The New York State of Mind

Chicago is enduring its thirteenth day of the winter with temperatures below zero and snow that has covered the ground since Thanksgiving.  We think wistful thoughts of summer and look forward to the challenges that are ahead of us.  Those thoughts, of course, make us think about A Long Swim

2013 was a year to recharge a bit and to let the Team relax and have some fun.  There isn’t a day that goes by, though, that someone doesn’t ask, “So, have you got any other crazy swims coming up?”

It is altogether fitting, therefore, that we officially introduce our plans for 2014 with this blog entry.

It Only Happens With the Team

Certain aspects of marathon swimming were rewritten forever with Diana Nyad’s 103-mile swim from Havana to Key West last September.  “Other-worldly” and “remarkable” are words that will always describe her swim, but one of the things she said on the beach after finishing really resonated with me.  She said, “It looks like a solitary sport, but it is a team,” which echoes what we have been saying all along, and it was nice that her sentiment was picked up in the news reports.  Diana credited her team with helping her get to The Other Shore; without the A Long SwimTeam, I don’t even get to the starting line.

Let’s never forget some of the things that the A Long Swim Team has accomplished already:

  • Tampa Bay – Swam 24 miles that required almost 11 hours and 32,122 strokes; we learned about long days in warm water and why people make a big deal out of jellyfish stings
  • English Channel – 21 miles across, but we traveled 33 miles in 14 hours to get there; 40,538 strokes in cold (62 degree)  water, roughly divided between big waves and pitch black darkness
  • Catalina Channel – also 21 miles across, but currents made us swim an extra six miles to make it to the beach; 36,719 strokes in 12 hours with some pretty cold water, with jellyfish zingers every few strokes as we swam from night into day

Perhaps best of all:

  • Fundraising – A Long Swim has raised more than $200,000 for the Les Turner ALS Foundation, funding world-class research into Lou Gehrig’s Disease, the progress for which is accelerating all the time

So, we are “getting the band back together” for another swim, and we hope that the excitement that has energized our swims in the past will be a bit of momentum we can use into the future.

A Long Swim – 2014

The Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, or MIMS, beckons.  It is a 28.5 mile, counterclockwise circumnavigation of the most prominent island that makes up New York City.  The swim is scheduled for June 28, 2014, and there will be 25 other solo swimmers and a handful of relays on that day.  MIMS has a 30-year history, and many prominent marathon swimmers have attempted the swim.  MIMS is a big deal in the marathon swimming world; rather than toiling along in remote places like we usually do, New York represents a big event on a big stage in a big city.

There is, of course, good news and bad news about a swim like MIMS:

The Good News

The swimmers are headed downstream most of the way:

  • The first leg is in the East River, where the swimmers travel north and take advantage of an incoming tide
  • The second leg, in the Harlem River, is shorter and flow doesn’t seem to be a big issue
  • The third leg runs downstream on the Hudson River, so it really moves along
  • Because of the downstream nature of the swim, most swimmers complete the swim in eight or nine hours
  • No sharks and no jellyfish
  • The water temperature should be up the mid-60s by late June

The Bad News

  • The water can be dirty, and NYC Swim recommends that swimmers are current on vaccinations (starting with strong antibiotics)
  • The water can also have debris that will need to be avoided (note to self: add a tetanus booster to the vaccinations list)

In the world of marathon swimming, MIMS is considered one of the legs of the “Triple Crown” that also includes the English Channel and the Catalina Channel.  To date, there have been only 83 swimmers who have completed all three.  Once completed, becoming a Triple Crown swimmer will be an honor in which all A Long Swim Teammates will take considerable pride.

Below is a map of the MIMS course, with the three major legs (the East River, The Harlem River and the Hudson River) with checkpoints along the way.  For those who know New York, we will have a pretty unique duck’s-eye view of places like the United Nations Building, Hell’s Gate, a bunch of world-famous bridges (including the George Washington Bridge, made famous recently by Gov. Christie of New Jersey), Yankee Stadium, Spuyten Duyvil, the 79th Street Boat Basin and the World Financial Center.


Training

In the months before we swim Manhattan, there will be a lot of miles of training to complete in pools and lakes.  With the bitter cold and snow in Chicago, training is at local YMCAs and high schools where I have ramped up to 35,000 yards (that’s about 20 miles) per week.  Two hours a day, six days a week.  By my reckoning, I will swim more than a million yards to prepare for MIMS.  As you might imagine, the lifeguards on the early morning shift at the YMCA and I have become quite close friends.

Welcome to the grind; it is how our bodies teach our brains to believe that swimming 28.5 miles is possible.

Doing Good

As with the previous installments of A Long Swim, we are going to use MIMS as an opportunity to do something good.  We have supported the Les Turner ALS Foundation (www.LesTurnerALS.org) since 2011, and the good research that is funded by the Foundation has been pushed a little further along by our collective efforts.

To date, A Long Swim has raised more than $200,000 for the Les Turner Foundation, which makes it one of the most successful swim-for-charity efforts.  Ever.  There is great symmetry to using swimming as a way to support ALS; with swimming using all the muscles in the body – particularly the diaphragm to breathe deeply – there is a sharp contrast to those suffering from ALS that systematically takes away the ability to use muscles at all.

MIMS is organized a little differently than our other swims, and the organizers ask that swimmers who raise money for charities to equally share those donations with NYC Swim’s charity of choice, Swim Free (www.SwimFree.org).  Swim Free is a terrific organization as it brings both open water and pool swimming opportunities to adults and kids who don’t have them.  I am particularly impressed with Swim Free’s commitment to funding and hosting learn-to-swim programs to children who otherwise wouldn’t be water safe.

If I Can Make it There…

To borrow a line from Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” we can make it anywhere!

MIMS will be different than all the other swims we have done, which makes it exciting and exhilarating but daunting at the same time.  This is going to be a wild ride.

See you at the pool.  I will report back.