My Cook Strait Swim was all about the Journey. I loved every minute of it, and I am grateful to have completed this Swim.
Descriptions of Cook Strait are available at the conclusion of this write-up but the quick version from Wikipedia states:
Cook Strait (Māori: Te Moana-o-Raukawa) separates the North and South Islands of New Zealand. The Strait connects the Tasman Sea on the northwest with the South Pacific Ocean on the southeast. It is 22 kilometers (14 miles) wide at its narrowest point, and is considered one of the most dangerous and unpredictable waters in the world. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cook_Strait
Wikipedia’s definition pretty much sums it up. The adverbs “very” or “extremely” could have preceded the phrase “unpredictable waters in the world” without exaggeration. I loved this swim and all my time in in New Zealand.
Getting to Wellington, New Zealand was a 4 ½ year trek. I sent a deposit to Phil Rush, the Cook Strait Organizer, in 2018, and was put on “The List.” Periodically, I sent Phil emails to let him know I was still alive and hoping for a swim. It was a waiting game, and one that took a lot of patience on my part. I next heard from Phil when he emailed me in July 2022 to ask which tide I would prefer in 2023. I chose a mid-March tide and received a window of March 14 to 20th. The wheels were now set in motion.
In my regular life, I swim about 20,000 yards/18,300 meters over the course of a week, keeping me in decent shape. The approximate total distance of the Cook Strait swim is 18 miles/32,000 yards/29,000 meters. Like my other marathon swims, I have found that training the distance of the swim every week prepares me well. In October 2022, I put together a six-month training plan, with a weekly target yardage goal between 30- & 35,000 yards/27,500 -32,000 meters; with little deviation, I stuck to it. This Training Block focused on speeding up my 100-yard pace time from 1:30s to 1:25s. (When I was in my 20s and 30s, my 100-yard pace time was 1:10-1:15 but that was 30+ years ago.) This increase in speed took months of hard, consistent work but during my Cook Strait Swim, I was able to hold a steady pace, despite the currents and tide pushing at me from all sides.
The bulk of my training happened at the Rec Plex in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin (a.k.a. “Pleasant Prairie.”) Three days a week, I drove to Pleasant Prairie, 40 miles/65 kilometers north of my home and swam 6000 to 9000 yards/5500 to 8200 meters each session. For the longer yardage days, I began with a straight 4000-yard/3600-meter swim because
1. I covered this distance in about an hour.
2. It helped my body and brain get a sense of how long an hour feels, and
3. Hopefully, I was simulating the start of my Cook Strait swim.
The added bonus is that a warmup like this takes care of a big chunk of the yardage so I would “only” have 2,000 to 5,000 yards/1800 to 4600 meters to go!
Two days a week, I swam about 3500 to 4000 yards/3200 to 3600 meters with an organized group that mainly focuses on speed work and socializing. On Saturdays, I swam solo, swimming as far as I needed to obtain my weekly yardage goal. Sunday is always a rest day.
In January 2023, I met up with swim friends Liz Fry, Kris Rutford, and David & Leslie Blanke for a weekend of laughs and swimming. This time confirmed I was in pretty good shape. Since Liz, David, and Leslie all had been to Cook Strait, they were able to answer lots of my questions. A week later, I swam the USMS One-Hour Swim and covered 4505 yards/4120 meters, the furthest distance I had done in 13 years. A few weeks after that, on a whim, I did a 2-hour swim, complete with a few feeding stops, and covered 8270 yards/7560 meters. These benchmarks build my confidence but I was nowhere near the finish line. I had to maintain my undistracted training focus and hammer on.
“Gym Work” continues to be huge part of my training plan, known to swimmers as “Dryland.” Dr. Brian Cunningham again developed a program to build up my strength as well as maintain stability and flexibility. I have worked with Brian since 2005 and his Dryland workouts have kept me fairly injury-free, which is saying a lot since I swam Cook Strait when I was 6 weeks shy of my 59th birthday. (To contact Brian, please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Leading up to my Hawaii Swim in March 2022, I focused more on swimming yardage because the distance was 28 miles/45 kilometers, 10 miles/16 kilometers further than Cook. After Hawaii, Brian and I discussed my need to kick more consistently, pull stronger, and increase my speed for Cook so my Dryland program focused on these components. I worked a lot on core strength, increasing pectoral strength, and building up my hip flexors. I did two 45-minute weekly gym sessions using my body weight, bands, and a Swiss Ball. Two additional weekly sessions were spent lifting weights. Brian would tweak this program monthly. When I got to New Zealand, I felt strong and capable.
Brett Richardson, the Navigator/Observer for my Cook Swim, remarked how well I had maintained a six-beat kick the entire way and kept a high body position in the water. These attributes are a testament to Brian’s well-orchestrated program. These marathon swims make me tired (in fact, very, very tired afterwards), but no body parts have been permanently afflicted.
The training I do for a marathon swim takes a certain mentality. Notice I said: “The training I do”, not “The training you should do”, since one size does not fit all, and it is up to the individual to decide what he/she needs.
This training involves the need to commit to challenging work for several hours and continue showing up for days/weeks/months on end. I love swimming with lot of different people, but the list is short for those with a similar “All In” marathon mindset. I’m fortunate to have found a few training partners wired with a similar focus and drive.
Sure, there are tough days on which I have to dig down deep to find the motivation to start but once I get going, I’m usually ok. What I cherish about swimming at Pleasant Prairie is it’s often just me and the pool. No distractions from the task at hand. Either I do the work or I don’t. To make myself accountable, I’d often set mini-goals, such as “Be in the water by 7:45 AM” or “Only take :30 seconds rest before starting the next set.”
Training alone is a misnomer. I’ve always got someone in mind who’s with me, even if that someone is me in my role as coach. “Me, The Coach” and “Me, The Athlete,” had a lot of stern conversation before Cook that often went something like this:
Me, The Athlete, in the whining-pleading pose: “I just can’t do this today. I’m too fill in the blank. What you’re asking me to do is too hard.”
Me, The Coach, in a calm, measured tone: “Let’s start and see how it goes. Leave on the :60 please.”
Me, The Athlete would do her best. After a little bit, Me, The Athlete might even admit “This isn’t so bad.”
Me, The Coach would calmly nod in agreement.
On days I was feeling like a crumpled piece of paper, I allowed myself to change intervals on sets but still finish the workout almost every time. Learning to talk myself down off the emotional ledge has built mental toughness along this journey.
My daily life and my long-range plans are things I keep pretty insular. It has been my experience that the wider the group that knows about my plans, the greater my “distraction factor.” I am wired for sustained focus and the need of time to train. I let most people know about my Cook Strait swim about 10 days before leaving for New Zealand. By then, all the training had been done and I had time to answer questions. In November 2022, I began to make short recordings after random training sessions at Pleasant Prairie, to explain my reactions to the workout I had just done and show Pleasant Prairie’s seasonal adaptations on the scoreboard. I found it fun to watch these after I had completed Cook Strait since when I recorded these videos, I didn’t know what the outcome would be. There is an expression of both hope and apprehension. The link to these recordings are available in the RESOURCES section at the conclusion of this writeup.
ARRIVING IN WELLINGTON
My 25-year-old daughter, Julia Green and I arrived in Wellington on the afternoon of Wednesday March 8th, after traveling for about 30 hours. Our third team member, Lee Harkleroad would join us on Sunday March 12th. Lee had been a part of my North Channel crew and remains a close swim friend.
Julia and I arrived at our AirBnB, in the old Dental Clinic Building, did a little unpacking, then took a stroll into the Wellington harbor area. This terrific metropolis touts itself as the WINDIEST Capitol in the world, a detail made evident during our initial stroll. We also found Freyberg Beach in Oriental Bay, the swimming beach Liz had told me about. When I saw the public showers and parking lot alongside a small beach, I told Julia, “This is where the swim group meets. Let’s come here at 8am tomorrow because we’re liable to connect with some swimmers either coming or going.”
THE SWIMMING SCENE
A little after 8 AM the next morning, Julia and I were introducing ourselves to a few of the aptly named “Washing Machines” swimmers that were warming up at the beachside coffee bar. We met Dougal Dinlop who oversees the group, a wonderful person similar to Martin Strain of the Chunky Dunkers in Donaghadee, Northern Ireland. I gave Alan Clayton my business card, then Julia and I took a swim. The next morning, we arrived at 6:52AM, as Dougal dictates, and everyone entered the water by 7AM. Since our brief introduction the day before, word had spread amongst the group about my swimming background and why I was in Wellington at this time. The Washing Machines Community quickly welcomed Julia and I into their fold, and we are happy to count many of them as supportive, solid friends.
Dina Levačic of Split, Croatia was also swimming during the same tide. Dina and I had met four years ago in Japan when we swam the Tsugaru Strait on the same day, and we had kept in touch. It was great to see Dina in person again, as well as her parents, Mladen and Željana.
She would celebrate her 27th birthday on March 14th. We enjoyed several swims together and our families spent a lot of time together in New Zealand, especially at Freyberg Beach.
On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Julia and I swam daily at Freyberg Beach, explored much of downtown Wellington, and prepared my swim gear so we would be ready to go. The weather for the following week looked “promising” for a swim.
On Sunday morning, Dina and I met with Phil Rush, the organizer of the Cook Strait Swims. Phil is quite an accomplished swimmer in his own right. https://longswims.com/p/philip-rush/ Our crews were with us for this meeting so everyone received the same information and had the opportunity to ask relevant questions. Even when I was a much faster swimmer, in my 20s and 30s, my major goal for any swim is to complete it, and I told Phil as much. I had heard things about Phil before arriving in New Zealand. Yes, he is hard to get a hold of but once my swim window had been nailed down in July 2022, there wasn’t much handholding I needed. The facts were apparent: train for the swim, get to Wellington by March 13th with a crew, and do the swim when Phil gives the go-ahead. Meeting Phil two days before our swim was fine with me. I think Phil appreciated my independence, preparation, and desire to finish. His thorough and straightforward briefing illustrated a good idea of what lay ahead. It was going to be a challenging swim and I was ready. Someone asked me shortly after this briefing, “Did Phil give you any good advice?” I replied, “Yes, do what he says.”
Marcia & Phil Rush
Up to this point in the season, most of the swim times ranged between a fast 6 and 9 hours. Andy Donaldson set the overall record of 4:33 on March 7th. Although Phil couldn’t accurately predict what the tides and currents would do on our day, he mentioned these quick swim times and was hoping for similar conditions for us. (So was I!) The major considerations in this swim are the unpredictability of the waves, tides, and currents, and cannot be underestimated. Dina is a much faster swimmer than me at this point in our lives, and I am very supportive of her ability and achievements. Since we were going on the same day, I sensed Phil would go on her swim and that was completely ok with me.
During our crew meeting, Phil thought Tuesday was looking like the best day for our swim. Dina mentioned a time goal to Phil, and I silently thought, “Uh oh. Mother Nature is going to have fun with this. We’re in for a tough day.” And so it went.
Julia, Lee, and I spent much of Monday resting and finalizing the swim gear. We went over the roles each of us had. To have Julia as Crew Chief gave me great joy. She had grown up during my swim career and it was an honor to have her oversee this major swim. I was grateful she was with a part of this journey.
Around 7pm on Monday night, Phil confirmed that we were on for a Tuesday 7AM start. Straightaway I handed my phone to Julia – I wouldn’t touch it for the next 24 hours, then started winding down to bed while Julia and Lee tinkered with the gear “just a little bit more.” I rarely sleep well the night before a major swim but I have come to realize this has no effect on my performance. At 3AM on Tuesday March 14th, the alarm went off and our day’s plan went into action. Dougal met us in front of our AirBnB at 3:45AM, then we drove in convoy to Dina’s apartment. I greeted her with a quick “Happy Birthday” and card, then we drove in tandem to the Mana Porirya Marina, about 30 minutes north of Wellington, a.k.a. The Mana Cruising Club. I’m glad Dougal led us to this marina since it would have been hard to locate it ourselves in the dark.
At 4:45AM, in the (free!) overnight parking lot, Phil introduced us to our crew: Captain Donald, Brett Richardson, and Corey Fairbairn. For the entirety of the swim, Captain Donald piloted the 36-foot/13-meter Escort Boat, HYPE. Brett fulfilled his roles as Official Observer and Navigator flawlessly. Corey piloted the Zodiac (‘IRB,’ a.k.a. Inflatable Rescue Boat) and kept “his swimmer” safe and motivated throughout the swim. Rounding out the crew, Julia Green fed and cheered for me from the Zodiac, and Lee Harkleroad maintained communications with the outside world and recorded both a written and photographic log throughout the day. Everyone did their job, resulting in a well-executed, successful swim. I could not have asked for better.
Panorama of Cook Strait Swim
All my swims have their moments of stress and this swim’s moment of peak anxiety happened before we even left the dock. Once we were loaded up, the bag containing my bathing suit, cap, and goggles was nowhere to be found. Where could it possibly be? If it’s at the AirBnB, it’s too late now to get it, but logically, it couldn’t be there. In the next 10-stressful minutes, Julia handed me my backup suit which I put on obediently, and she started going through her and Lee’s equipment to see what I could do about a cap and goggles. I simply knew something was going to work out. And then, suddenly my bag appeared. It had somehow been put on Dina’s boat even though our gear was completed separated at all times. Very strange but disaster averted, once again. Julia was rattled and I looked into her eyes and told her, “On every one of my swims, there is some major moment of stress. I hope we have just had ours.” Lesson learned: Have at least two stashes of the important gear and/or have the swimmer carry their gear at all times.
Now that our Escort Boat was all sorted out, Captain Donald gave us the safety briefing. We then motored from the Marina in tandem with Dina’s Escort Boat, The Tangaroa, and crew, heading together towards Ōhau Point (“Oh-How” Point) for the start of our Cook Strait Swims. It would be like this for most of this wonderful day as Dina and I swam towards the South Island of New Zealand. Many of my swims have begun much less calmly, even factoring in “The Backpack Situation.” Here in New Zealand, 8,350 miles/13,442 kilometers from home, everything was neatly falling into place.
Corey peppered me with lots of questions during the 90-minute trip to Ōhau Point, in a crash-course attempt to get to know me. He would be piloting the Zodiac so a good relationship between us mattered. Julia would also be in the Zodiac so she could offer Corey insight if/when necessary during the Swim. Corey was amused that Julia had brought along a “Yellow Card” (like in Football/US Soccer) to issue to me if I got testy.
The dawn started to break shortly before we arrived at Ōhau Point. I put on my cap and goggles while Corey and Brett prepared the Zodiac. Julia and Lee slathered me with another a coat of sunscreen (on top of the one applied at 3AM) and applied Desitin (Zinc Oxide) to my known chaffing points: around my neck, along my suit lines, and on my biceps. I was ready to go.
Julia, Corey, & Marcia heading to the Start in the IRB/Zodiac
Brett and Lee helped me into the Zodiac, joining Corey and Julia. I sat down on the gunnel and we motored about 100 yards/meters to the start, a designated formation of rocks at Ōhau Point. Dina was about 30-seconds ahead of me and shot off like a rocket. I jumped out of the Zodiac and stroked the 25 yards/meters towards the rocks. Everything about the water felt great: the texture, temperature, and clarity. YEA! Bring it on! I’m all set! I touched the rocks, the horn sounded, and my swim began.
Dawn Breaks and So do the waves
From the first strokes, I loved this swim. If everything went as I hoped it would, I felt I had a good chance to make it. The skies were a beautiful pale blue in glorious contrast to the clear, dark teal water. I was in a good mental place and taking 68 strokes a minute. My 25-year-old daughter was my Crew Chief in the Zodiac. Lee was handling communications on the Escort Boat, and a crew I had just met 2 ½ hours earlier were handling everything else. What’s there not to love?
One Stroke at a Time
The general plan was to begin at “mid-tide” as the water pushed from west to east. Then we’d pick up the high tide after a few hours and get pushed westward for the majority of the swim. Then we’d catch the changing tide again and hit land. The tricky thing about this swim, when swimming in either direction, is the landing area seems to be an area approximately 3 miles/5 kilometers or less. In most other swims, such as with the English Channel, you have about a 20-mile landing area.
Heading Straight Towards the Finish,
Although None of Us Knew it at the Time
The chance of encountering debilitating marine life was low. I ran into “no-see-‘em” jellyfish: transparent, stingless jellies of various sizes that are simply annoying and got in my suit, especially at the end. I saw a few fish, mostly notably either a Barracuda or a Frost Fish swam deep below me at about 2 hours. During much of the mid-swim, curious birds greeted me, many which got pleasantly close. I thought of them as angels coming to say “Hello!” Seven hours into the swim, at 1400 hours, a pod of dolphins joined us. I didn’t actually see them but heard them clicking underwater for several minutes. At the next feed, Julia excitedly told me “We saw dolphins! Did you see them?” I told her I’d heard them, and “that was pretty cool.” Lee took several pictures of the dolphins from the Escort Boat doing their dolphin thing.
Dolphins! I could hear them clicking underwater
Starting around 2 hours into the swim, at 9 AM, we had about a 30-minute span of major Flotsam. Several groupings of large logs (3-6 feet/1-2 meters in length, 3-feet/1-meter in diameter), branches, and debris moved quickly through the Strait and I had to swim around them. Julia did an excellent job continuously pointing to the logs so I would avoid hitting them, which could have been a swim-stopper. Corey speculated this was continued run-off from Cyclone Gabrielle that had blown through the North Island of New Zealand 3 weeks earlier.
MID-SWIM ROCKING & ROLLING
The water had been “lumpy” for the first hour then settled down for the next hour. This period of relative calm was followed by increasing wave heights and Rollers careening rapidly across the surface. I was mostly oblivious to the waves but I noticed the water color changing into a chalky, lighter teal blue. At times, I would see either the Escort Boat or Zodiac high up on the water only a moment later to disappeared into a trough. The same thing happened with the various “Island Rocks” in the Strait, like The Brothers and Awash Rocks. Less than a year ago, similar big, strong water pushed me around in the Ka’iwi Channel in Hawaii. I accepted the situation then and I accepted it now; I just kept swimming.
Captain Donald thought a localized tidal movement was creating the waves since he could see calmer water both behind us and in front of us from the boat as it bounced in the chop. He also sensed that the tides were changing an hour earlier than forecasted. Mother Nature was messing with us! Obviously, on I swam.
When I swim, I breathe every 3 strokes, meaning I take 3 strokes (left arm-right arm-left arm) and breathe, then 3 strokes (right-left-right arm) and breathe, and on and on. If I saw something of interest, I would take another stroke cycle (a pull with each arm) and breathe to that side again to see if I could play tourist for a second. Most of the time, within that 1 to 2 second gap, whatever was there to see (a huge rock formation, a ferry, a boat, etc.) was blocked from view by the rapidly variable height of the water. Mother Nature would let me see what she wanted me to, so I kept swimming on: three strokes – breathe – three strokes – breathe, and on, and on.
When it was time for me to “feed” Julia held up 2 fingers, meaning I had 2 minutes until she would toss a bottle to me. My first feed came at an hour, then every 40-minutes thereafter. When I saw the sign, I counted out 120-130 strokes then stuck my head up to see if the feed was ready. During these 30- to 60-second stops, I drank Endurox from a water bottle, sucked down the opened Hammer Gel that was safety-pinned to a band around the bottle, and rinsed out with mint mouthwash from another bottle. (This helps dissipate the salt in my mouth, lessening the swelling.) Julia would relay messages of encouragement during these precious seconds and Corey would be leaning over in the Zodiac to get in my face with commentary and questions. It took me few feeds to realize he was continuously assessing my physical state and mental acumen, which, in turn, he would radio back to the Escort Boat so everyone knew everything that was going on, including when I peed. 😊 And yes, Corey, I will gladly reply, “It’s your happy face,” the next time you point to your smile in the middle of the Cook Strait and ask me, “What’s this?” For the entire swim, I only saw his Happy Face.
I Fed. Corey Instructed. "What's this?"
For the first few hours, I looked back at the North Island often and tried not to look ahead. Corey told me to stop looking back so I made a deal with myself: Only look forward or back at each feeding. With 40 minutes between looks, the distance we moved forward was more noticeable than checking every 3 strokes, a “No-No” that has wreaked havoc on my neck in other swims. I also decided not to ask how long or how far we had come because I was going to swim to the other side and these questions create a bunch of mental projections and estimations that are completely out of my control. I was doing my job: To Swim.
At one point, Corey informed me, “We’re nearly half-way.”
I quickly retorted, “I thought half-way was three strokes from the end.”
Onwards towards the South Island
The Escort Boat would circle around us, looking for the “best water,” an applicable term to the ever-fluctuating water of Cook Strait. Lee observed Captain Donald and Brett in constant communication about the best course, making adjustments of 1 to 2 degrees along the Rhumb Line (Definition). They would relay these coordinates to Corey, who in turn, would realign the Zodiac; I simply followed along. For most of the swim, I was within 10 feet/3 meters of the Zodiac’s side, except for that one time early on when I was about 20 yards/meters away for a few minutes and Corey gave me a stern talking to, which I deserved.
Crazy Water between Left & Right
Every six strokes, I saw Julia sitting at the bow and Corey in the stern, both kitted out in full foul-weather gear: chest-high waders, fully hooded jackets, and most importantly, insulated, waterproof, knee-high boots. (Thank you, Captain Scott Souders!) While still in Chicago, we figured that everything in the Zodiac was probably going to get wet and this day did not disappoint. It was completely worth it to haul Scott’s gear to New Zealand and give it a thorough workout, keeping Julia warm and dry.
ONE STROKE AT A TIME
I swam on and on. The sun rose in the sky, lots of birds checked me out, and I kept swimming. I was loving what I was doing and clearly the training I had done was serving me well. I was taking 60 to 64 strokes a minute and nothing hurt. Every time I stopped for a feeding, I was breathing hard so I knew I was really exerting myself but that’s what the training was for!
From this far out, Corey was aiming to land me on this Beach
One way I measured my mental acuity mid-swim was by saying the Lord’s Prayer (Episcopal Version):
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
This is harder than it seems to recite something you know well when you are doing something else that requires complete attention. In a pool, the turns throw me off so I forget if I had just been given this day our daily bread or forgiven our trespasses or been led into temptation. In open water, it’s actually a little easier since there are no walls to avert my attention but there are times I am still thrown off. Did I already forgive us our trespasses or forgive those who trespass against us? And what comes next? Oh, right, the temptation part then deliver us from evil, and I’m finally home free to start over. “THIS time I’m gonna get it right without any stumbles. Do it again.” This recitation kept my brain quite busy as my body stroked between the North and South Islands of New Zealand.
At what would be approximately 3 hours until I finished, Corey told me that I needed to pick it up so we could get inside “That Rock.” Said rock was about a mile/1500 meters to my south and large enough to be easily seen by me. What I didn’t know at the time was that this rock marked the eastern boundary of the finishing area, a crescent basin stretching across the northeastern part of Arapaoa Island. If I got east of that rock, my swim would be over because, from what I garnered from listening to many members of the Washing Machines afterwards, “It’s too difficult to finish past that point due to the way the currents move.”
After my swim, I made up the name “The Crescent Basin,” now that I had “lived” it. It seems that if one is swimming from the North Island, the only place to land on the South Island is in this area. When Corey told me to pick it up, I didn’t need a detailed explanation; I just did what I was told and picked up the pace. We were at the point that Liz told me would come: “Save something for the last two hours.”
The Rock we need to stay East of to Finish
And the Rock we need to stay West of to Finish
Close to the South Island, I realized the sun was lower in the sky than it would be for an eight-hour finish but we were getting there. I calculated that it was about 5 or 6PM. The waves had calmed down a bit once we got into “The Crescent Basin,” and the dark teal color of the water returned. The imposing, magnificent cliffs loomed right ahead. So many craggy rocks protruded from the folds of land. Pictures don’t do this beauty justice. I still was unsure where I was going to land. I simply kept taking stroke after stroke towards the coast.
Shoreline of the South Island
The Beach I Finished on ... Eventually
Corey told me, “It’s 500 meters to the beach.” He wanted me to finish there since it’s nice to have a definitive landing spot rather than landing on some random rock, and there was still plenty of daylight. I was also in good physical shape at the moment, meaning I wasn’t exhibiting signs of hypothermia and/or body parts were not hurting enough to complain about; and mentally, I was fine, meaning I was emotionally stable and happy, and cognitively sound. The swimmer’s physical and/or mental state can often be quite different at the end of a swim, necessitating the need to get to land ASAP!
AN AMAZING TEAM!
“Great,” I thought! “Almost there. Just another couple of minutes to go!” I counted out sets of 200 strokes several times over. Quick peek: We are still at least 500 meters from land. I counted out a few full cycles of 200 plus 300 strokes, pleased to still be lucid enough to keep an accurate count, then took another peek. “Ok, the needle budged a little bit. Keep going. You’re getting there. And those rocky cliffs are so so beautiful.”
Almost There, As Seen from the Escort Boat
Even though I never did find out who was “lying” to me about the distance - and it really doesn’t matter – I was in hog heaven swimming in such a heavenly spot. The murky water obscured the bottom so I wasn’t sure if I was over rocks or sand. I stood up about 15 feet/5 meters from shore which turned out to be waist-deep water (breaking my own rule of swimming to the very end) and walked the final bit onto the beach. I heard the airhorn sound the end of my swim. I made it! I was grateful and overcome, looking up at this majestic cliff rising several hundred feet/meters upwards. I gave thanks to God and Mother Nature for allowing me safe passage of Cook Strait. I sat down for a moment simply to take it all in. The North Island rose up from the far-off horizon. More importantly, I could see Julia and Corey in the Zodiac just offshore, as well as Lee, Brett, and Donald in the Escort Boat just beyond, all cheering wildly! What a Team Success! We did it!
LANDED! 11 HOURS, 54 MINUTES!
The water temperature had gradually decreased as we soldiered on towards the South Island, just as Liz told me it would. At the start, the water temperature was 63°F/17.5°C. Over the course of the swim, the water dropped to approximately 57°F/14°C. I was not cold while I was swimming but once I finished on the beach, I started to feel chilled. I picked up a few stones from the beach and put them in my suit then I casually paddled on my back to the Zodiac, taking in the surrounding scenery of beautiful cliffs and rocks. I could FINALLY SWIM EASILY. WHAT A RELIEF!
When I arrived at the Zodiac, Liz told me in January that there was no graceful way to get into this boat so I was fine when Corey pulled me upwards by my left arm. When enough of my torso was in the Zodiac, he grabbed my right leg and pulled the rest of me up and into the boat. Congratulations were distributed all around then we quickly zoomed over to the Escort Boat. The rest of the team enthusiastically awaited our arrival. At this point, my shivers began in earnest.
Once the two boats were hitched together, willing hands helped me onto the back deck of the Escort Boat. Julia and the gear quickly followed. Brett and Lee had blankets ready to wrap me up but I first wanted to take off my suit so those no-see-‘em jellies couldn’t take up permanent residence in my skin. We did a quick presto-change-o and magically I was clad in fleece leggings, socks, a t-shirt, sweatshirt, parka, and ski hat. Finally, wrapped in blankets, I was laid down upon the floor of the galley right above the warm engines, and I warmed up with the help of Julia and Lee sandwiching me between them. They also gave me hot packs that I put on my legs, arm pits, and stomach, speeding up the warming process.
Here's My "Happy Face"
Corey kept up the Grand Inquisition, checking for chinks in my mental and physical armor, or worse. I think I passed, receiving high marks in the categories of being tired, shivering, and incredibly happy. In less than an hour, I was able lift myself up onto the bench of the galley and watch a beautiful sunset over the South Island, as dolphins surfed in and out of HYPE’s wake. What a great day!
Thank You, Cook Strait!
8:02 PM, 14 March 2023
Thank You, Cook Strait!
8:11 PM, 14 March 2023
During my Swimming Career, I have come to realized that my best day to swim is Yesterday or Tomorrow so I make the most of what I’ve been given. To finish any major swim is a miracle every time, just like having a baby. So many things have to come together correctly, or nearly as possible, and it’s rarely a walk in the park. During every swim, I learn something. Over time, EVERYONE gets good days and EVERYONE gets tough ones, with unforeseen challenges that the participant may either accept or decide to be done with the task. Regardless of the situation, by continuing to move towards the finish line in the best way you can, allows you a chance at completion. This applies to life too. Just keep swimming!
To Julia & Lee: You two the best crew members I could ever want! Thank You to the South Island and Back!
To Corey, Brett, & Captain Donald: What a great bunch you are! It Takes a Village!
To Mark & Sam: You kept the Home Fires burning during my absence and for this, I am grateful!
To Phil Rush: You run a first-class operation and gave me a wonderful opportunity. Thank you!
To Dina Levačić, and Your Parents: Željana & Mladen: Your Friendship and Support spans the seas between Split, Croatia & Chicago, USA. I look forward to your continued successes and our continued comraderie.
To all the Washing Machines, especially Dougal Dinlop, Saki Hannah, Sonia Christensen, Corrina Connor, Rebecca Hollingsworth, Alicia Lopez and Omar Vaquero, Alan Clayton, and so many others, THANK YOU! Keep your tightly-knit community thriving.
To Mel Hope: What a wonderful, surprise friendship sprouted from spotting you on a Harbor bench. This is just the way it works in the Global Open Water Community. See you in Sydney someday.
To All My Swim Mates & Supporters: Thanks for all you unknowingly and knowingly do for me.
Shelly (Brett's wife), Marcia, Lee, Corey,
Julia, Lee & Captain Donald, & Brett
Marcia Cleveland's Chart
Cook Strait, 14 March 2023 11 hours, 54 minutes
Close-up of my Chart: Cook Strait, 14 March 2023
I always kept going forward, except for a few times the chaotic water pushed me sideways
Post-Swim Celebration at Freyberg Beach
with lots of Washing Machines!
Thank You, Wellington for everything! I'll be back!
Log of Marcia's Swim, as recorded by Crew Member Lee Harkleroad
Feeding Log for Marcia Cleveland's Cook Strait Swim, as recorded by Lee Harkleroad
Description of Cook Strait
The abridged description below of the Cook Strait may be found in its entirety at http://www.cruiserswiki.org/wiki/Cook_Strait
Cook Strait is a formidable piece of water with changeable weather and a number of natural hazards. The nature of the sea in the Strait is typically rougher than most other passages. Cook Strait is a natural wind funnel bordered by high cliffs (1203 feet/307 meters) on both the North and South Islands of New Zealand, and at times creates a formidable gauntlet.
Wind direction in Cook Strait is normally NW or S to SE. Storm force winds occur on average about 25 times a year. Gale force NW winds are usually very localized.
In a 2013 trip through the Cook Strait over a period of 3 days the author found that the NZ Met Service forecast was not correct at any time during those 3 days in terms of either wind strength or wind direction, and anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that this is fairly common -- Delatbabel
Tidal streams in Cook Strait generally flow towards the NW for 5 hours and SE for 7 hours. However, they are unreliable and the surface currents are affected by prolonged periods of strong winds and the shoreline configuration which can cause counter currents if close inshore.
High water occurs on the western side of Cook Strait about 4 hours later than Wellington at spring tides and slightly less at neap tides. This difference causes the strong streams.
Broken water is experienced in different parts of the Strait. This is caused by the cold north-setting bottom current being forced to the surface on meeting the steep slopes of submarine canyons, which will also cause modification of the tidal stream. Broken water is also caused when the wind flow is against the tidal stream.
Lying almost midway between Perano Head and the Brothers Islands, approximately 2 nautical miles offshore, the rock, as its name so rightly suggests is a rock to be avoided.
Lying almost midway between Cape Koamaru and Mana Island it has a clearance of 10 metres. However the area surrounding the rock can be hazardous in strong tide or wind conditions. Large overfalls and seas can develop in these conditions.
The Brothers Islands
Formed by 2 small islands 2 1/2 miles east of Cape Koamaru. There is a lighthouse on the northern island visible 19M with a red sector light visible 10M. The water between and around the area of Cape Koamaru and The Brothers is often surrounded by overfalls, whirlpools and currents. Avoid the temptation to passage between the two islands except in calm weather. It's often wise when in this area to have your motor idling in neutral, even with good winds.
Nautical Chart of Cook Strait
Proceeding the Swim photos
Early Swim photos
End of Swim photos
When Lockdown began in March 2020, pools in Illinois, where I live, were shuttered for the unforeseeable future. Lake Michigan would be the only available water most of us had access to for quite a while. In early May, when the water was “warm enough,” i.e. just below 50°F/10°C, several of us intrepid swimmers took the plunge at Gillson Beach in Wilmette, Illinois, regaining our feel for the water. Most weekends during the Summer of 2020, about 100 swimmers gathered at Gillson Beach, with appropriate social distancing of course. On one particularly nice weekend, about 200 swimmers were in the water. The beach was somewhere all of us could exist more closely to “normal” than in the current craziness of the Pandemic world.
As Lockdown continued and pool space was still extremely limited in Illinois, many of us Beach Swimmers kept at it well into the Fall. Around mid-October, I came up with the brilliant idea of “Hey, Let’s do an Ice Mile!” Four of us completed this Ice Mile on Sunday December 6, 2020, in 38°F/3.3°C water, but it was certainly a much larger group effort. To be recognized as an “Official” Ice Mile, swimmers may wear only one regular silicone bathing cap, one pair of goggles, and one regular bathing suit (i.e. a “Speedo”.) No wetsuits, gloves, booties or thermal caps are allowed according to the official Rules. www.internationaliceswimming.com However, participants may wear earplugs and nose plugs. Our “Official” group included Ted Baumgartner, Marian Cardwell, Andy Walberer, and me. Everyone who started finished; a 100% success rate!
There were a few others who were qualified to do the swim but in the climate of COVID that existed at the time, they did not feel comfortable fulfilling the various requirements, one of which was having medical check up conducted indoors. It was a time of rampant COVID and no vaccine had yet to be developed. Everyone involved fully understood and there was no judgement.
So, what is involved in an Ice Mile?
The two most important elements are the training and acclimation to the water temperature. Our training group always swam the full length of the course regardless of the water temperature. This allowed each of us to learn how the cold would affect us at various points along the course. Although we trained as a group, it was ALWAYS ok for someone to get out if they needed to. (No one ever did need to get out, thanks to the acclimation we continued to do but the option remains, without judgment.) Throughout the Ice Mile training time, which was the six weeks from mid-October until “Race Day” on December 6th, 2020, all the swimmers I trained with finished the course every time. Granted, we progressively felt colder and the “After Drop” time was increasingly brutal, but knowing that we could cover the distance was a real coup. At Gillson, we are fortunate that our swimming course stretches along a flat beach that gradually slopes downwards. You can often still be in waist-deep water 100 yards from the shoreline. Our Ice Mile course was intentionally set only 50 yards offshore so if anyone had to get out or be rescued, help was very close by.
Our training group consisted of competent swimmers, meaning they had good endurance and form, had been training consistently all summer, and were going to be able to proficiently handle most water conditions. As the water temperature dropped, so did the number of swimmers willing and/or able to continue to swim safely in cooler temperatures. I encourage people wear what makes them feel safe in the water. Those who still wanted to swim started to don wetsuits and other warming apparel. We welcomed them to do so since we were all having so much fun swimming together and many of these folks would become Safety Swimmers during our event. We are greatly appreciative to everyone who helped with this training, especially Michael Bailey, Karen Lundgren, Boyd Black, Eric Eshuis, and Joe Lunkes, who were our regular “Safety Swimmers”. As the water cooled, they kept a close eye on those of us who were still just in our regular swim suits. Their supportive presence provided continual comfort. Having my daughter, Julia Green, monitor us from the beach, and then help us get dressed and warmed up after our swims was crucial. When you’re in water that’s in the 40s, it’s like being in another world and certain body parts don’t work like they are supposed to so support is essential.
As the water temperature dropped, we just kept getting in. I wore my two-piece training bikini until race day (when I wore a one-piece Speedo), and until the water temperature dipped below 46F, I wore a single latex cap. At that point, I switched to a silicone cap because my swimming partner, Michael Bailey convincingly told me, “I don’t know if I can help you if you get into trouble so please wear a silicone cap.” Michael was completely right and I obliged.
This straightforward acclimation helped me know that I could handle the diminishing temperatures well. And all those Oreos and wine I packed onto my “Bio-preen” during the Pandemic really paid off for this Ice Mile. (I don’t recommend such a diet for obvious reasons…) As the water temperature dropped below 50F, we couldn’t believe that we were still swimming in The Lake. In a few weeks, we pined for “warm 50F water”, but the water temperature continued to march down degree by degree through the 40’sF.
Throughout the Fall, magnificent light bounced off the water in the late afternoons weekdays when we swam, and the changing colors of the leaves were especially vibrant during our noon weekend swims. This is just one of the many reasons why I love Fall Swimming! One afternoon, we happened upon a Boy Scout troop kayaking near the rocks at Gilson. They almost jumped out of their uniforms when they saw us swimming towards them because the water temperature was 42°F at that point.
An ”Official” Ice Mile must be swum in water measuring 41.0°F/5.0°C or lower. Because we didn’t know for sure when the water would be at this temperature, we couldn’t pinpoint a date until a few days before our actual swim. Despite Lockdown, people still needed to work, albeit from home, so we were aiming for a weekend day. At one point in early November, the water started to drop fast. It looked like our swim might happen before Thanksgiving but then we had a “heat wave” and the water warmed up to the mid-40°s, before starting to drop again. That’s a weird perspective!
On Wednesday, December 2, the water temperature registered 37°F. Chris Layton was the appointed Race Director for our official Ice Mile swim so he came to the beach that afternoon to make sure everyone was capable of completing the Ice Mile on the upcoming Sunday. This was the coldest water I had ever swum in, and I was still in my two-piece training bikini. When I finished the swim that afternoon, I knew that we had just completed a real Ice Mile; Sunday’s swim would be a simple formality. As I was led out of the water, I kept saying to Michael, “We did it! We did it! We did it!” Walking up the beach to our changing area, my field of vision started to narrow. For about an hour, I could only see images on the periphery of my vision and couldn’t focus on images directly in front of me, especially faces. Chris was directly in front of me and I could hear him clearly but his face was a complete blur. So went my perceptual intake of everyone else around me. This “Optical After Drop” reaction must have been some sort of “eye” reaction to the water temperature, and it went away once I warmed up.
When the water temperature dropped below 50°F, I usually start shaking uncontrollably after our training sessions. This “After Drop” shaking is a completely normal reaction and one I have experienced countless times in my 30+ years of Open Water Swimming. It hits me about 10 minutes after I exit the water, but the shaking became more drastic that Fall as the water plunged into temperatures I’d never previously experienced. It became blatantly apparent that it was not safe for me (or anyone else in this situation) to drive myself the 15-minutes it took to get home since my violent shaking didn’t allow me to have full control of my car. This “Impaired Driving” could jeopardize someone else’s safety (or my own) just so I could obtain my wacky goal.
Ted started driving to my house since he lived a little bit further away, then Julia would drive us to the beach. While we were in the water, she walked along the beach, helped us get dressed afterwards, and drove us home. By the time we got back to my house, Ted and I had done our major shaking while in the car - and it was MAJOR! This shaking allowed us to warm up sufficiently, so Ted was then able to drive home safely. This is an extremely important consideration to plan for with Cold Water training: how far you have to drive before the After Drop shaking sets in and what support you will need to ensure that you can get home safely. We decided that if we did not have a driver, we would sit in our car at the beach – with the heat blasting - for at least 15-minutes until our most intense shaking subsided. We complied with our own rules and did this a few times that Fall.
On the actual day of the swim, December 6th, 2020, I knew we were all going to make it. It was an overcast day with very little wind and the water was flat calm. To make sure we were all ok throughout the swim, Eric Eshius was in the water at the start buoy, Karen Lundgren was at the northern first turn by the Water Treatment Plant, and Joe Lunkes was at the southern turn by the rocks. At each of these points, we had to give a verbal “OK” so the Safety Swimmer could hear and see that we were physically and mentally ok. Each Ice Mile swimmer also had a “Safety Swimmer” walking the beach in a wetsuit and carrying a Rescue Tube. If there was any sense that one of the Ice Mile swimmers was in trouble, this Safety Swimmer would be able to rescue them immediately.
Ted and I started in the first wave. We entered the water and walked out to the Start Buoy. Within a minute, Chris started our event and we were off. Andy and Miriam started in the second wave shortly after us. We heard later that the people watching from the beach were surprised that we all got off so quickly. That’s an indicator of good training! A little less than 33 minutes after we started, Ted and I crossed the finish line, completing our Ice Miles! A few moments later, Andy and Miriam finished their Ice Miles too! The swim on the previous Wednesday had been much harder; today’s event was so gratifying, especially in light of the fact that about 100 volunteers and friends attended. The open beach was a place our community could safely gather amidst life’s current chaotic situation. One of the onlookers exclaimed, “This was so much fun! Can you do it again next weekend?”
There are a lot of things administrative things that need to be done in an Ice Mile and you have to complete each one of them in order to have your swim ratified. The application reminded me of a college term paper and I kept careful notes, which allowed Andy, Miriam, and Ted to complete their applications quickly. If anyone has questions about the necessary administrative steps, please contact me separately. I'm so happy to have completed this Ice Mile. I can say with complete confidence that without the Pandemic, it never would have happened. Now when we get in The Lake and the water is in the low 50s, there are so many of us that say “I can't believe we did an Ice Mile!”
Chris Layton gives the Pre-Race Briefing (L-R:Andy Walberer, Marcia Cleveland, Ted Baumgartner, Marian Cardwell)
Ready to Go!! (L-R: Marian, Marcia, Ted, Andy)
Ted & Marcia just before the start of our Ice Mile, with Eric Eshuis at the Buoy
Ted is just ahead of me, after about 600 yards
Big Beach Turnout, watching the four of us do our Ice Mile. Marian and Andy are heading to the Right (South, 2nd Turn at the Rocks) while Ted & Marcia are heading to the Left (North, Finish.
Eric helps me to shore after I crossed the Finish Line
Michael Bailey Walks with Ted to the shore after Ted’s finish
A Very Satisfied Ted
Swimmer: Marcia Cleveland
Swim Date: March 29-30, 2022
Swim Time: 17 hours, 45 minutes
Start/Finish: Islands of Moloka’i and O’ahu, Hawai’i, United States
Boat: Stellina Mare
Crew: Julia Green, Terri Dietz
Pilots: Mike Twigg-Smith, Shelley Oates-Wilding
Kayakers: Kai Wilding, Erin, Kainoa Lopes
Water Temp: (77°F, 25°C)
Air Temp: (72° to 80°F, 22° to 26°C)
Air Conditions: Wind (5 to 16 MPH/8 to 26 KPH, shifting from Southwest to North to East during the swim),
Wave Height (5 to 8 Feet/ 1.5 to 2.5 Meters)
Family Members frequently mentioned in this log: Mark Green, Husband; Julia Green (24), Daughter; Sam Green (21), Son.
The Moloka’i Channel (also known as The Ka’iwi Channel)
Two Important Points
1. The body of water between Moloka’i is officially known as the Ka’iwi Channel (“Ca-E-ve”.) In this log, with sincere and humble deference to the Channel Gods, I refer to this Channel as the Moloka’i Channel since it is commonly called this outside of Hawai’i. When you are in Hawai’i, please respectfully refer to it as the Ka’iwi Channel
2. I use a GPS Tracker during my swim. The link is sent out once the swim begins. Little did I know that Hawai’i is on the edge of the fringe area which my Spot Tracker covered. I apologize to all who worried about my lack of satellite imagery at all points in this swim, and the potential consequences. I promise never to do a swim in Central Africa, Greenland, the Middle East, and other “out of area” locations as indicated by this link.
Now for thoughts on my Moloka’i Swim
The short version is on March 29-30, 2022, I swam from the island of Moloka’i to the island of O’ahu, Hawai’i, in 17 hours and 45 minutes. If your interest and curiosity about this swim has been satiated, thank you for your time!
The longer version is here.
On Tuesday March 29, 2022, I set off at 5:15pm from Kepuhi Beach at the Kaluakoi Villas on the Island of Moloka’i and swam 44 km/27.34 miles to the island of O’ahu, arriving at Alan Davis Beach (Kaho’ohaihai Inlet), at the Ka’iwi Shoreline Trail on Wednesday March 30, 2022, at 11am, in 17 hours and 45 minutes. This is the longest swim I have ever done in both distance and time.
Here’s how it transpired.
As I stood on Moloka’i looking out on the Moloka’i Channel waiting to start my swim on March 29, 2022, I wondered what the delay on the boat was. I was supposed to get a signal to begin, but none had come yet. I had waited two years, one week, and now 15 minutes, so I realized I could be patient just a little longer. Big Breath In, Big Breath Out. Repeat.
A few minutes ago, I watched my crew Julia and Terri courageously swim out to the boat through six-foot breakers, each with 2 heavy backpacks containing all my gear strapped to them. Little did we know how foretelling this scene would be over the next 18 hours.
There is more to this swim than simply my usual strategy of: I decide to do it, I train hard, I get myself to the start, and I swim to the finish. The COVID-19 Pandemic got in the way.
I targeted this swim for the end of March 2020. With the growing concern over the encroaching Pandemic, I moved my swim date up 2 weeks and landed in Hawai’i on Sunday March 15, 2020. As that week progressed, the weather was looking good for a swim on Thursday March 19th, then on Friday March 20th, due to a better forecast for that day. However, the far-off footsteps of the COVID-19 Pandemic rapidly closed in on Hawai’i. As a result, my swim unraveled due to factors completely out of my control. I left Hawai’i on the night of Friday March 20th with a “Dry Suit,” some unfinished business, and an unimagined way of life as The World entered Lockdown.
I had arrived in sunny, warm Hawai’i in excellent shape, having trained better than I had in years, full of confidence and endurance, thinking I had a good chance of a successful crossing. I returned home to dreary, cold Chicago wondering if I could ever get back into that level of fitness but furthermore: What was happening to our world? Could any of us have foreseen what Lockdown would come to mean, both individually and collectively as a society?
Our family lives on the North Shore of Chicago, Illinois, USA, near lake Michigan. Our daughter, Julia, had just concluded her collegiate swimming career at Kenyon College and came home for Spring Break. She was looking forward to returning to campus for her “Senior Spring.” Unbeknownst to all, the entire graduating Class of 2020 would never return to any campus, and they all received their diploma from their USPS Postal Carriers. Big bummer. (However, Kenyon held a well-attended, in-person graduation in May 2022, offering closure to all.)
Chicago went into Lockdown on Monday March 16th, and our son, Sam, started Zoom School, (a.k.a. “Remote Learning” but our family always uses the term “Zoom School” since this term seems to match the level of educational sophistication provided.) Julia heroically covered this with him while I was in Hawai’i awaiting my swim. When I landed in Chicago on Saturday morning March 21st, Lockdown had abruptly slammed the door on life as we knew it, particularly swimming (for me), organized fitness opportunities, and all forms of in-person socialization beyond one’s household. Immediately I took over the five-hours a day of Zoom School with Sam and starting walking for exercise because that was my only fitness option at the time. But this Lockdown and COVID-19 virus would only last a couple of months, right? God laughs while we make plans. A few pivotal things happened that probably benefited my long-range fitness and helped stave off the mental funk that relentlessly attempted to crash land on me.
Dr. Brian Cunningham is the Physical Therapist for the USA Olympic Swimming Team. We have been working together since 2005, and he has been involved with my preparation for nearly every one of my major swims. My fitness needs have evolved as I have aged (I was 57 years, 11 months when I swam Moloka’i) and Brian has been instrumental in designing programs for me that address this issue. When the Pandemic began, Brian started running PT classes on Zoom 4-5 days a week for a small group of swimmers. These sessions greatly helped my core strength, balance, and mood. I could count on seeing the same community of faces many early mornings as we worked up a big sweat together.
Just before I left for Hawai’i this year (2022), Brian reminded me of the Dryland Program I had done over the past two years. (“Dryland” is what swimmers call any calisthenics/weightlifting/ stretching program done on dry land.) He felt my consistent program had made me stronger and more fit, and I have to agree with him. As a testament to all this Dryland work, when I finished my Moloka’i swim, my wrist-, elbow-, and shoulder joints all hurt from the exertion of swimming nearly 28 miles in the open ocean, but the next day no body part was in pain; I was merely very, very tired. (To set up your own program with Brian, either remotely or in-person, please feel free to get in touch at Brian@TheSwimDoc.com)
My daily solitary walking in March 2020 sparked memory of a goal I had set when I turned 50: to complete a Marathon in this decade of my life. When my friend Stephanie Henry heard of my idea, she got on this Marathon Train and on April 18, 2020, we walked a marathon in 7 hours flat. I’m now officially done with marathons on land.
A few weeks later, I was slated to be formally inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in New York City. Cancelled. Another Big Bummer. Instead, we had a spontaneous informal “sashing” ceremony on our local beach, attended by about 10 of us, after our initial dunk of the season, in 48°F/8°C water.
Since Lake Michigan was the only water available for a very long time, I started contacting many in the local swim community with various times to swim at Gillson Beach in Wilmette, Illinois, and this went viral. As it goes with so many aspects of any organized community, relationships began, renewed, developed, and expanded. Many of these will continue for life, and this is something I truly love about the swimming community!
I coach an adult swim team of 30+ members, North Shore Masters, which, like everything else, had abruptly been put on hiatus in March. In June, I got word that we could have immediate access to an outdoor 8-lane pool. Our team was one of the first to return to organized workouts during the Pandemic, and we used the recently compiled USA-Swimming COVID-19 protocols on social distancing. It felt so good to be back together and have something that resembled a “normal community.” When we weren’t in the pool, many NSM swimmers were at Gillson Beach and other Lake Michigan beaches.
Throughout this period, I calmly assured myself that my lake swimming and limited pool workouts would be sufficient to keep me in shape, so if it was meant to be, I could eventually regain my form to swim the Moloka’i Channel. On some days this was a very hard internal sell. Big Breath In, Big Breath Out. Repeat.
In January 2021, our family moved locally. We had been trying to sell our house for a while and this was a good outcome for our family, but any way you slice it, moving is exhausting. I got our new house set up in a month by swimming only a few times a week, but it was worth it. Once we were settled in, I started to build up my dwindling fitness again.
HOW MANY LAPS IN A POOL?
For all my cherished NARPs reading this (Non-Athletic Regular People: This is the term we athletes use to refer to our non-athletic friends in an endearing, loving way), here is how to translate the language of “pool math” used going forward. If you are already conversant, please feel free to skip ahead to the next section.
In a 25-yard pool, the one you’d find at the YMCA, the Health Club, etc., one lap/length equals 25 yards. (To me “lap and length” are synonymous, but their definitions are a major source of debate for some.) Therefore, four laps equal 100 yards. Think “Four Quarters to the Dollar.” One-Thousand yards equals 40 laps; thus 40,000 yards equals 1600 laps, and 50,000 yards equals 2000 laps. In a 25-yard pool, one mile (1760 yards) equals 72 laps. It’s actually 70 laps + 10 yards but no self-respecting swimmer stops at mid-pool.
This pool length is called “Short Course Yard”, abbreviated SCY, and mostly found in the United States. The term “Short Course Meters”, abbreviated SCM, applies to a pool measuring 25 meters (equal to 27.25 yards) and is a common pool length all over the world, but less common within the United States. The same SCY-conversion math applies, i.e. “Four Quarters to the Dollar” to SCM pools.
The last common pool course “Long Course Meters”, abbreviated LCM, applies to pools measuring 50-meters long (54.68 yards). This pool course is used for the Olympics, World Championships, and lots of other swim competitions I won’t describe here. (Centennial Pool in Wilmette, Illinois is a 50-meter pool.) For the conversion measurements defined for SCY and SCM pools, divide those in half for the number of laps in a 50-meter pool. Here’s a quick example: Two laps in a 50-meter pool (“down and back”) equal 100 meters, so 1000 meters equals 20 laps.
Since I have a lot of international friends, I include metric measurements in my logs. To convert Yards to Meters, divide by 0.9144. To convert Meters to Yards, multiply by 1.0936, which is roughly 10%. Now that you are a clued-in expert, you can impress other NARPs with your knowledge of the terms SCY, SCM, and LCM and I’ll let you do the conversion math going forward. Let’s get back to the story.
THE TRAINING PLAN
For my Moloka’i swim, my training started in earnest in October 2021. I put together a calendar mapping out my daily yardage goals, increasing gradually on a weekly basis.
Starting from a base of 25,000 yards in September 2021, I ramped it up to 40,000 yards by early December. In January and February 2022, I had several weeks of 40-50,000 yards (36-45,000 meters), and even one of 62,000 yards (57,000 meters). On this calendar, I indicated when my long swims would be and I wrote down how far I actually swam every day, based on my plan. I also listed how many weeks until the start of my swim window. Using this system gives me a clear, organized view of how my design will come to fruition. With rare exceptions, I stick to it.
As my own coach, to create challenging workouts that enhance mental and physical skills, I draw on others who inhabit the same training universe as me, and I browse my log books (dating back to 1979) for ideas. I’m regularly able to put together practices that include endurance work, pace work, and the occasional sprint set. Sometimes, a lot of arguments transpire between coach and athlete, both before and during workouts. These squabbles always run along the lines of “I can’t do this set. It’s too hard for me,” “I’m really tired today,” and “I want to cut practice short because (fill in the blank….)”, etc. When the whining ceases, the athlete usually does what the coach has proposed, often surprising herself along the way. Once again, one more workout is in the bag. DONE, one stroke at a time. Big Breath In, Big Breath Out. Repeat.
In early November I had planned to go to Texas for a few days of long swims. This trip didn’t pan out so I did my scheduled 6-hour swim in a local pool, covering 23,000 yards in 6 hours and 10 minutes, which included my one-minute poolside feeds every 30 minutes. I was never bored or wanted out; I just kept going and going and going until I was done. This was a good sign.
When I set up my training schedule in October 2021, I planned to do long swims at Northwestern University on Mondays, Wednesdays, & Fridays and shorter speed sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays at another facility with my training group. Saturday would be a flexible day and Sunday is usually my day off.
Both facilities offered pool space and decent gym facilities since Brian had me doing a program three to four days a week that built core and hip strength, flexibility, and balance. This plan worked fine until the Omicron variant of COVID-19 reared its ugly head in December 2021. With spikes in new cases, Northwestern restricted pool usage to one-hour a day, and reservations were required. This arrangement was not going to work for me. Mark suggested I investigate using the RecPlex in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, 40 miles (65 km) away from our house.
The RecPlex, which is often referred to as “Pleasant Prairie” is a 10-lane, 50-meter pool. It is usually bisected by a bulkhead at mid-pool, creating two 25-yard courses, for a total of 20 lanes.
From late December to mid-March, at Pleasant Prairie alone I swam 153 miles (246 km) in the same Royal Blue Speedo that faded to Sky Blue by the time I stepped on the plane to Hawai’i.
At the RecPlex, I was able to do my dryland program on deck and then swim between 2 ½ and 4 hours three days a week by myself, building a firm foundation from which my Moloka’i swim launched. Leo Tolstoy remarked about the distracting opinions of others:
"If you care too much about being praised, in the end you will not accomplish anything serious. Let the judgments of others be the consequence of your deeds, not their purpose."
There was no one there telling me what to do. It was completely up to me, and I cut no corners. My family was very supportive since they know how dedicated I was to my demanding program. There were some days it was so hard to get started but start I did, and eventually, I got through it, chalking off another step in my journey.
Between October 2021 and March 2022, I swam a total of 496 miles (800 km). I cannot overemphasize the intrinsic discipline, focus, drive, and desire necessary to achieve a big goal. This one was up to me all the way.
right up to the moment of the start, such as a Global Pandemic. Also, the training I do is so hard, I am careful to protect myself from those who want to trivialize the work involved. The preparation is challenging to explain even to my most-seasoned swim mates. To those I do share my intentions with, there is a well-respected cone of silence surrounding all conversations.
One of my friends, Mary Sheridan, once said about my drive and focus, “This is so so sooooo deep inside you. It is part of your core being and only you can access it. It takes outsiders a very long time to understand you and most never do.” I had to agree with her. It is this type of solitary drive and focus that allows me to keep going until the job is done. Big Breath In, Big Breath Out. Repeat.
For Moloka’i, I knew I would be swimming through the night in the Pacific Ocean with just a kayaker next to me. Part of my reason for training at Pleasant Prairie was to work on coping with and learning mentally to thrive in this isolation. To the best of my ability, I try to envision what all the various scenarios are going to be and then practice, practice, practice.
My time at Pleasant Prairie allowed me to hone this focus. The RecPlex is a gorgeous 10-lane, 50-meter pool which never had more than a handful of swimmers in it when I was there. I find unwarranted attention and compliments during training to be a distraction, which, in turn, can affect the flow of my workout. Fortunately, in Pleasant Prairie, it was just me and the pool. Driving home from these sessions, sometimes I would call my sister Gail and tell her how tired I was from all the training. She understood both my quandary and my goal and didn’t ever suggest I waver from my plan.
At Pleasant Prairie, I made a point of starting from the end furthest away from the entrance to maximize my solitude. Most of my workouts started with an hour (or longer) straight swim simulating the first leg of Moloka’i. Then I would follow this up with half-hour sets (often at 1:30/100 yards), further mirroring my actual event. Because of this type of training, I learned how long 30 minutes felt like while I was swimming at “race pace.” In my actual swim, I never wondered “How long until the next feed?” Rather, the boat just appeared like clockwork. One set that trained my sense of time and my body was:
4000 straight (~1 hour), 10x100s 1:30 (holding 1:25-1:27s), 50 easy,
3000 straight (~45 mins), 10x100s 1:30 (holding 1:25-1:27s), 50 easy,
2000 straight (~30 mins), 10x100s 1:30 (holding 1:25-1:27s), 50 easy,
1000 straight (~15 mins), 10x100s 1:30 (holding 1:25-1:27s), 50 easy.
14,200 yards in ~3 Hours, 40 Minutes.
In mid-January, I went to Naples, Florida for a training trip with Kris Rutford, David Blanke, and Richard Clifford. Kathy Ottensmeyer and Chap Waters graciously hosted us. Over the course of 4 days, we swam 24 miles at Lowdermilk Park between Doctor’s Pass and the Naples Pier. This public beach is an ideal spot to train because we could rent a kayak right on the beach ($30/hour) and the public parking was only $3/hour. There were showers, locker rooms, and concessions in the main beach house. The 2.8 mile straight sandy stretch allows someone to walk the beach, and we had the option to swim as close to shore as we wanted. Besides all the swimming, I kept testing what worked with various equipment and feeds, and where chaffing occurred on my body. I even got Kris and David to try mint mouthwash at the end of their feeds, which greatly reduces one’s mouth from swelling in salt water. They loved it, or at least their mouths did!
A month later, I spent 4 days in Acapulco with Nora Toledaño, René Martinez Saenz, and Julia. Since René was also training for the Moloka’i Channel, René, Nora, and I had hatched this plan the previous October. Acapulco has several of the same elements found in Moloka’i: Waves, some of which I got in Florida; Marine Life, which Acapulco provided in spades; and Jelly Fish, which were present more abundantly than I could have ever imagined.
During our 3-hour swim, the sea lice and nettles got under my suit, creating a lot of itch. The next day during our 8-hour swim, from the start, the jelly fish were everywhere. We only got a reprieve from these “Aguamalas” for 2 hours when we were out in the open ocean swimming through 3 to 4-foot (1-1.5 meter) waves.
I got stung all over but the only one that made me scream did so at the 7 ½ hour mark by wrapping itself around my neck like a boa. When I ripped it off and threw it over my head, it landed on the back of my legs, delivering more sting. Double ouch. At one point early on, I asked Nora, “Can we delay this feeding until the jellies let up a little?” She replied regretfully, “They’re everywhere,” so we fed through the stings. Mentally and physically, I had to deal with this situation. This was what I was practicing for, right? Ugh. Big Breath In, Big Breath Out. Repeat.
>I am happy to report that on June 19, 2022, Rene Martinez Saenz successfully swam the Moloka’i Channel in 14:48. His crew and coach was Nora Toledaño.
Just before I left for Hawai’i, I came across this quote by James Clear, Author of Atomic Habits.
"Most big, deeply satisfying accomplishments in life take at least five years to achieve. Five years is a long time. It is much slower than most of us would like. If you accept the reality of slow progress, you have every reason to take action today. If you resist the reality of slow progress, five years from now you'll simply be five years older and still looking for a shortcut."
These words encapsulated the essence of my training. The rest was now in the hands of the Channel Gods.
ARRIVING IN HAWAI’I
Julia and I arrived in Hawai’i on March 22, 2022. We were ready to go if the weather – mainly the wind - was right. “Not so fast,” said the Channel Gods, and put us into “Waiting Mode.” Julia has come to know the lack of glamour involved in her mom’s swim trips. Our daily schedule followed along the lines of: Wake up, Stretch, Eat, Swim, Hangout, Eat, Rest, Eat, Go to Sleep.
When Mark realized Sam’s school Spring Break coincided with my Moloka’i window, they weren’t missing out on a trip to Hawai’i and arrived mid-day on Thursday March 24th. We’d all hoped the swim would be completed early on so we could have a nice, long vacation together on O’ahu. The Channel Gods just kept laughing.
On Saturday, we all toured the beaches on the west side of the island since it was the first day of the Box Jellyfish’s predictable, yet unexplained, monthly arrival. (It has to do with the lunar cycle.)
(Box Jellyfish Calendar, https://www.waikikiaquarium.org/interact/box-jellyfish-calendar/).
Also, we all trekked out to Alan Davis Beach Monday morning, but Julia and I stayed in the car while Mark and Sam hiked down to my (hopeful!) landing point. They took plenty of pictures that became excellent reference points for the finish of my swim.
Mark did make reservations at some great restaurants in Honolulu, and my stomach is eternally grateful. (Brick Fire Tavern Pizza and the Panya Bistro were especially notable.) For the most part, we ate breakfast, lunch, and probably half our dinners in our rented condo. I love having my family around and this trip was no different. I simply had a very focused reason for being in Hawai’i, and they respected this.
As we were driving to dinner on Saturday March 26th, I got a text from my boat pilot, Mike Twigg-Smith, saying I would begin my swim at 5pm on Tuesday March 29th. That’s it. There was now a solid starting time. Big Breath In, Big Breath Out. Repeat.
Whenever I get word of my definitive start time on a major swim, I feel the bottom temporarily drop out of me, rendering me quiet and absorbed. Lots of deep breaths. It takes a little while for me to process the immediate task at hand. All those hours of training and preparation are now squarely on the line.
By Sunday morning, I had wrapped my head around the next 48 hours: Today I’d do a 45-minute pool swim, due to the continuation of the Box Jellies, working on turnover and tempo, at Manoa Valley District Park. https://www.honolulu.gov/parks/default/pool-locations.html.
On Monday, I would swim at Ala Moana Beach for about 30 minutes. I would also sleep and rest as much as possible. I’d avoid walking under ladders, breaking mirrors, and black cats. Can’t be too careful at this point!
On March 20th, I had begun my Hydration Plan: drinking at least one gallon (3.8 liters) of water daily. On Monday March 28th, I swapped out the water for Gatorade to load my muscles with Sodium, Carbs, and Potassium. On March 19th, I stopped drinking all caffeinated beverages so the cup of coffee I had on Tuesday afternoon just before the start had quite a jolting effect.
Devon Clifford Baldwin had been with me in Hawai’i in 2020 to crew for my swim. Due to some work responsibilities, she couldn’t make it to Hawai’i in 2022 as planned so she plugged me into the Hawai’i an Open Water Swim Community. Through Stefan Reinke, I quickly connected with Terri Dietz, who turned out to be a superb crew member. She and Don, her husband, promptly became dear friends. I consider Terri a gift from heaven, like Keith Carmen in Scotland, and a major component of my successful Moloka’i Channel crossing.
Noon on Tuesday March 29th came quickly. Bags were packed. Last meals were eaten. Pre-swim anxiety hovered just below the surface. It was time to go.
There are two ways to get to the start of a Moloka’i swim. One is by boat, which equates roughly to a 3-hour trip from O’ahu to Moloka’i on the escort boat. Option Two is to fly. We opted to fly.
Mark and Sam dropped off Julia, Terri, and me at Terminal 3 of the Honolulu Airport for our 1:15pm Mokulele Airlines/Southern Express flight to Moloka’i (MKK). The 25-minute flight cost about $100 per person. The whole set-up is pretty easygoing: this open-air terminal is separated from the main airport, it has no security check, and most of the 9 passengers on our full flight arrived a few minutes before departure. Like good “Haoles”, we were there 45 minutes early. (Haole is a derogatory word in Hawai’ian for “foreigners.”) I tried not to look down at the water during the flight but of course I did. At least my thoughts ran along the lines, “I’m going to be down there soon. I can do this.”
Above Left: Julia & I ready to fly to Moloka’i. Above Right: The west coast of Moloka’i.
Below: View of Diamondhead on O’ahu from the plane.
Once we arrived on Moloka’i, we had 3 hours until the start. Wisely, we remained at the airport since there were benches to rest on, adequate shelter, functioning public restrooms, and running water. We found the Moloka’i sign that is the backdrop for many aspiring Channel swimmers and took a few photos of our own.
Marcia Cleveland & Julia Green in Moloka’i, March 29, 2022
At 3:30pm, the taxi we had reserved picked us up. (Hele Mai Taxi, (808) 336-0967, (808) 553-5700, or (808) 646-0608, Closed on Sunday. Cost $50-80, cash or credit.) The 20-minute ride weaved across the scrubbed red-earth landscape, that was sprinkled with brush weed and deer. The west side of Moloka’i looks like it could be on another planet. I was really nervous and inwardly focused, so I didn’t listen to much of what the very friendly driver was pointing out, but he was trying hard to be hospitable. Before I knew it, we wound up at the Kaluakoi Villas for the start of my swim. Big Breath In, Big Breath Out. Repeat.
I felt as ready as one could feel for a swim of this duration. My dear friends, Marcy Mac Donald, Liz Fry, and Nora Toledaño all had advised me ahead of time, “It’s a looooooong swim. Be patient and you’ll get there.” Their words would ring in my head all night long, and well into the morning. Dina Levačić told me afterwards, “Moloka’i is a BEAST!” Glad she kept her opinion to herself before I swam.
We found the pool at the Kaluakoi Villas and walked past it, to the east side of the dilapidated ballroom. Terri said the last time she had been here, a security guard appeared after detecting her on the pool camera but there were no cameras on the other side and subsequently no security guards. Stellina Mare, Mike Twigg-Smith’s boat was already in position – a good sign - but Mike said we were aiming for a 5pm start so we had time to chill. We relaxed, I stretched a bit, and we waited.
At 4:40pm, it was time to get ready. The well-orchestrated plan began. I pulled on my Speedo bathing suit, and then Terri and Julia applied yet a 3rd layer of sunscreen all over me; layers #1&2 had been applied at various times before we left O’ahu. Then Desitin went on my chafe spots: neck, biceps, suit lines. I put my cap over my barrettes, ponytail, hairnet, and wetted hair, fit my nose clip, and strapped on my goggles that had a red light attached. (Marine life doesn’t see red light well.) We walked back past the pool, down the stairs, and to the beach. My vision tunneled on the western horizon towards O’ahu and the magnitude of what lay before me. It was Go Time.
View from Moloka’i to O’ah
Mike had said that a kayak would come onto the beach to ferry our gear out to the boat. When it became apparent that this was not going to happen, Julia & Terri did a quick readjustment and placed all the gear that “should” stay dry into the few available drybags and proceeded to swim all the gear out to the boat which was anchored about 200 yards offshore. This was an amazing sight to witness as these two strong women powered through two sets of 6-foot (2 meters) breakers, each wearing two heavy backpacks. I was grateful that they were doing this for me. Once I saw that they were set up on board, I waited for Mike’s wave from the flybridge, and just like that, my swim began, as this video link captures:
Start of Swim at 5:15pm, from Moloka’i.
My first few strokes boldly got me through the initial set of 6-foot (2m.) breakers and the next few propelled me over the following set and out into the ocean. I was on my way, thinking forward thoughts.
Within a few minutes, the sandy bottom gave way to some large rocks below and I caught a glimpse of a few tropical fish and one barracuda. Shortly, all this vanished and soon all I could see below was an endless expanse of dark water. Based on my observations over the last week, sunset and dusk is brief in Hawai’i. I knew I had about 2 hours until it would be completely dark, and I wanted to cover as much distance in daylight as possible. I got going.
The Rules of Marathon Swimming are simple:
The Swim begins from a natural shore where there is no water behind the swimmer.
The Swim finishes when the swimmer clears the water with no water in front of them.
2. Physical Contact
The swimmer may not make intentional physical supportive contact with any vessel, object, or support personnel at any time during the swim.
3. Standard Equipment
The swimmer may wear a single textile swimsuit with standard coverage, one latex or silicone cap, goggles, ear plugs, nose clips, and may grease the body. The swimmer may not use any additional equipment that benefits speed, buoyancy, endurance, or heat retention.
At the start of my swim, with Kai paddling alongside me and the Kaluakoi Villas behind us.
Three different kayakers took turns escorting my swim and they swapped out every 2 hours. This was a good way for me to keep track of time and all of them: Kai, Erin, & Kainoa had good ocean skills and kept me on track. The boat went ahead about 100 to 200 yards to track the currents and maintain the rhumb line. The kayaker would keep sight of the boat since they were able to see the boat in the swells, and I would sight off the kayak. I thought this arrangement would cause me a lot of anxiety, but it was completely fine.
During the first few hours, we were clipping along at 3+ kilometers/hour (~2 miles/hour), and my stroke rate was 68-70 strokes per minute. I felt great and just kept turning over at the same tempo I had practiced for months. One of my favorite quotes kept repeating in my mind:
Ask not for victory alone but ask for courage. For if you can endure you bring honor to yourself but more importantly, you bring honor to us all.
I really wanted to complete this swim for both myself and all the people who helped me get here. I waited a long time for this, constantly wondering for the past two years if I would ever get a shot. The here and now had arrived. Carpe Diem, and all that jazz. I fully knew the What/Why/How of this swim and swam with determination.
After the first hour, the boat showed up directly in front of the kayak and me, and I took my first feed in 35 seconds, then we were off again in what would be the pattern for the next 16+ hours: The boat zoomed ahead, the kayaker and I followed behind.
For those who are new to the process of an in-water “feed,” this is a way of transferring nutrition to the swimmer without the swimmer making contact with any support vessel, thus abiding by “Channel Rules.”
After the first hour, every 30 minutes the boat would come zooming back to us (i.e. the kayaker & me.) When I was about 6 feet (2 meters) from the side of the boat, my crew threw me 2 Contigo water bottles hooked together on the same long line via a carabiner. A Hammer Gel (an easily consumed complex carbohydrate gel) was attached to one of the bottles with a rubber wristband. I would ingest the gel first, toss the empty gel pouch back to my crew (no littering, please) then drink about 10-12 ounces (300 ml) from the bottle containing Endurox (a carbohydrate drink), then rinse out with a swig of mint mouthwash from the second bottle. (As stated before, mouthwash helps reduce swelling in the mouth caused by salt water.) When I was done, I would let the bottles drop and the crew would pull them in via the line.
At various feedings, Julia told me
And on and on and on it went.
I was grateful for these messages and acts of kindness. They boosted my mental state immensely.
During a feed, my crew would be telling me information I needed to know and, if necessary, I would respond. Throughout most of the night, my remarks centered on how grateful I was to be here, I felt great, and I was in a good rhythm. Once I dropped the bottles, I would head around the stern of the boat and start swimming again. If there was not a shift change (which happened every 2 hours,) the kayaker would be with me but in the case of a change, I would swim into the darkness, and the kayaker would catch up a minute or two later. All feeds on this swim lasted a speedy 45 and 60 seconds, with only two 90-second stops. My precise feeding procedure has been honed to a ‘T’ to ensure that I get the necessary nutrition in a matter of seconds. It’s a feed, not a rest. Any extra time taken during a feed creates a longer swim and heightens the possibility of missing an inbound tide or advantageous current.
During the dark hours, one of the kayakers was wearing a large brim hat topped with a dully glowing red light. (Similar to the red light I was wearing on my goggle strap, by wearing a red light, the kayakers would not attract the attention of marine life.) The light sticks that originally lined the starboard side of the kayak were long gone. So, my entire swim (and life, I guess) was momentarily predicated on my ability to track that single dull light on the kayaker’s hat as we moved through the swells. It couldn’t get any worse. But, of course, it did.
When the next kayaker’s shift began, it was this person’s first escort of the season and they had forgotten to put a new battery in their light. About 2 minutes into the shift, there was pitch darkness between us. I yelled to the kayaker, “Hey, the battery’s out in your light.” For the next 30 minutes, said kayaker fiddled with the light, making it go on and off as the old battery sputtered out its last gasps of energy. (New batteries were swapped out at the next feed.) I marked my position by the darkened silhouette of the kayak against the surface of the water. Another favorite quote emerged from the recesses of my mind:
Obstacles are what we see when we take our eyes off the goal.
Throughout the night, I had felt waves breaking over me at times. As the night wore on, often I could not see the kayak due to the swells. I didn’t even try to sight the boat. I asked for a sign from God. I didn’t get the bolt of sunlight breaking through the clouds or the dolphin leaping that I’ve received in the past. She wasn’t having any of it right now, being “unavoidably detained” at the moment. I had to continue to hustle.
Our merry little band proceeded like this throughout the night, as the wide-open Pacific Ocean did its thing around us. Swim for a half-hour, stop for a quick feed, swim for another half-hour, feed, swim, and onwards. I thought we were covering a fair amount of distance during the night and this assumption put me in a good mood. I thanked the Channel Gods for keeping me safe.
It’s always a joy to sense the coming of the dawn and those first rays of sunlight on the water, whether you’re the swimmer or crew, and this particular Wednesday morning did not disappoint. The darkness gave way to twilight, which then yielded to dawn and a glorious sunrise. Once the sun was up around 7am, I finally peeked at O’ahu to gauge the distance to shore. The one thing I could see is that we were closer to O’ahu than to Moloka’i. I had swum 18 miles (29 kilometers) already. That’s a good thing. When the crew told me that we still had about 10 miles to go, I was taken aback because I thought we were closer than that. OK, this Channel wasn’t going to swim itself so I re-doubled my efforts. At the next feed 30-minutes later, I was informed that we had covered one kilometer, that’s 1100 yards, half of my usual speed! That’s it? I wondered internally, “What amount of effort was this swim going to take?” Big Breath In, Big Breath Out. Repeat.
Dawn comes to the Moloka’i Channel.
I’m the splash in the middle, to the left of the kayak.
Next feed: Same distance reported. UGH. What I didn’t know is that the predicted “ideal” conditions had deteriorated overnight into pretty rough ones, and I was in the midst of 5 to 8 feet seas (2 to 2.5 meters.) Currents were swirling in unpredictable ways: sideways, against us, and, it seemed, never with us. Mother Nature was having a great time.
Why does this happen? Consider the size of the Pacific Ocean. It covers a massive 60 million square miles (155 million square kilometers) and has an average depth of 13,000 feet (4,000 meters). It flows uninterrupted for thousands of miles. Then think about all the tiny islands dotting the surface of the Pacific. In the case of the Hawai’i an Islands, each one is a seamount created by a volcano rising up from the deep bottom.
O’ahu and Moloka’i sit atop a coastal “shelf,” where the water varies in depth between 10,000 to 15,000 feet (6200 to 9300 meters) on either side of the two islands and then rises up to about 2,500 feet (1550 meters) between them on this shelf.
The measurement markings in the map found in this link are in feet:
Ka’iwi means “Rough Water” in Hawai’ian and she was living up to her name right now. Aptly, this waterway is also known as “The Channel of Bones.” I just kept swimming. Internally, I was getting dark and frustrated, since I felt I was expending so much effort that only yielded seemingly meager results. I hear you Marcy, Liz, and Nora: I will have to be patient and just keep swimming. But this is so incredibly hard right now!!
When someone on the boat said to me “You Got This” I knew the speaker was genuinely trying to help, so I added “In You.” By adding those two little words to create “You Got This In You”, this phrase takes on an entirely new meaning for me, and made me contemplate, “Yes, I think I do have this in me.” And I was working big time for this swim!
Sure, I could stop at any time and say, “I’d had enough” but it never crossed my mind to do so. This swim was about me and my abilities to endure and persevere. No one was asking me to finish nor was there a big pay out on the beach besides, of course, my family and some new friends. It was up to me right now to determine the outcome which meant I had to dig down deep over and over. Big Breath In, Big Breath Out. Repeat.
Julia got in three times to pace me. Her support, as allowed by the rules, definitely moved the needle: we covered 1.2 km during her in-water shifts. The first time she got in, just after dawn, she was on my right. (We had practiced pacing on both sides.) At this point in my swim, I was trying to stay close to the kayak to get the benefit of the shark shield so in case a shark decided to check us out, he/she didn’t take a chomp out of me. (As we closed in on the finish, I was much less cautious since any approaching shark at this point would have to deal with my wrath.) But as I naturally do, I was pulling a bit to the right, with Julia right there. I know she was trying really hard and even got stung by jellyfish during her pacing stints, but I kept bumping into her and that annoyed an already very annoyed Marcia. I tried to keep all this to myself, but Julia detected my frustration. When Julia got back in later to pace me, I asked her to swim on the other side of the kayak and this worked out magnificently. I could see her arms churning and this proved to be a successful pacing method.
The Usual Big Seas during this Swim.
When we were very close to the end and I had been mentally dark for several hours, Terri told me in a stern voice, “This is your last feed. You have a little over a mile to go. The current is slightly against you. You have to give it your all and you’ll get there.” What she said was what I needed to hear. As far as I’d come and as near as the finished loomed, I could not let up at all. Big Breath In, Big Breath Out. Repeat.
I was surprised when Mike got in the water just outside the inlet entrance to Alan Davis Beach. Could we actually be this near the finish? I never could have found the Beach without Mike’s guidance, nor could I have landed safely without direction between the sharp rocks and the strong currents.
Kaho'ohaihai Inlet at Alan Davis Beach. Access the State Park via Kalaniana’ole Highway on the East side of O’ah
Julia also got in and had the honor of swimming with me to the finish. A solo swim is anything but a singular effort. Obviously, the swimmer has to swim, but the crew, kayakers, and boat pilots are integral parts of any swim. They all played a huge part in my success. Most importantly, I’m so glad Julia got to be part of this entire swim, especially the finish.
Mark had shown me the pictures of Alan Davis Beach from his hike with Sam. I anticipated that the distance from the inlet entrance to the beach finish was much further than it turned out to be. In reality, it was probably not further than 100 yards/meters but I wasn’t done until I was done. At the entrance, I knew I was close.
Below: View from the Land alongside the inlet as we are trying to land. The seas were pretty rough.
There is a point in every swim when I’m finally confident I am going to make it. For Moloka’i, seeing Sam waving to me as he stood on the rocks near the entrance to the inlet wearing his #6 NYC Subway Line shirt was that point. I knew I was going to make it then.
Inside this inlet, the water is shallow, but the current was still ferocious, and I had to time my forward movement with the ebb and flow of the unruly water. As we entered the inlet, my right hip grazed a rough rock, leaving a nice little gash. There would be plenty more scratchy rocks that I had to claw over to get to dry land. It was in these few short minutes that I got the most scraped up of the entire swim. Rough lava rocks on the bottom created an uneven surface. When I tried to stand up the first time, I couldn’t maintain my balance without risking a face plant so I lowered myself back into the water again and continued to claw my way along towards the beach. I wasn’t sure if I should go straight ahead since the bottom was a forest of rough, bumpy rocks. I saw a small clearing of sand to the right and I took it.
As I stood up and took a step onto “dry land”, where there was no more water in front of me, Mike Twigg-Smith said, “That’s it. You’re done!”
I had just completed my swim of the Moloka’i Channel in 17 hours and 45 minutes!
In this video clip of my Moloka’i finish, https://youtu.be/CMbLxMV-xPk, I look very unstable standing up due to the fact that there were lots of basketball-sized lava rocks I had to step around or risk doing a serious face plant. Since no one can touch me until I am on land with no water in front of me, I was very careful with my footing. But when I finally set foot on Terra Firma, I bent over (nice shot of my rear end), not in heaving exhaustion but because I had the presence of mind to say a prayer, thanking God for giving me the strength and opportunity to do what I just did.
Before I started, my crew and I had linked hands and prayed for a safe swim and asked God for strength, courage, and joy in this crossing. Bill and Barbara Haljin also sent this timely prayer:
We asked God for gifts of The Holy Spirit during your swim to O’ahu. Be safe and stay the course. Protect her Lord. Amen.
I was, I did, and thank you!
My successful swim of the Moloka’i Channel is proof that God shows love in amazing, often unexpected ways, and I am grateful to have received this devotion throughout my journey.
Above Left: With Barbara Held who greeted us with beautiful Leis.
Above Right: With Kainoa and Mike, my escorts to the Finish.
Below: Family Group Hug!
On the beach, several of our new friends materialized. Barbara Held and Don Dietz were there with leis and photography skills. THANK YOU!!! A few regular - yet unsuspecting - beachgoers joined into the merriment of the moment. Most of all, our family was together at the finish, a first for us. Their support was vital to my swim; a lot of joyful group hugging ensued.
I had the choice to walk about a half-mile (800 meters) on a rocky path in the hot sun for a car ride back to the marina, or I could swim back to the boat. The thought of that walk wasn’t particularly appealing (right then), so I swam back to the boat. Plus, I wanted to be with the crew. All of them had made this swim a success and I had a lot of thanks to give.
As we set out from the beach, Julia graciously offered sensible advice as how best to get through the strong current, avoid the sharp rocks, and deal with rough waves back to the boat. I heard none of it and came up with a much better idea. Kainoa let a rope out from the back of the kayak and gave me a tow! Beautiful! Big Breath In, Big Breath Out. Relax FINALLY!
Once I got back to the boat, High Fives prevailed all around. We had time to recap the past 18 hours while we motored back to the Marina. Yes, it was a tough swim but the combined efforts of all of us made it a success. I felt truly happy at this point and the relief enfolded me as I lay on the back deck. All the issues I had dealt with throughout the pandemic, causing internal exasperation, turmoil, and doubt were laid to rest - FINALLY.
The Beauty of Hard Work and a Job Successfully Completed.
Mark, Sam, and Don greeted us upon our return to the Marina. They helped us unload the boat (which turned out to be quite easy and remarkably tidy, thanks to the garbage bags Julia & Terri used so well!), and then we took several group shots. I was fatigued and puffy from the salt, my left eye was swollen, my throat was sore, and I was scraped up in a few spots. More importantly, the prevailing emotion of the group shines through: united and victorious joy.
Our Team: Erin, Kainoa Lopes, Shelley Oates-Wilding, Mike Twigg-Smith, Marcia Cleveland, Julia Green, Terri Dietz, Kai Wilding. http://www.Molokaiswim.com/
Mark, Julia, Sam, and I drove back to our condo via Waikiki Beach on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. Once we unpacked the car, I took a long, well-deserved shower. Then, I lay down for a bit while Mark and Sam drove out of their way to get what was reviewed as “The Best Milkshake in Honolulu.” They got me two; this was a perfect after-swim dinner!
This next paragraph is gross so stop reading now and skip over the next paragraph if unpleasant bodily functions aren’t your thing.
When your body is immersed in salt water for a long time, the sodium builds up in your GI System. Eventually, this sodium needs to be purged. I have seen others experience this situation, but Moloka’i was a first for me. It was during this shower that my system began to let loose, and did so for about 4 hours, with liquid poop. It wasn’t diarrhea but rather just streams of salt water mixed with minimal edibles and there was no pain involved. I was always able to get to the bathroom but once I realized what was happening, I stayed close until I thought I was pretty well purged of the Pacific Ocean. It took me about 24 hours to get back to “regular,” a small token to pay for such a massive swim.
The gross part is over so start reading again here.
That evening, Julia and I cleaned up the gear. Despite our fatigue, we rinsed the salt off everything, tossed the items that had given their all during my swim, and hung up what needed to dry. When we woke up in the morning, the gear was clean, and we could enjoy the day.
That night, I put Desitin and Neosporin on my neck to help ease the chafing that developed during my swim. I slept with the hood of my sweatshirt up to act as a bandage, creating a fast track to healing. (When we returned home, I slept in a turtleneck with the same salve blend to continue the healing.) Sleep came easily after I took 2 Extra-strength Tylenol which helped me to sleep through the night for the first time ever after a major swim.
The next morning, I awoke around 5:30 AM and took some pictures of post-Moloka’i me. I love these photos because they express the hard-won, honest emotions of overcoming a tough challenge.
It took me a few days to be able to swallow easily. The next night it took me over an hour to eat a bowl of pasta for dinner. This feat did not go unnoticed by the several observant Channel Swimmers with whom we were dining. Of course, they all had their amusing sore throat stories to tell. For the next few days, those milkshakes were so good!
Now I will address the Elephant in the Room:
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT?
A frequent question I receive is: “What do you think about?”
A lot of things on a lot of levels continuously. There is often a running interior monologue that comes in rapid, random, unpunctuated chunks, sort of like the end of Ulysses. This stream-of-consciousness is easily interrupted when songs from my playlist stream through my mind. There is often an underlying U2, Elvis Costello, or Alanis Morrisette track playing, but the rest is unpredictable. Surprisingly, The Beatles 1966 song “And Your Bird Can Sing,” flowed throughout the night. I have no idea where this came from.
You tell me that you’ve got everything you want. And your bird can sing. But you don’t get me, you don’t get meeeeeeeeee.
You say you’ve seen Seven Wonders and your bird is green. But you can’t see me, you can’t see meeeeeeeeee.
When your prized possessions start to weigh you down. Look in my direction, I’ll be round, I’ll be roooound.
When your bird is broken, will it bring you down? You make be awaken, I’ll be round, I’ll be roooound.
You tell me you’ve heard every sound there is and your bird can swing. But you can’t hear me, you can’t hear meeeeeeeeee.
I also think about people in my life and my relationship with them. All this time affords me the opportunity to examine various perspectives from many dimensions. At other times, I get into a “zone”, like driving at night when those white lines beneath you are passing by so quickly, and you just continue to keep going and going and going.
I think about my stroke a lot. Even though most swimmers appear to be on autopilot, at least 60 to 70 times a minute, I consider various aspects about my stroke:
Hand entry in front of my shoulder with both arms?
High elbow on underwater pull?
Good underwater pull through?
Am I a mirror image with both arms? (“You know you tend to drop your left elbow when you breathe to the right.”)
Arm Tempo? (Ok or pick it up?)
Kicking? (or “Lazy Legs”?)
And on and on.
WERE YOU SCARED?
Another common question is “Were you scared, especially of the sharks?”
No and yes.
The former answer is based on experience and comfort in the water. It has taken me decades to reach this level, and there are no short-cuts. (Sorry, all of you YouTube aficionados who want to parachute in well above your skill level.) Most sharks seen in swims are curious juveniles who have never encountered one of “those humans” and come in close for a look. Swimming with a kayak escort that has two shark shields hanging off it gave me peace of mind. This shark shield is a thick, long, electrified wire hanging below the kayak. It emits an electrical impulse similar to an “Electric Fence” for a dog. When sharks get near the wire, it’s very grating on their senses so they stay away. Or at least that’s the idea. Luckily, as far as we know, no shark came close enough on this swim to test it out. The rough water conditions may have been a deterrent as well.
My latter answer centers on reality: I’m aware that various sea life in the Ocean that can bite, eat, sting, and overpower me in one fell swoop, most notably the Ocean Herself. I do all I can to minimize these risks. In Acapulco, I faced the “sting” aspect and was ready in Moloka’i for a searing pain that never came. Mike said that stinging creatures don’t see red well, if at all, so I wore a suit with lots of red in it and a red light on my goggle strap. I was always ready to be jolted into hyper-alertness by the sighting of a shark below. My dramatic preconceptions of what would occur during this swim didn’t materialize, but the length and rough conditions exceeded my expectations and made it plenty hard enough.
As for swimming at night, yes, it’s dark. In fact, it’s very very dark out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. As the sun was setting, I was adapting to the diminishing light. Since my actual swimming stroke doesn’t change regardless of the time of day, I just kept going. I also had a kayaker next to me the whole time. To simulate the view I had from 7:30pm to 6am, go into a windowless closet at night, close the door, shut your eyes and that’s the view. But I always had the wonderful, comforting illumination provided by the phosphorescence going on underneath me. HUH?
In salt water at night, when the plankton-infused water is disturbed by something such as a hand rapidly slicing through it, the plankton responds to this mechanical stimulation by emitting a brief bright light, known as “Phosphorescence.” With every single stroke, it looked as if I was dragging a Roman Candle through the water with my hands. This is Mother Nature’s very cool reward for swimming at night.
I AM NOT HERE ALONE
My spiritual side is alive and healthy, thriving just under the surface. I’m not going to shake your hand and try to convert you because I respect everyone’s journey, whatever that may be. During swims, I often think about how grateful I am to be doing what I am doing. I give A LOT of thanks because over time, I’ve come to sense that I am not doing this alone on a lot of levels.
There have been several times during long swims that I ask for a sign of God’s presence. All of a sudden, the clouds momentarily part and a ray of sunshine bolts down just before the clouds close up again. As I was being tossed and turned in the 8-foot seas of the Moloka’i Channel, several times I inquired, “Hey, it’s me down here again and I could use a little help right now, please. Are you around?” No answer. “Hello again. Anyone there?” Complete silence. “Yoo Hoo. Remember me? I’m still here and would love a sign from you that everything is going to be ok.” I started to envision a sterned-face someone with sealed lips and crossed arms. There was no getting through this barricade. Since I had plenty of time to think, I realized there actually was a reply but not the one I expected. It came as, “We are both doing huge jobs today. You do yours and I’ll do mine. Stop whining and look within yourself because you still have a ways to go. We’ll talk when you’re done.” I redoubled my efforts and soldiered on.
After my finish, it dawned on me that I had no shark sightings and not one jellyfish sting. Of the 80 people in history who have completed this swim, and hundreds more who have made attempts, I’m now in a tiny, legendary subcategory. Most swimmers of this Channel get an abundance of one and usually plenty of both. The reality that I passed without incident indicates 1. I got very lucky, and 2. I somehow wove my way through the sharks and the jellies – perhaps I was guided? - which was a BIG job during this swim, hence the lack of response. I just didn’t realize it in the moment.
Throughout the night, these lyrics from Put it Together repeated over and over. I was being sent a message but was a little slow on the uptake.
All that you needed was there all the time. It’s magic.
Mirror, mirror on the wall. Can you picture me at all?
I could be whatever I want to be.
I can make my story change, just like in a picture frame.
Magic spells and fairy tales. Pennies in a Wishing Well
Pick up the pieces. You just look inside.
When you put it together, it's magic.
All you need is inside of you. So put it together.
MY FAVORITE CONGRATS
After my swim, lots of people sent congratulatory messages. I truly appreciate these laudatory compliments but only afterwards. Completion is always my first intention, but if I bring joy and influence to a few souls along the way, that’s a bonus to us all.
Some of the favorite notes I received include:
I’ve never seen you look more beautiful! You heard our discussion yesterday towards the end of class, about aging, the truth in the mirror, etc. Your face shows the beauty of incredible hard work, incredible bravery…you kicked the waters’ butt. And it’s all reflected in your hard-won smile.
Congratulations on another incredible accomplishment. You are amazing. I also want to thank you for not only being a very good friend but being an incredible role model and example. More and more as I get older, I realize the importance of resiliency, tenacity, passion, and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances that are out of one’s control. You give us challenges in the pool that develop those muscles and you certainly embody it and provide a phenomenal example in your own life, including swimming.
More and more I think about focusing on things that are within my control and getting less stressed about things outside of my control. I see you practice that each and every day and appreciate and admire it very much.
It was very Marcia-esque of you to persevere through tough conditions at the end.
The Moloka’i Channel (also known as the Ka’iwi Channel) a great swim, and also a tough swim. You will need courage, patience, honorable intent, and a whole lot of grit during your passage.
Thank you to all our many great friends in Hawai’i for your hospitality and generosity towards us while we were on your beautiful island. We hope to return soon!
The last four hours of this swim were emotionally tough. I thought I’d be making faster progress and was impatient with myself. There was also the continual monotony of onwards in rough seas, and the frustration of not knowing when or where the end was. In what turned out to be the final half-hour of my swim, I could start to discern the sand and the rocks on the bottom and some small reef fish came into view. At this point, I could gauge that I was making microscopic progress forward. Silently I told myself, “Ok, you’re getting close. Keep going and you’ll get there.” I just didn’t know when it would end, and that was hard.
At one of the last feedings, I recall saying, “I just want to be done,” and that was not like me to be so down. But with each of these swims, I learn. On this swim, I learned that I could trust my Moloka’i crew implicitly. Without the attentive care and encouragement I received from both Julia and Terri, this difficult swim would have been exponentially harder. Thank you both from deep within my heart and soul!
I learned that I was emotionally stronger at the end than when I began. This strength developed as I swam through the dark night and in increasingly more challenging seas. I also learned that I could keep on going even when I was mad and frustrated at things both in and out of my control. During my Moloka’i swim, I learned that it often takes a bit more patience and perseverance before I land on the shore once more. If I was giving myself a report card, I would flag this area as an “Opportunity for Growth.”
Like a marathon swim, Life is unpredictable in what it throws at you. Being able to work towards your own desired outcome with the current circumstances indicates proficiency and aptitude. The lessons learned from such situations lay keystones of experience for future use.
In closing, my friend, Victoria Rian, told me long ago, “When I was doing that swim (in 2014), I felt like I was just a speck in the universe.” As I swam through the night, I thought about how right Victoria was, and I felt her presence in the darkness. This passage, from The Stranger in the Lifeboat by Mitch Albom, ©2021, beautifully captures this essence of the Moloka’i Channel.
I sensed my insignificance more than at any other moment in my life.
It takes so much to make you feel big in this world.
It only takes an ocean to make you feel tiny.
Big Breath In, Big Breath Out. Repeat.
Receiving my Certificate of Completion from Mike Twigg-Smith.
Fun Celebration Dinner with Front, L-R: Don Dietz, Marcia Cleveland, Jill Utsumi.
Back: Terri Dietz, Julia Green, Mark Green, Barbara Held, Sam Green, Stefan Reinke, Ryan Utsumi.
Below: Five Channel Swimmers/Crew reminiscing at Ala Moana Beach on April 1, 2022. L to R: Ryan Leong, Stefan Reinke, Julia Green, Marcia Cleveland, & Bill Goding.
The International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame proudly announces Marcia Cleveland (USA) as Honor Swimmer in the Class of 2020.
A marathon career of 28 years and continuing – record holder as the fastest Triple Crown Swimmer (combined time – as of end 2019). She has been one of the most prolific contributors to the advancement of distance swimming – in the USA and globally.
Around Manhattan Island 45.8 km/28.5 miles:
1996: 5 hrs 57 minutes (USA female record)
1995: 8 hrs 3 minutes (second female)
1991: 7 hrs 29 minutes (first female)
2019: Tsugaru Strait 30km/18.6 miles in 10hrs 11mins
2018: Tampa Bay 38.6 km/24 miles in 11hrs 19mins
2018: North Channel 34.5 km/21.4 miles in 15hrs 3mins
2017: Lake Tahoe34.4 km/21.4 miles 11rs 25mins
2017: Swim Across the Long Island Sound 27.4km/17 miles: first overall finisher in 9hrs 26mins
2011: Santa Barbara Channel – Anacapa 19.3 km/12 miles: 6 hrs 0mins
2008: Chicago Skyline Swim 41.8 km/26 miles: set the speed record of 12hrs 49mins and first woman to complete this swim
2005: Catalina Channel 32.3 km/20.2 miles: 8hrs 56mins the fastest time that year
2002: Boston Light 16km/10miles in 2hrs 47 mins, first overall finisher
1999: Around the Sound – Bermuda 10 km/6.2 miles: set the female speed record of 2hrs 32mins
1997: Around Key West Florida 19.3 km/12 miles: 4hrs 43mins
1994: English Channel 33.7 km/20.9 miles: 9hrs 44mins
Author of “Dover Solo” 1999 – one of the few available training accounts/stories before the internet. Continues to be the “Bible” for English Channel Aspirants.
United States Masters Swimming (USMS) - Open Water and Long Distance Committees: Vice Chair (2001-2005) and Chair (2005-2009)
Contributed more than 15 articles/videos to USMS and Swimmer Magazine
TedxTalk 2015: Achieving Success One Stroke at a Time
The induction ceremony will be held in New York City on 2nd May 2020.
For more details, please visit International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame 2019/11/08
On Monday August 19, 2019, I swam the Tsugaru Strait in 10 hours, 11 minutes. This body of water separates Honshu, the main island of Japan, from the island of Hokkaido, to the north. It connects the Sea of Japan on the west side with the Pacific Ocean to the east. The water temperature was a warm 73f/23c degrees, the skies were mostly clear, and my encounters with marine life was minimal. This swim was challenging due to the 4-5 foot (1.2-1.5 meters) seas that prevailed that day for the last 7 hours of the swim and the strong eastward currents at the finish. That’s the short story so feel free to stop reading now.
Japan is a lovely country and I enjoyed my time there. However, the language – both spoken and written- is so so foreign to me that this trip would have been much more difficult for me if Ted Baumgartner had not been involved for the entire year leading up to the swim, and then during our time in Japan. Ted is completely bilingual. He grew up in Detroit, Michigan and graduated from the University of Michigan. After college, he lived and worked in Tokyo, where he met his wife, Akiko Tateno. Her parents and siblings still live in Tokyo. Ted and Akiko have three smart, charismatic, bilingual children. I met Ted through swimming in suburban Chicago. We are both part of North Shore Masters Swim Club, Ted as a swimmer and me as the Head Coach.
Ted was so much more than a translator and correspondent. He was in charge of essential communications, starting off with telling me how to pronounce the name of the Strait correctly: sue-GAR-ru.
Ted also assisted me with straightening out cultural nuances that I regularly bent and explaining what was going on amidst the swirl of the Japanese scene. To boot, we swim at the same speed so Ted was able to pace me for the final hour of this swim, allowing us to savor a few moments on the rock where we finished on Hokkaido. For all of this, I dedicate my Tsugaru Strait swim to you, Ted. Thank you for making this a success in so many ways!
My physical preparation for Tsugaru began in Fall 2018. I started swimming with a group that focused mostly on sprinting which has helped me to reclaim some of my speed lost over the past few years. Combined with my distance base, I was solid and strong at the end.
On December 31, 2018, I swam the 24-mile length of Tampa Bay in Florida. After recovering from that swim, my mental preparation for this swim began in earnest in February. This subtle focus in my approach is nearly undetectable – I simply start to research, read, and think a lot about a particular swim, and what it will be like to be doing it. I am only immersed in one swim at a time. With so many swims out there, trying to mentally multi-task is distracting and counter-productive for me.
I first considered swimming the Tsugaru Strait in 2017 and submitted an application. It took me a while to get my head around it because it was so foreign to me. How was I going to communicate? In August 2018, I approached Ted about joining me on this swim. He was all in! He put so much effort into the entire event: communicating with Ocean Navi, making sure my application was correctly submitted, figuring out where to swim in Tokyo, making many of the travel reservations, and so much more. His in-laws, Sadakazu Tateno (“Otoosan”), Kazuko Tateno (“Okaasan”), and Sawako Kanemitsu (“Sawa”) helped out in many ways I’ll never know fully, making this an international team effort! My thanks and appreciation towards all of them is heart-felt and sincere. THANK YOU!
I still had zillions of questions: Would the people be nice? Would they walk on their heads? Would the mountains be really steep? Would the water be super wavy? Would the currents be very strong at the end? Would the water be filled with marine life? How was the movie going to end????
Japanese people ARE very nice and polite. They walk just like the rest of us. The mountains on the Honshu side ARE very steep. The cliffs fall off abruptly from the top of Hotel Tappi, where we stayed. The water WAS super wavy, 4 to 5-foot seas (1.2-1.5 meters), during our swim but these conditions were exceptional. The currents WERE strong at the end but I was strong enough to keep up. The only marine life I saw was one 2-foot (0.6 meter) tube-shaped fish at about 2 o’clock in the morning. He approached me from the left side near the surface, wondering what I was doing there, swam in front of me, saw the boat and retraced his steps, quickly departing off to the left, just as perplexed. I saw a few jellyfish but they were small and not threatening. I got one sting, on my right ear early on, and it was a non-event.
All said, the Tsugaru Strait is far away from my western life, in a remote corner of the world that was its own trek to get to. I left Chicago on Sunday morning August 11th, arriving in Tokyo on Monday August 12th around 4pm local time. Ted found me at Narita soon after I emerged from Customs and we wound our beluggaged selves to his in-laws’ home through a series of trains and subways. Having lived in New York for a while, the subways didn’t feel overly crowded nor did they intimidate me – I simply couldn’t read the signs so I was wholly dependent on Ted. Over the next few days, we adapted to the time change and got around like the locals do: we did a lot of walking and train riding. I encountered some esoteric things in Tokyo like Pizza Danish sold at Starbucks, lots of people wearing medical masks, and the notion that many Japanese people “Style Hard”. These variations to my everyday life humored me, making me appreciate the differences offered in large, urban populations.
On Tuesday, we swam with the Ocean Navi group and visited the Edo Museum. I also got my first taste of Tokyo’s out-of-control summer heat and humidity. It was 90f/32c with 85% humidity! (And they’re having the Olympics here next summer??? Running a marathon in this weather??? Doing any sort of outdoor activity??? Not only will the athletes melt, the spectators may be greatly impaired by the weather.)
On Wednesday, we swam in the Olympic Pool that will be used in 2020, then we ate lunch at a swanky department store in central Tokyo so I could see how it compared to those in other large cities: It was right on par.
On Thursday, we swam in the practice pool the US Olympic Team will use next year, located in the Setagaya section of Tokyo. Then it was time to venture north to the Aomori Prefecture (state) via the Shinkansen train. Once we got off this high-speed train, Ted rented a car - because he could - and we drove north over winding mountainous roads for 2 hours to the Hotel Tappi. The whole trip from Tokyo to Tappi took about 7 hours. Our rooms in the hotel overlooked the Tsugaru Strait. When I woke up the next morning and could clearly see across to Hokkaido, this swim was starting to look promising.
Ted’s sister-in-law, Sawa, made the hotel reservations and told us there would be a Croatian group at the hotel at the same time. At breakfast on Friday morning, the hotel seated all of us “Westerners” together. Before they arrived, I told Ted, “We have to introduce ourselves.” Three Croatians walked in and seated themselves; we were trying to figure out which one was the swimmer. Then 23-year-old Dina Levačić bounced in. Clearly, she was The Swimmer. (Her parents, Mladen and Željana, and a family friend, Mladen Milosevic, were accompanying her.) We all struck up a quick fondness for one another and Ted’s language skills proved incredibly helpful for Dina’s group too.
Over the next few days, sharing many meals with the Croatians, we thoroughly enjoyed their company and learning about their viewpoints of their own country and their neighboring countries. English is compulsory in Croatian schools so we could all understand one another. Dina wanted to eat “Western Food” and Ted was instrumental in helping her order off the menu.
After breakfast, we all walked down the stairs to Tappi Port, 200 meters from the top of the hill, in search of somewhere to swim. These stairs are actually part of the National Highway 339. It didn’t take us long to realize we were in the wrong place so we got to walk back up all 387 stairs to the top, past the monument wailing out the Japanese Country Music (“Enka”) song Tsugaru Kaikyo Fuyugeshiki (The Winter Scenery of the Tsugaru Strait). The lyrics were carved in stone on the monument with a PA hookup that played the song every time a tourist pressed the red button. The song is about a woman who is leaving her lover in Tokyo and crossing the Tsugaru Strait on a ferry on her way home in Hokkaido. (More info is available about this song at the end of this writeup, courtesy of Ted.)
Then we walked down the hill to the west side of the Tappi Peninsula to where there was a swimming spot inside the breakwall. The water was ebbing towards low tide and the swim area looked a little dubious. I wasn’t interested in taking chances at this point. Since we had a car, Ted, Dina, her father Mladen, and I, drove the 15 minutes to Yoshitsune Seaside Park (64 Minmayanakahama, 030-1728, Japan) where we were able to swim comfortably in a 200-meter contained area. Nora had told me about this place and it became our training site, complete with an outside hose for rinsing off afterwards. Ted and I could tell that Dina was faster than us and we would find out shortly just how much so.
On Friday afternoon, a ferocious Typhoon swept through the area, in stark contrast to the tranquility we had been experiencing just a few hours earlier. The rain came down sideways. It took about 18 hours for the storm to blow through then it was clear again. Fortunately, we were able to swim at Yoshitsune Park on Saturday morning since it stood in the lee of the storm and was protected by a breakwall. That afternoon, we took a drive to the grocery and hardware stores to get supplies for our swims. I got all my swim gear organized and went over it with Ted before dinner. On Sunday morning, there was a strong possibility that we would go the following day so everyone rested. I reviewed my feeding plan with Ted then we visited the Shinkansen Tunnel Museum near the hotel. As Ted and I were about to descend on the cable car from the surface to the actual Tunnel, Dina sent me a message that her boat captain said she was definitely swimming tomorrow and she was to meet him at the boat at 10pm tonight. My stomach dropped and I was thinking about getting off the cable car and going back to the hotel. Why was I sightseeing when I was most likely going to begin my swim in less than 12 hours? (It was only a 40-minute tour; I was ok.) Ted and I then drove 40 minutes over switchback roads with steep drop offs to Kodomari to have our pre-swim meeting and meet the boat captain, Captain Kawaue, and Mika Kume, the official Observer. We found the boat, Umi no Maru, on the far western side of the Kodomari Marina so it was a good thing to go early during the daylight hours and find our launch spot. In 13 minutes, all was resolved: We would meet at the boat tonight at 11pm and I would begin around midnight. I wasn’t particularly nervous, just ready to get going.
It was during this time at the Marina that I took a moment to unite water from Lake Michigan with that of the Tsugaru Strait. I also tossed a few pebbles and pieces of sea glass from home into the water. Afterwards, I took some water and pebbles from Tsugaru and introduced them into Lake Michigan when I returned home. I even gave Dina a few pieces of my Chicago sea glass and told her to put them in the water where she swims in Split, Croatia. These simple acts keep our open water community globally connected.
When we got back to the hotel, Ted’s 23-year-old son, Max had arrived, after being delayed a day by the typhoon. Max lives and works in Hiroshima and would be part of my crew. His bilingual skills were immensely helpful.
We all had a light dinner at 5:30pm on Sunday and I was lying down by 6:15pm. We left the lobby at 10:10pm. I don’t think I really “slept” but I did rest the best I could and was ready to go when my alarm went off at 9:57pm. We again drove the steep switchbacks to the Marina, this time in the dark. When we arrived at the boat just before 11pm, we loaded up our supplies and cast off, heading towards the starting point. I felt fine.
While the boat motored to the starting point, I put water in my cap to cement my hair down then put my cap on. I stripped off my clothes and stood in my bathing suit so Ted and Max could apply sunscreen over my body with rubber gloves. They followed this up with Desitin to a few chaff points - around my neck and on my left bicep. We took a moment to review all that I needed to do before the start, then I was ready to go. The observer told me to get in the water so I mounted the ladder, stepped down the few rungs to the water, swam to the start, gave the signal, and we were off! My swim of the Tsugaru Strait began precisely at 11:48 pm on Sunday August 18, 2019.
I swam strongly and confidently, without fear or apprehension. This was a first for me. Usually, I’m a mess for the first several minutes: Either I’m panicking for a number of reasons, or fiddling with my equipment, or the boat is in the wrong place, or some other excuse is playing out to deter my progress. I was actually enjoying this start, stroking smoothly towards Hokkaido at the comfortable pace of 70 strokes a minute. This past spring, I heard the expression Love Yourself more than you Love Your Drama. Thinking about this expression during this swim, it was easy to just keep swimming.
Liz told me she loved the water in Japan. I could now see why: it’s so crystal clear. Even through this pitch-black night, I could clearly see the outline of the boat underwater. A 10-foot “Shark Shield” in the form of a long blue ribbon extended underwater from the front of the boat alongside the hull and I literally swam above this ribbon for nearly all of my swim; it was like following the black line on the bottom of a pool. I was right back in Centennial!
Ted told me afterwards the boat radar was picking up many “large fish” below the boat and “larger fish” below them at the start of my swim. This part of the world has an abundance of black tuna and “larger fish” with big, sharp teeth who are sometimes featured as villains in ocean movies also like the taste of this tuna. Both boats turned on enough lights to light up a carnival, so all the fish stayed well below the surface and the Shark Shield did its job. [If there is ever a question of whether I would get out of the water due to marine life, I have 3 very good reasons to do so: Mark, Julia, Sam.] The lights blazed at me but I didn’t complain since I could see Ted and Max, and they were all I needed to see.
In contrast, the surrounding land was completely dark, like it is in Lake Tahoe, so I didn’t know if Dina was in the water. When I finally asked, at the 4 ½ hour feed, they said she had started about 8 minutes after me and “Yes, she’s doing great, like you.” I was so glad she was still in, battling these waves. If she had gotten out, I would have felt like I was just dropped off at the last train station in Siberia on December 1st with my one suitcase and wearing leather shoes. It really boosted my spirits that we were in this together. At dinner on Sunday, her Dad said, “Let’s all have good swims today.” It was nice for him to say this, that everyone do the best they can to be successful, not just one individual. A major lesson I’ve learned over many years in Open Water Swimming: Support One Another.
The water was comfortable and easy for the first few hours. I wasn’t freaked out swimming in the dark or worrying about what was under me. The water was warm even though it was supposed to get cold at the end (It didn’t.) I was doing my job: To Swim. A few hours into it, the waves started to pick up. Even though it was so dark that I couldn’t tell where we were, I thought by the wave action we had probably cleared the peninsula and were out in the Strait now. Before we started, Captain Kawaue said the water may be rough in the middle but it usually calms down near the coast. Like the water temperature, this would also not be the case today. I just dealt with the circumstances I had been offered, one stroke at a time. The observer, who had been on many previous crossings, was seasick for much of my swim. She was kind enough to puke over the opposite side of the boat so I never knew. Ted compassionately offered her my mouthwash to rinse out her mouth. Gotta support one another…
I started chanting “Grateful, Gratitude, Grit”, alternating with my usual “Mark, Julia, Sam” cadence. I am so grateful to be able to swim and I felt a great deal of gratitude for being in the Tsugaru Strait at this moment. I knew if I was going to complete this swim, it would take grit. “Grateful, Gratitude, Grit” on and on and on, moving forward towards Hokkaido.
When I swam the English Channel in 1994 at the age of 30, I found an inspiring quote that came back to me in the middle of this dark sea, when the waves were picking up and we were no where close to done.
Ask not for victory alone, ask for courage. For if you can endure, you bring honor to yourself. Even more, you bring honor to us all.
I knew people were watching me on Facebook and on our Tracker because of the messages Ted was relaying to me on the grease board throughout this swim. These messages helped me to crank on at a rate of 70 strokes per minute. Yes, you have to be in good physical shape for this type of a swim. Equally important though is the ability to get one’s mind in shape. At this moment, both of these aspects were working in my favor. I was in my element and making it happen.
From Australia, Shelley told me: “Bubble, Bubble, Breathe!” Marcy said from Connecticut: “I’m watching you!!!” Nora and Liz cheered me on from the UK. There were so many “GOOOOOO MARCIA!s” delivered from all over the globe. I knew I was surrounded by love and support, working my best to “…bring honor to us all.”
Ted was amazing in his role as crew chief. He realized how much there is to do, as he explains,
“I would do the feeding, then it would take about 12 minutes to prepare the next one, then I would write a little bit on social media and in the log, then watch you swim for a few minutes, then it was time for the next feeding.”
The song, Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head randomly popped into my head when it was dark and the waves were rolling. It’s a pleasant, innocuous song that was originally the movie soundtrack to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969. You often hear it in elevators, Doctors’ Offices, and movie soundtracks. The lyrics, included below, mirror my mental state throughout this swim. (Raindrops stands in stark contrast to the tune that randomly came into my head in the North Channel last summer, Billy Joel’s No Man’s Land.) It’s an interesting psychological ploy that this song distinguished itself from all the other songs rolling around in my head at a time when I needed to endure without complaint.
Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head by B. J. Thomas, 1969
Raindrops are falling on my head
And just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed
Nothing seems to fit
Those raindrops are falling on my head, they keep falling
So I just did me some talking to the sun
And I said I didn't like the way he got things done
Sleeping on the job
Those raindrops are falling on my head, they keep falling
But there's one thing I know
The blues they send to meet me
Won't defeat me, it won't be long
Till happiness steps up to greet me
Raindrops keep falling on my head
But that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turning red
Crying's not for me
'Cause I'm never gonna stop the rain by complaining
Because I'm free
Nothing's worrying me
It won't be long till happiness steps up to greet me
Raindrops keep falling on my head
But that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turning red
Crying's not for me
'Cause I'm never gonna stop the rain by complaining
Because I'm free
Nothing's worrying me.
Source: LyricFind, Songwriters: Burt Bacharach/Hal David, Lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, The Royalty Network Inc., BMG Rights Management
My feeds were fast, under a minute, and I was able to ingest the 8 ounces (240 ml) per feeding Ted prepared. The bottles I was using, Contigo Jackson, 24 ounce size, were clipped by a carabiner to a rope and thrown from the boat. The other end of the rope was clipped to the boat. I flipped the top open easily and the opening was large enough that I could chug fast. The only issue was I was probably ingesting too much sugar and too many calories at each feeding. My first feed came at an hour, then every 30 minutes thereafter. The first two feeds consisted of a mix of 1 packet of Hammer Perpetuem (Orange Vanilla), 8 ounces of water (236 ml), and 1 vanilla Hammer Gel. The third feed was the same but comprised of Strawberry Perpetuem and 1 Tablespoon (15ml) of Agave. These mixes were alternated every fourth feeding with 7 ounces (207 ml) water with 1 scoop of GNC Whey Protein plus a few cherry cola Honey Stingers. Every feed ended with a quick rinse of mint mouthwash, to keep my mouth from swelling from the salt water.
The sun started to come up around 4:30am, officially rising at 4:50am, an energizing point in any swim. However, I started burping around 5am and I could feel my stroke count dropping into the low 60s. I had never gotten sick in a swim before but 6 hours and 18 minutes into this swim, I vomited up everything, as if my stomach had been connected to a fire hose. I had no idea this was coming and I gave Mr. Creosote, the guy in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, a real run for his money. Ted was at the stern but he heard me blowing my guts out and immediately came to me at the side of the boat to catch the finale of this fine performance. I told him at the next feed I wanted Lipton’s Cold Brew Tea with Agave, a dinner roll broken up into little pieces, and water. Thank God we had discussed and provisioned for Plan B (& C & D) because it’s what got me across the finish line.
Once I started swimming again, I was concerned but I also felt much, much better. I wasn’t sure how much I had lost but we were about to start over again. I just kept swimming. Once stroke at a time.
When the next feed came, just like requested, it went down and stayed down. My feeds from here on would take a little longer, over a minute due to chewing the pieces of roll, but they fueled me well. Ted told me later:
“Captain Kawaue and the first mate were impressed and remarked to us, "Nice Fight". In Japanese it's pronounced "Naisu Fuaitto". It was a tribute to your mental toughness – your ability to rally after vomiting, persevere and remain focused on your goal. This is the type of "fighting spirit" to which Japanese martial artists aspire.”
Language is oh-so-important in our lives. Positive, negative, and violent language usually reflects our inner frame of mind and self-perception. During this swim my language was almost always positive, “Awesome!” “I’m doing great!” with only a few slips such as “This is really tough.” Ted told me a few times, “It was going to get calmer or easier in the next X minutes,” but no such luck. After I realized that it wasn’t going to get any calmer, I asked him at a feeding “When was it going to start to get really rough?” He laughed! At the end of every feeding, I’d simply think, “Just swim to the next feed.”
Around this time, Ted told me that Dina was close to the finishing, then shortly thereafter, followed up that she had finished in 7 hours, 13 minutes, a new woman’s solo world record. I was so happy for her, especially in these seas, and sensed then that I too was going to make it if I just kept going. I tried not to look up too often because – like usual - the land doesn’t seem to get any closer when I do. Also, with the waves, it was hard to time it so I would actually see something other than water, so I just kept swimming.
At the 9 hour feeding, Ted said, “This is your last feed. We’ll be there soon.” Fine by me! I asked him to swim in with me to the finish and expected he’d get in with about 15 minutes to go. I said, “It’s really rough in here so there’s no sense for you to get in before the very end.” Once he had put the feed bottles away, he got a message from Lee on Marcia's Facebook page (on which he was guest posting), "Get in the water, Ted", which is pronounced in Lee's Tennessean as "Git in the water Te-ya-d". Before I knew it, Ted was perched over the side in his suit and goggles, waiting for the official word from the Observer to enter the water. He joined me and we powered towards the shore. We had practiced pacing in Lake Michigan this summer; I was able to stay with him as a result of my solid distance base and sprint work, thanks to Phil’s Phish. I loved Ted’s company.
By now, I had caught a glimpse that the Lighthouse on Cape Shirakami was off to our right side, thus we were on the west side of the Hokkaido peninsula. If I continued moving forward at a similar pace, I would I would probably hit land but there were no guarantees. I put my head down and kept cranking.
Ted and I were heading towards a beach straight ahead but the current was strong and pushed us gradually to the east. I decided to take 500 strokes before looking up again; this would put a major dent into the distance. It was also a good indicator of my mental state this late in the game to see if I could keep it together enough to count 500 strokes. We swam hard and I counted 1-2-3-breathe-1-2-breathe-1-2-3-breathe-1-2-breathe 50 times in a row. When I got to stroke #390, I saw the bottom about 40 feet below and I knew we’d make it. HUGE UNDERWATER SMILE! YES! I spotted boulders the size of big cars on the bottom; anything smaller would simply get whisked away in the current. Onwards towards the shore!
A small jut of rocks was sticking out just east of the beach. Landing here would save us from being whisked into the small bay and resulting in another 5-7 minutes of swimming. I pointed out the rocks to Ted and we swam hard towards this landing spot, our arms feverishly churning towards completing this swim.
Suddenly I hit the rock! I put my hand up high on its surface so the Observer could see I had made it since she was on the boat, bobbing in the swells about 100 yards offshore. Then Ted hit the rock too. YEA! Mother Nature had carved a bit of a natural staircase into it so we timed our exits carefully in order that the surf pounding forward into the rock along with the current sweeping eastward would help lift us onto the rock. I clutched on to what I could, then lunged forward and up onto the top of the rock. With my arms lifted in triumph, the Channel Gods had allowed me safe passage of the Tsugaru Strait today.
A minute later, Ted joined me on this small bit of terra firma on the tip of Hokkaido. We high-fived and then sat down to enjoy the moment. Job well done! We looked to see if there was a pebble to take back as evidence of this feat but the only things on this rock were several snails and many sharp barnacles that cut us in numerous places. Unless it was nailed down or glued on, the current swept away all loose effects. Memories would have to suffice.
The water was wild and we could see the boat rolling in the waves. It was easily a 10-foot (3+ meter) drop to the bottom from this rock. But if we wanted a ride back to Honshu on the boat, we needed to swim the 100 yards/meters or so to it through the raging current. So just as we did in landing, we carefully gaged the best time to leave this rock and swam back to the boat.
I took my time. I had been hauling hard for the past 10 hours and now I could finally relax. I was also so happy everything had worked out. Asking Ted to be a part of this swim was an excellent decision. I also proved to myself that if I just kept swimming, I could make it.
The boat ride back to Kodomari Marina took about 2 hours. Accommodations were sparse on the boat to say the least. We sat in the back of this steel-bottomed fishing trawler, holding on firmly to the sides in order not to get slammed around in the relentless wave action. I did a pretty awkward “Downward Dog” yoga position to get out of my suit, taking a solid 10-minutes to effectively execute my deck change. The only place to sit was on the uneven bottom of the boat – Thank God we bought the cushions! It was rough going and I realized I had just swum through those seas. Our swim was a success and everyone felt fine!
We pulled into port around 12:15pm and unloaded the boat. The Official Observer, Mika Kume,
gave me a certificate of completion of the Tsugaru Strait (That was fast!) and a special silicone bathing cap commemorating the swim. Ted received one too, as he should, since he played such a crucial role in this swim.
We said our Thank Yous and Good Byes then drove back to Hotel Tappi. I started to feel the fatigue of the swim and closed my eyes on the drive. When we arrived back at the hotel around 1:30pm, I was tired but decided to sort out all the gear and wash off the sea water. Once I finished with the gear, I took a shower then lay down, expecting sleep to come quickly. Nope, not one wink. I was no longer tired at all. I decided to take a walk to the Shinkansen Tunnel Museum and pick up a few souvenirs for my family. By the time I returned to the hotel, dinner time was near. We had a fun celebration with Dina’s family and everyone was so happy for our collective success. Dina and my swims were respectively the 48th and 49th crossing of Tsugaru Strait. I’m so glad to have met Dina and her family. I wish them all the best in their journeys through life.
Matthais Kassner (Kaßner) and his wife, Ina, joined us too. They were wonderful companions; it’s amazing how quickly bonds grown in this sport. Matthias told me at dinner how much he appreciated the advice I offer in Dover Solo. He said it helped him a lot with his English Channel swim in 2012. I love hearing these types of remarks because this is one reason why I wrote Dover Solo and do writeups of my major swims. The other reason is to record an accurate memoir to keep straight what happened. If anyone attempts to exaggerate details of any of my swims, including my husband, I am quick to correct them. In two days, Matthais would swim the Tsugaru Strait in 9 hours, 45 minutes.
When I went to sleep around 9pm on Monday night, having been awake nearly continuously from 5am on Sunday, I figured I’d sleep a week or two. Wrong again. At 2:30am, I awoke ready to start the new day! This inability to sleep is common for me, and many others, after big swims; I’ve learned to just go with the flow. This time gave me the chance to catch up on some correspondence then be the first one in the hotel’s Hot Bath room when it opened at 5:30am.
Around 6:30am, I walked to the beach on the west side of the hotel to pick up a few rocks and to toss in some of the sea glass that I brought from Tower Beach at home. I took a long proper moment to thank the sea for giving me safe passage in this challenging swim.
We had a leisurely breakfast, said our Goodbyes, and headed back to Tokyo on the Shinkansen train. We stayed with Ted’s in-laws on Tuesday evening. Since I had achieved what I had come to do in Japan, I was ready to go home and reconnect with my family. Wednesday afternoon, Ted and Max put me on the express bus to na-re-TA and I departed Japan on Wednesday evening, arriving home to my enthusiastic family. I was so happy to see them!
However, before I left, Ted, Max, and I went to the Ocean-Navi swim practice in Tokyo on Wednesday morning, where we met Masayuki Moriya, Ocean-Navi’s leader. I was enamored to see all the gear they have for sale at their practices: goggles, caps, and most importantly Safe Swimmer Buoys. These are so important to wear for many reasons when practicing open water swimming. Except when I’m racing or on an escorted swim, my Safe Swimmer Buoy is part of my open water swim equipment. Dina told me she wears one in Croatia. Bruce Wigo and the International Swimming Hall of Fame have done a good service to the global swimming community by making these Safe Swimmer Buoys so pervasive.
At the Ocean Navi practice, I swam a little bit in many different lanes and eventually wound my way into the instructional lane where I was of most use on this day, less than 48 hours after completing Tsugaru. The swimmers were so nice and, despite the language barrier, we exchanged many fond pleasantries. In the locker room after practice, I gave many of the women Trader Joe grocery bags I had brought with me to offer as gifts. Gifts of greatest significance are those that mean something special to the recipient. Trader Joe’s is not in Japan so these bags are unique, and these women will remember the “American woman” fondly, hence their value. They were so appreciative and one who spoke good English told me that it was very Japanese to give gifts to others. Just like the song goes, “I guess I’m turning Japanese, I really think so.” Haha!
A brief recap of my swim by Steve Muñatones:
Information about the Song at the Monument on Highway 339:
The name of the song is Tsugaru Kaikyo Fuyugeshiki (The Winter Scenery of the Tsugaru Strait) and it's sung most famously by Sayuri Ishikawa a well-known "enka" singer. The lyrics were carved in stone on the monument and PA system hooked up to a red button on the monument that played the song every time a tourist pressed it. The song is about a woman who is leaving her lover in Tokyo and crossing the Tsugaru Strait on a ferry on her way home in Hokkaido.
Here's a link to the song on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AY8vv0Fsdu4. The lyrics are below. And, here is a link to another Enka song about leaving a lover at Tappi Misaki with some good pictures including the Tappi lighthouse and surrounding area. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8-7BOy_AXY
Lyrics to Tsugaru Kaikyo Fuyugeshiki (The Winter Scenery of the Tsugaru Strait)
When I got off the late night train that departed from Ueno station, Aomori station was covered in snow. The crowd of people returning home north was silent, so I listened only to the rumbling of the sea. I too board the ferryboat alone. Staring at the seagulls out there in the freezing cold, I cry. Oh, the winter scenery at Tsugaru Strait. "Look, that is Tappi Cape, the northernmost point," say strangers, as they point their fingers. I tried wiping the glass window that has been clouded by my breath, but all I can see in the distance is mist. Farewell my love, I'm going home. The voice of the wind shakes my heart, bringing me to tears. Oh, the winter scenery at Tsugaru Strait. Farewell my love, I'm going home. The voice of the wind shakes my heart, bringing me to tears. Oh, the winter scenery at Tsugaru Strait.
Marcia Cleveland's Solo Tampa Bay Swim on December 31, 2018
11 hours, 19 minutes
Start: 6:15am at Hotel Magnuson near Skyway Bridge (I-275)
Finish: 5:34pm at Ben T. Davis Beach on Campbell Causeway
Air: 68-83°f Clear & Sunny all day
Water: 66°f, 18°c, 2’ chop until Gandy Bridge
Wind: SSE 6-15 MPH, Gusts to 23MPH (NOAA Climatological Report attached: ncdc.noaa.gov)
Ron Collins – Observer & Swim Organizer,
Sean Gerrard – Boat Captain
Derick Brown – Kayaker
Richard Clifford – Swimmer’s Crew
These notes on my Tampa Bay Swim recall my experiences before, during, and afterward this swim. They aren’t super-elaborate because it’s a long haul in a seemingly wide-open sea until the first bridge, but aspirants may glean helpful information. It’s a challenging swim and a swimmer needs to be in good shape for it. I am grateful to the many people who made this swim possible, especially Ron Collins, and I incorporated support from all areas of my life throughout the 24-mile course.
We arrived in St. Pete Beach in December 29th and got everything ready to go on December 30th. At 5:30am on December 31st, we were at the Hotel Magnuson preparing to get going.
At precisely 6:15am, Ron started the swim and I swam uneventfully in the dark for the hour. The water was bumpy, something I expected until we got around the corner and headed due north into the Bay. At that point, I thought the water had settled down but based on the pictures and videos I saw afterwards, it didn’t. My only view in this vast ocean of a bay was that of my kayaker and escort boat, respectively to my right and left all day, and I sighted off both. Derick, my kayaker, held his line, making our course as straight as possible. It was me, the one who tends to veer towards the right, that made things occasionally harder than necessary, when I would bonk into Derick because I wasn’t paying attention. We had a nice tail wind and current going with us for a while; I simply swam one stroke after another, as I would do for the next several hours. My feed combos were excellent: they went down in abundant quantities and stayed down. This demonstrated a big improvement over my performance in the North Channel last summer, my main point in doing this swim: to figure out my nutrition and regain my confidence, which had been shaken by my North Channel swim.
We used Marcy MacDonald’s tracker (gotta get my own…) and she was Super Fan #1 all day. The day before, she had told me “Be Patient until the 1st bridge, then you’re home free.” This advice was spot on, helping me not to over-swim the first 18 miles. However, I am 100% sure that as we neared the Gandy bridge, I saw that entire bridge take several Beamon-esque leaps backwards, before convincing the Frankland bridge (Bridge #2) to do the same. Both enormous landmarks took forever to pass underneath. When we finally got under each of their spans, Derick and I exchanged well-deserved Air High-5s.
The scenery in the water never changed for me the entire swim: water, sand, an occasional rock, some sea grass, and a few clumps of vegetation. Once the sun came up, the water color went from dark to a mossy green. Later in the afternoon as the sun started to angle down in the sky, the hue changed to a bright yellow-green. At the start, due to the shallow depth, there was a ton of sea grass both on the surface and in the water. It wasn’t an issue since I knew what it was, but a few pieces of sea grass entered my suit during that part of the swim and stowed away to the finish.
I wore my purple Speedo, size 36, from Dave’s Relay on this same course in April 2017, and it got the job done with nary a chafe. I did get a mildly nasty rub on my inner left bicep from where my arm pull connected with my suit seam for 24 miles but nothing that a week’s worth of ointment and band aids couldn’t heal. Before starting, Mark and my friend, Anne Eason, applied sunscreen to all my exposed skin surfaces. On my backside, they plied zinc oxide (in the form of Desitin) from my neck to my ankles. This covering protected my skin from any sunburn.
I wore a green silicone cap with “Laguna Beach/Shaw’s Cove”, a gift from Laura, and in honor of friend, Lynn K, an icon in the OW community, who is facing a challenging journey. I was actively channeling some strong MOJO vibes to SoCal for you, Lynn, during this swim. Be Strong. Under my cap was the usual: ponytail, double barrettes, hairnet. I am considering using crazy glue and/or a soldering iron in rough waves going forward. Mid-1990s haircut: here we come? I started the swim in Clear TYR Nest Pro goggles, with a blue blinky light on the backstrap. When the sun really came up, I changed to mirrors of the same model at the feeding stop, since the day was going to be very sunny. Richard threw me the new pair from the boat and I attached the old ones to the carabiner on the feed bottle so they’d get back to the boat safely. Seamless operation. There were a few times throughout the day that waves slapped me hard enough in the face to dislodge one of the eye sockets; such nonsense ended by the time we (finally!) arrived at the first bridge, when the wind and the current cut out.
A few times I could sense that there was something happy in the water by the joyful expression on Derick’s face, while he actively looked over towards the right. The crew could also see whatever it was; I accurately assumed dolphins. Afterwards Derick told me there were several pods throughout the day that swarmed around us but obliviously onwards I swam. I couldn’t even hear their underwater clicking. When I saw Ron’s videos after the swim, it was clear how close those sea darlings came. I also missed the large Sea Turtle paddling around. All this marine life was probably sent by Dave, still King of the Bay.
So I just kept swimming on and on. From this feed to the next one, 30 minutes apart, a solid, Goldilocks interval for me. Everything was going well with my pace, the current, the wind, and my support vessels. Thoughts seeped in early on such as, “Now I’m on track to finish in sub-10 hours.” Later, when I started slowing down a bit as we approached the Gandy bridge, these thoughts started shifting to “I know I can finish and that is ALL that matters so shut up and swim.” But, remembering Marcy’s words, “Once you get to the first bridge you’re home free…” and hearing from Richard all the good karma being sent from so many family and friends who were following this swim, my spirits stayed buoyed and I continued forward, one stroke at a time. The fact that I needed increasingly frequent backstroke breaks to get air during the final 3 miles of the swim - a first - struck me as odd but I just kept swimming. I needed these breaks and knew they would be key to finishing. Richard told me there was an “army” of well-wishers assembled at the finish, giving me something to look forward to, and I swam towards them.
In retrospect, I had breathing difficulties for the final six miles, in the sense that I gradually couldn’t take a deep breath and it was inhibiting my ability to swim any faster. This situation compounded itself the longer I stayed in. It was like being in a pool that was shocked. I have never had breathing difficulties before in a swim and I hadn’t swallowed any substantial amount of water to cause such an effect so I can only conclude it was something environmental that created this condition.
Although I wouldn’t finish this swim at a furious pace combined with a mad dash up the beach, I would finish. As we approached the beach, I kept looking down for when it was shallow enough to stand: I promised myself I’d walk at that point. That point came about 200 yards from land so I stood up. Ron yelled from the boat, “Don’t walk yet. There are a lot of rocks and there may be some sea urchins. You need to swim.” So, I did as I was told, and in fact, the water got deeper again. Finally, a smooth, rock-less, critter-less sandy bottom appeared and I walked the final 50 yards or so to the finish. I thanked the 2 teen gals standing in the water marshalling my finish to make sure no one touched me until I got to “where there is no water in front,” the official end of a marathon swim. I even managed to run the last few steps out of the water, into Mark’s arms holding a dry towel for me. As he wrapped me up, I told him how hard it was, while the media zoomed in our happy, private moment. Everyone was so nice and applauded my accomplishment. Ron gave me a finisher’s plaque during the many photo ops. I said to the mass of media cameras for all the New Year’s Eve viewers to contemplate, “Set a goal. It doesn’t have to be big but set one.” Who knows if my words will have any effect on anyone watching? Marcy called and we chatted as the sun set on 2018: Thank you, MerSister, for all all all your advice, support, and love. You were with me all the way and you can share in the combined success of this swim because it TAKES A VILLAGE EVERY TIME and EVERY BIG SWIM IS HARD.
The night before the swim, I slept reasonably well, 6-7 hours, and woke up a few minutes before the alarm went off… with a sore throat. I told no one because today was the day; SHOWTIME! By the end of the day, my throat felt worse and the 11+ hour dousing of salt water probably didn’t help matters but I would live, aided by many throat lozenges over the next few days.
Richard and I had gone over the feeds, the feeding program, and the equipment the day before the swim. After the swim, he was constructively critical of all my methods, delivering his critique in a way that makes me think progressively rather than get defensive. I need to whittle down my on-boat swim equipment to essentials. Bringing 2 extra bathing caps will probably suffice, versus the 6 I had packed, was one such example. Are six pairs of goggles really necessary? Probably not… Attaining the happy medium between Fibber McGee’s Closet (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9FGC68YcwM) and a scene of desolation (https://yourshot.nationalgeographic.com/photos/10250038/) is needed.
My feed plan for Tampa was better than in the North Channel because I was drinking 10-12 ounces (30-35 ml) of fluid at every single feed, versus the 4 ounces (12 ml) I took in during my NC feeds. Instead of focusing on speed (Sub-1:00 feeds), I focused on consumption, therefore took 1-2 minutes on most feeding stops. The plan I wrote out for Richard ahead of the swim needs more flexibility, based on mood and current level of performance. This plan is attached separated, and Richard recorded what he actually gave me.
The new bottles I got at GNC, with wider openings were good except that they opened a few times when thrown to me, thus risking the feed being fouled by sea water – NOT GOOD! The delivery system was spot on: Bottles were thrown to me on lines attached to carabiners. Two bottles could be delivered at once this way. To get me the feeding gels, they were under rubber bracelets wrapped around the feed bottles. However, after a few feeds during which the Gels fell off and were lost, Richard or Ron started to pass me the gels directly from the boat. I would suck it down fast then thrown the empty gel pack back to the boat. Gotta figure out a better delivery system.
I took one Aleve gel capsule just before the start, and then one again at 5 hours and 8 hours. Richard dropped these capsules directly into my mouth from the boat. He always had a GNC bottle of water at the ready and I drank from it often, at the end of feeds usually.
One Rubbermaid bottle held mint-flavored mouthwash and was attached to the same line as the main feed bottle. Swigging mouthwash at the end of a feed helps reduce any swelling in my mouth from the salt water.
Also, during our post-swim analysis, Richard encouraged me to determine if I am getting too much sugar during a swim, especially processed sugar, so this process continues to be refined going forward. I introduced a few new things to my feeding plan this swim:
Snack Pack Pudding mixed with Cold Brew Tea. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this mix and it was my treat.*
Peanut Butter and Agave Sandwiches, with the crusts cut off because crusts take too long to chew. I am not doing sandwiches again because the bread simply takes too long to consume.
Richard started to add Agave to my Endurox feeds at 7 ½ hours. This really bolstered my energy, it’s easy on my stomach, and easily transported.
Tampa Bay is a good swim, a hard swim, not for those easily deterred. It is a good tune up in many ways for many other marathon swims, including the English Channel. Thanks to my crew, Derick, Ron, Sean, and Richard, and to Mark, Julia, Sam, Anne, Marcy, Gail Hamel, and my Mom, for all your support and encouragement in getting me to the finish line. And thank you, Dave Parcells, for guiding me along the way.
Swimming the North Channel
by Marcia Cleveland
On Saturday July 21, 2018, I swam the North Channel, from Ireland to Scotland, finishing in 15 hours 3 minutes. It was the toughest swim I’ve ever done. I am deeply humbled and grateful to have accomplished this swim. As I continue reflect back, I am overcome by a sense of relief and, at times, a cringing sense how close I came to not making it. The North Channel has confounded countless more capable swimmers than myself, yet I was successful on my first attempt.
By choosing to swim the North Channel, I was looking for a challenge and I got it, and then some.
I was not disappointed by any of these factors. Each and every one of them had a chance to send me packing but somehow, in some teeny tiny way, I was able to get to the other side. It was not pretty and apparently, it never is. This is the first time in my life that I have been tested to this extent. I used up absolutely everything in my tank and still had a long, long way to go. How often does one get to be tested so thoroughly and feel so completely depleted at the finish, yet still be successful?
Let me be clear: I was never in danger of dying. However, I was in deep distress due to the cold and my nutrition plan. My husband and crew member, Mark Green, had no interest in causing my demise (Who would make the dentist appointments or fill out all the family forms?) but instead allowed me the opportunity to push myself to a place way beyond where I had ever been before. My boat captain, Quinton Nelson, did the same. He told me afterwards that in his 30-years of piloting swims, he has never seen someone so close to the brink of failure who finished successfully. Lee Harkleroad, my other crew member, was instrumental with this support and agreed beforehand to defer to Mark on all key decision.
This swim simply kicked me hard when I was already down on my knees; the pervasive cold compounded over 15 hours mixed with nutrition that lacked an effective delivery system – which is completely my fault - resulted in hypothermia. Towards the end, I was so focused on finishing, my primal instincts screamed “Get to the beach.” All other sensory input was quite literally drowned out.
I’m not a superhero or some amazing physical specimen. But I knew that if I had the energy to stop and complain or beg for an explanation of why we weren’t getting closer to the land during the swim, it would be wasted time, time that could be spent getting to land. We weren’t getting any closer because I wasn’t swimming faster at a time when the tide was pushing me in a north-south direction down the coast, when what I was trying to do was swim through it in a eastern direction.
I simply kept taking one more stroke. YES YOU CAN is a chant I said over and over during those final hours when I was swimming at about 1 mile an hour. Marcy & Liz’s matter-of-fact voices, “Just keep swimming,” also rang in my dulled conscience. Fortunately, I intersected with the land before the tide swept me down the coast, which would have made finishing impossible on this particular swim. Why did I finish? I just kept going until I got there, and I got really lucky.
I am amazed and grateful by the interest and love expressed by so many of you in support of this swim. THANK YOU!
On the succeeding pages, I have transcribed my experience in more detail. The log that Lee kept is at the end and includes my perceptions as to what was happening at the various times he was recording notes during the swim. It is my hope that these accounts will help future aspirants realize the magnitude involved to swim the North Channel successfully. Simply put, this is a really really hard swim.
The distance of the North Channel is approximately 21 miles across from Donaghadee, Northern Ireland (“donna-ga-DEE”) to Portpatrick, Scotland.
In order for this swim to be verified by the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association, (www.northchannel.info), I followed Channel Swimming Rules, which allow for
one regular bathing suit (any Speedo off the rack will do), 1 silicone bathing cap, goggles, ear plugs, and grease (a mixture of Lanolin, Zinc Oxide, Sunscreen, and Vaseline.)
These rules have stayed consistent since 1875 when Matthew Webb became the first person to swim the English Channel. Having the same equipment throughout history keeps the challenge intact and pure.
I contacted Quinton Nelson in November 2017 to secure him as a boat pilot. (There are 3 pilots listed on the NorthChannel.info site.) He offered me an 8-day swim window, July 21 to July 28, to make my attempt, based on the weather and tides during that period. I accepted.
Quinton would pilot the escort boat 10 to 15 feet (3 to 5 meters) alongside me as I swam and he plotted the course during the swim using modern technology. I was the only swimmer he was responsible for at that time; this is a “Solo” swim.
Channel Rules dictate that a swim must proceed under the sole effort of the swimmer so, although I could have things handed to me (and hand them back), no one could touch me to help. My crew would toss me bottles attached to ropes, filled with things like hot liquids and food, every 30-minutes or so. When your fingers/hands/brain are not working that well, this obviously becomes problematic.
To qualify for this swim, one has to submit a swimming application, the association fee, a medical release, and proof of a 6-hour swim in 55f/13c water to the ILDSA. After their review, you are either accepted to swim or you are not.
In the nine months leading up to the swim, I swam 30,000 to 40,000 yards (27,500 to 36,500 meters) a week which is 17 to 23 miles (27-37 Km.) I did several multiple-hour swims in water ranging from 48f to 55f (8 to 13c), including two more 6-hour swims in 52-55f (11-13c) degree water. I did several short swims in water measuring 42 to 47f (5.5 to 8c). Based on my training, I thought I would be able to finish the North Channel between 11 and 14 hours.
Finally, on July 17th, it was time to set off to Northern Ireland.
From Chicago, Illinois, United States, we flew to London on a Tuesday morning flight, arriving at Heathrow in the evening. We stayed overnight at Heathrow and took a Wednesday morning flight to Belfast City Airport, which 20 miles (32 km) east of the Belfast International Airport. We rented a car at the airport. From the airport, we went directly to meet Quinton Nelson at his boat yard in the Donaghadee Marina. He said Saturday July 21stwas looking good as my swim day. From there, we went to look at the starting spot, the rocks running along The Commons, and only a 10-minute boat trip south from the main harbor. The rocks are very sharp and Quinton sagely advised us to exhibit caution if we were to climb on them. For my swim start, the high tide would cover them.
From this spot, it was only logical to stop into Pier 36, an iconic restaurant and hotel along the Parade of the Donaghadee Harbor, for a beverage. If the North Channel swimmers were a Club, Pier 36 is the Club House. We went there often during our stay. The proprietors, father and son, Denis and Lewis Waterworth, are welcoming and put everyone immediately at ease. They are also a wealth of knowledge on activities in the areas, especially pertaining to open water swimming.
We proceeded on to the town of Bangor which lies fifteen minutes west of Donaghadee. The house we rented there (through Airbnb.com) offered us the amenities of a private home, especially the washer/dryer, and allowed our crew to stay together. The house was situated just off the main square so we walked most everywhere while in Bangor. There are several excellent restaurants, catering to all sorts of tastes and budgets. We certainly didn’t go hungry.
After some lunch, unpacking, and a short nap, it was time for a swim. Ballyholme Beach had been suggested as a great training spot, just a short car ride away from our rental. The Ballyholme Yacht Club anchors one end of the beach. Swimmers can swim along a ¾ mile (1 km) stretch to the opposite end. I did a short dip and discovered the water to be 67f/20c! When I swam there again on Thursday for a longer training swim, this time in 61f/20c, I hit a lion’s mane jellyfish squarely with my left arm. It wrapped itself around me and gave me a good dose of what to expect on Saturday. Apparently, due to the tidal circulation, Ballyholme is swarming with jellies so swimmers need to beware.
On Friday, I swam in Donaghadee Harbor for a short training swim, this time without incident. It was at this time that I offered the “Unity Water” and sea glass to the North Channel Goods. I brought them from my training beach at home and would take some of both home with me after my swim for a reciprocal “Unity” ceremony in Illinois. On the Tuesday after my swim, we would meet up with the Chunky Dunkers, a lively group claiming to be everyone from Fast to Floaters. They swim off the sailing slip in Donaghadee Harbor nearly every high tide, They are a delightful, welcoming group and well worth meeting. If I had been in Northern Ireland for longer than a few days, a combination of swims with the Chunky Dunkers blended with longer ones at various area beaches would have been a good training mix. (I also gifted the Dunkers with a few caps and a t-shirt. These items were rapidly auctioned off on-line, with the proceeds going to a charitable cause.)
Soon, Friday night came, and with it, the time to make all the final preparations. Bags were packed and placed by the door, morning provisions were set up, and lights were out early. The big day was nearly upon us!
If you know me, you know I thrive on preparation, which is why it is so very very difficult to realize and to hear what really happened on my North Channel swim instead of the magnificent I envisioned. Accelerating into the finish! Having the strength of ten at all times! Triumphal pose and all that jazz! Laughing, singing, joyful embraces! In actuality, it wasn’t pretty or the way I had expected it to go. I had to reach deeper than ever before, not in some macho, hulking effort but continuing to move forward even though I didn’t realize how close to the brink of not finishing I was.
This is why I am going to first discuss the simple mistakes I made before and during my swim that would compound in the final third of my swim, the meat of the swim in which you’ll finish, or you won’t. However, to those who witnessed it, one thing sure is clear: I do have grit. I just kept going.
Mistake #1: Not pre-hydrating enough. Drinking a gallon of sensible, coal-stoking fluids for 4 days in advance made my Tahoe swim a breeze last summer. For the North Channel, I pre-hydrated for one day only.
Mistake #2: Not putting a little bit of water in my cap before I started. Doing so cements my hair to my cap and keeps everything in place. As a result of not doing this, my cap developed an air pocket, resulting in it eventually riding up over my ears, creating a Dumbo-like effect which I fixated on fixing. Because my fingers and hands were not working too well when this issue became a problem, I spent a good 5 minutes trying to do something most think of as simple: pull my silicone cap down over my ears. These inactive 5 minutes spent bobbing in a swift tide as I fiddled with my cap probably added at least 30 minutes to my overall swim time.
Mistake #3: My Feeding plan. It eventually worked out to be as effective as liquified sawdust and cheese doodles… Garbage in… Garbage out...
Before you get all ready to pounce on me with advice, please know that the products and plan I have been using for several years have gracefully gotten me across some pretty steep finish lines in fine style. However, the whole thing didn’t work for me on Saturday July 21, 2018, and I take full responsibility. Also, the food delivery system wasn’t adequate for my needs during my North Channel swim. Again, this one is fully on me.
My North Channel Feeding Plan was:
At approximately 1 hour, 10 minutes, I would have:
8 ounces (8 US Ounces = 236 Milliliters) Endurox + 1 Hammer Gel (1.2 ounces/33 grams) (Vanilla or Raspberry flavored)
Then next at about 35-40 minutes later: 8 ounces Endurox + 1 Hammer Gel (Vanilla or Raspberry flavored)
Then next at about 35-40 minutes later: 8 ounces (8 US Ounces = 236 Milliliters) GNC Pro-Performance 100% Whey Protein + 1 Hammer Gel (Vanilla or Raspberry flavored)
Repeat the whole thing on about 35-minute cycles. Occasionally, my crew substituted Chicken Broth for one of the drinks, and Espresso Hammer Gel for the boost in caffeine.
Before the swim, I took one Aleve, and then got another one at around 6 hours, at my request.
The feeding bottles I started using in the past year (Rubbermaid 20 ounces/600 ml Flip top Chug Bottles) are attached to ropes and thrown to me. They have drink spout openings the size of US nickels/3/4”/20mm. I was in such a hurry to chug my feed down thatI just couldn’t/wouldn’t consume enough from these feeding bottles. I didn’t take the time to properly consume all the liquid in the bottle and was only getting about 3-4 ounces/~100 milliliters per feeding, nowhere near enough. This lack of consumption compounded over time and probably caused my near-collapse at the end. At some point, I hope I am able to forgive myself for this amateur mistake.
I had nothing in the tank. Going forward, I will either have to live with slower feeds and take the time to properly consume my food, or go with open cups from a feeding basket, the way I used to do it, until last summer, when I “reappeared” on the scene. The open cups I formerly used - delivered to me via a feeding basket - allowed me to quickly chug 10 oz in a matter of seconds.
One of the things we did do right was to measure the highest warm temperature that I could chug, 120f/49c. All my feeds came at about that temperature so again, thank you Mark and Lee.
There are times for the last several hours I simply don’t remember because I was hypothermic, but still conscious. The cumulative effect of cold water and not ingesting enough nutrition had a huge impact at the end. The video Mark took of me at the end looks like another person (i.e. not me) is swimming, a poor one who can barely get her arms out of the water. This is very hard for me to watch because I thought I was just “tiring.” Lee got in the water to swim me in to the finish and said I didn’t notice that he was there for several minutes.
Over the next few days, both Mark and my observer, Cara Martin, were telling me what the last four (or so) hours of my swim were like. The only thing I really remember is the monotonous grind of stroking on and on, looking up at the coast occasionally. Since my stroke rate remained a fairly constant +/- 60 throughout the 15 hours it took, I thought I was ok. I was not. The strength of my pull started to deteriorate by half way and, unbeknownst to me, I limped to the finish. What was also happening is that hypothermia was setting in and, as Marcy commented to me right afterwards, it is brutal to watch someone in this situation.
I have been around others who were at this level of moderate hypothermia, but when I was experiencing it myself, I thought I was just fine. That’s probably the difference between the real thing and faking it.
To end this particular swim, you must either touch the cliff face or stand up in waist-deep water. A bit unusual but due to the severity of the Scottish coastline, we now understand. So if I had touched the rock that was jutting out on a little peninsula about 1000 yards from the “beach,” I probably would’ve save myself a bunch of swimming & time. I never saw it even though Lee was pointing it out but since I wasn’t registering that Lee was there yet, let’s just say that it was a “missed opportunity.” Then if I was hearing what Lee was telling me, “Stand up now!” when we were very close to the beach, I would’ve been done. But not Marcia. If there’s a beach, I’m going claw myself onto that beach to where there’s no water in front of me, quite ungracefully and on all fours if necessary, as was the case in this swim. I managed to slice a nice chunk of skin off one of my fingers in my quest to finish “properly.” I was operating on sheer instinct because I was so out of it. But and I finished!
By the grace of God, there was a kayaker on the beach where I finished. Like all my other swims, I’d figure that I’d swim back to the boat but had no idea that this was not possible due to the tidal waters at that time, and my deteriorated condition. Lee asked this “Angel Kayaker” to paddle me back to the boat. I have a very hazy memory of getting into the kayak and it was only later that they told me it was not under my own power; Lee and the kayaker had lifted me in.
I have no memory of getting back onto the escort boat, maybe because the four people who were lifting and hauling me were quite gentle and carefully didn’t bang me around. Apparently, three of them were lifting me from above and the Angel Kayaker was pushing from below. Mark told me later that they first took me to the front of the boat to wipe off the grease and cover me up. I was walking and talking but not making any sense, saying things such as, “I’m fine. I’m not hypothermic.” I don’t remember any of this. The plan was for me to go into the front cabin for the return trip to Ireland but with a 6-foot ladder (2 meters), no one wanted to risk getting me down there. Finally, it was decided that I would go into the aft cabin near the wheelhouse because there were only a few stairs to descend.
I was then wrapped in a stack of blankets fit for a reverse reenactment of the Princess and the Pea. Cara began massaging my feet and limbs to get my circulation going. It was only when they started to get me out of my wet suit and into dry clothes that my memory again activates. I remember that it was quite light when I landed but now it was dark out, so there was probably a good hour of blank tape on my cerebral recorder. Once in my dry clothes: there were regular blankets then a thermal blanket then a rain coat and a hat, I was starting to make sense and appreciate all that was being done for me. When we came back into Donaghadee Harbor, I was able to walk off the boat by myself. That was a good sign. I was going to be ok.
For anyone to put one of these swims together takes a Herculean effort. Arranging one’s family, life, work, and everything else gets complicated. For Mark and me to leave our son, Sam, a person with moderate autism, for a day, no less two weeks, takes planning similar to the invasion of Normandy and requires a small village of caring, knowledgeable folks. I started preparing a month in advance. Although these details kept me motivated to be successful, neither Mark nor I would put me into serious jeopardy: safely returning to our family after any swim is always my Numero Uno Goal.
A few days after my swim, Mark and I took the ferry over to Scotland and found the landing spot. We were truly blessed to find my Angel Kayaker, Keith Carman, a man vacationing from Dollar, Scotland with his two young children, Kerr (almost 10) and Grace (4). They were relieved and delighted, in that order, to find out I was ok and we enjoyed some afternoon tea together. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! To get to Morroch Bay, we hiked over from the wonderful Michelin-starred Knockinaam Lodge knockinaamlodge.com,located overlooking the next bay south, on the other side of one Scotland’s many lovely cliffs. People at Knockinaam had also been watching my slow progress towards Morroch Bay on Saturday and enjoyed learning of the outcome. Our whole time in Scotland was magical.
The North Channel Swim is now behind me. It was the hardest thing I have ever done to date. It took everything I had, physically and mentally, and I am amazed at my success. It was by far not my best swim because of many mistakes I made before and during the swim. As far as my nutrition plan goes, extending the feed interval during the first three hours may have created a deficit that I couldn’t overcome through subsequent feedings. But more importantly, I didn’t input enough nourishment at each feed to cover my current output, and I need to work on that.
If I want to do other swims, I must take measures to correct these mistakes so that my own safety and health is not pushed so closely to the brink. I am not proud of the stress I put on my crew or captain. “Thank you for letting me continue” falls far, far short of the sentiment and appreciation I feel. It is not often in life that we get the chance to be so completely tested on so many levels and still manage to achieve a goal. My North Channel Swim represents this opportunity to me.
Why didn’t I ever give up? I just kept going because they didn’t tell me to stop or give me a reason. Mark was with me and he knew how far I could go. Despite my distress, I was not complaining or emotionally ruffled. These traits take time to develop. Although I have progressed in this area, I still have a long way to go.
If the English Channel is “The Everest” of Open Water Swimming, the North Channel must be a north-face assent of K2 in the winter. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K2 A true test of qualification for this swim is a few 10 to 12 hour swims in 53-54f/11-12c, preferably in salt water inhabited by Jellyfish. It is perfectly understandable if this doesn’t sound like something you’d like to pursue. I’m just saying….
People always want to know what Body Parts Hurt during and after a Swim. Fortunately, for me this time, no body parts hurt during the swim. I was basically icing my body for the entirety of this swim so all systems were a-go when I was in the water. It was afterwards that body parts seemed to be coming forward in carefully choregraphed ways so that each and every part could adequately hurt, but thankfully, just not all at once.
Saturday Night, after the swim:
I didn’t sleep at all. (This is pretty typical.) My throat hurt from the salt water and as a result, I had difficulty swallowing. My skin itched from the jellyfish tentacles that brushed by me. I was parched but because swallowing was difficult, I had a hard time replacing my fluids. Later on, I experienced some mild diarrhea. In about 15-minute cycles, I would lay down in bed then shoot back up because I was so parched. I would sip from the bedside water bottle then need to blow my nose. Then I would lay down again, spreading my wettish hair above my head over a towel on my pillow. This action would cause my arms to get cold so I’d bring them under the covers to warm them up. A few minutes later, I would shoot back up because I was so parched, and so it continued. Eventually I would add in trips to the bathroom (a good sign). After not knowing what time it was, around 3am I retrieved my phone and realized I had just pulled an all-nighter. Oh what the heck! What’s one all-nighter when you’re already exhausted? Mark slept in another room, for obvious reasons.
I am swollen all over. My throat is still really sore, my voice is raspy and hoarse; all the result of soaking one’s mouth/bod in salt water for 15 hours. My reaction time is sluggish. My skin continues to itch so I cover the itchy parts with Balmex, which helps. My left knee and my left shoulder are both achy. I tend to my middle finger on my right hand that I skinned badly crawling up on to the Scottish shore. I will live.
My body remains Puffy, from fatigue and brining in salt water for 15 hours. My skin starts to feel better, but my tongue, hands and wrists start to swell. I can’t get my wedding ring on nor slide my watch over my wrist. Both my shoulders are achy.
My skin issues are gone but my left knee remains achy. My voice remains hoarse and soft and my throat is quite sore; Throat lozenges help immensely. I continue to have trouble swallowing and can only take tiny sips and nibbles of food. My tongue is swollen. I’m finding scrapes on both legs and knees, and on my right arm from my beach crawl. My wrists and forearms are now officially sore and my reaction time is continues to be sluggish. I am still very tired. My right eye is blood shot from where my goggles were leaking, and it hurt a bit. There are scabs along the line of my eye glasses, where my goggles dug into my face.
Voice, Throat, Wrists, Forearms, Reaction Time, and Right Eye: All status quo.
My right hip flexor is getting achy. My tongue has started to molt, like a snake’s skin, and is coming off in sheets of skin. Eating anything burns my newly-exposed taste buds.
Tuesday All Day
My tongue continues to molt. Canker sores are now emerging in my mouth.
Wednesday All Day
My voice is coming back and my throat, with help from three days’ worth of sucking on throat lozenges, is feeling better; it will take a week to fully recover. My taste buds are sensitive. Everything up is healing up well. I am tired and will be for the next two weeks but I certainly will live!
Two Weeks after The Swim
My finger tips and first knuckles begin to blister and peel uniformly across all 10 digits. Weird.
Lee wrote a most excellent log of the swim that I will introduce at this point. I have added my thoughts, as noted. It is hard for me to read parts of it, to find out how far down the hole I went. I had to earn this swim and I surely have a great respect for the North Channel! Most importantly, I safely made it. That is always my primary goal of any event.
Crew’s Log from Saturday July 21st:
North Channel Swim July 21, 2018
Donaghadee, Northern Ireland to Marroch Bay, Portpatrick, Scotland.
15 Hours, 3 minutes
Quinton Nelson - Boat Captain & Pilot, Ross – 1stMate, John – 2ndMate
Cara Martin – Official Observer for ILDSA.
Marcia’s Crew: Mark Green, husband, & Lee Harkleroad, friend.
Lee: Lee is up first at about 3:00AM to get the hot water boiling for our coffee and tea. Marcia is up at 3:10AM and comes downstairs at about 3:20AM. Marcia has her tea with almond milk, a banana, 2 hard-boiled eggs. Marcia takes her oatmeal and a small bottle of Gatorade (2 scoops) and she will eat the oatmeal and sip the Gatorade while we drive to the harbor. Lee relishes his instant coffee while Mark reluctantly accepts that instant coffee will just have to do for this morning. Although we were originally told to be at the Harbor at 4:00AM, a later email updated our departure time to 4:30AM. We concluded that we would just stick to the original plan of trying to arrive at the harbor by 4:00AM.
Marcia: It had been a fitful night of sleep and I was finally awake at 2:49AM, nervous about the swim but ready to get started. I stayed in bed until I heard Lee’s alarm go off. After using the bathroom, I was able to stretch for a few minutes before we left. I find it helps me to remain calm if I don’t think too much about what lies before me for the day. In my mind, I was going to do “a long training swim, with some feeding breaks.” It was a quiet 15-minute ride to Donaghadee Harbor in pre-dawn light; I nibbled on some of the oatmeal but just didn’t feel like eating much of it, after the other food. All was proceeding to plan for the start of a marathon swim: The drive to the boat, usually in the dark; loading up the boat, also usually in the dark; then pushing off from the dock; greasing up; and the jump.
Lee: At 3:45AM Mark and Lee load all of Marcia’s gear into the back of our rental SUV. All the gear was packed the night before and waiting by the front door. We leave the apartment at approximately 3:50AM and arrive in Donaghadee harbor at approximately 4:00AM. The harbor is dimly lit but you can tell that the tide is up as expected. It’s an overcast morning and a bit on the cool side and can best be described as a gray day. No one milling around the Harbor this time of morning. We pull the car up as close as we can to the gate chain and begin the wait for the crew to arrive. Shortly after our arrival we are met by the first mate Ross who indicates that the boat is already here. Marcia tries to go use the bathroom at Pier 36 but alas the door is locked so Marcia returns to the car to wait and stay warm. (She eventually uses the head on the boat.) Mark and Lee start the process of carrying the gear to the boat. Once all the gear is aboard Marcia comes on down to the boat and Mark returns to park the car.
Marcia: A few notes before we get too far into this. For starters, my crew was amazing: Mark Green, my husband, and Lee Harkleroad, a great friend, attended to my every need and one of them always had “eyes on” me. Their vigilance was a testament to the fact that I was never hit head-on by any one of the hundreds of jellyfish we encountered. These jellies weren’t the cutesy ones you see at the aquarium: many had bells the size of trash can lids and bodies shaped like stuffed teddy bears dragging Rapunzel-length tentacles; I did brush by several of these appendages but no envelopments. This was a huge help.
Lee: We are also met at the boat by a 40ish man named John who will also be on the boat to assist us in the swim as the 2ndmate. John indicates that this is his channel swim and you can tell he is excited. John proceeds to introduce himself to Marcia as JooHan which begged the question of how you spell it and John indicated it was spelled JOHN which seemed to be somewhat humorous to Marcia that the accent would be so pronounced. At about this time our North Channel Swim official observer arrives. Her name is Cara Martin. Cara is a petite blond Northern Irish lady who resides in Donaghadee. Cara also indicates that she is a special needs school teacher and so that fact alone was a bonding type moment when Mark indicated that Marcia & his son, Sam, was special need child. Cara indicated that she was a member of the Chunky Dunkers and this was also her first swim observation.
At approximately 4:25AM Captain Quinton Nelson arrives and the boat engines start shortly thereafter. Captain Nelson tells Marcia that she has 10 minutes before she starts the swim. Mark and Lee start applying the grease to the legs first and then to the back neck and arms. No grease goes on feet or hands as Marcia needs them to grip the water. The crew casts off the boat lines and the boat twirls on its axis to move out into the harbor and toward to the opening to the North Channel. There is a bit of wind and the water appears to be a bit choppy. Daylight is starting to appear on the horizon but it’s still dark. The Captain takes the boat a bit east of the harbor to a rock point where Marcia will jump in and swim to land. Faint images of Scotland appear in the distance.
Marcia: This was the fastest Start swim I’ve ever had, 10 minutes from the time we left the Harbor. It felt a bit rushed but this is the way it is in the North Channel. We were doing what we should to get going. I had put my cap on in the car (without water – a big mistake that I would pay for later in the day), I striped down to my suit and sandals, Lee and Mark each put on latex gloves, and each took one side of me to cover me in grease. It was time. I said just before jumping in, “God, be with me today.”
Lee: Marcia positions herself at the gate opening on the starboard side of the boat. At approximately 4:41AM Captain Nelson gives the signal to start and at Marcia jumps into the water and starts to swim to land. A few minutes later she establishes herself on the rocks in waist deep water. At approximately 4:46AM the observes gives the signal that Marcia has established herself on land and that she can begin the swim. Marcia starts the swim on the port side of the boat and quickly positions herself toward the middle of the boat. Mark and Lee take up positions on the same side of the boat so that they can try to warn Marcia of potential jelly collisions.
Marcia:I swam into the shore. At 53f/12c, the water temperature felt fine. I guessed where to put my feet down and stood up in waist-deep water. Even though we had gone over this, the start was confusing to me as I approached the rocks. Usually, Channel rules are to start with no water behind you and finish with no water in front of you. However, North Channel rules allow swimmers to start and finish in waist-deep water, due to the severity of the rocks and the push of the tide. If the boat had had a light or an airhorn to signal my start, it would have made it clearer to me that yes, in fact, I was good to go.
Lee: Captain Nelson had indicated on the day we met him at his boat yard that he wanted Marcia to swim hard for the first three hours and take limited feeds as he thought it was important to be at a particular point in the tide cycle. Doing this perhaps presents a risk of creating a calorie deficit but the Captain was pretty insistent that Marcia hit his 3-hour mark.
Marcia:I was game to do this and swam hard, realizing, “I’m swimming the North Channel. This is what it’s all about. I’m going to be fine. Just gotta keep taking one more stroke.” I had no idea how hard this swim would be, that it would take every bit of me, that all I would do by the end was to keep on taking one more stroke without question or complaint. My goal was to finish and in order to do so, this is what it would take. Over and over and over again. I could not overthink the task at hand.
Lee: It takes a bit of time for Mark and Lee to get a better understanding of the depth of the Jellies we are passing, so that they aren’t continually disrupting the rhythm of Marcia’s swimming. Early on the jellies were difficult to spot but there appeared to be quite a few jellies with the majority being the more dangerous lion’s mane type. A bit later we were told not to worry about the moon jellies as they would not be harmful to Marcia.
Marcia:Within a few minutes, lion’s mane jellyfish appeared. Many were the size of trash can lids, with tentacles trailing 20 feet (7 meters.) I figured they would only be with us along the coastlines and within a few miles, we’d be free. However, they accompanied us nearly all day. It is a true testament to the devotion, commitment, and attentiveness of my crew that I never hit a jellyfish head on all day even though we navigated through a mine field of them. (I encountered a lot of loose tentacles but that was not an issue.) Lee and Mark immediately realized the situation and thought fast on their feet to guide me through the jellies using universal hand signals: “Come towards me,” “Push away, “Go around” and lots of pointing. It was very stressful for all of us but worth it. I am greatly indebted to them. Having a crew able to think on their feet and immediately react to unexpected situations is critical towards the success of a swim. One of them always had their eyes on me for the entire 15 hours and 3 minutes. This is completely a team effort.
With the Jellies, even though they were a continual source of anxiety and stress, I needed to figure out how they would not cause me to produce negative energy. One thought going into this swim was that they were my friends and fans cheering me on, and I should mentally wave back in gratitude. After the first hour or so, I realized this wasn’t working because the jellies were everywhere, well beyond the capacity of even the most dedicated and loyal friends and fans. I started to say, “Peace Be With You” every time I saw a Jelly. It was not always easy and especially after close calls, sometimes came out in a halted stutter, “ah…. peace…..be…….ah with you” but it did allow me a minute sense of calm.
Lee: Mark and Lee had previously agreed that Mark would handle the preparation of Marcia’s liquid feedings since he had done so on previous swims. Lee would handle the Swim log, keep an eye out for jellies, keep an eye on Marcia, prepare the white board with motivational comments that Marcia had prepared on index cards, write the names of family, friends and supporters that Marcia had scripted out and prepare any solid feedings that will be required.
At approximately 4:51 AM Marcia’s stroke count was 74 stokes per minute. Because of the slight breeze, the water had 2-3 feet of chop, so it was a bit more effort to navigate the chop. There were also patches of brownish kelp that Marcia had to navigate through.
At approximately 5:06 Marcia rolled over on her back. It scared those of us on the boat, but Marcia yelled that she was OK, just adjusting her goggles.
Marcia:My goggles were fogging badly, making it hard to see the boat. I wished I had rinsed them out with some water before I started, to help with defogging.
Lee: At 5:11AM the stroke count was 70.
At 5:31AM Marcia’s stroke count was still 70. Sheasked how long she had been swimming and we wrote 45 minutes on the white board.
At 6:00AM Marcia’s stroke count was 70.
6:00AM 1 Hr 14 Min or 65 minutes into the swim Marcia took her first feed of Endurox and a Vanilla Hammer Gel. Bottles attached to a rope were thrown to her from the boat. Marcia appears to take about half of the 20 oz. bottle and the entire packet of gel. Marcia also did a Listerine wash of her mouth.
After this initial feed, Mark and John combined to do the rest of the feeds with Mark extending the basket and John pulling up the bottles by rope. Lee kept watch for jellies. At this time Captain Nelson moved Marcia over to the leeward (right) side of the boat to cut down of the amount of chop and wind Marcia was experiencing. Given the speed that Marcia was making the Captain thought we were on pace to hit the 3-hour mark and so we decided to move the feed schedule to 45 minutes.
Marcia:I was in such a hurry to get my feed down that I made mistakes in this area on many levels. Mainly the bottles I was using (Rubbermaid 20 ounces/600 ml Fliptop Chug Bottles) had openings that were the size of a US Nickel (3/4”, 20mm). Because I wanted to chug so fast to get my feed down, I didn’t take the time to properly consume all the liquid in the bottle. This would become a major problem as the swim progressed because I wasn’t properly nourished. At some point, I hope I am able to forgive myself for this amateur mistake.
Going forward, I will either have to live with slower feeds and take the time to properly consume my food, or go with open cups from a feeding basket, the way I used to do it, until last summer, when I “reappeared” on the scene. One of the things we did do right was to measure the highest warm temperature that I could chug, 120f/49c. All my feeds came at about that temperature so again, thank you Mark and Lee.
Lee: At 6:20 AM, 1 Hr 35 Min Marcia’s stoke count was 70. Wahoo Bolt indicated 2.8 miles covered in the first 1:34 minutes. This would suggest a speed of a little bit less than 2 mph. Marcia was planning to maintain a 2 mph pace.
At 6:45AM, 2 Hr we did another feed comprised of Endurox and an Espresso Hammer gel. Marcia appears to again take in about half of the 20 oz. bottle and consumed the entire gel. Marcia sounds good and says she feels good and very aware of her time. We decide that we will now move to 35-minute feed intervals.
At 6:50AM Marcia requested that if John was going to smoke to please go to the other side of the boat. He did his smoking on the other side of the boat for the rest of the swim.
Marcia:I know he didn’t mean to be aggravating but, on the water, my olfactory senses work overtime and some smells can make me nauseous, especially cigarette smoke.
Lee: At 7:00AM Marcia’s stroke count was 66.
A Wahoo Bolt indicated 4.6 miles covered in the first 2:34 minutes. This would suggest a speed of approximately 2 mph
At 7:20AM we do another feed comprised of a protein drink and a Vanilla Hammer gel
At 7:30AM Marcia’s stroke count was 66.
At 7:45AM, 3 Hr Marcia’s stroke count was 68.
At 7:50AM we do another feed comprised of Endurox and a Vanilla Hammer gel
Wahoo Bolt indicated 5.3 miles covered in the first 3 Hr 02 minutes. This would suggest a speed slightly in excess of 2 mph
At 8:08AM Marcia’s stroke count was 68 per minute. There is a bit of sunlight on the horizon, so it doesn’t appear to be such a gray day.
At 8:20AM we do another feed comprised of an Endurox and a Vanilla Hammer gel
At 9:00AM, 4 Hr 15 Min we do another feed comprised of a Protein drink and an Espresso Hammer gel. We conclude that we will stick with a 35-minute feeding schedule. The sun has come out now and has had a warming effect.
Marcia:I saw a few bolts of sunlight, knowing a higher power was watching over me. There were only a few such signs throughout the day.
Lee: At 9:05AM Marcia’s stroke count was 68 per minute
At 9:35AM we do another feed comprised of an Endurox and a Vanilla Hammer gel.
Marcia:All through this time of the swim, it was very straightforward and mechanical: Swim as fast as possible, avoid the jellyfish when instructed to do so, keep an eye on the boat, stop for feeds. I was in an even mood and felt we were making progress. The water temperature and conditions were fine to me.
Although this is going to sound gross to those of you not familiar with open water swimming, peeing is an important aspect of one’s physical condition and the crew and observer need to know when this event occurs. Simply put, you just go through your suit. (I can do it without stopping, a talent that took years to master.) A big clue that I wasn’t ingesting enough is that my first pee came at 5 hours into the swim. I only remembering peeing one other time during this swim. Not a good sign.
Lee: Wahoo Bolt indicated 7.7 miles covered in the first 4 Hr 12 minutes. This would suggest a speed of 1.8 mph
Wahoo Bolt indicated 10.0 miles covered in the first 5Hr 10 minutes. This would suggest a speed of a wee bit under 2 mph
At 10:10AM, 5 Hr 25 Min we do another feed comprised of a Chicken Broth, a Vanilla Hammer gel and a quarter of a Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwich and a fig bar. Marcia consumed about half of the broth all of the gel and most of the PB&J and the Fig Newton. I think she finds the PB&J difficult to get down, but she really seems to like the fig bar.
At 10:30AM Marcia’s stroke count was 68 per minute
Marcia:During this time, I was thinking about my family and my friends, everyone who had helped me get to this point. Lee was putting a lot of names and mantras on the white board for me to see. One of my favorites is, “Success is a Result, Not a Goal.”
I thought about all the people who were helping us out with Sam for the two weeks we would be away. To those folks, we are gratefully indebted, and we whole-heartedly thank you.
I thought about my children and Mark a lot during this time. I usually breathe every 3 strokes, so my pattern is Stroke-Stroke-Stroke-Breathe-Stroke-Stroke-Stroke-Breathe. Often, I’ll chant, “Mark, Julia, Sam,” (breathe) to this cadence. At some time, this morphed into, “I love you” (breathe) “Mark Thomas Green” (breathe). Mark was doing so much to make my dream of swimming the North Channel a reality. He knew how hard to push me and has seen me endure some major pain. I am grateful that he continued to believe in my ability to finish this swim.
Lee: At 10:45AM, 6 Hr we do another feed comprised of a Protein, a Vanilla Hammer gel and a quarter of a Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwich. Marcia consumed about half of the protein all of the gel and none of the PB&J. I think she finds the PB&J difficult to get down.
Marcia:I thought the PB&J took too much time to chew.
Lee: At 10:55AM Marcia’s stroke count was 68 per minute
At 11:02AM Marcia’s stroke count was 66 per minute. I did the stroke count again because for the first time it appeared that she was slowing down.
At 11:20AM we do another feed comprised of an Endurox, a Vanilla Hammer gel. Marcia consumed about half of the Endurox and all of the gel.
At 11:25AM Marcia’s stroke count was 64 per minute. Lots of Jelly Fish right now. Really having to watch closely.
At 11:30AM Marcia’s stroke count was 68 per minute.
At 11:35AM, 6 Hr 50 Min Marcia’s stroke count was 64 per minute but at 11:45AM she is back up to 68. I’ve started to take the Stroke Count more frequently as she appears to be slowing but the stroke rate does not suggest what my eyes are seeing. I think that she is not getting as much pull from the stroke as she was earlier in the swim and suggest that some fatigue is setting in.
At 11:55AM we do another feed comprised of Endurox, an Espresso Hammer gel. Marcia consumed about half of the Endurox and all of the gel. Marcia also requested an Aleve for the next feed.
Marcia:My body felt fine, but I was taking this more as a preemptive measure.
Lee: At 12:09PM Marcia’s stroke count was 62 per minute
At 12:21PM Marcia’s stroke count was 62 per minute
At 12:30PM we do another feed comprised of an Endurox and a Vanilla Hammer gel. Marcia consumed about half of the Endurox and all of the gel.
At 12:40PM Marcia’s stroke count was 62 per minute
At 12:50PM, 8 Hr 5 Min Marcia’s stroke count was 62 per minute
At 1:05PM we do another feed comprised of a chicken broth and an Espresso Hammer gel. Marcia consumed about half of the broth and all of the gel.
After this feeding the Captain asks that we tell Marcia to really hustle for the next hour as he was trying to hit a particular current that would be favorable. We give Marcia the white board sign signal of “Vroom” and ask her to pick up the pace. Her stroke rate came up but I’m not convinced that her speed increased.
Marcia:I was trying to pick it up, but I felt when I pressed down on the gas, I was on empty. This would become very frustrating for me.
Quinton Nelson is an excellent boat captain. He knows every inch of water in the North Channel and has been piloting swimmers for over 30 years. His straight-forward, professional demeanor allows the crew to have full jurisdiction over the swimmer while he remains keenly aware of what is happening with the swimmer. Because he must have seen something in me that conveyed determination even though I was often at a very low point, he had faith in his decision to allow me to continue towards Scotland and the finish. For this insight and judgement, I extend my deepest respect and appreciation. He told me four days after my swim, when we went to visit, “I won’t forget your swim any time soon.”
Lee: The sun is out now and feels warmer. The water is not choppy but there are 3-4’ (1+meter) rollers. (This means waves that are calmly moving over the surface of the water.) Sometimes Mark and I have to hold tight to keep from being tossed off the boat when the boat turns almost to a 45-degree angle. Based on the weather forecast, Quinton thought the sun would be out much earlier and the water would be calm. The Weather Gods had other plans for the day, making this a more challenging swim.
At 1:10PM Marcia’s stroke count was 62 per minute
At 1:25PM Marcia’s stroke count was 62 per minute
At 1:40PM, 8 Hr 55 Min we do another feed comprised of an Endurox and a Vanilla Hammer gel. Marcia consumed about half of the Endurox and all of the gel. Marcia getting a bit testy. Shouting at John to get out of the doorway so that she has line of sight to the Captain. Marcia also didn’t like that fact that her swim cap had slipped up over her ears. Marcia spent at least 5 extra minutes working with the cap which could potential mean that the cold is causing some loss of dexterity in her hands. She ultimately had to come near to the boat and grab a towel from the extended basket to clear grease off her hands to get the cap situated. I sensed some level of frustration that would be another signal of fatigue. She is also almost 9 hours into the swim so this would make sense. Mark and Lee were quite tense at this moment, being very sympathetic but completely unable to touch Marcia. This 5-minute stop likely added 30 minutes to the overall swim time due to the tidal push.
Marcia:I was really really frustrated with my cap situation, and it was my own damn fault. My cap had ridden up because I hadn’t added water to it initially when I put it on, which cements it to my head. Over time, an air pocket developed and caused the cap to ride up, over my ears. In the interest of protecting my ears and my hearing, I wanted to pull the cap back down but my pincer grip had become so compromised by the water temperature that it was only through great exertion and energy that this seemingly simple task was accomplished. Again, at some point, I hope I am able to forgive myself for this amateur mistake.
Lee: The sun is out and the water seems calm. There are not a lot of jellies but the 3-4 foot (1+ meter) rollers pushing south making the strokes a bit more difficult.
At 2:15PM, 9 Hr 30 Mins we do another feed comprised of an Endurox and an Espresso Hammer gel. Marcia consumed about one quarter of the Endurox all of the gel. Marcia’s face is quite swollen and her speech is starting to slur. There is a bit of dullness to her eyes. Mark and I confer and we both agree that she isn’t getting enough calories and is getting a bit lethargic so we decided to try and get some solids into her system. We also decided to shorten the feed schedule to 20 minutes this time.
At 2:20PM her stroke rate has dropped to 60 strokes per minute. Its also beginning to become apparent that her stroke is starting to degrade. Strokes are shorter, fingers apart and more of a s curve on the pull and elbow falling. I’m trying to get Marcia’s attention to stretch the stroke but eyes don’t seem to register with what I’m suggesting, and stroke stays the same.
At 2:35PM we do another feed comprised of an Endurox, a Vanilla Hammer gel 2 fig bars and 2 quarters of a PB&J sandwich. Marcia consumed about one quarter of the chicken broth, all of the gel, was all over the figs and pushed the PB&J away and into the water.
At 2:45PM, 10 Hr Marcia’s stroke count was 60 per minute.
Marcia:When Mark and Lee realized they had to start getting more into me at more frequent intervals, they went off plan moving to 30-minute feed intervals and introducing solids: ¼ sections of Peanut butter & Jelly Sandwiches, an old effective staple for me. They also offered ¼ pieces of Banana, Hobnobs, and Fig Newtons. But my mouth was having a hard time chewing and my brain told me not to waste time doing so. Single Fig Newtons worked well but eating one every 30 minutes for 8 hours ain’t gonna get you across.
We had a great bowl that worked well with the solids, so I did one thing right, out of several thousand wrongs, that day. I purchased this Sistema Noodle Bowl (31.78 oz/940 ml), with a clamp down lid (sistemaplastics.com) at The Container Store for about $US10. A rope was tied to the handle for delivery to me, and fishing line was attached to the lid clamps, so the lid wouldn’t float off. The whole thing worked well: though the clamps were a struggle in the last third with my ever-colder hands and fingers not working so well.
Lee: At 2:55PM Marcia’s stroke count was 60 per minute. Lee and Mark confer on how much Marcia is eating. They both agree that she needs more fuel and start trying different foods to get her to eat more.
Mark and the Captain conferred, and Mark told Marcia she has to pick it up or she isn’t going to make it. We need to be near the coast by 7:00 PM or the tide will start working against her in a significant way. It pretty clear now that there is a big degree of risk that a finish may not be possible. I can see the bewilderment on Marcia’s face when she asks Mark how much farther to go and she doesn’t understand why the distance to go doesn’t seem to be decreasing. Its clear to me that the cold is starting to take more of a toll on her physical abilities and her thinking is getting to be a bit compromised.
From this point onwards, Mark is focused on two things:
1. Marcia’s Safety.
2. The viability of completing the swim. The swim is brutal at this point, so Mark only wants to continue if there is a chance of Marcia finishing it.
Marcia:Cara told me later that I looked up at Mark with puppy dog eyes, in great confusion, and let out a pleading “Maaaaarrrrrkkkkk?” I knew things were not going well because of my lack of progress but I could hear Liz and Marcy’s voices in my head, “Just keep swimming.” I knew if I stopped to complain or discuss anything, they may pull me. I just kept taking one more stroke, over and over again.
Lee: At 3:05PM we do another feed comprised of an Endurox, an Espresso Hammer gel 2 fig bars and 2 quarters of a PB&J sandwich. Marcia consumed about one quarter of the Endurox, all of the gel, both fig bars and again pushed the PB&J away and into the water. We are going to stop with the PB&J and will try bananas with the next feeding and cut feeding time to 30 minutes.
At 3:15PM, 10 Hr 30 Min Marcia’s stroke count was 60 per minute.
At 3:35PM we do another feed comprised of an Endurox, an Espresso Hammer gel 2Hobnob cookies, our last fig bars and one quarter of a banana. Marcia consumed about one quarter of the Endurox, all of the gel, the fig bar and pushed the Hobnobs away and into the water. The banana seemed to appeal to her appetite
At 3:45PM, 11 Hr Marcia’s stroke count was 58 per minute
Mark an I confer again that she seems lethargic. Obviously, some of the lethargy is due to cold and need for additional calories. I suggested that we pull out the glucose tablets that I brought along. Marcia and I discussed this before the swim about if and when to use them and I told Mark we are getting to that point that we may have to throw everything that we’ve got at her over the next few hours. We can see the coast pretty clearly, but we don’t seem to be getting any closer.
Marcia:Mark couldn’t give me the full rundown on what the heck was happening with the strong, strong tides along the Scottish coast; it would take too much time and I needed every second to swim East, out of the North-South directions in which the tide flowed. Somehow, I knew this, that this explanation could wait. I thought I was doing a whole lot better than I was, both physically and mentally. In fact, I’d have given myself a “fine” rating at the time.
Lee: At 4:40PM, 11 Hr 55 Min we do another feed comprised of an Endurox, a vanilla Hammer gel 2Hobnob cookies, one quarter of a banana and a glucose tablet. Marcia consumed about one quarter of the Endurox, all of the gel, the banana and again pushed the Hobnobs away and into the water. We lost two glucose tablets into the water before we got the third in her mouth. That left us only 7 tablets remaining.
At 5:20PM we do another feed comprised of an Endurox, an Espresso Hammer gel 2 Hobnob cookies, one quarter of a banana and two glucose tablets. Marcia consumed about one quarter of the Endurox, all of the gel, the banana and pushed the Hobnobs away and into the water.
At 6:00PM, 13 Hr 15 Min we do another feed comprised of an Endurox, an Espresso Hammer gel 2Hobnob cookies, one quarter of a banana and two glucose tablets. We also included a Vivarin pill in hope a concentrated shot of caffeine would give her some much needed boost, but Marcia dropped the pill and it floated into her bathing suit. Marcia consumed about one quarter of the Endurox, all of the gel, the banana. Again, no interest in the hobnobs.
Marcia:his was really bad. Lee gave me – or tried to give me – a Vivarin pill, to give me a boost into the finish. Everyone was so hopeful that I’d connect with the Vivarin but I struggled to open the bottle it was in because my hands were cold and lacked normal dexterity. When I finally managed to get it open, it flew out and was gone. I was too out of it to realize the loss. About 50% of the Glucose pills delivered in the same manner had effective landings.
Only later did I surmise this situation as “Tune in 30 minutes from now and see how Marcia blows her feeding this time.” Everyone was so optimistic for me and my ability to unknowingly self-sabotage was brutal.
The only thing I remember going forward until the finish is occasionally looking up to see the coast of Scotland, which was getting microscopically closer a teeny bit at a time. I just kept on taking one more stroke, and alternatively hearing Marcy & Liz say, “Just keep swimming” and “Yes you can.”
Lee: NO MORE LOG ENTRIES FOR LEE FROM HERE ON. JUST FOCUSED ON MARCIA’S CONDITION. THIS WAS WRITTEN SHORTLY AFTER THE SWIM.
I saw continued degradation in Marcia’s condition over the next couple of hours and it was truly painful to watch the contortions in her face and her lifeless eyes. With all the study I did on hypothermia before this swim, I felt like we were getting deep into the really serious symptoms that could lead to unconsciousness. On a couple of occasions Mark asked if I was ready to go in if we have to pull her.
I ceased taking stroke counts now as it seems to be useless information. I tried a couple more times but 58 strokes per minute seemed to be the best Marcia could muster. I stationed myself in the aft part of the boat so I could watch Marcia more closely. Mark stationed himself right outside the Captain’s position so he could continually confer on pace and progress. At this point in time I am truly concerned (maybe scared shitless is better description) about Marcia’s health and the risk that she loses consciousness and whether we can get to her in time. I’m nauseous. I’m also recalling the number of swimmers that I read about being pulled even though they were just short of completion.
Mark was in constant discussion with Captain Quinton as we continued, constantly eyeing the speed of the boat, which ranged from 0.8 to 1.8 mph. As it started settling around 1.0 mph, Mark started conferring on possible landing points and the up-to-the-minute currents. These briefing became continuous for the final 3 miles into the finish. The exact distance and possible finishing spots on the craggy Scottish coast kept changing because of the tidal push and the currents. Mark was deeply concerned about Marcia’s health and safety too, watching her closely. He was deeply panged at her apparently agony but also amazed at her grit. On several occasions John came up from behind me and asked how long we were going to wait before we pulled her out of the water. He said he doesn’t look good and I’m concerned for her life. I told him that I didn’t disagree but that Mark, Marcia and Lee had this discussion and we all concluded that Mark was the final decision maker and whatever he said we all would live or die with.
Once the Captain concluded he could no longer take the boat any closer to the shore Mark indicated that the Captain was concerned about her ability to navigate in without the guidance of the boat. Mark asked if I was willing to go in and escort her to shore. I indicated that I would be more than willing to do so. He asked if I would go speak with the captain. Captain Nelson told me I need to go in now, so I got my swim cap googles and swim suit on. The observer said that I could not touch Marcia nor could I swim in front of her.
I jumped in feet first and the cold of the water was shocking. I couldn’t imagine being in this water for more than a few minutes much less hours like Marcia. I swam back to Marcia and circled around behind her and settled in a few feet off her right side. When we first locked eyes she had no idea, it was me. I said, “Marcia, it’s Lee I’m going to guide you in. Just swim beside me.” It was another minute or so before it registered with her. Her response was, “Lee!” I did sense some level of relief in her face. I repeated instructions to her again and I think she comprehended what we were going to do. I started to guide her around the back of the boat as that was the direction where I saw some beach area. As we were going that way Mark and the crew kept yelling and pointing toward the rocks on the edge of the cliff as it was a shorter distance. Based on my assessment of Marcia’s condition I thought that it was too dangerous to try to get her to stand up on the sharp rocks and raise her hand. Instead I though the beach was the better alternative in as much as she could crab crawl up on land. I told Marcia swim with me and the current will help push us in.
About 100 yards from shore a big barrel jelly fish of orange hue and about 18 inches in width came up between us. Not sure how it didn’t get one or both of us but thought it was a good sign. I’ll admit I was scared as Marcia’s eyes were lifeless and she wasn’t responding to me verbally but seem to grasp swimming along with me. I wasn’t sure that if she stopped swimming and was in danger of drowning that I could hold on to her given with the amount of grease that was still underneath her arms and back. I was trying to figure out if I could get my hand through a part of her bathing suit that maybe I could hold on that way.
Marcia:Lee told me he had been swimming alongside me for about 10 minutes before I realized his presence; I don’t doubt this. Whatever he was telling me, I wasn’t processing. The only thing I remember was the beach before us, to finish where there is no water in front of me. He says he was telling me, “Stand up!” because we were in waist–deep water; his words didn’t register at all. Finally, I hit the beach and clawed my way up the shore. I was relieved that I had made it. I can only imagine the relief that came to everyone on the boat.
Being on the beach was surreal in the sense that I wasn’t thinking clearly, a very unusual state for me. There was Lee. We high-fived but there was no jumping up and down celebration – it didn’t occur to me to do this. The notion of raising my arms in triumph was also completely lost. Rather, I was relieved that I didn’t have to swim anymore and that I had made it. By this time, I had rolled onto my backside from all fours, and was looking out at the boat, thinking, “Well, I guess I’ll have to swim back.” Then Lee was talking to some guy with a kayak who magically appeared out of nowhere. As we would find out later, Keith Carman, was vacationing in one of the two summer cottages on this beach with his two children and they watched us slowly make our way towards the beach. He saw the boat was registered in Belfast and put two and two together. He told me that his first question to me was, “Are you mad?” to which I didn’t respond because I didn’t either hear or understand the question; I have no recollection of the conversation, but I do remember that there were a few kids running around. I do remember Lee and Keith sliding me onto the kayak to the left and then my memory goes dark until I am on the boat in the lower cabin. Apparently, it took four of them to get me on the boat – three from above and Keith pushing from below. Even though I was in a hypothermic state when I finished, I was still generating heat by swimming. When this heat-producing activity ended, my body temperature probably plummeted at a faster rate, hence my lack of memory.
Just in case you are worrying, I was never close to dying, such as lungs filling with water, having a seizure or heart attack, or unconscious from hypothermia. I was definitely in distress, but I had an extremely astute crew, boat pilot, and observer who cared for me before/during/and after my swim. I was just in a state of complete exertion and exhaustion, having had just enough to get me to the finish.
Lee: As we got closer I could feel a strong push by the current and only then did I feel that we were going to get Marcia up on the beach. As I touched the bottom of the sand I told Marcia to not stand but just crawl up on the beach and sit down. She did just that and we were done. Job well done, you did it. You conquered the North Channel swim. A high 5 and a hug between us then back to the task of me figuring out how to get us back to the boat. It was 7:49PM in Scotland.
At that time a Scottish man appeared from the other side of the rocks to our right and said, “I assume yah started out this morning from Ireland.” I said, “Yes, she did.” He said, “I’ve got a kayak on the other side of thah rocks – if you would you like for me to pull around and take her back to the boat I’d gladly do it.” I said, “Please sir.” It was an open kayak so it was perfect for the task at hand. Marcia tried to stand but she fell over so we just scooted her on her butt over into the kayak. A little push out the water and Marcia was on her way to safety. God bless the Scotsman for being in the right place at the right time.
Marcia:We landed in Morroch Bay (“MA-roo” Bay), just south of Portpatrick. The only thing I remember is that there had been a white house on the far north side of the beach and some pale-colored structure in front of where I landed. I remember crawling up on all fours, rolling over, and seeing the boat about 400 yards off shore, and knew I’d need to swim back to it since that is what I had always done before….
Lee said I tried to stand up and proceeded to fall over. I remember only relief that I was done, not the ecstatic joy I felt on finishing so many other swims.
Out of nowhere appeared a man whom had been tracking us coming in. Using binoculars, he saw that the boat was registered in Belfast and put two and two together. As previously mentioned, this man, Keith Carman, would tell me that his first question to me was, “Are you mad?” to which I had no understanding or response. Lee asked him if he could help us, since Lee was going to have a lot of trouble getting me back to the boat by himself. Keith had an open top kayak and gladly offered his services. They maneuvered the kayak next to me, tipped it down and slid me on top of it. I have only the vaguest notion of this happening. I have no recollection of being ferried back to the boat. Nor do I remember that it took 4 people to get me off the kayak, onto the boat, and down into the lower cabin. Somewhere in there, they used several old towels to wipe off whatever was left of my grease – a fair amount. The next thing I remember is Mark and Cara pulling my suit off and getting me into dry clothes, and blankets being stacked on top of me. I am told that Cara was rubbing my feet and legs for a long time in an attempt to warm me up and that I wanted Mark to sit next to me (on the 2’ wide bench) so we could “cuddle.” That was not going to happen…
Lee: By the time I had swam back to the boat Marcia had been moved up on deck and wrapped in blankets and a thermal wrap. Since John had training in First Aid, he took the lead but there was no shortage of help from Cara, Ross, and Mark. Given that we had a 3-hour boat trip ahead of us back to Ireland, it was important to get Marcia moved into the lower cabin when she could warm up. After Marcia was relocated, more blankets and hugs from Mark were applied.
John came over to me in the other cabin and told me that he was quite concerned and that we should be prepared to take Marcia to the hospital as soon as we dock. I told him we would. About an hour later he told me that good progress had been made getting her core warmed up but a visit to the hospital might still be prudent course. By the time we docked Marcia seemed to be back among the living and that gave us the confidence that the healing process had begun.
Marcia: I do remember mentally coming to when I was in the lower cabin. Mark said Cara had been rubbing my feet and legs for a while, and I started to tune in during this process. None of the challenges of how difficult my swim had been coming up yet; they were all simply concerned that I was ok. The trip back seemed to go quickly – probably because it was a while before I was coherent – but all of a sudden, we were back in Donaghadee Harbor and getting ready to unload. During the last few minutes of the trip, we had even made dinner plans for tomorrow night at Pier 36 with the boat crew and Cara! I walked off the boat under my own power and up the stairs to the road. While the crew brought all our gear off the boat (my offer to help was ignored), I told Mark that I was going to walk the short distance to Pier 36 and let Lewis know I had made it. With help, I quickly found him inside the crowded restaurant and he was jubilant at my success. He wanted to know if I wanted to sign the wall, “No, that privilege will have to wait until tomorrow” but he did offer, and I accepted, a cup of hot chocolate. It tasted great.
This 1+ hour Discussion of my North Channel Swim took place on Sunday August 5, 2018. It is an informal, unscripted, free-flowing chat conducted by Marcia, Mark, & Lee about this swim and what happened before, during, and afterwards.
In order to make the sections electronically manageable and viewer-friendly, the full video has been broken up into 13 segments and indexed.
Contents of North Channel Talk Videos are: