Many people told me that getting accepted into the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim is much harder than swimming the English Channel! I never questioned them as every year we turn people away for the big Lee and Sandycove swims in Cork. My plan became: show early interest, get the application in as soon as possible, have an angle and compile a compelling "history".
As a first step I found the website (www.nycswim.org) and completed a profile which signed me up for the regular email newsletter. The profile engine automatically hunted down my previous Alcatraz and Santa Cruz swims and added these to my swimming resume - cool technology! I steadily added to the profile with witness statements for my 16 mile Cobh Island, English and Santa Barbara Channel 20 mile swims.
Entries opened 1 November so I worked on my essay. That's right, my essay: "Why do you want to swim around Manhattan Island?" All part of the application process. My first essay in thirty plus years: the University application. On the bright side it saved me from a couple of long pool training sessions as I polished up 500 and 1,500 word versions.
I also needed a crew and my wife (previously crewed on both channel swims) volunteered quickly and we planned to bring our three teenagers for their first New York visit! For the second member I called my old water polo coach - a New York native. Dr. Sheldon Rothman knew everyone in Aquatics in the area and would probably have some serious pull to help me get accepted. His team once took 3rd in the USA college championships in Water Polo as well as being named the swimming coach of the year in the NY area a few years back As it turned out Shelly didn't know anyone who could help but he did offer that one of his best players (Richard Wilde) unsuccessfully applied to swim 9 years in a row. Shelly quickly volunteered to complete the crew.
As the date neared I frequently visited the web site and agonized as the entry date delayed and delayed. Eventually on 1 December entries opened and within 30 minutes I uploaded my 1,500 word essay and my VISA details/approval for the $1,295 fee. I chose the angle "I want to complete the triple crown of marathon swimming (English, Santa Barbara and Manhattan) before I am 50 later this year". "Acknowledgement" of my entry came by email which noted that I would hear back before mid February. Uncertainty, waiting and patience thankfully lasted only two days before my acceptance arrived. Richard informed Shelly: 10th time lucky and suddenly coach took top honours with two of the twenty-five solo swimmers!
Training progressed perfectly until my acceptance and bang the left elbow went after a tough swim session. For the third winter in a row a shoulder or elbow caused serious physical pain and I started to doubt my ability to make the big swim in June. I reduced my training plan and kept swimming (averaging a mile a day) - much of it in the sea at 8C (46F) and 9C - without a wetsuit. This left plenty of time to visualize the swim - lots of landmarks/bridges and my first big swim with the current expected to help me at the very end.
Just about one hundred days of elbow pain brought me up the Limerick long course masters event. I swam all the freestyle events on the Saturday: 50, 100, 200, 400 and 800 metres and returned home exhausted. On Monday I awoke pain free. It made no sense to me - but I accepted this readily. The next day I doubled my average daily training to two miles. Ideally I would swim 5 miles six days a week (double again what I planned to do) to prepare for Manhattan - but better healthy than hurt in June.
April in Cork gave us the warmest sea temperatures (14C) in a very long time and the entire open sea training group went mad! At the end of the month I did a gig as an assistant guide with SwimTrek on a long distance training week in Gozo (island north of Malta) in 16C water. Twelve eager swimmers - 6 going for the English Channel this year. I swam morning and night and got in an easy two hour sea swim - my longest of the year.
The Gods then decided to play games and the sea temperature in Cork plunged back down to 10C (50F). I moved to the local rivers and lakes to get in some fresh water training. Manhattan would present a mix of water buoyancies so I needed to tune my swimming styles a tiny bit and mostly strengthen my back for the slightly different stress I would experience.
Eilis coached me through a couple of 5 mile pool sessions and paced me one day on a 3rd mile in uninviting cold seas to push my fitness a bit higher. Anne developed a scheduling conflict (youngest daughter Anna's important school test) so Emilio Casanueva, the founder of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association, volunteered to join the safety boat crew.
Into the last weeks I started to assemble my checklist, worked on the crew instructions and studied previous reports of the swim. I stayed healthy and kept up the 2 mile/day training regime. I hoped it would give me enough of a physical base to get three quarters of the way though the swim (into the Hudson) where I hope my "big swim memory" would get me home!
About the Author: Ned Denison played water polo goalie in the USA and England for 20 years before taking up open water swimming in 2000. His move to Cork Ireland allows all year sea training (no wet suit) in temps from 7-17C (45-63F). Active in Cork Masters, up to 200 local open water swims annually in Ireland keeps him fit. Ned logged other articles on his English Channel and Santa Barbara Channel Swims.