On science in marathon swimming

On science in marathon swimming

In marathon swimming, there’s very little in the way of credible science – that is, methodologically rigorous, experimentally controlled, peer-reviewed science. It’s not hard to understand why: Open-water swimming, especially the marathon variety, is a tiny market compared to land-based endurance sports. Market size is related to the potential for making money, and the potential for making money is, in turn, related to funding and motivation for scientific research. Even in triathlon (an enormous, lucrative market), swimming is often seen merely as a warm-up to the bike and run, so there’s little effort to understand it.

As a result, marathon swimmers are left with approximately four strategies for acquiring knowledge about their sport – specifically, the physiological demands of long-distance swimming, and the nutrition required to fulfill those demands:

  1. Figuring out what is known, scientifically, about land-based endurance activities, and applying it to swimming.
  2. Figuring out what is known, scientifically, about pool swimming (in which races last anywhere between 20 seconds and 15 minutes), and applying it to marathon swimming (in which a race or solo event may last 10 or 15 hours).


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On Maltodextrin: Maxim vs. Carbo Pro

On Maltodextrin: Maxim vs. Carbo Pro

Among channel swimmers, the Danish sports drink Maxim is something of a magical elixir. The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this post, but for additional details I recommend a search of the Channel Swimmers chat archives – especially posts by CS&PF pilot Michael Oram.

Maxim is an excellent product. Indeed, it fueled three of my four ultra-marathon events this year (Tampa, MIMS, and Catalina). What’s interesting about Maxim is how simple it is. The ingredients: 97% maltodextrin, with a smattering of Vitamins C and B1. Maltodextrin is a complex carbohydrate of chained glucose polymers, and is the basis for other popular endurance fuels including Perpetuem, HEED, and EFS. Maxim, however, has no added protein (Perpetuem), no added amino acids (EFS), and no added electrolytes (all three).

As you know if you read my DIY recovery drink post, bulk maltodextrin is available very cheaply – much cheaper than Maxim. So why pay $28 + $8 S/H to ship Maxim from the UK? (There is no currently no American importer of Maxim products.) Is Maxim maltodextrin superior to bulk maltodextrin?…

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Sharing the water with giants

Sharing the water with giants

The blue whale is the largest known animal to have ever existed – up to 110 feet long and weighing nearly 200 metric tons. The whales are drawn to the deep waters off the coast of Southern California in late summer and fall to feed on krill (up to 40 million a day for an adult).

These magnificent, peaceful creatures were hunted nearly to extinction in the 20th century. Though still endangered, their West Coast population (estimated at 2,500) has been gradually recovering – to the delight of whale watchers… and swimmers of the Catalina and Santa Barbara Channels!

Check out this guy kayaking with them off Redondo Beach a few days ago. See, especially, the underwater shots at 1:12 and 2:15.

I’ve never been much of a museum guy – even less so when I was kid. But I fondly remember one particular exhibit at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (a popular field trip destination at my elementary school): the blue whale skeleton! Turns out it’s still there.

For an interesting description of how blue whales fit into the incredibly diverse ecology of the Santa Barbara Channel Islands, see this article.…

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Hidden gems of YouTube: “The Crossing”

Hidden gems of YouTube: “The Crossing”

I’ll go out on a limb and say: This may be the best video ever made about a marathon swim. At least, it’s the best one I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a few). Perhaps it’s more appropriate to call it a “short film.” The production values are that high.

The film, by Stephen Lewis, tells the story of Marc Lewis’ unprecedented 27.5-mile swim between Santa Rosa Island and the California mainland in 2008. It features 720p video quality, an imaginative soundtrack of Sigur Ros, The Ventures, Radiohead and Beethoven, stunning photography of the Santa Barbara Channel, and thoughtful interviews with Marc’s family, coaches, observers, and crew.

The cast reads like a “who’s who” of So-Cal marathon swimming. Carol Sing and Forrest Nelson as observers; David Clark as swim coordinator; Bob West, godfather of the La Jolla Cove Swim Club; Sickie Marcikic, head coach of UCSD Masters. Marc had some incredible folks supporting his swim; listen closely to what they have to say.

“The Crossing” captures the beauty of an open-ocean channel swim, but also accurately reflects the monotonous reality of swimming and crewing such a swim.…

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Rules on Catalina tandem swimming

Rules on Catalina tandem swimming

Correcting a bit of misinformation from the comments section of a recent post…

Tandem swimming is allowed on Catalina swims, so long as each member of the tandem is sanctioned by CCSF. This is from a CCSF official:

The CCSF recognizes a difference between a SANCTIONED swimmer and a COMPANION swimmer. Sanctioned tandem swims are allowed.

What’s at issue is the COMPANION swimmer, who typically knows the swimmer but has no relationship with the CCSF (eg application, swim history, insurance). For safety purposes, the CCSF wishes to limit that swimmer’s time in the water to a maximum of 3 hours in shifts no longer than 60-minutes. That’s more in accordance with English Channel standards. Different than Dover, a CCSF swimmer could– if they so desired– recruit 5 companion swimmers. Technically, they could rotate 1-hour legs for a 15-hour crossing (5x 3-hours). I have also pondered having a tandem event from the same boat: One solo swimmer going side-by-side with a 6-person relay. Though, it would take some serious synchronized swimming to make that feasible….

The SBCSA also allows for tandem swimming (with each swimmer being sanctioned), but has not yet followed CCSF in adopting a 3-hour limit on pace swimmers.…

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Catalina Channel stats: An epidemiological view

Catalina Channel stats: An epidemiological view

The second in a series of posts taking a statistical look at the history of Catalina Channel swimming. These analyses have not been validated or endorsed by the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation and should be considered “unofficial.” 2011 swims are included, but are unofficial until the ratification banquet on November 5.

CCSF’s official list of successful swims is available here. Penny Lee Dean’s authoritative history is here.

On January 15, 1927, George Young was the only one of 102 participants to finish the Wrigley Ocean Marathon, and in so doing, became the first person to swim across the Catalina Channel. For his achievement Young earned a $25,000 prize – approximately $325,000 in 2011 dollars, and richer (even in nominal dollars) than any current cash prize in professional marathon swimming.

Seven of the DNF’s in the Wrigley Ocean Marathon – four men and three women – returned later that year to try again; four finished. But Catalina Channel swimming didn’t catch on after this rousing first year. Over the next 25 years only two more swimmers added their names to the list.…

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The Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association

The Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association

Recently I was honored to be asked to fill an opening on the Board of Directors for the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association (SBCSA). Of course, I said yes! As a marathon swimmer who grew up with a view of Santa Cruz Island looming on the horizon, I can’t think of an organization I’d be happier to serve.

The Santa Barbara Channel Islands

The Santa Barbara Channel Islands comprise 8 islands off the coast of Southern California. In distance from the mainland, they range from 12.4 miles (Anacapa) to over 60 miles (San Nicolas). Five of the islands (San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Barbara) are part of Channel Islands National Park; two of the islands (San Nicolas and San Clemente) are controlled by the U.S. Navy; the eighth, Santa Catalina (popularly known as “Catalina”) is the only island with a substantial civilian population.

The SBCSA supports and sanctions open-water swims to, from, and between seven of the eight Channel Islands – all except Catalina, which has a separate governing body, the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation.…

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