Eliza Cummings Prepares for Epic Marathon Swim: Plymouth to Provincetown, Massachusetts

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Photo Courtesy: Eliza Cummings

By Abby Bergman, Swimming World College Intern

Colorado open water swimmer and Smith College team captain Eliza Cummings is preparing to become the 8th person to swim nonstop and unassisted from Plymouth, Massachusetts to Provincetown, Massachusetts, across Cape Cod Bay. The Denver native and Smith College rising senior is a relative newcomer to marathon swimming and has been training all summer to complete the crossing.

Swimming unassisted means that she will be swimming entirely without supportive contact with the boat, kayak, or any other people. For example she will not hang on the kayak to rest or wear a wetsuit. Swimming nonstop means that once the swim starts, she will not be getting out of the water until the finish

The crossing is approximately 20 miles in a straight line and Cummings hopes to complete it within 10 to 15 hours on Sunday, August 7. Known as the P2P swim, the 20-mile crossing was originally developed as an American answer to the English Channel, but never received much attention. The swim was first completed in 1968 by Russell Chaffee in 14 hours and 40 minutes. Six other people have successfully completed the crossing between 2012 and 2014.

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Cummings trains in Southern California. Photo Courtesy: Eliza Cummings

Cummings took time out of her busy training schedule to answer some questions…

Swimming World: Why did you pick the P2P swim?

Cummings: I picked the P2P because I wanted to do a marathon swim that was a comparable sort of distance to one of the Triple Crown swims but wasn’t as much money. I was looking primarily at the east coast for possible swims and David Barra actually was the one who recommended the P2P to me. It was the right distance and the kind of challenge that I wanted to undertake. Only seven people have successfully completed the swim, so I was also drawn to the P2P because so few people have done it and I hope to help make it a marathon swim that more people do in the future!

SW: How have you been preparing for the crossing?

Cummings: I have been following a training plan that my college coach Kim Bierwert designed to train swimmers for the English Channel. I have been completing five to seven pool workouts per week ranging between 6000-8000 yards along with multiple open-water training swims and a dry-land strength program 3 times per week. I swim roughly 25-33 miles per week. I have done various open-water training swims, ranging from three to six hours per swim, and competed in a handful of open-water races.

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Cummings displays her prize after winning a Colorado race. Photo Courtesy: Eliza Cummings

SW: What are you most excited for?

Cummings: I am most excited to see the fruits of my labor! My open-water swimming mentor, Paige Christie, has told me that the training is where you earn your swim, so I am excited to actually get to stand on the beach in Plymouth, looking out on the horizon towards Provincetown knowing that I have done everything I needed to do to be ready to take on my crossing.

SW: What are you most nervous about?

Cummings: One issue for swimmers with the Cape Cod Bay can be the marine life. There are quite a few great white sharks that are in the Bay and there have been recent sightings near my start and end points. I know the chance of seeing a shark let alone having an encounter with one is very, very rare, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous. I need to trust my support crew who are in charge of keeping me safe while I focus on my job: swimming.

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Cummings warms up before a race. Photo Courtesy: Eliza Cummings

SW: What do you like best about marathon swimming?

Cummings: I love the mental challenge that marathon swimming presents and I love the people! You have to have serious mental fortitude and tenacity to take on these swims, the mental component makes the challenge exciting for me. The people are also so great, I have met such incredible human beings through open-water swimming this summer who have made the training and journey to my swim worth it already.

SW: How is open-water swimming different from pool swimming?

Cummings: There is never the question of: will I finish, in pool swimming. In open-water swimming there isn’t always the guarantee of a finish. I think another key difference is the need for adaptability and problem solving in open-water swimming. Pool swimming is a controlled and consistent environment, open water can present many sudden challenges: aquatic life, currents, weather conditions and more. Another difference between the two is precision. In a pool race all the little details; your start, each stroke, each turn can change your time and the results drastically. Open-water swimming is less about the perfection of small parts and much more about long-term, consistent endurance.

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Crossing the finish line. Photo Courtesy:Eliza Cummings

SW: How and when did you start swimming?

Cummings: I came to swimming later in my life than most college swimmers usually do. I’ve played sports since I was 4 years old though and was on at least one team per season (softball, volleyball, basketball, soccer). I played competitive club soccer from ages 9-16 and it was my main sport. I joined my public high school’s swim team as a freshman partly because I was becoming burnt out with club soccer. My high school team was a really supportive great environment, many of the girls who joined didn’t actually know how to swim so our practices were half teaching swim lessons and half swimming. I was by no means a great swimmer but I could basically do all the strokes so I swam everything and anything that my coach needed– 200 IM, 500 free, especially. Swimming in college was a huge step up in terms of the level of competition. I wouldn’t be close to the swimmer I am now had my college coach not seen potential in me despite my lack of technique and speed at the time.

SW: What do you eat while you swim?

Cummings: During my swim I will be stopping to tread water every 30 minutes for feeds. Seventy five percent of my feeds will be 10 ounces of water and yellow gatorade mixed with a scoop of CarboPro, a flavorless powder that packs in 125 calories per scoop. The remaining 25 percent of my feeds will be squeezable packages of peach apple sauce along with other squeezable smoothie type things, that I think technically could qualify as baby food, but taste delicious and help mix it up from the CarboPro!

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Before a training swim. Photo Courtesy: Eliza Cummings

Visit Eliza Cumming’s blog here.

The live track of Cumming’s P2P swim on Sunday, August 7 will be available here.

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