Voluntary pain and torture

Outside magazine online, and perhaps in the actual print version of July, has a great article from a writer who actually attended the Cork Distance Week. If you don’t know what this is, you should read the article.

It is, simply, torture, from the mind of Triple Crown marathon swimmer and inductee into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, Ned Denison. Lots of cold water swimming. I mean lots. Twice a day swim sessions in water in the 50’s and low 60’s. That’s cold. If you think your swimming pool is cold, well, you’re wrong. Your pool is probably set at something in the 80’s, or, if you’re lucky, in the 70’s. (Doubtful.)  50’s and 60’s is cold, and typical of the English Channel, and some other famous channels. And that’s exactly the reason for this camp. To train extreme marathon swimmers to be able to suffer these temperatures, and their effect on a swimmer’s body, is why people pay to go to Ireland for this camp. The cost isn’t so bad for a week’s worth of training. And at the end you’ll get to say you survived. You might even get a swim cap.

You have to pay extra for the Total Body-Brain Confusion swim. That sounds like a fun swim. Basically, you’re sent off swimming with no particular end in sight. Volunteers (torturers) will stop you at certain intervals and redirect you to a different place, or give you a quiz, or show you their backside. You know, hell. They may even tell you at some point that you’re done swimming, send you to shore, then right before you get there, tell you to turn around and swim for another hour.

There is purpose behind this TBBC. Spending 10-14 or more hours in the English Channel in, let’s say it’s a good day, 60 degree water, does a number on your brain and body. Fingers may develop a claw, with blood flow slowing to that area, making it hard for you to hold a water bottle. You may start seeing things, like WWII aircraft dive bombing you. Knowing how you react and how your body feels during these times is important. It is analogous to pilots learning the effects of hypoxia in the safety of an altitude chamber. Only, these swimmers are nearly naked in freezing water.

Yes, dear reader(s), I do want to do this camp. But if you’ve read me or known me for any length of time, you already knew that. Right?

First swim with the Garmin

Well, this morning I had my first swim with my Garmin. Long story short: I thought I’d only swum a little over a mile in more than an hour when in fact I swam 4K!

OK, so I finally bought one of these GPS toys. I chose the Garmin Forerunner 310XT due to the rave reviews from people on the marathon swimmers forum and an excellent review by DC Rainmaker. This device is like an over-sized watch that we marathon swimmers will tuck under our swim caps. This allows the unit to have a constant view of the sky; most GPS watches worn on the wrist will lose connection to the satellites during the underwater portion of the swim stroke cycle.

(As an aside, I must mention that today I also conducted an experiment with feed. I drank about 8oz of Perpetuem. No stomach upset, not bonking, although I didn’t expect that from so short of a swim.)

I got the watch, read the weeny little owners manual, and then set off early this morning to try it out. I went to Mason Neck State Park again like last week. Less crowded this time, just me and four kayak-fishermen. I put my goggles on and tucked the Garmin strap under the goggle strap, putting the device on the pate of my head. I covered this carefully with my red swim cap, colorful enough for boaters to see me. The tide was in, and the lake a bit colder than last week, but certainly in the 70s. It was harder to see the bottom so walking out past the forest of underwater vines and trees was a bit more difficult. Once I got to where I thought the forest ended, I pressed the start button and headed off.

I wasn’t completely through the foliage. I had to untangle myself and my watch a couple times, but within about 30 seconds I was in clear water and headed out across the lake. I had set the watch up to beep at me every 500m, so I was looking forward to a beep at a very conservative 10:00. I swam easily, loosening up my shoulders. I got closer and closer to the far bank. I got closer. Still no beep. I started to wonder. I stopped quickly to look at my watch. 15 minutes had passed. Surely I’m not that slow. That’s only 2K per hour. Not too impressive, Mike.

I just put my head down and swam. I most have screwed up the Auto-Lap function on the Garmin. Certainly. I got as close to the far bank as I wanted and then took a left and started heading toward a very clear tip of land, something very easy to see with a quick look. I needed to work on navigation anyway, so I concentrated on barely raising my head up, instead looking down the lake a la alligator. (You can see on my map below, the long NNE-SSW stretch, pretty darn straight!) About 10 minutes into that leg of the swim, the Garmin shook and made noise like it was about to explode. (“Your mission, IronMike, should you choose to accept it…”) Oh crap. Seriously? Only 500m! I must have been swimming something like 40 minutes by that point and I’ve only done half a K? Maybe I messed up. Wasn’t the default auto-lap half a mile? Even so, half a mile in 40 minutes? What the hell is my problem?

Oh well, just put my head down and swim. I’m a loser. North Dakota is going to kill me. Swim I did, trying to figure out why I was so slow. Things I’d swum away from got increasingly smaller. Certainly, I’m swimming more than 10 laps of a short pool every half hour! I guess this is why I’ve got this thing tucked under my cap. I can deconstruct it when I get home. I turned for the final leg back. A bit into that leg the damn machine started its shaking and fussing again. Holy crap, I’m a slow swimmer.

I pulled up to the forest, avoiding some fishermen on the way in. When I got to the tangling vines, I stood up. The fishermen looked at me and asked, “Where’d you swim from?” I gave them the route I did. They wanted to know how far I’d swum, so I pulled the Garmin out, pressed Stop, and looky looky! 3.98KM! I am not a loser! I can swim!  1:19.56 is right about my typical 20:00 per K. This includes me stopping more than I should, wondering what the hell is wrong with me. As you can see below, I was only in movement for 1:09, so not too bad for just about 4K!

9Jun13 mason neckNot too shabby I think. Tomorrow, if the weather holds, I will try and go out for a two-hour swim.

The Still Water 8, again

I’ve written before about the Still Water 8, the brain child of marathon swimmer Michelle Macy. I wanted to bring it up again, because it’s on my mind.

The series is right up my alley. Mostly because no one’s done it yet. The lakes are unique, in and of themselves. Some would be a challenge to get in (Baikal and Titicaca). Some have annual, organized races (Zurich and Windermere), which would make planning a wee bit easier. Lake Ontario, currently, would be expensive, because the current governing body, Solo Swims Ontario, requires four escort boats. Yes, you read that right.  FOUR. Lake Tahoe’s organization seems really helpful, and you only need one boat. My Russian language might help me get into Lake Baikal. My lack of Spanish might make crossing Titicaca difficult!  Airfare alone would make Taupo in New Zealand difficult.

Perhaps I can come up with my own series? Maybe just U.S. lakes? Or North American ones? I can do the Great Salt Lake? And find not-too-long Great Lakes crossings. Lake Tahoe, of course.  Hmm…

Stupid mother nature

The only problem with summer season swimming is relying on the vagaries of Mother Nature. Twice in only a week I’ve had my practice cancelled due to lightning. Dammit. That’s the last thing I need right now with the big swim looming.


On the bright side, I contacted the owner of Openwaterpedia to ask them to update my link. I didn’t even know I was on the site, but sure enough, there I was under the M‘s in the People section. (People are ordered by first name for some reason.)  I told the owner about this new blog and he updated my link exponentially! Hopefully that’ll translate to more $$ for my charity!

First open water workout of the season

Drove down to Mason Neck State Park this morning for a dip. My masters coach told me about the place, and it looked perfect online. Not too far away from the house, but the highway down had lots of lights, so despite it only being ~20 miles away, it took me 40 minutes to get there.

But boy was it worth it. Very nice. Beautiful cicada sounds. Bugs. Boat launch. Lots of people. Fishermen and farmers. Well. Celery farmers. I hung my shirt, shorts and sandals on a tree limb and started wading in. I’m sure the farmers were watching me wondering what the hell I was thinking. The water was warm, probably low 70’s. I had to wade out about 30m to get past the foliage and to “deep” water. (I could have stood up during my entire swim, if I didn’t mind putting my feet in the nasty silt.)

mason neck first swim

I took off to the SW toward some parked boats. The current (from wind, I assume) was west to east, so I got to beat my way through some chop. It took me a while to get to the boats (no watch, today). When I finally got there, I looked around, to make sure I was nowhere near any of the kayak or boat fishermen, then turned back and headed into the sun. I had a good sighting point. The visitor’s center of the park is on a clearing, easily seen from anywhere I could have swum today. The beach where I took off was just to the south of that. So I headed toward the visitor’s center. Got there faster than I got to the boats. Waded back up. Didn’t get any looks, as far as I can tell. Fought the bugs back to the van, did the towel-wrapped-around-the-waist dance to get my wet and sandy suit off, then drove home. Based on time and google, I’m guessing I did about 1.5 miles.  Nice first OW workout of the season.  I think this’ll be an every weekend deal.

Lessons learned: Wear bug spray/sun screen, if only for the walk to/from the water. Bring a small cooler with a soda for the ride back, to kill the critters I (probably) ingest. Buy the Garmin Forerunner 310XT, so I don’t have to guess how far I’ve swum. Buy a parking pass for Mason Neck.

Funniest blog title and post

OK, just started reading fellow marathon swimmer Michelle. Very funny. But this post really caught my eye. I’m sure you can see why.

Life in my swimsuit. Got crabs?

I had to read this post. And it just got funnier. Michelle lists all the things she’s found in her swimsuit. For those not in the know, or for those who only swim in a pool, you must understand that when swimming in open water, women, because of the way God designed them and the way man (in the neutral grammatical sense) designed swimsuits, discover many interesting things in their suits. Sometimes those things are living. And they continue to move, trying sometimes vainly to escape the grip of the well-bosomed female marathon swimmer.

Really. Click on the link above. You have to read her list of items found in her suit. And the picture at the bottom. Imagine fantastic numbers of those things tickling your chest!

Living the Lido Life

My British colleagues talk of swimming in lidos. Don’t worry; I had to look it up too. Here’s what I got when I used my handy Internets-Googly machine.



A public, open-air swimming pool or bathing beach.

OK, got it. But really, it is much more interesting than that. The Brits have got some HUGE lidos. Like lidos with 30-60 yard lengths. Or weirdly shaped ones.

Or how about this monster.

I take it from my reading of H2Open Magazine (best publication, btw) that these lidos are unheated. And this is why I’m writing this odd blog post. I swam outside on base today and the water was, get ready, 65 degrees.  Yes. Freezing. (That is technically freezing in the world of American open water swimming, and downright icy for my triathlete brethren.)

It took me longer to get warm this morning than it did doing the 10K in the UK. In fact, I don’t think I ever warmed up. About half-way through my lips went numb. That’s when I decided to do only an hour. I had three other swimmers in the pool with me. None of them lasted longer than 5 minutes. It was really cold. Didn’t help that the sun wasn’t out. Oh well. Got a good 3300 meters in. That’s all that matters.

Coaching ain’t half bad

Okay. So I shadowed a coach. Actually two. For three lanes of triathletes. And it was great.

The pool is amazing. LCM. Really wide lanes. Could probably swim 3 or 4 abreast. Water looked great.

Swimmers were fun. I had three in my lane. Two men and a woman. One of the men had a pretty nice stroke, flat hand entry, and from what I could tell, pretty good pull under the water. Rotation not too bad, but he tended to go to unilateral after swimming a bit. His fast (first) lap for the final (4th) 500 was 1:40.5. After that his laps were in the 1:48-1:50 range.

The other male swimmer was way more fun. He swam the traditional ’60s S-pull, with textbook thumb-first entry. I tried to persuade him to move to the flat hand entry. He left on one lap pulling properly, but went back to his comfort zone pretty quickly. I told him when he was done I’d show him something on the deck that would show him how his S-pull isn’t the most efficient. Basically, I did the exercise in the Swim Smooth book (82-3), where you ask the swimmer to face you on the deck with his arm straight out. He presses his hand straight down on your palm. It is not hard, as the coach, to resist this pushing. This shows the swimmer that the straight-arm pull is inefficient.

Next, you have the swimmer bend their elbow (but still facing you head-on) and repeat. A little harder to resist, but you can resist. Finally, you have the swimmer angle the body as if they were doing the proper rotation in the pool. Much much harder to resist. More importantly, the swimmer (this swimmer specifically, too, which was nice) feels the different muscles involved. The final push really emphasizes the big muscles of the back and chest, while the first uses the shoulders almost exclusively. I could see the realization come to the eyes of this particular swimmer. I’m looking forward to seeing how his stroke develops.

The female swimmer, not too sure. She stopped a lot. She had raced recently and her muscles were still sore. I’m going to have to give her stroke another look.

All in all, it was a blast. I really enjoyed it. I will be doing this again. The other coaches were great. They introduced me to all 8 swimmers and did a main set in honor of me (4 x 500, odds build, evens race pace). They told me sets of 500 is considered long. They hope to get their swimmers up to doing longer sets, including possibly swimming a straight 2000 or even 3000 one night.

Coaching, part duh

Doing my first bit of shadowing a coach tonight. The local triathlon club has a masters swim program. I contacted them simply to find out where in the area they do their open water swims. One thing led to another, and now I’m shadowing one of the coaches.

I’m a little nervous, having never done this. But, I’ve read a lot. I’ve also swum a lot. I know, in theory, what my stroke should look like. I can identify certain faults in others (I never say anything). Whether I can correct them or not, I don’t know.

I debated even doing this. My masters club head coach was very positive about helping me become a coach, with the intent, I think, for me to coach for the team. But I don’t know if I want to do that. I know a lot of the swimmers. I think I might do better with a group whom I don’t know. Plus, I think the tri club swimmers will mostly do freestyle (I’ll find out for sure in a couple hours). The head coach of the tri club told me they need someone with open water and marathon experience. Even though I’m not a triathlete, they’re still interested in me. Go figure! (I did admit to them that I had interesting interactions with triathletes in the past; I wanted to be up front. Dear reader(s) will know what I mean.)

I am excited. This is something I’d consider for a real retirement job in the future. Wish me luck.

Swimming for a charity

So, I’ve written about this before on my old blog. But some readers may not go to my old blog to read about it, so I will tell you about it here. So many of my families and friends, after going through the litany of typical marathon swim questions (“What’s a marathon swim?” “Why would you swim that long?” “You’re swimming how far in __(insert State or Country or Body of Water here)__?”), offer words of support. If I’m comfortable enough with them, I try and guilt them into turning those words of support into cold hard cash.  The below is a repeat of what you’d read if you click on the Charity tab at the top.

I swim for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, specifically for two fellow Air Commandos, Technical Sergeant Glenn “Rocco” Lastes and Staff Sergeant Shane Kimmett, who lost their lives in service to our country. The SOWF’s mission is to provide college scholarships for surviving children of fallen special operations forces. If you are interested in learning more about this wonderful charity, please click here. To donate to the SOWF, please do so through my swim/charity site, by clicking here.

I appreciate your support. So do Glenn and Shane’s families.

All I am is a body adrift in water, salt & sky