By Diego Lopez
I am thrilled to have just completed Stage 3 of 8 Bridges. With 13.1 miles, it was my longest swim to date, and one that I considered key in preparing my attempt to swim around Manhattan Island next August. I had recently taken the plunge into the Hudson for the 2 Bridges and I knew what to expect (sort of), so I was very keen throughout the week leading to the event.
More importantly, I was excited to meet the amazing group of swimmers that were tackling not only Stage 3 but the 120 miles separating Rip Van Winkle Bridge and Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Moments before the splash, I met with Graco who quickly asked me if this was the only stage I was going to do. I replied positively, saying that my goal was the round-of-Manhattan (like if I needed an excuse to swim “only” 13 miles), to what he responded: “oh, how many rounds will you be doing? Cos’ I’m doing two in July.” So there I was, about to swim over 20 kilometers down the river with a bunch of (delightful) crazies.
The Mighty Hudson could not look better that Saturday morning. Very little wind, no rain, and water temperature at a chilly-but-bearable 67 degrees. More importantly, I had one of my best friends kayaking for me, which was a huge reassurance and support. I had had some bad recent experiences with random kayakers, and I was very happy to count with Mark by my side, besides all the awesome support of NYOW.
Swimming a marathon over 10K requires a different strategy and mindset than any other race. I focused my energies on swimming efficiently and on stopping for the hourly feeding, which I tend to be very forgetful about. I breathed bilaterally throughout the race and tried to enjoy the river as much as I could, for which I had to change my shaded goggles for some yellow Swedish – yes, I am one of those old-school, pool swimmers.
Three hours down, and I am enjoying some banana and having a lively chat with Mark during my third feed. “Are you going for the course record? I don’t think so, not enough current.” This is when I look back and realize I am not as alone as I thought I was, and Stephen – the winner of Stages 1 and 2 – is approaching me at a fast pace. “Shit Mark, let’s go, no more feeds for me till the end!”
Before the start, some other swimmer had warned me not to look too much at the finish line – the bridge, as it usually looks closer to what it really is. But after 3h40’ of race, and some serious competition next to me, I only had two thoughts – this Stephen is coming up very strongly and this goddamn bridge is further away every time I look at it. We all have that competition instinct inside us, and I was slightly disappointed to give up in the last 10 minutes a race I had led throughout, but this did not undermine even a bit the feeling of satisfaction I had for completing my longest race ever with very good sensations.
In its seventh edition, 8 Bridges has become a highlight of the Open Water Swimming international calendar, and one that hooks you into badly. My family and friends back home, who were tracking my little red circle during the race, are already asking me if I will sign up for the whole thing next year. “We shall see, there is a beautiful island I need to circumnavigate before that.”