Valley Forge Marathon Swim
Here’s a piece I wrote about a swim I did recently.
In the interest of full disclosure, yes, I had more assistance than is legal in channel rules. We were allowed to touch the support boat and/or the kayaker, although not to make forward progress holding on to the kayak, obviously. And no one, to my knowledge, wore a wetsuit. (They would have roasted if they had, I’m thinking. It was a warm day and th
e water temp was around 80.)
This is a relatively new swim, only in its second year—and I’m even more proud of our race director than I am of my swim, as happy w/ that as I am. He’s moved up in the distance of the races he’s directing, although he’s done 25k swims. Just two years ago, in 2014, he and some friends did an exploratory swim of last year’s course, and then people wanted him to hold another such swim... so the swim with friends then became an event...and then last year (2015), he swam it as a competitor, winning it.
He’s also been my coach since 2014 and has been HUGELY helpful in training me for the Great South Bay Swim. Last year (2015), I decided to try a longer distance, so entered the Boston Light lottery (didn't get in as a solo swimmer, which likely was for the best, as I wasn't ready, really, and ended up doing the relay which was a wonderful experience) and VF. I was unable to complete VF due to a left arm that stopped working—couldn’t lift it out of the water.
So this year, I decided I'd have another go. Ultimately, my goal is to swim Boston Light, but my coach’s counsel was… get the eight mile distance in first, and then work toward BLS. With that in mind, the idea for this swim was just to complete the distance. It took me YEARS! Well, okay, I did finish the same day I started, but Kate Ledecky won’t need to lose any sleep.
Swimming the event did show me that I have endurance, if not speed, although that part is something I’m determined to work on. My speed does vary, depending on currents/conditions... the course included 4 miles upriver with the current getting stronger near the turn-around. But next is to work against resistance of that kind, as well as practicing feeds where I’m not holding the boat. (Suggestions on that score welcome—that’s a work in progress for me. Sometimes for pool swims, I keep my water and sports drink at the deep end, then try taking them without holding onto the side—I’ll need to do that more regularly. Also, on o.w. swims, I could ask whoever is kayaking to throw me the water bottle as they do in channel rules and I can retrieve, feast, and let go.)
So yes, more assistance than is allowable in channel rules. I won’t pretend otherwise. But the sore shoulders and arms… those are all mine.
I’d have the “I’m totally over this distance swimming thing” thoughts sometimes. But more centrally, I really found it exciting to be part of this enterprise, to test myself, to venture further than I ever had.
Oh yes, I was beyond delighted to see the finish line and reach it—and even threw in a few butterfly strokes (very non-Olympian ones to be sure) in celebration. I want to keep at this, improve, go further, go faster.
Why? Because in the water, even in the weed forests and negotiating my way through some weed forests and some rocks that were a bit too close for comfort, I loved every second—it was a beautiful day on the river, working with nature, feeling the push/pull of the current—there’s an intimacy with water when you’re swimming in it that people on land or even in pools don’t get to experience.
And yes, I do enjoy pool swimming too—and even the 50 yard freestyle b/c that’s a whole different kind of fun… go as hard as I can, then touch the electronic pad and see how I did.
But the open water swimming community has a whole other kind of bond—we’re all working with and against the same currents, appreciating the same beauty, feeling frustrated by the same weariness … and ultimately, knowing we’re lucky to be able to do what we’re doing, regardless of speed.
I still have a lot to learn. And I'm grateful to this forum for the advice, shared adventures, and inspiration. I hope you'll be patient with my efforts and progress.