Last month I crewed for Swim Smooth founder Paul Newsome on his victorious Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. Though we had not met in person, Paul read my 2011 MIMS report and felt I could assist him in navigating the twists, turns, and tricky currents of the rivers around Manhattan.
It was a great honor and pleasure to meet and spend the weekend with Paul, his business partner Adam, his paddler Amanda, and all the rest of the Perth squad. They treated me very well, and I left New York City with a swirling headful of inspiring memories and new friendships.
I’ll defer to Paul’s story of his own swim. Instead, these are more general reflections on the experience of seeing MIMS from on the water – quite different, naturally, than being in the water.…
MIMS 2013 was a disappointing, even heartbreaking experience for a number of very accomplished and competent marathon swimmers. Of the 39 soloists who started from Pier A, only 11 made it around the island unassisted – compared to 100% finish rates in 2011 and 2012.
I’m not in a position to grasp all the factors that contributed to the situation on race day – I daresay none of the swimmers are, either – but my sense is that it was a perfect storm of bad luck. Perhaps some human error (as should be expected in chaotic, stressful situations), but mostly just bad luck.
- A storm (literally), producing several inches of rainfall that swelled the rivers, inhibiting the predicted flood tide and amplifying the predicted ebb.…
It’s that time of year again! In the weeks leading up to the annual Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, the solo field starts trawling the internet en masse, looking for free last-minute advice. I always know MIMS is approaching when the incoming search-engine hits start spiking for my MIMS 2011 report.
I figured I’d save everyone some time and put all my MIMS posts in one place.
Abby Nunn has had a big couple of months. In May, she graduated from Yale University with a degree in History of Science and Medicine. A scholar-athlete in the truest sense, Abby received the Kiphuth Award for highest GPA among varsity athletes – while specializing in distance freestyle for the Lady Bulldog swimmers.
Five weeks later, Abby became the 30th champion of the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim.
I got to know Abby through the Marathon Swimmers Forum, and have enjoyed keeping in touch as she prepared for her biggest swim yet (her previous-longest was the 12.5-mile Swim Around Key West).
One interesting bit of trivia about Abby is that she’s a 6-beat kicker – which is unusual for an ultra-distance swimmer. Back in March she asked the Forum: Is 6-beat kicking prudent for a marathon swim?…
Then there’s the recent spate of “record attempt” swims in the waters around New York City. In June, Liz Fry became the first person to complete a 35-mile “double Ederle” – from Manhattan to Sandy Hook, NJ and back. Last month, Lance Ogren took down the one-way Ederle record in spectacular fashion, shaving 58 minutes off the previous mark. Two days from now, David Barra will take on a double MIMS (twice around the island), in pursuit of Skip Storch‘s 2007 record of 20:56.…
As I rounded the 90-degree bend in the upper Harlem River into Spuyten Duyvil, I was not a happy swimmer. My shoulders throbbed – seemingly immune to pharmaceutical intervention. I had gone from 3rd in the upper reaches of the East River, to 4th (when John VW passed me just before Hell Gate), to 5th (when Miguel A. passed me near the Triborough Bridge), and finally to 6th (when Miguel S. passed me somewhere between the Third Ave Bridge and the Madison Ave Bridge).
My 20-minute feeds – Maxim interspersed with Perpetuem – kept me going, but just barely.…
In the “GPS snapshots” I’ve shown in the last couple posts, you can see how far apart each swimmer is (6 of them, anyway) in terms of distance. Four hours into the race, for example, Erica Rose was 455m ahead of Ollie Wilkinson, who was in turn 135m ahead of John Van Wisse.
Another way to model the race is to look at when each swimmer passes a given landmark. This shows how far apart each swimmer is on a different dimension – time. Using the GPS tracks provided by NYC Swim, we can actually calculate “split times” for each swimmer between any landmark we choose. And, using those split times, we can calculate each swimmer’s speed (including current) for each segment.
For the purposes of this study, I chose 11 landmarks – three in the East River (Pier 11, Queensboro Bridge, and the Randall Island footbridge), two in the Harlem (Macombs Dam Bridge and Spuyten Duyvil), and six in the Hudson (GW Bridge, Riverbank Park, 79th St, 34th St, Pier 40, and the finish at South Cove).…
I don’t really remember passing through Hell Gate and into the Harlem River. But there were signs: The river narrowed, the current slowed, the surface chop smoothed out, and the water was noticeably warmer (72-73F, compared to 67 in South Cove). Most of all, there was the taste. While the East River had been mildly salty (with the flood tide moving water from the Atlantic), and the Hudson would be distinctly sweet (with the ebb tide moving water from upstate), the Harlem had an altogether different mouthfeel. “Industrial” is the word that comes to mind.
The Harlem is a long, tough slog. The current – especially at first, and especially for the leaders – is slower.…
The Staten Island ferry terminal marks the southernmost tip of Manhattan, and the confluence of the Hudson and East Rivers. The ferry – which carries 75,000 passengers per day and operates 24/7/365 – has figured prominently in several attempts to circum-swim the island.
In 2009 (as shown in a recent documentary) the entire MIMS field was held up shortly after the start as the ferry departed, allowing trailing swimmers to pull even with then-leaders John Van Wisse and Penny Palfrey. In 1995, Shelley Taylor-Smith was forced to tread water for crucial minutes during a record attempt as the ferry docked. She eventually did eclipse Kris Rutford‘s 4-year old record by 9 minutes – and her incredible time of 5:45 still stands.…
I set off around the Battery at a relaxed pace – giving myself a chance to warm up and see how things sort out. I figured I’d try to stay on Van Wisse’s heels for a while (he started just to my left), so I was surprised when he fell behind after a couple hundred meters, out of my field of vision.
The first few minutes of MIMS are typically chaotic, as kayakers attempt to hook up with their swimmers while the field is still compressed. The GPS tracks aren’t reliable at this time because the kayaks (which carry the transponders) may or may not be next to their respective swimmers. Thankfully, Terry O’Malley (paddler for Michael Gregory) shot some video from his kayak of these first few minutes:
Like Rashomon, unexpected insights arise from different perspectives.…
When we left off in Part 1, I was enjoying the view from South Cove and trying to find a measure of peace before setting off on the 28.5-mile adventure-slash-race. I always try to make room for a few moments of solitude in my pre-race routine – a parcel of grass, an empty park bench – to rid myself of tension and to reflect on how fortunate I am to be there.
This turned out to be especially important on the morning of MIMS, because it was a scene. Reporters, cameramen, families, friends, random onlookers – not to mention the field itself, full of well-known marathon swimmers from around the world. MIMS 2011 was particularly circus-like due to the Global Open Water Swimming Conference taking place in NYC the same weekend.…
To me, there’s something quite special about the moment someone enters the water to begin a marathon swim. It’s an act of great courage; a willing surrender to a foreign and potentially dangerous environment; an acceptance of inevitable pain and struggle soon to be experienced.
The moment is even more dramatic when “entering the water” requires jumping from a dock – as in MIMS. Tom M. (a.k.a. bklynpolar on Flickr) and his camera were on the dock for the MIMS start, and captured these moments for a number of swimmers. Here are the “jump shots” for the top 8 seeds, in descending order. Click to enlarge.
A few minutes before 10am Saturday, I jumped off a dock on the far southwestern tip of Manhattan and into the Hudson River. After a brief countdown I began a journey that would bring me around the Battery, up the East and Harlem Rivers, and back down the Hudson to the very same dock. 28 and a half miles in 7 and a half hours (give or take).
I had a lot on my mind in that moment – suspended in midair, before plunging into the 67-degree water – not all of it relevant to the task at hand. But some portion of my thoughts were directed at the question of how it was that I found myself there – jumping off the dock at South Cove.…
Sometimes people ask me if I have a “goal time” for the swim. That’s an interesting question. As anyone who’s spent much time in open water knows, the relationship between time and distance is somewhat complicated; even moreso for marathon swims.
MIMS is a different beast, though. I’d go so far as to say that MIMS times are pretty much meaningless — as an indication of speed. The typical winning time of 7 hours, 30 minutes works out to just under 59 seconds per 100m. So: world record 1500m pace, 28.5 times in a row. In MIMS, the tides are king – perhaps moreso than any other major marathon swim.…
The Circle Line cruise is almost a rite of passage for first-time MIMS swimmers. A 3-hour circumnavigation of Manhattan island, the cruise boat traces the same path as the marathon swim – albeit starting from 42nd St on the Hudson instead of South Cove.
The Circle Line is a unique and worthwhile experience in itself. The Manhattan skyline is visually stunning and full of interesting history – and the city’s geography lends itself to being viewed by water. But for MIMS swimmers, it’s essential research. Unlike most other marathon swims, you always know “where you are” in MIMS (i.e., how far you’ve gone, how far you have left) – so long as you’re familiar with the landmarks. Actually, I can’t think of a single other marathon swim with as many visual stimuli as MIMS.…
Shelley Taylor-Smith recorded the fastest swim around Manhattan (5:45:25) in 1995, but it was a special “record attempt” swim scheduled on an unusually fast tide. What are the fastest swims in the regular Manhattan Island Marathon Swim race, which is typically held on a slower tide? Over the 29 years of the modern MIMS, the 10 fastest swims are as follows:
Tobie Smith, 1999, 6:32:41
Tammy van Wisse, 1999, 6:51:31
Rob Copeland, 1999, 6:52:49
Susie Maroney, 1990, 7:00:27
Matthew Nance, 1990, 7:04:53
Jim Barber, 1991, 7:06:34
Kris Rutford, 1991, 7:06:44
Matthew Wood, 1990, 7:07:32
Susie Maroney, 1994, 7:08:10
Igor de Souza, 1991, 7:08:20
Interestingly, 9 of the 10 fastest times happened in just 3 years – 1990, 1991, and 1999. The 3 fastest times were all in one year – 1999.…