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Swimming With the Sharks

by Carilyn on March 7, 2012

Before I was a runner, I was a swimmer. It all began when I was five, and I decided I wanted to join the swim team at the Country Club.  The problem was that practice was at seven o’clock in the morning, and with three other kids at home, my mother was not interested in driving me the five miles to the pool every day.  But I was not to be denied.  I wanted to swim, and I wanted to swim on the team.  So, one afternoon while we were at the Club, I casually strolled around in my aquamarine two-piece bathing suit and asked every mother I knew if she would come pick me up at my house and bring me to swim practice “because my mommy is too busy.”  By the end of the afternoon, I had enough moms lined up to have my own personal carpool.  The next morning, when my first substitute mom showed up at our house at 6:45 am, my real mom hit the roof.  Lucky for me, though, she was a good sport, and also pretty plucky herself, and instead of punishing me, she acquiesced and took me to swim practice every day.

By the time I was eight, I was training 6 days a week, sometimes for up to 6 hours a day. Then I turned 15, and discovered cheerleading.  And more importantly, boys.  When my coach and I got in a big fight over my “lack of commitment” to swimming, I walked off the pool deck and didn’t swim again seriously for almost 30 years.

But after moving to California, I was lulled back to the water.  Every day, when I ran by the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center, home of the Los Angeles Olympic swimming events, I was drawn to the pool for a few moments.

Rose Bowl Aquatic Center

I loved watching the swimmers, their arms slicing through the water, moving up and down the 50 meter pool.  I loved the way the sun reflected off the water, making it feel like summer even when it was January.  I even loved the smell of chlorine, a smell I strongly associate with my childhood :).

And before I knew it, I had joined the aquatic center and was swimming several times a week.

Back to owning a bag full of swim gear

Diving into that pool on the first day actually made me cry.  Yes, I’d been swimming at my home pool back in Texas, so it wasn’t like I’d avoided the water entirely.  But there is something so different about being in a competitive pool.  I started to swim and immediately fell back into a rhythm that is almost more natural to me than breathing.  I had missed it so much, and I thought of all the crazy mistakes we make at 15.  And 20.  And 35.

After a few weeks, I was swimming 2 miles a day, and the wheels in my obsessive brain began to turn.  What could I do with this?  I am waaaaaaaaaaay scary on a bike, so triathlons are out.  Plus, I really don’t have time to run ultras AND swim AND cycle.  I know other people do it, but I’m not that organized.  Deep down, I knew what I wanted to do, what I had wanted to do my whole swimming career – swim the English Channel.  The problem: I am a big, fat chicken.

I kept swimming, thinking about the Channel Swim.  I decided to just do some research and see what I could find.  First, I found out there is a Catalina Channel Swim, comparable to the English Channel Swim, and part of the Channel Swim Trifecta.  Cool!  I live right by the Catalina Channel.

Catalina Channel Swim

Second, I found out there are a bunch of training groups, so I wouldn’t have to train alone. Cool!  I wouldn’t be swimming in the ocean by myself.

From Daily News of Open Water Swimming

Third, for an official Channel Swim, they drop you in the water at midnight to start your swim. Not cool!  I don’t want to be dropped in the ocean at midnight!  Are they crazy?  Now I would have to contend with sharks in the dark!  Say what?!


Decided: there was no way in hell I was swimming the Catalina Channel. Done.

But the idea of it, and the draw of the water, wouldn’t go away.  I kept researching, reading about people who’d done it, obsessing over details.  And all the while I kept swimming. Could I get strong enough while still running seriously?  Could I get a solid, certified crew together? Could I avoid getting eaten by a shark?

All these questions are still going through my brain as I swim.  I have written Catalina Channel Swim 2013 on my calendar.  It’s up there.  I hope I’m brave enough.  We’ll see.

Do you have any crazy dreams?

Happy Running! (and Swimming!)


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Kent March 7, 2012 at 11:42 am

This will possibly seem not so crazy to you, but I’m 57 and just started running for the first time (except gym class of course) about 1 1/2 years ago. For my whole life I have been in awe of anyone who could run a marathon – imagine where that puts people like yourself that run ultra’s! When I finished my first 5k I was hopelessly hooked and motivated to try and accomplish what I never ever dreamed possible – run a marathon. No offense meant to anyone, but I want to run the entire distance without walking: and I run slow!. To date I have “run” 2 half marathons and though the full marathon still seems like a daunting task, its from reading about runner’s like yourself that motivates me to not give up the dream!

Carilyn March 7, 2012 at 11:50 am

Thanks so much! And I am so inspired by people like you! I love when I read that someone is chasing a new dream! It is so motivatiing to me. Thanks for stopping by. Please keep me posted on your progress!

Luis March 7, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Carilyn, I have seen you swim and my guess is that you will give the sharks a run for their money! I don’t have any crazy dreams but I would love to do some of the things you have done. Best of luck to you!

Carilyn March 7, 2012 at 4:25 pm

You are too kind (and you’ve obviously never seen me on a bike!). I hope that I can muster up the courage to do this swim.

Anne March 7, 2012 at 5:08 pm

You really are into distance endurance races, aren’t you? I haven’t been able to conquer open water swimming. Too many gulpfuls of saltwater,krill and kelp – not my ideal way to get enough sodium, protein and vegetables. I like your blog … thanks for swinging by my place to say hi so I could find you!

Carilyn March 7, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Ha ha! Yes, I like anything that takes a long time – gives me a better chance to beat the youngsters 🙂 Loved your blog! Thanks for saying “hi”!

Theresa Fuentes March 7, 2012 at 10:33 pm

From a former chicken on the bike to someone who has now completed two Death Rides ( and the King of the Mountain series ( but admittedly crashed in spectacular fashion while doing L’Etape du California (, and is now trying a tri, I would love to teach you to ride! There are amaaaaaazing routes in your backyard!!!!!!
Theresa (Rob’s wife)
PS. Your blog tonight actually got Rob off his duff and out the door. He thanks you immensely.

Carilyn March 8, 2012 at 6:33 am

Wow, Theresa! You are a stud! I would love to ride with you! Thanks so much for the offer. I guess that means I have to buy a bike :).

Roger September 14, 2012 at 6:15 am

Not to worry Carilyn, you will be able to swim Catalina, your support team will give you what you need to do it. I am on my way to swim Catalina next week. After swimming The English Channel last August I managed to get an entry for The Manhattan Island Marathon Swim June 2012. I headed to Perth western Australia for The Perth to Rottnest Island Channel swim. A few months before the swim 3 people were killed by Great Whites in 3 months, 1 just off the start beach the other just off the finish at the Island and other attack was half a mile down from the start beach. Once in Perth I went for a small swim nearby the start beach. I swam about 50 meters out looked around & said I’m outta here ! But once with my support team a few days later the swim went well ! For Long distance ocean swims I make sure the I put together the Best possible team as they are not easy.
You Can Do It !

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