10 June 2007

On My Way to France!

On Saturday June 9th I swam for 10 hours and 5 minutes in the San Francisco Bay. The water temperature was 55-56 degrees. I covered 27 miles in my swim from the club, to Candlestick and back, and then to Chrissy Field and back.

I left from the beach at the South End Rowing Club at 5:20 a.m. Leslie, Lynn and
Alice were on board the zodiac. The water was smooth and calm and it was my favorite time of day to swim, just before sunrise. We headed to the Bay Bridge and I could see the sunrise slowly when I breathed to the left. The increasing amount of light on the bay reminded me of the city limits swim attempt three weeks ago.

My stroke felt smooth and strong. I had been concerned about my right shoulder recovering fully from my 8 hour swim just two weeks before, but it felt great! No popping, cracking or pain. I had spent two intensive acupuncture sessions working on getting my right shoulder ready for the 10 hour swim.

The water was glassy and the sun was out. I knew it was going to be a great day. My stroke rate was still in the low 70's even though I felt it was slower because I was trying to keep my strokes smooth and long.

The cityscape changed to the industrial skyline of the southern part of San Francisco. At three hours we had made it to Hunter's Point and it was time to turn around and swim nine miles back to the club for the change of crew.

The water wasn't quite as smooth as it had been earlier, but it was nothing compared to the chop and wind of my eight hour swim. At four hours I felt better than I ever had at that point. I still felt smooth and strong. There was no doubt that it was going to be a long day, but it was comforting to feel so good at four hours. The sun on my back gave my body just a little bit of heat and it felt nice compared to the 55 degree water that my body was feeling every where else.

As we approached the club at about five and a half hours I began to feel nauseous and cold. I remembered from my eight hour swim that this was normal, my body was going through a metabolic change and I would feel better in an hour or two. I was greeted by friends cheering on the South End dock as we approached the club.

I didn't stop to wave or say hi because I didn't feel well and didn't want to slow down or stop because I thought I might get cold. After the swim I told Alice that I didn't feel cold at all during the swim. She said that I was shivering when I came up for my feedings for about an hour and half during the middle of the swim.

Alice stayed on board for the last half of the swim and Joel and Duke took over for Leslie and Lynn. Once we were set, we headed back out of the cove, this time West towards the Golden Gate.

The water got a bit more choppy and the wind had picked up significantly from the morning. As we headed towards Chrissy Field, the crew told me to stay close to the zodiac as we were going through the middle of a windsurfing race. My stroke rate had decreased to about 66 strokes per minute and my shoulders were getting very very sore. Duke reminded me that this was all normal and that I was just doing just fine.

At seven hours we turned around and headed back to the cove. The water had miraculously calmed down and I felt much better than I did at the seventh hour of my eight hour swim. I was relieved to be swimming back home but knew that the next three hours were certainly not going to be easy.

I was still in good spirits and making jokes with the crew during my feeding breaks. I didn't feel well, but what kept me going was knowing that they next time I was in this situation it would be in the ENGLISH CHANNEL! By eight and a half hours I wasn't joking anymore and would just let out a series of groans during my feedings. As you can see below, I am doing some backstroke to stretch out my shoulders.

At nine hours I was exhausted. Not only did my shoulders hurt, but my legs were in pain and I had had my goggles on continuously for the entire swim. My face was swollen and I felt my tongue getting larger. My throat had already swelled up from the salt and I knew the next step would be my tongue starting to slough off. That had never happened to me, but I had heard plenty of stories. I could feel my left goggle leaking a tiny bit and I knew that meant that my eye would be swollen for days. We were close to the cove and Alice would be getting in to swim with me shortly.

Once we entered the cove I had 25 more minutes to swim. Joel and Duke led me on an "inside-inside". That was along the inside of the breakwater and back. For the first part of that I was swimming with the tide and was protected from the turbulent water outside of the cove. I turned around at the end and faced an opposing tide that was difficult to swim against. I kept my arms moving, but couldn't see any noticeable progress. I thought about all the stories I have heard about the difficulty of finishing in France against a strong tide. So, this is what it is going to be like I thought as I struggled to get my arms out of the water for each stroke. I slowly made it back with Alice by my side. She had to slow down significantly to stay with me after I had swam for nine and a half hours. It felt good to have her next to me. As I swam back into the main part of the cove, Alice headed into the beach to make sure the showers were warm and the sauna was on at the club. I still had about 10 minutes to swim. Duke told me to head towards the flag, around a buoy and into the club. I was overjoyed! I had made it through all of the long and difficult training swims in less than ideal conditions during the coldest year in the bay that anyone can remember and once I stood up on the beach I would know that I was truly on my way to France!

I picked up my stroke rate as I headed in to the beach. I could see people waiting on the dock. I knew my parents and my roommate Kristina would be there. I swam until I felt the sand with my fingertips. I struggled to stand up. I heard Alice tell Kristina "Let her clear the water on her own!". We were committed to follow English Channel rules right down to the finish. At 3:25 p.m. I stood up on the beach and said "My name is Jessica and I have been swimming since 5 a.m." My family and some spectators followed me in to the club.

I walked into the locker room and was shocked to see what I looked like. As expected, my eyes and face were swollen. My skin was coated from silt from the bay. My face was red and I still had the greasy A&D ointment I had put on that morning to prevent chafing.

I stood under the shower and realized this was the swim in which afterwards I would not be able to wash my hair. My shoulders throbbed in pain. I couldn't move my left arm. Alice and Kristina helped me wash my hair. I laid down in the sauna and reflected on what I had gone through to get to this point. After a long sauna, I went back into the locker room. I looked in the mirror and still was surprised by my appearance. For one moment I thought I may be able to brush my hair. I gave up on that idea quickly and decided I wouldn't brush my hair until I could do it myself. That would turn out to be several days.

Alice, Kristina and I headed back to my house. Sarah was coming over to help prepare a recovery dinner. We ate and drank as Alice and I told stories from the swim. I had difficulty sleeping that night. I couldn't turn over, I couldn't take the covers off without kicking them off and my shoulders still throbbed in pain.

THANK YOU to Alice for being my most loyal friend and crew member and for putting up with me these past few months!

THANK YOU to Lynn and Joel for piloting.

THANK YOU to Leslie for helping me avoid injury by working with me on my stroke.

THANK YOU to Duke for being an incredible Channel mentor. I will make you proud.

THANK YOU to Nicholas for healing my shoulders and making sure I was ready for the 10 hour swim and working with me to prepare for the last big one: the English Channel.

THANK YOU to Kristina and Sarah for a great post swim dinner.

THANK YOU to Tom K., Suzie D., Bob R., Jon M., for being flexible and working out the logistics so that three great swims could happen in the bay on one day.

Up next: Dover to Cap Nez Gris, first tide of July (July 5-12)


Marissa said...

You are awesome! I love following your progress (as a fellow open water swimmer - though I am very new to OW swimming... but not swimming itself) I did a perimeter and a few bouys this morning at AP and thought of your amazing accomplishments! I cant wait to follow your channel crossing!

Sarah said...


You are ON YOUR WAY!!! I just wish I could make that journey with you over there to England. Really, REALLY wish I could. Still, I am with you in spirit, and think of you all the mornings I cross over the Bay Bridge and look down at the water, visualizing all those miles you've logged here in our SF Bay.

I am so proud of you, your accomplishments and your perseverance and planning. You've been an inspiration to me to plan better, not to mention countless other inspirations you've provided.

You are going to ROCK THIS SWIM! I will be waiting for you with a big smile and will make you dinner again to celebrate. :)


Heather said...

Way to go! You're ready to rock the Channel. I'm so proud of you! Have a great time over there.

Peggy Wincorn said...

Jessica, I have great admiration for your determination, strength and spirit. You are an inspiration to all.

You go girl! or as my son would say "You rock!"

Carla said...

Go Jessie! You are inspiration. Can't come to England, but I'll be with you in spirit!

Anonymous said...

You make me cry and swell with pride.

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