Many thanks to open water adventurer and SwimSwam contributor, Jake R. Bright, for this feature story. Follow Jake @jakeRBright
To the backdrop of Lady Liberty and the Manhattan skyline, several hundred swimmers rounded historic Governor’s Island as part of NYC Swim’s open water race series. That included me, competing in my fifth Governor’s Island two mile.
For those unfamiliar with NYC Swim, it runs one of the most active open water swimming (OWS) schedules in the country, including the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty Swims and Manhattan Island 28 miler. It’s grown tremendously in popularity since inception in 1993. The Little Red Light House 10K, with just over 100 competitors when I first did it in 2007, saw over 300 of us steaming up the Hudson River in 2012.
I am not a huge fan of OWS in the Hudson, but it’s fine for a targeted race and not much different than swimming in a big river. For this year’s Governor’s Island Swim, an 89 degree day coming off a summer heat wave, many of us were the most enthused we’ve been about jumping into Manhattan Harbor. The Hudson has tidal currents and NYC Swim works with the NYPD Harbor Unit to time race starts to the most favorable flow for swimmers.
This season I started training with a tempo trainer, shaping workouts around stroke count and cadence, so I was curious to see the improvements of my new regimen. In the pre-race briefing we learned swimmers would start single file – walking the plank slowest to fastest based on past times – later seeds facing a less favorable current. I somehow managed to gain seed 390 of 393 – the very back of the pack. Hmm…not sure how given I placed in the 40s last year. I concluded to make the best of it and see how far I could make it up the school of several hundred swimmers ahead of me as the line filtered down the pier.
For OWS starts the first things I focus on are integrating form, rhythm, and sighting with a mind toward saving some energy for the final push. One of the best parts of Governor’s Island is the back stretch between the Island and Brooklyn, north toward Manhattan. It’s usually much calmer than the West and South sides of the Island, where the waves and chop can kick swimmers around.
Picking up my stroke tempo for the final straight, I passed many different color swim caps, representing the various start waves, and shifted from two beats to six at my feet. Pulled up and welcomed at the finish by NYC swim volunteers, I made it to 32nd place from back of the pack. Not exactly what I’d hoped for, but an improvement over last year. Overall 2013 men’s and women’s winners were Ian Bidwell (first overall) and Karen Burbella (results).
The post race finish included a live Latin band and plenty of late afternoon summer camaraderie with New York City on the horizon. As always, I managed to meet some of the unique competitors in our sport (see profiles below), before jumping on the ferry back to Manhattan. If you’re considering OWS in the New York area NYC Swim makes it easy. There are still several races left this season and swim schedules are posted forward to 2018.