Don’t try this at home: A look back at 2011

Don’t try this at home: A look back at 2011

forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.    The Aeneid, Book 1

Last year I undertook an ambitious program of marathon swims:

  • in April, the 24-mile Tampa Bay Marathon Swim;
  • in June, the 28.5-mile Manhattan Island Marathon Swim;
  • in August, a 20.1-mile solo crossing of the Catalina Channel;
  • in October, the 17.5-mile Ederle Swim from Sandy Hook, New Jersey to Manhattan.

While I usually keep my personal life out of this space, in this case it’s essential to understanding my experiences this year. I undertook this schedule of swims while going through a divorce (a process that began 4 days before MIMS), and while moving 2,100 miles from Chicago to California.

Yep – it was an interesting year.…

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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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Swimming with the Ocean Ducks at Goleta Beach

Swimming with the Ocean Ducks at Goleta Beach

The blog has been rather text-heavy lately. This post should fix that.

The Santa Barbara Ocean Ducks gather Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at Goleta Beach County Park, and Sundays at Butterfly Beach in Montecito (plus Saturdays in the summer). It’s a diverse, friendly group of folks, and even this late in the year you can expect to see 8-10 of us in the water during the week; more on the weekends.

Goleta Beach

Typically we head out in groups of 2 or 3 according to speed. There are a variety of possible swim routes. Here’s one of my favorites (click to enlarge):

Goleta Beach to Campus Point

From our meeting place next to the shower head (west of the restaurant and pier, east of the restroom), we make our way beyond the surf line, 100-150m offshore. Then we turn right, towards UC Santa Barbara and Campus Point. On the outbound trip, we try to maintain a constant distance from shore as we bend around the cove. In the image above I’ve noted four intermediate landmarks, which offer convenient turning-back points if someone is in a hurry.…

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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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Swim efficiency and energy consumption

Swim efficiency and energy consumption

In the last post I bemoaned the lack of credible science about marathon swimming. One is reminded of the William Goldman quote about the movie industry: Nobody knows anything.

Here’s a good example. A few days ago a Facebook friend linked to an intriguing-looking article. Published on a science-y looking website (“Your one-stop resource for longevity, health, exercise, nutrition, and scientific articles all to help you live a longer, fuller life”), the article is authored by marathon swimmer Don Macdonald.

One section seemed of particular interest: “Nutritional Demands of Open Water Endurance Swimming.” An excerpt:

Nutritional endurance demands biochemical changes of your body. The basic calculation for the amount of calories burned while swimming is 2.93 calories per mile, per pound. I weigh 207 pounds, and therefore burn 14,556 calories in a 24-mile swim, (2.93 calories x 24 miles x 207 pounds = 14,556 calories). You must also add 10-15 percent of your burnt calorie total for the energy it takes your body to keep itself warm. In this case, adding another 1,500 calories.



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A marathon swim checklist

A marathon swim checklist

In my experience, the day before a marathon swim is almost invariably a hassle. Just when you most need to be resting, you find yourself running around an unfamiliar town in search of various items you forgot to pack. From Tampa in April, to MIMS in June, to Catalina last month, I’ve gradually streamlined the process – but there always seem to be last-minute tasks. And even the most experienced marathon swimmers will tell you it’s almost impossible to pull it all together without the help of a friend or significant other.

Most people resort to writing a checklist at some point. The list will vary slightly between swims – and swimmers – but there are common themes. My list reflects hard-earned experience over three 20+ mile swims in a single season. For those tackling their first marathon swim, this might speed the learning curve a bit.

A note on formatting: Italicized items I consider “optional.” [Bracketed] items are products that I personally use.

Essentials

Nutrition

  • high-calorie liquid feed [Maxim + apple juice or Perpetuem]
  • feed bottles
  • characteristics of good feed bottles: built-in loop (for securing to kayak), medium-sized spout (not too small, not too large), easy-flip top
  • thermos of hot water for warm feeds (unless boat has microwave)
  • bottled water
  • funnel (for pouring drink powder)
  • measuring cup (for mixing feeds)
  • solid food / snacks (very personal, but might include bananas, gel packs, watery oatmeal, Chicken McNuggets, etc.)
  • Discomfort Maintenance

    • lube [channel grease = 50% lanolin, 50% vaseline]
    • latex gloves (to apply lube)
    • mouthwash (for saltwater swims)
    • sunscreen [preferably long-duration waterproof, such as SolRX]
    • anti-inflammatories (e.g., ibuprofen)
    • anti-motion sickness (e.g., bonineginger products, scopolamine patch)
    • warm clothes (e.g., parka, wool socks, sleeping bag)
    • earplugs

    Misc.



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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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    On wetsuits in marathon swimming

    On wetsuits in marathon swimming

    UPDATE 9/8/2011. Please read my follow-up post.
    UPDATE 9/12/2011.
    Another follow-up.

    What’s Wrong with Marathon Swimming” is the title of a recent op-ed/essay/rant by Scott Zornig, president of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association. Zornig’s piece, distributed through the SBCSA mailing list and Facebook page, has sparked some interesting discussion – but frankly, I haven’t heard many opposing voices. Shows who my friends are, I s’pose.

    Three issues, basically, moved Scott to wield his poison pen:

    • Wetsuits. Specifically, the use of them during marathon swims.
    • Bootlegging – i.e., attempting a marathon swim without paying dues to the relevant governing body to have it officially observed and ratified.
    • The misuse of the media. In particular, people who use the media to promote and glorify marathon “swims” in which traditionally accepted Channel Rules are not followed (e.g., wetsuits). Especially when such people claim to be the “first” to accomplish a swim, or to have set a record.  Or really, any claim to status, of any sort.


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    On Recovery Drinks: a DIY recipe

    On Recovery Drinks: a DIY recipe

    Recovery drinks are expensive. My go-to “branded” recovery drink – Hammer Nutrition’s Recoverite - retails for $50/tub. That works out to $1.56 per serving (2 level scoops of powder, mixed in 10 oz water), which might not seem like a lot, but multiplied by 5 workouts/week and 52 weeks/year adds up to $405.

    Chocolate milk, of course, is a perfectly acceptable alternative. And at $2.99 per half-gallon, the cost per 10-oz serving goes down to $0.47 ($122/year, a 70% savings). My favorite supermarket-bought recovery drink, though, is Silk Soy chocolate milk – at $3.99/half-gal, still only $0.62 per 10 oz).

    Two downsides to chocolate milk: refrigeration and expiration (and therefore, more frequent shopping trips). Powder-based drinks such as Recoverite travel better and, in my opinion, taste better at room temperature.

    But powder-based recovery drinks don’t have to break the bank – even ones with approximately the same ingredients as a branded recovery drink. The main thing, according to nutrition scientists, is a carbs-to-protein ratio of somewhere around 3:1 or 4:1. The carbs restore muscle glycogen, the protein repairs and builds muscle tissue, and the two act synergistically to help you recover.…

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    Must one be a Fast swimmer to be a Great swimmer?

    Must one be a Fast swimmer to be a Great swimmer?

    An excerpts from an interview with Kevin Murphy, the real “King of the English Channel”:

    I don’t regard myself as a great swimmer. What I’ve got is an overwhelming ability to keep going, physically and mentally; I’ve got this obsessive willpower to keep going. As a swimmer, there are lots of people who are much better than me; there are a lot of swimmers who are a lot fitter than me. But the point about what we do is… I like to say that 50% of it is willpower; 25% swimming ability; and 25% fitness. The only thing about it is, the fitter you are and the better swimmer you are, the less it hurts psychologically.

    Kevin was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 1977 – and the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2009. Among other feats, he’s completed 34 crossings of the English Channel.

    And he is not a fast swimmer. (His fastest E-F crossing was 13 hours, 31 minutes).

    This cuts to the heart of marathon swimming and is perhaps the most significant difference from pool swimming (in which athletes are judged only on the basis of time/speed).…

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