Sunday, June 15, 2014

My Manhattan Island Marathon Swim experience

Video Highlights:

Last night I was finally able to sleep a little after 11pm last night.  Not too bad considering the nerves.  Last night spend about 2 hours in the shower doing my traditional shaving routine.  Which I didn't do for EC or CC. On those the cool water I knew would be a factor. On this one though, it wouldn't.  In fact, speed was the factor.  So I shaved off my sideburns and I felt as slick as a whistle for today.  Got up at 4am and helped get Cathi and Lucy up and ready to go.  Then walked them to Pier 25 where the crew was meeting.

We stayed at the Sheraton Tribeca, which was only about a 12 minute walk from Pier 25.  I got this hotel as soon as I got accepted into the race thinking we needed something close, and that was the right move.  Low stress morning.  I met Phil Bowen, Suzanne's husband at the crew location.  Then I walked from there to South Cove.  It was a nice walk, about 3/4 mile or so.  

I was the first one there.  The volunteers were still setting up the tent.  I was about an hour early.  What else was I gonna do?  The hotel was the other direction and I figured I'd get to meet and talk with some other swimmers.  Met Javier Merida, a very successful swimmer from Spain who has swam the Strait of Gibralter and the English Channel.  

Other swimmers started to show up.  Mark Spratt, who swam the GSL 8 miler last year.  He sure is a nice guy.  Having him there made my nerves settle, cause he's so chatty and down to earth.  Some other swimmers you could tell were in the zone and didn't seem to want to be bothered, which is fine.  For me, this wasn't a huge competition.  I was gonna get smoked and knew it from the start.  My race was against the clock.
Cathi took this picture from the boat.  There was enough time
before the swim that the pilot took them
close to the Status of Liberty on a personal tour.

Some really cool people I got to know:  Ernie Hoftyzer from California, a local, Richard McKern from New Jersey, Ken Classen from Colorado who mentioned that he knew Will Reeves, Mark Smitherman and Chris Burke from Florida, and Charlotte Brynn who I met at Varne Ridge, two years ago.  It was actually quite calming and enjoyable talking with them all.  One thing that bothered me is that I didn't bring any kind of jacket.  I was just standing around in my shorts and shirt, and the breeze was a little cool for me.  I was even starting to shake to keep warm!  I was pretty self conscious about that.  Here I am among legendary swimmers and here, an ice miler, shivering in the NY breeze.  I was  nervous that I might get chilled in the water, but I had a realization in the back of my mind that the water wouldn't be as cold as the air temperature this morning (and it wasn't).

They started to check people in and I heard the main volunteer yelling out, "Have your arms exposed for body marking, and your ID ready!"  I was like oh crap.  I wasn't quite sure of the security of my belongings at the start, so I made sure to only bring my shoes, shirt and shorts.  Not even a towel, not to mention my ID.  So after Mark checked in, I tried to convince the volunteer that Mark would vouche for me which he kindly and vigorously attempted.  He brought up facebook on his phone and showed picture after picture of me.  She gave me crap saying "Oh that's a terrible picture, and that one too..."  Ha!

I got marked with an "18" on each arm, and put on my cap.  One thing I forgot to also bring, which was in Cathi's gear back was my grease.  But I wasn't too worried cause this was fresh water and the chaffing factor wasn't going to be a big issue.  Little did that logic hold up as I later found out.

They lined us up along the dock in numerical order.  They came through and accounted for everyone just before jumping in.  They stopped at Ernie who was wearing a Jammer and said he needed to wear a speedo.  I could see his panic and realized that he could use one of mine.  I wear two because my favorite speedo, the Salt Lake Open Water speedo (which I'm wearing to the left in the picture), is a little faded in the back.  To avoid any possible embarrassment I wear a black speedo underneath as insurance since it's not double lined in the back.  I went up and offered him my SLOW speedo.  He thought he'd just take scissors to his Jammer, but a couple of the other swimmers agreed with me that it probably would just be better to take the speedo even though it would be a little small for him.  He went for it and wore my SLOW speedo, and ended up taking 10th place after it was all said and done.

I was last to jump in for the start, being number 18.  They took some pictures and then counted us down.  I quickly found my Kayaker, Terry O'Malley who would be by my side the entire swim.  We started south along the Battery to where it turns up the East River.  My first impression of the water was about what I expected.  There was a small amount of debris (Water bottle, a empty doritos bag, small pieces of wood), but nothing terrible. It actually reminded me a lot of Bountiful Lake, so in that sense it was a good place to swim. 

And we're off!  - pic taken by David Barra
The start was a little congested, but after about 5 minutes and we got to the ferries, it spread out pretty good.  There were times along the east river that I passed people, and then got passed by those same people.  I had dark goggles on to protect my eyes from the sun.  It was partly cloudy all day and didn't have any rain to deal with.  I could tell I was going back and forth with Mark, but didn't recognize anyone else with their caps on, nor was I terribly concerned about my placement.  Just my time.

Took my first feed one hour into it.  Vitargo.  That stuff rocks!  Got pumped and was able to pick up the pace a bit.  Going up the east river was fast.  The shoreline was moving right along as if I was on one of those airport walkways and you feel like you are flying!  I'd take a breath to my left and see a building at my 9 o'clock, then I'd take three strokes, breathe to my left, three more strokes and breathe to my left and that building was already ]at my 8 o'clock.  It was awesome!

Near the top of the east river however, the current seemed to slow and that effect of moving fast along, was gone. It almost seemed as if I was swimming in still water.  That last 30 minutes at Hell's Gate seemed to take forever!  Once I got into the Harlem, things picked back up again which was a relief.  In fact the water was much flatter in the Harlem.  The taste of the water in the east river reminded me of diesel fuel.  Don't get me wrong, I wasn't trying to taste the water, but inevitably it will get in your mouth.  However in the Harlem, that strong taste subsided to a neutral taste.  

I kept wanting to yell out "Hey Hey Hey!"
like Fat Albert,  to lighten the mood for
the crew during one of the feeds, but that
show isn't based on NYC.  But it seemed to fit.
The Harlem river portion of the swim was my absolute favorite.  It was much calmer, I was able to stretch out my stroke and get a good feel for the water.  I knew that I was a little more than a quarter of the way through once I got into the Harlem.  My right shoulder was really getting chaffed up. I yelled out to Terry to get the grease for the next feed so I could dab some on.  On the next feed he handed me the bag and I opened it and dabbed some along my shoulder and jawbone.  Duh, I forgot to do the left side too!  So on the next feed I did the same thing to my left side.  I was getting ripped up with my whisker which already had started to make my shoulders go raw with the rubbing.  

At one point along the Hudson, Terry kept waving at me to move closer away from the left side of the river along the wall.  He occasionally would point to something and then yell, but with my ear plugs couldn't hear a thing.  I had to lift my head stop momentarily and yell back "What?"  He said, Come close, there's sewage coming in. I looked at the wall and up ahead a there was a pipe about the diameter of a basketball releasing "water" into the river.  When I'd swim by it I made sure to keep extra tight lipped.  Didn't notice anything except a quick drop in water temp.  That only happened twice I think.  Not a big deal.  

The "C Rock" for Columbia University
The feeds went well and pretty quick.  I mostly ate either a banana which went down really fast!  I made about 8 half sliced peanut butter and Jam sandwiches the night before.  Those weren't as fast going down, but were so GOOD and hit the spot!  I loved those!  I had a buzz bite at halfway, had a few Little Debbies, and either Gatorade or my Vitargo/Creatine mix with water.  

George Washington Bridge in
the background with the NJ
shoreline along the
Once I got to Spuytin Duyvil the Hudson clearly was in charge. It went from pretty flat to crazy choppy.  At first I thought it would be temporary because of where we were on the river where the Harlem comes in to the Hudson, but that chop stayed with me the rest of the whole race!  I was in for a LONG half of the race.  I remember reading someone's blog
post on their MIMS where they said something about expecting the swim to George Washington Bridge to take a long time.  It did.  It's such a huge bridge that you don't think it's that far, but it is.  The water chop was really wearing me down.  My shoulder's were fried and I was tired.  Once we got past the bridge, I was hoping that it would calm down just a little cause the river widens just a little.  But it stayed as crazy as before.  This reminded me of the first two hours of my Catalina swim where I got seasick.  I just watched some video and man the chop there looks like nothing!  When you're in the water swimming in that crap it seems many times worse!

I never got sick to my stomach on this swim, but was sick (annoyed) of the chop!  That Hudson portion for me was a real downer.  I was slowing down, and spent.  Once we finally got close to the start of the piers (about 4-5 miles from the finish), I head Terry yell out something like "get pulled".  WHAT!  I knew I was slowing up, but to risk getting pulled because of my speed?  The time to get pulled is at a 9:30 pace.  I went into panic mode and swam like there was no tomorrow.  Even the crew on the boat were all out standing up and waving at me like there was a shark on my feet.  I was FREAKING OUT!

I put my face in and would try to exhale completely before breathing.  I have a tendency to stick to single sided breathing when I speed up and that doesn't really allow me to exhale properly and then I hyperventilate.  So while I tried to speed up, I tried bilateral breathing. It was very unnerving the last 4 miles realizing I was at risk of getting pulled.  I looked forward once and saw a humongous cruise ship pull out of one of the piers and pull forward.  It was far enough ahead that it was done pulling out and making it's turn to starboard and forward motion.  

Then I noticed Terry was WAY off to my left about 50 yards. I thought "CRAP!" and started to change course towards him.  Then Cathi and the motor crew intercepted me and yelled "NO!!!  Keep going and pointed south towards the statue of liberty which was still just a tiny little spire on the horizon.  Terry was gone and I had no idea why.  I used the motor boat crew for the rest of the swim which was about 4 miles.  My observer, Capri was right on the bow of the boat with her arm extended way out front for me to use as a pointer of where I needed to go.  

Occasionally they would wave me in more, and wave me to go faster.  That last 4 miles I was sprinting the whole DANG RACE!  I was not having fun.  I was not enjoying the sights, cause my mind was so focused on that triple crown.  I thought about how sad and disappointed I would be if I didn't make it.  Especially if I was so much slower than my goal (7:57 compared to the 9:30 cutoff).  This is the only big swim where there is a cutoff.  With English Channel and Catalina, you don't have to go fast. There is no cutoff.  You just swim at your own pace and it doesn't matter (unless you go so slow that you get hypothermia and get pulled for safety reasons).

Then I saw Cathi and Capri on my right side all pointing to me to look left.  There I saw we were at Pier 25 and a ton of people lined up along the end waving and cheering.  I couldn't make out any details, but I knew my parents were there proud as ever.  I saw one guy about 25 yards ahead and the crew were going nuts motioning for me to swim faster.  I went from 100% to 110% and I heard Scotty inside my head, "Capn!  The engines can't take it anymore!  They're gonna blow!"  But I only had another 400 yards or so.  I saw two big orange buoys along the wall and I was catching this guy!  

I passed him about 10 yards before getting to the buoy reached out and tagged it.  Then I heard everyone above me along the railing yell out "No! Keep going!!!! The finish is around the corner!"  So I quickly started back up to round the bend, but the guy I passed was already up there.  Oh well!  I had to smile about that.  Again, I didn't really care about my placement, but it sure was fun to give the crowd something really close to see."  When you have such a long race with such few swimmers, it often doesn't make for a nail biter finish with people close together.  Sometimes there are really close ones, but it's not common.

They had staff to help us out of the water, and found that the guy I was close with was Mark Smitherman, from Florida.  Shook his hand there as we sat next to each other at the finish.

After I got out, David Berra was there and took my picture.  Found out my time was 8:10:56.  What the
13th place finisher of MIMS 2014 - yours truly
crap!  I thought I was gonna get pulled for being too close to the 9:30 mark!  I found out later in the day that the reference to "getting pulled" was due to the cruise ship.  Some of the swimmers were right in it's path and ended up having to get on the boat, where they took a GPS coordinate.  Then after the cruise ship pulled out, went back to that point where they would resume the swim.  All being completely legal and not a disqualifying event.  I had no idea they were referring to the cruise ship.  And all that excitement from the crew was simply in reference to other swimmers.  They wanted me to catch up to other swimmers.  

Pretty sweet finishing trophy!
I was like "Oh my gosh!  I busted my butt for that!!!?"  I didn't care about passing anybody really.  And the reason Terry had to leave.  His kayak was filling up with water and he wasn't able to bale any of it and had to get to shore to get the inside of his boat emptied out.  When I got out and was walking up to the nutrition tent, he yelled out to me "Great job Gordon!" and I saw him give me a thumbs up as he just arrived as I finished.  

So in actuality that last 4 miles was done under a dead sprint not because I was at risk of hitting the deadline, but because they wanted me to go faster to pass other swimmers, and I misunderstood (thanks to my stupid earplugs).  And that cruise ship situation never really affected me.  So I guess the swim for me was most enjoyable in the Harlem, but that Hudson portion, I was "Swimming Scared".  Not a fun moment. 

Me and Terry, my awesome
Now that it's all over I look back and have fond memories, but man that was tough!  For me tougher than the other two, English Channel and Catalina.  That Hudson River was a killer!  The chop was insane and it covers about 45% of the course!  As far as the water quality.  It was fine.  The only taste I got out of it was diesel fuel, both in the East River and Hudson.  With all the chop I did end up accidentally swallowing I estimate about a quart of water.  I haven't got sick at all, and I feel wonderful.
I'm so thankful for my kayaker, Terry, and my crew, Cathi and Lucy.  My observer Capri, joked that she had never seen anyone swim and eat that much food.  I guess I ate quite a bit more than she had ever seen.  When your body is a machine you need to fuel it!  I smiled thinking that I was considered to having a picnic out in the river.  Also grateful for my my pilot Phil, whom I never did get to meet or shake hands with!  Cathi was able to represent me in thanking him, but I'm extremely grateful for his service.  We had to rush out early from the awards dinner because of our shuttle leaving at 8pm at 39th and 9th.  So I unfortunately didn't get a chance to get to go around and congratulate and talk with many of the other swimmers.  All in all it was a great time, and I finally am able to mark that Triple Crown goal off my list.  Officially the 84th person in history to complete it.  

Finally, my apologies to any New Yorkers that may have been offended at the pre-race media report that went out prior to the race where they emphasized the dirty water around Manhattan.  Myth and legend unfortunately often trumps the reality and truth, which is definitely the case here.  Other than the diesel taste, the water itself was about 3 feet in visibility and only about 8 times did I actually see any garbage in the water.  Considering the vast distance covered, that's exceptional!  If I were a New Yorker, I would definitely be buddies with all you here swimming along side you in your beloved water!

Big thanks to Morty and his huge team of volunteers, this whole organization really had their act together and I would highly recommend any race NYCSWIM puts together for any swimmer.  It was a wonderful experience and quite the change from last year according to the reports I had read of last year's race.  Well done you guys!

Here is a copy of my observer's report (Capri Djatiasmoro):

Terry took a lot of video with his camera.  Here is the first 30 minutes of the swim.  Note that the earplugs I wear are extremely good at keeping water out of my ears, as well as sound.  So I didn't hear him at all.

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