The unique challenges of MIMS

Another interesting post on the Channel Swimmers chat group from Ned Denison (member of the MIMS selection committee), describing some of the unique challenges of MIMS compared to other famous marathon swims (e.g., English Channel):

… [snippet – see chat group for full post]

Somebody referred to MIMS as the “weak sister” of the three events. Be careful… We all know that every open water swim is different and that the same open water swim is different every year, month, day, hour and minute. A daylight EC swim in August with hot sun, warm calm water, no wind and perfect timing to land on the CAP is very different from – what most of us got or will get.

So – there are some things about MIMS that are usually a bit easier that the EC and Catalina. Here are two that resonate with me:

The MIMS team usually gets the timing right so the swimmers have current behind them going up the East and Harlem rivers.

The swimmer doesn’t need to prepare for a 15 hour swim – you will have finished or been pulled long before then.

Over the years, the MIMS team has increased/toughened the qualifying requirements for participation. We look now for swims in lower water temperatures, a bit more speed and as a result the swimmer’s resume and last 12 months swims have increased in importance. Thus, when participants actually jump in the water, they are have been forced by the enrollment process to be ready/prepared for the big event. There are economic incentives to withdraw well before the event day – so if a swimmer accepts they are not ready for swim, they will self select themselves out of the event.

There are some things about MIMS that I believe are harder: The swim is early in the summer – which greatly restricts the available open water training window in Canada, Northern USA, Ireland, Britain, etc. A huge difference for guys like me facing 2 to 6 hour training swims in 8 to 11C water in May and early June in Cork Ireland.

In some years the tide has been massive in MIMS and several EC soloers could not beat the tide in the first 45 minutes hour to get around the Battery at the lower point of Manhattan. It is rare in the EC that a swimmer will FAIL in the first two hours due to adverse tide. How many of you practice sprinting at the start of your training swims? Very few I’ll bet!

Another challenging spot is the transition at Hell Gate from the East River to the Harlem River. For instance, in 2009, the gate is where many swimmers and relays, some of them EC and Catalina channel veterans, were forced to retire. You put your head down in the channel and swim – you can’t judge your progress anyways and an adverse tide can be beat with the “investment” of a few hard hours. In MIMS the Hell Gate water can just grab you and toss you back – you don’t have the luxury of a couple of hours. You can SEE yourself going backwards – mentally it is a tough one. Can you now sprint again? And do you have the raw speed and power to beat it?

Unusual cool water temperatures and storms have taken their toll. For instance in 2003, many members of the field retired due to the water temperature – one who was a past champion of MIMS.

In MIMS you usually have fairly protected waters in the first half then usually a rough Hudson at the end. I don’t know about most of you – but I prefer to either being in constantly tough conditions – or easing conditions (we have a long lake swim in Cork that ends by going down a fast river – heaven!) but mentally it is tough knowing FOR SURE that the end will be harder.

While being with a great group of swimmers in the pre, actual and post swim time is part of the magic of MIMS. For me it make is better and easier….except… MIMS is a race – you may or may not want to be in a race or accept that is it a race. It is always an uplifting experience when in a race when I am passing people. Does anyone out there like getting passed? MIMIS is not like the EC where some other swimmer and boat may be 1/2 mile away….in MIMS you can get passed by somebody so close you can feel the wake and see them clearly!

Finally, I had to spend 9 months of training by visualizing that my upcoming MIMS would be halted for lighting or other temporary things. I am a point to point guy in mentality and once I stop I don’t restart easily….maybe a good mentality for the EC….but not MIMS. Sure enough during my swim, halfway down the Hudson I could see the lightening coming (stuff scares the crap out of me!) and looked up to see a 1/4 mile long cruise ship backing across the 1 mile wide Hudson: “all swimmers out”. The swimmer making a move to pass me at that very moment NEVER got back in when the race restarted. Ask her if MIMS is a “weak sister”

So – for anyone looking to swim MIMS…beware of that “weak sister” comment. You will be getting into a tough open water swim – you better come mentally and physically prepared…….the Hudson River will not be impressed by the Catalina and EC charts on your wall at home.

Regards, Ned

PS…didn’t want to scare you by talking about the worst of it for me….the “Spuyten Duyvil”…it scared the Dutch settlers nearly 400 years ago and you will see why!

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