Some would say that I was lucky having the world's largest mass-participation marathon channel swimming event on my doorstep (the Rottnest Channel Swim) in Perth, Western Australia. Others would say I was mad to contemplate crossing the 19.7km swim through shark-infested waters when the longest race I had done up until my first attempt in 2009 was just 1500m in a triathlon.
Whichever way you look at it though, marathon swimming has become such a massive part of my life since I embarked on the journey exactly five years ago that I feel very privileged to now be taking on my next challenge along with my six other training buddies, the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (MIMS for short) on Saturday 8th June 2013. Just 38 swimmers from around the world have been selected to swim this amazing event, with seven of those 38 from our training squad in Perth.
|From L-R: Ceinwen Roberts, Paul Newsome, Paul Downie, Andrew Hunt, Geoff Wilson, Wayne Morris (missing in action: Lisa Delaurentis)|
|And from behind! I'm now recognised as an "Honorary Aussie" but will always be a true Brit!|
The MIMS will be my fifth major marathon swimming event following three successful crossings of the Rottnest Channel in 2009, 2011 and 2013, as well as the English Channel (34km or 21½ miles) in September 2011. The whopping 46km distance circumnavigates the entire island of Manhattan in an anti-clockwise fashion, starting at 7.40am and finishing approximately 8 hours later at Battery Point. The water temperature for the swim is normally 17 to 21 ºC (62 to 70 ºF), although it looks set to be a few degrees cooler this year given the cold winter the US has experienced - good job I'm in Canada right now beefing up my layer of insulation with some last minute buffalo wings and pizza at dawn!
|About to hit the icy waters of the English Channel in September 2011 - all goose greased up!|
Whilst the MIMS is longer than both the Rottnest Channel Swim and the English Channel, the favourable currents in the East River, Harlem River and the Hudson River mean we all hope to be able to complete the event in about 8 hours (with a cut-off time of 9½ hours being in place for the safety of the swimmers). The 38 solo swimmers will start in three separate waves (based on ability, with the fastest setting off last) and will be escorted by one or two kayaks and a boat around the entire course. Swimmers will typically stop every 30 minutes for fluid and carbohydrate refuelling - a perfect opportunity for their support crews to give them a little positive pep talk and encouragement.
The fastest swimmers will complete the course in a little over 7 hours, with the strong favourites this year being the Catalina Channel world record holder Grace van der Byl from California, FINA World Cup 10km swimmer Gustavo Helguera from Argentina and 17 year old Lochie Hinds from Australia who's been racking up over 120km per week in training in the lead up to this event! Incredible stuff!
The whole field of 38 swimmers can be viewed here - with live GPS tracking of all the swimmers from 7.40am EDT (12.40pm GMT and 7.40pm WST) on Saturday 8th June:
|Geoff getting greased up in the car park before another dawn training swim!|
From the nycswim.org website:
"NYC Swim is the premier organizer of swimming events in the waters around New York City. Since 1993, its events have attracted well over 15,000 participants in more than 165 swimming races, thus helping to revive a local aquatic tradition that had been abandoned for almost a century. The mission of the organization is three-fold: hosting world-class open water events situated around New York City's most recognizable landmarks; supporting charities like Swim Free that aim to improve the health and well-being of children and adults through swimming; and creating stakeholders with a vested interest in the local waters.
Swimming the waterways of New York City is a tradition dating back to the 1800s. In the mid- to late 1920s, the swim around Manhattan grew in stature and national prominence. However, by the early 1990s, interest in the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (MIMS) was ebbing, as was local swimming generally. Morty Berger, a two-time solo MIMS swimmer, realized that birth of MIMS could be linked to revitalization of open water swimming in the New York region as a whole. In 1993, a dozen swimmers and a band of volunteers opened the modern chapter of MIMS with great fanfare, as the event was featured on the cover of The New York Times.
Today, the band of volunteers has grown into a small staff backed by an army of dedicated volunteers – some of whom can trace their involvement with the organization back to those early days in the 90s. The list of NYC Swim events has also grown to 11 annual events built around some of New York’s most recognizable landmarks, such as the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. Professional and recreational swimmers from New York and around the world are able to participate in races ranging from 1 kilometer to 28.5 miles and experience for themselves the vastly cleaner waters of the Hudson, East, and Harlem Rivers. As the organization heads into the future, the New York City skyline is the only limit in sight."
|Cranking out the long kilometres in the Swan River, Perth|
Training has gone very well for me in the lead-up to this event and I'm excited about the prospect of racing around what is arguably my favourite city anywhere in the world. Whilst we made mention of Australian über-fish Lochie Hinds knocking out 120+km each week in training, as a mere mortal with full-time job and very young family, I've been consistently racking up 50km each week in the following format:
• Monday = 3km easy technique swim (pool)
• Tuesday = 10km challenging aerobic swim (80% pool and 20% open water), e.g. 10x 800m + 2km open water swim
• Wednesday = 3km easy technique swim (pool)
• Thursday = 10km challenging open water swim at 1:18 to 1:22 pace per 100m (completed now 25 weeks in a row)
• Friday = 3km easy technique swim (pool)
• Saturday = 4km to 8km challenging aerobic swim, e.g. 2x (1600m, 800m, 2 x 400m, 4 x 200m) working down from 1:25 to 1:17 per 100m
• Sunday = 14km to 20km long race simulation swim with my best being a 4h35m 20km swim (1:22/100m) on the 19th May
The key for me personally has to be setting a consistently achievable program that I can complete week-in, week-out around my busy schedule and this last training phase has been very consistent for the last 25 weeks or so. As such I feel that I am in as best shape that I can be in for this event, although I am always cognisant of how a multitude of factors out of your control can crop up in marathon swimming events, so I will just get out there and do my best. As my mum used to tell me as an age-group swimmer and then triathlete, that's all she or I can hope for "to do your best and to enjoy what you're doing" - and so I will!
|Knocking out 10x 800m with my training buddy and MIMS swimmer, Ceinwen Roberts|
The plan will be to settle into a good rhythm as soon as possible within the East River, tackle whatever elements the infamous Harlem throws at me, and then all being well have some steam left in the tank for the mighty Hudson. I'll be stopping every 30 minutes to alternate between 250ml of 32Gi energy drink and 250ml drink + a carbohydrate gel. I've found 32Gi to be a wonderful addition to my marathon swimming program as the low-GI formula helps to avoid peaks and troughs in blood glucose levels. And the peach-tea flavour should mask whatever grossness I might be tasting in the rivers at the time!
I've got my paddling buddy Amanda Nitschke flying all the way out from Perth to assist me as my kayaker for the day and my partner in Swim Smooth Adam Young supporting me from the boat - let's hope he doesn't get sea sick this time around as after my super-rough English Channel crossing he muttered the time-honoured phrase "never again!". I've also been receiving some Champion Mindset mental preparation coaching from none-other-than five time winner of the MIMS event and former record holder, Shelley Taylor-Smith, so I'm all set!
|What do you think when you're swimming for 8hrs+ in the open water? Like Dory: Just Keep Swimming!|
I will be raising money for the Swim Free foundation at this link - it's a great charity dedicated to helping improve the health of children and adults through swimming. If you feel you are able and inclined to sponsor me for this event, your donations will be warmly received. Thank you.
Aside from following the live GPS tracking on the official NYC Swim website on the day, also check out my Twitter feed at @SwimSmoothPaul with commentary from our boat as we go (subject to signal). Messages of support and encouragement really make the difference in these kinds of events, so please tweet in during the day!
Finally, to find out a little more about our group from Perth, Western Australia (The "Swimming Sandgropers"), please check out swimmingsandgropers.com.au - the whole team will be posting blogs and pictures for your information whilst we are over in the US.