Thursday, July 3, 2008

Last name, please

So, all this time, since Peter has completed the first ever successful double crossing of the Maui channel (10 mile stretch between Maui and Lanai), I've been unaware that the Peter in my lane is the MAUI PETER.

For nearly a month I've been seeing this guy, who has set a world record, in his Speedo, practically naked, pre-dawn, and what have I been saying to him? Not "Holy crap, you did it! Way to go! I'm so jealouswishIcoulddothat" but, "You want to lead or me?" and "Leave on the 30?" and "Okay, later that's a rap."

Lanshin finally enlightened me yesterday, just in time to hear that famous L2 boy is moving to San Diego. Great. Just as I find out I'm rubbing shoulders (or crashing paddles) with a world class open water swimmer, he preps to leave. If I had just known his last name, I could have enjoyed my proximity to greatness longer. So, I'm instituting a last name "make sure you know who you're swimming with" rule.

I'm Sarah Eisner, and here was today's workout:

*light warm-up of free that I never got straight
*4 x 400's free, done in a confusing but fun descending order of drill, moderate, threshold, power by 100 pattern
*4 x 250's free done in same sort of pattern by 100, 75, 50, 25

Now, here, for those of you who didn't read it yet, is Peter's account of his swim. BRAVO!

Short version (plot spoiler):

Started at 5:32 am in calm water, had a relatively painless trip to Lanai,
current picked up and made the landing difficult. Took 5:05 to get there.
Return trip started well, but what we lacked in wind (never over 20 knots,
and only for a brief periods of time), we made up for in strong current.
Last 3 miles took 2 hours, 40 minutes, swimming at 45 degrees to land the
whole time. Landed near Black Rock in Kaanapali about 6-7 miles north of
where I started after 11 hours, 43 minutes, 57 seconds of swimming. Jill
and my friend Ashley Snyder were on shore to greet me, which felt better
than I'd imagined it could over the previous 12 hours...

Long version:

The start was beautiful coming out of the Lahaina harbor, about 20 minutes
before sunrise, water was glass. One thing I planned to do different for
this swim was use mouthwash every hour. I feed every 20 minutes, so every
third feed was accompanied by a small bottle of Scope. By the end of the
first hour I was glad we were going ahead with this plan, given what seems
to be a higher saline concentration in warm water. Speaking of warm water,
the water temp was 80-82, which was actually quite uncomfortable, as my
personal "sweet spot" is about 66 to 72. In the middle of the channel
there were occasional cool streams of about 70 degrees. Nothing felt

My boat captain, Claude Moreau is a seasoned pilot, having accompanied 9
solo swimmers on the one-way crossing. While he understood my desire to do
the first double crossing of the channel, he was absolutely committed to my
safety and made it clear that if anything wasn't going well, he'd yank me
out. As a result of this, I did not want to ever give him such an
impression. At about the one hour mark I got stung by a jelly fish - no
big deal, happens all the time. However, over the next 90 minutes I was
probably stung a total of 15 times: nose, arms, chest. It was stinging a
bit, but I didn't want him to think things were not going according to
plan, so I didn't mention it.

At about hour 3, I noticed a little fish - about 6 inches long - swimming
10 feet below me. I didn't think much of it, but about 5 minutes later I
noticed he was still there. After my next drink, I resumed swimming and
sure enough - he was still there! For the next hour and 20 minutes he
stayed with me and circled me when I fed. Sounds silly, but it really made
me happy to see him. I even played a little game with him. I would swim
to the left, he would follow. I would speed up, he would fall behind then
catch up. Sadly, as I approached Lanai, he got board and ditched me.

At the 4 hour feed I looked up (something swimmers rarely do for fear of
the psychological trauma that results from trying to guess how much further
you have to swim) and realized we were less than a mile off Lanai. I could
see the details of the trees and what looked like beautiful sandy beaches.
Jim and Forrest let me know that we weren't going to land here because the
current was stronger than expected. Effectively, if we landed where we had
planned to, we risked not being able to hit Maui on the return trip. After
40 or so minutes swimming parallel to shore against the current, they told
me to head in. Piece of cake, I thought. In the days before the swim, we
had worked out an exact plan for the requisite 10 minute break I was
permitted on land. (While this particular channel had never been double
crossed before, double crossings of the English and Catalina Channels have
been done, so we adhered to those rules). During my "break", I planned to
eat some solid food, re-apply sunscreen and grease, and stretch.

All that went to hell pretty quickly. Forrest had my stuff in 2 sealed
bags and was going to accompany me in to shore from the kayak. About 50
yards off shore, the coral reef become very shallow and the break hammered
us. Forrest was thrown off the kayak and into the coral (which cut him to
pieces). I tried to get out the way from a large break and out of nowhere
a sea turtle half my size zipped under me at what seemed like 100 knots.
I hate to think what would have happened had he been two feet higher and
rammed into me. The next 20 minutes displayed me at my least graceful,
trying to escape jagged coral. I was only cut on my hands, feet, and
shins, but not too excited about bleeding into the ocean. My plans of
eating and stretching didn't materialize on shore since my food was washed
away when Forrest was flipped and we needed to run down the beach to find a
more hospitable place to take off. Luckily, Jim jumped in and swam down my
back of sunscreen and grease.

After what was essentially a 4.5 hour trip to Lanai (total time was 5:05
because of the extra time to swim parallel to shore and the flail to get
out the water), I expected the return trip to be 5 - 6,hours as I knew the
wind was coming. At 7 and a half hours total elapsed time - with about 5
miles to go - I felt great and at a feed said to Forrest and Jim, "You guys
know what I'm thinking, right?", to which they responded, "What?", to which
I responded, "You know...", to which they respond, "A triple crossing?", to
which I responded, "We should at least consider it...", to which they
respond, "Shut the f*ck up and swim!". I would pay a very heavy price in
the coming hours for such hubris.

Two hours later it seemed we had made little progress. The swells were
over 3 feet and I was starting to mentally fatigue. Many people ask me
what the hardest part is about marathon swimming. I always say it's the
mental component. Mistakes happen when you lose focus, and for me, that
point is usually around 7 hours. So by 9 hours I could clearly see Maui,
but we were aiming what I thought was the "wrong way" - towards the
southern part of island. It turns out, we had to be aiming that way to
neutralize the impact of the current. Again, lucky to have an experienced

At the 9 hour feed, Forrest said, "Peter I have some bad news, some good
news, and some bad news" I wasn't sure what the 'glass-half-full' approach
was, but I was listening. He continued, "1) The wind is really picking up
and we can see the gnarly wind-line moving across the channel, and it will
be here shortly. 2) You are only 3 nautical miles from shore. 3) It will
take you another 3 hours to get there." While we had expected strong
winds, the current was much stronger than we had anticipated. It was
hitting me perpendicular to the direction I was trying to go at about the
same speed I was swimming, roughly 1.7 knots, effectively reducing my
ground speed by 50%. Forrest, Jim, and Claude made it crystal clear that
the game was won or lost in the next 3 hours. We were currently on target
to miss the island (which may seem ridiculous, given the size of the
island, but if I ever got pulled past Kaanapali, I would be swept up to
Molokai and not be able to make it back to Maui).

The following hours were certainly the toughest. My fingers were
surprisingly tender from the cuts I sustained in Lanai, my shoulders were
starting to feel a bit tight, and the sun was beating down. They gave me
my splits from the gps every 20 minutes and I started doing the Pythagorean
math in my head to figure out how fast I was actually swimming. Forrest
and Jim took turns pacing me in one hour blocks, which made all the
difference. The last thing I remember was Forrest saying, "You have 0.83
nautical miles to go", which is almost exactly one statute mile. In my
long training swims, especially my last three on May 5 (12 miles), May 12
(14 miles - thanks to Jason Pyle for kayaking the entire 14 miles, which
included getting flipped 54 times), and May 19 (16 miles), I always tried
to swim the last mile faster than the others. So with that, I told them
this would be my last feed and I was putting my head down, picking up my
stroke rate and cranking in. I increased my stroke rate from 52 to just
over 60. All I can say is I've never swum so hard to travel one mile in
what turned out to be nearly 44 minutes!

As I was approaching Black Rock I did lift my head to see Jill standing on
the beach with Ashley. What a sweet sight that was. In a very weird way,
I find the last few hundred yards of such swims to be kind of sad. It
takes so many months to train for such things, and the realization that
it's almost over leaves one feeling a bit depressed. Despite my earlier
laps in judgement and temporary hubris (re: contemplating the triple
crossing at the 7 hour mark), I was honored to be the first person to do
this swim. After climbing out the water, Jill put a lei around my neck and
gave me a hug, despite the grease.

In reality, I had "conquered" nothing, but merely was lucky enough to find
a day the channel was willing to tolerate me. Being prepared is a
necessary, but not sufficient factor to success in the ocean.
Many people think of marathon swimming as an individual sport. However, it
is more of a team sport than I can often convey to people. This swim
absolutely could not have been done without the expertise of my boat
captain, Claude Moreau. Furthermore, without Jim and Forrest on the boat
and in the 2 days leading up to the swim, there was no way I could have
done this. Most importantly, without my wife who tolerates me spending
every free moment in the water, there was no way to prepare for such
silliness. I do owe her everything.


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