2012 Manhattan Island Marathon: Part 2


I'll be the first to admit it. I'm not a city guy, so going to New York City for a swim brought with it a sense of apprehension.  To me all it meant was that it would make it harder to get around and find the things I needed for the race. (Yes, it is a race.) I had been to "The City" a number of times, but never often enough to remember the secrets of getting around. Nevertheless, I had done some preparation to make things easier. I began by finding accommodations through Airbnb which offered an alternative to the notoriously expensive hotels of Manhattan. To simplify the logistics of the swim, I found a room just south of the World Trade Center, and within walking distance to the start of the race near Battery Park. I also went online and figured out which subway line I could take to Brighton Beach to do a training swim after I arrived. As it turns out there are great apps for my iPad and iPhone which made things much easier.

I arrived in New York Wednesday in the late afternoon, and headed straight to my room. I have found that getting enough sleep in the days leading up to a marathon swim is absolutely critical, and I needed to get my internal clock adjusted for the morning start of the swim. The air temperature was in the high 90"s and with high humidity, it felt like it was over 100°. Temperature records were set the first 2 days I was there, and I was grateful for the air conditioning in the room.


When I woke up Thursday morning the first thing I did was lay out my equipment on the floor. This did not include the gallons of water I was going to need on the day of the swim. I took a quick accounting and went over my check list. I had Perpetuem (unflavored) which my crew would mix with water. This would be put into the bottles I had brought. They would be clipped with the use of a carabiner to a light rope or cord (I brought both) and thrown to me while I was in the water. I had vanilla GU gel packets that I have come to rely on to get additional calories during the swim. I also had 4 pairs of goggles (2 clear and 2 tinted), 3 swim suits, sunscreen, channel grease (Vaseline and lanolin), electrical and duck tape (you never know), a pocket knife and my waterproof camera. There is no such thing as a simple marathon swim.


Some of the equipment I brought for the swim

Photograph by Bob Needham

Now that I had gotten that off my mind I headed out to get something to eat. When I stepped out of the building the heat just about knocked me over. The thermometer was toying with 100°, and the humidity reminded me of summer in Bethesda, Maryland, outside Washington D.C., where I went to high school. This was still only June, and I was just not ready for it. I had just come from Oregon where we don't get summer heat until late July, and the humidity is never this bad. And did I mention the smell? Nothing like 100° to cook up the debris of millions of people. I found a market, bought some food and headed back to my room to hide out in the air conditioning. I spent a little time laying around, surfing the net and eating, but I knew all good things had to end. My plan was to head out to Brighton Beach to get in a training swim, and I needed to get started.

The first thing I did was to lay out everything on the bed that I wanted to take to the beach. I then checked my iPad to find out the train schedule. There were 3 separate subway lines within a few blocks, so I had to figure out which station would be the right one to catch the train to Brighton Beach. It may sound comical to someone who lives in the city, but I had visions of walking in circles in 100° weather trying to find the right set of stairs, and once below ground, catching the right train. Luckily, this was easily accomplished using an app on my iPad, and I was able to see  the real-time schedule of trains, I was not going to be taking my iPad with me so I switched to the map app on my iPhone and located the specific subway entrance I would use. Realizing that I could catch an express if I rushed, I threw my stuff into a small duffle and ran out the door into the stifling heat. 


NYC Subway Map showing Lower Manhattan - Is it just me, or does this seem a bit complicated?

With my iPhone in hand, the map's GPS function led me right to the correct set of stairs. I headed underground and arrived only a couple of minutes before the express train. I jumped on the train, double checked that I was on the right subway line headed in the right direction. It all looked good so I settled in for the trip, grateful for the technology that had made it so easy. The train was well air conditioned, and I quickly cooled off while hoping that there would be a cool breeze at the beach.

After a short while the train emerged from underground and continued above ground, elevated above the streets below. Looking out of the windows at the skyline in the distance I realized that in my hurry to catch the train I may have left my camera on the bed in the room. I dug through my duffle. Rats, it wasn't there. But then I quickly realized that in my rush to catch the train I also left my swimsuit and goggles on the bed along side my camera. A dark foreboding cloud of embarrassment quickly enveloped me. Not a good start.

I thought for a moment about jumping off the train, going back to my room to retrieve my gear. But I considered the heat and the afternoon hour, and decided to continue on my trip. I was confident I would be able to find a store at the beach where I could buy replacements.

Once the train arrived at Brighton Beach I jumped off and immediately started to pour sweat. I needed to find a suit and goggles quickly in the adjacent commercial area, and get out to the sand FAST. As I walked block to block past a row of stores I began to realize that finding what I needed was not going to be easy in this Russian immigrant neighborhood. I passed a number of places selling beach stuff, but no suit or goggles. Hoping I would have better luck, I walked the couple of blocks to the beach.


Brighton Beach on a quiet day

Photograph Courtesy of Lisa Carpenter

I quickly arrived at the beach. What I found was a long wide wooden boardwalk stretching the full length of the white sand beach in both directions, but there was not a shop in sight. I thought for a moment: should I swim in my clothes? I wouldn't be that much wetter, and salt water is preferable to sweat. That was a possibility but I just couldn't accept the notion that you can't buy a swim suit on a beach. I decided that since I had come this far, I might as well walk the one mile down the boardwalk to Coney Island. Hopefully, there be would a beach store which sold suits. Ordinarily this might be a pleasant walk, but with beach temperatures in the high 90's, the sun beating down on my head, and barely a breeze in sight, I knew it was going to be an ugly affair. While technology helped me get on the right train, it can only do so much. It didn't remind me to bring my suit and goggles, and it wasn't going to make this walk any less unpleasant.


Brighton Beach to Coney Island Boardwalk with the Parachute Jump tower on the distant horizon

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