My last blog covered the first couple of hours of the 2010 Manhattan Island Marathon swim. The field started at approximately 7:25am on June 12th and my race plan was to stick within the top 3 solos for the entire race – if possible. I had started out with a quick pace because I was worried a different front leader may sit at a comfortable pace which would enable many people to be serious contenders for the solo podium spot. I also didn’t want anyone using the last stretch of the swim to draft from me and then power past me in the last few hundred metres (which I believed was a strong possibility). Although I have a very strong kick I am not the quickest sprinter in the world and I was not keen to lose a race by any means, at the very least by a few metres!
The last blog had paused at the point where we had gained Richard Clifford as a support paddler (but not officially my paddler) as I had only one paddler designated for me (many solos had two paddlers for the race – I think my other one was AWOL the morning of the race!!). I was happy for Niles that he now had some support because 8 hours is a long time to be paddling continuously, let alone also being responsible for directions and feeds for a swimmer looking for a podium finish! Richard had been with another American swimmer until she had pulled out of the race. The American swimmer also had another asset that we were about to utilise…
Remember in the last blog how I talked about our growing Team McCardel family? Well, we were about to expand with
the assimilation of another paddler!! James was the American swimmers other paddler and he was also a free agent after she withdrew. He wished to join us and ask Niles if this was ok. The funny thing is that I never saw James next to my paddler as I had seen Richard next to my paddler and I thought he was a competitor’s paddler and I became a little unsettled temporarily (I breathed more to my left to try and assess his intentions, but nothing more). He was a great support to the team during the race.
Going under a bridge (Richard would know which one!!) the entire field gained about 400m on me within a few minutes (and the leading swimmer was now about 100m clear from me). My paddlers and crew had been instructed to guide me close to shore. One solo (Jamie from Spain) and two relays overtook me with lightening speed. I didn’t care that two relays were in front of me. Some people would call a relay the ‘overall winner’ of the race if they cross the line before solos. That’s just bizarre to me! How can a solo compete against teams of 2 or 4 or 6 people? They can’t!! I only worry about things which I can control. I knew there was a solo in front of me and that I could only control my own swimming speed so I revved up my arms to try and hold Jaime from making any more distance. And so began the cat-and-mouse game that would continue the rest of the race….
Approximately 3 hours of the race had now passed. After a commanding lead I was now chasing! I actually like chasing – except when the stakes are so high! One of the reasons I enjoy squad training so much is the ability to use other swimmers to increase the value of your training. You can use other swimmers to pace your swimming, you can chase them during sets/repeats, you can have races against them etc. You can use them as a focal point to enhance your training experience. Often these training experiences directly simulate races, like now!
For the next 2 hours he was varying between 50-200m ahead of me (give or take a few metres J ). I couldn’t see him but I could see his two paddlers which usually stick very close to the swimmer. Up until now no-one had commented on my pacing. During the race I was given status updates a few times by my paddlers on my position in the field. I didn’t request this or ask any questions, I just absorbed information and focused on the task at hand. Very little was ever said between myself and the paddlers. As we approached the Hudson Niles said “The race STARTS in the Hudson”. He emphasised the ‘start’ part! I was thinking ‘uh oh, I have used so much energy maintaining this pace. How will I find more?’ However, that moment of self-doubt was short lived….
I had been looking forward to the Hudson. I was told it was the quick 18km stretch to home. I was also told that a swimmer could move up to 10km an hour down the Hudson!! But I also knew that two very experienced Manhattan swimmers had forewarned all the swimmers at the pre-race briefing the day before that the Hudson was due to be choppy and rough on race day. I swam towards the river as though it was welcoming me into its waters (hoping for the best conditions – but fearing the worst!).
Murphy’s law – it was much tougher than usual! But, this affected the whole field pretty much equally J The strength in my legs were my best asset and the chop required strength in the arms – not in the legs! Although I am very experienced in chop and rough water my shoulders would (probably) not be the strongest in the field (I often get pulped/smashed in pull sets during squad!!) As I didn’t know how long the chop would last I decided to increase my speed because it was in this part of the race that I believed I was most vulnerable and I believed the lone solo swimmer in front could easily make distance on me.
I only had a very vague idea where the solo swimmer was in front of me (mostly due to the conditions). When Niles enthusiastically told me that I was now 100m ahead of the solo swimmer I was ecstatic! But I didn’t change my stroke speed or pattern I just got excited in my head – it’s a swimmer thing J !! I had been holding a strong pace the entire race, I had elevated that pace to pass the solo swimmer and now I was enduring really frustrating chop!! It was the chop that just destroys your balance and swimming rhythm and leaves you with a mouth full of water more often than not when you turn to breathe!
I had spoken to Coach Buddy about race tactics, strokes per minute (very popular assessment tool for many open water swimmer’s support crew), when I should surge during the race etc… he’s advice was very basic and along the lines of “find a comfortable rhythm and maintain it”. Well I had now left that idea in the previous river (there are 4 rivers around Manhattan) as I was holding a pace beyond my reasonable means! I figured it was worth a shot anyway. The chop had eliminated the advantage of the tide down the Hudson (I heard this later from others and I certainly didn’t feel any tidal assistance). Tidal assistance down this river is famous with Manhattan swimmers (see pics). This elimination of tidal assistance by head wind chop may explain the slower than usual finishing times of the leaders.
It was unfortunate about the chop and more unfortunate for me that I never made much ground on the solo swimmer I had overtaken at the bridge. 5 km from the finish line the chop subsided enough that I was able to maintain a strong rhythm. It was also at this point I was told to swim “FASTER”. As I was the willing lamb I obeyed my master as instructed. I didn’t ask questions, I didn’t realise Jaime was now closing on me. I was the lamb being sent to slaughter!!
Needless to say – but I will say it anyway – the last 5km were very exhausting and a bit of a blur! One of the great aspects of American culture is their ability to aspire to greater things and become very excited for others endeavours and aspirations. When two American paddlers that you trust with your life are constantly telling you to swim stronger, faster and quicker than you have ever swum in your life you can’t help but become inspired! I was utterly exhausted on the inside but was being pushed from the outside to find something MORE.
Paul and I had done an outer circle complete circumnavigation of the island on a tourist cruise a few days earlier so I started to look for familiar landmarks to gauge how close I was to the finish. I believed the chop had gone (who knows, I was not 100% at this time) and I was thinking about my amazing Manhattan crew (Niles, Richard, James, PAUL, Charlie & Bernard), my Australian and international supporters and my family and how supportive they had all been and how much I wanted to make them proud and myself proud. Their names and faces swirled around my head as a source of wonderful positive inspiration to deflect my body which was screaming in pain and wanting to shut down. Every nerve, fibre, tissue and element of my physical body was willing me to slow down but I drew on my vivid, powerful goal of winning and wonderful support crew as a source of energy.
I reached a level where I was no longer aware of my swimming action. My swimming had become almost unconscious as I was sprinting so hard. I knew that this was the hardest test of my entire life and it was now that I had to find a new level of sustained speed. My paddlers were shouting “SPRINT” and “FASTER” and probably more words too but they were all lost to the river. My eyes had lost focus and I remember vaguely knowing the difference between water and sky. Then I deciphered to word “CLOSING” and I finally understand why I have been sprinting my little heart out! Jaime had been gaining on me for the last 5km. Slowly gaining at first, he had found renewed momentum and begun powering home with all of his masculine might and physique (…it is times like this one wishes they were male!).
The paddlers had not told me earlier that a solo was closing on me as they knew there was no way I could swim faster anyway. With a mere few hundred metres to go and NO idea where this other person/s was (and there was no way I was going to waste time and energy finding out) I had to focus really hard on keeping myself together until the finish line. I fell into a survival mode where I thrashed my arms through the water as fast as I could hoping and praying 12 years under qualified coaching instruction would hold my stroke in some order towards the finish line. I dreamed of the finish line and relief, but kept my head down for the most part. I didn’t see the crowds jumping up and down with excitement and anticipation watching two swimmers fighting to take the Manhattan crown. I didn’t hear them or my support boat shouting my name. I heard my paddlers, I drew on their energy, I found two large round orange buoys shining brightly; indicating the finish line was just around the corner.
It seemed a lifetime before I reached the bright orange beacons which would escort me to my finish. I cut really close past them as desperation and desire pulled me intrinsically toward them. A few metres passed the buoys I saw the temporary stairs and railing and I reached my hand out towards them in my last act of determined effort. I did not sense any swimmers close behind me so my body upon realising this just decided enough was enough! I tried to scramble up the stairs but I must have fell up the stairs (??) because I scrapped my upper right leg and lower left arm in an attempt to leave the water (I really don’t remember). I remember many arms helping me out of the water and up the stairs and collapsing immediately.
On the ground my eyes closed and I lay still. I sensed many kind words of congratulations hovering above my body; I sensed a flurry of activity and medics running over towards me. After a little while I opened my eyes and I remember blood and grazing on my arm. The medics placed a space blanket (the silver, light, large, aluminium looking blankets) over me, took my blood pressure a few times and bandaged the grazes and asked some strange questions (e.g. what year is it?). After another short moment I sat up and found my mother smiling with joy at me from high up in the crowd above (I was on a thin wooden walking strip, a finishing chute, floating just above the waters surface). Drury Gallagher presented me with the Tiffany’s Cup (it was huge!) and he said that it was the most exciting finish he had ever seen and that he couldn’t wait to chat to me after (I felt very honoured for him to say this)! A few professional photos were taken and I then begun an assisted hobble up the finish chute towards the greater event area.
I have many, many people I wish to thank for their ongoing support:
- A special THANKS to Paul my wonderful boyfriend who has supported me 24/7 and has made many sacrifices for Team McCardel – every success we share together J !!
- Thanks to all of the competitors (especially Jaime Caballero) who made the event such great fun. A special thanks to the volunteers directly involved in my swim Charlie (boat captain), Niles Furlong (paddler), Richard Clifford and James Danoff-Burg (support paddlers) and Bernard (observer).
- Thanks to Morty (Race organiser) and Hannah (FriendsofNYCswim), all the Manhattan volunteers (support boat captains, observers, paddlers and all others) www.nycswim.org and Amy Bolger who shared many beautiful photos with me and made the incredible official race video www.amybolger.com/galleries/mims2010/ (www.amybolger.com and email@example.com).
- A HUGE thanks to my sponsors Bioeffectives, Siberian Red, Linfox, Air Asia, Burson Autoparts, Portal People and my suppliers 2XU, Speedo and the Middle Brighton Baths. I firmly believe the Bioeffectives and Siberian Red supplements I have been using contributed to my sustained speed throughout the marathon swim especially during the last 2km and I highly recommend them to those wishing to increase their performance (www.solagran.com and www.pineneedleproducts.com ).
- Thanks to all those from Melbourne, Australia and across the world who have been so supportive of my swimming career especially Gary and Margaret Johnson, Dr Vagiv Soultanov (Solagran), Coach Buddy and Andrew Fox.
- Thanks to my fabulous family!! …It was so wonderful having Mum & Dad with me in New York for the swim J
For a full list of supporters please see the ‘Supporters’ area of my website.
Just a quick reminder… for all those who enjoyed the race GPS system you are in luck!! As mentioned in previous blogs I will have SPOT, a GPS device, which will upload my coordinates while swimming the English Channel live to the internet. Further information will be posted on my future blogs.