The last 3-4 months of training for the P2P have been incredibly rewarding albeit challenging and overwhelming at times. Most of the challenge has come from never having prepared for a swim like this which has made it all a very large learning process! I thought I would share some of the preliminary lessons that I’ve learned (some comical, some more serious). So here are six lessons I’ve learned so far and why each one is critical to a successful P2P attempt:
(1) You GOTTA grease up / chaffing is not fun
I have to admit that I learned this lesson the hard way. (See photo evidence above…) I am not used to chaffing during regular swim season, however, with the amount of swimming I have been doing it seems that no matter what suit I wear in the pool I chaff in little places here or there. By far the worst though was my first day at Chatfield gravel pond when I wore my wetsuit for my first lap. In all of the excitement and nerves to swim in open water I forgot to grease my neck which led to the most excruciating raw skin on my neck for a day or two before it turned into a pretty gnarly wound. It looked a bit like someone strangled me from behind….BUT NOW I’VE LEARNED! I’ve been using body glide and vaseline and am happy to report that this lesson has been learned and applied.
(2) Nausea is sometimes necessary
One of the most important parts of preparing for my swim is figuring out my feeds and practicing with them! During the actual swim I will be using a lot of energy and burning a lot of calories between the many, many hours of swimming and cold water. It is not realistic to try to replace all of the calories that I will be burning, however I do need as much fuel as possible! In the process of figuring out what I can stomach, I played around with different concentrations of carbopro (an awesome flavorless, complex carb powder) mixed with water and gatorade. I started with a really high concentration (200 calories in 10oz of liquid), it turned out that my stomach was not on board unfortunately! A couple of practices and days of nausea and unpleasant throwing up later, I figured out the perfect concentration for me (125 calories in 12oz of liquid)! I also decided to incorporate some squeezable apple sauce into the feed regimen which helps settle my stomach and gives me a break from pure liquid feeds.
(3) Mind over matter
One of my favorite swimming quotes is, “your mind will quit 1000 times before your body does.” I think this especially applies to open water swimming. It is imperative to get your mind on board with your body when you are tired from long practices, freezing in cold water, or mildly panicking in a murky lake unable to see the bottom. It is amazing what you can do however when your mind is strong! When you initially enter cold water and take your first few strokes, your lungs naturally hyperventilate. It takes calming your mind and reassuring yourself that you are okay to take a few deep breathes after which you are totally fine! Mental toughness is a prerequisite to pursuing a swim like the P2P but it is also important that throughout training you continue to practice that skill and cultivate it so that you know you can handle anything when your time comes to swim.
(4) How to be bored
One of the things I am now best at is entertaining and distracting myself when I am SUPER BORED! In open water it is a little easier to keep your mind busy because there is scenery and a changing environment. In pool workouts you are pretty much looking at the same thing constantly, tiles on the bottom of the pool. Also unlike the regular swim season, I don’t have a team around me to push me or encourage me. Needless to say, it can get monotonous and tedious. I have developed several strategies to distract/entertain/help pass the time. Sometimes I sing songs to myself, I practice visualization exercises, I pick a category like colors and then go through the alphabet trying to name one color from A-Z, sometimes I repeat phrases to myself like “the way out is the way through” (shoutout to Paige Christie for that one), and I even just narrate what I am doing “breathe and pull, breathe and pull, flip turn, breathe and pull, breathe and pull.” During my actual swim all of these strategies will come in handy as I am swimming for roughly 10-12 hours with just the deep ocean to look at and my thoughts to occupy me.
These last two lessons have been the most important in my training success thus far and I am sure they will be the most important during the swim itself:
(5) Surround yourself with positive people
When you are trying to do something that most people view as impossible or exceptional it is imperative that you surround yourself with people who believe in you and what you are doing. People have asked me, “what about sharks?!?!” and said, “you could be attacked and die!!” Others have balked and passive aggressively said, “well good luck with that..” Others, even those who are well-intentioned, have asked me questions as though I have not thought this through like, “are you sure you can do it?” “what are you going to do if something happens?” I guarantee that every doubt/concern/risk that anyone imagines when they first hear “open water marathon swim” I have thought about and reflected on 1000x over. I did not dedicate myself to this training regimen or swim attempt lightly. I also would not do it if I did not believe that I could and will succeed. I know that when I stand in Plymouth, MA looking out at the horizon toward Provincetown on August 6th that I will be ready. That doesn’t mean that doubt never creeps into my head though. It is in the moments when doubts creep up that it is incredibly helpful to have people around you that can lift you up. I feel so grateful to have so many of those people rallying around me! Soon I’ll be writing a post dedicated to all of them, but just to briefly mention a few: first there is Paige Christie and Abby Bergman, my fellow marathon swimming mamas who are part of the #marthonswimmingfempire. They have both been unbelievably encouraging and supportive through this whole process, they also understand the challenges and triumphs better than anyone as they both prepare for swims of their own this summer. Also my parents who not only agreed to let me do this but have encouraged me and helped with logistics and planning. My brother who uses his own training expertise to help me get stronger and prehab and rehab muscles, not to mention accompanying me on training swims in a kayak even though he gets burnt up by the sun (poor fair skin Anthony <3). My girlfriend, Charlye, who makes sure I am eating enough and reassures me when I am too tired or overwhelmed to believe in myself. Also one of my best friends, Cheyenne who gifted me a shark tooth necklace to wear to help me feel powerful! And last but not least, Traci and Steve, my Colorado JCC and open water swimming friends who I met one early morning in the pool who then shepherded me into CO open water swimming and encourage me constantly! All of these people have been instrumental in my training, I can honestly say I couldn’t do it without them.
Steve, me, and Traci after our first Chatfield swim of the season
(6) Trust yourself
Lastly and most importantly I have learned to trust myself. Early on in this whole process, I was asking Paige for advice and she said, “Everyone (including myself) has opinions about what’s best—ultimately nobody knows you like you and ultimately you need to do what’s best and what works for you regardless of what any coach, boat captain, or other marathon swimmer says is best. When you’re out there you’re really depending on yourself and will need to trust your instincts.” This has by far been the best advice anyone has given me. Like I said at the outset of this post, this has been a learning process that has been overwhelming and challenging at times. The greatest gift and asset I have found is belief and trust in myself. Knowing that I know my body, mind, strength, passion, and determination better than anyone else has reassured me during the hardest practices and times that I can do this.