Today is the 2 year anniversary of the first time that I ever swam open water. In 4 days, I’m swimming the 21 miles across the Catalina Channel. Has it really only been 2 years? It feels like a lot longer than that. Between swimming and cycling, I feel like I’m in two worlds that I was always supposed to be in and finally found at the right time. They’re natural fits and nothing that I quite saw as just exercise from Day 1. I fell in love with both hard and they’ve become integral parts of my life and who I am.
My first view of Emerald Bay back on 10 August 2013.
On July 12, 2015, I did my longest swim ever of 14 miles and it was a training swim. I was lucky to have my co-crew chief, Peter Hayden, on kayak. Peter is not only my friend, but also someone who I regard as my mentor and humorously as my “swim dad.” He was the SBCSA observer for my Anacapa swim. During Anacapa, I had to tell him every time I relieved myself (a sign of how hydrated you are and this is something as observers we are VERY interested as it helps tell us how your biological health is doing). It actually became kind of joke and even to this day I tell Peter when I have to pee every time I’m around him. He always responds with “Good girl!.”
Peter and me after my 14-mile training swim on 12 July 2015.
I’ve been very nervous about my Catalina swim actually. 21 miles. That’s FAR. Holy f***. I saw an overhead shot of the channel from Anacapa a couple of months ago and even knowing I had swam that before, it looks even farther when you see an aerial view of it. I’m going to swim almost twice as far as that. What was I thinking? Oh right, I wasn’t. Some crew shifts have come up recently that threw me for a bit of a loop and I freaked out a bit only to be reassured by Peter and Grace van der Byl, my crew chief, that they’ve got it covered and everything will be okay. I trust them with my life. I know that’s a statement that may be thrown around a bit by many. Really though, those are two people that I know WILL take care of me to the bitter end. They showed that during my Anacapa swim when I struggled (unbeknownst to me) and successfully completed the swim. I am deeply thankful that they are right there with me on this journey. A swim can fail with the wrong crew despite their best efforts. I start off with the best (along with my kayaker/friend Cathy Harrington) and leave myself with the dump end of the tape of “just swim.” They will know before I do of when I need more calories, more hydration, more electrolytes, etc. I will be well prepared for the water temperature as I heard that the water is an unusual 75 F which is the warmest open water temperature that I’ve ever experienced. Luckily Skratch makes some hyper hydration electrolyte mix that I’ve used extensively while cycling that I’ll have on board with me to help with any hyperthermia.
Bottles and feeds used during a 14-mile swim (aka why I have an entire mesh bag of sports bottles)
It was comforting to have Peter on my longest swim to date. I was in SoCal that weekend and was the perfect opportunity to work with Peter. Sometimes you really need that security blanket with you and my crew provides that for me. To give a small introduction, not only has Peter already done swims like Catalina, he was also the first to circumnavigate Anacapa Island with a straight shot to the mainland right afterwards for a total of some 25+ miles. He’s an incredible athlete. He’s also one of the very few that knows how to talk to me that can calm my nerves. And really in these kinds of swims you want a crew that you can trust when they say “We’re on it!” when you start freaking out over anything. I’m beyond lucky.
So here I am four days until I get on Bottom Scratcher, my favorite boat on the planet, for my Catalina solo swim. I’m nervous. I’m excited. I’m anxious. I’m..words that can’t be described. I’ve gotten an enormous amount of support from people, especially my South End and Locos families. I still feel like a peon though among the greats as I swim with people who not only have swam Catalina but also the Farrallones (including the first ever successful two-way relay from the GGB to the Farrallones and back!), English Channel, Molokai Channel, Tsugaru Strait, Cook’s Strait, Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, SCAR, etc etc. Damn, I really do get to swim with some elite swimmers.
Me with Gracie van der Byl, a living marathon swimming legend, dear friend, and my crew chief.
And my 2 year open water swimming anniversary is today. Who knew that 2 years ago I’d do a swim that would forever change my life. On August 10, 2015, I stepped into Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe as part of Jamie Patrick’s swim camp to do my first real open water swim. I remember how clear the water was and how exhilarated I was afterwards that I told Jamie that I never wanted to swim in a pool ever again. It’s been hard for me to get to a pool ever since. No pool workout will ever compare to being in the open water. The scenery both above and below the water is incomparable. Even in the Bay where the water is murky, you still see the beautiful SF skyline instead of a pool wall. Us open water swimmers are damn ass lucky and unfortunately most of the world will never get to see what we see. I never take it for granted. We’re lucky bastards.
And I’ve met so many wonderful friends who have become family to me during that short time. I have my OakStreakers down in Laguna Beach who I love to death and miss dearly. I have my South End Rowing Club family who I see and talk to more than my own parents. I generally think about how these are people who knew each other and would have continued existing even if our paths didn’t cross. They’re in my life though now and I couldn’t imagine my life without them. I am a ltitle confused with people who see such activities as just being about exercise. I never quite think of my swims as being about getting some exercise it. It’s always instead of a “I’m swimming with Cathy/Len/Justine/etc.” today. Who knows what we’re going to end up doing. Masters practice in the pool? You know what you’re going to do and it’s whatever the coach is going to tell you. It’s not an adventure. The pool conditions are always the same. Sunrise from the open water is much more spectacular and serene and fulfilling than from the concrete jungle. And there’s something more heartfelt about swimming next to a dear friend to Fort Mason than just seeing their feet in front of you for a 4 x 100 pool set. I didn’t know any of these guys 2 years ago and now I can’t imagine my life without them.
Some of my OakStreaker family in Laguna Beach on 5 June 2014.
It’s not just about swimming either. I hang out with these guys. I work remotely at the club sometimes since they have wifi. I try and encourage new members to volunteer at the club because a lot of people put their hearts and soul into it to make it function. Most are volunteers who help out because they love it. I’ve started helping out more as I’ve taken over kayak coordination for the club swims and cooking duties for the boat nights. It doesn’t take that much time and I do it because I enjoy it. I love cooking and don’t get as much opportunity lately as I’d like to have. Boat nights give me the perfect excuse to do it actually. I remember what a former boss at the National Speleological Society Colin Gatland told me years ago when I was IT Chair…do it because it’s fun and when it stops being fun, walk away. For now, I’m having fun helping out with what I can and what my strengths are.
Some of my South End Rowing Club family yesterday after swimming a “true Golden Gate” from beach to beach (2 miles).
Last weekend I did my first traditional century bike ride. Because of my swim training and bike maintenance issues (broken derailleur hanger, sold a bent gear ring, in shop for another gear ring, blah blah), I’ve spent little time on the bike in the last couple of months. Sure, the Marin Century sounded fantastic earlier this year when I’d been riding a heck of a lot more. There I was last Saturday in San Rafael with my friend Diana and not having done more than about a 20 mile ride in the last 2 months. F***. Already paid for so let’s get the f*** going already. I was in pain and suffering for the first half of it. Diana was climbing faster than me which normally I’m faster than her. I can still descend and run a flat faster though. I get to the third rest stop and check my Garmin to see that we’re 57 miles in. My quads are burning. I text Jim and he said that he’d be rebelling too if he were my quads and that I was built for this and got this. Those were the right words at the right time as I’d been fantasizing about calling a SAG to come get me and/or maybe I should have signed up for the metric century instead. I start off from 3 heading to 4 before I cool down too much. I hit a climb that I dry heave up the entire way. OMFG I’m in pain. I’ve got Jim’s words still ringing in my brain though which gets me to the top of that short evil climb. I find out later that it was a steady 14% grade the entire way. I start fantasizing about a SAG ride again and come across a sharp almost-u-turn into another climb with a ride volunteer directing bike traffic. Okay here’s where I beg for a lift but instead find myself climbing up this hill. There are other riders taking a break at the side. I didn’t know that I was at the foot of something called Marshall Wall. See if I knew the ride profiles beforehand, I wouldn’t do stupid things like this. I start climbing and keep telling myself that every corner up ahead is the last one and it’s going to flatten out. Turns out that if it does flatten out, it’s for about 10 feet and then goes up again. I’m feeling extremely out of shape and there’s no shade. Again I can still hear Jim’s encouraging words and decide that I’m not doing the walk of shame up this and am at the top before I know it. I had heard something about a “wall” on this ride despite my best efforts to block my ears from that knowledge. I’m thinking if there’s a harder climb than this on the route than I’m totally screwed. I descend/coast to the next rest stop in a couple of miles with a 12-year-old kid zipping past me. I take my sweet time at the rest stop and Diana shows up so I catch up with her as I’d been expecting her to pass my slow butt on one of these climbs. I finally look at the ride profile with her and give her a HUGE hug when I realize that there are not anymore steep climbs and we only have 2 moderate and 1 easy climb left for the rest of the ride. That heinously long climb (probably not bad if I wasn’t some 70 miles into a ride already and in better riding shape) was the famous Marshall Wall. Diana and I stick with each other the rest of the ride. After we hit the 100-mile mark, I’m in deep relief mode and decide to pull ahead of Diana as we’re on a flat. Surprisingly, my quads engage. I’m past the point of being able to feel pain as I start peddling as fast as I can. My Garmin tells me that I’m doing 28 mph on a flat. This ride finally got fun! I only stop because we’re now in a residential area and I’m waiting for Diana so we can finish together. The end is finally really near and I’m in disbelief of doing my longest ride on the least preparation. Funny thing too is that I’m not even physically sore. I get back to my car and throw my bike into it. I feel fine walking around and not completely spent. This actually gives me some reassurance for my Catalina swim on Friday that will be the longest I’ve ever swam and truly test my pain threshold to date while swimming.
Exactly why I don’t want to know ride profiles beforehand as I’d rather not know things like what lied between #3 and #4.
I met up with Evan this morning for some stroke work. I haven’t seen him in several weeks due to my schedule being all over the place. It was important for me to see him though for the emotional/mental aspect of working with a coach/mentor figure and friend who I think knows more about marathon swimming (and swimming in general) than anyone else out there. We talk about my swim and what I need from him today. He gives me his words of advice and encouragement. He has faith in me being able to do this and I leave feeling less stressed and anxious about my swim.
And it helps knowing that Gracie and Peter are waiting for me down south. They really are worth a crew of 10 lesser people. I’m very fortunate and lucky to have them on my team. I really can’t express in words what it means to me.
And holy f*** I’m doing this 2 years and 4 days into my open water swimming career.