13 May 2008

Marathon Swimming is a Team Sport

I've always thought of swimming as an individual sport until I started competing in long distance swimming. One of the things I enjoy about marathon swimming is the partnership between the swimmer, my support crew, the boat pilot and crew and Mother Nature.

Before a race I try to learn as much as I can by going out on the course with the pilot and crew. I look for landmarks that I will be able to see from the water and note the sight lines between them. The pilot notes the water depths in case it is too shallow for the boat to follow where I will be swimming. I know in these spots that I have to stay on course and not follow my boat. I learn which direction the tides run in relation to my swim course.

Before the swim I prepare my supplies and discuss my feeding schedule with my crew. Without getting the enough nutrition on a long swim, my crew is likely to end up with a cranky swimmer. On each swim we learn a little more about what works and what doesn't with the food and the feeding system.

I also rely on my pilot and crew for my safety. In the water, a swimmer can see very little. In areas with heavy boat traffic, the crew on the boat has to keep a lookout for other boats, jet skis, ferries and tankers that don't expect a swimmer to be in the water. Last summer I was support crew for swimmer in the Boston Harbor and I had to constantly watch for recreational boats coming from all directions. Sometimes it is necessary to keep an eye out for things that like to nibble at swimmers.

Without other swimmers to chat with at the wall, the crew is the only source of encouragement and entertainment. A smile or thumbs up are usually all I need, but there are times I need something a little stronger. Out of sight of any landmarks, I watch the activity in the boat like it was TV. I have something to look forward to when I see my crew start to prepare my next feeding. It means I get a short break, a snack and a few words with my friends. The crew is usually amused by their new pet. I've also learned not to ask how far I have swum or how much farther. The answer is always 8 miles!

Last summer I stayed with a host family for the Lake George 41K race. They opened their home to me and treated me and my crew like family. Staying with them made preparations easy and I was happy to have their help and support.

Training for marathon swims, especially something like the English Channel is time consuming and tiring. I have relied on the support of my CMSC teammates and coaches to get me through many workouts. Thanks, Scott. I will miss you!

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