Swimming by the Numbers

Last year I wrote a blog before I jumped in for Stage 1 and it was all about my romance with the Hudson;  this year it’s the opposite, it’s all about the numbers.  These are some of the ‘facts’ that I am using to help bolster my confidence that I can successfully complete these swims (Stages 2 & 5).  I look at the numbers to see what they tell me about my odds and this year as with most the numbers don’t actually add up to saying SUCCESS in a traditional way…but they never have and somehow I’ve still managed to make 4 out of the 7 Stages so far.  


Recommended Pace – Stage 2 is 28 and Stage 5 is 27 minute miles.  
Now this should scare me as the fastest I’ve ever swum a mile anywhere under any conditions is 29:51 – the good news is it was in open water and it was this year!  Combine that fact with the fact that I’ve successfully completed Stage 1 and 4 in the past with recommended 30 minute mile paces when the best i could do those years was maybe 33 minutes. And this season with my training I’ve managed to get 10% faster and even though on paper I can’t swim 27/28 minute miles I still think I have a chance of getting to the bridge. 
My 1st rationalization 
Success Rate
These are the hardest 2 stages based on the past, Stage 5 has a ~59% and Stage 2 ~53% successful completion rate.  I look at the individual  swimmers that have been thwarted at these 2 stages; amazingly talented, fast, experienced swimmers who have swum channels and crossings undaunted and yet on their day in these parts of the river they did not make the bridge.  Everything about their resumes said they could but as we all know there are no guarantees and for whatever internal and external reasons that day in that section of the river they didn’t make it.  Maybe it was their feeds, brutal winds from the south, cold water with cold air, tornado warnings; the list goes on.  But on the other side of this argument is my performance at Stage 1 last year. I made that bridge by swimming with every fiber of my being against the current for the last 90 minutes, leveraging all the skills and experience of Lizzie Tabor and the patience of David & Rondi, so why not me?  
My 2nd rationalization
I have never been fast and still am not, but I am getting faster.  This year I have managed to drop 2 seconds on my 25 when swimming my favorite Monday morning set of 10 X 400 descending with 30 seconds rest.  I love this set for measuring progress as it requires that balance between speed and endurance, just like the Hudson does on a much more massive scale.  And that 2 seconds translates to real time – 19.8 miles is 34,848 yards, which is 348.5 hundreds, which is 1395 25’s.  In time that translates to ~2800 seconds which is 46.666666 minutes, which is REAL TIME and I will need every one of those minutes to make the bridge.  
Real Fact #3
I look at the list of successful swimmers for these 2 stages and there are very few over the age of 55, I’m 56.  And those who are were to the best of my knowledge age group swimmers, not people with less than a decade of experience. But maybe that works to my benefit in some weird way.  I have no where to go but up, I get stronger and faster every year and I have nothing to lose.  I have already achieved more than I could ever have dreamed possible when I started this 8 years ago.  And I think my age is an advantage with the emotional part of this sport, I may not have a powerful physical game but I am not giving up.  Not in this river, not in this event, I am relentless.
Rationalization number 4.
As always I have trained a lot this year, ~350 miles so far in hopes of getting to the bridge.  I’m finally starting to feel like i have the necessary miles on my body to approach something this daunting.   So many of the swimmers I know have been swimming since they were 8, I’m jealous of the millions of yards they have on their shoulders and core, their solid technique that requires no thought due to muscle memory, but maybe I shouldn’t be.  The down side is the injury and repetitive strain some experience, knock on wood I have so far not been plagued with any swimming related injuries perhaps because of my minimal miles.  
But at the end of the day how I do will depend as ALWAYS on who I am that day and who the Hudson is.  All these ‘facts’ will not matter more than the wind direction, speed and the water temperature in my getting to the bridge.  These numbers only get me to the opportunity to jump off the boat with some expectation that I have a chance to fell the shadow and swim past the bridge.  My final thoughts haven’t changed from what I wrote last year: 
This is my home water, the place I feel the most comfortable swimming.  I swam my 1st mile here in 2010 and have been lucky enough to jump in every year since.  I’m swimming the stages of 8 Bridges easiest to hardest as I’m optimistic that I will continue to improve that little bit I need to make the next bridge each year.    But no matter how my day in the river ends whether beyond the bridge or in a RHIB I will be eternally grateful that I got to jump in and swim happy in the Hudson again this year.  XOXO

picture this….

In preparation of swimming Stages 3&4 my coach suggested that I ‘visualize swimming the Hudson, putting in as much detail as you can’ So here’s my dreamy Stage 3 – Think Positive, Be Positive, and Positive things will happen! Come back in a week I’ll let y’all know how it goes.

Jump in. The water’s cool and a little salty, flat as glass. It’s slack tide, and I start to swim. My paddler’s right next to me, smiling. I can see in his dimples that he’s as happy to be on the river today as I am.  I begin to stroke, smooth as silk. In my head, I chant, ‘bubble, bubble, breathe’. I’m in my happiest of places, swimming to a bridge, with a great team to support me. No matter how this day ends, its beginning is perfect.

The sky is light blue due to a little cloud cover. The water temp is 69, air 82. As I look into the water, its color – bottle green with a little gray and a slight drop of yellow – imprinted in my mind from other days, I’m home. I’ve always thought of the Hudson River as my home water. Even though I have not swum in it often as compared to many other waters it’s where I jumped in for my 1st official open water race 7 years ago. And for more than 20 years I lived alongside it in various apartments in NYC. Someday’s I would ride my bike along its shores on the way to the pool before work and it would inspired me to be a better swimmer. Some apartments had sliver river views that I took in along with my morning coffee. But rarely was there a day that I did not see the river even long before I took up swimming as a passion.

In the middle somewhere, I’ve been swimming for some time. I think how it’s funny that I always wear a watch and have never looked at it during a swim. I feel great; rotating and breathing – ‘reach and roll’ I silently chant. The current is swift, and I’m flowing like the kids in the fast lane of a pool. Stroking, breathing 4,2,2 – My rhythm. Like most of my swimming, it’s not textbook, but it’s me and it’s effective for what I do and where I’m at.

I know I’m close to the bridge now as I see Launch 5, the former NYPD patrol boat who supports us every year. She’s strong and sturdy, I can’t imagine anything that would phase her or her captain. Part of me wants to frolic a bit, but I know better – the tide turns hard and fast in this river. ‘bubble, bubble, breath,’ I chant, and stroke until I feel the shadow of the Newburgh Beacon Bridge over me and I roll over and back stroke to enjoy the view. Before I get out I take a moment to say thank you for my fellow swimmers, family, and friends who helped me on my journey to get here. I’m so grateful that this river supports me and returns the love I feel for it.

I always find the end of long swims bittersweet – so happy I finished and so sad it’s over. But this time’s a little different because I get to do this again tomorrow. How lucky am I?