My first marathon swim coming up 9/4

dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member
edited August 2015 in General Discussion

Longest distance so far has been the Great South Bay Swim, one I love and that' got me into this craziness. :) This year's swim was 5.57 miles so I'm edging close (10k = marathon, yes?). I experienced Boston Light as a relay swimmer this year -- wonderful event which i want to do solo next year. But meanwhile thinking I should really get some practice w the distance albeit not under the same conditions, I'm undertaking the Valley Forge swim, also 8 miles.

So...words of wisdom from the veterans out there? Memories of your first marathon swim? Things you wish people had told you? Things you're glad they didn't tell you? ;)

Highlights of your experience?

My bay swim has a 4 hour time limit which this year I made comfortably in 3:20. This one has a 6-hr limit (so an hour more than BLS).

On the one hand that 3:20 should give me confidence. On the other, I had a current assist the whole way, whereas in VF, I will do 4 miles upstream before turning around to get a current assist going back. It's a gentle current--and the Schuylkill is my main open water training site. Last year, I did a 3 hour swim with my coach overseeing in a kayak to help me get ready for the bay swim. And although I never really perceived a current going against me (very unlike Hudson 2 Bridges where I thought I'd never be able to move), the time difference between upstream and downstream was pretty incredible. I forget the figures, but I was surprised that there was such a difference.

I'd find it VERY embarrassing if I don't make a six-hour time limit but I need to set that aside and just focus on doing my best, whatever happens. Every step of the way, I'm learning and it's a wonderful adventure.

I turn 65 in November, and so with that milestone number, I'm setting some milestone goals.

Anyway,... words of wisdom, quips, brickbats, wild cheers.... welcome... especially the wild cheers, lol! ;)


  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member

    Things you wish people had told you?

    That the pool I had returned to swimming in was 20 metres and not 25 as I though. It seems impossible now that I couldn't estimate that, but there you are. I realised the morning of my first 14k (I think it was but current assisted), that I'd been swimming 20% less than I thought.

    It went fine.


  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    Thanks, @loneswimmer ! I'm told by reliable people that the long course pool I've used during the summer is definitely 50m. And the scy pool where I did some long swims has been measured at 25yds so at least on that score, I'm safe. I'm never sure of the distance on my o.w. training swims, b/c my Garmin watch is mainly for running and I'm told not good in water (it's the bare bones model). So for that I rely on the coaches' estimate--they'll typically set up a buoy about a 200-250 yards away from the starting point, and people do as many laps as they choose (or during the long swim last year, the coach brought a Garmin--I think I did maybe 3.something miles, but I don't have the numbers off-hand).

    So my one sentence to myself--as they said in Finding Nemo... Just keep swimming! Which I'll do until I finish or someone pulls me, hopefully the former.

    Two things going for me: It's a relatively short commute to get there--no hotels to book, fairly simple logistics. Get to the start, sign in, meet the kayaker... and go. And it's a river I've trained in before, although never as far as Valley Forge.

    Water temp is around in the high 70s/low 80s, and although I notice I like cooler water (loved the BLS water temp, but I was only in for relay), I've been fine w/ the temp as it's been.

  • Congrats on the new passion, dpm50, and I hope you enjoy your swim! I'm by no means the swimmer on this forum bets positioned to give advice but, with that said, the things I wished people told me center mostly around doing your own swim - i.e. practice & rehearse what works for you, listen to experts' advice but also trust your intuition on what works for you and motivates you, the swims that capture your fancy because self-motivation is the most powerful determinant of success, not anything else.

  • OnceaRunnerOnceaRunner Member
    edited August 2015

    I finished my first 10 miler this year and my main goal was to try and stay in the moment. I just wanted to focus on each stroke and finding the beauty of my swim. I did start counting strokes in mile 7 because I was falling apart and that helped me pull myself back together and finish strong.

    Some things I will do differently next time:

    • Eat a bigger breakfast - I was feeling nervous so just had some Gu and water.
    • I should have brought some type of power gel. I went with straight liquid feed and late in the race I really wanted a bit of food.
    • I swill pay MUCH more attention to the course. I though my yakker would know more than me. He didn't. We went around an extra buoy in the last mile. Not a huge mistake but I should have vetoed it.
    • I really didn't plan my recovery well. I should have dedicated some nutrition (specifically some protein and carbs) for my post-race food.

    That's all I can think of at the moment. The race is the time to enjoy all the hard work you have put in. Best of luck!


    Excellence is born of preparation, dedication, focus and tenacity; compromise on any of these and you become average.

  • timsroottimsroot Spring, TXCharter Member

    Honestly, as simple as this may sound, grease your crotch. The first 25k I did, I did not expect to chafe where my suit stopped. That was uncomfortable. Also, grease the front of your shoulders (and maybe your chin). I was a bit raw from that chafing. Another guy who swam that 25k with us was VERY raw on BOTH shoulders.

    While I understand this is much easier said than done, relax and enjoy your swim. You will most likely have dark moments, that's normal. But, have a good time with it.

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    Thanks all! All kinds of wisdom from the practical to the spiritual!

    Food: Yes, I eat breakfast before every race (swimming, running). When I've tried workouts without breakfast, the result was unbeautiful. A nutritionist friend last year suggested adding more protein to my breakfast, such as a hard boiled egg, and I've taken her advice, although not always using eggs--sometimes a bagel, cheese, canned fish, whatever happens to be handy. For my recent 5.5 miler, it was the usual cereal, banana and coffee, and later, a bagel, then still later, a sports bar and some ginger snaps. During the swim, I was pretty comfortable with all that, and for feeds, took some Glukos Energy gummies periodically, plus sips of Perpetuem. Those items worked fine for me. I had also a Glukos Energy sports drink along but it fell into the water, which by coincidence (I think NOT!) ;) made the water a bit lively.

    I've been lucky so far w/ kayakers and the boat pilot for BLS. They've been great about setting a good course. But good point about getting a good sense of the course myself--who knows whether that luck will hold out! (BTW, although the race organizer will help find a kayaker if needed, if any of you in/near Philly are able to kayak for me, can you message me? Will be most grateful for your help! I want to be able to do this for myself by way of being helpful to the race officials.)

    As for grease--Body Glide is my friend. And my body unfailingly reminds me when I miss places. But always good to remember places one might not think about.

    So, again, thanks for the suggestions! Dare I ask--please keep them coming... your stories of your first swims, your would have done differently stories, your "glad I did x" stories, your "this seemed like a good idea when I signed up" stories. :)

    Every so often, during training, I think "How on earth did I get into this??" I was one of those kids last picked for HS PE teams, never saw myself as an athlete until maybe my 30s when I did an Outward Bound course. But I'm in it and it's in me, and we're moving forward.

  • SharkoSharko Tomales BayGuest

    9/4 is a lucky date


    "I never met a shark I didn't like"

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    @dpm50 , I am also not the caliber of others who answered you, but that being said, since you're probably at the same stage I was before my 10-miler, I'll give you my advice.

    Horizontal time: About a month before my 10-miler (Swim the Suck 2012), I signed up for a local 10K. It was 8 laps (yes, 8!), the first four of which were fine and I was on target with my pace. Then my back started to hurt. The next two laps took as long as the first four. I was getting dangerously close to the course time limit. The 7th lap at each buoy I paused long enough to pull my knees into my chest to give my lower back some relief. It was awful. At the end of the 7th lap I only had 5 minutes of course time left and had to withdraw.

    That really freaked me out for my upcoming 10 miler. So after that, I put in mostly "horizontal time" in the pool. I didn't care about doing any sort of structured workouts. I simply went in and did "sets" like 2 x 30 min with :30 rest. I built up to a 3 hour swim about a week or so before StS.

    And StS was easy! We got a little push from the dam (about 10% I figured) but really, my back never hurt. I just needed more horizontal time!

    Desitin: Holy crap, the times I forget to put baby butt cream on my underarms I am hating life. Hint: buy a box of latex gloves to apply the stuff. You'll thank yourself when you're putting your goggles on. For that matter, put them on before putting the chafing stuff on.

    Kayaker: I was lucky my first kayaker was my uncle. We had plenty of time to go over things, like hand signals and that sort of thing. If you don't get a lot of time, make sure the kayaker knows a few hand signals for you, and tell him "find me the fast water!"

    Food: I had a good sized bfast prior to StS. I think I had one or maybe two Gu packs during it. But mostly I had water with Crystal Lite mixed in it. My tank never felt empty. One of my bottles of Crystal Lite water had a full serving of kids Ibuprofin in it. I had that at the 2:00 feed and my shoulders felt great. But besides the Gu packs, no other calories. At the end I was hungry, but I honestly did feel like I could swim more at the end.

    Enjoy: I solve the world's problems while swimming. I wrote two masters theses while swimming. And a couple short stories. Point is, keep your mind full of interesting things to think about and those 30-min (or however long) feeds will just keep surprising you. With that in mind, when you start to drag, think as someone here once said: Just swim to the next feed!


    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member
    edited August 2015

    Thanks, IronMike! Yeah, that horizontal time does add up! For all my five milers except one, I swam the race distance in the pool (actually a little over: 10,000 yards) as my longest swim (grant, not the same as o.w., but even in the o.w. venue where I train, I only do so with a group. Probably could get to where I'd do it alone wearing one of those buoys, but not yet. In any case, that keeps me horizontal for quite some time, although with rest intervals in between. It seemed to have worked for me in the actual race, but eight miles is another jump up in distance.

    Yeah, the short stories... the book of poems... all kinds of thoughts. One thing I noticed in the last long swim... when the kayaker told me I was about an hour into the swim and close to two miles (which time I was happy with), at first I thought, "Only an HOUR? Can I last the whole way?" But then I figured, "I'm here. I'm swimming. I'm enjoying it. If that changes, it changes, but I'm going to stay in the moment!" So with that, head back down... have some fun with it! Swimming in large expanses of open water that other people just take ferries across is so eye-opening!

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    I informed my kayaker, and have it written in the rules for my upcoming swim next month, that under no circumstances is anyone to tell me how far I've swum. If, and only if, I am more than halfway AND I use the safe word, then they can tell me. Otherwise, if I use the safeword and am not halfway, they are to lie to me as if I'm halfway.*

    I never had to use the safeword in StS, but I did have to avoid looking at the green pole "mile" markers in the river, as the first time I spotted one (2 miles? 3?) I started trying to do math (how far did I just swim between those two feeds?) so I quit looking at them.

    My kayaker did break the rule at one point near the end, accidentally saying "less than 2 miles to go" when I thought I was only at about 6.5 or 7 miles. So that kinda felt good, although I chastized him later.

    *Caveat to this rule is that if my kayaker can see the finish, and s/he is sure it is the finish, they can point it out to me. This happened in StS and I put my head down and turned on the gas. My kayaker said later that he really had to up the tempo to keep up! That was a rough 45 minutes but it paid off in the end. I almost caught up to @ChickenOSea! ;)


    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    I can't remember whether I asked my kayaker how far we were--but I probably did, b/c I've been known to do that. She was terrific in terms of getting me on target--very experienced w/ the race, having been a sweep kayaker in past years and generally does a lot of paddling--plus she's a swimmer, so she gets it from that perspective.

    I'm getting more and more excited to do this--and I think having some butterflies is a good thing if it's not to excess (but hey, I have some antacids so I'm good there!). However, I will not swim it butterfly, ha!

  • I'll be at that swim, too. I don't have tons of experience (have done a 10k and a 10 miler, plus a 5 miler), so at least know you won't be the only one there who is newish to this stuff. :) See you Friday!

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    Have a great swim!

    You will, I expect, be faster than I am. I don't know of anyone in swims like this who isn't, but my goal: swim until I do one of the following:

    --get pulled out

    ... in order of preference. ;)

    ... Oh... and afterward, have a beer or two.

    Godspeed to you and all my fellow swimmers! We're pioneers, you might say--inaugural event!

    Race director is a good guy--friend of mine... captain for our Boston Light Swim relay team.

    See you Friday!

    SharkPointFromMD said:
    I'll be at that swim, too. I don't have tons of experience (have done a 10k and a 10 miler, plus a 5 miler), so at least know you won't be the only one there who is newish to this stuff. :) See you Friday!

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    Kayaker assigned... Picking up last-minute supplies... Trying not to be too nervous. Ready or not, here I come!

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    Good luck!


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    Thanks all for the suggestions and support!

    This swim has much going for it--a small swim (one relay team and about 11-12 solo swimmers. The organization and support were great! I felt fully taken care of all through my swim. Excellent kayaker, plus overall course support.. And as a river swim, it had the benefits of fairly easy to follow landmarks.

    Now, as to my swim... my left arm (around tricep according to the chiro who worked on it Tues) began getting very cranky around mile 6, and by mile 7, it was clearly in a lot of pain, which wasn't being resolved by modifying my stroke (in fact that started to stress the right arm b/c most of any propulsion was coming from the right side). When my kayaker saw me trying to swim one-armed--which I did thinking I'd only go a few stokes that way to give the left arm a rest, she stopped me and called over the water rescue/EMT people. They urged me to stop, but I had another mile to go, and I wanted to finish.

    Bless their hearts--they didn't force the issue. I at first said, I wanted to keep going. But after some backstroke (not one of my strongest strokes by any means), went back to freestyle--but realized there was no improvement, no mobility. And I didn't want to risk further damage--and wanted to reach the start/finish sometime the same year I started. ;)

    So I swallowed my disappointment and accepted the boat ride to the finish. Still 7 miles is now my longest distance, so I've edged narrowly into the ranks of marathon swimmer. It wasn't pretty.

    But the setting was lovely--the Schuylkill is very wooded where we swam, with some picturesque houses dotting the bank. I used the different landmarks to keep up the motivation when the current was against me, as it was on the trip to the turn-around. Instead of looking to some distant buoy, I would notice a house and fix my attention on passing it, then do the same with another house (or tree or any landmark), so instead of focusing on the distance I still had to travel, I focused on taking it bit by bit. This served me pretty well for quite a while, until the arm started to seriously protest.. Around the same time, the wind had kicked up, and I could swear that although I was swimming downstream, the current had changed (which isn't supposed to happen at that point in the Schuylkill--close to the city, there's a tidal effect, but not where we were). I kept telling myself, "the current is pushing you." But the island I had in my sights that would get us within sight of the finish seemed not to change position ...and when we finally reached it, the left arm was giving out. I kept at it for a while, but the one-arm freestyle (a nice pool drill) pretty much spelled the end of the swim.

    During that very difficult mile 6-7 when I questioned why on earth I even considered being a marathon swimmer, a question popped into my mind: "What are you proud of today?"

    And I realized there were things I could claim--boiled down to this: I was still swimming despite the pain. I attempted something beyond my comfort zone. I lived with pain and didn't want to quit even when urged to (although the reality of the situation pretty much made it necessary).

    So a mixed review of my performance--a rave review of the race and of my kayaker. I highly recommend this race! I don't recommend my injury, but that will get better.

  • pavlicovpavlicov NYC USASenior Member

    @dpm50 Congratulation on your marathon swim. Swim is a swim is a swim. Does not matter whether it ends on the boat or under a finish line. You swam further than ever before and you pushed yourself beyond comfort. You did awesome and you should be proud of yourself! Congratulations!

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member
    edited September 2015

    Okay, all--someone explain this phenomenon: Toward the end of the swim yesterday, I was thinking things like "NEVER AGAIN!" And "50 freestyle is looking better and better as an event!" and today... today... (shut up, girl!)... I'm thinking, "maybe some training tweaks and work on the arm and such and I could make that whole 8 miles... and what kind of marathon swims might I do next year?" (Yeah, really, SHUT UP--50 free... didn't you remember from yesterday?)

    And although I've ALWAYS held the super-long distance folks in a special kind of awe, that awe increased exponentially yesterday. How do you guys DO IT?? And, why, pray tell, am I getting curious to find out for myself. (Shut up, girlfriend!) I don't see myself doing anything as exalted as the English Channel but what's up w/ a mind that is saying things like "Well, maybe you could aim for, like, 10 miles? NOOOOO! Yes.... We'll see! Then there's that nice 50 freestyle... and no, not 50k freestyle.... Nooooo!)

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    Thanks! So grateful for the positive support I've received! I was so looking forward to coming into the dock swimming, but it wasn't to be--but I was glad to at least have eked out 7 miles. :)

    As you can see in today's post, it's the usual approach-avoidance thing ... did others experience this after their first marathon distance?

    pavlicov said:
    @dpm50 Congratulation on your marathon swim. Swim is a swim is a swim. Does not matter whether it ends on the boat or under a finish line. You swam further than ever before and you pushed yourself beyond comfort. You did awesome and you should be proud of yourself! Congratulations!

  • I had the same kind of experience during my first marathon 10 mile swim attempt last year -- right shoulder was not going to be okay with me for a long time if I kept going past mile 7, and it really stunk stopping, but I'm glad I did. It was farther than I had swam before, and by not pushing myself, I was able to get back to training pretty quickly. Also made me realize I may have been a bit over-zealous wanting to jump up to that distance so quickly. I was a bit worried going into this swim about the same thing happening, but I made it to the end with surprisingly little pain. Yeah, I felt my right shoulder, but not anything that just focusing on my form didn't fix.

    In the past year, I just kept my training up but didn't set any real big distance goals for myself. Another year of training under my belt helped a lot as well. I definitely wouldn't rule out going for it again next year.

    And I second your opinion of the race. I thought it was awesomely well done, and one I'd definitely go back to!

  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member


  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    @loneswimmer LOL!

    Congrats on your finish @SharkPointFromMD ! My goal next year is to finish!

    My goal during this year's swim was to finish, but as we went along my goal went down to "It's survival, baby! Why did I think I could be a marathon swimmer again?"

    Funny how perspective changes on land. But that's what happened too the first time I swam 5 miles... "No way! Why am I doing this??" And then... "hmm.... next time...." And the 5 miler ... (well actually now it's 5 and a half miles)... well, I did it for the fourth time this year. So there you are....

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    @loneswimmer, you won the internet/forums today. Can I steal that?


    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    edited September 2015

    @IronMike, I can write and take photos competently, but I can't draw, so I think I originally knocked it up in Powerpoint ! I could do it better now, maybe I should and sell it as a t-shirt!

    It's a few years old by now, and someone actually took it some time back and claimed it was theirs on their swim site and stuck their own watermark on it, and then later tried to say that they didn't mean it since they wouldn't have done it if they knew it was mine. So that's why it now has that ugly watermark on it. Feel free to use it as is. The post was called "this is your brain on open water swimming" IIRC.


  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    I have no problem giving credit where credit is due. It is exactly how I think when doing an OW swim.


    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    IronMike said:
    I have no problem giving credit where credit is due. It is exactly how I think when doing an OW swim.

    Pretty much my mindset except for that part about the "organiser/pilot/kayaker" etc. b/c (and granted I'm new at all this) I've been lucky w/ all of these individuals. Other than that I think I've thought of all those other items. In last year's Great South Bay swim, my cousin kayaked for me and was a trooper--dealt w/ my seasickness and still had a sense of humor ("Can I get you a martini? a steak dinner?" to which I said, "Can you get me the finish line?").

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