Marathon swimmer Kathleen Wilson completes low-key, local 25-miler

Kathleen Wilson didn’t have to travel to the ends of the world to complete her 2013 swim. She did it right here – last Tuesday – and I asked her to do a little account of it. DQ

I realized that 2013 was slipping away and I wanted to do a swim this year having turned 50 last June.  New Zealand did not go quite as planned (I’ll get another crack at it at some point) and this swim was always on my wish list so I decided to make it happen.  The swim involved starting at the Highway 41 bridge, swimming down the Wando to the Cooper, around the Battery to the Ashley and up to the familiar bridge at I-526, 25 miles.

 After scouting tides, I knew that this week was going to be good and with only a week’s notice, we decided to go.  I am indebted to Lesley Fanning for taking a day of vacation time to pilot for me and to Dennis Lane for agreeing to help with feeds, backing up Lesley and troubleshooting for me.

This was a unique swim in that I went into it on less than desirable training and no formal taper, only a little rest.  September/October daily meter totals were only 32,000-37,000/week rather than the usual 40,000+. September was simply not a productive month for me due to travel and Swim Around Charleston.

 Tuesday was windy and overcast but involved no swimming in darkness so we decided to tough out the conditions and go.  I began under the Hwy. 41 bridge at 8:56 a.m. and began plowing down the river, having had a brief moment of PTSD just before entering the water. It looked very gray, stone cold and unfriendly.

 I had a flashback to New Zealand very suddenly and how terribly cold I was.  It looked like Cook Strait water. I talked myself back to reality quickly and promised myself that it would only be chilly for 30 seconds and fine after that.  The water temperatures were 74-76 throughout the day, not even chilly. There was no warm up needed, it was fine the entire day.

 We had a tidal assist but it was not smooth swimming.  We had a little bit of everything during the day with wind coming from different directions, varying degrees and angles of chop, cross currents, some smooth swimming, overcast conditions then sunny and as an additional ray of sunlight, a couple of friends waving at me along portions of the course.  This was uncharted territory as far as timetables so I made an educated guess at how quickly I could swim down the rivers and hit the Battery at the low tide mark.  

We lost time due to conditions from 526 to the Ravenel bridge and Lesley told me in her quiet way that I had to stretch out and make good progress to the Battery. In short, light it up, turn my arms over and work hard.  

 I responded and produced a pace of 80 strokes a minute, something I have not done in the past couple of swims.  It felt quick and strong.  We barely caught the tail end of the outgoing tide and after a brief slack, began seeing the pull  up the Ashley.  By the time I reached the Ashley River Bridges and the Citadel, the swim was over, I only had to keep my face in the water and swim for another 2.5 hours, not a difficult prospect.

Poor Lesley had the Herculean task of answering my phone all day. She passed along a message that I had had a resignation from a City commission and needed to appoint someone.  I figured if Alison Streeter (Queen of the English Channel) could give currency buy and sell orders during a Channel crossing, I could handle a City commission appointment.

 We finished at the Westmoreland Bridge at 4:37 p.m. for a total time of 7:43.  I had worked hard the entire swim and was ready to call it a day but as usual, I had plenty of cardio left, my arms were tired and my body was tight.  Lesley gave me a final time and I had her repeat it a couple of times because it was a very fast swim and quite similar to the Manhattan Island swim in 1999 in which I covered 28.5 miles in 7:38.

 We are transcribing the benchmark times and all data into the official Observer’s Report to be filed with the World Open Water Swimming Association so that the swim is credited and properly recorded as a first.  This is the standard practice in the sport in order for a swim to stand and if ever needed or questioned, we have accompanying video clips, still photos and witnesses who came out to watch me swim past to show where I was at what time during the swim.  I also followed the standard “English Channel” rules of marathon swimming, a standard practice for me.

 It was a very nice swim,  not a casual swim but a decent challenge and an excellent effort for the day.  Most of all, it is a gentle reminder that those weekly training goals are very valid and necessary to achieve those very high level swims throughout the world. I’m also reminded that these swims do not happen without the goodness and generosity of friends who give their time so freely and who understand the sport and what a swimmer is dealing with in different stages of the swim; how best to assist or insist on something from me.

 From here, I have a few ideas for swims in 2014 but nothing firm.  I can begin to train up to standard again, contact a few people and see what might work. I’ll keep you updated.





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