The journey of preparing for a marathon swim is like no other. It can be an all-consuming process. It is a commitment to the self; setting a goal for the mind and body, and seeing just how far you can go. It takes work, a lot of work, much of which happens under the cover of darkness before anyone else wakes. An exhaustive and emotional voyage, a truly transformative experience, occurring in parallel with a seemingly normal, regular life. But it can be tremendously isolating. For the bigger the goal, the more work and sacrifice it demands. Strangely enough this prescriptive regime suits me. I am “all or nothing,” never in between. Is it worth it? I think so. For there is nothing quite like building up to a goal that I set for myself, knowing that there is an end point, whatever the outcome. There are no guarantees that all the work will pay off. I am at the mercy of Mother Nature, inviting myself to her intimidating aquatic grandstand, and trying my best to keep up. An intricate and improvisational dance with the unknown, where I am no longer in control. It is scary, nerve-racking, but tremendously exciting.
There are no prizes in this sport. No gold medals, no promises of financial windfall. Something much much better. And it lays just on the other side where you are most uncomfortable and where you are most fearful: it is the gratitude of realizing you are capable of far more than you ever dreamed possible, where you push yourself beyond the imaginable and into a new and beautiful expanse of the self where the soul evolves and the heart expands. An overwhelming journey that begins with a first stroke, a commitment to do something you did not think you could do.
Not only do you need to train the body to be physically fit for long periods in the water, but you also have to be able to withstand the conditions – cold water, warm water, strong currents. As the vessel which carries my soul across the water, it must be as sea worthy as possible. This includes maintaining a certain weight to protect my body against the elements. I like to think of this as my insurance policy. Certainly not a “money back guarantee” but a chance – a hope – of making it to completion.
As I begin to emerge from my training regime for the first time since the New Year and enter the taper phase where I reduce my mileage and focus on rest, I am beginning to grasp the enormity of my efforts. I have already exceeded what I previously imagined for myself: two years ago I almost died from jellyfish toxicity, last year I swam from the Farallon Islands. This year I have clocked in hundreds of miles and I feel tremendously vibrant. Everyday I am reminded what a privilege it is to be able to push my mind and body if I allow it, and I am extremely grateful.
This swim is quite different from anything I have ever attempted. The amount of time I will spend in the water will far exceed any swim I have previously completed. At least 45 hours of non-stop swimming, taking me through two days and two nights. And as such, I knew I needed to train my mind and body to be familiar with not only staying awake for over 45 hours, but also being able to move continuously. The last three months of my training focused not only on gaining fitness, but doing this while sleep deprived. A typical Friday involved waking up at 4am, swimming in the Bay before work, working a full day at Adobe, returning home for dinner and then swimming through the night. Depending on where I was in my training schedule, I would swim 9, 10, 11 or 12 hours. Watching the sunrise on a Saturday as I finished my overnight swim, I would begin an entirely new day and stay awake. I would not nap, instead I would keep myself busy until my head would finally hit my pillow – albeit abruptly – around 9pm that evening. After a full night’s rest, I would swim again on Sunday. And I did this for three months.
I will be swimming down rivers for the majority of my swim. Mirroring the twists and turns of the river, I fully expect my mind to wander. I have been told to expect hallucinations during the second night of swimming. There will be no sharks or jellyfish in the water, but there might be a few creatures to dodge in my thoughts. To be able to push my mind into a new mental realm purely by physical exertion is fascinating to me. I hope I still feel that way on the second night when I might be convinced my crew are vicious pirates or some other equally crazy thought. There will be potentially dangerous underwater snags to avoid. Also, fresh water lacks the buoyancy generously provided in my salt water swims. Much of this swim will take me through narrow winding passages. Unlike previous swims across enormous channels of ocean where my support boat navigated the space picking the best current to direct me, my course for this swim is predetermined and restricted by the natural geography of the rivers I will pass through.
However, as with my previous swims there are some distinct similarities. I will follow traditional marathon swimming rules: I will wear a regular swimsuit, latex swim cap, goggles and earplugs. I will not touch or rest on the boat at anytime. The only contact I will have with my team will be visual and auditory.
At the end of the day, regardless of the outcome, I know I can put my hand on my heart and tell myself I gave it everything.
"Becoming is better than being." – Carol S. Dweck.