Day One: The Islands

The event is called 8 Bridges, but it’s really just two bridges. That’s all you have to think about each day. It’s pretty simple really, you start and one bridge and you finish at the next one. How many miles the stage is and how long it’s taking seem less relevant as the miles start to blend together and the time starts to blur.

The starting point today was the Rip Van Winkle Bridge and the finish line about 18.3 Miles away under the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. This stage is officially called “The Islands” but it’s really “the warm up” as it’s our first chance to wrap our collective heads around how the water is moving, what the Hudson River Valley looks like on the way by, and the conditions that can make the exact same swim change vastly from one year to the next or one day to the next.

We had a favorable current and a tailwind which made the 18.3 miles move by pretty quickly. I had great help all day long from Luis, my kayaker, who did a great job of working through the challenges of the day including a lot of traffic on the waterway.

Overall the water was warm (74 degrees) and the conditions were favorable. It was a great warm up for the week ahead. All of the swimmers finished today. So one way to look at it is that we have a solid first day in the books, but we also have over a hundred miles to go 🙂

Only 120 Miles to Go…

On a 93 mile Uber ride from the airport there is a lot of time to think. We were making the trek on Sunday night from JFK to the first base camp in Poughkeepsie, some 40 miles from our eventual starting point in Catskill, NY. Most of our thoughts were some variation of…”wow this is a long drive” followed closely by “wait, we have to swim all the way back…and a lot more.”

That ride sets the scene for the longest stage swim race in the world as we stare down 120 miles of the Hudson River. Starting tomorrow we will be in the water for 13-20 miles a day.

Swimming is the perfect blend of the individual and the team. It’s difficult to imagine all of the work that goes on behind the scenes to pull of an event like 8 Bridges. Each swimmer has their own dedicated kayaker and, for the last stage, an additional support boat. So despite everything that has to come together for the opportunity, it’s still on the swimmer to take the next stroke, to swim towards the horizon, and in the case of this event on to the next bridge.

My brother, John, and I are two of the eight swimmers who are entered in each of the seven stages. We’ll be joining people from across the country and around the world as we swim our way back to the airport.

Swimming by the Numbers

Last year I wrote a blog before I jumped in for Stage 1 and it was all about my romance with the Hudson;  this year it’s the opposite, it’s all about the numbers.  These are some of the ‘facts’ that I am using to help bolster my confidence that I can successfully complete these swims (Stages 2 & 5).  I look at the numbers to see what they tell me about my odds and this year as with most the numbers don’t actually add up to saying SUCCESS in a traditional way…but they never have and somehow I’ve still managed to make 4 out of the 7 Stages so far.  


Recommended Pace – Stage 2 is 28 and Stage 5 is 27 minute miles.  
Now this should scare me as the fastest I’ve ever swum a mile anywhere under any conditions is 29:51 – the good news is it was in open water and it was this year!  Combine that fact with the fact that I’ve successfully completed Stage 1 and 4 in the past with recommended 30 minute mile paces when the best i could do those years was maybe 33 minutes. And this season with my training I’ve managed to get 10% faster and even though on paper I can’t swim 27/28 minute miles I still think I have a chance of getting to the bridge. 
My 1st rationalization 
Success Rate
These are the hardest 2 stages based on the past, Stage 5 has a ~59% and Stage 2 ~53% successful completion rate.  I look at the individual  swimmers that have been thwarted at these 2 stages; amazingly talented, fast, experienced swimmers who have swum channels and crossings undaunted and yet on their day in these parts of the river they did not make the bridge.  Everything about their resumes said they could but as we all know there are no guarantees and for whatever internal and external reasons that day in that section of the river they didn’t make it.  Maybe it was their feeds, brutal winds from the south, cold water with cold air, tornado warnings; the list goes on.  But on the other side of this argument is my performance at Stage 1 last year. I made that bridge by swimming with every fiber of my being against the current for the last 90 minutes, leveraging all the skills and experience of Lizzie Tabor and the patience of David & Rondi, so why not me?  
My 2nd rationalization
I have never been fast and still am not, but I am getting faster.  This year I have managed to drop 2 seconds on my 25 when swimming my favorite Monday morning set of 10 X 400 descending with 30 seconds rest.  I love this set for measuring progress as it requires that balance between speed and endurance, just like the Hudson does on a much more massive scale.  And that 2 seconds translates to real time – 19.8 miles is 34,848 yards, which is 348.5 hundreds, which is 1395 25’s.  In time that translates to ~2800 seconds which is 46.666666 minutes, which is REAL TIME and I will need every one of those minutes to make the bridge.  
Real Fact #3
I look at the list of successful swimmers for these 2 stages and there are very few over the age of 55, I’m 56.  And those who are were to the best of my knowledge age group swimmers, not people with less than a decade of experience. But maybe that works to my benefit in some weird way.  I have no where to go but up, I get stronger and faster every year and I have nothing to lose.  I have already achieved more than I could ever have dreamed possible when I started this 8 years ago.  And I think my age is an advantage with the emotional part of this sport, I may not have a powerful physical game but I am not giving up.  Not in this river, not in this event, I am relentless.
Rationalization number 4.
As always I have trained a lot this year, ~350 miles so far in hopes of getting to the bridge.  I’m finally starting to feel like i have the necessary miles on my body to approach something this daunting.   So many of the swimmers I know have been swimming since they were 8, I’m jealous of the millions of yards they have on their shoulders and core, their solid technique that requires no thought due to muscle memory, but maybe I shouldn’t be.  The down side is the injury and repetitive strain some experience, knock on wood I have so far not been plagued with any swimming related injuries perhaps because of my minimal miles.  
But at the end of the day how I do will depend as ALWAYS on who I am that day and who the Hudson is.  All these ‘facts’ will not matter more than the wind direction, speed and the water temperature in my getting to the bridge.  These numbers only get me to the opportunity to jump off the boat with some expectation that I have a chance to fell the shadow and swim past the bridge.  My final thoughts haven’t changed from what I wrote last year: 
This is my home water, the place I feel the most comfortable swimming.  I swam my 1st mile here in 2010 and have been lucky enough to jump in every year since.  I’m swimming the stages of 8 Bridges easiest to hardest as I’m optimistic that I will continue to improve that little bit I need to make the next bridge each year.    But no matter how my day in the river ends whether beyond the bridge or in a RHIB I will be eternally grateful that I got to jump in and swim happy in the Hudson again this year.  XOXO