Race Report: Tampa Bay Marathon Swim

Race Report: Tampa Bay Marathon Swim

Part 1: The Team

Without a team, a 24-mile swim doesn’t happen. Simple as that. And the swim’s success – it’s efficiency – depends on the quality of the team. Long swims are isolating experiences: A swimmer and his thoughts. But there’s an irony: The longer the swim, the more you utterly depend on your support team.

So any discussion of my experience in Tampa Bay must begin with my team.

The Team (L-R): Kathy, Carl, Pat, Michael, Kim… Frankland Bridge in the distance. (Photo Credit: Distance Matters)

It’s tough to overstate how fortunate I was.…

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On “ultra”

On “ultra”

NOTE: I wrote this as preface to my Tampa report, but it got a bit long so I decided to put it in a separate post. It’s not really specific to Tampa, anyway.


What’s a marathon swim? Without any historical reference point (as for marathon runs), there are various definitions. The official FINA and (as of 2008) Olympic distance is 10K – which has the virtue of similar finish times as marathon runs. Penny Lee Dean sets the bar at 16 miles. Ted Erikson says 10 miles. Steven Munatones, as usual, wrote a nice overview of the issue.

I’m not really interested in debating what is or isn’t a marathon swim, though I do think:

  • It must be in open water.
  • It should be nearly impossible (or at least very difficult) to finish without refueling mid-swim.
  • It should be very difficult to accomplish without support.

So, I’m fine with calling 10K a “marathon swim.” What about 24 miles, though? Typically, that’s described as an “ultra marathon swim.” My reason for discussing semantics here is, there’s something about a swim of that distance that’s not captured by merely adding the word “ultra.” A 24-mile swim is qualitatively (not just quantitatively) different than a 10K.…

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Tampa, in brief

Tampa, in brief

I thought I should get something out now (however brief), with a more comprehensive report to follow. Yesterday was an experience that… will take a couple of days to process.

I fulfilled my goal of finishing the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim. The time (8:59) and place (1) were nice, but finishing was the hard part.

A few stats (some actual, some approximate):

  • water temp: 80F
  • air temp: 70F (low) to 88F (high)
  • wind speed: 15 mph (morning) to calm-ish (afternoon)
  • calories consumed: 2,800
  • calories burned: 5,000+
  • fluids consumed: 320 oz (9.5 liters)
  • strokes taken: 33,500 (a few on my back, for various reasons)
  • pace per mile: 22:27

Here are the data from the GPS transponder on my escort boat (ignore the blue line):

Credit my boat pilot for that incredibly true line. More on him later.

If you’re wondering about the detours at the bridges, that’s because certain portions of those bridges are too low for the boat to pass under. Specifically, the parts crossing over the shortest path to the finish. So the boat went around to find higher clearance, while my kayaker and I went under.…

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On motivation

On motivation

A friend asks:

How to stay motivated for races/events in the distant future. I’m going through a low motivation point now. Don’t really want to swim on my own, don’t want to watch what I eat, looking for excuses to pull out of [upcoming race].

The answer to this question could fill a dissertation… but here are some thoughts:

I’ll start with something obvious: If your goals or target races are too distant, set intermediate goals. If you don’t have time and/or money to travel to races, attend all the races in your area. If there are no races in your area, sign up for one or two “destination” races and supplement with local pool meets. Set a goal time for your 500 Free. If pool meets aren’t an option, do a 500 Free time trial in practice once a month. The important thing is to have something – anything – you’re aiming to achieve in the near-term.

An aside on goals: Goals can be both positive (“I want to do X”) and negative (“I want to avoid failure”). …

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The fastest swims around Manhattan (Part 2)

The fastest swims around Manhattan (Part 2)

Part 1.

Shelley Taylor-Smith recorded the fastest swim around Manhattan (5:45:25) in 1995, but it was a special “record attempt” swim scheduled on an unusually fast tide. What are the fastest swims in the regular Manhattan Island Marathon Swim race, which is typically held on a slower tide? Over the 29 years of the modern MIMS, the 10 fastest swims are as follows:

  1. Tobie Smith, 1999, 6:32:41
  2. Tammy van Wisse, 1999, 6:51:31
  3. Rob Copeland, 1999, 6:52:49
  4. Susie Maroney, 1990, 7:00:27
  5. Matthew Nance, 1990, 7:04:53
  6. Jim Barber, 1991, 7:06:34
  7. Kris Rutford, 1991, 7:06:44
  8. Matthew Wood, 1990, 7:07:32
  9. Susie Maroney, 1994, 7:08:10
  10. Igor de Souza, 1991, 7:08:20

Interestingly, 9 of the 10 fastest times happened in just 3 years – 1990, 1991, and 1999. The 3 fastest times were all in one year – 1999. Perhaps these years were “stacked” with outstanding swimmers. Another possibility is that these years saw especially favorable conditions (faster currents, smoother water, warmer water, etc.).

One simple method of estimating the effect of conditions is to find the median time in each annual race – and compare each individual to the median of that year.…

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Swimming vs. Tide Surfing around Manhattan (Part 1)

Swimming vs. Tide Surfing around Manhattan (Part 1)

It’s well known that Shelley Taylor-Smith holds the record for the fastest swim around Manhattan: 5 hours, 45 minutes, 25 seconds.

What’s not quite as well known is that she achieved this feat on a special “fast tide” – a convergence of maritime conditions in the East, Harlem, and Hudson Rivers that occurs only once or twice a year, if at all.

With the founding of the modern Manhattan Island Marathon Swim race in 1982, and more sophisticated understanding of tide cycles, a string of specially planned solo “record attempt” swims were undertaken in the ’80s and ’90s, all on fast tides. After Diana Nyad‘s 1975 swim in 7 hours, 57 minutes, the record was lowered six times by four different people over the next 20 years:

  • 7:14 – Drury Gallagher in 1982
  • 6:48 – Paul Asmuth in 1983
  • 6:41 – Drury Gallagher in 1983
  • 6:12 – Shelley Taylor-Smith in 1985
  • 5:54 – Kris Rutford in 1992
  • 5:45:25 – Shelley Taylor-Smith in 1995

Her record has stood ever since, despite an assault last year by world-class marathon swimmers Petar Stoychev and Mark Warkentin.…

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Awesome NYC Swim documentary

Awesome NYC Swim documentary

Amanda pointed me to this excellent new documentary film by Martin Belderson about the past and present of swimming the waters around Manhattan.

After brief segments on the history of the NYC waterfront and two of the shorter NYC*SWIM events (Liberty Island & Brooklyn Bridge Swims), there’s an extended look at the 2009 Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. The film focuses on the duel between Australians John van Wisse and Penny Palfrey, and a 6-man American relay who chased them. The footage is pretty incredible.

The MIMS segment begins at 22:37. Unfortunately Vimeo (unlike YouTube) doesn’t allow you to skip ahead without loading the full video.…

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