Monday, 24 June 2013

Decisions, decisions....

It's been a week of decisions - one of which has been in the air for a while, and one which followed an unexpected turn of events.

The first of these is the difficult decision to cancel my upcoming English Channel swim. This was scheduled for the week beginning 15th July, and I have been concerned for some time about the unseasonably low water temperatures, which are still hovering stubbornly around 12.5 C (54.5 F). With only 3 weeks to go, it is extremely unlikely that temperatures will rise to a swimmable range (for me). Without doubt, there are some extremely hardy swimmers out there who can do such a challenging swim in those temperatures, but I am not one of them. Furthermore, because of the unexpected change in my personal circumstances and my pending relocation, I couldn't put myself on standby for the summer because I need to be able to plan my time, so am not able to postpone the swim and wait for a stray slot. It had to be that tide or nothing.

It was a very difficult decision for me to make, and no doubt some will find it rather feeble. But I realised over the last week that I was starting to dread the swim, and felt trapped - not because I don't want to do a Channel swim (I am otherwise very well trained, good for the distance, and was excited about it), but because of the nagging certainty that I was very unlikely to be successful under the current conditions. I felt that I couldn't back out of the swim, but increasingly didn't want to enter into a swim that I was very unlikely to be able to complete and almost certainly wouldn't enjoy. This latter is also no small consideration - it's supposed to be a leisure activity, after all. With two unsuccessful swims out of two so far this year, the thought of the hat-trick was hard to swallow, and my rather scary brush with hypothermia in Mallorca taught me that there are some very real risks here that are not to be taken lightly. With this weighing down on me, I've not been sleeping well, and then fell ill with some kind of non-descript viral thing that I'm sure is partly just being a bit run down, post-MIMS, but also reflects this underlying stress. And then, in a revelatory moment, I realised that I could just put a stop to it; that while not swimming has some costs, it's not compulsory, and it's okay to pull the plug. Nothing bad happens. So I emailed my pilot to cancel my swim and felt instantly relieved and lighter. And I slept like a baby for the first time in a week last night. A hard decision, but the right one for me, I am absolutely certain.

And so to the second decision - related to the first, but independent of it. After MIMS, I was resigned to the outcome and felt reasonably confident that I would be able to live with a good day of swimming, in spite of the final result. I knew that I wouldn't be able to go back at least for the next few years, and was quite happy just to leave it, and the Triple Crown, be. But then, just as I had reached some kind of equilibrium over the whole affair, an email dropped into my inbox from NYC Swim offering a re-match - a "quiet swim" in late August for those who recorded DNF / boat-assisted finishes earlier this month. So now I had a dilemma - enjoy what I had already achieved and move on, or give in to the lure of "unfinished business" and take this unexpected opportunity to get it done? Perhaps inevitably, especially in light of the decision about the Channel, I have thrown my hat in the ring for the August swim. I want to end the season on a success, and all things being equal, I know that I can complete Manhattan. It may be a huge mistake, and of course, there's no guarantee that it will end in success; I could still end the season with three failures for three. But I think it's worth a go (and this time Peter gets to come along too, which will make it extra fun).

So those are my two decisions: a cancelled Channel swim and an unexpected second time around at MIMS. This is not how I imagined my summer would be, but it's an unpredictable business. I've learned a lot about failure and unpredictability this year, and think that I will be a better swimmer for it.

Good luck to all the English Channel swimmers this year - I'll be following obsessively and rooting for you all. And to my fellow 'boat assisted' MIMS swimmers, I hope to see some of you in New York later in the summer.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Vicarious swimming....

Things on the swimming front have taken a rather unexpected turn - nothing bad, but I have a decision to make and I'll write about that more once I've made it. But in the mean time, I've been enjoying the now annual festival of vicarious swimming that is the 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim. Well, it's a festival of actual swimming really, but for those of us landlocked and pining, post-MIMS, for big-swim excitement, it is vicariously splendid.

Billed as the longest marathon swim in the world, the event is a 7-day, 7-stage swim covering 120 miles along the Hudson River; swimmers can join one, several or all stages, each of which is carefully documented in terms of distance, required swim speeds etc. It's a relatively new event, but I defy anyone to look through the pics and updates on Facebook  and not want to book themselves in for next year. The timing of the event is terrible for me, coming slap bang in the middle of exam season, but if I ever get a summer term study leave, if they'll have me, I'll be there.

In particular, what I love about this event is the tone, emphasising participation over competition, and on finishing over winning, even whilst keeping records and enjoying close finishes.

And above all else, it is clear that there is a love of swimming at work here. I've written about this before, but for me, this swim will always be characterised by exuberant leaps into the water. As in previous years, judging from the pics so far (courtesy of safety boat pilot, Greg Porteus), the splendid Grace Van der Byl is the clear leader in this field:

But she is not alone....

Inspiring. If I ever want to do this event, I will need to up my game not only on the swimming front, but also in the quality of my leaping, which is currently nowhere near the required standard.

More news to follow shortly. In the mean time, catch the final stages while you can. Trust me - it is the perfect antidote to exam board season!

Friday, 14 June 2013

MIMS 2013: Part III

I may not have completed MIMS, but I can say with some confidence that we outshone the entire field with our Twitter feed, courtesy of Julie Farrell (@jgalswims) who took over my Twitter account (@thelongswim) for the event. It is a wonderful real-time account of the swim, and tells the story much more eloquently than I ever could retrospectively. I've inverted the order of the transcribed tweets so that the feed now reads chronologically from top to bottom, and have pasted in the pics. It makes for a long post, but a fabulous tweet / photo essay of a swim from the crew's perspective.

What follows is what happens when you give a New Jersey-based Texan your Twitter account for the day....


HELLO!!!! @jgalswims here! our swimmer is looking stunning today! Weather fab - layering the sunscreen right now.

Our swimmer is practically euphoric at the moment. #MIMS

We have said our goodbyes and are now on board this utter beaut of a boat!

 Conditions great... Just hovering now near Pier 25.

Boat captain John from Staten Island shows Patti the technology on board. We are covered on all our charging needs. 

Apparently this is our new swimmer! Bit of a conundrum here at Pier 25.

Right, we are en route to the start, running 15 minutes behind schedule. Such is the life of marathon swimming.

Just hit the starting line. It's real now! Swimmers are en route.

In other news, this is New Jersey, where I live. The skyline is not quite as spectacular, but our bagels trump NYC.

The Staten Island ferry just honked at us in a serious way to move. We high-tailed it to get ahead!

She's off. #NYC #MIMS2013

Connecting with Karen now. Sun is fabulous now. Jackets off, short sleeves from now on! #MIMS

For those of you just tuning in, this is @jgalswims tweeting for Karen who is SWIMMING AROUND MANHATTAN right now. @nycswim #MIMS

So finding your swimmer is quite the feat. But in the meantime, this is the Brooklyn Bridge. They flew through it.

We found them. All is well. Heading to Williamsburg Bridge. #MIMS

FYI folks: not sure if it's tracking by boat, but #7 Karen & #15 Jim Neitz are on the boat Fransea.

As in, our escort boat is Fransea. they're not on board! They're swimming like pros.

FYI I want Karen to get out and see a whole slew of followers so RT and Follow if you LOVE New York! :D

Heading up the East River I think. But what do I know, I'm a Texan in Yankee territory. #yeehaw #sorryImTexan #MIMS

Hey @NYC did you know swimmers are circling your island right now? How cool is that. @nycswim #MIMS

I present to you, #drumroll, MIDTOWN. #NYC #MIMS

First feed going in and swimmers report smiles on their faces and sunshine in their hearts. That's what #NYC does to you, people. 

Oh, I forgot to show you the whole reason we're here. Hello, Karen! Right behind the red kayak.

I am your resident token Yank today, Britain, but I wore my cat shirt in honour of Oscar. Note: Spelling of honour.

Karen has passed the Empire State Building en route to the UN. They tell me this is where all the foreigners are.

Hard to get a good pic, but here's the hero of the day! #MIMS #NYC

FYI, here's where she is on a map. Pretty cool, huh? @nycswim

World, this is Long Island.

I've gone for a feed. Jelly babies have nothing on Swedish Fish. Y'all don't even know.

Karen is heading into posh waters as we near the 69th Street Bridge. We should feed her a champagne mojito. #MIMS

Our technical side of the crew @pattiswim reports 63 stroke count. I have no idea what that means, but data is good in this day and age.

Beautiful swimming by our beautiful swimmer. She has just passed the 69th Street Bridge.

A sky tram ferries people to and from Roosevelt Island. This is why USA rules the world, people. Except Texas. #MIMS

Our heroic swimmer doing something very big today. GO KAREN!!! #MIMS

I've moved to the sky lounge. Here's our other crew @pattiswim doing a fantastic job keeping Karen fed. Vital! #MIMS

Making a move to up the speed for Hellsgate. Once she passes that, she's going to get a nice push from the current. #MIMS

She's with the red kayak. She has less than a mile to go before we enter the Harlem River, aka lunch time! #MIMS

Fighting like a CHAMPION. She's in the toughest part of the swim. We need your love - now!!!

She's drawn a crowd and we're cheering like mad. About 20 mins of fighting to go. NEED LOVE FOR HERO!!! #MIMS

GO KAREN. OMG she's so close.

Tide turned. Karen on the boat and okay.

Karen: "I'm in it for the glamour";)

She's back in. they will get the designation "boat assisted swim".

This is where Karen has re-started her swim. #MIMS

Finally close enough to get a swim shot!

If only Karen could see the billboard she just passed...Let's just focus on our powerful swimmer!

Karen happily pacing along :)

Karen trucking along the Harlem River. She has an amazingly consistent stroke!

In other news, I just had lunch, and am now contemplating lunch 2. Or maybe a post-lunch snack. Either way, I'm ready to eat.

Our Karen is feeding and switched goggles. She has abandoned blue for yellow. Fun times in the river. #MIMS

Flat calm and rather warm out. That's an example of me trying to talk like Karen. The Texan version: NICE'N HOT OUT Y'ALLLLL.

It's like she's doing a nature swim in a lough somewhere... This is Manhattan? 

She's well into the Hudson River now. Tappenzee Bridge ahead. #MIMS

Karen may know her geography as a Brit, but this here Tex can't tell a continent from a train line. Apologies. That's the GWB.

In other news, New Jersey is stunning. Karen is well impressed with my new home state. Even though Texas is better.

Karen approaching the GWB, 6 hours, and BLACK JELLY BABIES TIME. Her favourite. (An Oxford comma for her alma mater).

The George Washington Bridge is really cool when you don't have to pay a toll. #MIMS

The co-boat captain brought on a big bar of dark chocolate with almonds. She didn't know I was on her boat. Chocolate gone now. Sad face.

I says to her, in my faux NY accent," if you offa, I'm gohna take it". Rookie mistake with Channel swimmers on board. 

Karen swimming majestically in front of, wait a minute, New Jersey! I should work for the tourism board. 

The other crew Patti (who's clearly much more responsible that yours truly) tells us we are here. Literally.

Conditions toughening as tide changes, but Karen is swimming along fine and strong. #MIMS

Oh look! It's Karen! Approaching 7 hours and feeding now.

Look. A British Airways plane for Karen!

Oh look. It's Karen making good progress! #MIMS

Karen all smiles. Truly happy. She waved at me!! #MIMS

Karen is in the village. I put on my skinny jeans and hipster black glasses to let her know.

Final push. She's tired but no complaints whatsoever from our Karen. Hero.

It's Karen and she's DONE!!! #MIMS

Swimmer safe on board and delighted with herself! Let's get some congrats love to our Karen ! #Hero #MIMS

Karen is off enjoying a recovery massage. And I'm sad because I have to go back to being plain ole @jgalswims now. #MIMS

The team is back and Karen is fab! I've thrown in heaps of American symbolism for you as a parting shot. #MIMS

 I've had a great day tweeting for you and our hero swimmer! Goodbye, Yee Haw, and #HookEm. Love, @jgalswims #MIMS


Many thanks to Julie for her splendid Twitter-fest.

Thanks, too to her and Patti for crewing, John (boat pilot), Bill (observer), Jeff (kayaker) and all of the volunteers and friends who made the day so memorable. Many thanks also to all the people who sent texts and tweets throughout the day, and who have been in touch since. Not the day we'd hoped for, but quite a day nevertheless.