The cocktail party answer: I had a really good swim, an incredible experience and am very happy with how it all worked out.
And the version for those who want to know how it really went, goes something like this: Well, that’s how it ended up… but it didn’t start out that way. Dylan, Maisey and Jill had all been very sick with the stomach flu the week before. Being the clever lad I am, I waited until 4 days before the race to get sick. The good new was that I had 3 examples of how long it took to get over it… about 3 days. Mind you, none of the 3 of them were exactly at the top of their game on the 4th day. I knew exactly what was happening and could do nothing about it except let it run it’s course… and stay within 50 meters of a bathroom. So Tuesday, sick… Wed, sick… Thursday, fly to NYC by myself, still sick… Friday, still sick… Joanne arrives late Friday and I am starting to feel better, but still had a 2 1/2 hour nap in the afternoon, as I was still wiped out. (Jo will tell you it must have been her that made me better… she may be right!)… because when I woke up at 5:00 am on Saturday… I felt good for the first time in about 5 days! Nothing like cutting it close.
The first thing I though of when I woke up was, “wow, I guess Alex and Peter are already down at the boat!” The poor buggers left Toronto at 2:00 pm on Friday and got in around 11:00 pm! One word of advice, when picking best friends and potential crew mates for down the road, always good to pick really positive and tough guys, Ironmen, if possible, it helps in such situations. Because after driving down for 8 or 9 hours after a weeks work… and getting a good solid 4 hours or so of sleep… they were down at the dock loading up the boat. These guys were suppressing their complaints or anything, they didn’t see the long day they had ahead of them as tiring but as an adventure… good guys to have along would be a bit of an understatement!
So Jo and I walked across the street grabbed a bagel and an orange juice and walked the 4 or 5 blocks to the start in Battery Park… only steps from the construction site that was Ground Zero… the first of many significant landmarks. We got there at 6:00 am… race started at 7:25 am (an odd time, but dictated by the on-coming tide!). Now if you’ve ever run the NYC Marathon (I’ve done it twice and it was Jo’s first marathon) with the crowds of over 2 million people and 45,000 runners… well, this was a bit different… about the only thing they have in common is the city. This is very low key, even though it is one of the premier open water swims in the world. More like doing an ultra-marathon, for those familiar with them. A lot of low key, unpretentious, odd-ball swimmers… oh, who also happen to be among the best at what they do in the world. We had a meeting the night before and all 27 solo swimmers and one person from each of the 11 relays stood up and did the ol’ where you are from and a bit about your past… let me tell you, it was quite humbling to be in a crowd like that.
So having said that, I had an hour and a half to kill so I went around and introduced myself to the friendly bunch of swimmers (being one of the less introverted ones there!), nobody was freaking out, just chatting like they were all just going for a dip. Said hi to Rhondi Davies, a favorite to win the whole thing (and ended up being the only person to not finish… you never know what your day is going to be like), met David Barra, a great guy who I had chatted about the race on-line several times (he didn’t finish in 2006 and ended up 15th this year… you never know what your day is going to be like… again!)… chatted with this nice Australian girl, Chloe McCardel, and her boyfriend, Paul McQueenie, and her parents. Paul was crewing for Chloe today but they both had swum the English Channel last summer and Chloe was on her way back over to do a double crossing of the English Channel later this summer! (2 notes on Chloe, she and Paul may come out for a LOST swim next weekend as they are going to be in TO… oh yeah, and she won the race outright!). Anyway, you get the idea… some amazing people… and one of the best parts of the race… the only better part was visiting with the same people after the race with a pint of beer!
So we filed down the walkway, jumped in one at a time, until all 37 solos and relays were in… counted down from 15 and Morty and the crowd yelled “Go!”. We swam out of the small cove and into the Hudson and within seconds were hit with large waves, a on-coming tide and pretty much chaos… oh, and the water was less than tropical at 62F… all of which concerned me… especially when stacked upon my weak stomach and less than confident demeanor going in… I have to say that not completing my English Channel swim was still gnawing away at me… which, paradoxically, made me less confident, but more determined.
I eventually spotted my 2 kayakers (Rick and Kevin, who had been assigned to me) amongst the waves, swimmers and 75 other kayakers and we worked our way to the bottom of Manhattan. Suddenly, everything changed. The waves dropped. I lifted my head and remember thinking “wow, we must have made the corner!”. Much better. Now we were headed up the East River… with a nice, strong tide helping us! Yes, much better.
However, it was still cold. And I knew that could be an issue for me. After about 45 minutes we finally found our assigned boat withmy buddies, Alex and Peter aboard. With all the chaos and nerves and uncertainty, to say I was happy to see their big, goofy grins would be an understatement. But it was still cold… and I had lost all feeling in my feet… no big deal, as I was quite familiar with the sensation… but I knew it could be if I was in the water for 9 1/2 hours (the cut-off time). But I stuck with the plan… which was relatively simple… “shut up and swim”. I fed at the hour mark from the water bottle (containing a mix of Gatorade and a pure carb solution) and tupperware container Kevin handed me, which contained a choice of gels, mini-Mars bars and mini-chocolate coconut bars. After that I fed each 1/2 hour for the rest of the day and even though I am not a big fan of gels, I ended up having about 15 gels, 1 Mars bar and 1 coconut bar over the course of the day, during my 15 second stops.
I remember rolling over doing backstroke under the Brooklyn Bridge… pretty cool. Then at almost exactly the 1 1/2 hour mark, my whole race changed. The water warmed up. Only from about 62F to 65F. But that was a game changer for me. I felt great. I took off on the strong tide, I think Alex said I was doing over 5 knots at that point, 66 stroke per minute… and was passing a lot of people. I didn’t realize how fast I was going until I passed a very large barge… in about 4 strokes. Cool.
Then up past Roosevelt Island and Hells Gate and shortly after that Alex was holding up a sign that said “Harlem River this way!” Woohoo… things were going great and for the first time I was feeling very confident. The Harlem River isn’t particularly scenic and has an unusual nutty flavor to it, but I was still enjoying myself. That was a longer stretch and slower tide on this narrower river, but things were going along swimmingly.
Finally we were at the draw bridge that was so low that I could reach it from the water, but it was open and our boat made it through and the kayakers and I made it under and past the whirlpools of the Duyvil Sputin… and into the mighty Hudson River… for about the next 4 hours. This was supposed to be easy, as the tide had changed and was now receding and we could just drift merrily down the river. Un-uh. There was a very strong head wind… which had created large waves and chop. The toughest thing to swim in. So things had changed dramatically again. And every stroke felt like you were getting punched by a boxer. My arms are still feeling it today. Alex kept telling me to roll as much as I could, to help get a clean breath and to roll my stroke and get “high hands” to avoid being pummelled… but I was getting a “bit tired” and it was hard.
Finally we made it to the George Washington Bridge and I saw some helicopters (from the Press, I assumed… but I later learned it was Police helicopters, as someone had just “jumped”… welcome to NYC). Eventually I saw Mid-town and recognized the Empire State Building… woohoo. There was a girl, Katie Raymond from Colorado, whom I had been playing cat and mouse withall the way down the Hudson… I’d be ahead, but stop and feed and then she’d pass me… then she’d stop to feed and I’d catch her. It was great that I actually had enough left in me to try and race her… great feeling. With about 2km left the waves died down and I picked up my pace from a miserable 52 spm and swam tight to the breakwater. Suddenly I actually heard someone yell my name, it was my new Aussie friend, Chloe, cheering for me from way above (of course, she had now won the race and was all dried off and cheering me in… but I didn’t care, I was happy to see a friendly face!). Then I say Joanne, right next to her! I blew her a kiss mid stoke and felt great! (I learned later that Katie was smart and while I was busy waving to Chloe and Jo, she snuck by me… good swimming… and I didn’t really care at that point!) I came charging in to the finish and suddenly… it was over.
They kept me for a little while at the finish line, but I recovered quite quickly. Then the whole group swimmers, kayakers, crew went out for dinner at a waterfront restaurant and (tried to) hoist a few beers (I would have liked a straw).
All in all, I had one of my “best days” in any race, just felt “on” for the whole day… the race was a first class event… and it was great to meet so many of the best open water swimmers in the world. More so than virtually any other type of racing, you rely on your crew in an event like this… and I quite literally couldn’t have done it without my kayakers, Rick and Steve, and my two best buddies, Alex and Peter!
PS. some more amazing pictures to come!