Swimming the P2P was an incredible experience. It is hard to wrap my mind around it and put to words what this whole experience (both the swim itself and the training) has been like. Over the last six months I learned so much about myself. I learned what I can endure, how/why I thrive in challenges, how important support is, and what can be achieved when passion, heart, and dedication come together.
Now that I’ve had a few days to process and rest here are the dirty details of the swim! On August 6th, everyone went through last minute preparations, checking to make sure we had everything we needed so that we would be set for the following day. In the morning Abby and I swam at the Cape Cod YMCA. I felt strong, smooth, and confident in the water. Andy and I bought a few last minute things: more glow sticks, rope, etc. While we were driving around in the morning Andy at one point turned to me and said, “I didn’t know if I should tell you this, but you are swimming and it is information and I think it is my responsibility to communicate all the information I have.” I took a deep breathe and braced myself, thinking oh lord, what now?….Andy then relayed the top headline of Cape Cod news from that morning: “3 Beaches Closed on Cape Cod After 6 Great White Sharks Spotted Feeding on Whale Carcass.” The whale carcass and sharks were seen off the shores of North Truro, not that far away from Provincetown.
It made me nervous and I took a few minutes to indulge my worst-case scenario thoughts before rationalizing and calming myself down by saying things like, “well now the sharks are well fed and will be taking a post-meal nap while I’m swimming!” and, “I’m not a bleeding, dead whale carcass, so surely I won’t be an appealing meal.” It doesn’t help that when you’re on Cape Cod it is practically impossible to not see great white shark t-shirts, towels, souvenirs, etc. My favorite being a T-shirt with the line, “Cape Cod Fast Food” accompanied by a picture of a shark chasing a swimmer. Even with the news story, nothing was going to change the fact that I was going to swim the following day. I could either focus on being excited to swim or let the idea of sharks (which was an extremely unlikely possibility) freak me out. So I put the shark story out of my head and focused on the tasks at hand.
I laid out all of my gear, prepared my feeds, went through check-lists and packed up. We ate dinner early around 4:30PM and I headed to bed around 5:45PM. Right before my head hit the pillow I got an email from John, one of the boat captains, about the shark sightings in Truro. I was glad that Andy told me early on in the day and I had already processed the information thoroughly by the time I got that email. It would have been a lot worse if no one had told me and then right before I went to sleep I found out. I asked John if he was worried, he said, “a little.” I felt content and at ease and fell asleep. I was able to sleep surprisingly well! I tossed and turned a little bit but got in a very solid 6 1/2 hours. At 1:06AM I woke up, got dressed, brushed my teeth, made sure I had everything I needed and headed to the car.
Andy, Anthony, Abby, Charlye and I made our way from Sandwich to Plymouth to meet Kellie (my official observer) and John (the boat captain). We got to the dock around 2AM and waited for the boat to get shuttled over to where we were. While we waited, John relayed two or three shark stories about past swimmers, the recent sightings, etc. I smiled and nodded and thought about how Paige Christie’s boat captain for the English Channel tested and pushed her mentally the morning of her swim, and thought maybe John is doing the same thing or maybe shark stories are just his version of small talk. I looked at the dark water and thought, I’m going to do this, a few stories are not going to get to me. Abby leaned over and whispered, “why is he telling us this right before you swim??”
The boat came and we all jumped onboard. John introduced us to Tom (the official boat captain—who would get the final say on safety and if I ever got pulled out of the water). They told us we had about 25-30 minutes before we got over to the starting beach. Abby and Anthony set up the glow sticks on the kayak and I started to put my zinc oxide, solar sense, sunscreen on. Charlye helped me and joked that she never realized that this stuff was so thick, “no wonder open water swimmers always look white, I thought they just forgot to rub it in all the way! Now I know it just doesn’t rub in.” After the sunscreen I went below deck and rubbed Safe Sea all over the parts of my body covered by my suit. Safe Sea is a lotion that helps protect your body from jellyfish and sea lice stings. Sea lice are jelly fish larvae that have stinging capabilities just like full grown jellies but are tiny enough that they easily get into and then stuck in your suit. The lotion helps minimize the effect the stings have on your body. After the Safe Sea, I applied my shark-disguise stripes on my legs in white colored zinc oxide. Finally came a nice thick layer of body glide and vaseline to prevent chaffing. Charlye and Abby helped grease me up and then pin a glow stick on the back of my suit so that I would be ready to go.
Kellie reviewed the rules of the crossing as we approached white horse beach. And then it was time to go. The water was black and the beach was just barely illuminated by lights from some of the houses. The kayak was put in the water and Anthony climbed in. Everyone’s eyes then turned to me. I smiled and said, “guess it’s my turn now, huh?” I stepped up onto the back of the boat and jumped in. My breathing accelerated as I hit the water and took my first strokes. Anthony and I made our short trip to the beach. I cleared the water, turned to the boat, put my hands up and started. I briefly thought about the fact that my feet wouldn’t touch ground until I got to the other side.
It was very, very dark. I kept my eyes pretty much glued to Anthony in the kayak on my left side. I tried to sight the boat but couldn’t find it in the dark. There was a strange smell that I couldn’t identify and tried to ignore. Anthony and I staid close together, his red head light lamp and the green glow sticks on the front and back of the kayak was all I could really see. I thought briefly about how long I would be in the water and then about sharks. I quickly stopped myself and re-centered my thoughts on the present moment. I tried to look for glowing, bioluminescent jellies but couldn’t find any. I kept seeing something in my peripheral vision that was glowing green when I would turn my head to breathe…..after a couple of strokes I realized I was just seeing the green light on my goggle straps 😉 I then turned my attention to the sky. It was beautiful to be swimming under the stars and wispy clouds that hovered high above. I took a breath and noticed Anthony had changed his headlamp to blinking red which was the signal for me to stop for a feed. I thought I had only been in the water for 10 or 15 minutes and was delighted that the first 30 minutes had already gone by.
From the 30 minute mark to the first hour, I got a suit full of sea lice. About 5 minutes after my first feed I suddenly felt my entire stomach getting pricked and stung. I was glad I had put on Safe Sea because while the sensation was not pleasant, it was not horrible. At the 1 hour mark/my second feed I took a moment to try to swipe as many sea lice out of my suit as possible without spending too much time or energy. After my second feed I started glancing back more at the shore while I took my breaths. The lights of Plymouth already looked kind of far away. It was still very dark, no sign of the sun yet.
After the hour mark I started feeling cold. My jaw was shaking a bit and I wondered how cold the water was. It wasn’t until after I finished and asked Kellie about the beginning water temp that I found out it started out around 61. I knew it would get warmer when the sun came out and I tried to focus on feeling grateful for the opportunity to do this swim and to be having these experiences. I thought about how already within the first hour and half of the swim I was getting to experience things I never had before! Swimming under the stars in black water, feeling what sea lice stuck in your suit are like, etc. Yay for new experiences 😉
By the time the 3rd feed came, I was really noticing the strange smell that I hadn’t been able to identify. I did the feed quickly and resumed swimming. About 7 seconds after I put my head back in the water I threw up everything I had consumed up to that point. All three feeds came out of me in a matter of 10-15 seconds. I thought, “oh no. This is not good.” Over the next hour I threw up about 7 more times. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Was I sea sick? I knew it couldn’t be the concentration of the feeds because I had done 5 hour training swims with those concentrations and was fine. It wasn’t until the sun started to come up and I could actually see the boat that I figured out what was wrong. I realized that we were behind the back left corner of the boat and I was smelling and inhaling fumes. Even though the wind was coming from the North West which should have been blowing the fumes away from me, I was close enough to the boat and obviously low in the water where the fumes were definitely getting me. I told Anthony that I thought I was inhaling fumes and asked if we could reposition away from the back corner of the boat. Over the next half hour I was still occasionally throwing up but each time I would feel so much better after. It was unlike the 6-hour training swim I did in LA with Abby during which I felt nauseous and horrible the whole time. I didn’t feel nauseous but I would suddenly need to throw up and then feel much better after until the next bout came (which in my mind was a lot more tolerable!).
The sun started to rise and I knew that meant Abby would be getting in with me soon. Before the swim we planned to have Abby in at sunrise because sharks are most active at dawn and dusk and I knew it would be a mental comfort to have her with me and not be the only one in the water. At 2 1/2 hours into the swim, after sea lice and getting sick, sharks were the absolute last thing on my mind. I was excited to swim through sunrise because it meant that I would be getting warmer, Abby would be joining me, and I had finished the first part of the swim! Sunrise was beautiful, the horizon lit up orange and yellow and I could actually see things around me: the big boat, Anthony’s facial expressions, etc. Abby got in the water and said, “hey girl! You’re looking great.” Her smile and presence instantly lifted my spirits. The 30 minutes that she was in felt like 5. After swimming with Abby I felt back on my game and ready to keep going. I got sick two more times after Abby swam. Those final times were from getting a splash of salt water that reached the back of my throat coupled with my already primed stomach. At the 3 1/2 hour feed a wave splashed me right after I had my carbopro feed which resulted in my throwing up three times. I was coughing in between and Anthony asked if I was okay, I said I just got some salt water and was fine. I didn’t tell anyone on the boat or Anthony that I had been throwing up. I didn’t want my crew to worry or think about pulling me from the water. I thought again about Paige in her channel swim and how she was getting sick but persevered and kept it to herself because she didn’t want to give them any reason to pull her. I got a great mental boost at the 4 hour feed when I read my first message on the white board, “This is better than Rio! -Steve” I chuckled and had a huge smile on my face. Both Steve and Tracy have played significant roles in my training this summer and I could imagine Steve standing on the boat saying that to me.
After my 4 hour feed I realized I was not going to be able to follow my original feeding plan. Even though I was not inhaling fumes anymore, the taste of my carbopro mixtures now was inextricably linked to me being sick and the thought of drinking my mixtures made me want to throw up. I started dreaming of eating a PBJ or snickers bars instead. I knew Anthony had candy bars on the kayak for himself so I decided that after my next apple sauce feed I would ask him for his candy bars and request plain water or gatorade. I started to feel better just thinking about getting something more solid in my stomach. Then something totally magical happened at my 4 1/2 hour feed: I could finally see Provincetown on the horizon. The swim felt attainable and I really started to revel in what I was doing. As I stroked along I thought about how lucky I was to be able to be doing what I was doing. I played the “gratitude game” where I listed 30 people I was thankful for and why. I tried to focus on having fun and enjoying the swim. I sang songs to myself, mostly Cake, the Lumineers, with some DMX thrown into the mix.
At 5 hours I desperately wanted to ask to see if I was half way but I held off because nothing is worse than thinking you are further than you actually are. I instead requested that Abby get back in the water with me after 30 more minutes. I calculated that if I was about half way at 5 hours, Abby would be able to get in the water from 5:30-6:30 and then again from 7:30-8:30 and then at the very end for the final 30 minutes (roughly 9:30 hours to the 10 hour mark). Before Abby got in I was treated to watching a seagull plummet down just 15 feet to the left of Anthony to try to snag a fish. Apparently the seagull made a pass at Anthony’s head after that, which I unfortunately missed—that would have made me laugh for sure.
When Abby got in for the second time at 5 1/2 hours she told me that I was over halfway! At 6 hours I was officially on my new feeding plan of half Snickers bars and plain water. I felt good and was going through different visualizations and contemplative exercises to pass the time. I got more white board messages from friends and family that also kept me upbeat. Anthony tried to tell me that only eating snickers wasn’t good for me. I shrugged his comment off and told him I could eat whatever I wanted with a wink and smile and that if I wanted to eat snickers all the way to the end, I would. And actually given the fact that each half snickers had a little over 100 calories, not to mention: carbs, fat, and protein, it was a great thing to eat while I was swimming.
At 7 hours I asked for an ETA, I asked if I had about 4 hours or 3 hours to go—hoping for it to only be 3 but mentally preparing myself for it to be 4. Kellie told me I had about 3 to go at the pace I was holding. At that point I was feeling strong and in control and knew that it was time to make moves. I knew in the back of my mind that the course record was either 9 hours 43 minutes or 9 hours 47 minutes. I thought to myself that if I picked up my pace I could maybe get close to that time but it would take some serious grit and determination.
I thought back to my last meet of my junior swim season (NEWMACs, our conference meet). I was the only junior who ended up going abroad last year so I was only in season for January and February versus the rest of the team who had been in season since late September. I was prepared to not beat any of me personal records that I had set my sophomore year and instead focused primarily on supporting and cheering on the other swimmers on my team and doing the best that I could with a smile on my face. When I stepped up onto the blocks for my 1650, I was nervous but ready to go (much like my P2P swim). I always mentally divided the 1650 into 3×500 and then would try to build and sprint the last 150. I would only really try to build the last 150 out of fear of burning out too early in the race. But this time when I was at the 1000 mark (40 laps in) I thought to myself what if I built the entire last 650? I thought about one of my favorite quotes, “To achieve greatness, you must expect greatness.” If you think and tell yourself that you’re going to burn out before the end, you will. But if you commit your mind to pushing yourself to give more and be more, your body will respond and do it. In the last 650 of that race I kept pushing my pace and with about 300 left, I saw Coach Kim and Milana on the side of the pool jumping up and down, waving their clipboards in the forward circular motion that meant “KEEP GOING, AND PICK IT UP!” I left it all in the pool. I touched the wall and looked up to see my time. I had beaten my personal record by just 5 seconds. I looked over at Coach Kim and Milana with a huge smile and look of disbelief. Despite not having trained as long as I did my sophomore season I was able to come back from a Fall semester abroad and beat my PR. But that was only possible because I made a conscious decision in that race to demand something greater from myself, to swim unafraid and with confidence.
So at 7 hours with 6 miles left I thought that this is the time to leave it all in the water. If there was ever a time to put the hammer down, it was right now. I put my head down and picked up the tempo. My stroke count increased to 64 strokes per minute compared to the average 61 strokes per minute I had been maintaining. I started kicking and thought about powering through. Every “Kimism” (famous Coach Kim phrases) played on repeat in my mind. There is no such thing as fatigue. There is always more toothpaste left in the tube. Time to put the hammer down. With gusto. Favorite quotes played through too. Your mind will quit 1000 times before your body does. To achieve greatness, you must expect greatness. Pain is temporary, pride is forever. I felt powerful, determined, in control and excited. Occasional sharp shooting pain would move through my arms and legs. I breathed and moved through the discomfort knowing it would pass and that I refused to slow my pace.
At 7 1/2 hours, the Provincetown beach looked so close but I knew I had at least 2 more hours to go. I pushed through that next half hour knowing Abby was going to get back in to swim for another hour with me. At 8 hours Abby got back in and people on the boat had realized that I was close to the record. They were trying to find what the record was and tell me how much time I had left. They couldn’t figure out what the numbers were exactly so they just yelled, “You’re close to the record!” I knew that my last hour of hard work was paying off and I became even more resolved to press on and hold the faster pace I had established. At the 8 hour mark Andy wrote on the whiteboard that at my current pace I had the record by just 1 minute. Abby got out at the 9 hour mark. Andy told me I had about 45 minutes left. I thought to myself 45 minutes???? That’s shorter than all the open water races I’ve done this summer, I can haul ass for another 45 minutes. I kept pushing and pressing. I was loving every minute at that point. Thankfully, I was also disciplined and did not let myself take breaths where I picked my head up to look at how close the beach was. I kept my head down and thought about how close I was to the finish and how much fun I was having.
Anthony held up his hand to indicate I had 5 minutes to my next feed. I figured that it must be my last feed because I was so close. Five minutes passed and Anthony didn’t give me the signal to stop to feed. I discerned that it must be too close to the record to risk stopping. If they had stopped me I was planning on only taking a quick swig of gatorade and then pressing on. For the last 30 minutes or so of the swim Anthony kept getting slightly ahead of me so I was swimming at the backend of the kayak instead of directly next to it. I wanted to stop to chastise him because he knows how much I hate swimming behind the kayak since it makes me feel like I’m swimming too slowly and have to sprint to catch up. I tried to splash him to get him to return to the position we’d been holding for the previous 9 hours. The splashing didn’t work and I didn’t want to waste time chastising him, so I just made a mental note to tease him about it after I finished. I took a few cheating breaths to look at the shore, IT WAS SO CLOSE. Suddenly the ocean floor appeared and I could see sand below. It wasn’t until I saw the bottom that I suddenly thought about sharks again. I had completely forgotten about them until I saw the sand and thought, “I’m home free now! No shark is going to show up now.” My crew had been nervous as we were getting closer to Provincetown over the last few hours because that is where there was the greatest chance of a shark popping up.
I caught Abby out of the corner of my eye swimming me into the finish. I was giving it everything I had, kicking as fast as possible. The ocean floor was taunting me. It seemed like I could see the bottom for forever and it just kept going and going, not getting closer to me. I closed my eyes to stop looking at the bottom and just locked in looking at Anthony. I finally started to hear my mom on the beach yelling and cheering. I kept swimming until my fingertips made contact with the sand below. I swept my feet underneath me and started running out of the water to clear it for my official time. I didn’t know if I had done enough for the record but I knew I had laid it all out. Those last 3 hours I swam with confidence, determination, tenacity and focus and couldn’t have been prouder finally standing on that beach in Provincetown. After months and months of training I was there, I had done it. My mom and dad welcomed me with hugs and wrapped me in a towel. I picked up a stone from the beach and took out my earplugs, I tucked them all into my suit.
I hadn’t realized this while I was swimming to the finish but Andy had also jumped in at the end for the last 50 meters or so of the swim. Afterwards he joked that even after 9 1/2 hours of me swimming he couldn’t even keep up with me for 50 meters. After relishing the moment, Abby and I head-up, breaststroked back to the boat. When I got my unofficial time from Kellie of 9 hours and 37 minutes I couldn’t believe it. It was just the cherry on top of an already incredible, life changing experience. I knew that if I finished I would have the record for being the youngest but I never seriously thought about setting a course record. I was happy to just finish my first ever marathon swim.
Riding on the boat back to Plymouth, how far the swim really was sunk in more. I thought, “holy cow, I can’t believe I just swam that.” I was all smiles while I ate my celebratory PB&J. When we got back to the dock and unloaded, boat captain Tom told me, “I have to tell you, for a girl, you have big balls.” After rinsing off (and finding over a dozen sea lice still stuck in my suit) my crew headed out for a celebratory dinner of fresh seafood in Plymouth right by the dock where we started.
The next day I was a new level of sore that I didn’t know existed! The muscles around my knees and my left deltoid were the most sore followed by my neck, shoulders, arms, and back more generally. I did a 45 minute loosening swim the morning after which definitely helped warm up and relax those tight muscles. I’ve been doing a lot of stretching and light exercise (swimming and hiking) and other than some slight muscle soreness and a rash from my sea lice stings I am doing physically and mentally very well!
I want to thank everyone for all the love and support during the swim. It was a beautiful day and a great swim. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family, friends, swim teammates, and of course the most amazing crew who kept me happy and safe the whole way across the bay. Thank you to everyone who has read this blog and sent me encouragement and for everyone who tracked the swim and cheered me on. It felt like I had a whole sea of people swimming alongside me in spirit.