A few minutes before 10am Saturday, I jumped off a dock on the far southwestern tip of Manhattan and into the Hudson River. After a brief countdown I began a journey that would bring me around the Battery, up the East and Harlem Rivers, and back down the Hudson to the very same dock. 28 and a half miles in 7 and a half hours (give or take).
I had a lot on my mind in that moment – suspended in midair, before plunging into the 67-degree water – not all of it relevant to the task at hand. But some portion of my thoughts were directed at the question of how it was that I found myself there – jumping off the dock at South Cove.
Two years ago, I’d barely heard of open water swimming, much less the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. I was fat and out of shape. And a half-hearted Masters swimmer, just to keep myself from getting fatter and further out of shape. I swam because, with a titanium-and-plastic hip, it’s one of the few sports I can do.
Two years ago this Saturday (to the day), I did my first open water race – in a lake near Columbus, Ohio, where I lived at the time. I decided to go literally the night before, and I don’t even remember why. Whatever the reasons, this decision led, ultimately, to me standing on the dock at South Cove.
Once the open-water swimming bug bites, it doesn’t let go easily. It’s a game of self-one-upmanship familiar to many marathon swimmers: If I can do 3K – as I did that day in Columbus – why not 5K? If I can do 5K, why not 10K? By October of last year, I had one-upped myself to 10 miles down the Tennessee River.
Around that time, friend-of-the-blog Mark Warkentin did his MIMS record attempt/match race with Petar Stoychev. I watched intently as their GPS dots moved around the island, and later had a fascinating discussion with Capt. Tim Johnson (who modeled the tides for Shelley Taylor-Smith’s record attempts in the ’80s and ’90s). The seed had been planted. At 11am last November 1st, I closed my eyes and clicked Submit on my MIMS application. No going back now.
MIMS isn’t the toughest swim I’ve done – that would be Tampa. It wasn’t the longest in duration – also Tampa. It wasn’t the coldest – the MIMS Q-swim last September was more thermally challenging. This August, my Catalina Channel attempt may well be tougher, longer, and colder than any of these.
Something changed with MIMS, though. For the first time, I had nothing to prove – even to myself. Or rather, the “burden of proof” was not on whether I could do a certain swim, but whether I couldn’t do the swim. With MIMS, for the first time, my assumption was that I would be successful – and it would take something pretty incredible to stop me. The cycle of self-one-upmanship wasn’t over, necessarily – but it had changed fundamentally.
These were some of my thoughts as I leaped into the water at South Cove. But most of my thoughts were elsewhere – as they had been for the past few days. The details don’t really belong here, but suffice to say, I got minimal sleep for the five consecutive nights before the swim. Waking hours weren’t much better – I had to force myself to eat because I had no appetite.
Needless to say, this is not a recipe for a successful conclusion to a taper. Taper is about rest – body and mind – and I wasn’t getting it. There were a few points at which I wasn’t sure I could handle everything. But for the fact that I did – that I made it to the dock at South Cove and jumped in the river – I’m grateful to several people (they know who they are). It was true when I was 15, and it’s true now: Swimmers are good folks.
I arrived in New York Wednesday evening. Went swimming at Brighton Beach with some CIBBOWS Thursday morning. Opted for the 50m pool at Riverbank Friday morning, and ran into Rondi. The pre-race meeting Friday afternoon was long but worthwhile. It was fun to hear everyone’s stories. Quick dinner at Whole Foods and back to the hotel to mix my feeds and shave. Both were somewhat botched jobs. Got to bed too late, and even then couldn’t fall asleep.
Loaded the boat the next morning at 7. Got to South Cove by 7:30. Applied suncreen & lube, hydrated, and tried to relax. And enjoyed the view.
To be continued…