my first swim!

This morning I woke up and looked out at the ocean from my living room window. The wind was howling and blowing 25 knots, and I could see whitecaps dotting the water. A storm was coming. It was supposed to rain nonstop for the next few days, which meant I wouldn’t be able to swim because of all the nasty runoff.

So I decided then that I would go for a swim. I didn’t know how long I would last, how long I could withstand the 57 degree water after losing much of my cold tolerance over the past few months, how long I could swim before I started feeling that pinching sensation that later on leads to shooting pain in my rotator cuff.

As I walked down to the beach I realized how huge the really swells were. I was alone, as all my swim buddies either didn’t want to swim in these conditions or they were out of town for the holidays. I was terrified, but also incredibly excited. I would take stormy, angry seas like these over blue skies and flat conditions almost any day. It always makes swimming seem like so much more of an adventure.

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I started wading in as I was splashed from every direction. I tried to keep my breathing slow and even as I felt like the cold and the adrenaline was taking my breath away. It seemed to take forever to get past where the waves were breaking, but I finally dove under and started to swim.

I probably swam about 300 meters out, and even out there, huge waves were cresting and crashing down on me as I swam. My heart finally stopped racing as I warmed up and began to find my rhythm. Every so often I would stop and tread water to feel the waves carry me and crash over me, soaking up the impossible beauty of the moment. There are no words to describe the thrill, the adrenaline rush, the sense of freedom and adventure you experience when you’re out there in the water, alone and completely in the hands of Mother Nature.

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Eventually I swam in, playing and bodysurfing in the waves for a few minutes before I got out. I don’t think I had ever felt so alive. A few onlookers had gathered on the beach, probably wondering what kind of crazy person swims on a day like this. I chatted with them for a few minutes and then headed home. My heart was overflowing with gratitude and pure bliss.

I’m hoping my shoulders will soon be strong enough so I can swim much farther, but right now I am more than content with more short swims like this one. I’m so incredibly excited for the many adventures that await me.

good news + announcing my next goal (!!!)

Hi! So, I got my MRI results back! And good news – I DON’T HAVE A TEAR. Thank god. Not sure how I could have dealt with that. Anyway, I talked to my doctor today and he strongly suggested getting a cortisone shot, which I’m planning on pursuing. He said that it could literally get rid of the inflammation completely and allow me to swim again. So, I have an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon and hopefully he will agree to giving me the shot.

ANYWAY. I guess now’s as good of a time as ever to announce my next goal. Which might not mean much, since I’m pretty sure about 10 people read this blog. But anyway, my plan is Catalina. THE Catalina Channel. Crazy stuff. Next summer, if my shoulder cooperates and I’m able to start swimming again soon. AHHHHH.

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I can’t wait until I’m able to throw myself back into my training. Just thinking about it makes my heart start pounding and my adrenaline start pumping.

I’m kind of scared I’ve forgotten how to swim? Like, what if I set out to swim for an hour and find myself gasping for breath and shaking from the cold? But I know that I’m so capable of this swim, and I’ll do everything I can to get there.

My last few blog posts have been very negative, which I apologize for, but as of now I’m feeling so overwhelmed with gratitude + excitement for my next adventure. I still have a ways to go in the healing process, but I will make sure to update you all on my progress! Catalina, here I come!

it’s been a while

Hi. I know, it’s been a while since I’ve written. The truth is, I’ve been (trying) to avoid the thought of swimming lately, as I have no idea how long it’ll be until I’m back in the water.  Which isn’t working out too well as the first thing I see when I look out my window every morning is Anacapa, a faint smudge on the horizon. I got an MRI for my shoulder a few days ago and I’m waiting on the results. So, I could be back in a week, or I could be back in a year.

I’ve been finding other ways to fill my free time. I love hiking, although it’s nothing compared to swimming. It still has some of the same elements of freedom and adventure and being outdoors, though. I’d love to turn myself into a runner, although I’m not sure if that’s really in the cards for me as my legs start to burn and I’m completely out of breath after running for about 2 minutes. But who knows! I think I’ll enter a 5k and see how it goes.

I just really, really miss swimming. I miss Thursday morning swims, watching the sun peak over the mountains while the rest of the town is still fast asleep. I miss wild, angry seas and the sense of adventure they bring. I miss calm, tranquil waters and impossibly beautiful conditions. I miss going to bed by 9 on Friday nights and waking up the next morning long before the sun rises. I miss the adrenaline, the anticipation, the fear that reminds me that I’m alive. I miss the constant growth and learning experiences that come from pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I miss the shock of cold water when I first dive under and how it feels horribly painful and incredibly thrilling at the same time. I miss constantly looking out on the horizon and thinking to myself, “I could swim that.”

I know that all of this is temporary. And that I have so many other things in my life that bring me immense joy and a sense of purpose. This is just how I’m feeling at the moment. And I know that this will pass, that soon enough I’ll be back in the water, stroking towards my next dream.

a month out of the water….

So, it’s been over a month since the last time I swam. I’ve been kicking in the pool, and going for ocean dips every once in a while to clear my head, but I haven’t swam a single stroke. It’s forced me to step back from the swimming community for a while, to try to figure out who I am outside of swimming. There are so many things I miss about it. The mental clarity it brings, the rush of endorphins. The sense of freedom I can’t really get from anything else. The adrenaline before jumping in for a long training swim. Backstroking to watch the sun peak up over the horizon and fill the sky with its warm glow.

But the thing I’ve missed the most, I think, has just been that sense of purpose that marathon swimming brings to my life. The motivation, the drive to improve. The excitement of getting closer and closer to achieving a goal. The adrenaline rush every time I think about my next swim. That sense of empowerment and pride that comes from achieving something I didn’t know I could achieve.

I know what my goals are for next year, but thinking about them right now just gives me a sense of hopeless longing that isn’t really helping anything… I’ll start planning once I get back in the water.

Which, according to my doctor, should be another 2-3 weeks from now. I thought I might be able to start swimming again next week since my shoulder has been feeling a lot better, but it turns out I still have a ways to go. I swam on Wednesday for probably 3 or 4 minutes before my shoulder started hurting too badly, and 3 days later, it still hurts from those few minutes of swimming. So, clearly my body isn’t ready, but I’m getting there.

In the meantime! I’ve been hiking a lot and working out the gym almost every day (on the elliptical, stairclimber, bike… anything that doesn’t require the use of my shoulder). I’ve started to really enjoy hiking, and although it doesn’t even begin to compare to ocean swimming, being in nature is very healing, especially when you’re sweating.

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View from my hike this morning. I could see Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel on the horizon.

Anyway. I have a few more post ideas that I’m planning to write soon. Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

my first 5k swim – the “gateway drug” to marathon swimming

Hey! I’m back! Yes, it’s only been 2 days since my last post, but I miss swimming a lot (to say the least) so I’m going to write about my first 5k swim so I can live vicariously through my 13-year old self! Yay!

It’s crazy how I can remember everything about this swim in such vivid detail, even though it was over 3 years ago. I remember getting home the night before the swim from a 3 week vacation, during which I did not so much as dip a toe in the water (smart move, Paige). I remember getting there in the morning, feeling jet lagged (pretty sure you can’t use that as an adjective, but I’m going to anyway) and exhausted. I was excited, though, because I hadn’t swam for so long and I had really missed it.

The race started and I swam to the second buoy, waiting for my friend Mary Pat because we had decided to swim it together. She arrived quickly after I did, and we set off.

Already I was feeling pretty gross and slow in the water. The swells were pretty big and I started feeling nauseous early on in the race. I started hating it, wishing I had never signed up for it, wishing it was done already. I was exhausted and dehydrated from my trip, and painfully out of shape. The doubts crept in. I wondered if I would even be able to make it. I felt horrible for Mary Pat as she had to keep stopping and slowing down to keep pace with me. Maybe ocean swimming isn’t really my thing, I thought to myself. Maybe I don’t really have it in me.

The thing about me is that as much as I’ll complain about something and feel sorry for myself and let everyone in a 10-mile radius know that I’m miserable, quitting is never an option for me. It’s never something that even crosses my mind. Mostly because I’m the most stubborn person I know, and I want to prove to myself and to everyone else that I can do it. So, I kept swimming, slow, seasick, and miserable.

(I promise that I’m actually an optimist, although it may not appear that way from my last few blog posts. Ha.)

About halfway in, I threw up my breakfast. It was disgusting, but I felt a lot better afterward. But then I got seasick again and threw up again. And then felt better. And the cycle continued.

Finally, the finish was in sight. I stumbled out, crossed the finish line, and proceeded to lay down in the sand in utter exhaustion. I felt so embarrassed and demoralized by how hard the race had been for me. I decided then that I was a horrible ocean swimmer, and that I would never swim in the ocean again.

And then! I woke up the next morning! And instead of feeling reassured and confident about my decision to never swim again, I woke up with an intense craving for the ocean. What is this? I thought to myself. Is this what it’s like to go insane? Why do I desire such pain? Am I crazy? WHY CAN’T I JUST BE NORMAL?

I went out into the kitchen and told my parents that I wanted to go for a swim. They looked at me with furrowed brows, asking, why on earth would you want to swim after having the most traumatic and painful experience of your life yesterday? (I may have been slightly overdramatic as a 13-year old. And, if I’m being honest, not much has changed since then.)

So, I swam that morning. And it was beautiful. And I’ve learned to accept the fact that the whole “I’m-never-going-to-swim-again-oh-wait-never-mind” thing will be a common occurrence in my life and that it’s just something I need to make peace with.

So. That was my first 5k. A lot has changed since then. I kinda suck at writing conclusions. But I hope you liked this post! Have a great day!

post-event depression

Let me paint you a quick picture.

So, for the past 2 years of your life, you’ve wanted to do this swim. You’ve wanted it so badly that you think about it dozens of times each day. Sometimes at night you can’t fall asleep because it’s all you can think about, and you’re so, so excited. For the past 2 years, you’ve looked out at that island on the horizon, every day, and imagined what it would be like to touch that island and begin your swim. For the past year, you’ve trained your ass off, sacrificing so much. You’ve poured your entire heart and soul into this journey.

And then, imagine. It’s done. You finished the swim. You’re filled with this immense amount of joy, this feeling of accomplishment and empowerment that you’ve never felt before. The next couple of days are pure bliss. You feel like you’ve conquered the world. Like, if you can accomplish this, you can do anything.

And then. Reality starts to hit you. You realize that this dream you’ve had for years, something you’ve been working toward every day for years – it’s over. Done. You’re driving home from school, and you look out at the island on the horizon like you have every day for the past 2 years, and you burst into tears. Deep, wailing sobs. You look at that island, and you realize – you will never, ever look at it in the same way. You will never again get that sense of intense longing and fear and anticipation when you look out on the horizon as you used to.

I know this probably sounds incredibly overdramatic to the non-marathon swimmers reading this, but the marathon swimmers reading this will most likely relate on some level or another. We call this “post-event depression,” or some people call it the “honeymoon blues,” and it is a very common occurrence.

After a big swim or event that you’ve been working for over a long period of time, it is easy to lose that sense of purpose and motivation that has been driving you all this time. Many people start to feel sad, exhausted, irritable, and lacking in motivation. These symptoms are very similar to what you’d see in someone who is depressed.

I had heard a lot about post-swim depression before my Anacapa swim, and I felt like I was prepared to face it and overcome it if it came my way. For the first few days after my swim, I felt amazing – confident, strong, empowered, accomplished, basking in the attention of my friends and family. I figured that I wouldn’t have to deal with this so-called “post-event depression” after all. I think the part I didn’t plan for was instead of being able to throw myself back into water polo and training for my next swim pretty much immediately after Anacapa like I expected, that – surprise! – didn’t end up happening because of my shoulder injury.

So. The past few weeks have been pretty tough. On top of being done with Anacapa, I also can’t swim or do anything that involves much shoulder movement. The lack of endorphins has definitely affected my mental health. But, the past few days have been a lot better. I got a membership to a gym, and I’ve been hiking a couple times a week, which I love because it’s great exercise and being in nature feeds my soul. So, I’m getting through it. I’m feeling a little more like myself. I’m not really sure when my shoulder will heal, which is hard but I’m trying to be positive about it. This is a chance for me to attempt to separate my identity from swimming, which is something I’ve always struggled with. I know that swimming is something I do, but it’s not who I am. Maybe it’s necessary to take this time off of swimming to try to get a better idea of who I am outside of my sport.

This was kind of a long and rambly post, so I apologize for that. I have quite a bit more time on my hands now since I’m not swimming, so I’ll probably be writing a lot more. Hope you all have a great day!

shoulder update

It’s been 9 days since my swim. The first 3 days were pretty painful… my shoulder hurt constantly, even though I wasn’t using it at all. Since then the pain has dissipated a lot and it usually only hurts when I’m doing certain movements that are hard on my shoulder. I haven’t swam or played water polo at all; I’ve been kicking with my arms at my side, doing ab workouts, hiking, and a little bit of running.

I went in to my doctor today and he told me that I need to take at least another 3 weeks off before I start doing any swimming or water polo whatsoever. After three weeks pass, we’ll reassess and see if I need to take additional time off. Which sucks. Even going 2 days without swimming makes me crazy. But, I need my shoulder to be totally healed before I start training for my next swim. I talked with my doctor about where I want to be in 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, and I began to understand how important it is to listen to my body. When I look at my future, there’s a lot of things I don’t know. But the one thing that I do know without a doubt is that I always want to be an ocean swimmer. It’s the one thing that I don’t ever think I’ll get tired of, and it’s the one thing that always brings me inner peace. Even at 70 or 80 years old, I may not be doing ultramarathon swims, but I’ve always pictured myself at those ages getting up and going for hour-long swims every morning. So, the next month or so is going to be hard, but I know it’s absolutely necessary. This isn’t some short-term commitment where I can afford to grind through the pain. This is something I plan on doing for the rest of my life, so I need to listen to my shoulders if I ever want to reach my goals.

So, I’m going to physical therapy twice a week and icing and strengthening my shoulders every day at home. As sad as it might sound, physical therapy gives me a sense of purpose that helps with my discouragement and sadness surrounding not being able to swim for a while. And I know that 3 weeks isn’t really that long; it’s just a blip in my lifetime. It’ll be over before I know it.

The past week was really rough for me as I’ve been dealing with my shoulder pain and I’ve also been experiencing some pretty bad post-event depression (“honeymoon blues”), which I’ll talk about more in-depth in a later post. Basically, I’m having a really hard time letting go of Anacapa. I don’t want this journey to be over. Especially when I can’t throw myself back into my training or into water polo again for the next month. I’m working on developing a more positive mindset about it, but it’s hard. I need to find a way of finding closure. I think the lack of a good workout (and the lack of endorphins) over the past week has also put me in kind of a bad mood because I’m used to getting an intense workout in every day.

I’m probably not going to be posting a lot about swimming itself in the next month. I will be posting about my physical + mental recovery from Anacapa. I know this wasn’t a super upbeat post and I’m sorry for that, but it’s important to me that I’m completely honest in my writing. Thanks for your support.

what now??

Many people have asked me what my plan for my next swim is since Wednesday. I have a good idea of what I’d like to do for my swim next year… if you’re a marathon swimmer you’ll probably be able to guess! Anacapa was such an empowering experience for me considering how strong I still felt at the end of the 7 hours… I know that I’m capable of taking on much longer, harder swims in the future, but the details stay under wraps for now.

The first thing I need to focus on is my shoulder. As one would expect, swimming for 7 hours didn’t exactly make my tendinitis any better. I was in a significant amount of pain at the end of my swim from my shoulder. So, I have big goals for the next couple years, but the first thing I need to focus on is healing. I was advised to take the next month off of all ocean swimming, and while that’s the absolute last thing I want to do (it’s been 3 days since my swim and I’m already dying to get back in the ocean!), it’s necessary in ensuring I’ll be pain-free before ramping up my yardage again. I’m taking the next 2 weeks off of water polo and all pool swimming and then reassessing how I feel after that.

So. It sucks. But it also I could be a lot worse. I’m grateful that even after I ignored the pain and continued to train through it for months, I don’t have anything worse than tendinitis. I’m really lucky in that regard.

So, I’ll be doing a lot of physical therapy in the coming weeks and months. There will be a lot of early morning ocean dips where I stare out on the horizon and wish I could swim for hours. I’ll probably be doing a lot of hiking, or biking, knowing how cranky I get when I’m not working out. I’ll also be kicking with my arms at my side during our water polo practices.

I’m hoping to get back in the water sooner rather than later, but I also need to listen to my body. I’ll make sure to update you on my progress. Thanks for your support, as always.

anacapa recap

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Silver Strand Beach, at the finish.

Yeah. So. I just did that. I really can’t wrap my mind around the fact that after training for this swim for over a year, it’s over. I was driving home from school today and I looked out to see the faint outline of Anacapa on the horizon, and I realized that I would never again look at it with the same feeling of longing and anticipation. It all feels so final. Everyone keeps coming up to me and wanting to celebrate, but I don’t really feel like celebrating the end of this journey. I know there will be many other swims in my future, but Anacapa was my first real love and that’s something hard to let go of. I think this might make me sound a little overdramatic? Or slightly crazy? Like I’m grieving an ex-boyfriend, or something? Sorry if it does. For those of you swimmers who are reading this, I’m sure you understand the feeling. 

So. On to my actual swim.

We met at the harbor at 11pm and then walked down to the boat. The observer went over all the rules and we loaded the kayak and all our other supplies onto the boat. We ended up leaving the harbor at around 12:15am. I went down below to try to rest and get some last-minute sleep before the jump.

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With David and Gracie a few minutes before the jump

I jolted awake and checked my phone for the time. 1:51am. The boat rocked up and down in violent motions. I realized I needed to eat something because I’d be jumping in in an hour. I ate a few spoonfuls of oatmeal, but that was all my stomach could handle because of my nerves. I fell asleep again, waking up at 2:22. I looked outside and there it was, the ghostly silhouette of Anacapa Island quickly approaching. My heart was beating, fast, against my chest. I talked to Gracie and David and Vito, trying not to let my nerves show through. I put sunscreen on, got greased up, put my cap and goggles on, and put my lights on. The boat was shaking so violently that I already felt sick, so I wanted to get in the water as soon as possible. I couldn’t afford to barf and lose those calories before I even got in the water and started my swim. 

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My support swimmers! Gracie, me, David, and Lauren.

Before I could even think about what I was doing, I jumped in and the blackness enveloped me. The swells were pretty big, at least 4 feet. I swam towards the light they were shining on the cliff face of the island. I swam into some seaweed, and then I realized that I would be swimming through a thick kelp forest for the 200 or so meters I had to swim to the island. I tried not to think about what kind of animals had made their home in that kelp. If you’ve never swam through a kelp forest, let me tell you: it’s hard. I was already breathing hard and I hadn’t even started my swim.

I touched the island as the waves crashed against me, trying not to get cut up by the barnacles and sharp rocks. I could hear my crew cheering and I quickly pushed off, eager to get the hell away from that island.

The first couple hours were pretty uneventful. At first I was nervous, with doubts and what-ifs constantly nagging at me. What if my shoulder starts hurting, already? What if I get cold? What if this swim was never meant for me? After a while, though, I slipped into a kind of trance. I started enjoying it, watching the bioluminescence shimmer beneath me with every stroke. This is really it, I thought to myself. This is where all your hard work over the past year finally pays off. I started imagining the finish. I imagined myself crawling up on the shore, exhausted, but happy, and a huge crowd of my friends and family cheering for me. The thought made me grin. Gracie, my kayaker, would tell me jokes at every feed to try to keep me in good spirits. At one feed she told me that I had just swam through a huge school of fish and a dozen or so of them had jumped into her kayak. One had swam up the leg of her pants and she couldn’t get it out!

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Passing the oil rig (4 miles to go!)

As I swam, I noticed glowing shapes beneath me. I wondered if they were jellyfish, and sure enough, I felt a sharp pain near my shoulder as one brushed me. It wasn’t excruciating, but it definitely hurt. I spent the rest of the night watching the jellyfish, fascinated by their glowing silhouettes.

The sun rose, though it wasn’t the spectacular sunrise I had always imagined it to be. It was really foggy, so the sky just turned a light shade of gray. My shoulder was hurting pretty badly by that point, but I knew that after getting through the night, I could get through anything. I had been fighting my way through huge swells for most of the night, but at around 7am the wind died completely and the water became glassy. 

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The finish

Oil rig Gina was getting closer and closer with every feed. I knew she marked the point when I only had 4 miles to go. Even with the sun now up, I could see hundreds of pinkish-whitish jellyfish floating beneath me. The water was crystal clear and beautiful. I felt completely at home. 

I had about 2 miles left when I realized that I was making great time. Maybe I can even finish in sub- 7 hours, I thought to myself in excitement. With about a half mile left, Gracie and Lauren both jumped in to swim with me to the beach. I saw the sand at the bottom and saw it getting more and more shallow. I realized that I could probably stand. I stood up, stumbling up to the beach, overwhelmed by all the people who had come to meet me. The observer blew the horn that meant that my swim was done and that people could touch me, and everyone ran down to me and started hugging me. Everyone was cheering and crying and I was so overwhelmed and exhausted that I started to cry too. My official time was 7 hours and 1 minute. 

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My tracker

At the end of the swim, I still felt strong and fast. I never got cold (though the water temperature dropped from 69 to 62 throughout the course of the swim), and my stroke rate never changed from 60 except for the last hour, when it went up to 64. My shoulder pain was the only significant challenge for me. At the end, I felt that I would have been fully capable of swimming at least a few more miles. This was such an empowering experience because I now know that I’m capable of much longer and harder swims than I thought I was.

This swim was an incredible experience and one I’ll never forget. I had so much fun. I’m so grateful for my opportunity to do a swim like this, and I’m so grateful for the support of my incredible crew. I’m sad that it’s over, but I know that this is just the beginning of my marathon swimming career and I’m so excited for what’s to come.

 

 

 

today’s the day

So. Today’s the day. I meet my crew at 11pm tonight, and my jump time will be around 2:30/3am tomorrow morning. I’m definitely feeling calmer than I was yesterday, but I’m still pretty nervous (as one would expect). I’m just tired of the waiting game. I need to be in the water already!

The forecasted conditions look pretty amazing. Less than 5 knots of wind the whole way, and the water is a balmy 67 degrees. There will be a bit of a swell, but it’s a southern swell so it’ll be pushing me straight toward Oxnard!

Here’s the link to my tracker: https://track.rs/sbcsa_paige/

See you on the other side!