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.

Behold, an Ironwoman

I want to congratulate my friend and fellow Point swimmer Ruth-Anne on completing the Ironman Cozumel in 16 hours 46 minutes. As an orthopedically challenged swim specialist, I can’t even begin to imagine tackling a 112-mile bike ride and a marathon run… after a 2.4-mile swim.

We open water swimmers occasionally rag on our tri friends for their neoprene fixation, but Ironmen and women are a special breed of endurance athlete. Not to mention, Ruth-Anne continued swimming in Lake Michigan sans-wetsuit through mid-November – longer than me by over a month.

Her triumph in the face of adversity (16 hours 46 minutes!) is captured in a wonderful blog post.

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.

Catalina date set

I mentioned in my tentative 2011 race schedule that I was contemplating a date with the Catalina Channel in the late summer. That date is now set: August 25, 2011.

My support crew (tbd) and I will leave the Port of Long Beach aboard Capt. Greg Elliott’s Bottom Scratcher (what a fantastic name for a boat) around 8:30pm on the 24th. Upon reaching the northwest end of Catalina Island at Doctor’s Point, my swim will begin around midnight. I will swim at a NNE-erly bearing until I reach the San Pedro Peninsula on the California mainland, 20 miles away. If conditions and luck are favorable, I should stumble onto the beach near Rancho Palos Verdes, just SE of Pt. Vicente lighthouse, between 8 and 9am.

It will be my first channel crossing, my first solo swim, but also a homecoming of sorts. I was born and raised in Southern California, and my family goes back several generations in the area. I spent a week on Catalina for 6th grade “camp” – still one of my favorite memories. I’m similarly excited for this as I am for MIMS, though for completely different reasons.


New blog feature: Comparative water temperatures

For those who have ever wondered, in the dead of winter after so many laps in the concrete prison, “What’s it like in Hawaii today?” — a new blog feature! Behold: a dashboard of current water temperatures at a few select locations where marathon swimming has been known to occur.

One surprising (to me) fact gleaned from today’s data: the English Channel is a mere 55F right now… in late November!

You can access the dashboard through the following link or through the “Marathon Swimming” menu at top:

Freshwater Swimmer: Comparative Water Temperatures

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.