The 2011 Swims

It's the middle of March. Amazing! I have been working hard to layout my strategy for 2011, and now my swimming plans for the year are set. My prime goal this year is a crossing of the Catalina Channel. In examining the months leading up to the Catalina attempt, I've picked out a number of swims which I believe will best prepare me for my attempt. My training has been going great, but I felt I needed to take on an early swim that would test me both physically and mentally. I found that in the Tampa Bay 24 mile Marathon Swim which takes place on on April 23rd. It is the child of Ron Collins, himself an accomplished channel swimmer. 

Attempting this swim means that I would have to be ready early in the year to tackle a major challenge. While I am doing it as preparation for my Catalina swim, Tampa Bay is a serious undertaking in itself. However, I feel that it's important to give myself an opportunity to test the effectiveness of my physical preparation. People say that 80% of marathon swimming is mental, so this will also tell me right away if I have done the necessary preparation in that area as well. Because the water temperature is expected to be 75° along with an air temperature of 80°, I will not need to face the difficulty presented by cold water.

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Next up will be the Semana Nautica 6 mile swim in Santa Barbara on July 10th. I plan on doubling up on this swim for a full 12 miles. The swim is a point-to-point swim from the Goleta Pier to Arroyo Burro Beach. The water temperature that time of year is approximately 60° to 62°. It will be a good chance to get in some cold water ocean training. The race is run by Jane Cairns, and in the past she has assisted others in swimming both ways as preparation for their Catalina attempts. Presently, I am plan on staying there the week before to train and to get in on a couple of other local open water races. It helps that I lived in the Santa Barbara area for nearly 20 years, so I already know my way around.

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The swim starts at the pier, seen faintly on the left, and heads up the coast. UCSB is in the foreground.

My next major swim is more a symbolic and emotional challenge than a serious physical challenge. This will be the double crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge, weather permitting on August 23rd. Fog often rolls into the Bay that time of year engulfing the bridge and can make an attempt impossible in this busy shipping channel. 

I have chosen to swim across the Golden gate Bridge and back because more deaths from suicides have occurred at the bridge than anywhere else in the world. The crossing over and back is reflective of a person's journey across the abyss of suicidal thoughts, and the return back to safety. I hope that through my efforts, people will understand and believe that they can return to a safe place even when facing seemingly insurmountable challenges.

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Photograph by Bob Needham

In addition, I so thoroghly enjoyed my swim last year from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge, that I will be doing it again this year, four days later on August 27th. This time I will be going along with a group led by Pedro Ordenes of Water World Swim. If you'd like to get a glimpse of what the swim is like, check out my 7/11 San Francisco Bridge to Bridge 10K Race Report in my blog.

There are two great websites you might enjoy to get a sense of the heavy shipping activity that passes under the Golden Gate Bridge. The first one is the San Francisco Bay Shipping Activity. The second one shows marvelous high definition pictures and time lapse photographs of the San Francisco Bay. It can be found at Hi Def | San Francisco. Support for this swim will be coming from Gary Emich of Lane Lines to Shore Lines.

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Which brings me to my attempt to cross the Catalina Channel. This is the big one. I have retained the services of John Pittman, the captain of the Outrider, and have secured a September 19th date for the swim. This will be the toughest thing I have ever attempted to do, in the water or out. Last year there were a number of experienced channel swimmers that fell short of reaching the other side, mostly attributable to the exceptionally cold water. Temperatures were 8° to 10° colder than normally expected during the height of the channel swimming season. I will be preparing for cold water again this year, but hoping for more seasonal temperatures. I'll be reporting more on Catalina as the season progresses.

Now having laid out my plans for 2011, the immensity of the challenge has really hit home. This is no simple undertaking. Frankly, it's sometimes overwhelming to reflect on everything I hope to achieve this year. But I am resolved to stay focused, to train hard, to prepare for the worst, hope for the best and on the day of each swim give it everything I have to give. I could do no less.

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