Mare Incognitum

My feet are weary
of these callused trails.

Time to step off shore —

far from the machines
to watch the bottom fall away
and get tossed by the swells
to contemplate the abyss and find
where the sea meets the fog.

To immerse myself
fully in the journey.

Down there, do you see me? (Do you care?)
Am I going the right way? (Does it matter?)

The destination is hidden
and the arrival uncertain.

But I am nothing
if not patient.

The music of DRIVEN

[YouTube video]

[Narrator] Day breaks.

And almost miraculously, despite five hours of complete darkness and grueling conditions, Evan’s swim is still just on track to break the speed record.

But even though time is on his side, Evan’s will to push on teeters on the brink.

[Evan] I wasn’t motivated. There was no goal I had in mind — at least at night.

Really, there was just nothing else but: One stroke after another.

And then during the day, everything shifted a little bit.

There’s an unavoidable thing, with the sun coming up into the sky, and night turning into day. Life seems a little bit better.

I guess I thought to myself: Well, I made it to this point. I can’t really quit now. That would be ridiculous.

[Narrator] Evan doesn’t push on; he charges on.

[David Yudovin] If you’re motivated to make the swim, it’s going to work. If it’s deep in your heart, it will all fall into place.

[DRIVEN official website]

I hate winter swimming; I love winter swimming.

In life it’s often necessary to convince oneself to do something one doesn’t want to do, in order to realize future rewards (physical, financial, emotional).

I experience this life truth in microcosm, every morning I swim in San Francisco Bay in the winter. I hate getting up early (I’m a night-owl — always have been). I hate it even more when it’s dark outside; even more when it’s cold outside. And most of all, when the reason for doing so is swimming, nearly naked, in 49-degree water.

Yet it must be done. Because no one ever says, “I really regret swimming today.” Even when the water’s 49 degrees. Perhaps especially when it’s 49 degrees.

Immersion is painful. There’s no avoiding it, even with repetition. Yet nothing makes me feel more aliveAnd there’s a reason for that: Pain is my body’s evolved, automatic response to encountering an environment that cannot sustain human life. “GTFO,” my body says at first.

When I refuse, the pain fades after a few minutes, and in its place arises a powerful warmth, which keeps the forces of death at bay (for a while). Nowhere am I more closely in touch with my life-force than while swimming in cold water.

The warmth doesn’t stop when I stop swimming. It suffuses the rest of my day in a glow of vitality.

Winter swimming is pain; winter swimming is pleasure. The latter is made possible only by the former. Winter swimming is life, magnified.

Every day is a choice. Every day an opportunity — to not just be alive, but feel alive.

aquatic park flag
The “Flag.” Aquatic Park, San Francisco, California.

Relevant Article

Ederle Swim tomorrow

UPDATE: Swim has been postponed to Sunday, due to high winds and a small craft advisory.

Tomorrow morning, while most sane people are sleeping in, a few friends and I will swim 17.5 miles from Sandy Hook, New Jersey, under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and into New York Harbor, finishing at South Cove in lower Manhattan. The swim was pioneered by Gertrude Ederle in 1925.

This is the final event of the NYC Swim series, and my final marathon swim of the year. There are five waves, the first starting at 7:00am EDT. My wave (the fifth) begins at 7:50. Estimated finish time for the winner is 12:15pm.

The swim is timed during an unusually swift flood tide, so the winner will likely set a new record for the NJ-NY direction of the swim. The current record of 6:06 was set earlier this year by Liz Fry as part of her double.

The GPS tracking site is not yet available, but will probably be here. NYC Swim’s Twitter feed is here. I can’t guarantee either will be operational, but I hope they will be.

It begins…

My 2011 open water season officially begins this Saturday, at the Nike Swim Miami. The 10K main event is scheduled for 10am EDT, and will be streamed live on the web at Swimming World TV (and syndicated here).

There’s a new venue this year – the Miami Yacht Club on Watson Island. According to the promotional materials, the Yacht Club offers “cleaner water and a more beautiful backdrop,” as well as the opportunity to “swim past homes of notorious celebrities, one of which is Gloria Estefan’s residence.” Wait…what?

Because, let’s be honest: The biggest issue with the previous venue is that we didn’t get to swim past Gloria Estefan’s house.

Yacht Club = red | Marine Stadium = blue

The course has also changed a bit – a 5 laps of 2K rather than 4 laps of 2.5K – to reflect the layout of the 2012 London Olympics course.

It will be my first race and first non-chlorinated swim (with one brief exception) since October. Time to dust off the cobwebs!

As some of you know, I did this race last year (my first 10K). Amazing what a comedy of errors it seems in retrospect. Should be plenty of room for improvement.

Don’t underestimate Tampa

Some people do the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim as a “warm-up” for one of the triple crown swims. And it makes sense: Tampa is early in the season, 8 weeks before MIMS and more than 3 months before high season for channel crossings.

But thinking of Tampa as a “warm-up” might tempt a person to take it less seriously – and that would be a big mistake. TBMS is one of only four annual organized ultra-marathon (25K or longer) swim races in the U.S. (along with MIMS, Ederle, and Swim Across the Sound), and it may be the toughest. While water temperature is not usually a factor, pretty much everything else is. Glancing through the archives, tide changes and rough seas seem to be the two big ones.

Swimmers typically start with the flood tide, which pushes them up Tampa Bay — for a while. If you don’t swim far enough over the next few hours, though, the tide reverses direction and starts to push you back towards St. Petersburg – making it effectively impossible to finish.

Tampa Bay is also quite large, so conditions can mimic those in the open ocean. Here’s what the Bay looked like in four recent years (click to enlarge photos):

2010 – 4/7 finished
2009 – 7/11 finished
2008 – 6/8 finished
2005 – 7/19 finished

Since Ron Collins’ pioneering swim in 1998 (9 hours, 52 minutes), there have been 149 solo entrants in the annual race. Of those 149 swims, 70 were DNF’s – they didn’t finish the full 24 miles. That’s a success rate of 53%. By comparison, over the same time period, 90% of MIMS entrants have successfully rounded Manhattan (239 of 266, not including those who withdrew before the event).

There are other factors at work, of course. The MIMS selection process likely “weeds out” swimmers least likely to finish, based on swim speed or previous cold water marathon experience. I don’t believe Collins has yet rejected anyone from attempting TBMS – which is a good thing, in my opinion.

But Tampa Bay has humbled some great swimmers. In one recent edition, a swimmer who is perhaps the best non-professional marathon swimmer in the U.S. retired due to seasickness. Last year, a well known swimming guru (who had twice finished MIMS) planned to swim TBMS, Catalina, and the English Channel, all in the same year. After Tampa (which to his credit, he finished), he decided: maybe I’m not a marathon swimmer, after all. In 2007, tragically, one swimmer passed away from a heart attack.

The point is, this swim is a beast. I’m preparing for it as such.