“Six sigma,” in corporate-speak, is a measure of quality that strives for near perfection. This describes a mindset (ahem…. also the length of time, 6 hours) necessary moving towards my summer challenge.
In order to perform an “official” English Channel crossing, the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation requires that the individual must complete a six-hour, 60-degree water, swim. This is purely about time spent in cold water. Either you can hack it or you can’t.
Coach Kim monitored the river conditions daily. His intimate knowledge of the Connecticut River put us in a holding pattern for several weeks due unsafe conditions (55-degree water, high water levels, very fast currents). Coach Kim advised me on Sunday May 18th that our “go-time” would be early next week.
Coach Kim picked me up from the Smith College Quad at 8:30am on May 21st. He told me that the water temperature had just hit a balmy 60-degrees by the time this 410 mile river meets Hadley, MA from its origin in the cold provinces of Cananda. Air temperature expected to reach 69-degrees. Coach Kim stated to me that a current was present, but it was not as strong as it had been the day before. Coach Kim stated that in the event in which the current would be too strong and cause me to move backwards while trying to swim forwards, we would have to scrub our attempt for another day…. ugh!
We made our way to the dock and got the boat going. I put on a thick layer of Vaseline to prevent chaffing of my neck and underneath my arms, which commonly occurs when repeating the same motion for an extended period of time. I explained to Coach Kim my complex, yet systematic feeding plan, utilizing a chart that I had made previously. Coach Kim dutifully played many roles in this process, which consisted of: official observer, coach/motivator, boat captain, and beverage manager.
Coach Kim told me that we would start swimming downstream for the first hour, then adjust to swimming upstream (i.e. against the current) then plan accordingly for the next 4 hours. My first thought upon entering the water was “ok you will get used to the cold, not too bad yet.” However, while my core felt satisfactory, my limbs kept getting colder and colder. I thought that I could distract myself from the cold, however I would be rudely awakened by the fact that I couldn’t feel my feet at all. In fact I thought I was hitting debris when in fact I was kicking my other foot and toes- this lasted throughout the whole swim. When swimming upstream and stuck in one place like a treadmill due to the current, I would pick a “competitor tree” and try to get ahead of it. Although it sounds crazy, my push and drive allowed me to pass it, chipping away at more clock-time!
Coach Kim’s superior nautical navigation skills allowed us to dodge other boats, single sculls and river debris that were heading in my direction.
The six hours of swimming was not as taxing as I anticipated, however at hour 3/4 my stroke tempo dropped due my shoulders getting quite sore. Mentally I stayed busy and had fun getting caught up in my own thoughts (what can I say, I’m a philosophy major!). I also found myself thinking about my loved ones, singing “I Can’t Stop” (Flux Pavilion) and the National Anthem repeatedly, and imagining myself putting on my Uggs, taking a HOT shower to thaw my feet, and curling up in bed.
I was so pumped and relieved when Kim gave me the “done” signal. He calculated that I swam about 15.5 miles in the 6-hour window. I also gained confidence in my abilities as well as identified areas for additional preparation.
“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.”