My inspiration: Jen Schumacher

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For every crazy endeavor you do, there is always a catalyst behind it.  Something you experience that makes your previously barred brain think: “maybe”.  For me, it was a video.  This summer Mauricio sent me a link of a group of 4 people who had just swam the Strait of Gibraltar with a note saying- “so can you!”  And, it clicked.  I began to think that this was actually not an insane idea that I abhorred, but a good one.  And I sent it to my friends saying the same thing.

The cool thing about today’s world is that you can find your inspirers and actually interact with them.  In this case, I found the lone woman in the video, Jen Schumacher, googled her e-mail and asked her some questions.  She generously replied.  I thought for some unknown reason she was an Australian, but come to find out she is an American and she’s a totally hard core OW swimmer who is considering completing the Ocean’s Seven.  Wow.  Here’s our interaction- we found it enormously helpful for our training.

Susan: Tell us about your preparation for Gibraltar. I’d like to know a little background on the team and on deciding to do it.  Had you all swam together alot? How many kilometers were you swimming a week?

Jen: The Strait of Gibraltar was a swim that was high on my radar, mostly because it seemed to cool to swim from one continent to another. My good friend Darren Miller knew I was interested, and he was as well, so we began talking about doing the swim together, since we are similar speeds. We soon decided if we were going to go tandem, why not expand to four swimmers, and soon reached out to friends within the marathon swimming community, Jamie Patrick and Oliver Wilkinson. A few of us had swam together before, but not all four at once until we arrived in Spain. However, we knew based on similar pool times and levels of experience with prior marathon swims that we would be able to find a common pace. Leading up to Gibraltar, I continued my training plan for the English Channel, which I unsuccessfully attempted in early July. This consisted of 2 ocean swims in Southern California (55-62F leading up to our May attempt), 6-7 pool swims, and 2 gym workouts per week with a weekly yardage averaging 50km per week.

Susan: What were you thinking during the swim?  Did you feel cold? Where was your mind?  Did you notice any sea creatures/ big ships?

Jen: I spent most of the swim thinking about my pace and trying to keep a consistent position within the group. We swam mostly side-by-side, and I’m a slow starter, so the first hour was spent trying to stay up with the guys! Once I settled into the pace I felt much more relaxed and stayed focused on my stroke and position. We went early in the season so the water temperature was in the 58-60F range. That felt pretty comfortable to me. While we were swimming we saw several large tankers, one of which was extremely close. It was hard not to keep looking at it and appreciate the size. The clarity of the water was exceptional, although all we saw were jellyfish at the start.

Susan: What was the lowest moment of the swim/ and the highest moment? How did you feel once you crossed?

Jen: The lowest moment was the very start, when the pace was slightly out of my comfort zone and I’m always a bundle of nerves anyways. I worried I would be unable to settle down and find a rhythm, and did not want to be the reason our group’s pace slowed, knowing that could make the guys too cold. The highest moment was the second feed, 90 minutes in. Everyone had settled and the four of us plus our two handlers, Michelle and Kim, were smiling and having a good time. We were in between continents in one of the busiest shipping lanes amongst one of the most biodiverse areas – it doesn’t get much better than that! Once we got on that rock at the end I felt so happy to have made it, and so grateful to have shared the experience with a great group of friends.

Susan: What advice do you have for our team who’s never done a swim like this? (our most is an 11K)

Jen: My advice would be to leave nothing behind in training. Train in colder waters than you’ll expect for the time frame of your crossing, train in rough water, train with very short feeds, and train up to 80-100% of the duration you’ll be swimming. Depending on your experience and speed, you will likely want to spend a significant amount of training time together, something our group could have improved on. While you’re doing the crossing, make sure to take in the beautiful environment and enjoy the swim with those you care about!

Thanks Jen- you’ve helped our thinking enormously! And best of luck to you in your future swims!  xo

Here is THE VIDEO!


Categories: Gibraltar, Interviews

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2 replies

  1. Thanks for this great post, Susan. Watching that video makes me want to do Gibraltar again, what a beautiful swim! I had the pleasure of showing Jen some of my home territory during the Cork Distance Week last year, she has what it takes to complete her Oceans Seven challenge… Good luck, Jen!


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