Open Water Swim Journal, Training

May 2011: OPEN WATER SWIM season begins in New York!

This post includes all May open water swims. They are: Jackrabbit Jerseyman Iron swim, beginning of the season with the CIBBOWS, NYC Swim season opener: Great Hudson River Swim, and more CIBBOWS swims.

Jackrabbit Jerseyman Iron Swim (race)

Before Iron Swim

Before the Jackrabbit Jerseyman Iron Swim

Date: Saturday, May 7th, 2011 (The day before my 31st birthday!)
Location: Clinton, New Jersey
Water: Spruce Run Resevoir
Water temp: 62º F/ 16º C
Distance: 2.4 miles
Time: 1:07:17.07
Age Group Place: 3rd

I watched the water temperature online all week, and was encouraged when I saw that my first open water race of the season, the Jackrabbit Jerseyman Iron Swim, would be in water that was nearly 60º F. Unfortunately, my excitement to get back into cold-but-tolerable water was not enough to convince the race director to allow me in without a wetsuit. The wetsuit was mandatory. This news was a bit of a disappointment.

2 ½ weeks had already passed since my 6-hour swim in Gozo, but my body still felt wrecked. Recent swims I had attempted in the pool had felt stiflingly hot and physically unpleasant. I was strangely uncoordinated and struggled to feel in control of my still-achy body. In addition, I felt a deep-rooted fatigue that was almost imperceptible when I was inactive, but then enveloped me entirely whenever I exerted myself. A three-mile park run the previous week was torture, and had taken enormous effort just to finish. In light of my not-yet-recovered body, I was seriously considering skipping this swim, feeling that I’d signed up for it a bit prematurely. The main reason I went at all was because I’d offered to drive my friend, Jen Davino; but also, a little bit, it was because I was determined to start this season off right: by actually competing in all of the races I sign up for.

Billed as an opportunity for triathletes to gain open water experience, the race course was twice around the Jackrabbit Jerseyman Half-Iron Triathlon swim course, in the Spruce Run reservoir in Clinton, New Jersey. The first thing I felt upon entering the reservoir was the cold water soothing my arms as only cold water can do. Big smiles. I swam away from shore at what I thought was a steady pace, but noticed that most of the others in my wave were disappearing ahead of me quickly. It didn’t faze me though, as I’m not hugely competitive, and because I was on cloud nine, back in the cold water. The first time around the course I could feel my body loosening up, realigning, and remembering what it feels like to swim comfortably. By the second time around the course, I was in a zone and moving at slightly faster pace.

I have to say that the highlight of that day, aside from the rush that comes from any race, no matter how low-key, was actually blog-related. It was the moment when a woman I had just been introduced to, upon hearing me say something about Malta, said, “Oh! You’re Caitlin from the blog!” Come on, what better way is there to make a sapling- blogger such as myself feel special?

Starting the season off with the CIBBOWS


Date: Saturday, May 14
Location: Brighton Beach
Water: Atlantic Ocean
Water temp: 53º F/ 12º C
Time in water: 30 minutes

Last year I knew the CIBBOWS (the Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers) only as the nut-jobs who swam long distances in the crazy-cold Atlantic Ocean without wetsuits or insulated caps. They would pass my fellow triathletes and me who were shivering madly as we swam relatively short distances suited up in our full wetsuits. And I would think: “Those folks are way too hard core for me!”


Meeting some CIBBOWS. "Iceman" is on the right.

So the thought occurred to me, at some point after returning from Malta, that I was probably certifiably one of the hard-core, nut-jobs now, and that their crazy company was exactly what I needed and craved. And man was I right. I feel tremendously lucky to have such a great group of swimmers to train with at a beach that is only a 20-minute drive from my home. On this swim, our first day with the CIBBOWS, we met just a few. The beach was still pretty empty.

5.16 first plunge

No hesitation. (photo: Chad)

At a chilly 53º F, I was surprised to find that my time in Malta had a lasting acclimatization effect. I’m sure a large part of it is mental. Nick Adams never let us think much about getting in. He would always yell: “you have 30 seconds until start, go go go!” And so that’s exactly how I approached the water at Brighton Beach this day. I walked straight in and thought, “Yes, this water is cold,” followed quickly by, “but I don’t really care. Let’s go.” And I did feel fine. Great even. It seems strange to say, but the sensation I feel upon entering this crazy-cold water no longer feels like “cold” to me, at least not in the way that I have known and feared “cold” for most of my life. Rather, it is just a strange, biting body-slap that I feel, which goes away rather quickly. The bite is followed by extreme pleasure: pleasure at swimming freely in the open water, the pleasure of conquering the cold, a pleasure that wells up inside for which I cannot really pinpoint an origin. That pleasure is my warmth. (I’m no superhuman. Give me an hour in it and I’ll feel plenty cold.)

Laura was right behind me as I walked in, looking at me skeptically, but following my lead. I tried to give her a similar experience to the one I’d had in Malta: not a lot of time to think, just get in and swim. I knew that if I just got in, she would follow. She later reported the mind-games of her own which she employed to convince herself that it was okay, and safe, to be in such cold water. Seeing me walk in without hesitation and then swimming and smiling was part of that equation. It was so nice to swim side-by-side with Laura. I realized that, while we went, that as long as I was training with Laura and Louise, I would always be swimming in great company.

CIBBOWS: training swim with Laura

Post-swim May 21

Post-swim. When we left the beach, I was very much looking forward to Sunday, when I would be able to swim longer and also hang around after our swim and enjoy the sunshine and company.

Date: Saturday, May 21
Location: Brighton Beach
Water: Atlantic Ocean
Water temp: 58º F/ 14º C
Time in water: 1 hour

The water was still cold, but felt significantly less cold than the previous week.  It also helped that the sun was out. Laura and I swam towards the “white building,” a mile round trip swim with Ben, a visiting swimmer from Colorado, and a couple of CIBBOWS, including Pauline. Had I not had something I needed to get back to in the city, we likely would have swum longer. The hanging around on the beach that other CIBBOWS were enjoying looked good too. When we left the beach, I was very much looking forward to Sunday, when I would be able to swim longer and also hang around after our swim and enjoy the sunshine and company.

CIBBOWS: bad weather, great swim

post-swim May 22

Post-swim. Unfortunately, my dreams of post-swim sunbathing and socializing did not materialize on this day. It was a yucky, cloud-covered, drizzly day.

Date: Sunday, May 22
Location: Brighton Beach
Water: Atlantic Ocean
Water temp: 58º F/ 14º C
Time in water: 1 hour 15 minutes

Unfortunately, my dreams of post-swim sunbathing and socializing did not materialize on this day. It was a yucky, cloud-covered, drizzly day. Standing on the beach upon arrival, chatting with the only two other CIBBOWS around, I was not even sure I wanted to get in at all. I stalled for a few minutes, hoping the weather would change. Clearly, it was not going to.  Laura and I suited up and headed in.

This swim turned out to be crazy fun. As we swam toward Coney Island the water got increasingly choppier. Pretty soon, half the breaths I took, I couldn’t see Laura because she was behind a wave. At first it was hard to keep from drinking facefulls of waves, but I figured out that if I timed it correctly, I could take my breaths on the peaks, and smash down the other side of it as my arm recovered and my hand entered the water, which made me feel like a giant taking giant strokes. Fun. The wind and current were squirrelly, and the waves unpredictable, so it didn’t always work, but most of the swim felt extremely playful. It was also really intense, as I focused on my breathing, and felt the need to be vigilant in keeping my sights on Laura and the rock jetties. I also thought I saw lots of things that weren’t there. A second look would reveal, without fail, that the boat, other swimmers, walls, and rocks I thought were appearing next to me were not there at all, just lots of waves that my brain mistook for objects. (What’s my problem?) We swam to the ferris wheel at Coney Island, and then turned back.  The current changed so many times during our swim that it felt as though we were swimming against it much more than half of the time.

waxman's feeding station

Waxman's feeding station. Can you see it? It's out there.

I did get quite cold when I got out. I bundled up good and ate my bagel on the beach, but then I was pretty much ready to head out. This was not going to be my “beach day.”

(This is the day that we saw Jordan Waxman’s “feeding station,” being used by Brad McVetta during his 6-hour qualifying swim. What a day for a 6-hour! Posts about making our own feeding station to follow.)

The Great Hudson River Swim (race)

I am NYC Swim

Check it out. NYC Swim uses me as their logo!

Date: Saturday, May 28
Location: New York City
Water: Hudson River
Water temp: 61º F/ 16º C
Distance: 1.6 miles
Time: 32 min 47 seconds
Age Group Place: 6th (including folks in wetsuits)

This race was the NYC Swim season opener in the Hudson. I went with Laura and Louise, and saw many CIBBOWS there, including the “Iceman” who I have decided is everywhere, always running things or appearing to run them. Along with all of the CIBBOWS, he has been incredibly welcoming since day one. This race felt different from any I have previously competed in, including runs, triathlons, and swims. The reason was that I knew or at least mutually recognized many, many swimmers. In just a few weeks of swimming with the CIBBOWS, my community of open water swimmers in NY had grown exponentially. It’s a great feeling– considering my growing passion– to be surrounded by other passionate, and infinitely-more-knowledgeable swimmers to learn and train with. After the race I finally met David Barra, for whom I’d been keeping an eye out since Nick Adams spoke his praises. We talked about the Channel and the folks we had in common—Nick, Sakura, Cliff— (me from Malta, him from spending time in Dover and being a total swimming rockstar!) and I was energized by the conversation. The feeling of community was both expanding AND connecting. I can’t help but think that this feeling would have been very different pre-Internet.

ready to swim

Louise, Laura, me. I'm sure that face was suppoed to capture a pre-race feeling, just not sure what it was.

The short, 1.6 mile swim was “wetsuit legal” because of low water temperature, so it seemed some 90-95% of the swimmers wore wetsuits. I am not here to judge—to each his or her own! It’s just an observation. (There are lots of reasons people wear wetsuits: because they’re training for a triathlon, because they want to go faster, because they prefer not to be cold, because they want to keep Hudson River nastiness off of their body, etc.)

The swim itself was uneventful. It went by quickly and my stupid goggles were fogging up constantly, so I saw much less than I like to see while swimming. Upon exiting I got a metal with a picture of me on it! Well, not really. But check out the photo of me next to the NYC Swim logo on a banner. I’m kinda on it.

Laura and Louise rocked the race, BTW: both placed in their age groups!

CIBBOWS: A perfect day at the beach (waters a balmy 61º F!)

5.29 Post Swim

Post-swim. A perfect beach day

Date: Sunday, May 29
Location: Brighton Beach
Water: Atlantic Ocean
Water temp: 61º F/ 16º C
Time in water: 2 hours 30 minutes

This turned out to be the day I’d been waiting for. Louise brought her daughter Cate, who provided great entertainment for as long as they were there. Laura and I stayed all day enjoying the sun and company.

It was Louise’s first CIBBOWS swim and she was skeptical about going in sans-wetsuit. Luckily for her she had left her wetsuit at the bagel shop back in Park Slope, so she didn’t have to agonize over the decision (We called. They had it. It was not lost). It was really great swimming with Louise. We did a half hour loop down to the white building and back, and Louise was over the moon. A few minutes into the swim and after the initial shock, which she took well, I checked in with her: “It’s not so bad, right?” Louise: “It’s amazing! I love it!” Cate and Laura ran along the beach watching and waving. Louise did the last few hundred yards butterfly. We commonly observe the butterfly behavior in Louise when she is trying to communicate: “I am happy!”

5.29 arriving early

We arrived before anyone else. This gave Cate ample time to pretend that she was the lifeguard.

After a few hours hanging out on the beach, Laura and I suited up and swam a 5K loop: from Grimaldo’s chair, to the Pier, back past Grimaldo’s chair to the white building, and then back to the chair. The current was doing strange things, as usual, and so the swim took us 2 full hours to complete. The two hours went by really fast. I think it was because of the company. It is such a different experience to swim with someone by your side. Laura and I have a bit of a rhythm down. I’m looking forward to the day that Louise and Laura and I can swim all together.

so many CIBBOWS 5.29

Such a beautiful day. So many CIBBOWS came out to swim.

That’s May. June brings surprisingly clear yet colder waters, and the construction of our very own floating feeding station. Stay tuned!

Just in case there is internet access on the other side: Happy Birthday Dad!!!


About Caitlin Rosen


2 thoughts on “May 2011: OPEN WATER SWIM season begins in New York!

  1. Caitlin! Look at your ever-expanding aquatic world. I love it. Thank you for sharing and for keeping your readership entertained, inspired, and yes, even a bit daunted. And I have a feeling your dad appreciates it all too. Happy birthday to him indeed, as your wonderful self wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him.

    Posted by Emily | June 7, 2011, 9:07 pm
  2. Caitlin, I just discovered your wonderful blog, and absolutely loved your description of swimming in cold water. I swim on Long Island in Cold Spring Harbor with a group called the “West Neck Pod” (we usually swim at West Neck Beach, hence the name!), and this year a small group of us have continued swimming into the winter, and have experienced much the same joy and exhilaration even as the water temperature continued to drop. We’ve come away from our swims feeling high as kites, a feeling that lasts all day! Maybe by next year we’ll have evolved to swimming without wetsuits — but in any case cold water swimming has opened up a whole new world to us! I also loved your description of the CIBBOWS community, which seems so like that of our Pod. We’ve talked for a long time about trying to do some joint or “exchange” swims with our brothers and sisters on that “other” Island — maybe 2012 will be the year for that! (I don’t know if you’ll even see this, since it’s a comment to a 2011 post…oh, well!)

    Posted by Carol L. Moore | February 5, 2012, 11:01 am

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About Me

Caitlin Rosen I learned to swim as a wee one from my dad, who didn't really swim himself, but was tall enough and encouraging enough to send me back and forth to the side of a pool. There were also the terrifyingly wonderful trips on his shoulders out into crashing ocean surf, which instilled in me a fear and respect for the rising and falling, tempestuous beast, on whom he repeatedly admonished us kids to never, ever turn our backs. Read more...

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