The story of the splits: East & Harlem Rivers

The story of the splits: East & Harlem Rivers

In the “GPS snapshots” I’ve shown in the last couple posts, you can see how far apart each swimmer is (6 of them, anyway) in terms of distance. Four hours into the race, for example, Erica Rose was 455m ahead of Ollie Wilkinson, who was in turn 135m ahead of John Van Wisse.

Another way to model the race is to look at when each swimmer passes a given landmark. This shows how far apart each swimmer is on a different dimension – time. Using the GPS tracks provided by NYC Swim, we can actually calculate “split times” for each swimmer between any landmark we choose. And, using those split times, we can calculate each swimmer’s speed (including current) for each segment.

For the purposes of this study, I chose 11 landmarks – three in the East River (Pier 11, Queensboro Bridge, and the Randall Island footbridge), two in the Harlem (Macombs Dam Bridge and Spuyten Duyvil), and six in the Hudson (GW Bridge, Riverbank Park, 79th St, 34th St, Pier 40, and the finish at South Cove).…

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Race Report: Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (Part 4)

Race Report: Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (Part 4)

The Staten Island ferry terminal marks the southernmost tip of Manhattan, and the confluence of the Hudson and East Rivers. The ferry – which carries 75,000 passengers per day and operates 24/7/365 – has figured prominently in several attempts to circum-swim the island.

In 2009 (as shown in a recent documentary) the entire MIMS field was held up shortly after the start as the ferry departed, allowing trailing swimmers to pull even with then-leaders John Van Wisse and Penny Palfrey. In 1995, Shelley Taylor-Smith was forced to tread water for crucial minutes during a record attempt as the ferry docked. She eventually did eclipse Kris Rutford‘s 4-year old record by 9 minutes – and her incredible time of 5:45 still stands.

The ferry doesn’t care if you’re in the middle of a race; it has a schedule to keep, and besides, it’s bigger than you. Apparently it’s the most reliable form of public transit in New York, with an on-time performance of 96%.

In any case, the ferry didn’t factor into the 2011 race.…

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Race Report: Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (Part 3)

Race Report: Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (Part 3)

5…4…3…2…1…

I set off around the Battery at a relaxed pace – giving myself a chance to warm up and see how things sort out. I figured I’d try to stay on Van Wisse’s heels for a while (he started just to my left), so I was surprised when he fell behind after a couple hundred meters, out of my field of vision.

The first few minutes of MIMS are typically chaotic, as kayakers attempt to hook up with their swimmers while the field is still compressed. The GPS tracks aren’t reliable at this time because the kayaks (which carry the transponders) may or may not be next to their respective swimmers. Thankfully, Terry O’Malley (paddler for Michael Gregory) shot some video from his kayak of these first few minutes:

Like Rashomon, unexpected insights arise from different perspectives. For example, the video reveals that Ollie Wilkinson, not Erica Rose, was the first swimmer to pass the yellow buoy marking the exit from South Cove. A few notes, with corresponding timestamps:

  • 1:14-20 – Just ahead and to the right of Terry is my paddler, Ilene Levenson – in the red cap with the big ’6′ on her back.


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Race Report: Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (Part 2)

Race Report: Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (Part 2)

When we left off in Part 1, I was enjoying the view from South Cove and trying to find a measure of peace before setting off on the 28.5-mile adventure-slash-race. I always try to make room for a few moments of solitude in my pre-race routine – a parcel of grass, an empty park bench – to rid myself of tension and to reflect on how fortunate I am to be there.

This turned out to be especially important on the morning of MIMS, because it was a scene. Reporters, cameramen, families, friends, random onlookers – not to mention the field itself, full of well-known marathon swimmers from around the world. MIMS 2011 was particularly circus-like due to the Global Open Water Swimming Conference taking place in NYC the same weekend. Shelley Taylor-Smith, Penny Lee Dean, Anne Cleveland, Sid Cassidy, and Steven Munatones were among the open-water celebrities milling about South Cove that morning.…

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Race Report: Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (Part 1)

Race Report: Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (Part 1)

A few minutes before 10am Saturday, I jumped off a dock on the far southwestern tip of Manhattan and into the Hudson River. After a brief countdown I began a journey that would bring me around the Battery, up the East and Harlem Rivers, and back down the Hudson to the very same dock. 28 and a half miles in 7 and a half hours (give or take).

I had a lot on my mind in that moment – suspended in midair, before plunging into the 67-degree water – not all of it relevant to the task at hand. But some portion of my thoughts were directed at the question of how it was that I found myself there – jumping off the dock at South Cove.

Photo Credit: Tom McGann


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Swimming around Manhattan, tides are (almost) everything

Swimming around Manhattan, tides are (almost) everything

Just over a week ’til the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim! Hard to believe it’s already upon us.

Sometimes people ask me if I have a “goal time” for the swim. That’s an interesting question. As anyone who’s spent much time in open water knows, the relationship between time and distance is somewhat complicated; even moreso for marathon swims.

MIMS is a different beast, though. I’d go so far as to say that MIMS times are pretty much meaningless — as an indication of speed. The typical winning time of 7 hours, 30 minutes works out to just under 59 seconds per 100m. So: world record 1500m pace, 28.5 times in a row. In MIMS, the tides are king – perhaps moreso than any other major marathon swim.

How important are the tides? Think of it this way. My ultra-marathon pace is about 2.3 knots. A world-class marathon swimmer? About 2.6-2.7 knots. The slowest swimmer in the MIMS field? Maybe 1.6 knots. Why am I describing swim speeds in terms of knots? Because that’s how river currents are measured.…

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Lessons from the Circle Line

Lessons from the Circle Line

The Circle Line cruise is almost a rite of passage for first-time MIMS swimmers. A 3-hour circumnavigation of Manhattan island, the cruise boat traces the same path as the marathon swim – albeit starting from 42nd St on the Hudson instead of South Cove.

The Circle Line is a unique and worthwhile experience in itself. The Manhattan skyline is visually stunning and full of interesting history – and the city’s geography lends itself to being viewed by water. But for MIMS swimmers, it’s essential research. Unlike most other marathon swims, you always know “where you are” in MIMS (i.e., how far you’ve gone, how far you have left) – so long as you’re familiar with the landmarks. Actually, I can’t think of a single other marathon swim with as many visual stimuli as MIMS.

The lower Manhattan skyline, as seen from the entrance to the Hudson River on 27 May 2011. The building under construction at center-left is the Freedom Tower, which will eventually rise 1,776 feet above Ground Zero. Swimmers will pass this view just a few minutes after the start of MIMS.


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The fastest swims around Manhattan (Part 2)

The fastest swims around Manhattan (Part 2)

Part 1.

Shelley Taylor-Smith recorded the fastest swim around Manhattan (5:45:25) in 1995, but it was a special “record attempt” swim scheduled on an unusually fast tide. What are the fastest swims in the regular Manhattan Island Marathon Swim race, which is typically held on a slower tide? Over the 29 years of the modern MIMS, the 10 fastest swims are as follows:

  1. Tobie Smith, 1999, 6:32:41
  2. Tammy van Wisse, 1999, 6:51:31
  3. Rob Copeland, 1999, 6:52:49
  4. Susie Maroney, 1990, 7:00:27
  5. Matthew Nance, 1990, 7:04:53
  6. Jim Barber, 1991, 7:06:34
  7. Kris Rutford, 1991, 7:06:44
  8. Matthew Wood, 1990, 7:07:32
  9. Susie Maroney, 1994, 7:08:10
  10. Igor de Souza, 1991, 7:08:20

Interestingly, 9 of the 10 fastest times happened in just 3 years – 1990, 1991, and 1999. The 3 fastest times were all in one year – 1999. Perhaps these years were “stacked” with outstanding swimmers. Another possibility is that these years saw especially favorable conditions (faster currents, smoother water, warmer water, etc.).

One simple method of estimating the effect of conditions is to find the median time in each annual race – and compare each individual to the median of that year.…

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Swimming vs. Tide Surfing around Manhattan (Part 1)

Swimming vs. Tide Surfing around Manhattan (Part 1)

It’s well known that Shelley Taylor-Smith holds the record for the fastest swim around Manhattan: 5 hours, 45 minutes, 25 seconds.

What’s not quite as well known is that she achieved this feat on a special “fast tide” – a convergence of maritime conditions in the East, Harlem, and Hudson Rivers that occurs only once or twice a year, if at all.

With the founding of the modern Manhattan Island Marathon Swim race in 1982, and more sophisticated understanding of tide cycles, a string of specially planned solo “record attempt” swims were undertaken in the ’80s and ’90s, all on fast tides. After Diana Nyad‘s 1975 swim in 7 hours, 57 minutes, the record was lowered six times by four different people over the next 20 years:

  • 7:14 – Drury Gallagher in 1982
  • 6:48 – Paul Asmuth in 1983
  • 6:41 – Drury Gallagher in 1983
  • 6:12 – Shelley Taylor-Smith in 1985
  • 5:54 – Kris Rutford in 1992
  • 5:45:25 – Shelley Taylor-Smith in 1995

Her record has stood ever since, despite an assault last year by world-class marathon swimmers Petar Stoychev and Mark Warkentin.…

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Awesome NYC Swim documentary

Awesome NYC Swim documentary

Amanda pointed me to this excellent new documentary film by Martin Belderson about the past and present of swimming the waters around Manhattan.

After brief segments on the history of the NYC waterfront and two of the shorter NYC*SWIM events (Liberty Island & Brooklyn Bridge Swims), there’s an extended look at the 2009 Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. The film focuses on the duel between Australians John van Wisse and Penny Palfrey, and a 6-man American relay who chased them. The footage is pretty incredible.

The MIMS segment begins at 22:37. Unfortunately Vimeo (unlike YouTube) doesn’t allow you to skip ahead without loading the full video.…

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