Surf from Above

Surf from Above

I recently came across some stunning photo slideshows at Surfline – aerial shots of the Southern California coast. (They require you to watch a short ad before viewing the slideshow – sorry about that.)

Riptide near La Jolla

The photos are geared towards surfers, but there’s great stuff for swimmers as well. Or for anyone – I can’t imagine who wouldn’t be awed by the power and beauty of the ocean and this magnificent stretch of coast.

My Dad surfed some of those same breaks (in Ventura County) on his longboard in the ’60s. I, on the other hand, never spent much time in the ocean as a kid – despite growing up in Santa Barbara. And I never learned to surf properly. Guess I was too busy in the pool?

In several of these photos Catalina Island is clearly visible on the horizon. Shortly after midnight this August 25th I’ll set off from that distant shore – and attempt to make up for lost time.…

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Review: FINIS Swimsense Performance Monitor

Review: FINIS Swimsense Performance Monitor

Note: I wrote a follow-up review of the Swimsense in May 2013.

The FINIS Swimsense Performance Monitor is a watch that, through various marvels of technology, monitors your pace, lap count, and stroke count as you swim.

I still maintain that for interval training, nothing beats a pace clock. Doc Counsilman’s ’50s-era invention will never go out of style. For long steady-state training, though, a watch that monitors laps, strokes, and pace might be nice. Personally, I can’t keep a good count after about 40-50 (more if the pace clock is large and digital).

In my case, it’s no idle question: I’m doing some long swims this year, and steady-state training is a regular part of the training diet.

But with niche products like this, one inevitably asks: Does it work? Counting laps and strokes is one thing – but does it count the correct number of them? This review is on the long-ish side, so for those short on time, here are the major bullet points:…

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Wet Drylands

Wet Drylands

You don’t need a gym to get a great dryland workout. I’d venture to say that you don’t need more than a medicine ball and a pair of stretch cords.

In some cases, you don’t even need dry land! One of the most effective core exercises I’ve ever done involves taking the medicine ball with you into the pool (preferably not one of those old school leather med balls, though). Push off the wall on your back while holding the ball above your upper chest with both hands, and dolphin kick to the other end of the pool. Try to feel how your core initiates and powers the dolphin kicking motion, all the way through to your feet.

I typically do a set of 50’s, alternating 50 med-ball dolphining / 50 fast fly or back, working the SDK’s. I use a 4-6 pound medicine ball, but you can make it easier or harder by using a lighter/heavier ball or by holding the ball closer/further from your chest.…

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Don’t underestimate Tampa

Don’t underestimate Tampa

Some people do the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim as a “warm-up” for one of the triple crown swims. And it makes sense: Tampa is early in the season, 8 weeks before MIMS and more than 3 months before high season for channel crossings.

But thinking of Tampa as a “warm-up” might tempt a person to take it less seriously – and that would be a big mistake. TBMS is one of only four annual organized ultra-marathon (25K or longer) swim races in the U.S. (along with MIMS, Ederle, and Swim Across the Sound), and it may be the toughest. While water temperature is not usually a factor, pretty much everything else is. Glancing through the archives, tide changes and rough seas seem to be the two big ones.

Swimmers typically start with the flood tide, which pushes them up Tampa Bay — for a while. If you don’t swim far enough over the next few hours, though, the tide reverses direction and starts to push you back towards St. Petersburg – making it effectively impossible to finish.

Tampa Bay is also quite large, so conditions can mimic those in the open ocean. …

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Adventures in video analysis

Adventures in video analysis

A coach recently alerted me to a couple non-canonical things I’m doing with my freestyle technique. Of course, I had no clue I was doing these things. It occurred to me that it’s been years since I’d seen my stroke on video (my brief appearance in the Swim the Suck documentary excepted). Actually, probably about 15 years – at least as far back as high school. What else am I doing that I’m unaware of?

Having multiple underwater cameras positioned at different angles is ideal, but can be expensive to set up. On the theory that something is better than nothing, I bought a small tripod to mount and secure my trusty Canon PowerShot, which shoots HD video. Then, it was just a matter of propping it up at the end of my lane and pressing the shutter button.

I was mostly interested in looking at my freestyle (unlike some, I have no plans to swim around Manhattan doing butterfly). As long as I had the camera set up, though, I figured I’d check out my other strokes. Accordingly, I did a set of {100 free, 200 IM, 100 free, 200 IM, 100 free}.…

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An Open Water Swimming Pace Table

An Open Water Swimming Pace Table

When you book a channel crossing, most experienced pilots will want to know how fast of a swimmer you are. Can you repeat 20-minute miles, 25-minute miles, or 30-minute miles? A pilot will often want to start a faster swimmer at a different time of day (and in some cases, a different location) than a slower swimmer.

But what if you train mostly in a pool? Do you give the pilot your best 1,650 time?

The problem with trying to estimate speed in the open water from pool times is…well, lots of things. But one of the big ones is turns. If you gain 1 second every time you push of the wall in the pool, that’s 2 seconds per 100 long-course and 4 seconds per 100 short-course, compared to the equivalent distance in open water.

So, if you use a straight conversion of distance-to-distance, you’ll probably over-estimate your open water speed (unless you have really slow turns). Here, then, is an open water pace table that factors in time gained from turns. It assumes 1 second gained per wall – some people gain more and some people gain less, but I think it’s a reasonable approximation.…

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Pre-Tampa training swim

Pre-Tampa training swim

Last weekend I did a rather epic pool workout (as you know if you follow my Twitter feed). An unexpected excuse came up for a quick trip to Santa Barbara, and given my current lack of long course or open water options in Chicago, I decided to use the opportunity for a pre-Tampa training swim. The Rec Center at UCSB has a beautiful outdoor 50m x 25y pool that – conveniently – is open for LCM lap swimming from 9am to 8:30pm on the weekends.

Despite a chilly morning, it turned into a gorgeous day. With cloudless skies, a light breeze, and mid-day highs in the 60s, I actually worried about getting sunburned. When the front door opened at 9am I went straight to the pool to claim my lane – second from the bottom of the picture, with the best viewing angle to the pace clock. Incredibly, nobody joined me in that lane until the last 15 minutes of the swim.

In designing the workout, I aimed for something that would challenge me in terms of distance, time, and pace, but without boring me to death.…

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