It’s taken me a while to put pen to paper, or I suppose fingers to keyboard, to write down some thoughts on the 24-hour swim. With the end of the year upon us, I thought I’d take this opportunity to finally do that. Here are some thoughts on my experience!
First, a word of long overdue thanks.
Thank YOU. Thank you for your support, engagement, and encouragement. I was floored to see the donations pouring in from this swim. We raised over $12,000 for the Chicago Diabetes Project. I still can’t believe it!! Thank you!!!
Thank you to my Masters swimming training buddies. Though I couldn’t train with them post lockdown, the stability and camaraderie they provided during the fall and early winter set me up for success. I look forward to life post-pandemic!!
Thank you to my support crew. I cannot emphasize enough how much of a team sport marathon swimming is. Before I even took my first stroke, I had a support crew of over 20 people helping me make this swim possible. They coordinated logistics, supplied a beach to setup base camp, kayaked in everything Lake Michigan could throw at them, prepared my feeds, fed me, swam with me, kept me safe, encouraged me, adapted to changing conditions, and most of all, cared for me. I am so thankful for these people and continue to be in awe of what they did for me.
Thank you to my core team. This is a group of 4 guys who I trained with all summer.
They knew my goal and pushed me. I’m the slowest and was always ready for them to ditch me, but they never did. They’re all incredible swimmers and I’d like to brag that one of the swimmers completed the 26-mile Chicago Skyline Swim this summer and set a new record for it! When it came to the 24-hour swim, they were all in. They generously gave me their weekend, hardly slept, and took on extra shifts to help me finish. They are simply the best. And their families who gave them to me are even greater.
Thank you to my husband. He has supported me since day 1 and never wavered. He is my rock.
How do you swim for 24 hours?
A lot of you have asked me how I approached this swim or how I could think about swimming for 24 hours. And that answer is easy. I didn’t! I never thought about swimming for 24 hours straight. Instead, I thought swimming 4 hours 6 times. OK OK, I know that’s the same as 24-hours, but thinking about it in 4-hour blocks made it mentally manageable. I had swum at least 4-hours almost every day for months. Four hours was just another practice.
During the swim itself, I thought in 30-minute intervals. Every 30-minutes I would get a 1-2 minute break where I could communicate with my team and usually feed. While I was swimming, I counted. Every time my right hand slaps the water I count a stroke. I like counting because I can still think about other things or it can be my sole focus when I need it. When I was feeling sick or tired, I could block those thoughts by counting. When I found myself thinking about more positive things, like the beautiful sunrise or my awesome crew, I’d let my mind daydream there while I was counting.
If you really want to get inside of my head, here’s a sample of 30-minutes with Marian:
39, 40, 50. Chill. You’re halfway to 100, which is 25% ‘til halfway.
98, 99, 100. Stay long. Now you’re 25% ‘til halfway. 1/8 of the way. 12.5%.
199, 200. You’re already at 200. It’s 200 strokes between buoys 5 and 6 (in Wilmette) and you do that all the time.
299, 300. 100 more strokes ‘til halfway
400. Halfway. Do that again and you get a break.
500. Only 300 more. You love counting to 300.
600. 200 more. Remember when you were only at 200 and now you only have 200 left?
700. Yes. 100 more. And you’ve already done 100 7 times!
800! You’ll be getting the signal to pause any stroke now.
If you’re in for a longer read, there is a more detailed breakdown of my experience during each shift of the swim below.
In the meantime, thank you again and again!
A look back
Hours 0-4 (4:30 – 8:30PM)
Setting up the logistics of this swim felt more chaotic than I would have liked. So when I was finally be stepping into the water, overall I felt positive. I was nervous for how it would go, but also relieved that I was able to swim. I knew the wind conditions weren’t ideal, but it wasn’t the worst I had swum in. And the wind was supposed to die down around midnight.
And so it began. 1, 2, 3 … Make it to midnight. 4, 5, 6 … Make it sunrise.
During the first shift, I felt good and was just trying to chill. I focused on keeping my stroke long and settling in. During the first kayaker transition, I started noticing the waves. As I bobbed up and down, I started to get a little chilly, but then the next crew came paddling up full of enthusiasm that warmed my soul. We were off. 1, 2, 3 …
Hours 4-9 (8:30PM – 1:30AM)
The second shift got interesting. Remember when I said the weather forecast predicted the wind should die down around midnight? Well, my brain knew that, but my arms said the waves were getting larger. Since it was dark and I couldn’t see the waves, I trusted my brain. At around 1AM, my kayakers told me the wind had picked up a LOT, which was actually kind of a relief. I had been worried that the conditions were getting easier and I was already feeling tired.
As we made the turn to head back to base camp, I began to strategize. I thought it would take us about 45 minutes to get back and then I needed to say what I wanted to do. With the waves even bigger than at the first shift change, I suspected this shift change would be longer. Which would also mean I would be treading water for longer and getting chillier than I did during the first shift change.
I didn’t feel great about that so I decided to come in closer to shore with the kayak so my ground support could bring me something hot to drink. As I swam in, I watched the kayak and kayakers and I appreciated differently what they were up against out there. I knew they would call it for me if they didn’t feel safe, but I also didn’t love the idea of putting them back out there at night. As I was thinking about them, I threw up quite a bit, which made me chilled. When I swam the English Channel, I threw up the whole time so that alone was fine. But getting the chills isn’t a good sign for my body and I didn’t feel comfortable with putting my kayakers out in those waves at night when I was feeling that way.
So I made the decision to come out of the Lake and switch to the pool that happened to be available on the private beach we were using as basecamp. I had my tethers with me and started what I hoped would be a short stint tether swimming. At the time, I was focused on continuing to swim in any way possible. But now I can also appreciate what a blessing it was that my team found this beach, the owners had a pool, AND they let us use it!
Hours 9-18 (1:30A – 10:30AM)
“Bleh” is the sentiment that comes to mind when reflect on this shift. Tether swimming is not my favorite way to swim. (This blog post describes tether swimming.) At the beginning, I felt good. I thought, “No problem. I’ll do this for an hour and then be back in the Lake! Four hours later, I was still tether swimming. At about 5:30AM, I started to see the sunrise and I could see the wind in the trees had died down. At that time, I thought, “Great! Next feed they’ll tell me I can switch!” They didn’t. Then at 7:30AM, time seemed to standstill.
I was still counting my strokes, but there were a lot of other thoughts going through my head. I felt like I had already failed. I was supposed to be swimming continuously in the Lake and I couldn’t help but dwell on my decision to exit. Truthfully, it’s something I still struggle with.
Also, my right wrist was also really feeling the added pressure of pulling against the water while tethered and I wasn’t sure how much longer it could last. At about 9:30AM, I tried swimming with fists and then disconnected from the tether altogether and started swimming diagonally across the pool. Always counting; it was about 2.5 strokes per length.
Through all of this, my support crew was fantastic. They knew how much I wanted to get back into the Lake, but they also knew how to keep me safe. Between each feed, I would think about what I could say that would reassure them that I would be OK to return to the Lake. Then when I stopped to feed, I felt like I was entering a negotiation room. It’s silly really. The support crew holds all the power. It doesn’t matter what I say. But I liked to pretend that I had bargaining chips.
One time I relayed that I would wear my wetsuit and that got a positive reaction of, “She’ll even wear a wetsuit!” I was desperate! As you may recall, wetsuits are against the open water swimming protocol, but tether swimming is definitely against the protocol so at this point, I just wanted to make the goal of swimming for 24 hours.
Hours 18 – 23 (10:30 – 3:30 PM)
Finally, at around 10:30, I got the word that I could go back in the Lake. In the background, my crew was working so hard to get me out there. I still only know about 50% of the details. Rightfully so, they were concerned about my wrist, that I had been swimming for 18 hours, and the swells were still large. So to keep me safe, they secured a boat in addition to the kayak and lined up support swimmers.
When I got back in the water, I was PUMPED. I was worried about my wrist, but my team duck taped it and it felt OK! When I realized my wrist was OK, I tore out of there. I was now on a mission to finish and I was going to make up for lost time. For the final six hours, I had my core crew of guys either swimming alongside me or in the boat, and my husband and brother were in the kayak. I was so happy.
After the first 2 hours, I realized I had gone out a little too hard so for the middle two hours I tried to chill out. At this point, I was sore and tired, but still happy. When my final support swimmer swam out, I was elated to hear I only had 1.5 hours left. I had lost track of time and thought there was still 2.5 hours left so that was very exciting news.
Hour 23 – 24 (3:30 – 4:30PM)
During the last hour, I wanted to drain my tank. All I could think about was counting to 800 twice. I had done that hundreds of times over the summer. I didn’t have any other thoughts in my head; there was no math or other words like I noted above. Just counting. 1, 2, 3 … 200 .. 603 .. 800! 23.5 hours down, 30 minutes to go. Only 800 strokes left. I can do that!
I told my crew I wanted to know exactly when I had hit 24 hours so I could cruise back to basecamp. Until then, I was going to go as hard as I could. 578, 579 … I tried to pull harder on the water. 601, 602, 603… I could see the apartments I’ve swam past hundreds of times. 759, 760… only 40 strokes left. 798. 799. 800!!
808, 809, 810, 811
WHERE’S THE WHISTLE?!
WHAT THE HECK.
DID THEY FORGET.
So the downside of picking up my speed is that my stroke count increased; meaning it would take more than 800 strokes to finish the last 30 minutes. I hadn’t calculated for that and didn’t realize it at the time. So I finally gasped “HOW MUCH LEFT” between breaths. My husband heard me and said, “2 minutes!”
For the first time in almost 24 hours, I stopped counting. I buckled down and swam as hard as I could until, finally, I heard the whistle. YES YES YES!!!!
Now all I had to do was swim the final 500m back into the beach. I swam in to where I could touch and then waited for my wave. I had battled those waves for the past 24 hours and was going to catch one in. One of my favorite water activities is body surfing and catching this wave was so satisfying.
When I stood up to walk into the beach, I was in awe of the people who came out to cheer me in. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. With arms in the air and a big smile on my face, I walked onto the dry sand. I made it.
Afterwards, I felt pretty OK! I was certainly sore, but not as bad as I thought I would be. My sorest body part was my wrist, which actually gave me some confidence since that was from the tether! I hadn’t trained to tether swim and that won’t be a factor for the real swim!
As I write this today, I continue to be so grateful for this opportunity to bring attention to the Chicago Diabetes Project and type 1 diabetes. I am also thankful for the growing team of people willing to help me. I am still swimming and training. I'm not sure what 2021 will look like, but I'm looking forward to the next adventure!