More Catalina history

More good stuff from Penny Dean’s history of Catalina Channel swimming. Here’s the story of Myrtle Huddlestone, who in February 1927 became the first woman to cross the Channel [emphasis added]:

Huddlestone, a 30 year old widow from Long Beach, had only begun swimming during the preceding year to lose weight. She had been motivated to enter the Wrigley Ocean Marathon in order to pay for her son’s education.

Her swim was far from routine. Beginning at 2:30 p.m., Huddlestone encountered one problem after another. Fog appeared after midnight and the lights on both support boats went out. Unable to see the boats, she drifted off and for three hours she was lost. During this time she was attacked by a barracuda. She received bites and cuts on the left side of her body. The fish kept returning and she had to beat them off with her hands. Finally, as the fog lifted the support boats found her.

Huddlestone did not eat or drink throughout most of the swim. As the hours wore on this took its toll. Then as she began faltering, she drank one-half pint of whiskey. Within minutes and approximately a half hour of completion, she became hysterical and was only semi-conscious. She was faltering quickly. The lack of eating, the whiskey, and the hours of exercise had the better of her so that she could not lift her left arm. Her son’s shouts were the only thing which motivated her to begin again. “‘Come on, Mama, come on, Mama, don’t give up.'” Laboriously she inched forward and was caught by the surf, pushing her closer to shore. About twenty yards from the shore she stood up and immediately collapsed in the water. She had to be carried to the support boat. For 20 hours and 42 minutes she had struggled; it was finally over. She lost consciousness a few minutes on the support boat. As she awoke her son cried, “‘Oh, Mama, You did it, doggone it, you did it!'”

Whiskey as endurance fuel. I hadn’t thought of that.

2011 OW Nationals (real nationals, not Masters nationals)

USA Swimming just released the qualifying times for the 2011 open-water national championships in Fort Myers, FL (h/t Adam B.).

And, the standards for the 5K are surprisingly doable! 9:08 for 800m or 17:29 for 1500m? I think even I could do these times with a decent taper behind me…?

In order to compete in the USA Swimming 2011 Open Water Championships, a swimmer must have:

  • Finished in the top 15 at a 2010-11 FINA World Cup Race, or
  • Finished in the top 10 at the 2010 USA Swimming 5K or 10K National Championships, or
  • Attended the 2011 Open Water Developmental Camp (by invitation only), or
  • Achieved the following pool times standard(s) between April 1, 2009 and the entry deadline
                                1500 LCM 800 LCM 1650 SCY 1000 SCY
Women 5K Race Qualifying Times  18:20.89 9:35.99 17:57.39 10:43.19
Men 5K Race Qualifying Times    17:29.89 9:08.99 16:59.39 10:10.99
Women 10K Race Qualifying Times 17:20.49 9:03.49 16:48.49 10:05.99
Men 10K Race Qualifying Times   16:15.49 8:35.59 15:51.49 9:26.09
  • Athletes who meet these times standards will be permitted to enter the Open Water National Championships.
  • Proof of time is required from a USA Swimming sanctioned/approved meet or from a USA Swimming observed
  • performance. Converted times will not be allowed.

Ederle’s timeless advice

Gertrude Ederle was one of the greatest swimmers of her time, and a founding queen of marathon swimming. In 1926, she was the first woman to cross the English Channel, in 14 hours 39 minutes – almost 2 hours faster than any man had done it. This feat earned her a ticker-tape parade in New York City, her hometown.

I’ve been reading Penny Lee Dean‘s wonderful history of Catalina Channel swimming, in which Ederle makes a notable appearance. Though Ederle never attempted a Catalina swim, the first successful crossing (in 1927) was directly inspired by her success in the English Channel.

William Wrigley, Jr. (of Wrigley chewing gum), seeing an opportunity to promote tourism on Catalina Island (in which he owned a controlling interest), offered Ederle $10,000 to become the first person to swim across the channel between Avalon and the San Pedro peninsula. When Ederle refused, Wrigley raised the purse to $25,000 and invited all comers for a winner-take-all marathon race. 102 swimmers began the Wrigley Ocean Marathon on January 15, 1927, in choppy 54-degree water. Only one finished: 17-year old George Young of Toronto, in 15 hours 44 minutes.

Before the race, Ederle offered some advice to the contestants:

It’s a race, I know, but the pace setters will find out that it’s better to take things easy. . . The swimmer who forgets that he or she is in a race will win. Condition is everything, but too fast a pace or swimming in spurts can bring on the cramps and fatigue. The steady tempo is the best, and forget all about your rivals. The stomach is the key to success or failure. . . Sickness brings on cramps. Either you get sick or you don’t, and training has nothing to do with that angle of it. . . Those who do must fight it off or give up. You can’t swim when you are seasick. The food question is an individual one. . . Ordinarily, though, I should say that chicken broth is best for food value and runs the smaller risk of turning the stomach. On my swim I had chicken broth, hot chocolate, end two slices of pineapple. . .  Grease will not stay long. The grease helps you to stand the shock of entering the water, but it comes off quickly. . . Keep your mouth closed when swimming, at least enough to keep the salt water out. Nothing can upset you like salt water in the stomach. Do not look ahead of you. And if you feel like quitting, just keep right on swimming anyway.

73 years later, some things have changed in marathon swimming – stroke technique, training regimens, and swimsuit materials. But the essentials remain the same: Don’t take it out too hard; avoid seasickness; consume warm liquids and easily digestible food; don’t drink the saltwater; and keep going, even if you don’t want to.

Lift before swim, or swim before lift?

I do my dryland training at the University of Chicago’s Ratner Center. As it happens, the gym shares a roof with a very nice 50m x 25y pool. So, for efficiency’s sake I usually combine my weightlifting sessions with a swim.

A question thus arises: Lift first, or swim first?

I’ve heard different theories on this. Those who endorse lifting first say you’re more likely to injure yourself when you’re tired, and thus lifting after a tiring swim session can be dangerous. Some also say a post-lift swim session allows them to “stretch out” their muscles and reduce later soreness. The most interesting argument I’ve heard is that even a brief lifting session can produce muscle fatigue equivalent to (or greater than) a full swim session. So, if you want to practice “swimming tired” to simulate the feeling at the end of a race, a pre-swim lifting session can provide more bang for your buck. That’s probably true.

On the other hand, research seems to suggest that a proper warm-up is actually more important than warm-down, in preventing both muscle soreness and injuries. And there are few better low-impact, full-body warm-ups than swimming.

While there’s a time and place for “swimming tired” – especially maintaining good technique while swimming tired – my own experience is that lifting directly before swimming can overly compromise my performance during the swim session. I’ve also never noticed any difference in soreness between lifting first and swimming first. The more important variable is consistency in lifting. If you go too long without lifting (more than a week or two), you’ll be sore no matter what.

So, I usually swim before I lift. If I lift first, though, I always warm up properly. 10 minutes on a rowing machine or full-body elliptical should do the trick.

2011 Race Schedule (tentative)

Here in Chicago, the trees are gradually defoliating, and the Parks Department finally removed the buoys from our beloved cove south of Promontory Point… which can only mean one thing: Time to start filling in the 2011 Open Water Calendar! In 2010 I attended 12 events (some with multiple races) over 6 months. Eight of these involved air travel. That’s a race (at least) every other week on average. It was super fun, but not so conducive to peak performance. My ‘A’ races – supposedly, the Noblesville 10K and the Big Shoulders 5K – turned into ‘B+’ races because of the near-constant disruption of training.

As for next year, let there be no doubt: MIMS is the ‘A’ race – the main course. Everything else is either aperitif or digestif.

The season will begin April 9 at the Nike Swim Miami. This is a fairly standard 4-loop 10K in a protected nook of the Biscayne Bay. After a long winter of pool training in Chicago, it will be a useful fitness test and good opportunity to de-ice my open-water chops.

Then it’s back to Florida on April 23 for the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim. This is a 24-mile point-to-point traversing nearly the full length of Tampa Bay – from the base of the Sunshine Skyway in St. Petersburg to Rocky Point in Tampa. Given the big tidal assist at MIMS, this will be effectively my longest race of the year.

May will consist of a final training ramp-up into my taper for the 28.5-mile Manhattan Island Marathon Swim on June 18.

July 9 I will meet up with friends-of-the-blog Sully and Rob D. in northern Vermont for the Kingdom Swim. The 10-mile course (there are also 6, 3, and 1-mile courses) in beautiful and memorably-named Lake Memphremagog will take us to the edge of the Canadian border – so in a sense, we can say we “swam to Canada and back.”

In mid-July, my wife and I may be traveling to Stockholm, Sweden for a conference. I have the vague sense there’s a decent open-water scene in Stockholm during the summer… perhaps Mike T. will have some ideas?

Assuming I’m not completely out of shape when I return to the States, I have my eye on the Boston Light Swim, an 8-mile point-to-point through the cold waters of Boston Harbor, on August 13. (Update March 2011: Nope, not this year!)

I’m considering two other August swims, but only because they’re short, and drivable from Chicago. They are:

  • the Point to LaPointe Swim – 2 miles in Lake Superior near Bayfield, Wisconsin (August 6);
  • the 2.4-mile USMS national championship race in Madison, Wisconsin (August 20). (Update March 2011: Nope – I’ll be in California, getting ready for Catalina.)

I’m leaving September and October open for the moment, in case I make a date with the Catalina Channel. (Update March 2011: My Catalina attempt is set for late August.) Depending on what happens with that, other late-season swims may include:

So, I’m looking at one swim a month – Miami in April, Tampa Bay in late April (call it May), MIMS in June, Kingdom in July, Boston Light Catalina in August, and Catalina Ederle in September October. The travel schedule will (I hope) be less disruptive, though, as Sully pointed out in a recent comment, I’ll exceed my 2010 racing mileage (57.4 miles) in just the first three swims of 2011.

And to think – only 16 months ago I could hardly finish the Fat Rabbit 3K in Columbus!

Post-race blues and Where do we go from here?

Racing is fun, but it can exact a toll – physically but also psychologically.

The combination of long distance and high intensity in open water races can deplete one’s glycogen stores dramatically, and the result can be temporary lethargy in the water. In my experience this summer, while I wasn’t noticeably affected by races up to 5K, the four 10K’s I did (not including the current-assisted Little Red Lighthouse “10K”) all messed me up for a while. It was typically about a week before I felt back at full strength in practice.

While the body needs time to recover from a long, intense race, I also found that the mind may need time, too. It’s not often discussed, but for me the “post-race blues” are very real. The longer the race, the longer it takes. The more important the race, the longer it takes. The symptoms: Basically, a lack of desire to swim. And if I do drag myself to the pool – a lack of joy in swimming, and a lack of motivation to work hard.

In any case, it’s not surprising that in the aftermath of last weekend’s event, I discovered new depths of exhaustion, both physically and psychologically. 9 days later, I’m still not there.


It’s OK, though – it was the last race of the year. Fall is traditionally a time of resetting and renewal in the swimming world. The summer championships are over, and most teams have taken at least 2 weeks off. Lots of drilling, lots of long, slow stuff.

And the same will be true for me – though the “new year” is beginning in late October rather than the typical mid-September. I’m looking forward to dusting off my strokes, and perhaps making another run at 4:30 in my 400 IM. I’m looking forward to focusing on speed again, and finding my way back to a sub-5:00 500 Free. (When you start doing 10K’s with any frequency, you come to see the 500 as a sprint.)

My most important focus for the next couple of months, though? Technique. It’s been 16 months since I began training consistently again, and as I ramped up my racing distance the top priority was fitness. At this point, I’m comfortable with my fitness. And though there will be some further fitness ramping a few months down the line, the highest-leverage area for improvement for me right now is technique.


But then what? I can’t say I haven’t given some thought to Open Water Tour 2011. In fact I’ve given it quite a lot of thought. The only solid conclusion from these thoughts? That there won’t be one – at least not anything like the 2010 version.

I will probably swim the 2.4-mile race in Madison in August, because it’s an easy drive. That will likely be the only USMS national championship race I’ll attend. And I’ll be at Big Shoulders in September, of course.

The only 2011 race I’m currently registered & paid for is the 10-mile Kingdom Swim in northern Vermont on July 9. There will be some other ultra-distance type stuff that I’ll eventually add to the calendar. I’ll announce it when I do.


Programming note: I’m discontinuing my regular “Week in Review” feature. I may occasionally post sets, but I’ll no longer report my weekly yardage. There’s less accountability this way, but hey, if I can’t hold myself accountable internally, I probably shouldn’t be a marathon swimmer.