69km, 32 Hours and 52 Minutes. A Lotus Rises meets Marathon Swimmer and Winter Swimming Champion Jaimie Monahan

On August 26th and 27th, 2015, Jaimie Monahan from New York City, swam the 42.8 miles (69km) across Lake Geneva in 32 hours and 52 minutes. It was the 53rd longest solo swim in human history – and she is the first American to complete a solo crossing of the lake.

This is another chapter in an incredible swimming journey that has taken Jaimie across the globe from Antarctica to the Arctic Circle, from Argentina’s Perito Moreno Glacier to frozen lakes in Siberia and Vermont to the Sahara Desert and the towering mountains and crystal blue waters of Switzerland.  And that’s just in 2015.

Jaimie has also just become the overall female winner of the 2015-2016 International Winter Swimming World Cup.

Paradise Bay Antarctica Courtesy of Arik Thormahlen

Paradise Bay Antarctica Courtesy of Arik Thormahlen

What inspired you to undertake this swim?

In February of 2015 I got an email through the English Channel swimmers distribution list about a new organization, the Lake Geneva Swim Association (LGSA) (http://www.lakegenevaswimmingassociation.com/) that was starting to organize swims across Lake Geneva in Switzerland for the coming summer.  I’d been focusing on ice swimming and winter swimming for the past year and hadn’t done any long swims for a while.  Lake Geneva was much longer than any swim I’d ever done and less than six months away, but something about it just called to me.  I researched for a few minutes about the lake, the surrounding landmarks, and the water, and decided to go for it.

I registered my interest on the website and within a few minutes was in correspondence with Ben Barham, the founder of the Lake Geneva Swimming Association (LGSA).  He was great and we locked down a date that same day!  In general, I try to only pursue swims that are exciting or meaningful to me personally rather than try and check off swims on arbitrary lists.

Lake Geneva Photo Courtesy of Ben Barham LGSA

Jaimie in her element in Lake Geneva

How did you prepare physically and mentally? 

Physically I swam as much as I could, and did a lot of yoga.  For me, yoga helps a lot mentally too because it’s taught me to just show up to the mat (or the water) and breathe through whatever happens.  I also thought it was important to get a long freshwater swim under my belt a few months in advance, so I signed up for Extreme North Dakota Racing’s Watersports Endurance Test END-WET http://endracing.com/end-wet), a 36 mile swim down the Red River of the North.  I had never swum much in fresh water, so END-WET was a great learning experience for me, as well as a lot of fun with swimming friends and the amazing people of Great Forks, North Dakota.  Definitely a great community race!

How important are logistics and support crew? Were there any particular instructions you gave to them? What did you eat?

Logistics are a very big factor on a swim this long. We planned for up to 48 hours worth of feeds which is a LOT of bottled water and carbohydrate powder.  Watching us load a huge shopping trolley cart of groceries onto the boat the day prior must have been really funny for the people watching us from Geneva’s stylish waterfront cafes.

Support crew is so important, perhaps THE most important thing.  I had a small but dedicated and experienced personal crew of one, the amazing Arik Thormahlen, and a wonderful team organized by the LGSA of our pilots Gérard Schoch and Jacques Massard and observers Ben Barham and Tim Davies.

I fed every 30 minutes on warm carbohydrate drink, interspersed with black tea and even some flat Coca-Cola at the end for variety. I don’t eat solids during swims but the drinks provide warmth and enough calories to keep me going, even for a long time.

JMonahan Feed with Arik and Ben

Jaimie and her super support crew Arik Thormahlen and Ben Barham, Observer and LGSA Founder

 

How much sunscreen and vaseline did you have to apply etc?

I could go on for ages on the topic of sunscreen but for this swim I used La Roche-Posay Anthelios factor 60 as a base layer with a thick layer of Desitin Maximum Strength brand diaper/nappy cream. It’s messy and we come prepared with latex gloves for a neater application, but with 40% zinc oxide, it is the only thing that works for me. It also prevents chafing so no need for vaseline! It was very effective and stayed (mostly) on, even after almost 33 hours in the water. I still daydream about ways to reapply in the water for even better coverage but haven’t found a good method yet.

JMonahan Zinc

WICKED!

What goes on in your head on a 32 hour, 52 minute swim?

Everything and anything!  I have a really slow stroke count so I often try to keep faster paced songs in my head to increase my turnover.  I felt quite sick for most of the Lake Geneva swim so I spent a lot of time monitoring myself…making sure my feeds were absorbing, that the cold I was feeling wasn’t hypothermia, just discomfort, etc. For this swim the scenery was a great distraction for me, beautiful vineyards, stunning mountains, and the water itself was ridiculously lovely so I tried to focus on that too.

Do you have a mantra? What keeps you motivated?

I don’t have a mantra.  Sometimes I count to myself, but always lose track.  It’s kind of calming though.  In terms of motivation, I just swim to the next feed, or sunrise, or some other landmark.  For long swims I try not to even think about being done until the very end.  It’s always the last 10% of every swim that’s the hardest for me, because my mind switches from swimming and being in the moment to wanting to be done.

How do you recover from a swim that big?

It sounds a little funny but for me swimming at my typical pace for long solo swims is not very tough on my body – even after swimming for so long I was only sore for about 24 hours afterwards.  Slept in the next morning, had a nice social swim on the second day and went on a (leisurely!) hike with friends before heading back to NYC.

Perito Moreno Glacier Photo Courtesy of Mariia Yrjo-Koskinen

The Perito Moreno Glacier: Jaimie Monahan overall female winner of the 2015-16 International Winter Swimming World Cup

We know that you love cold water swimming.  What are your top tips? Please refer to fancy dress in your answer.

Good question!  For training, my best advice is to ramp up gradually.  Start swimming in the summer or autumn and then just keep swimming outdoors as the water gets colder.  Keep your breathing under control, relax, and as you’re going in, try counting to 100.  By then it usually feels okay.  Don’t push your limits, get used to how your body feels and reacts and be conservative with temperatures and length of swim until you are familiar with what “normal” and “not normal” feels like for you.  And never swim alone!

Specific to winter swimming events and competitions – my best advice is bring as many swim costumes as you can, more than you think you need.  Keeping on a wet swimsuit between events can take a toll over the course of a long day of events.  In a similar vein, always dry off and get dressed immediately after a cold swim. You may feel amazing and want to hang out in the cold air, but dry off, cover your head, and get dressed including warm comfortable footwear as soon as possible.

And yes, fancy dress wherever/whenever possible!  I highly recommend a sheep hat.

Tooting Bec UK Winter Swimming Champs- photo courtesy Tolga Akmen

Sheep hats – The millinery of winter swimming champions!

A Lotus Rises is a community of women who inspire and are inspired by a love of open water.

More inspirational stories, advice and adventures can be found on our Blog,  Facebook and Instagram and  Twitter – we’d love to hear from you at alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

Swimming Diplomacy 游泳外交 “Yóuyǒng wàijiāo”

Tomorrow I fly to China to Swim…

300m in Daming Lake, at sub 5 degree temperatures, with hundreds of other swimmers from China and across the globe, at the 5th International Winter Swimming Festival, in Jinan City, Shandong Province, North China.

I love how swimming adventures pop up as if from nowhere; yet somehow reveal a hidden logic that joins once disparate dots from across your life, together.

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Karaoke, Beijing 2008

 

China has been a part of my life for almost two decades. I first went to China in 1996 to teach English as part of my ‘Gap Year’. Since then, I have had the opportunity to study, live and work in the country on a number of occasions and have been fascinated by the countries economic and social development.

My last visit to China was in 2008, when I working as a lawyer in Beijing. It was amazing to be living in the city at the time of the Olympics.

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It was the performance of female British swimmers Keri-Anne Payne and Cassie Patten in the Open Water Swimming events at Beijing 2008 that helped start the growth of open water swimming in the UK.

In 2010 I swam my first mile and open water swimming is now my big passion in life.

Finishing my first 1 mile swim at Ullswater 2010

The human body is 90% water and 71% of the earth’s surface is covered in water. It’s what sustains us and connects individuals and communities across the globe; yet our never ending rush for advancement means the world is facing a fresh water crisis and our oceans are being decimated, etching the battle lines of the future on a fragile liquid landscape.

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River Crossing, Zhejiang Province 2003

It’s easy to get swept up in political and commercial agenda, and sometimes it feels we are at risk of forgetting that behind the brands, policies and rhetoric are people; each of us made of that same 90% water.

Now, more than ever it is time to remember that essence; our shared humanity.

Like many people, when I swim, I feel free. I am in my element and global and personal agenda falls away.

Sunset swim at The Jetty at Waternish

Freedom! Enjoying a Sunset Swim off the Jetty at Waternish, Isle of Skye (Photo Copyright Gill Williams)

It is a great honour to have been invited to swim in Jinan. I am really excited to return to China and rather than work or study, to be celebrating my passion for water with new Chinese friends and the wider international swimming community.

My favourite Chinese proverb is ‘芙蓉出水’ (fúróng chūshuǐ) meaning ‘Out of the Water a Lotus Rises’ The proverb is used to describe strong beautiful women in water, and also overcoming challenges and coming into bloom, and inspired the poem that I wrote for Amy Sharrock’s Swimmers’ Manifesto in Summer in summer 2014.

That meaning resonates with me deeply and inspired the creation of this blog, ‘A Lotus Rises’ which is part of an online community, dedicated to women who inspire and are inspired by a love of water.

The symbol of Jinan is a lotus, and they rise up out of the water of Daming Lake. I am really excited to bring together all these different elements of my life by participating in the festival.

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From Beijing I will travel to Jinan, then to Shanghai and Hong Kong and on to Sydney and Tasmania.

Tomorrow marks the start of a journey connecting friends, personal, social and intellectual passions, swimscapes, landscapes, communities, and family history… and I am sure many more things I cannot anticipate; all the way to Tasmania…

‘芙蓉出水‘(fúróng chūshuǐ) ‘Out of the Water a Lotus Rises’.

Henley Bridge to Bridge

UK swimming – the Henley Bridge to Bridge  2015- TEAM!

A Lotus Rises is dedicated to women who love open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and marathon swimming.

Many more inspirational stories, advice and adventures can be found on our Blog, and Facebook page and please don’t hesitate to get in touch via Twitter or  alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!