Alcatraz to San Francisco… sculling

Alcatraz to San Francisco… sculling

Yesterday the South End Rowing Club of San Francisco and the Bondi Icebergs of Sydney officially became “sister clubs” as a delegation of visiting ‘Bergs joined us for a Tuesday morning Alcatraz swim.

In need of, I suppose, new challenges, I decided to attempt the swim using only sculling drill - both forward (hands in front) and back (hands by hips). I filmed the event with a GoPro on a head attachment.

I ended up resorting to a few strokes of backstroke (so as not to stretch out the support vessels), but for the most part I did it: Alcatraz to Aquatic Park… sculling.

Here’s 52-minute video condensed to just over two. Unfortunately the GoPro memory card reached capacity shortly after I entered the cove, so I didn’t capture the finish.

Alcatraz to San Francisco… sculling from Evan Morrison on Vimeo.…

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Paul Newsome wins MIMS: Reflections from the escort boat

Paul Newsome wins MIMS: Reflections from the escort boat

– Previously: MIMS 2013, Part 1: A perfect storm

Last month I crewed for Swim Smooth founder Paul Newsome on his victorious Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. Though we had not met in person, Paul read my 2011 MIMS report and felt I could assist him in navigating the twists, turns, and tricky currents of the rivers around Manhattan.

It was a great honor and pleasure to meet and spend the weekend with Paul, his business partner Adam, his paddler Amanda, and all the rest of the Perth squad. They treated me very well, and I left New York City with a swirling headful of inspiring memories and new friendships.

I’ll defer to Paul’s story of his own swim. Instead, these are more general reflections on the experience of seeing MIMS from on the water – quite different, naturally, than being in the water.

Hannah (observer) and Evan, before the start.
Hannah (observer) and Evan, before the start. Photo by Adam Young.

“Expect the unexpected.”

A well-worn chestnut of open water swimming, of which MIMS 2013 often reminded us. The day before the race, the Daily News of Open Water Swimming reported on the apparent female domination of MIMS, proclaiming one the “overwhelming favorite.” Instead, men swept the podium, 1-2-3.…

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Stroke Thoughts

Stroke Thoughts

The swimming stroke is not unlike a golf swing: a complicated, interconnected series of fine and gross muscular movements. For the few who do it well, it appears fluid, natural, unified, and effortless. For most, the movements of swimming and golf can feel unnatural, difficult to integrate, and frustratingly unamenable to brute force.

Even those who have mastered the swimming stroke/golf swing can develop subtle technique flaws, of which they may not even be aware. One must maintain constant vigilance against these creeping flaws, ideally through a combination of mindful practice, well-selected drills, coaching, and video analysis.

One method I find useful in maintaining proper form and guarding against creeping flaws is: stroke thoughts. I didn’t invent this phrase or idea, but I define it as: simple, succinct technique pointers repeated subvocally (internally) while swimming.

In practice, I use stroke thoughts most often at the beginning of a session (while warming up), or when I feel myself lapsing (mentally or physically) in the middle of a workout or race. I repeat each thought by itself for a few stroke cycles, focusing on just that single part of my stroke, before moving to the next thought.…

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Controlled Stroke Count Drill

Controlled Stroke Count Drill

In “Stroke Count Games” and “A Better SWOLF Formula” I suggested a test set of 8×100, as fast as possible, holding a specific number of strokes per length (SPL), to hone in on your most efficient combination of stroke length and tempo.

I frequently do a modified version of this set as a quick tune-up before a competition or a challenging distance workout: 12×100 short-course, aiming for the following SPL on each rep: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. Moderate, controlled pace on all – no more than 75%.

Obviously, the specific SPL goals will differ for each individual. For me, 15 SPL is my 400m/500yd race pace. 14 SPL is my 1-2 mile race pace. 13 SPL is my marathon pace.

The reason I like this set as a warm-up / tune-up is that the act of “depriving myself” of one stroke-per-length on each of the first 6 reps really focuses my attention on efficiency – maximizing the amount of water I’m pulling, and minimizing drag.…

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Maui Channel Relay: The Video

Maui Channel Relay: The Video

Last September I joined some San Francisco friends in Maui for a memorable few days of swimming and leisure (but mostly leisure). You may have seen the short video I posted a while back of my solo Maui Channel swim. Two days before the solo, I did the same swim with my friends in the annual Maui Channel Swim Relays.

So, this video has been a long time in the making. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing? Nothing beats the February doldrums like Hawaii (or at least, thinking about Hawaii).

The relay was loads of fun and mostly uneventful, with the unfortunate exception of our third swimmer getting tangled in a jellyfish (probably a box) only a few minutes into her 30-minute leg. She got on the boat and (as allowed by the rules) we turned off the engine and floated in place. At the next change-over, we put our next swimmer in the water and continued on our way.

We all got “zapped” a few times by jellies, but we made it to the finish at Kaanapali Beach without further incident.…

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Auau (Maui) Channel solo swim – Preview

Auau (Maui) Channel solo swim – Preview

I was in Maui over Labor Day weekend, and managed not one, not two, but three round-trip crossings to nearby Lanai: as a member of a 6-person team in the Maui Channel Relay; a solo swim along the same course; and a snorkeling outing (via ferry) to otherworldly Hulopoe Beach.

Here’s a short video with some pictures & GoPro footage from the solo swim (click through to Vimeo for HD version):

Maui Channel solo swim from Evan Morrison on Vimeo.…

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Sharing the water with giants

Sharing the water with giants

The blue whale is the largest known animal to have ever existed – up to 110 feet long and weighing nearly 200 metric tons. The whales are drawn to the deep waters off the coast of Southern California in late summer and fall to feed on krill (up to 40 million a day for an adult).

These magnificent, peaceful creatures were hunted nearly to extinction in the 20th century. Though still endangered, their West Coast population (estimated at 2,500) has been gradually recovering – to the delight of whale watchers… and swimmers of the Catalina and Santa Barbara Channels!

Check out this guy kayaking with them off Redondo Beach a few days ago. See, especially, the underwater shots at 1:12 and 2:15.

I’ve never been much of a museum guy – even less so when I was kid. But I fondly remember one particular exhibit at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (a popular field trip destination at my elementary school): the blue whale skeleton! Turns out it’s still there.

For an interesting description of how blue whales fit into the incredibly diverse ecology of the Santa Barbara Channel Islands, see this article.…

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Hidden gems of YouTube: “The Crossing”

Hidden gems of YouTube: “The Crossing”

I’ll go out on a limb and say: This may be the best video ever made about a marathon swim. At least, it’s the best one I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a few). Perhaps it’s more appropriate to call it a “short film.” The production values are that high.

The film, by Stephen Lewis, tells the story of Marc Lewis’ unprecedented 27.5-mile swim between Santa Rosa Island and the California mainland in 2008. It features 720p video quality, an imaginative soundtrack of Sigur Ros, The Ventures, Radiohead and Beethoven, stunning photography of the Santa Barbara Channel, and thoughtful interviews with Marc’s family, coaches, observers, and crew.

The cast reads like a “who’s who” of So-Cal marathon swimming. Carol Sing and Forrest Nelson as observers; David Clark as swim coordinator; Bob West, godfather of the La Jolla Cove Swim Club; Sickie Marcikic, head coach of UCSD Masters. Marc had some incredible folks supporting his swim; listen closely to what they have to say.

“The Crossing” captures the beauty of an open-ocean channel swim, but also accurately reflects the monotonous reality of swimming and crewing such a swim.…

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MIMS with French subtitles

MIMS with French subtitles

Here’s a neat video by Paris-New York.TV (whatever that is) about the 2011 Manhattan Island Marathon Swim.


I make a brief appearance from 1:35-1:38.

I’m off to New York again this weekend for my final marathon of the season: the Ederle Swim. Check my Twitter feed for info on GPS tracking & other commentary.…

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Swimming the Suck… plus 16

Swimming the Suck… plus 16

I quite enjoyed this video of Hallie H.M. swimming 26.2 miles down the Tennessee River near Chattanooga.

Hallie, who I Swam the Suck with last year, retraced the scenic 10-mile course but started further upriver, and then kept on going several miles further into the Gorge. The video, appropriately backed by Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” (ha, ha), is pure joy. Makes me regret I won’t be returning this year.

Here’s what Karah (Swim the Suck founder & race director) had to say:

She is a REAL trooper. No touching another human, no standing, no wetsuit. She did the real thing.

Indeed. Congrats, Hallie!…

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