Origin Stories

Origin Stories

Many open-water swimmers seem to have origin stories. A moment of revelation when one identifies – in a powerful and lasting way – with the experience of being in open water. In reality it’s usually more of a process than a single moment, but often there’s a particular event that seems to crystallize that process and lend it symbolic meaning (perhaps only retrospectively).

Lynne CoxOne of the great legends of open water swimming, Lynne Cox, turned her own origin story into an award-winning book. Cox’s story, too, was a process – but she also describes a moment from which the rest of the moments in her incredible career seem to flow. In 1971, she entered the Seal Beach Rough Water Swim and, as a 14-year old, won the women’s race and beat all but two of the men. Only a middling talent in the pool, Cox was encouraged by her coach, Don Gambril, to try open water.

Cox’s description of the race start sounds almost surreal, but I think many who’ve caught the open water bug will know exactly what she means:

The water was cold, salty, buoyant, smooth, and the deepest blue.



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Review: Oregon Scientific Swim Watch

Review: Oregon Scientific Swim Watch

Last summer I bought a swim watch. In preparing for a 10-mile river swim, I started adding occasional aerobic steady-state swims to my usual interval-heavy diet. I needed something to keep track of how far I swam while I zoned out and listened to music on my SwimP3.

Back then there were two swim watches on the market – Swimovate’s Poolmate, and the Oregon Scientific swim watch. I don’t remember why I chose the Oregon Scientific – they were both priced at $99.99 – but that’s what I did.

I ended up not using the watch much, for a few reasons:

  • The holes in the strap are too far apart. My wrist is right between two sizes, so it’s either too tight or too loose, and thus uncomfortable to wear.
  • The watch is a bit bulky and I didn’t like the feeling of increasing my drag in the water (especially just on one arm).
  • The open water season ended in October, so I stopped doing long steady-state swims.


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Do you need a swim watch when you have a pace clock?

Do you need a swim watch when you have a pace clock?

If you like gadgets and/or swim toys you may have found yourself, at some point over the past couple of months, drooling over the FINIS Swimsense Performance Monitor. And after playing with one for a few weeks now, I’ll admit, it’s pretty cool.

Before you fork over $200, though, consider the question: What does the Swimsense – and swim watches in general (e.g., the Swimovate Poolmate and Oregon Scientific’s watch) – offer that a simple pace clock doesn’t?…

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On triple crowns, and varieties thereof

On triple crowns, and varieties thereof

The three traditionally recognized jewels in the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming are the English Channel, the Catalina Channel, and the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim.

These aren’t necessarily the most challenging marathon swims in the world (though they are certainly challenging), but they’re arguably the most famous and iconic.

One might argue this traditional definition unfairly favors North Americans – and penalizes our friends in the Southern Hemisphere. A more “hemispherically balanced” Triple Crown would likely include the Cook Strait between the north and south islands of New Zealand.

But why settle for just one Triple Crown? Leave it to Steven Munatones to produce an almost comically long list of alternative triple crowns, depending on one’s geographic perspective. As it turns out, the trifecta I’ll be attempting this year (Tampa Bay, Manhattan Island, Catalina) is one of them – the “American Triple Crown.”

So now you know.…

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On training logs, and a 2010 retrospective

On training logs, and a 2010 retrospective

Among swimmers, runners, cyclists, weightlifters – really, any athlete in a quantifiable sport – it’s common practice to keep a training log. In high school and college, I kept a log only sporadically – and I really regret it now. I’d love to look back on some of the sets I did in those days.

Since I got back into swimming a year and a half ago, I’ve been much more conscientious about keeping a log, and I think it’s really helped – motivating me to get to practice, and helping me gauge progress. I split my training log between two documents: a text file where I write what I did in each workout (sets, intervals, times, etc.), and a spreadsheet where I log the total distance I swim each day. In two adjacent columns of the spreadsheet, I also keep a 7-day running total (how much I’ve swum in the past week), and an average of the previous four 7-day totals (i.e., 4-week moving average).

I like the 7-day running total for its straightforwardness – “What have I done in the past week?” But I think the 4-week average is actually a better indicator of my fitness level at any given point.…

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Short Course: The bad news

Short Course: The bad news

I recently noted an unforeseen benefit of doing long swims in a short-course pool: It’s easy to monitor your stroke count without counting!

That’s the good news.

The bad news?

Swimming for a long time without stopping in a short-course pool can increase the risk of tossing your cookies.

I assume this has something to do with flip turns, and I also assume it depends on what you’ve eaten recently. I didn’t have a problem in the One Hour Postal last year, but I occasionally do get nauseated during these swims.

It goes with the territory. Just ask Dave Barra, who did a memorably gruesome 30,000 SCY workout at about this same time last year.…

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Rob D. for president!

Rob D. for president!

Or… best swim blogger!

Friend-of-the-blog Rob D., of Rob Aquatics fame, has been rightfully nominated for the About.com Readers’ Choice Awards, in the “Best Swim Blog” category.

This one shouldn’t even be a contest, folks. But go vote for him anyway – he deserves it. He makes a compelling case here, but I’ll add to it: Rob is one-of-a-kind. A true original, and a charismatic ambassador for the sport. He’s got an outsized personality (and beard), yet remains incredibly good-natured and humble.

I’m honored to call him my friend.

Now go vote!…

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The joys of short course

The joys of short course

As I alluded to a couple weeks ago, I won’t have access to long-course water until mid-April. And Lake Michigan won’t be swimmable until probably late May (maybe a bit earlier with a wetsuit). Which means my ramp-up into Tampa will take place exclusively in short-course pools. Yuck.

At least once a week (see last Wednesday’s workout, for example), I try to do some long, aerobic steady-state swimming. 15 or 20 minutes at a time, to mimic my feeding schedule – or, as I build up, a series of such swims.

In doing these long swims, I’ve observed a couple things about short course that, in all my years of swimming, I had never noticed. There’s good news and bad. We’ll start with the good:

In a short-course pool, it’s much easier to monitor stroke count, and therefore swimming efficiency. The reason is, at any given pace my stroke count generally has a range of only 1. (N.B. I define “strokes” as the number of hand entries, counting both arms.)

For me, at a typical workout pace (say, 75% effort) my stroke count is usually 14.…

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A good week

A good week

I’ll confess, I’m a little behind where I was hoping to be at this point in the season.

Life served up a couple unexpected roadblocks last month, at a time when I’d planned to ramp up for Tampa Bay. First, we lost our car to a snowy grave off the side of the I-45 in Wisconsin (my wife was unhurt, thankfully). Although neither of us use a car for commuting purposes, it was my primary mode of transportation to UIC, where my Masters group works out.

Suddenly, a 30 minute round-trip in the car was a 80-90 minute round-trip on the bus. I don’t always have an extra hour in my day for getting to/from swimming. “Doubles” are almost out of the question.

Then, I managed to tweak my shoulder – and injury incurred while attempting to retrieve my phone from the train tracks after it had fallen out of my pocket and off the platform. Why did it fall out of my pocket? You guessed it – because I was running to catch the train to go to swim practice.…

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Finding love (and lap pools) in NYC

Finding love (and lap pools) in NYC

NOTE TO VISITORS WHO CAME HERE LOOKING FOR LAP POOLS IN NEW YORK CITY:

Hannah’s blog, 40 Pools, is the most comprehensive resource available.


(Actually, this post is just about lap pools. As for love – sorry, you’re on your own.)

New York City’s a great town and all, but not exactly a mecca for lap swimming. I would assume, in a city where space is at such a premium, it’s tough to make the economics of a lap pool work. As a result, almost any pool of regulation length is either behind the walls of expensive and/or exclusive athletic clubs, $1000/night hotels, or, if public and reasonably priced, then extremely crowded.

I learned this the hard way when I arrived in town the day before the Little Red Lighthouse Swim last fall and tried to find a place to swim a few laps. Pools are scarce, but so is information.

(For what it’s worth, the Metro LMSC has a decent list of USMS teams here, and Swimmer’s Guide hosts an occasionally-reliable database of lap pools here.…

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