Latest swimming adventures

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Read more about my channel swim and training on my blog.


A series of articles that I wrote for the New England Masters Swimming newsletter

Marathon Swimming is a Team Sport

Maybe You Should Have Your Head Examined: Lessons From Cold Water Swimming


photo of Lake George

photo of Lake George

Training swim in Lake George, NY, June 2008

Lake George 41K Marathon Swim, June 2007


Boston Light Swim 2005

Dori Miller swimming in Boston Harbor

Photo © John Werner

I have lived in Boston for seven years, but I always forget about the Boston Harbor. I know that there’s a harbor, but it’s not the body of water that I think of. I think about the Charles River, the pool at BU and Walden Pond. On Saturday, August 6th, I participated in the Boston Light Swim and discovered a whole new world.

The Boston Light Swim, a local tradition since 1908, is the oldest marathon swim race in America. The race starts at the Harbor Lighthouse on Little Brewster Island, continues on past Georges Island and Rainsford Island, under the Long Island Bridge, around Thompson Island, and finishes at the L Street Bathhouse in South Boston.

We learned about the history of the race from race director John Werner and veteran BLS swimmer Fred Knight at the pre-race dinner held the night before. The swimmers who participated in this year’s swim represented three countries and five states. Everyone told their story about the places they had swum around the world and why they were swimming the Boston Light.

At 6 am, the swimmers and their support crews arrived at the Boston Yacht Club to board their boats and ride to the Boston Light on Little Brewster Island. My friends Jen, Dave and Dave were acting as my support crew. Bill, from my running club volunteered his boat to assist my swim.

On the boat ride out to the start, I watched the shore disappear and noted the landmarks on the islands that I should look for on the swim back. We were helping another swimmer; Kate and her crew tow their small boat to the start. It bounced around erratically in our wake. Below deck I checked my fuel supplies, adjusted my goggles (more than once), and applied a little Vaseline under the shoulder straps of my suit.

We arrived at Little Brewster Island to find that the other swimmers had already started. Bill turned off the motor and Kate and I jumped in. I didn’t have much time to think about the cold water before jumping in and that was probably a good thing. After 20 strokes or so, I was able to swim with my face in the water.

I headed in the direction of the other swimmers and the small fleet of boats. After launching the small boat, my support boat caught up to me. The first half hour passed by quickly. A few of my toes were numb. I vaguely wondered to myself, “Why am I doing this again?”

After 45 minutes, I was still cold. My arms were getting stiff and I was feeling cold from the inside. I was a little worried about being able to stay warm enough. I stopped to get some hot apple juice. The plan was for my crew to throw me a water bottle that was tied to a rope so they could pull it back into the boat. At least that was the plan. I watched as the water bottle flew threw the air and untied from the rope in midair. This made me laugh and took my mind off the cold water.

Once I was just past Georges Island, I could see the Long Island Bridge two miles ahead. The water was starting to feel warmer, but my toes were still numb. I could also see two other boats ahead of me to my left. Everything seemed to click into place and I picked up my pace. The waves were minimal and the current was good so I didn’t have to fight the water to keep on course.

My friends asked me later what I thought about while swimming. I remember focusing on my stroke and breathing, two breaths to the left, two to the right. I watched my friends on the boat. They watched me back. Jen was sitting on the front of the boat enjoying the ride. The water was an emerald green color and clear enough to see my hands in front of me. The water was free of seaweed and liter. I tried not to think about what might be below me.

I passed the other two swimmers ahead of me and made it to the Long Island Bridge in an hour and 40 minutes. I thought that this was the halfway point, but it is actually at little further. Once I was past the bridge, I stopped again for some more apple juice and a Gu. The Gu was duck taped to the water bottle and I stuck the empty package in my suit when I was done. I took some photos with my waterproof camera.

Once past Long Island, the Boston skyline came into view. It felt like I was getting closer to home. I could see the planes flying into Logan. The current the next two miles between Thompson and Spectacle Islands was a little choppy. I watched the visitor center on Spectacle Island pass, and the next time I looked up it seemed like I was passing it again. I asked my crew if I was going anywhere because it felt like I wasn’t.

As I rounded Thompson Island South Boston came into view. I had no problem spotting the white walls of the squash courts at the L Street Bathhouse. It seemed to glow in the distance. I could hear the race director cheering from his boat. Half way to the shore, I passed directly under the Logan flight pattern. I looked straight up and watched a few planes pass overhead. My arms were starting to get a little tired.

As I got closer, I asked my crew where the finish was. They pointed to a guy in a blue t-shirt waving on the beach. I headed straight for him while my boat circled and anchored off shore. I could feel the current pulling me towards shore and it felt like I was riding the waves. After a while I realized that there was something different about the water; I was looking at something—the bottom. When I stood up on the beach I was greeted by a few supporters. I finished in 3 hours and 4 minutes, much faster than I had anticipated.

It wasn’t long before the rest of the swimmers arrived on shore. Everyone looked happy and proud to have completed the distance. We all posed for the official finishers photo.

I could not have done the swim without the help and support of my friends, especially Bill and his boat. John Werner and Fred Knight have been instrumental in keeping this great tradition alive.

I now have a map of the Boston Harbor Islands on my desk. I like to study it and think about other swims. I will swim the Boston Light again, but a year seems too long to wait.

For more information on the Boston Light Swim, go to: