In praise of the pool

In praise of the pool

Pools sometimes get a bad rap among open water swimmers. Marathon swimmers who live outside the Sun Belt are known to bemoan long winter hours in the “concrete prison.” David Barra memorably quipped to the New York Times:

The free spirits want to be outdoors, and have a relationship with a body of water…. You don’t have a relationship with a chlorine box.

Hearst Castle. San Simeon, CA.

But pools have their uses – even for marathon swimmers. Especially if one of your goals is to get faster. Alex Kostich was a U.S. National Teamer, an All-American distance swimmer at Stanford, and a training partner of Janet Evans in her prime. Now 41, Kostich is possibly the fastest Masters open-water swimmer in the country at the short distances (up to 5K). In the July/August issue of USMS Swimmer, here’s what he had to say about pools:

 

The easiest and most efficient way to get faster in open water is to do quality work in the pool.

Kostich is an open water specialist. He lives in Los Angeles.…

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MIMS: Three rivers, Three races

MIMS: Three rivers, Three races

Readers may be curious to see split times for the full rivers (East, Harlem, & Hudson) – not just the “segments” shown in the previous two posts. So here they are.

You’ll notice a new swimmer in the mix here: Sarah Thomas from Colorado. Originally seeded 8th, Sarah managed to slip into 5th place overall with a roaring swim down the Hudson. Well done, Sarah!



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Race Report: Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (Part 6 of 6)

Race Report: Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (Part 6 of 6)

As I rounded the 90-degree bend in the upper Harlem River into Spuyten Duyvil, I was not a happy swimmer. My shoulders throbbed – seemingly immune to pharmaceutical intervention. I had gone from 3rd in the upper reaches of the East River, to 4th (when John VW passed me just before Hell Gate), to 5th (when Miguel A. passed me near the Triborough Bridge), and finally to 6th (when Miguel S. passed me somewhere between the Third Ave Bridge and the Madison Ave Bridge).

My 20-minute feeds – Maxim interspersed with Perpetuem – kept me going, but just barely. My speed had been gradually deteriorating since Roosevelt Island in the East River. By now we’d passed all the swimmers from the first two waves… but I could see another boat creeping up on me. It was Sarah Thomas from Colorado.

The visual drabness of the Harlem gives way, in the Spuyten Duyvil area, to a more interesting view: the Columbia “C Rock,” the Henry Hudson Bridge looming high above, and finally, the railroad bridge marking the entrance to the Hudson:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia


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The story of the splits: East & Harlem Rivers

The story of the splits: East & Harlem Rivers

In the “GPS snapshots” I’ve shown in the last couple posts, you can see how far apart each swimmer is (6 of them, anyway) in terms of distance. Four hours into the race, for example, Erica Rose was 455m ahead of Ollie Wilkinson, who was in turn 135m ahead of John Van Wisse.

Another way to model the race is to look at when each swimmer passes a given landmark. This shows how far apart each swimmer is on a different dimension – time. Using the GPS tracks provided by NYC Swim, we can actually calculate “split times” for each swimmer between any landmark we choose. And, using those split times, we can calculate each swimmer’s speed (including current) for each segment.

For the purposes of this study, I chose 11 landmarks – three in the East River (Pier 11, Queensboro Bridge, and the Randall Island footbridge), two in the Harlem (Macombs Dam Bridge and Spuyten Duyvil), and six in the Hudson (GW Bridge, Riverbank Park, 79th St, 34th St, Pier 40, and the finish at South Cove).…

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Race Report: Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (Part 5)

Race Report: Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (Part 5)

I don’t really remember passing through Hell Gate and into the Harlem River. But there were signs: The river narrowed, the current slowed, the surface chop smoothed out, and the water was noticeably warmer (72-73F, compared to 67 in South Cove). Most of all, there was the taste. While the East River had been mildly salty (with the flood tide moving water from the Atlantic), and the Hudson would be distinctly sweet (with the ebb tide moving water from upstate), the Harlem had an altogether different mouthfeel. “Industrial” is the word that comes to mind.

The Harlem is a long, tough slog. The current – especially at first, and especially for the leaders – is slower. There’s nothing much to see, aside from the 13 bridges (more than I could keep track of). Most people are experiencing at least some fatigue, yet the entire length of the Hudson remains. At 7.5 miles, the Harlem represents just over a quarter of the MIMS distance – but at least a third of the time swimmers typically spend in the water.…

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Race Report: Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (Part 4)

Race Report: Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (Part 4)

The Staten Island ferry terminal marks the southernmost tip of Manhattan, and the confluence of the Hudson and East Rivers. The ferry – which carries 75,000 passengers per day and operates 24/7/365 – has figured prominently in several attempts to circum-swim the island.

In 2009 (as shown in a recent documentary) the entire MIMS field was held up shortly after the start as the ferry departed, allowing trailing swimmers to pull even with then-leaders John Van Wisse and Penny Palfrey. In 1995, Shelley Taylor-Smith was forced to tread water for crucial minutes during a record attempt as the ferry docked. She eventually did eclipse Kris Rutford‘s 4-year old record by 9 minutes – and her incredible time of 5:45 still stands.

The ferry doesn’t care if you’re in the middle of a race; it has a schedule to keep, and besides, it’s bigger than you. Apparently it’s the most reliable form of public transit in New York, with an on-time performance of 96%.

In any case, the ferry didn’t factor into the 2011 race.…

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Race Report: Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (Part 3)

Race Report: Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (Part 3)

5…4…3…2…1…

I set off around the Battery at a relaxed pace – giving myself a chance to warm up and see how things sort out. I figured I’d try to stay on Van Wisse’s heels for a while (he started just to my left), so I was surprised when he fell behind after a couple hundred meters, out of my field of vision.

The first few minutes of MIMS are typically chaotic, as kayakers attempt to hook up with their swimmers while the field is still compressed. The GPS tracks aren’t reliable at this time because the kayaks (which carry the transponders) may or may not be next to their respective swimmers. Thankfully, Terry O’Malley (paddler for Michael Gregory) shot some video from his kayak of these first few minutes:

Like Rashomon, unexpected insights arise from different perspectives. For example, the video reveals that Ollie Wilkinson, not Erica Rose, was the first swimmer to pass the yellow buoy marking the exit from South Cove. A few notes, with corresponding timestamps:

  • 1:14-20 – Just ahead and to the right of Terry is my paddler, Ilene Levenson – in the red cap with the big ‘6’ on her back.


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