Fat vs. Fast

Fat vs. Fast

There’s an old saying about cold-water marathon swimming:

Either be fat, or be fast.

Is it oversimplified? Probably. Crass? Definitely. But there’s a kernel of truth worth examining. Thin swimmers have made it across the English Channel, but they’re usually fast. Slow swimmers have made it across the Channel, but they’re usually… carrying a healthy layer of bioprene.

The common factor: Core temperature must be preserved. Either generate heat, or retain it. Fast swimmers are good at generating heat. Fat swimmers are good at retaining it.

In the English Channel (from what I gather), it’s considered prudent for non-overweight swimmers to put on some weight, even if they’re “fast.” A Channel attempt is expensive and, unless your name is Petar Stoychev, just getting across is the main priority. Bioprene increases the probability of success.

But at what cost? How much does the extra weight slow you down? Swimming is a gravity-less activity, so obviously it matters less than in running or uphill cycling. Further, the flotational benefits of fat may improve your body position in the water.…

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Water temperature in the Catalina Channel

Water temperature in the Catalina Channel

There are 14 years of publicly available data on the surface water temperature in the Catalina (a.k.a. San Pedro) Channel – via NOAA and CDIP. Unfortunately, that’s all it is – data. No summary statistics, no long-term charts – nothing particularly useful if you’re just looking for a simple, big-picture view of trends and cycles in sea temperature (perhaps to inform your upcoming swim across the channel).

So I decided to make one myself:

Catalina Channel water temperature, 1998-2012

NOAA buoys take readings every 30 minutes. Over 14 years, that works out to almost 239,000 observations. Don’t try this on an old computer! For a smoother line, I calculated a weekly average. Same data – just prettier.

If you really need more detail, I also made an interactive chart with daily-level resolution (5,044 observations). Keep in mind, Javascript is required to view the chart, and it probably won’t look good on mobile devices. If you’ve ever used Google Finance to view stock prices, the chart format will look familiar.

Summary Statistics by Day of Year

Sea temperature varies by season, but there are also year-to-year variations.…

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Venus, Mars, and Catalina

Venus, Mars, and Catalina

Previously, we’ve looked at some general stats on Catalina Channel finishing times, and the growth in participation since George Young’s pioneering swim in 1927. What about gender differences? (Taking a page from Katie’s playbook…)

From 1927-2004, there were 90 successful swims by men and 44 successful swims by women (a ratio of 2.05 to 1). From 2005-2011, there were 80 successful swims by men and 49 successful swims by women (a ratio of 1.63 to 1). So, the gap is narrowing…a bit.

Here, again, it would interesting to see the data on failed swims. Is the ratio of men to women the same for failed swims as for successful swims?

Side note: I decided to split the data-set at 2005 because it offered similarly-sized groupings, and because this was the year when there was a surge in popularity of Catalina Channel swimming (possibly due to the advent of the “triple crown”).

And here are the average & median finish times for each group (C-M one-way crossings only):

Average Median
Men 1927-2004 13:14 12:14
Women 1927-2004 12:17 11:03
Men 2005-2011 11:23 10:51
Women 2005-2011 11:00 10:39

In both eras, women are faster – despite lower levels of participation.…

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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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Catalina Channel: A history in numbers

Catalina Channel: A history in numbers

The first 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.

I should note that Penny Lee Dean did some similar statistical work in her authoritative History of the Catalina Channel Swims Since 1927. However, the book has not been updated in 1996, and in any case, the stats chapter seems to have been removed from the online version.

The Catalina Channel was first conquered in 1927 by George Young of Canada, in 15 hours, 44 minutes, 30 seconds. Since then (through September 2011) there have been 259 successful solo crossings by 220 individuals, including 7 double-crossings.

The short list of double-crossers includes some of the greatest marathon swimmers in history.

From the mainland (M-C-M):

  • John York – 16:42 in 1978
  • Dan Slosberg – 19:32 in 1978
  • Tina Neill – 22:02 in 2008
  • Cindy Cleveland – 24:30 in 1977

From Catalina (C-M-C):

  • Penny Lee Dean – 20:03 in 1977
  • Forrest Nelson – 23:01 in 2010
  • Greta Anderson – 26:53 in 1958

Of the 252 one-way crossings, only 19 went from the mainland to Catalina (M-C).…

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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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