Don't try this at home: A look back at 2011

by Evan Morrison. 11 January 2012.

forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit. — The Aeneid, Book 1

Last year I undertook an ambitious program of marathon swims:

While I usually keep my personal life out of this space, in this case it’s essential to understanding my experiences this year. I undertook this schedule of swims while going through a divorce (a process that began 4 days before MIMS), and while moving 2,100 miles from Chicago to California.

Yep - it was an interesting year.

Some thoughts, to those who might be considering a big season of their own:

Remember: there’s always next year. What’s the rush?

Another issue bears particular emphasis: It may be harder than you think to recover from a big swim. The channel swimmer/physician Peter Attia has compared the physical effects of a 20-mile swim to a traumatic injury. Personally, I budget at least 7-10 days for physical recovery.

In my experience, the greater challenge is mental recovery. A 20-mile swim is profoundly emotionally draining. In the weeks following a big swim, I’ve experienced symptoms not unlike depression: lethargy, listlessness, lack of motivation. With 4 swims in 6 months, though, you have no choice but to buck up and keep training.

Promontory Point and the 57th Street Beach

The story of my 2011 season actually begins in September of 2010 - when I had the silly idea to enter the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. On September 10, my buddy Mark won a thrilling match race against Petar Stoychev. I thought to myself, That sounds fun.

On September 28, in what turned out to be the second-to-last day before Lake Michigan turned over, I swam Point in the coming months. Amanda is a two-time MIMS veteran and was a helpful mentor as I acclimated to the idea of a 28.5-mile swim.

On November 1, after a last-minute flurry of essay-writing, I how it turned out.

By December I had submitted my Tampa entry and my boat deposit for Catalina. The die had been cast.

In January, I started my training ramp-up in earnest. By late February, I was ready for what would be my only major training swim before Tampa: an Swim Miami 10K. My time didn’t reflect it (course mismeasurement), but I was first overall in the Masters division.

Two other items of interest from this time period: my April Fools joke.

In late April, it was off to Tampa, where my Season of Big Swims would finally begin. At this juncture, instead of recapping what I’ve already written about extensively, I’ll do more of a compare/contrast exercise. My full reports are linked in the parentheses.

Tampa (Part 2)

MIMS finish

Photo credit: Kathy Hecht Langdon

MIMS (Photo Album)

Catalina (Part 4/final report)

Ederle (report)

There was another small issue simmering beneath the surface during the latter part of the summer. I haven’t mentioned this before, but perhaps now is an appropriate time. By virtue of my 3rd-place finish at MIMS, I was offered a spot in the subsequent Manhattan match race and record attempt, when Erica Rose withdrew. The race was to be held September 28 - three days before the Ederle Swim. I had to choose between the two.

Truth be told, by the time I finished Catalina I was ready to call it a year. I was so spent - physically, emotionally, motivationally - that I didn’t think I had another swim in me. Maybe I should just forget Ederle, and use my Southwest Airlines points for another day. In the end, I kept my flight and I kept my spot on the Ederle roster. I declined the MIMS record attempt because (among others reasons) I figured there was no chance I or anyone else could take down Shelley Taylor-Smith’s legendary record.

In an ironic twist of fate, Shelley’s record did fall on September 28 - to my friend Rondi Davies; and then, less than 10 minutes later, to my great MIMS competitor Ollie Wilkinson. I was thrilled for them both - but at the same time had to suppress any thoughts of “What if?”

In any case, I came home from New York with a record anyway.

After Ederle I took 10 days off - my longest break in almost 3 years. No pool, no ocean, no drylands…nothing. And I felt no guilt whatsoever.

In mid-October I banquets in San Pedro. I saw some old friends, met some new ones; celebrated past achievements and pondered future ones.

It was a difficult year, but one that I’ll remember fondly for many reasons. Four big swims were two too many - but I wouldn’t subtract any of them after the fact. I had, basically, four goals going into this season:

So, three for three. As for the fourth - I take heart from the fact that it’s still an unanswered question.

And that… is a year in the life of a marathon swimmer.

As the sun rises on 2012, I wish all my readers a happy new year. May you stay happy, healthy, fit, and motivated - to tackle whatever channel, lake, bay, or river captures your imagination.

Mark and Evan in the Catalina Channel

(R-L) Mark, Evan, channel, sun

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Posted in: swim reports , Year in Review Tags: Tampa Bay , MIMS , Catalina , Promontory Point