Sharks Live in the Ocean

Sharks Live in the Ocean

So, there was this local news item last week. While Santa Barbara isn’t typically a hotbed of shark activity, this was a reminder that indeed, sharks do live in the ocean.

That’s right, readers. Sharks live in the ocean.

great white shark

It’s always interesting to observe how ocean swimmers deal with this fact.

Some take a spiritual, new-agey approach: If you just, you know, become one with the ocean and don’t give off the “fear signal,” the sharks will leave you alone. Fittingly and rather ironically, these people often are residents of San Francisco. (It’s OK, I used to be one.)

Others avoid the issue with euphemisms: “Man in the Grey Suit,” or “The Landlord,” or “Old Whitey”… or, most comically of all, “the S-word.” I guess the idea is, if you don’t talk about it, maybe it’ll go away.

Others put their faith in technology. Because obviously, the 6-meter, 2-ton “fish” attacking from below at 25mph is going to respect the little Shark Shield zapper dangling off the end of the kayak. Good luck with that.

And then there are kooks like this guy.…

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Letters from Connie: Why?

Letters from Connie: Why?

The second in a series of posts inspired by Conrad Wennerberg‘s classic Wind, Waves, and Sunburn: A Brief History of Marathon Swimming.


In a brief chapter titled, simply, “Why?”, Chairman Connie ponders marathon swimmers’ reasons. In the end he concludes, basically, Why ask why? – but he offers some intriguing thoughts and observations along the way. One passage is particularly striking:

In my twenty years of observing the world-champion swimmers I have discovered an interesting common denominator. It became evident while discussing their personal lives with them. Hours of conversation with fourteen swimmers… brought to light the fact that twelve of them were under severe emotional tension during the time they were champions. Only two were not under such tension and seemed to have planned a course of action that led to their achievement without emotional involvement.

The others were reacting to the tensions incurred by: (1) the breakup of a marriage and divorce; (2) loss of a job; (3) sexual maladjustments. Physiologists tell us that such serious threats to one’s personal life are manifested by bodily response.



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Very Important Announcement

Very Important Announcement

This summer I will attempt something truly audacious… groundbreaking… unprecedented… game-changing.

I will attempt to (ahem…) cross the English Channel. Not once, not twice or even thrice. Ten times. Consecutively. 210 miles without stopping.

Needless to say, this has never been achieved by a swimmer. Which is not to say I’ll be swimming. Indeed, I’ll be doing everything possible in order to not swim. Actually swimming 210 miles would be far too difficult.

I will be aided in my quest by several important tools:

1. A monofin. I’m thinking the Competitor model from FINIS looks pretty sweet.

2. Paddles. But not just any old paddles. Special paddles. My usual training paddles (Strokemakers) are sometimes mocked as “dinnerplates,” which frankly hurts my feelings. So I’m taking it one step further. I will be using actual dinnerplates as paddles. Fine china, in fact. I’m happy to count Lenox among the proud sponsors of my “swim.”

3. A drysuit. Because I don’t want any part of my body to actually touch the water. Did you know, the English Channel is apparently cold!…

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Watch and Learn

Watch and Learn

Chris Derks is a pretty OK swimmer — course-record holder and four-time winner of the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, 2004 MIMS champion, competitor in numerous pro races, and owner of an 8:32 English Channel crossing in 2001.

Yesterday Chris posted a video of his English Channel swim to the Marathon Swimmers Forum. It’s a quirky video – 30 minutes long, with random cuts to other races, and ending in the middle of a conversation (apparently Chris plans to upload the rest separately) – but I enjoyed it quite a lot. Chris is one of the best in the business, and it’s a rare treat to see him in action. Also, I dig his taste in music.

Check it out:

[youtube_sc url=_qgXqCLR-JM width=520]

A few of my favorite parts:

  • 0:35 – Cool postcard shot of the marathon swimmer and… is that a battleship?!
  • 0:50-3:37 – Interview with Chris. Background & motivations. “I still want to race against kids who are half my age, and beat them…beat them hard.”
  • 3:38-5:47 – Nearly indecipherable interview with his coach.


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Letters from Connie: There Is No Perfect Stroke

Letters from Connie: There Is No Perfect Stroke

Conrad Wennerberg is Chairman Emeritus of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame and author of the authoritative history of marathon swimming: Wind, Waves, and Sunburn. Originally published in 1974, the book was re-printed in 1999, and is now out of print once again. (Used copies are available through Amazon.)

Wind, Waves, and Sunburn

Conrad (or “Connie,” as he’s known to friends) is a familiar face at Promontory Point in Chicago, my preferred training location in 2010-11. Now in his 80s, Connie still takes his noontime dip in Lake Michigan, May through October. Connie is also responsible for rescuing a treasured thermos of mine, which his friend Frank the Klepto had stolen during a late-season training swim. True story.

I’m just now getting around to reading Wind, Waves, and Sunburn, and it’s delightful. More than anything else I’ve read, it captures the spirit of marathon swimming – and this power is undimmed by the passing of 37 years. For some perspective: in 1974, the records for the fastest crossings of the English and Catalina Channels were both held by Lynne Cox.…

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Keep Calm and Carry On

Keep Calm and Carry On

Jared WoodfordThis is a time of year when many marathon swimmers are ramping up their training in earnest, in preparation for big swims this summer. It’s a time of year when reports of epic workouts appear with increasing frequency on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. While it’s fun to read of others’ training exploits, it’s important to keep your eyes on the prize – maximizing your performance for your event – and not get caught up in cyber-rivalries.

My friend and former training partner Jared Woodford recently wrote an excellent post on this subject, and I asked his permission to re-print it. Jared is a professional triathlete, a commercial pilot for ExpressJet, and a former collegiate swimmer at Delta State University. Last May he was featured in an interview on SlowTwitch. 


Possibly unique to triathlon (and maybe its component sports) is the ability to read about the workouts of other athletes online.  Via Facebook, Twitter and blogs there is an access to other athletes that isn’t found in other sports.  I’ve never read on AJ Green’s twitter feed about how many pass play routes he ran that day and Kevin Durant doesn’t update us on how hard his last workout was. …

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The “Freshies” – My 11 favorite open-water happenings of 2011

The “Freshies” – My 11 favorite open-water happenings of 2011

End-of-year list-making: It’s not just for music aficionados, film buffs, and the New York Times Book Review. Why not open water swimmers, too?

So, here are my 11 favorite open-water “happenings” of 2011 (“happenings” because they’re not all swims).

The list is, admittedly, U.S.-centric – America is where I live and what I pay the closest attention to. While I greatly admire (for example) Nejib Belhedi’s 1400K Swim Across Tunisia, I have no unique insights to add to what others have already said. Perhaps Donal or somebody can make an international list.

The list also reflects my own personal biases. I readily admit, I couldn’t care less about “stunts” in which the promotional efforts are more impressive than the swim itself. Sorry, but I find such things distasteful and think they degrade our sport.

With that in mind, here are the winners of the inaugural “freshies” (in no particular order):


Rob Dumouchel: New Year’s Day Polar Bear 10K.

6 miles through shark-infested, 53F (11.6C) ocean, from Avila Beach to Pismo Beach, CA. Quite possibly, the northern hemisphere’s first marathon swim of 2011.

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Lessons in pool etiquette: Masters edition

Lessons in pool etiquette: Masters edition

Rob and Donal have already said what needs to be said about lap swimming etiquette – and with great style, I might add.

What I’d add to the discussion is this: The importance of etiquette is not limited to lap swimming! It’s not just the noodlers and resolutionistas. You might think Masters swimmers would pick up the basics of pool etiquette pretty quickly. It’s tougher to get away with being oblivious and/or rude in a team environment. You might even think more experienced Masters swimmers – those who, by virtue of their proficiency, have obviously been swimming for many years – would be least likely to offend.

Which leads me to a funny story. On my Masters squad, we recently had a new person join, who just moved from out of town. We’ll call him/her “Pat.” Pat is an excellent swimmer – most likely, (s)he once competed at the college level. Nonetheless, here I am, writing this post…

With a tip of the hat to Bill M., here are five New Rules of Etiquette in Masters swimming:

  1. When you join a new Masters team, join the lane you can keep up with… without equipment.


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The ethic of self-navigation

The ethic of self-navigation

Sometimes I think mild derangement might be a prerequisite for marathon swimming. Perhaps “derangement” is a bit strong; so I’ll say: In the world’s oceans, lakes, rivers, and bays, you meet a lot of offbeat folks. And I mean this in the best possible way! These are my favorite sorts of people.

So I feel nothing but respect and admiration when I come across someone who makes me seem downright conventional. Case in point: the comments thread on my original “wetsuits in marathon swimming” post. Here’s the anonymous, cryptic comment that gave rise to a fascinating discussion:

I look forward to the era when channel swimmers are forbidden to use the escort boat to block winds and settle chop, and when they do their own real-time navigation, swimming in out front.

I initially read this as snark from a wetsuit fan… but it turns out this person was quite serious! And not necessarily a “fan” of wetsuits. What (s)he was describing – and further explained in subsequent comments – was an ethic of self-navigation.…

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A final word on wetsuits (in marathon swimming)

A final word on wetsuits (in marathon swimming)

A few more volleys in the debate, from:

First, thanks to Scott for the generous mention of my post from a few days ago.

In Dave’s response, he emphasizes maintaining a clear distinction between channel-rules swims and performance-enhanced (i.e., wetsuited) swims, but stops short of agreeing with Scott that wetsuited swimming “isn’t swimming.” An important question remains:

If wetsuited swimming is “swimming,” what specifically distinguishes it from channel-rules swimming, and how does this affect how we judge achievements in each category?…

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