Swimming beyond 10 hours

There are two kinds of swimmers: those that are capable, and keen, to swim beyond 10 hours, and those that are not. That was my conclusion yesterday, after completing the End North Dakota Watersports Endurance Test, aka END-WET, known for being the longest marathon swim in North America.

The swim goes 36 miles / 58 km downstream the Mighty Red River of the North, which divides the states of Minnesota and North Dakota in the USA. During the race briefing on Friday, I learned that given that the river dies in Lake Winnipeg in Canada, swimming downstream means going from South to North (yes, the Earth is round). Geography 1 – Diego 0. 

Unlike any other swim I’ve been, the 36 miles are clearly marked by number labels down from 36 to 1, on the side of the river (on the left shore, luckily for us left breathers) and also on the tracker online. This made it easier to follow, although it also made me more anxious at times: I kept looking for those darn hidden small white signs hoping to be done with the next mile.

Before Saturday, my longest swim in both time and distance had been Manhattan (48 km / 6h37’) so I knew I was in for a long day, despite any current push we might have. I normally struggle with cramps in my legs after hour #4 (any advise is welcome!), and I wanted to feel comfortable with a 10-hour swim before I attempt to cross the English Channel in three weeks. So, for me, it was more of a training than a race, and I knew I didn’t have many chances against Sandra FB. and Stephen R. anyways. They are both superb swimmers that had already beaten me in 8 Bridges and Swim the Suck – I’ll catch you guys, one day :-)

The swimming went smooth and I was breathing bilaterally and comfortably until hour #4 or so. Then, the feared cramps showed up again and I stretched as I watched a fellow swimmer leaving me behind. But I somehow managed to relax and to entertain my mind. At that point, I was done with singing all the reggeaton songs I could remember (that’s too many hours of reggeaton), and with doing all the math problems I could imagine. But after hour #6 or so, I kept thinking about life and even coming up with new business ideas. We are so busy with work and phone/internet these days, that having 11 hours to be only with yourself is actually a great experience.

We’re now in mile #27 and done with ¾ of the race. My amazing paddler Jen, who had never supported such a long swim (kudos!) is stretching to the point I think she may fall off the kayak. It looks like she is more in pain than I am, so I think that I should accelerate and finish the swim at once – just if I could! During the last stretch of the course, there are a few bridges that make it amusing (and I get to swim some backstroke as I pass them), and I suddenly recognize the bridge that marks the end of it. I see David and Sandra (completely dry and changed by now) clapping and pointing me to the end and I don’t feel anything but satisfied – and yes, cramped.

I couldn’t stay awake for dinner but was amazed to learn that all 18 solos (and 1 relay) that started, finished the race. What an amazing bunch of people, and mind you, athletes.

I am not going to compare swimming 11 hours in a quiet river in 22C waters to doing so in a choppy channel in 15C waters but I do feel more mentally prepared to swim off Dover. The first window of the year on June 3/10 didn’t have any solo success, and we’ll see about the second one on June 20/28 (good luck John). I am in the third one on July 3/10 with slot #3, so crossing my fingers to get a shot.

Experts suggest calling marathon swimming anything beyond 10K and ultra-marathon swimming anything beyond 25K – so how would they call swims of over 10 hours? The equivalent in running seems to be a double-marathon, which takes normally over 10 hours. One thing is for sure: anyone capable, and keen, to swim beyond 10 hours has my full respect.

One happy boy