I hate winter swimming; I love winter swimming.

I hate winter swimming; I love winter swimming.

In life it’s often necessary to convince oneself to do something one doesn’t want to do, in order to realize future rewards (physical, financial, emotional).

I experience this life truth in microcosm, every morning I swim in San Francisco Bay in the winter. I hate getting up early (I’m a night-owl — always have been). I hate it even more when it’s dark outside; even more when it’s cold outside. And most of all, when the reason for doing so is swimming, nearly naked, in 49-degree water.

Yet it must be done. Because no one ever says, “I really regret swimming today.” Even when the water’s 49 degrees. Perhaps especially when it’s 49 degrees.

Immersion is painful. There’s no avoiding it, even with repetition. Yet nothing makes me feel more aliveAnd there’s a reason for that: Pain is my body’s evolved, automatic response to encountering an environment that cannot sustain human life. “GTFO,” my body says at first.

When I refuse, the pain fades after a few minutes, and in its place arises a powerful warmth, which keeps the forces of death at bay (for a while).…

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Sub-100 Swims

Sub-100 Swims

Sub-100 swims: Also known as “winter” for San Francisco open-water swimmers.

A sub-100 swim is when the water and air temperatures (in degrees F) sum to less than 100. For example, 50 degree water + 50 degree air = 100 exactly.

For our metric system friends, a sub-100 day conveniently converts to a sub-20C day, precisely.

Like much of the western U.S., San Francisco has been experiencing a bit of a cold snap lately. This morning at Aquatic Park we had 51-degree (10.5C) water combined with 37-degree (2.8C) air, for a combined total of 87 – which, I think, is a new all-time low for me.

wundermap

I swam with my 6:30am group for our typical 45 minutes. Tellingly, the South End men’s showers were already running lukewarm when I arrived.

The concept of a “sub-100 swim” derives (as far as I know) from fellow South Ender Gary Emich. On his way to 1,000+ Alcatraz crossings, Gary noticed that 100 degrees combined air+water was a threshold below which his morning swims with the ASSes (which often include a dripping-wet post-swim RIB ride) became rather… challenging.…

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Suit, cap, goggles: That’s all you really need.

Suit, cap, goggles: That’s all you really need.

My swim cap is tighter-fitting; my goggles are lighter-weight; and my swimsuit is constructed of chlorine-resistant polyester.

But aside from that, not much has changed from fifty years ago, when South End Rowing Club members waded into Aquatic Park cove wearing this:

Swim costume, circa 1960s. South End Rowing Club, San Francisco.
Swim costume, circa 1960s. South End Rowing Club, San Francisco.

I’d argue that the only truly essential item is the goggles… but this is a family-friendly site.

Close-up of goggles from the same display.
Close-up of goggles from the same display.

Marathon swimming resists technology more than most sports, thanks to strict guidelines on swimwear enforced in the English Channel (our Everest) – guidelines which are widely emulated around the world. Indeed it’s a point of pride among many marathon swimmers, who value the connection with our sport’s pioneers. A level playing field across decades.

I’d even call it an aestheticSuit, cap, goggles. That’s all we really need. Man, woman, and the sea. There is equipment that would make it easier, but we actively reject it. Our sport is tough, and we like it that way. 

inscription
Close-up of inscription on above display case.


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SBCSA and CCSF Annual Banquets, 2013

SBCSA and CCSF Annual Banquets, 2013

This past weekend I attended the annual banquets of the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation (CCSF) and Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association (SBCSA). For the past few years the two events have been scheduled for the same day, in the same city (San Pedro), with CCSF providing brunch at the Doubletree and the SBCSA providing dinner at a restaurant downtown. This arrangement seems to maximize cross-pollination between the two events – reminding everyone of the patch of ocean we share, and giving us just a little more time together.

This is my third year attending “Banquet Day” in San Pedro.

In 2011, I was a swimmer-honoree at the CCSF event, having just crossed the Catalina Channel (8:55 on August 25, and I didn’t even have to look it up). Later that day, I attended my first board meeting with the SBCSA. Rob D. and I then moved on to the Crowne Plaza bar and talked of big dreams into the wee hours.

In 2012, I returned to celebrate the new class of CCSF swimmers including my dear friend Gracie, the new record holder.…

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Swimming Hole: South Yuba River, California

Swimming Hole: South Yuba River, California

A swimming hole in the South Yuba River, near the Old Highway 49 Bridge, a few miles outside Nevada City, Nevada County, California.

Swimming hole near Old Highway 49 Bridge, Nevada County, California

Geographical location of swimming hole:

Location of swimming hole

Swimming through a hidden tunnel:

[Link to YouTube video]

Swimming upriver:

[Link to YouTube video]

Resting on the rocks:

On the rocks

Denver Post article: Down to the old swimming hole: Dog days of California’s South Yuba River

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Training for marathon swims: Pool vs. open water

Training for marathon swims: Pool vs. open water

Newbie marathon swimmers often wonder how they should allocate their training time between the pool and open water. There’s no simple answer: It depends on a variety of factors unique to the individual. A few questions to ask yourself:

What’s the target swim? Distance, water temp, conditions, etc. The further outside neutral conditions your target swim is, the more open water you’ll want to incorporate into your training. (To train for cold water… swim in cold water.)

Are you training to finish (regardless of time), or are you training to race? The more speed matters in your target swim, the more high-quality interval training in the pool you’ll probably want to do.

What’s most convenient? If you live next to a safe body of open water, but far away from the nearest pool, this may tip the balance towards OWS. In my experience, convenience promotes consistency — and consistency promotes results.

What do you inherently enjoy? If you have access to a high-quality Masters pool squad with good coaching and fun lanemates, this may tip the balance towards the pool.…

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Nyad Agonistes: The anatomy of a social media campaign

Nyad Agonistes: The anatomy of a social media campaign

My collaborator and friend Donal Buckley has been writing an eloquent, impassioned, and probably definitive account of l’Affaire Nyad (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5). I will collect my thoughts on The Controversy at some point, but in the meantime please consider Donal’s voice as my own.

What follows is my attempt at a real-time narrative of The Controversy, from the start of the swim the morning of August 31 through the evening of September 8, when a New York Times article by Suzanne Sataline finally forced Diana Nyad and her team to speak to the skepticism among her fellow marathon swimmers about the details of her achievement.

I assemble developments from a variety of sources – the Marathon Swimmers Forum, Facebook, national media outlets, and my personal contacts during this time – into a coherent narrative of a remarkable social media campaign.


August 31, 2013. 8:59am, Eastern Daylight Time (all subsequent times also in EDT). According to reports from her crew, Diana Nyad enters the water just west of Havana, Cuba, and begins swimming.

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Non-Swim Report: Tomales Bay White Shark Swimming Association Fall “Chomp”

Non-Swim Report: Tomales Bay White Shark Swimming Association Fall “Chomp”

2013-10-05 16_07_39-www.parks.ca.gov_pages_470_files_TomalesBaySPWebLayout2013.pdfEach fall and spring, the channel swimmer / bubble-cap aficionado / legendary South Ender known as El Sharko (occasionally “Sir Sharko,” sometimes shortened to “Sharko,” and just “Chris” to his wife) organizes a swim & BBQ at Heart’s Desire Beach in Tomales Bay State Park, north of San Francisco.

In homage to the white sharks who breed near the mouth of Tomales Bay, this event is known as the “Tomales Bay White Shark Swimming Association (TBWSSA) Chomp” (alternatively, “Tomales Bay Dangerous ‘Swim with the White Sharks’ Chomp,” often shortened to simply “The Chomp”). Sharko’s sanguine approach to the oft-repressed fact of VW-sized predators in our local waters is encapsulated by his calling card: “I never met a shark I didn’t like.”

Photo by Jeff Brown
Special “Chomp” course buoy, handmade by El Sharko. Photo by Jeff Brown

The “Fall Chomp” of 2013 fell on what must surely go down as one of the most glorious days of the year: 80 degrees, windless clear skies all the way to the Farallons. Heart’s Desire Beach, about two-thirds of the way inland (8.5 miles) from the Bay mouth, lived up to its name.…

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AP: Nyad’s team responds to skeptics doubting her swim

AP: Nyad’s team responds to skeptics doubting her swim

The Associated Press published a well-reported article on the marathon swimming community’s skepticism of Diana Nyad’s swim from Cuba to Florida. I am re-posting it here, with my comments in blue.


Nyad’s team responds to skeptics doubting her swim

By Jennifer Kay – September 8, 2013. 1:13 PM EDT

MIAMI (AP) — Diana Nyad’s 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida has generated positive publicity and adoration for the 64-year-old endurance athlete — along with skepticism from some members of the small community of marathon swimmers who are questioning whether she accomplished the feat honestly.

>> Or rather, swimmers who just want more information, to understand how such an incredible swim was accomplished – a swim that even noted open-water swimming commentator Steven Munatones has said is impossible.

On social media and the online Marathon Swimmers Forum, long-distance swimmers have been debating whether Nyad got a boost from the boat that was accompanying her — either by getting in it or holding onto it — during a particularly speedy stretch of her swim. They also question whether she violated the traditions of her sport — many follow strict guidelines known as the English Channel rules — by using a specialized mask and wetsuit to protect herself from jellyfish.…

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Diana Nyad Week

Diana Nyad Week

This past Monday, the most famous and charismatic open water swimmer of modern times, Diana Nyad, emerged from the sea at Key West and fulfilled her dream of swimming the Straits of Florida.

Ms. Nyad’s feat was headline news around the world – probably the biggest mainstream headlines for open water swimming of my lifetime. Millions were inspired by the dogged will of a 64-year old woman, taking on a challenge that had already defeated her four times, and had eluded swimmers half her age and twice her speed.

When she somehow had the presence of mind, still dripping wet, to urge the crowd gathered on the beach: “Never, ever give up… You are never too old to chase your dreams,” well… it was the stuff of movies. Incidentally, a documentary film about Ms. Nyad’s thirty-year quest – The Other Shore – will be released in three weeks.


By temperament, I’m not typically inspired by platitudes. But as a fellow marathon swimmer, I was inspired by the possibilities suggested by Diana’s swim. If it’s possible for a 64-year old to swim 110 miles in 53 hours, then anything is possible.…

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