With Quinton Nelson, one of the best boat pilots, holding my course chart.
Lake Tahoe Swim Synopsis
Marcia Cleveland Monday to Tuesday August 28-29, 2017
Length of Lake Tahoe Swim 21.3 miles (34.3K),
11 hours, 26 minutes, 53 seconds
Start: 8:56PM, Pacific Time, Camp Richardson Boat Ramp, South Lake Tahoe, California
Finish: 8:22AM, Pacific Time, Hyatt Beach, Incline Village, Nevada
Water Temperature: 68-69F (20C)
Air Temperature: 70-50sF (21-10C)
Conditions: Calm, No currents pushing N/S. Several surface currents pushing in a sideways and circular manner. Moon Set about midnight, crystal clear starry night. Very Dark waters that descended downward
Water Depth: 0 to 1600+ Feet (487m.)
Boat: Ghost Rider Pilot: Tom Linthicum
Observer: Robin Rose Crew: Gillian Hulse Kayaker: K1
Tandem Swim Partner: Chris Layton. His Boat was piloted by Captain Clay
Observer: Dave Van Mouwerik Crew: Joe Gray Kayaker: K2
I started writing these notes on the plane home from Tahoe to Chicago, on September 1st, and then for the next several daysthereafter. I tried many times to write something – anything – while we were in Tahoe but the beautiful scenery, combined with gazing out on the lake, distracted me every time. Dreamy thoughts kept wandering into my head, such as, “WOW!” “That was a long way to swim.” “It was really really dark out there.” It was only when I was crammed into my economy plane seat home that I could focus on what had occurred. Herein lies the story of this swim.
Lake Tahoe is a beautiful lake. To swim the 21.3 miles of her length is a challenge and she tested me well. I have great respect for Mother Nature, the Weather Gods, God herself, who I feel play a big role in our lives, especially mine. Thank you for allowing me to complete this swim. And a special thanks goes to the Tahoe Tessie for giving me permission to cross.
I went into this swim with a lot of respect, with the understanding that I may fail. I prepared myself to the best of MYability, mentally and physically, to get as far as I could but then many deities would be in charge. We brought water from Lake Michigan as a Peace offering, combining the two waters just before the start. Maybe it helped, even just a little bit.
In the Fall of 2016 I decided to swim the length of Lake Tahoe right after we dropped our daughter, Julia, off at Kenyon College for her Freshman year. Since she had now found physical and emotional safety after four difficult years in high school years, I felt secure and available enough to pursue some of my own goals. I had heard about the Lake Tahoe through the open water community and I decided to focus upon it. A few weeks later, I added Swim Across the (Long Island) Sound, “SAS,” at the beginning of August, to my 2017 goals, creating my “August Double.” The write-up of that swim is at DoverSolo.com
My #1 Goal for both of these swims was to finish. The big challenges, primarily the darkness and altitude, that presented themselves while I was swimming Tahoe, were supplanted when I reminded myself of my primary goal. Finishing this swim was in the forefront of my mind for the ENTIRE swim and the months leading up to it. There were so many times in training that I would envision myself in either the Long Island Sound or in a darkened Lake Tahoe, churning away.
Some basics of all Marathon Swims:
This swim observed Channel Swimming Rules. Thank you Captain Matthew Webb for establishing these standards in 1875.
1. The swim starts on the natural shore with no sea-water behind.
We walked into the Lake from the Boat Ramp at Camp Richardson, South Lake Tahoe, California.
2. The swim finishes on the natural shore, with no sea-water beyond, unless the finish is against steep cliffs, when it is sufficient to touch them with no sea-water beyond.
We finished on the sand at Hyatt Beach, Incline Village, North Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
3. The swimmer receives no help and must not be touched by anyone, but may be handed food and drink.
I received my food initially from my kayaker, then from the boat. I did not get out to rest nor did I touch anyone or anything except what was handed to me for feedings. I swam continuously for the entire swim except for the sub-one-minute feeds I had every 30 minutes, when I would be on my back kicking as I consumed my feed.
4. The swimmer may wear:
a. Only ONE STANDARD swimming cap. I wore a silicone cap.
b. Only ONE STANDARD swimming costume. I wore a women’s one-piece Speedo Lycra suit, size 36, the same one purple one I wore in Tampa Bay and SAS this year.
c. Goggles, nose-clip, ear plugs, and grease. I wore clear TYR Racetech goggles. Before I started, I applied Vaseline and Destin on my chafe points, namely the sides of my chest along my suit, completely around my neck, and between my thighs. I also applied SPF 50 Sunscreen to my limbs.
d. A light stick and head lights at night. I wore both; the light stick was safety pinned to my suit at the small of my back and two blinkie headlights were clipped to my goggle strap at the back of my head.
I did not wear, nor do I own, a wetsuit.
Why did you swim with Chris?
Chris and I planned to do a “Tandem Swim,” wherein we would swim together for the duration of the swim. We have done this previously in 2 long swims, the Chicago Shoreline Swim and the Anacapa portion of the Santa Barbara Channel. With the concerns about not knowing how the altitude would affect either of us in Tahoe, we agreed to contract for two boats and two kayakers, in case one of us needed to be pulled from the water for medical reasons and quickly ferried to shore. We also went into this swim with the understanding that if one of us wanted to go faster, the faster swimmer would proceed forward with their own boat. This was completely ok with both of us.
Why did we start at almost 9pm at night?
The water is usually calmer and thus, swimming is easier. Lake Tahoe is 12 miles wide and 22 miles long, classifying it as a large body of water. In such a place, the wind often picks up during the day, making for choppy water, especially in the late afternoon. Adding to this choppiness in Lake Tahoe are the wakes generated by boat traffic, specifically boats of all sizes, jet skis, and water skiers. When the sun sets, many of these factors subside. Lake Tahoe is not affected by tides so this major aspect of an open water swim is taken out of the equation to determine the start time, an entirely different kettle of fish.
What did you eat when you were swimming, and how did you do it?
After the 1sthour, and every 30 minutes until I finished, I received a fliptop bottle (Rubbermaid 20 ounces, purchased on Amazon.com) with either 12 ounces of Endurox or Protein Powder, (Endurox R4, Tangy Orange; GNC Pro Performance 100% Whey, Natural Vanilla) plus a Hammer Gel (either Vanilla or Espresso flavored), attached to the bottle with a plastic wristband. After a swim, I usually don’t want to see these nutrients for a while.
Two minutes before a feed, I get a sign. In the dark at Lake Tahoe, it was a strobe light. In daylight, someone holds up 2 fingers, and I indicate I got the message, usually with a verbal “Yep” or “Thanks” or a head nod. From there, I count 120 strokes which takes me about 2 minutes, then I looked for the feed.
While the kayak was in the water, I was handed these feeds by the kayaker and handed them back when I was done, without touching or being pulled by the kayak or boat. That would constitute ‘assistance’ and my swim would be over. When I received the feeds from the boat, the bottle was attached to a rope and Gill threw it to me. I would first eat the gel, attach it back to the bottle, so as not to pollute – very important!, then drink the liquid, and let go. Gill would pull it back in then set up the next feed. The whole process takes 30 to 45 seconds. One thing we learned in Tahoe is to have at least one end of the rope attached to a carabiner that can be clipped to a person on the boat so Gill, or another crew member, doesn’t again have to make a Herculean catch to the boat-end of the rope before it goes into the water, along with the bottle, as she did once.
While I am feeding, the crew and others generally say things to me like, “How are you?” “We’re going in that direction, towards those lights,” etc. I usually respond briefly with hand signals (thumbs up or shortly-worded answers) then it’s off to swim again.
I am still experimenting with my feedings. In Tahoe, I did the same as in SAS: Start my feeds after one hour then every 30 minutes thereafter. Feeds consist of 2 times (12 oz Endurox + 1 Gel) then 1x (12 oz Protein powder + 1 Gel). This pattern continues through the swim so I received a protein drink at hours 2, 3½, 5, 6½, 8, etc. I use Vanilla or Raspberry Hammer Gels because this flavor goes down and stays down. Every 2 hours, starting at the 3rdhour, I get an Espresso gel. This bit of caffeine keeps me going throughout the night. My fellow Swim Director, Andrea Rudser-Rusin, who is a registered Dietician and multi-Ironman Finisher, i.e. she understands fueling for a long endurance event, suggested taking the caffeine after my metabolism was up and running. This timing worked well and was an excellent recommendation. (I once took an Espresso gel right before starting a swim and my limbs felt all tingly and freezing, probably as a reaction to the caffeine.) Just in case I got hungry for some solid food, I had some G-F rolls and ginger snap cookies on the boat, which I actually ate afterwards but not during the swim.
Around 3 ½ hours into the swim, the feeds started to feel heavy in my stomach so I requested them at ½ strength and this alleviated the situation. Gill thinks I need to rethink having only water when I ingest the gels so I may be overhauling my feeding program going forward. They seem to require more water to be absorb than I’m rightfully giving them.
Before I began, I took 1 Aleve and did not take any more during the swim, although my right shoulder was aching by the end. If I feel I need one, I can have one at 6 hours upon request. In a 24-hour period, I limit myself to a total of 3 Aleves. In the hour before the swim began, I took 1 Meclizine pill (for potential seasickness), drank 24 oz. Endurox, and ate one gel.
About a week before the swim, I stopped intentionally eating sugary food and gave up drinking any alcohol for the three weeks before. For three days before the swim, I stopped my usual 1-2 cups of coffee/tea. This caffeine fast ended around 4 hours before the start when I had a medium-sized Vanilla Latte from Starbucks, to help me stay awake all night.
I eat normal food for all meals and take an occasional multi-vitamin but no supplements.
About 6pm, I ate a chicken breast with mayonnaise, some Brussel sprouts, and potatoes with butter for dinner. For some reason before my long swims this summer, I craved mayonnaise and butter, probably for the fat. I usually don’t eat these foods. After this swim, and most of my long swims, I wasn’t hungry for about 18 hours but was very thirsty for water. All normal bodily functions returned to normal within 36 hours post-swim. Sorry about the TMI.
A swimmer can never say it too often: these long swims are a group effort and take the extraordinary, focused acts of all involved for the entire duration of the swim. My husband, Mark Green, usually accompanies me on my swims but due to his work schedule and our son, Sam, needing to attend daily High School Cross Country practices, Mark stayed home with Sam this time. Gill Hulse stepped in as my crew, and she was superb in so many ways. She encouraged me the entire way and managed all of my feedings with precision. Her ability to be a quick study, work well with others, and remain calm was a major part of my success. I’m looking forward to The Next Swim together. Thank you, Gill!
One of the best swim coaches I have ever had, Foster de Jesus, sent me this below message a few days before I left for Tahoe that deeply resonated with me during my trip. I took his insights to heart and thought about them a lot when I was swimming. Thank you, Foster!
I enjoyed reading your SAS recap and especially impressed (though mostly implied) with your commitment to training, not that it surprised me. You have always had the focus few swimmers have, a focus you carried right through SAS. Marathon swimming is not so much as to question how far you have gone or how far do you have to go, but it is a swim that is broken up into pieces and you build mechanisms that work for the moment. Get through one moment and then attack the next. And that feeling of touching that ladder is one no one really understands until they experienced personally.
To prepare for my “August Double,” I swam 30 to 40,000 yards most weeks for the months leading up to August 2017. There were many times it was a drag to get to the pool over the long winter months. Maybe it’s a good sign as to the sanity of my friends but when I’m swimming this type of yardage I don’t have a ton of swimming buddies who are interested in joining me for a 3- to 4-hour swim. Coming up with workout suggestions can be a challenge as well after I have seemingly exhausted my own ideas and the many variations I give each one. Thank you, Dave Samuelsohn, for giving me some useable, intelligent sets that tested me in ways I wasn’t considering, especially late in the game. You know how I swim and I very much appreciate your willing input.
The components of swimming the length of Lake Tahoe include:
Water temperature - I was expecting it to be in the low 60sF/16C
Distance - 21.3 miles/34.3K
Altitude – 6225 feet above sea level/1900M.
The factor that scared me the most was the altitude.
My friend, Stephanie Henry, told me a big way she has adapted to living in the mountains of Colorado is to drink lots of water. She told me, “HYDRATE like crazy.” Four days out from the swim, I committed to drinking 2 Gallons (7.5 liters) of water a day. I had a ½ liter bottle that I placed a piece of masking tape around, and marked the hours from 4AM to 8PM. In order to cross off an hour, I had to drink it’s entirety and refill the bottle. And so it went for the next 4 days. I was either drinking from my bottle, refilling it, or in the bathroom. By Saturday, besides being ready to float away, I couldn’t get my pants zipped since I was really filling up so I switched to stretch-tops only. I noticed during “The Great Fill Up” my intake started to exceed my output, hence I was actually absorbing a lot of this liquid. On Sunday and Monday, I switched off between water and Gatorade.
Another thing I did to prepare for the altitude was to take 3 Tylenol pills a day, also starting 4 days out. (Apparently, Advil also works well.) I did all this altitude prep right up to the start of the swim.
After nearly a year’s worth of training, we traveled to Lake Tahoe on Saturday August 25th. We flew into Sacramento, then rented a car and drove the 2+ hours east to Tahoe. (The airports in Reno and Carson City are also options.) We stayed at an Airbnb in the Camp Richardson section of South Lake Tahoe (SLT). This western end of SLT is quieter and less crowded than the more commercialized, eastern side.
Around 6pm on Saturday, Chris, Joe, Gill, Maddy (Chris’s niece who lives & works in Sacramento, and was with us for the weekend), and I went to Pope Beach for a practice swim. (In order to avoid the $10 gate fee, we parked on the street and walked the 5 minutes in to the beach.) At 73F, the water felt great and was sooooo clear! I was not gasping for air as I expected I would be after our short 20-minute swim. Yahoo! This swim had real potential for me now.
On Sunday morning, Chris and I went to Emerald Cove to watch Dave finish the Viking Swim, 10 ½ miles from Cave Rock to Vikingsholm House. Emerald Cove is spectacularin color and scenery. We met Dave’s wife, Lisa, there and Dave finished in just under 6 hours, an excellent effort. Gill had been given the opportunity to observe this swim and she took this responsibility like the champ she is. Her newly gained crew/observer knowledge was of great benefit to my swim starting on Monday night.
We had a post-swim brunch at the iconic Burt’s Diner, which is fast becoming the “White Horse” of South Lake Tahoe. Then I took a 3-hour afternoon nap before we repeated the same Saturday swim at Pope Beach, as a final tune up. Dinner followed then I went to bed for the night. In the days leading up to a big swim, I try to keep my main focus on eating and sleeping.
On Monday morning, we got everything ready for the swim before meeting Tom and Robin for a 2-hour pre-swim lunch meeting. At this meeting, Tom implied he had everything under control and all was well. Tom has a lot of experience and passion with this Tahoe swim. He and Dave have made enormous strides in the creation of the Lake Tahoe Marathon Swim Federation and it is growing into a great organization. http://www.laketahoemarathonswimfederation.com.
We hashed out many of the details that would take place during the swim: positioning, feeds, timing, and start/finish procedures. I told Tom that I wanted to be positioned mid-boat (at “3 o’clock”) so when I breathe, I would be looking right at the boat pilot or paddler. This positioning provides comfort and allows the boat to do the navigation, instead of the swimmer. If the boat (or kayaker) is ahead, I have to look up and crane my neck which causes a lot of neck strain during the duration of a swim. With the exception of right after a feed when the kayaker must get resupplied from the boat or other specific events, I do not like to ever be leading the boat. This makes me feel exposed and vulnerable, susceptible to being run over from a myriad of directions by a multitude of vehicles. Because my usual kayaker, Richard, could not make it to Tahoe at the last minute due to work commitments, K1 volunteered. I met him that evening, at Camp Richardson as we were loading up for the start, and repeated these essential instructions to him.
I took a 2-hour nap after lunch then got up around 5pm to prepare for our departure to Camp Richardson and the start. Gill and I had made a dry run to both Camp Richardson and to the Tahoe Keys Marina on Saturday night when it was dark, to make sure we could find them when it mattered.
Chris and Joe picked us up at 7:20pm and we drove to Camp Richardson, parking by the Harbormaster’s Office on the far-right side of the area. For the past few weeks, I felt the usual pre- stress that comes with any major undertaking and while in Tahoe, I had become quiet and focused. To insure I do all the little things that need to happen during this critical time, I have developed a Pre-Start List that I go over item by item, that started from the time I woke up from my afternoon nap. Gill helped me through this list and notably earns a gold medal for applying Destin to me on areas near and far.
With both crews and swimmers attending, Dave went over the official rules of the swim before Chris and I walked from the pier to the boat ramp for the start. I felt ok and ready but certainly nervous. I still didn’t know how the altitude would affect me over this type of swim distance and most recently, I noticed just how DARK it had become. When we were ready, our observers, Robin and Dave counted down “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!” and the clock started when our feet hit the water on the boat ramp.
Within the first 100 strokes, Big Brave Me had two mini-panic attacks. I needed to swim backstroke two different times during these 100 strokes to get myself to stop hyperventilating and get my emotions under control. This situation probably resulted from the excitement of The Start. It was all finally coming together, RIGHT NOW.A year’s worth of planning, training, wondering, plotting, and on and on. Here I was, swimming into the unknown (the temperature, the depth, the darkness), so I took these panic attacks in stride and addressed them for what they were. Once I was sufficiently warmed up and met up with the boat, I thought I’d be ok, and this is what happened. (At Hour 7, I remember saying to myself, “I feel sufficiently warmed up up now,” HAHA! So Typical! I was way, way over my panic attacks by then.)
I actually don’t mind swimming in the dark, and much prefer it on a long swim because you get a portion of the swim done before you can see how much you still have to go. With this swim starting at 8:56pm, I knew we’d be swimming in the dark for 9+ hours, since I expected the swim to take between 10 and 12 hours. Realistically, if all went well, the day would be dawning and there would be just a few more hours to go.
Even though I was in good shape, my Tahoe pacing plan was to start out slowly, a.k.a. ~1:40/100 yards. At sea level, I was swimming faster, in the sub-1:30/100 yards range, but during the weeks between SAS and Tahoe, I was deliberating swimming more slowly in training. First off, because I was still tired and recovering from SAS, and secondly, as an approach to pacing myself to be able to handle the altitude.
Once Chris and I had cleared the pier, we were in a good rhythm. I realized the water temperature was ok, for at least now, and I only needed the top 3 feet of water to swim in, not the remaining 1597 feet….. (Robert: there were no phosphorescence in the water but that was a good question. I, too, wondered about that going into this swim.) Up until midnight, when the quarter moon set, it was very dark. Then it got seriously dark. Because the water is so clear in Lake Tahoe, I could always see Chris, illuminated underwater by his light stick and green headlight. (We will find a better, less blinding solution to the green blinkie headlight, Chris. At least the red-colored light worked well.) But beyond Chris’s outline and the lit boats, nothing. To get the idea of our view, go into a windowless closet at night, close the door, and wave your hands in front of your face with your eyes open. That was what we saw when we looked down and ahead. It took me several hours to adjust to the descending darkness of this 2nddeepest lake in North America, with a maximum depth of 1645 feet (501m.) I did so because I had a goal to finish this swim. Starting at night actually made this easier because I never saw the drastic drop off to 1000 feet (305m.) within a mile and to 1500 feet (457m.) by two.
In drastic contrast to the black chasm of water below, the diamonded carpet of stars above us was a spectacular sight. Whichever side I turned my head to breathe to, I got a twinkling display of the glorious heavens above. My knowledge of astronomy is quite limited but in the wee hours, I could pick out the Big Dipper when I breathed to my right. For the next few hours before the sun came up, it showed off magnificently as it crept up from the eastern horizon. I enjoyed all of it!
Many marathon swimmers have a shared mentality of “Just keeping swimming and you will get there.” To approach a swim with this mindset and then execute it in real time allowed me to keep going and going and going. Several of my gal friends were involved in similar long swims on different parts of the globe at exactly the same time as I was in Tahoe: Chloe in the EC, Nora in Catalina, Pat soon to be in Lake Ontario. In my mind, they were right there next to me, and I mentally traveled to England, Catalina, and Canada several times during this night.
I have come to realize that no amount of bravado, trash talk, machismo, and the like will allow one to “power through” these types of swims. It takes a continual inner calmness to get even close to the starting line a long swim. This seems to apply to life as well. I leave the drama, negative talk, and negative energy elsewhere because attending to any member of this deadly trifecta takes the type of energy I won’t give while I’m swimming. As Richard reminded me, “You don’t get to your destination by throwing rocks at every dog that barks at you along the way.” Carefully allotting one’s emotional energy allows one to stay focused on the most important thing.
The first 8 hours of this swim went off fairly uneventfully for me, that is, after my initial 100 strokes. I just kept going. My turnover was steady, in the range of 60-62 for most of the swim, and I sustained a bilateral breathing pattern of either 3-3-3, or 3-2-2, or some variation on that theme.
In the 8thhour, 2 significant things happened.
1. Chris retired from the swim due to every muscle in his body cramping and not knowing how much longer this swim was going to go on. He had also been extremelyfrustrated with his boat pilot and kayaker from the start. Compounded with his physical state, he had had enough. Had he given me some indication of his intention to stop, we could have problem solved a bit but this Monday morning Quarterbacking approach is far too logical to what the situation was there and then in the middle of this vast, dark, deep lake. Chris will have his day in Tahoe another day to complete what he had trained so hard to achieve because he is completely able to make it. When I saw him touch the boat, indicting his official end of this swim, I knew he was done, and I’d find out details later. Without any comment, I swam on into the darkness alone, towards the glowing lights emanating from Reno. I was on my own now and I knew it.
I am so glad to have Chris as a training partner and have no issue with his decision here. We are already planning The Next One, because there will always be The Next One.
2. At 8 hours, 20 minutes, my kayaker pulled up alongside of my escort boat and told them, “I’m done.” Tom asked him, “Did you tell Marcia?” to which he replied, “No.” This didn’t come as a total surprise because during the 7 ½ hour feed, at 4:30am, he told me, “I’m going to try to make it to sunrise. My shoulder is really killing me and it hurts so much.” Had his second sentence been merely something along the lines of, “then I’ll take a break,” I would not have been quite so shocked. As with most things in life, semantics matter. Words need to be chosen carefully. When I heard of his plight, it was apparent that I would need to distance myself mentally from this situation because my #1 Goal was to finish this swim. Thinking about a hurting shoulder – anyone’s – was a deterrent. When he got out, I simply swam on again towards the lights of Reno.
Tom had a hard time with these 8thhour incidents and there was sudden chaos on his boat, Ghost Rider, with the unexpected need to load the kayak astern while a lone swimmer –me– swam on ahead in a very dark lake. The situation would have been easily diffused and much less dramatic had Tom asked for help to manage the boat from Gill and/or Robin, both of whom were extremely willing, able, and competent, instead of taking this burden completely upon himself. Delegating and trusting your support team is a key part of marathon swimming. I certainly trusted that Gill and Robin had my back.
There were a lot of distractions and putting any energy into getting upset about things that were of no concern to me during this swim would detract from my final goal. I have a t-shirt that says, The Most Important Thing Is To Keep The Most Important Thing The Most Important Thing. This applied to me during this 8thhour.
Dave observed the scene on Ghost Rider from the other boat. He remarked to me later that the word “composure” came to mind in accordance to how I conducted myself during this situation. I appreciate such a nice remark, especially coming from the very experienced Dave Van M. He sensed it took an amazing amount of grit to keep going under these circumstances. At the time, I was only thinking of completing this swim. I had a BIG GOAL to which I had made a BIG COMMITMENT. Last fall, my son, Sam, made the two of us t-shirts with this slogan, the words formed in the shape of a smiley face. No heroics, no drama, no negative energy or thoughts. Just keep moving towards the goal.
Before my English Channel Swim in 1994, Marcy told me, “Every stroke is taking you one stroke closer to France.” To this, in the same year, Nora added, “Cada Brazada” and “Vale La Pena.” All of these applied both in 1994 and now, especially during this Hour of Chaos, when I made the simple decision to continue to do my job: Swim.
Around Hour 9, at 6am, the sky began to lighten just a bit. Within 30 minutes, the new day started to peek through and it was light. Because of a slight cloud cover, when I breathed to the right, I could see Chris’s boat above the water line but within an hour, these clouds dissipated and the boat was only visible to me underwater. At one early point in the day light, sun beams “V’ed” up between the clouds and the mountain peaks, as if Mother Nature was holding her arms aloft in a “Victory” sign. The reassuring beauty was a good sign but I’m not fooled into believing this would be a slam dunk. Only when I had my feet on dry sand would the swim be over.
In this emerging light, the cliffs along the northeastern shores of the lake cast exquisite shadows along their rock faces below. I later learned this area is between Secret Harbor and Sand Harbor. I enjoyed this view for a long, beautiful time.
At the feeding about an hour before we finished, I asked Chris to consider swimming into the beach with me. I had thought about this for a long time before saying anything. Although I knew this swim hadn’t turned out like we had hoped for both of us, for the amount of time we trained getting here, I wanted us to finish it together. Within 5 minutes Chris had his cap and goggles on; I knew he still very much was game! He was also making goofy faces at me, cracking me up, as we continued on and on.
The finish beach was ahead of me, in the northeast corner of the lake but I couldn’t see it until about the final ½ mile. This summer, I have made a concerted effort NOT to look up often for the finish because I’ll get there when I get there. Looking forward strains my neck and waste time. To get to Hyatt Beach in Incline Village, we had to weave through a flotilla of moored sailboats. I hoped Tom knew where he was going because all I could do was swim next to the boat through this zigzagging maze. The few times I sighted ahead, I could just spy glimpses of the sandy beach, and finally, the bottom! The end was near! Once we were out of the boat maze, there was only about 100 yards to go. Suddenly, Chris appeared next to me and we left the boats behind and swam in together to the beach. https://www.facebook.com/marydallascole/videos/10210531916323058/
To get there fastest, I counted 100 strokes then sighted again ahead to gauge how much further – about 50 more strokes. At stroke #42 of this count, my hand hit the sandy bottom. YEA! I took another 2 strokes then stood up, raised my arms in victory and walked out of the water, as the Channel Rules stipulate, to where there was no water in front of me. Another swim completed!
This swim, along with the SAS, confirmed to me “Yes You Can.” The day after this swim, I was tired and my right shoulder was a bit achy but all in all, I felt fine. The fact that Gill and I had just gotten massages helped this case somewhat. However, I do find that swims like this make me tired at the cellular level and I give myself a day per mile to recover. Two days after my swim, Gill and I drove around the lake. We stopped at many of the towns and viewing spots along the way. There is something for everyone at Lake Tahoe; there certainly was for me. Onwards!
Swim Across the Long Island Sound
Saturday August 5, 2017
Marcia Cleveland 9 hours, 25 minutes; 1st solo finisher
Crew: My husband, Mark Green; Richard Clifford and Morris Finkelstein, both have been involved with my swimming for over 2 decades.
Boat & Crew: Sassy, Captain Ewan Mirylees (wife Mary),
1st Mate Charlie Watson (wife Masha)
Race Director: Liz Fry
I did it because I thought I could.
At the end of last summer, as my daughter, Julia, was getting ready to start college, I realized I would have time to work on some long-term goals. The Swim Across the Sound event was top of mind. It benefits the St. Vincent’s Medical Center Foundation, which is an organization that assists individuals with their specific needs as they battle cancer, and provides services such as cancer education, no-cost screening and prevention programs. To learn more about St. Vincent’s, visit https://give.stvincents.org/swimacrossthesound. I put together a training plan that would hopefully allow me to swim the 25 kilometers across the Long Island Sound from Port Jefferson, New York, to Bridgeport, Connecticut. I had 10 months to think/dwell/contemplate what touching that ladder would feel like and made every stroke along the way count.
As is my custom, I posted an aerial picture of the Sound on the bulletin board above my desk at home so I would see it on a regular basis, a reminder of why I was training at a high level again. That space had been empty for several years, while Julia was in High School. All my energies had been directed towards helping her to navigate passage through those tumultuous years, and being in Julia’s support boat as the high seas of a startling abusive high school community continually challenged her. This swim testified that we have moved forward because this is what we need to do.
The short story is I finished, in 9 hours, 25 minutes, as the first of eight solo swimmers; only 3 soloists would complete the full distance of this race due to the tough conditions. The full results can be viewed at https://give.stvincents.org/file/documents---swim-marathon/2017-SWIM-Across-the-Sound-Results.pdf
This link to St. Vincent’s Facebook page shows my finish if you scroll to August 5, 2017 at 5:29pm. https://www.facebook.com/St.VincentsSWIMAcrossTheSound/
Even better, Julia’s 6-person relay team, “Waves of Support,” in the Never Alone category, finished in 8:59; she had a ball. You can view a short video of her relay team here, posted on August 11, 2017 at 4:06am. https://www.facebook.com/marcy.macdonald/posts/10214663236003070
If the long version of the story is of interest to you, please read on. Otherwise, you can be done!
On the Monday before the race, my two children, Julia (19) & Sam (16) & I drove from Illinois to Connecticut. The car was packed with lots of race gear, most importantly, my suit, cap, and goggles. On Wednesday, I started putting everything together and my race bags were ready to go on Friday morning. We stayed with my mom, Carolyn, in Connecticut, and she saw how much the devil is in the details of preparation.
On Thursday night, we attended the swimmers meeting and dinner at the race headquarters. I saw several Connecticut Age Group Swimmers from the 1970s/80s over the weekend: Denise Callahan, Greg Sargent, Andy Davis, Marcy MacDonald, Beth MacDonald Collins, Liz Fry, Jim Bayles, and others; it is quite encouraging that several of us “oldsters” are still suiting up.
On Friday, Mark, Julia, Richard, and I stayed at the Holiday Inn, a five-minute walk from the ferry terminal. Saturday began early, because the ferry from Bridgeport, Connecticut to Port Jefferson, Long Island, New York would cast off precisely at 6am with all the race participants, their crews, the event staff, and a few NARPs.
The weather forecast on Saturday called for storms until about 10am then ok weather thereafter. The storm which followed us across the Sound looked as if it would deliver the apocalypse at any moment but everyone was like, “Yeah, let’s get it out of the way. Then we’ll have a clear day.” During this ferry passage, Julia told Mark, “I just saw lightning.” He replied, “Look the other way.”
Our rain-soaked arrival in Port Jefferson was greeted by live, energizing bagpipe music while we disembarked the ferry, then proceeded in an ant-like procession to Dansford Marina. We found our boat’s first mate, Charlie Watson holding our #3 banner, and we left much of the gear with him outside before going into the main ballroom at the Marina to wait out the weather. An hour or so later, the announcement came for the solos to start boarding their boats. A big difference here was the I didn’t immediately feel the bottom of my stomach drop out. I was ready for this and I wanted it.
Charlie led us to Sassy, and Captain Ewan Mirylees. This 20-foot sailboat somehow absorbed these two excellent seamen, my three crew, both Ewan’s and Charlie’s wives, all our race gear, and me. There wasn’t much room to move around but it worked. Soon we cast off towards the start, a short jaunt out of the harbor and around the corner to the beach. During this trip, the group effort to cover me with sunscreen, and perform all my other pre-race necessities (Vaseline on chafe points, hair pinned/tailed/&netted, ingest 1 Aleve & 1 gel) made the time fly by. Ewan maneuvered the boat about 20 yards from the shore, gave me the word to jump, and I was off the boat and swam towards the beach. Nora Toledano’s friend, Mariel Hawley, greeted me warmly on the beach as everyone wished one another a good swim. The countdown swiftly arrived and we eight solo swimmers were off.
I swam strongly from stroke number one. I felt great and knew how well-prepared I was for this swim. Over the past 10 months, I had retrained myself to swim for hours on end, one stroke at a time. I do not consider myself a “beast,” nor was I “crushing, killing, squeezing, pounding, or mashing it.” My goal was direct and simple: I was focused and motivated, executing the plan I set in motion months ago. This was my day to make the most of, if I chose to do so.
I was confident Sassywould find me as the pack headed out into the large flotilla waiting under very cloudy skies. Very soon, we were matched up and headed towards Connecticut. I had joked with one of the staff on the ferry on the way over that since I didn’t have the return fare, I’d be swimming back. Happens.
My first feeding was coming in an hour so the idea was for me as much distance covered in before the chow line started. I churned my arms at a pace I knew I could hold all day, 62 to 64 strokes a minute. Because there were several boats around, I didn’t know what position I was in, nor was I concerned because my primary goal was to finish. Everyone had a role on our team and mine was to swim alongside the boat. (This is Rule #1.) It was going to take as long as it was going to take. From the way I had been training and looking at the race results from previous years, I figured we would finish in the 8 to 8 ½ hour range. From the start, I wanted to get to cruising altitude quickly so I could get up and move about the cabin for the duration of the flight. This plan came off well.
Early on, I saw the lead boat with the flashing lights even with us; that’s always a good thing. I just kept powering through the water. The water was a bit choppy but Rule #1 applies. For having never swum alongside Sassybefore, we were an instant pair. Captain Ewan kept us together brilliantly all day, mostly positioning me between mid-boat and stern, like we discussed in the harbor before I jumped overboard. I never had to crane my neck up to see the boat. For this I am grateful.
The first hour seemed to take a long time. I told Mark and Morris that if I was ok, they could push the feedings longer, i.e. increase the span between feeds, and I figured they were doing that. I would only find out later that I was swimming against the current for nearly the entire race. Mother Nature has an unusual sense of humor and it is entirely up to her every single time. This past year, I have trained myself to under-predict the time, such as “It must have been only about 20 minutes,” when in fact it is probably longer than that. This has helped my ability to concentrate and delay gratification. Finally, I get the “2” sign from Mark indicating that I’ll get fed in 2 minutes. I increase my stroke rate a little before having my feed delivered via a well-thrown line containing a gel fastened to a stationery clip, a water bottle with 12 ounces of Endurox, and a water bottle with mint mouthwash which swishes away the salt water from my mouth at the conclusion of this banquet.
And so we continue like that for the next 8 hours: I swim, they throw the feed line down every 30 minutes, I take about a minute to eat, then we do it over again. Are you thinking, “Oh my God, I would be out of my mind with boredom!”? I never once was. My crew wrote the names of those who were interested in this swim, in BIG BOLD LETTERS on a white board, three names at a time, for me to read. Because I generally breathe every 3 strokes, I would chant these names, one for every arm stroke, over and over until the next three names came up. Since there were hundreds of names on this list, I had a steady stream all day.
Like a hawk, I watched everything happening on the boat, mainly Mark and Richard sitting on the deck at mid-boat and Captain Ewan steering. I could also see the brim of Morris’s hat the entire time since he was sitting astern so I knew I was being carefully watched and cared for, again, something for which I am grateful. This is so important to a swimmer in this situation.
The three-foot, choppy seas were rough but how rough, I would only know afterwards. Rule #1 applied at all times. I trusted my crew and boat captain to make decisions that would help me finish this swim and sometimes these decisions weren’t obvious at the time. Did I think I should be swimming in the lea of the boat, out of the wind so I would have slight shelter from the relentlessly rogue wave action? Not my decision. I reasoned there must have been a purpose that the captain positioned the boat this way so I saw this as an opportunity to swim in challenging waves. The less I stopped and chattered away, the faster we would get to the finish. I had to channel my inner Veruca Salt and swim. http://roalddahl.wikia.com/wiki/Veruca_Salt
For all I know, we could have been making a wide turn to head back to Long Island and I would have been none the wiser.
With these types of swims, unless I supplied my own boat pilot and boat, of which I possess neither, I don’t know the skill at which the former handles the latter on race day. I hope for the best and do all I can to communicate my wants and needs. It helps that my crew also knows what these wants and needs are, thus can advocate for me while I am otherwise occupied. This event, Swim Across the Sound, is extraordinary in its organization and competence, stemming from such a talented team, with each boat captain generously donating his/her services for the day to the event. They are all top-notch and participating for the right reason – to help each participant achieve their goal. Captain Ewan was a-m-a-z-i-n-g in his ability to read the tides, judge the conditions presented and make course adjustments during every single moment of the swim, properly position the boat, and discount what other boat pilots were recommending. Eventually, the Race Committee boat suggested they tie the race balloon to our boat because we were the boat the rest of the field was following. This course was not a straight line on Saturday August 5th2017, it arched to the west with the low tide then back again to the east when the high tide made a brief appearance towards the end of the swim.
In order to keep my mind on the task at hand, I went 3 feedings in a row without looking up at the land in front of us. This took a lot of discipline but then when I finally did look, I had gotten a little closer. I realized the current against me was strong when the white board sign said, “< 1 mile to the harbor” and it took nearly 45 minutes (or more!) to swim this “< 1 mile.” When we finally did get into the harbor and I was no longer battling a current, my stroke rate picked up and I felt strong, making me thankful that I had prepared as much as I did for this event.
What did I see in the water? In the beginning, the overcast skies cast the water in a dark, mossy green-colored hue. Later in the day, when I sun came out, the water was lighter. All day it was like looking into a serene forest, with various shades of the same trees. I saw a few clumps of seaweed and 2 small buoy markers. I’m not trying to disappoint you, but I wasn’t in a well-stocked aquarium at feeding time. Most swims are like this and not particularly dramatic from a visual perspective.
There was no marine life to see. In the first hour or two, a big, and probably lost, fish ran into me and bounced off fast. Fish and other creatures that live in the ocean are as interested in coming to the surface as we humans are walking along the sea bottom. There were clear, squishy baby jellyfish present just below the surface towards the last 1/3 of the swim These babies will turn into big stinging jellyfish in a few weeks. Nicely dodged a bullet on this one. I did feel lots of tiny little “prickly” things which I figured were pre-stinging jellies. I got a few stray tentacles down my suit which I washed out of my suit at the next feeding, but not after these squatters held their own dance party on my chest and stung me a bit. Happens.
The second half of the swim, when I was seemingly getting no closer to the land, I thought a lot about the beneficiary of this swim, St. Vincent’s Medical Center Foundation. Sure, I had a long swim, a little over 1/3 of a day, but I reminded myself that for the people who benefit from the care and support of St. Vincent’s, they were experiencing what I was going through about 3 times a day. And then they wake up tomorrow and do it all over again, and the next day, and on and on until they hopefully recover from their cancer. I never contemplated stopping once, telling myself, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. You’ll get there eventually.” I had a lot to be grateful for and nothing to complain about. “Yes, you can. Dig down deep. Just keep swimming…”
As the final stretch to the finish line approached, I savored the feeling of this accomplishment, and especially cherished touching the finish ladder. However, what was more important was helping to make a difference in the lives of many people afflicted with cancer. Thank you to all who have supported my swim.
Good luck to all future participants in this event! Please support the St. Vincent’s Medical Center Foundation!
Marcia Cleveland, August 13, 2017
GPS readings (Distance to Buoy 2A) at various times:
11:13 AM 7.60 miles
11:38 AM 6.94
1:55 PM 4.10
2:53 PM 3.13
3:28 PM 2.58
3:54 PM 2.10
4:52 PM 1.00
5:07 PM 0.70
5:16 PM 0.50