How do swimmers train and prepare for 8 Bridges?

By Liz Morrish

The 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim is certainly an event for the experienced marathon swimmer. I was curious about what level of preparation and training the participants were undertaking. I received some very detailed training diaries which gave me a picture of just what it takes to approach a very testing swim series like this. Remember, some swimmers are entering all stages of the swim, others are swimming one, two or three stages.

The average training distance seems to be 30,000-40,000 meters per week. A lead-in of 12-15 weeks seemed usual, with distance gradually increasing from 3-6k per day. On the longer side was 50,000 meters per week for 12 weeks, including an 8 or 9 miler on the weekends. Another swimmer is reaching 45,000 meters per week and will build up to 60,000. A week of 100km in end of April will be part of this individual’s preparation. In the pool, there will be interval training as well as long training swims of up to 5 hours before the event. The experienced swimmer will also focus on technique and efficiency as well as speed and endurance.

While working out 3-4 times a week in a pool, some prefer to swim alone, others enjoy the company and support of doing masters workouts. Surprisingly few swimmers mention coaching as part of their preparation. This was typical “I swim 2 days a week on a Masters team and 2 days a week on my own to train for this event.”

Actual open water preparation has largely been dependent on geographical location. Not everyone is as fortunate as this person, “I swim around 5K every morning with the Bearcat Masters of New York, and I take part in a 10K race every month in the Caribbean.” One swimmer in Massachusetts was itching to get back into open water, but in April it was still in the 40s F (4.5-9.5C). Others alluded to more improvised solutions such as cold showers and baths to aid acclimatisation.

As well as spending long hours in the water, most swimmers will turn to other forms of exercise – cross training is a common feature of preparation. Alongside 3-4 days per week swimming, we see incorporation of roller skiing, running, cycling/spinning, yoga and of course weights into training regimes. Some will have injuries to rehabilitate: “cross training: running, biking, weight training for shoulders to increase stability and avoid injury.” Only one respondent mentioned taking regular advice from a nutritionist.

In terms of previous marathon swims, the SCAR events in Arizona have been a popular foundation for 8 Bridges. These are a series of four, consecutive-day, ‘visually spectacular’ lake swims of between 9-17 miles. However, many of the participants are also veterans of the English Channel, the Catalina Channel, Key West and several other classic long-distance swims.

Due to the tidal nature of the Hudson, each of the 8 Bridges stages demands an early splash time. The early starts will not hinder this enthusiast: “Swim many hours on the weekends. Get up at 4am to swim 2 hours before work 2 days/week, swim less on some other days”.

Although it is more of an individual challenge than a competition, this swimmer has thrown down the gauntlet and has huge expectations of themselves and the experience: “Well, first of all, I’ve been studying the competition. I think knowing the rules and the place can really help me to prepare physically myself. And then I’m picturing the whole thing so I can prepare myself mentally. Testing my limits and knowing my boundaries through the process can make me not only a better swimmer but a better person in this challenge and every other one”. Another view sees this, not as a new and exceptional departure, but almost as a lifetime’s project “I believe your preparation/training starts with your 1st swim lesson when you were a toddler and, in the course of the 7 days, you will call upon each and every day of those many years of training to successfully complete all 7 stages”. Both of these visions are equally valid, and the swimmers will all encounter new and unpredictable challenges and draw on old, practised resources. The week will provide some compelling stories which I, and the swimmers, will be documenting on this blog.




Introducing the 2017 8 Bridges Swimmers

Liz Morrish

We are in the last few weeks of preparation for the swimmers taking part in the 2017 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim. 27 participants responded to a questionnaire, so here is a brief introduction to some of those who are doing multiple stages of the swim.  I hope to introduce the others during the week of the swim. I will also be asking them questions about training, nutrition and staying motivated for this marathon event. As you will see, they are an experienced and well-prepared group of swimmers.

Doing each stage of the swim:

Abby Fairman is 40 and from Turbotville, PA. She works as a marketing director. Previous marathon swims include 8 Bridges Stage 6 (2016, 2015), Catalina Channel (2016) and Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (MIMS) (2014).

Harry Finger is 59 and from São Paulo, Brazil. He is an architect, and also owns a soup shop! He has completed an English Channel swim and the 14 Bis in Brazil. The 8 Bridges has given him motivation to continue marathon swimming after knee surgery in 2016.

Marta Mitsui Izo is 47 and from São Paulo, Brazil where she works as a swim teacher. She already has an English Channel swim under her belt, as well as taking part in a Channel Relay England-France-England relay in world-record time.

Edward Riley is 58 and from New York, NY. He has already completed several stages of the 8 Bridges in previous years. What keeps him coming back to 8 Bridges? “It’s the gold standard for marathon swimming. It not only measures your endurance but also speed and uniquely your recovery”.

Flávio Toi is 51 and from Campinas, Brazil where he works as an electrical engineer. He has completed the swim round Key West and also the 40km Tietê river In Brazil. He will be accompanied by his wife and 12 year old son.

Jamie Tout is 64 and from Austin, Texas. He is a retired revenue agent for IRS. Previously completed swims include the English Channel, Catalina Channel, MIMS, Saguro Lake and Canyon Lake of SCAR 2016, and various stages of 8 Bridges. He has also run marathons and completed the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon in 1981, the same year as his English Channel swim.

Katrin Walter is 39, originally from Germany but now living in Buttikon, Switzerland, where she is a project manager in the financial industries. She has already completed the Lake Zurich Marathon Swim, the 2015 Tampa Bay swim and the Swim around Key West. Her partner will be accompanying her on the 8 Bridges.

Swimming three stages:

Ali Hall is 55 and from San Francisco, CA. She is a trainer and behavior change consultant for helping professionals in life coaching and health coaching. She is a seasoned marathon swimmer, having competed in various locations across the USA. She has had a serious spinal injury, so swimming in the 8 Bridges stages 1, 3 and 4 will definitely be a challenge.

Spencer Schneider is 57 and from New York, NY. He is a lawyer who has completed Sections of 8 Bridges, 20 Bridges and Around Montauk swims. This year he is swimming stages 1, 3 and 5. He is also a triathlete and trail runner.

Swimming two stages:

Erica Flickinger is 38 and lives in Phoenixville, PA where she is an office manager for the Healing Arts Center. This year she is doing stages 2 and 3, and hopes to complete all the stages, in turn, in the future. She has completed two SCAR swims and is now looking forward to a challenge. She will be accompanied by her boyfriend who will be kayaking for her.

Joshua Gordon is 21. He was born in Welwyn, UK but now lives in Phoenixville, PA where he works as a swim instructor. He has previously completed swims around Key West, and the Kingdom 15 mile Border Buster. He is doing stages 4 and 7, and is aiming to gain experience for an attempt at the English Channel.

Stephen Rouch is 36 and from Indianapolis, IN. He is a software developer. Stephen is registered for stages 2 and 3. Since he went to college in Poughkeepsie, he is keen to start and finish there.  He has previously been a SCAR participant.

Eric Schall is 56 and from Kingston, PA where he manages a Ready Mixed Concrete company.  He is coached by Mary Stabinsky (below). He has previously done a number of 10k and 10 mile swims including Lake George, the Potomac River Swim and the Lake Memphemagog 10 Mile. Swimming stages 1 and 5 of 8 Bridges will be a way of stepping up towards his planned 20 Bridges swim round Manhattan in August 2017.

Mary Stabinsky is 40 and from Plains, GA where she is a Financial Analyst/Internal Auditor for an AutoMall. Together with Eric Schall, she is swimming stages 1 and 5 in preparation for a 20 Bridges attempt in August 2017. Mary has previously completed Lake George 10k and Spuyten Duyvil 10k swims.

Mark Spratt is 61 and from Indianapolis, IN where he is a Controller for the Indiana Department of Corrections. He has completed several marathon swims including MIMS, Catalina Channel and SCAR. His most memorable swim, though was the 2013 Ederle Swim, in particular swimming under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Mark is swimming stages 3 and 4, having swum stage 6 last year. His goal is to do all 7 stages over time.

Paula Yankauskas is 62 and from Hyde Park, Vermont. She is a veterinarian who is a seasoned marathon swimmer with an English Channel swim and a Lake Champlain swim under her belt, as well as many others. She is swimming stages 3 and 4.

Why Do I Swim Today?

NOTE: The following is a post written by Charles Bender before his Stage 3 swim on June 20, 2014. Charles passed away on March 6, 2017, and will be sorely missed by the open water and triathlon communities.

This morning I will enter the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie, New York with 9 other swimmers attempting to swim 13.2 miles (as the crow flies, not the swimmer swims) to Beacon, New York. It’s part of  8 Bridges Hudson River Swim, which is an eight day, seven stage swim totalling 120 miles from the Catskills to New York Harbor. It’s put on by the Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers (CIBBOWS) and is in it’s 4th year.

In addition to being a marathon open water swim event, it is also designed to raise funds and awareness for Riverkeepers Hudson River Water Quality Testing Program (no we are not human test tubes) and Launch 5 Hudson River Environmental and Safety Foundation.  So I’m privileged to be doing something super challenging and for two great causes.

People often joke about my needing shots and ask if I’m worried about pollution, pcb’s etc. “Of course I’m worried about pollution and pcb’s” I tell them; “shouldn’t we expect to be able to swim in our rivers, streams, lakes and oceans without worrying about our health?” After all, these waters are what truly sustain us and all life on our planet.

But why me today?

I’m an “athlete”, sure in the sense that many of my 50 something year old friends are “athletes.” Fifty may be the new 40, but to race directors and organizers of every sport across america, it’s like a 0% interest loan from the Federal Reserve; guaranteed money in the bank. A 40 something captured the spirit perfectly several weeks ago as we were cycling in the Black Bear Triathlon; “So this is what you decided to do to celebrate turning 50?” He was able to make this slightly snide remark because I had my age marked on my right calf, part of the triathlon race rituals, my own scarlet letter screaming to all who I was and what I was about.

But swimming, especially marathon open water swimming, is a small, almost hidden corner of the athletic universe. No waiting for lottery results to see if you and 39,999 of your closest friends will get the privilege to run the <Insert your favorite city here> marathon. So this has the cachet of being a small, unique event and a real head scratcher to most folks you tell you’re attempting

I swam Tuesday night with a local group of mostly triathletes, in the Schuylkill River just north of Philadelphia. A number of my companions were fantastically fit 20 and 30 year old athletes who think nothing of training for a 140.6 mile Ironman race. But tell them you’re about to embark on a 13 mile swim and they step back and get dizzy telling you how nuts that sounds (sort of like the Group W bench in Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant.) So being able to stop an amazing athlete in their tracks as they praise you for  being some sort of superhuman freak of nature is pretty sweet.

But that isn’t really it either.

I’m a broken human being. Full of flaws, I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of. For the last 13 months I’ve dealt with that head on. That makes me just human, I know, but we all experience our broken selves as a singularity; a lone, isolated event with a unique sense of isolation and despair.

Turns out, like dirty rivers, we can be healed, even a knucklehead like me. It just requires a little perspective, and practice and learning to sometimes, just live in the moment. I often mocked this type of bumper sticker philosophy (very common in my sometimes crunchy granola neighborhood of Mt Airy). How could I possibly live in the moment, and ignore “the facts” of my own life?

Being broke down, sick and tired and a little desperate turns out to be powerful medicine. It humbled me and opened up my mind, slowly, when I allowed it, to give me some perspective.

Perspective like this…

Earthrise from the surface of the moon

The pale blue dot

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

“Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”

– Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Swimming in open water gives you fantastic perspective. You’re immediately small and not fully in command at the beach, on a lakeshore or a riverbank.

My earliest swimming memories are from Harvey’s Lake, Pennsylvania, where my grandparents had a summer home. I learned to swim in that lake at Sandy Bottom beach (now some fancy private facility) and on the dock of my grandparents second summer house. I loved swimming from that dock. Down the steep hill from the house to the road, and down some more to the lake and dock house I’d run every morning. At the end of the dock, the lake opened up to what seemed like another world on the other side (even though I had driven around and past that spot many times.) It was probably less than a mile, but it seemed like a much greater distance.

It would always take me a few days to get comfortable swimming in the lake. The water changed temperatures it seemed for no reason. It was clear to about 8 feet nearest the dock, but then dark and scary. There were living, breathing things in the water, which sometimes touched your feet and legs and gave me a jolt of fear. But slowly I’d find myself in the water. Each day I could venture a little further out, until my Grandmother, Aunts and Uncles would yell to me that I had gone too far, to be careful. That was the sweet spot, the special place looking back at their miniaturized figures on the dock, voices echoing on the water.

I swam a lot after that and then I stopped. Some of those swims in between were in open water, rivers, lakes and streams and were just for fun. But swimming became a sport and was done mostly in a 25 yard pool with crystal clear water. I loved being a part of my swim club, high school and college teams. The camaraderie was great, even when the work was hard and frequently tedious. But at 21, I found other interest and pursuits that consumed me. Post college life became very hectic.  I tried to swim, but found that every time I went to the pool, I hated it. I had no imagination and all I thought possible was chasing a black line on the bottom for exercise. Nothing spiritual, nothing fun, just the tedium of the pool and clock. So I stopped even trying.

Matt and me, summer 1999, campground S. Ontario

Carlos and me, Children’s Hospital Philadelphia, Feb 2006

A funny thing happened. I had kids, who turns out, didn’t see the pool as an endless black line, heavy breathing and a clock. It  was just a place to cool off, be held by their Dad and to test their boundaries. It was just another place to have fun and feel loved….with me!

I love the picture with Matt in my lap at a campground pool in southern Ontario. Now I would be the one sitting in his lap, his 6’1 frame easily surrounding me. He never got bit with the swimming as sport bug (football and baseball are his thing) and he won’t give Phelps or me much competition in the pool. But you know what, he still knows how to splash, play and have fun in the water.

Carlos is more of a water bug but not wired to be a competitive athlete. But Wednesday afternoon, there we were together playing catch and tag in the pool. And me deliciously holding his 9 year old frame close, walking and whispering together in the water, like we did those 2 long weeks when he was in the hospital as a young boy. So my kids taught me I could have fun in the water again.

I’ll set off today, blessed with a number of tools, that swimming laps can never provide. The first is a child’s love for the water, especially the open water of a lake or a river with it’s distant shore in sight, but maybe just out of reach..?

I’ll be blessed to know I’m just a small, slow, dot on the surface of a mighty river. And I’ll be connected to all that lives and breathes and draws life from it’s waters, so I won’t be inconsequential. Not fully in control, but not insignificant or meaningless either.

I can’t fail either, because I began the journey.

Capri Djatiasmoro, Ederle Swim 2013

That’s Capri Djatiasmoro, a veteran and real champion of open water swimming. I met her accidentally, when I was assigned as her “Observer” last summer at the Ederle Swim. She didn’t quite get to the beach at Sandy Hook that day. She was the first swimmer in the water and I believe the last swimmer out and had a magnificent swim. She had a great kayaker who knew the waters, tides and currents on the voyage that day. The last few hours I was almost frantic; “What do we need to do to help her get on the beach?” And when it was all done, and the decision had been made by her, to end the swim, I looked over and saw her and was stunned. She was happy, relaxed and smiling.

I’m glad I snapped that picture because it offers just as much perspective as those amazing NASA pictures from the moon or Voyager 1. Seeing her laughing brought a calm to me. She had a great swim and knew it. We had all worked as hard as we could to help her to the beach, but it didn’t happen. Oh well, that’s life. Was I really so arrogant that I thought that 7 little dots and 2 very small boats were in charge on the waters of New York Harbor? There was so much that none of us would ever be able to control, most especially the shifting tides and sea bottom, that itself had been shifted and sorted by a superstorm the fall before.

That day on the boat helped me continue to heal, feel less broken, and be more connected. Connected to my loved ones, especially those two boys who showed me how to just splash and play again in the water. Connected to a vast, unknowable universe and some of the people and places in between.

My training hasn’t been conventional or a straight line but I’m plenty fit and strong; stronger in fact than I have been in many years, maybe ever. My shoulder sometimes aches and I had to rush order a new suit and goggles because of course I lost my other new pair last week. But I am learning how to get my mind and spirit in the right place to take an adventure like this. I’ll pause along the way and accept and welcome the fact that the river and wind and spirits are more in control than me. I’ll be thankful for the many volunteers who labored over the logistics and  details to make this even possible. And I’ll smile a lot, especially when I get out of the water, wherever and whenever, because no matter what, I’ll have had a great swim.

“It’s only 13 miles….

Post script

I finished the swim in 5 hours and 15 minutes; 10th out of all 10 swimmers. Thru Day 3 everyone has finished which is fantastic. And being the last swimmer means you have the entire crew of swimmers, kayakers and volunteers to cheer you across the final yards. It was spectacular.

First Swim, 1st Stage – Rip Van Winkle Br. to Kingston Rhinecliff Br.

Exactly a month ago I was stroking and kicking through my first ever marathon swim. I swam a whopping 18.3 miles, more than double the distance I’ve ever swum at once.

Somehow I never get to train properly for my races. Not because I can’t get serious about the training but there is just always something in the way – an injury, crazy workload (same reason I didn’t get to sit down and write this right after my swim – a month ago); limited time, money or both. 8 Bridges was no exception even though I did get to squeeze in 3 2-milers and a bunch of 20-60 min training swims. I was more prepared than for any other races I have ever done, but would it be enough to take me through 18.3-mile swim?

I picked Stage 1 for all the wrong reasons – not because of the distance and my previous experience, but because I had friends living ‘just’ an hour drive away from the starting point so I could have a place to stay. I practiced my nutrition in a 1-hour swim trying to chug down a quarter of a 20 oz bottle, not a 4-hour swim with feeds like David Barra recommended.

But here is a good and bad thing about open water swims – ready or not, but the daycomes when you better take your clothes off and jump in the water and do the best you can. And so I did, we all did. Some swimmers starting their 7-day journey down to Verrazao Bridge, some, like me, doing their longest ever race; all determined and ready to push our limits.
Jump in, fix your goggles, find the turquoise kayak. 10,9,8,7… GO!!!

8Bridges start

The next 30 minutes I was debating with myself if I should stop and tell Luis that I want him slightly behind, not in front of me – before this swim I never knew where I prefer my kayak to be. Now I know. I wouldn’t have to pick my head up to check where the boat is if I don’t see it when I breathe, but I could also see what the paddler is doing, see his face and expressions every time I turn. There was nothing bad in stopping for 30 seconds to communicate that to him.

For the first couple of miles I was enjoying seaweed all around me. I would pick it up with my fingers and try to play with, laughing (bubbling) when it would get on my head or stuck on my nose. There was so much seaweed!
I was trying to tell myself jokes but somehow I could barely remember any. I would definitely need to read more jokes before next race. I was trying to do math in my head but there was not much to do – I counted how long I would be swimming by the time I finish my first feed – 2.5 hours; second – 4.5; third – I didn’t want to think beyond that point. The stage record was 4 hours 30 minutes, I knew it would take longer for me but a girl can hope, right?

First feed came, another one, some more – first bottle done. I mixed something different into the second one. Oh how yummy it was!!! Never knew I would be drooling over my feed in the middle of the Hudson! Worth to pick up the pace until the next feed, like if it would come sooner if I swam faster… ☺

My left shoulder started hurting after the 1/3 of the distance. I hoped it’s just soreness and not an old injury and miraculously it stopped aching after another two hours of swimming. My shoulder probably knew I need it for a little longer.

I tried to look around as much as I could, saw some trees and houses on the shore. A lighthouse, other swimmers and kayakers passing by. I had wished I could be in a kayak or one of the support boats so I can see all the beauty of this swim. I would try to enjoy every stroke and the view coming with it for a bit and than I would put my mind back in the water, pick up the pace and just swim trying to get the Kingston Rhinecliff bridge to come sooner.

8bridges - swim

I knew from reading past blog posts that me seeing the bridge didn’t mean I’m close. But when Luis told me we are 2/3 way there I asked myself ‘What??!?!!’ I knew it was too good to be true but I couldn’t hide my excitement. Of course the current wouldn’t allow it to be that easy. Only after another 2-3 hours of swimming, dealing with back pain (was good to learn later that it is normal to experience pain in a lower back on longer swims) I got in the shade of the bridge, swam all the way to the south end of it and rolled into a ball to stretch my back. How good that felt, finally!

When I was signing up for this race I had no idea how much it is going to mean to me. The burning feeling inside, the sense of accomplishment – it feels like the door opened into something wonderful and new. As if I was able to do this is there really something I can’t do?!?? Swimming the last mile, I thought, “Why do I do this in the first place? It’s hard, painful sometimes and it takes so much time out of our precious lives. Why can’t I be like my friends spending all day in front of the screen and playing video games instead?” A couple of days later, after all the feelings settled down I knew the answer. Because without water, without what I do, I wouldn’t be fully living.

Huge THANK YOU to Rondi, David and the rest of the 8Bridges crew, you did terrific job organizing this event, and I really hope you’ll do many many more!
Thank you to my amazing kayaker Luis for handing me feeds, water and keeping my spirits high. I don’t know if you saw me smiling while I was swimming but here and there, for a great part of the distance, I was 🙂
Thank you to my amazing boyfriend for always supporting me no matter what kind of crazy things I do.
Thank you to all my swimming students for your stories, inspiration and helping me to make this happen.
It was my first real marathon swim and I know there will be many more to come.


by Janet Harris

Friday shortly after 4am I met up with other NYC-based swimmers to travel upstate to swim in Stage 5 of 8 Bridges.  It was a morning with some complicated event logistics.  Swimmers, kayakers, and the smaller support vessels launched from three different locations before converging under Bear Mountain Bridge at splash time, and cars were parked at yet a fourth place near the finish. Rondi’s shuttle van plan to get everyone where we needed to go worked to perfection, and is just one example of the ways the organizers tweak this event to make it better every year.  My kayaker for the day was Terry, who has worked with 8 Bridges from the beginning, and I was looking forward to enjoying her experience and easy camaraderie on the river.

The swimmers rode the main support boat, Launch 5, upriver from Ossining, and we were treated to a reverse preview of nearly the entire 19+ mile course.  It was a beautiful morning, and I enjoyed the view from the bow of the boat while chilling out with friends.  I felt peaceful, confident, and ready to take on the challenges the day would bring. 

Once Launch 5 was under the bridge, Dave pulled alongside on Agent Orange and boarded the boat for a brief safety briefing and course preview.  He had just come from doing the same for the kayakers, who were entering the river from the west and paddling downstream towards the bridge.  Soon we were in the water and off.  Under the bridge away from shore the current was still flooding—I was one of the first off the boat and had floated back a bit during the brief interval before the start—but once underway we moved to the far western shore, hugging the shoreline and enjoying an eddying current that took us swiftly downstream.

It was fun swimming so close to shore—seeing wooded areas, rocky outcroppings, and houses passing by so quickly made it feel like we were making good progress.  Once or twice I had to scull along because of rocks under me, but that was ok.  I used to get creeped out by underwater outcroppings and the possibility of touching things underneath me, but the lake swimming I’ve done the past few seasons has made me braver.  Now I think it’s interesting to swim in depths where you can see the bottom.  That close to shore, I could also feel the vibrations of approaching freight trains, whose tracks ran right by the water—it was really cool to see and hear them zoom by at such speed

I was feeling good, the water was a little warm but still comfortable, and the sun was occasionally peeking out from the clouds.  The river seemed busy, with boats zipping by out in the channel and a big barge floating slowly upriver.  At one of my first feeds, my kayaker explained to me that a passing boat had been on fire, and that Launch 5 had taken on its passengers until help arrived.  We watched a fire boat racing up to the scene while I stopped to feed.

I was loving the day, feeling exuberant, and playing games by making anagrams from the branding on the side of Terry’s kayak (WILDERNESS SYSTEMS).  LET’S SWIM!  ENDLESS SWIMS!  DENSE SWIRLS in the water?  Are those YEW TREES or MYRTLES on shore?  I hoped to avoid any MESSY WRENS or SLIMY NEWTS.

Around 2h30 into the swim I started feeling sick to my stomach.  For some reason I didn’t want to tell my kayaker, but she cottoned on when I started requesting just water for some feeds and telling her I didn’t want to eat any more solid foods.  The nausea, which persisted during the rest of my swim, was a new experience for me, and a surprising one, since I have always used quite a variety of feeds and never before had a problem.  One of my goals for the day was to be proactive at solving problem on the water, working to fix things that could be fixed instead of simply trying to endure them.  I started thinking about what I could do to improve matters.  I drank more water for the next few feeds, thinking that maybe my carbs-to-water ratio was off, and dropped the more substantial feeds (milk, sticky rice concoctions) from my rotation.

The current was beginning to change, and we soon headed out into the channel to take advantage of the increasing ebb.  Here our progress was faster, but less apparent because onshore landmarks were further away.  I liked being in the cooler water away from shore with a bit more movement in it.  At one feed Terry asked me if I could feel the south wind picking up—I couldn’t feel the wind per se, but knew that the sort of wind-against current chop we were experiencing meant that it was blowing stronger.  (The fact that she was having to paddle a little harder, and that the front of her kayak was occasionally out of the water, also clued me in).

Meanwhile I was still having stomach issues, and they were getting worse.  I was feeling weak and little chilled, and my stroke count had decreased.  I needed more calories, but was simply unable to take in much at each feed. Somewhere between 5 and 6 hours I discussed getting out with Terry and she asked me if I wanted to get out right now, or a little later.  I decided that I could swim a bit more.  At this point I was feeling such an aversion to putting anything else in my stomach that I wanted to swim away from the kayak whenever she held up a feed bottle.  I decided to force the issue by gulping down as much of my gatorade/water mixture as I could.  That had the expected result, and I felt a little better for about a half-hour. 

Although I knew I wasn’t swimming very strong at this point, I was still enjoying being in the water.  Large hawks were soaring overhead, and I wondered if some of them were bald eagles.  As a volunteer on Launch 5 during the previous stage, I had seen lots of fish jumping out of the water.  I saw splashes around and imagined they were made by curious fish leaping up for a closer look at us.  During one feed, Terry told me that one jumped right behind me, but I missed it.  Occasionally I saw movements under the water, and wondered what the creatures might be below me.  I was hoping to see a big sturgeon.

We passed Ossining marina, where we had started our day, on the left, and the Tappen Zee was looming far ahead.  We continued making progress, and at one point Terry told me we had an hour until the flood current started, and that if I stroked hard she thought I could make it.  I imagined myself consisting of just arms and legs, with no queasy stomach in between, and tried to move my limbs as strongly and deliberately as I could.  Tobey on the jet ski came by and hovered close for a while, and I saw a boatload of other swimmers who had called it a day being ferried up to Launch 5.  They cheered me on as they passed, and I waved back.

At this point I knew it was becoming more and more unlikely that I would make the bridge by the time the current turned.  Unlike previous stages, where swimmers can creep along shore after the flood starts, construction zones for the new Tappen Zee bridge mean that Stage 5 swimmers must finish near the shipping channel, where the current is strongest.  The south wind would probably hasten the onset of the flood, and although I was still plodding along I was far from my best swimming self at the moment.  All this passed through my mind, but in truth I wasn’t much concerned at this point with whether I finished or not.  All I wanted was to feel better.  I reasoned that if I was feeling this bad, I might as well feel bad in the water (where there was plenty of room to puke) as on a crowded boat, so I just kept stroking along.

At about 8h45 in, we were still a little less than two miles from the bridge when Sean’s RHIB motored up beside us.  Janine told us that lightning had been spotted and that the field was being evacuated.  I think I was too out of it at this point to feel either disappointment or relief.  My kayaker and I climbed aboard, and we picked up a few more swimmers and another kayaker before going ashore.  We were reunited with the rest of the swimmers and our bags at Tarrytown marina.  Once out of the water, I slowly did start to feel better, and eventually was able to eat some of the food I’d packed for after the swim, which perked me up even more.  Some scary weather followed our exit from the river.  Kudos to Dave and Rondi for making the call to pull us, and to them and the boaters and volunteers for getting all the swimmers and kayakers off the river and out of harm’s way.

I was very happy to hear that the two swimmers who have made all the previous stages, Paige and Cheryl, were able to make it to the bridge before the bad weather set in.  They were the only two of the fifteen of us who started who were able to finish the stage.  Another swimmer, Steve Gruenwald, was closer to the bridge than I and seemingly had a good chance of finishing—I had seen his kayaker pass by me about a half hour before we were pulled, and he was looking really strong.  Others hung tough for hours in some challenging conditions and met their personal goals or found new confidence for future events.  Jim Braddock, for one, told me after the swim that it was his longest to date.  Despite the abrupt end, there was lots of good to take home from the day on the river. 

Once I felt better physically, I was able to look back on my day and feel pleased with my efforts.  I took away plenty of positives, learned some things that I can put to use in future swim adventures, and once again got to enjoy the glorious experience of swimming in the Hudson—a win-win-win day after all!

Through the Eyes of a Kayaker

Charts, weather reports, supplies, radio, … check, check, check, check … and after all that, sometimes it just goes out the window … or maybe it went down the river; wherever it went I’m trying to pull it back together.

The swimmer has a lot going on below the water. I can’t even imagine or pretend to know. But I’ve seen the smiles, tears, screams, wild emotions, rejoicing … you name it. That’s the swimmers’ world and they are an amazing bunch of people.

As Erica’s kayaker [and significant other], there’s also a lot going on above the water. Before the event, I’m watching the weather, calculating tides/currents, figuring out a schedule for the days ahead, checking the course for the best path, going over feeds, checking the schedule to make sure she’s where she needs to be, etc. I try to keep Erica focused on the swim and deal with all the logistics. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s the goal 😉

Once the swim starts, I’m keeping her on course, providing the feeds, monitoring her condition and stroke count, keeping my ears on the radio and steering around whatever needs to be steered around (small and big). When needed, I try to throw out some words of encouragement. It doesn’t always get received as I hoped, but I hope she knows. We have a saying: “What happens on the water, stays on the water.” Except for the good stuff … we take that with us!  In the end, we keep a good attitude and have fun.

Oh, and then there are the sights!! I try to snap a picture when I can so Erica can see all the cool things she swam past. And the Hudson does not disappoint. It is a very scenic river to travel down.

The 8 Bridges event is really amazing and well organized, even for kayakers. During the event, the safety boats are in communication with the kayakers and any and all boats in the area keeping everyone safe. It’s kind of fun to listen to the chatter as a large tug goes by. At least one will ask about the event and the reactions are priceless.

Dave and Rondi are great, and everyone is so down to earth, friendly, and warm. I just can’t say enough about how well organized this event is.  The fact that they have a core set of kayakers that return every year says a lot! It’s also great for the swimmers to know that they are getting linked up with folks that know what they are doing. Keep doing an amazing job Dave and Rondi! We’ll be back for more!!

Ps: Erica likes any swim that ends with a beer and a chocolate chip cookie …. Hey, make that an order for two!

Take Me To The River

“Swimming 15 miles? I wouldn’t even walk 15 miles,” a familiar refrain I hear, often followed by, “you are nuts.” Yes I am nuts, thank you very much. And no, I wouldn’t care to walk 15 miles either. Its boring. Have to wear clothes, shoes, maybe mismatched socks, walk with other people, dull talk, go somewhere, maybe rush, wait on line, etc. Not that interesting. Swimming in open water – not boring. Water, solitude, rhythm, consistency, unpredictability, danger, fear, doubt, confidence, elation, breathing, bubbles, waves, peace, war, pain, pleasure, warm, freezing, fish, and other marine creatures . . . ad infintum. And besides people can walk 15 miles; but only nuts would commit themselves, through physical and mental conditioning, to be able to engage in this endeavor. Its fun to spend a few days on the river with other nuts. Some are like kindred sprits. In and out of the water. I think everyone is aware on some level of the other invisible nuts all headed to the next bridge. I certainly felt that on Wednesday for Stage 4. Thanks for a great day on a calm river.

you can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water

By Louise Hyder-Darlington

Beyond swimming, I love to write. I was happy Rondi took up my offer to write up a few words for Stage 6. While training leaves little time for writing, it provides endless hours for swimmers immersed in watery contemplation. Time to contemplate breathing, stroke, technique, fatigue, aging, motivation, fear, friendships, futures, pasts. All jumbled together. This will be my second year swimming stage 6. I swam stages 3 and 6 in 2015. I was dead last for both stages and would not have changed it for the world. I overcame challenges and pushed myself farther than I had thought possible. I guess that is why we love 8 Bridges. The memories I have from last year bring smiles, not fear, to my face, even now. The joy of hearing David coaxing me to the shadow of the second span of the Beacon-Newburgh Bridge, surprised that passing under the first shadow was not sufficient. “Just a little further Louise.” The hearty handshakes from everyone on the boat after finally clearing the Agent Orange ladder … worst part of the swim. Hearing Rondi cheering me on as I finally approached the towering George Washington Bridge. Hearing her call from far off “….you can do it Louise.” Indeed, I did it.

I return to Stage 6 this year because my husband of 32 years wanted to give it a try. As did one of my best and dearest friends as well. They have worked hard. Nailing training swim after training swim. Endless hours immersed in their own contemplation about 15.7 miles down the Hudson River. Why we do it is different for each and every swimmer. I believe this is especially true of those wonderful heroes in the arena who know they won’t be in the front of the pack. Those in the rear swimming their hearts out, terrified of that tide that will turn before they finish. I had those very same shared fears last year and I will have them again on Saturday. It is guaranteed that the river will always give us what we need, not necessarily what we want.

So I guess that is what I wanted to say about Stage 6. It is a long, long swim in one of the most beautiful rivers in one of the most gorgeous places on earth organized and populated with some of the greatest souls in the world. It is never the same swim. Each year the river presents the precious lesson that man is not in control. It is fun and it is frightening and yet we do it every year. And here is a sweet little gem of a quote by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore. If you are reading this and have run out reasons; run out of dreams … cut this out and tape it to your mirror. Find that sea you have been wanting to cross, grab a friend and jump in. I promise it will be the most terrifyingly wonderful feeling in the world!

“You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.” Rabindranath Tagore, 1861-1941

Monday Monday

I never wanted to get to Poughkeepsie as bad as I did Monday, June 27th. There she was in the hazy distance. With her hills, docks, old homes with porches; a town that has seen better days. Oh, and her bridges. Just 1,000 yards/meters apart. The longest such distance for a swimmer anywhere in the world, according to Mr. Barra. But 1.3 miles away (and with the river against me – 2 hours away – and 10 hours already in the drink), Rondi and Dave correctly decided that I would have to wait till next year to complete Stage 2. I am so grateful to them for giving me and everyone the time to try to accomplish what only 4 of us were able to accomplish. Seeing that Michael Smalley, my brother kayaker, was determined to make it, kept me going, pushing, fighting. Honestly, I never really felt good in the water yesterday. I did get my rhythm. But my right shoulder was giving me a lot of trouble as were some lousy songs stuck in my head, no matter how hard I tried to change the channel. And I was cranky from all those chops. But it was simply gorgeous out there. And I wanted badly to finish it. And Im very grateful for the chance to swim in simply one of the world’s great events and for everyone involved. Total pros. Oh, and my savior Jim who waited for me and drove me home to my door, 30 minutes out of his way!

How to Deal With “Swim Brain”

That swim you signed up for in December is here. It seemed like such a wonderful idea as snow fell gently outside, while Bing Crosby crooned on the radio, and visions of sugar plums danced in your head. But now, those sugar plums turn to mush, as the Hudson warmed to a nice 70F. 8 Bridges is here, and you can’t help but be a little (or a lot) scared.

Pre-swim nerves are common, understandable, and can help, but the days leading up to a swim can be a game of mental gymnastics I like to call Swim Brain (trademark pending). Swim Brain makes it tough to focus on anything else (school, work, loved ones, not missing your stop on the train) because there is a portion of your brain solely devoted to your swim. It can be awful! As a habitual planner and over thinker, I have a few techniques that help me deal with Swim Brain  that I hope can help you too!

  • DO NOT check every five minutes

The weather is out of your control. Worrying about the wind speed and direction will not help at all. It is so tempting to look, but try to avoid it! Rondi and Dave are the most competent race directors on the planet, and will be doing plenty of weather watching for you!

  • Pack and unpack and repack your gear

When you feel the urge to check the weather, go to that swim bag and pack/repack it. It will help you make sure you have everything you need. Spare goggles? Sunscreen? Lucky stuffed pig you’ve had since you were 7… wait, somehow I think that one is just me.

Monmouth County Swimming Championships 1997
  • Make it a Blockbuster night

Sit your butt down and watch a movie! It will help your muscles rest and help your mind focus on something other than the swim ahead. Some personal favorites…


  • Paint with all the colors of the wind

Commune with nature! Sit under your favorite tree. Walk your favorite trail. Take a relaxing, non training dip in the ocean. Get outside and reflect on how beautiful the Earth is, and how lucky we are to get to swim in the most beautiful river in the world!

Grandmother Willow! I’ve come to talk to you!
  • Journal

Why do you think I am writing this right now!? My Swim Brian is off the charts! All I want to do is jump in the water, but I still have days to wait! It will help to get those feelings on paper, and be really fun to read after the swim. It is also a good time to reflect on all the little steps that got you here. All the people you met along the way, the fun and challenging training swims, delicious post-swim meals, the good swims and the bad.

Hopefully some of this helps you as we being the final countdown to 8 Bridges 2016! Wishing you all swift currents, delicious feeds, and a happy swim.

Hold fast,