beach. But then, the faces of my mom, sister, and boyfriend came into my mind. What would I tell them if I chickened out and showed up on the beach only a few minutes after the start? They had all gotten up at the crack of dawn to watch the swim. My boyfriend had listened to me talk open water swimming for months. My mom made me an amazing oatmeal dinner the night before! I suddenly began to calm down. My breathing became easier, sighting became easier, my heart rate regulated, and I finally got into my swimming groove.
The rest of the swim was total bliss. I loved every minute of it, and gave it my all. When I finally got to the green buoy and could see the beach, I did my “butterfly dolphin dives,” and made my way up the beach and crossed the finish line. I met my family and savored every embrace. The Lava Swim helped me realize that I could swim through huge jitters, and also helped me discover out what mental games will help me through those tough first 400 meters. It is something that I think every endurance athlete has to figure out at some point in his or her own way. While I am swimming distances several times greater than 2K now, I can’t help but be thankful for the critical lessons learned that day in Barnegat Bay.
Hold Fast,

Out of the Comfort Zone- 2016 USMS One Hour Swim

This post originally appeared in the #TeamSelkie blog.

Out of the comfort zone – Laura ‘Hold Fast’ Picardo #teamselkie

I don’t like being timed. Crazy for a swimmer, right? Those hands on the clock really like to mess with my head. Part of what I love about marathon swimming is that outside of practice sets, the goal when you jump into the water is simple: just keep swimming.
So, when my wonderful coach told me she wanted me to participate in United States Masters Swimming’s (USMS) annual One Hour Swim, I did not exactly bubble with joy. At this point in my open water career, swimming an hour is not super challenging, but swimming an hour in a pool with a timer? Seriously not my thing. But what coach says, I do.
I got to Asphalt Green, an amazing Olympic pool (home of 2012 bronze medalist Lia Neal) on the Upper East Side of Manhattan a little bit before 06:00. Due to pool hours, I didn’t get in a solid warm up. I knew that could mean trouble, but I tried to put that out of my head. My boyfriend and trusty lap counter, Francis, took his position with the stopwatch (he is a marathoner, so he understands early wake-ups and the pressure of timing), and I was off. The beginning was terrible. Absolutely terrible. I just felt tight and those wonderful little voices of doubt permeated my mind. But like in all swims, I calmed down, got into my rhythm, and found my happy place. Mentally, I was still not exactly happy that I was being watched by the specter of the clock, but physically, my body felt amazing. The strength I felt in my shoulders and legs just reminded me that this is what my body is trained and meant to do. It helped me refocus on the swim and not on that unholy timepiece.
As I finished, I felt relief, excitement, and pride that I got out of my comfort zone, and didn’t quit or break down. Even though it was not a major swim, to me it was a major step in getting over some of the self-doubt that I have had about my athletic abilities. It is that feeling of accomplishment that I will be able to take with me as I continue to train for my larger events. I guess that is why my coach wanted me to do it (she is pretty wise). But the best part is that I won’t have to do a USMS One Hour Swim until next year. Yay.
Hold fast.

#TeamSelkie 2016!

This post is MONTHS overdue, but I am pleased to state for the record, that I am a member of Team Selkie for 2016! Selkie Swim Company is based in the UK, and specializes in providing open water swimmers with the best kit available. I am thrilled with this opportunity, and exceedingly grateful!

For more on Selkie, click here.