Category Archives: Science!

Swimming and longevity

Sure, this is a case of n=1, but damn, I sure hope it is more like n=1000s and 1000s.

(c) Angela Decenzo for the WSJ

From the Wall Street Journal:

At 89, Gail Roper, one of the most decorated Masters swimmers of all time, has stopped competing but can’t stay out of the pool. The former U.S. Olympian has set 325 U.S. individual records.

Great picture by Angela Decenzo!

What a difference 3.3 inches makes

I’ve made a concerted effort to make better use of my daughter’s school’s pool this year. It is right next to where we’re living, a whole 300 meters away maybe. How can I pass up a SCM pool that close? Especially when the alternative is the weirdly-shaped Russian one that requires three laps to do 100.66 yards?

Fact of the matter is the pool isn’t open for laps that often. One Saturday per month for four hours (and twice last year they close early for lack of lifeguards, yet my lifeguard-trained daughter sits here at home not offered a job?) and Tuesday and Thursday nights for two hours. Unfortunately the weekday nights are 19.00 to 21.00, and frankly by the time I get home (between 19.00 and 19.30) I just want to eat and sit.

But that’s lazy. And I’ve got a supportive wife and daughters, so I should just go swim. So this week I swam both weekdays till 20.00 (and did an 8k workout last Saturday). That meant 45 minutes one day and 50 the other, but still. I got in the pool and worked on my stroke, in a SCM pool! Fewer laps and fewer flip turns!

Last night I did a CSS test. Figured I should since I plan on swimming in that pool more often. My last CSS in the small Russian pool resulted in a CSS of 1:32 for that pool. I’m happy with that time, yet know that it is fast compared to what I’d get had I tested in a normal SCY pool. After all, I’m getting 6 flip-turns for every 100 instead of 4.

Well, yesterday I discovered what that translates to when I test in an actual SCM pool. My CSS in the school pool is 1:50! That extra 3.33 inches per meter sure adds up when you’re swimming 400 meters (6:56) and 200 meters (3:17). Next week I’ll do some CSS workouts to see how I feel in that pool. (I have to set the tempo trainer to 27:38 now for each length.) I look forward to improving my times over the fall and winter!

Back in the saddle

So the pool was refilled almost immediately and I’m back in the saddle. Yes, the water still turns my ears blue, no stopping that apparently. I’m still using the increasingly-bluer goggles and swim cap (no reason to ruin another MSF cap). But the few of us who regularly swim in the pool had to deal with an issue right off the bat.

Seems the Russian pool manager thought the water was too cold. The water was only 80*F.

So the first day back in the pool I see my swimming buddy Anthony, lapping away in lane #2. He always gets there a bit earlier than I do as he lives right there on the embassy, while I’ve got a 45-60 min public transportation route to complete first. He seemed to be swimming just fine, so without thinking of dipping a toe in I simply jumped…

…into 86-ish degrees of bath water. Maybe even higher. (This pool has been at 90* before.) It was just too much. Anthony came into the wall and I looked at him and he simply said, “Yeah. Right?” It was brutal. Swimming in your bath tub.

So, after my work-out I did what I also did 6 years ago, and composed an email to the management of the pool, pointing out to them the recommended temperature for indoor pools. I also pointed out the health risks of swimming in too-hot water. But mostly what got them was the info about how pool chemicals were made to work in certain temperature ranges. Seems that algae and bacteria absolutely love really warm water.

That very day I ran into the embassy’s facilities manager, who told me that the pool manager had found a way to open the lock box and adjust the water temperature. The facilities guy had to buy a new lock and institute new check-out procedures for the key. The pool manager explained that the kids were complaining the pool water was too cold. He was told to explain to their parents about how the chemicals work and ask the parents if they’d rather their children get sick from ingesting bacteria- and algae-filled pool water.

And from that day on, the water has been a pleasant (yet still too warm) 78*F.  Ah!

That “5K” in Croatia

No, not that legitimate 5K. The 5k I did from Sutivan to Supetar on the island of Brac. The one that Google said was only 5K.  This one:

Sutivan to Supetar
Sutivan to Supetar


Yeah, that one. 5.61km. But Mr. Garmin said it was much farther.

Sutivan to Supetar Actual
Sutivan to Supetar Actual


Quite different. 8489 yards is 7762 meters. That’s more than 2k beyond what Google was saying. Well, it is easy to see how I “over-swam” when you lay both routes over top each other:

S to S both routes
S to S both routes


Wow, in some of those areas I was way out there!

Another relaxing swim

Got up this morning at the crack of 10 a.m. and went out for a swim. Yeah, that’s how I roll on vacation. Sleep late, stay up (moderately) late. Drink. You know. Relax.

Morning swim 2 August
Morning swim 2 August

I don’t know what it is about salt water, but besides the buoyancy, I feel like I can breath less often. Bilateral or every-4 breathing patterns are no problem for me in this water. (I still breathed every right during my race last week, but I always do that when I’m racing.) Additionally, the problem that plagues me in the pool, namely, water pouring into my left ear canal whenever I breath on that side, doesn’t seem to affect me in this water.* I don’t know why. Is it the beautifully clear water and the fish swimming around under me that lulls me into a nice, even, calm breathing pattern?

Not sure what it is, but that part of swimming here I’m going to miss in a week. What I won’t miss is the taste of the salt water. Yuck. My mouth tasted gross after my 7.76 (5.15?) swim to Supetar last week. I couldn’t imagine spending anymore time in this water. Although, I’m trying to arrange a boat for a Sutivan-Milna (12.26km) swim. If that happens, I’ll be sure to have a bottle of half-mouthwash/half-water to rinse my mouth during the hours that distance will take me.

*It’s like my left ear canal opens or gets wider (?) when I’m breathing hard. I get the same feeling when I valsalva on a plane. Almost like my Eustachian tube opens up on that side. Same reason I can’t wear ear plugs; at some point in the swim my left ear canal will do this thing and a bunch of water will come flooding past the ear plug and just slosh around in there. Any of my dear reader(s) doctors? Advice?

My new Critical Swim Speed

Well, on Wednesday I did my CSS test. First time in a long time. My new CSS is 1:39 per 100 yards.

How, you ask dear reader(s), did I come up with that time? Simple really. It just takes some math:

CSS (y/sec) = (400 – 200) / (T400 – T200)
then 100/CSS = time per 100 yards

Where T400 and T200 equal your times in the 400 and 200 time trials in seconds. (My 400 was at 6:28 and my 200 at 3:11.) Or, you could simply use the calculator at Swim Smooth’s website here.

 As you know, dear reader(s), I’m a big fan of using the CSS. Now I’ll use this CSS on my quality days or what the Pyramid calls base training. Or, further confusing the issue, what Swim Smooth, in their workout books, calls Fresh and Fruity Threshold sets. One such threshold set might be 20 x 100 at CSS. That’s a lot of 100s at 1:39. But does that mean no rest? Or does that mean beat 1:39 so I can get rest?

The answer is Neither. A threshold set, or a pace awareness set (yet another name for it), is designed so that you learn how to maintain a constant pace over a set distance. So you can know, while swimming, what a 1:39/100 yards feels like. Thus, I’ll need to swim each of those 100s on 1:39, hitting each wall at around 24 or 25 seconds. Well, how the hell do I do that?

I use a tempo trainer. Or a watch. As I’ve not had a lot of luck with watches over the last three years, I’m sticking with Finis’s Tempo Trainer Pro, one of the few electronics by Finis that actually doesn’t break easily. You set the TTP to beep when you’re supposed to hit the wall, then you swim, working on hitting the wall exactly when it beeps. So for my 1:39, I’ll set my TTP to beep every 24.63 seconds. Then I’ll chase the beep. With respect to the above workout, once I’ve hit the wall on the fourth beep, I’ll stop and wait for another beep to start. Thus, I’ll be doing 20 x 100 with :24.63 sec rest. It sounds counter-intuitive, but swimming a set like this once a week will lead you to improve your speed. My CSS last year kept getting better, by a second to 1.5 seconds, every 4 weeks when I’d retest. Strange but true.

For now, as I’m not training toward anything, I’ll stick to my CSS for the threshold sets. But I could use the CSS if I were working for something longer, like perhaps a 30K race in a Swiss lake. In that case I might start doing CSS + :20. Who knows.