May 23, 2009

Swimming With the Fishes

I really enjoy open water swimming but it's not easy to do in and around New York City. So this year I decided to do a few swim races to gain experience swimming in crowds and get some interesting open water opportunities. I did my first this morning, the Great Hudson River Swim, a 1.3 mile race from the Christopher Street pier to Battery Cove. The weather was beautiful but the water was bracingly cold. We lined up on the pier and walked single file out onto the Water Taxi dock where we entered the river with a 6-8 foot drop into the water. The water was shocking at first. It took a few seconds to surface and it literally took my breath away. We were treading for a minute or so and I couldn't bring myself to put my face in the water for a warmup. I figured I'd warm up during the actual swim.

The race begins along the Christopher Street Pier before turning and heading south. We had to swim pretty far out into the river to avoid Pier 40, ferry docks, the Holland Tunnel vents and all sorts of other fun stuff. Getting past the buoy was tricky, swimmers were literally piling up and a few ended up right underneath the buoy. After the turn there was a lot of open space. I caught a few feet and elbows here and there but nothing crazy. It was a really tame group, one woman even apologized after hitting me.

There was a small current assist but nothing like the New York City tri last summer. I didn't feel like I was moving particularly fast and there were a couple spots I felt I really had to work hard to move forward. I was using buildings along the West Side Highway as landmarks and since I run along that path, it was easy to know the distance I had covered. I acclimated to the cold pretty quickly, but my feet and hands were a little numb. The water was relatively smooth at the start and got progressively choppier as we headed south and eventually had some pretty big waves, I'm assuming from boat traffic. The petroleum taste also intensified the further south we went. You could smell and taste the diesel fuel in the water. Yum. I kept trying to think of happy things to get my mind off the taste and started wondering if I'd puke from swallowing so much of it.

Swimming in the Hudson is really surreal. At one point I heard a loud boat motor and when I looked up the Water Taxi was zipping by on the right. The tourists on board looked utterly confused by the sight of (crazy) swimmers in the water. I could also hear ferry horns and other boat noises in the water. It was by far the most memorable way to see the city.

As we neared Battery Cove they had us swim back toward the seawall and into the cove where a pontoon with stairs served as the swim exit. As I got out of the water, I immediately noticed a guy down on his knees puking over the edge of the platform. I was thankful I didn't end up joining him, especially after a few big gulps I took near the end. There was also a girl wrapped up in heat sheets suffering from hypothermia. They were calling 911. I don't understand how anyone did this without a wetsuit.

They hosed us down as we exited so we wouldn't have to stroll around with black faces from all the dirt and oil. I met up with my friends Jonah and Barb who also raced. As I was getting a coffee at a nearby deli a woman said, "Congratulations - what did you run?" When I said we swam from Christopher Street she looked at me like I was nuts and said, "Wow, well congratulations." I remember the first time I saw swimmers in the Hudson several years ago. I, too, thought they were nuts and never in a million years thought I'd be one of them.

Distance - 1.3 miles
Time - 37:48


  1. New Orleans was a cake walk then !

  2. That's a pretty B.A. pic of you jumping in!

  3. That's not me, it's a shot from a local news story. I would have looked much more scared than she does!

  4. Nice swim, Kristin! The Chicago Tri has you swim past a slew of motorboats and the smell of gasoline is just horrible. I swear, I could still taste it during the run. Keep up the good work!



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