This past weekend I got to visit Abby in LA to do an ocean-open-water-bootcamp-training-trip! First I just have to say a HUGE thank you to Abby and her totally amazing, fabulous parents for hosting me and showing me a great time. In addition to the training swims I ate great food, saw great sights, and enjoyed even better company the whole weekend.
Day 1 & Training Swim #1: 1 1/2 hours
I arrived on Friday morning with a planned training swim for Friday mid-day/afternoon. Before Abby and I headed out for the beach she gave me a quick and dirty lecture/lesson on ocean swimming and what I needed to know. The highlights included how to get through surf, a map of where we were swimming, and general notes of what to be aware of and think about. When we got to the beach and I looked out at the water I was a little nervous. Abby told me that the surf advisory was set at high and by looking at the crashing waves closest to the beach I knew I was in for a challenging but great training experience. We made our way to the edge of the water and began wading in while shuffling our feet to avoid stepping on any stingrays that may be around (another thing I learned in my briefing/lecture). We approached the high surf and Abby asked if I was ready. As the wave came towards us I watched Abby dive under the white crashing part of the wave and followed. A few waves later with some sprinting and diving we were out past the big waves. We swam out to the buoy and started to head toward the rock pile (1.2 miles away). There was some serious chop and rolling waves washing over us the whole time. At many points I would take a breath and see Abby way up higher than me and then on my next stroke I would be up above her. I got a few full mouths of salt water which to no ones surprise is not pleasant. But with each stroke I felt more confident and even began enjoying the swim. I kept my eyes pretty much glued on Abby and followed her as she adjusted either into or further away from shore. All of a sudden we were half way done and headed back to our starting point. When we were ready to head back in Abby told me how to get back to shore safely through the surf. Again I was nervous because the surf had not calmed down whatsoever. We swam in and every few strokes looked over our shoulders to check for incoming waves, depending on how big they were and if they were cresting we either turned around to dive underneath them or rode them in. And with that my first ocean swim was completed! Abby said she was very impressed and called it “trial by fire” and ranked the conditions in the top five roughest she has swam in during her training for Catalina this year. I was proud that I made it through and didn’t slow Abby down! She was an excellent teacher who was supportive and reassuring the whole way—I couldn’t have been in better hands. An added bonus was a beach lifeguard complimenting our speed and joking that we should have helped them with some multi-person rescues due to strong rip tides that had just occurred along with a man who while we were rinsing off, asked if we were the two that had been “out there” swimming followed up by praising our zeal and speed.
Day 2 & Training Swim #2: 3 hours
Training swim #2 was a 3-hour swim on Saturday morning starting at the same place as training swim #1 but with longer laps going from the buoy to the rock pile to Santa Monica Pier back to the buoy and then once more to the pier and back. Around 6:00AM we met up with Gino, an English Channel swimmer who is currently training for Catalina in late August who Abby regularly trains with. The water was SO much calmer in the morning than it was the previous afternoon. There was still some surf to get through but I felt very relaxed and confident moving through it. The first hour and half of the swim it was hard to get into the zen mental zone I like to be in for longer swims. I kept thinking about how much longer I needed to be in the water and how long I would be in on Sunday (6 hours….). I finally started to get into the right mental zone when chaffing from the straps of my suit really started to hurt. My suit straps had irritated my skin from the first swim but this second swim really dug those chaff marks in. A little after the two hour mark we came into the beach to all do a quick feed before returning for a final hour in the water. I put on more vaseline but it didn’t help much. Overall the training swim went well but thinking about being in the water for twice as much time the following day was a little daunting.
The rest of the day I got to enjoy the beach rather than the ocean! Abby works as an LA City beach lifeguard and had a shift from 12-8 on Saturday so I went with her to work and hung out on the beach for about 3 hours. After spending the better part of the afternoon on the beach, Abby’s parents picked me up and showed me the Venice canals. So beautiful. After the canals we went back to the house and got ready for dinner. They took me out to an awesome new gastropub where we each got a flight of different beers and split delicious food like a giant pretzel, a goat cheese and brussels sprout salad, a burger, and fried chicken sandwich. We went back to the canals since they were on the way back to the house and it was nearing sunset. Before heading back home for the night we went to the Culver City look out point which delivers an amazing view of LA and the mountains.
Overall the day was amazing! The only negative was a pretty gnarly sunburn on my chest and stomach. From training in predominantly one pieces it had been awhile since my stomach had seen direct sunlight. While the rest of my body was protected by the substantial base tan I had built up over the past few months my stomach did not have that protection and paid for it….
Training Swim #3: 6 hours
Let me just start with saying that six hours swimming is a considerable undertaking. Technically anything longer than a 10K (6.2 miles) in open water counts as a marathon swim. Even in Ironman races where athletes run an entire marathon (26.2 miles) and bike 112 miles, the swimming leg is only 2.4 miles. We estimated that we would swim between 12-13 miles in the six hour timeframe. We planned on “toes-in” at 5:15AM which meant getting up at 4:20, leaving the house at 4:30, meeting up with Gino and Rebecca (Abby’s crew captain, our support kayaker for the day, and a Catalina channel veteran herself) at 4:45AM. Parking, getting the kayak set up and swimmers greased up and ready to go let us start basically on time around 5:15. It was still dark out when we started which was perfect because I need “dark” or nighttime swimming experience since my P2P swim will start in the early hours of the morning before sunrise. Swimming in a dark ocean can be anxiety/fear-inducing and practicing in the dark is important before attempting a big crossing like the P2P.
For this swim I switched suits and made sure to layer on body glide (antichaffing product that looks like a deodorant stick) and then vaseline to help prevent and protect from chaffing. Thankfully these measures worked very effectively and my chaffing didn’t get any worse or really bother me for the swim! (If it had gotten worse or bothered me I was planning on pulling off my straps and swimming topless…I know that sounds ridiculous but it’s a real thing that many open water swimmers do! Some even go out in a two piece and once out beyond the surf give their top to the kayaker and don’t put their suit back on until they’re ready to head back to land.) But thankfully I didn’t have to do that! However, that’s just about where the good news ended. Thanks to someone who shall remain nameless in my family (cough cough you know who you are) I was already sick before I came to LA. I had a bad cough, congestion, sore throat, and felt pretty achy. Within the first ten minutes of the swim I felt my left deltoid which was extremely sore from the previous days swim. I also felt my sunburned stomach rub against my suit with salt water which felt like pins and needles for at least the first hour. I tried to relax and just swim with the discomfort not trying to fight it but let it be and let it go (at least mentally). One of my favorite proverbs that is also a staple piece of advice that my mom says is, “Let go or be dragged.” You can either focus on the things in life (or a swim) that are making you miserable and hold onto them mentally and let them drag you down, making you increasingly miserable OR you can let go and try to move beyond them. The sunburn and deltoid needed to be let go and after about an hour into the swim neither of them were bothering me anymore.
By far the hardest part of the swim was the fact that I got increasingly more sick. I was occasionally coughing under water which meant my mouth was open and more salt water was getting in than I wanted. But I think one of the biggest contributors to me getting more and more sick was the speed and nature of the feeds. In Colorado when I have done long training swims it has just been me swimming and my brother kayaking. I usually take my time with my feeds and spend about a minute and a half slowly sipping, taking a quick breather, checking in with my brother, cracking a joke and then we get going again. Because there were three of us swimming with only one person crewing, we did our feeds staggered. Gino would usually start then Rebecca would give Abby her feed and then me. So I was always the last to finish and felt pressure to do it fast and get going since both Gino and Abby had usually started swimming by the time I was half way through my carbopro drink or apple sauce packet. I’m not used to chugging my feeds this fast and I think that coupled with me already being sick was not a good combination. I have never had trouble with my feeds before on long training swims so I know the problem is not what I was intaking. I’m used to burping and needing to keep my feeds down but this was not the normal stuff. After the fourth feed I was getting extremely nauseous in random waves. I would be totally fine for ten minutes and then a wave of nausea would roll through my entire body leaving me feeling very depleted and empty. I focused heavily on just breathing and swimming through it and trying to relax. From that point on I was only consuming maybe a quarter of each feed and mostly just using them as a way to wash out the taste of salt water and then spitting the rest out. I knew if I had forced them all down they would have all come back up. So I was using a lot of energy and not getting a lot in but interestingly enough I felt very comfortable swimming and did not feel taxed muscularly or cardiovascularly whatsoever. Usually I sing songs to myself, go through a variety of visualizations, complete mindfulness or contemplative exercises as ways to get through long swims, but for this swim it took all of my energy to just focus on my body and what it was feeling that I had no time or energy to think about anything else. At about 3 and a half hours in I seriously contemplated if I should stop or not. We were heading back to our starting point since our 6 hour swim consisted of one long 4 hour loop and then a shorter 2 hour loop. So I thought about getting out after only four hours. I paid close attention to my body and how I was feeling and coping over the next 30 minutes so I could decide whether or not I could push through another 2 hours or not. Once we got back to the starting point, we discerned that we needed to do an hour and ten minutes going out and coming back to make a full six. I decided to stay in and finish. I thought I could push through and finish and an hour and ten minutes out and then back seemed incredibly manageable compared to what we had already completed. I also felt like this was a pinnacle training experience. Paige (officially the youngest swimmer to ever complete the 8 bridges, 120 mile marathon swim as of Sunday!!!!!) has repeatedly told me and Abby that it is important to train in the worst conditions possible because that is what prepares you for the real swim. With that in mind I knew I needed to finish the full six hours.
Over the final two hours and twenty minutes I repeated a pseudo rhyme to myself easily over a thousand times. “An hour and ten, go out. An hour and ten, come back in.” I kept saying it until we were stopped for our fourth to last feed, and again until our third to last feed, then again until our second to last feed, and then after our final feed I was just ready for the finish and went back to tuning into what my body was feeling.
When we were finally finished and I was standing on land again I could hardly believe that we had done it. We started at 5:15AM and finished a little after 11:15AM. That is a long time! My lips were very puffy from the salt water and the tip of my tongue was a weird dried out texture. But we did it. Despite the sickness, sun burn, chaffing, and initial muscle discomfort—I finished what I had set out to do. I am so grateful that I got to swim with Abby and Gino because they were both encouraging and enthusiastic throughout! Also a huge, huge shoutout goes to Rebecca who kayaked alongside us for SIX HOURS and kept us on course and safe from boats. All three of them are great people and athletes and I am grateful that I got to join them on this crazy training swim.
Overall I learned that my body and mind are resilient and can make it through pretty much anything. I feel very confident that no matter the conditions or scenarios that may arise during my P2P swim I will be able to finish it. I will not give up and I will succeed 😉