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.
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.
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.…
Along with Strokemaker paddles, the original Malmsten Swedish goggle is a design that has withstood the test of time. While I’m generally eager to embrace new technologies, I’ve worn the same model of swim goggles for over 20 years now.
Swedes are stereotyped as a pool swimming goggle, but I’ve seen no compelling reason to embrace gaskets in the open water. Why mess with a good thing? Take note of my goggle choice in my four longest swims (clockwise from top-left, the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, Santa Barbara Channel, Catalina Channel, and Manhattan Island Marathon Swim):
At the same time, I’ll concede some occasional frustration with the cheap materials in classic Swedes – the scratch-proneness of the lenses, and the ultra-short lifespan of the latex straps. …
I had high hopes for the Swimsense, I really did.
Unfortunately, in the 2+ years since I bought the watch I’ve had two major issues that remain unresolved. With worthy competitors now available from Garmin – the 910xt and the Garmin Swim – these nagging issues are a deal-breaker. Absent any major product revisions by FINIS, I must retract my original recommendation of the Swimsense.
The deal-breaking issues are:
1. Build quality.
I’m now on my fourth Swimsense. The first three all became unusable after half a year of infrequent use, each time for a different reason. To FINIS’ credit, each was replaced free of charge.
My first Swimsense lost the ability to connect to my computer via the dock (and thus the ability to re-charge the battery).…
In summer 2011, I started using two pairs of Swedish goggles (Speedo Swedish 2-pack) – one with dark metallized lenses for daytime, one with clear lenses for mornings, evenings, & night. As per usual, I eschewed the included latex straps for after-market bungee straps.
It’s a testament to Swedes’ durability that I’m still using these same goggles almost two years later.
Notice something else about the above photo, though: The color of the straps. Two years ago, these straps were the same color. Remember, the top pair I wear during the day, in bright sunlight. The bottom pair I wear in low light.
These are your goggles. These are your goggles on UV radiation.…
Swim paddles (in my opinion) are useful for developing swim-specific strength, especially in the shoulders and lats. I prefer Strokemakers:
Strokemaker paddle (size red #3). NOTE: The paddles come with a longer strap meant for the wrist, but don’t use it. That’s goofy. If you need the wrist strap to keep the paddle stable, you’re doing it wrong.
Strokemakers are the classic paddle for competitive swimmers. At various points in my swimming career I’ve used Green #1s, Yellow #2s, Red #3s, and Blue #4s. As a Masters swimmer, I use Reds. As an open-water and marathon swimmer, I feel that the strength I develop with these paddles (which some have derogatorily described as “dinner plates”) helps me power through waves and chop in rough-water conditions.…
These are swedish goggles:
Swedes are only goggle I’ve worn since 1992, and are among the most iconic swim gear ever. Their sleek, minimalist esthetic transcends both time and nationality. Their simple construction renders them both disposable and indestructible. Here’s an interesting history of swedes (the goggles, not the people) from Malmsten AB.
So popular are swedes among competitive swimmers that Speedo was forced to offer Speedo-branded swedes (with original Malmsten lenses, naturally) so their sponsored athletes could wear swedes at the Olympics without being in breach of contract!
Swedes’ functional minimalism cuts both ways, though. They’re cheap goggles. The lenses scratch easily. The latex straps rarely last through more than a month of regular chlorine exposure (I opt for an after-market bungee strap).
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s this:
Blueseventy carbonRZR goggles
The ultimate in superfluous luxury.…
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.…
Note: I wrote a follow-up review of the Swimsense in May 2013.
The FINIS Swimsense Performance Monitor is a watch that, through various marvels of technology, monitors your pace, lap count, and stroke count as you swim.
I still maintain that for interval training, nothing beats a pace clock. Doc Counsilman’s ’50s-era invention will never go out of style. For long steady-state training, though, a watch that monitors laps, strokes, and pace might be nice. Personally, I can’t keep a good count after about 40-50 (more if the pace clock is large and digital).
In my case, it’s no idle question: I’m doing some long swims this year, and steady-state training is a regular part of the training diet.
But with niche products like this, one inevitably asks: Does it work?…
Last summer I bought a swim watch. In preparing for a 10-mile river swim, I started adding occasional aerobic steady-state swims to my usual interval-heavy diet. I needed something to keep track of how far I swam while I zoned out and listened to music on my SwimP3.
Back then there were two swim watches on the market – Swimovate’s Poolmate, and the Oregon Scientific swim watch. I don’t remember why I chose the Oregon Scientific – they were both priced at $99.99 – but that’s what I did.
I ended up not using the watch much, for a few reasons:
- The holes in the strap are too far apart. My wrist is right between two sizes, so it’s either too tight or too loose, and thus uncomfortable to wear.
If you like gadgets and/or swim toys you may have found yourself, at some point over the past couple of months, drooling over the FINIS Swimsense Performance Monitor. And after playing with one for a few weeks now, I’ll admit, it’s pretty cool.
Before you fork over $200, though, consider the question: What does the Swimsense – and swim watches in general (e.g., the Swimovate Poolmate and Oregon Scientific’s watch) – offer that a simple pace clock doesn’t?…
Lake Michigan is cold right now. Too cold to swim in. It hit rock bottom (33F) sometime mid-December, and there it has stayed. What’s a marathon swimmer not living in SoCal or SoFlo to do?
The typical answer is: Long Course. And that actually has been a reasonably good solution for me… until this week. With the UIC varsity teams now approaching the championship phase of their season, the pool we share has now switched to short course ’til mid-April. So… three months until Tampa Bay and nothing but flip turns every 25 yards? Oh no!
Marathon swimmers need endurance, but equally important is being able to psychologically tolerate swimming for long stretches without stopping. This isn’t as relevant in pool competition, where the longest race is only a mile.…
A few follow-up thoughts on pull buoys:
First, to be clear, the use of pulling gear for motivational reasons (as Mark described) is probably only relevant if you’re a distance/marathon swimmer who trains enough volume that mental fatigue is an issue. Or perhaps (as I described) if you’re just having a bad day of training and pulling gear means the difference between getting through a workout or bailing out early.
If you’re a sprinter and/or stroke specialist, pulling equipment probably isn’t too useful, aside from certain types of drills.
But Mark is a marathon swimmer, and so am I – so that’s why I wrote the post.
Second, I want to highlight one particularly important quote from Mark’s interview:
To make up for the lack of swimming I do a lot of running, cycling and kicking to make sure that I have strong legs and I do a lot of core work to make sure that my abs are ready to handle the body position requirements for a race, so it’s not like I only do pulling sets.
This is a pull buoy ————–>
At once the most common of training aids, and the most disrespected. According to conventional wisdom, pull buoys:
- encourage weak body position – swimmers don’t have to kick and engage their core to raise their body position as they would without a buoy.
- inhibit body rotation, causing swimmers to swim “flat” and thus less efficiently.
- put extra strain on the shoulders, making injuries more likely.
- discourage underwater kicking off walls.
- are, along with hand paddles, a crutch used by lazy swimmers to help them swim faster and with less energy.
See, for instance, this thread on the USMS discussion forum, or one forum member’s memorable suggestion of a drill to “throw a pull buoy as far away from yourself as possible.”
Personally, I’ve always liked pulling with paddles and a buoy.…
At long last, the minutes from the Long Distance committee at the recent USMS National Convention are available. I’ve cut and pasted the most interesting excerpts (IMO) below.
Bottom line: The era of full-body tech suits (B70 Nero Comp & similar) in USMS-sanctioned open-water events is now over. I believe this is a good thing, but I present the following without further commentary.
Well, aside from saying: From now on, my friends, you’ll have to keep your man-boobs in check the old-fashioned way!
303.6 SWIMWEAR FOR OPEN WATER EVENTS
Swimwear allowed for open water events is defined below and is not impacted by decisions of FINA, USA-Swimming or part 1 of USMS rules. It is the swimmer’s responsibility to understand the appropriate swimwear allowed at a particular event.…
An old friend informs me (and he would know – he swam the 10K at the 2008 Olympics) that the dehydration I experienced in Miami may have been more perceived than actual. Saltwater in the mouth and throat can induce craving for fresh water even when your body is adequately hydrated. More important, he suggests, is energy. While I did stash a gel pack in my suit (and consumed it at the 5K mark), he says he’d actually take 3 or 4 during a 10K.
In any case, don’t drink the saltwater!
One important issue I didn’t mention in my race report is chafing. I didn’t mention it because, I suppose, it’s one of the few things I did right that day.
Saltwater is highly abrasive, and without preventive measures you can develop some nasty irritation – even on a short, half-hour swim.…