In the first 8 months of 2010 I swam 452.4 miles (796,224 yards). Here’s the mileage by month, with days out of the water: 52.1 (7 days off), 52.8 (2 days off), 63.7 (3 days off), 60.0 (4 days off), 45.7 (8 days off), 64.1 (5 days off), 52.9 (6 days off), and 61.2 (6 days off).
I’m pretty happy with that consistency. The only somewhat anomalous month was May (45 miles), during which I got sick and missed 6 days in a row right before Atlanta Nationals.
This coming month will be an important one in preparing for the 10-mile swim on October 16. Assuming I stay healthy (fingers crossed), I have a soft goal of 75 miles (132,000 yards) for September.
Another Friday, another long postal swim at the UIC Natatorium. This time, for 10K: 200 laps of a 50-meter pool.
The open-water 25K.
I was joined by fellow distance freak Smelts and my favorite U-Chicago professor were also on deck, as lap counters - which I’m told on good authority is a similarly mind-numbing experience.
My goal? 2:17:52 - my open-water 10K time from Noblesville in July.
Some reasons I might succeed in beating that time:
Some reasons I might not succeed:
What else can I say? My splits will tell a better story than my words:
(1) 5K Postal splits (dotted blue line) superimposed for comparison.
(2) Drink breaks at 2/3.5/5/6.5/8K are “adjusted out.” See 5K postal report for a description of the methodology._
Remarkably, these splits correspond fairly well with my subjective experience:
In the end: 2:16:15. Pace per 100m of 1:21.8. A few more stats:
5K splits - breaks included (no adjustment):
Nutrition & Hydration:
(HEED = “high-energy electrolyte drink” - e.g., Gatorade)
(recovery drink = includes protein/amino acids - e.g., chocolate milk, GU Brew)
And speaking of recovery: one week ‘til Big Shoulders!
As the 2010 open-water season draws to a close, my thoughts occasionally drift to the future - the blank slate that is 2011. And as I contemplate new goals and challenges, a recurring theme has been… cold water tolerance.
Aside from occasional childhood forays into the ocean off Santa Barbara - where it never rises much beyond the mid-60’s (F) - my cold water experience is pretty limited. Of my races this summer, the coldest was the 6K in Colorado, and that was only 67. When I moved to Chicago at the end of June, the lake was already in the mid-60’s.
So, when a cold front blew in late last week and dropped the lake down to the high-50’s, I figured it was time to take a page from adventure beard.
Into the lake I went early Sunday morning - certainly kicking, not quite screaming - with a hardy group of infrared thermometer took a reading of 58F, which was confirmed by two others. My only (ever so slight) concession to the cold: a neoprene cap.
I had no particular plan this morning. But as soon as the initial head rush passed, I actually felt OK - so off to the pier I went. 1 mile and a little under 25 minutes later, I returned to the Point and climbed up the ladder. Somewhat miraculously, I was fine - no shivering, and I could even feel my fingers.
I came back the next morning and did it again. The lake was marginally warmer - about 59F - but unlike the previous morning there was wind and chop. I was still fine when I finished my 1-mile round trip, if somewhat more drained from the chop. I briefly considered a second go-round, but hey - it’s Labor Day.
A small step, but a confidence booster nonetheless.
What the lake gods giveth, they can - and do - taketh away. This is Chicago, people!
Big Shoulders ‘09 was a picture-perfect beach day, with calm 73-degree water. This year, the remnants of Tropical Storm Hermine blew through, giving us clouds, rain, wind, and choppy, cold water (62-63 degress F).
It’s all in the game, though, right? Open-water swimming isn’t supposed to be predictable - that’s what pools are for! Maybe you get a beach day, or maybe you get a storm. Maybe the water is calm and comfortable, or maybe it’s churning and cold. The more you can suck it up and say, “I don’t care. It’s the same water for everyone” - the more successful you’ll be.
Dare I say it? Open-water swimming is supposed to be challenging! It might be uncomfortable; it might be frustrating; it might even be vaguely dangerous. You may have to endure - god forbid! - a few negative thoughts_._ In open water, there are no “best times” - the clock is merely a ranking device. Instead, rewards derive from tackling challenges - distance and/or unique conditions - and overcoming them.
Which is why Big Shoulders 2010 was an instant classic.
We knew it would be cold. At temperatures much below 65, in-water warm-ups can be counterproductive, but I took my chances and hopped in for a quick 600-700m. In the end, it was probably a wash. I didn’t really get warmed up, but I didn’t get chilled, either.
What most people probably didn’t anticipate, though, was the heavy chop. The course layout is a 2.5K triangle inscribed in the “playpen” - the area enclosed by Ohio Street Beach, the lakefront trail, and two large breakwaters. From the beach, it appeared that the breakwater protected the course pretty well from the stormy lake outside it. But this was deceptive: As you neared the first turn buoy, located near one of the openings in the breakwater, the chop was merciless. It kept pounding you most of the way along the 2nd leg of the triangle, and then got worse as you neared the 2nd turn buoy (near another opening in the breakwater). The final leg along the seawall offered some relief and possibly even a helpful current.
Here’s a glimpse of what it was like out at the first turn buoy (via Rob Aquatics)
The officials allowed race-day changes into the wetsuit division if the water was below 65, and I think quite a few people took advantage of this. But the unexpectedly powerful chop pushed what was (for some) an already marginal situation into a no-go. Many 5K entrants bailed out after the first lap; others didn’t even make it that far and chose to climb the ladders along the seawall and walk it back.
In the end, 568 (of 800 registered) finished either the 5K or the 2.5K - so almost 30% either didn’t show or didn’t finish.
My race, in brief: The elite wave just sort of started itself, I think. I certainly didn’t hear the airhorn. And we took it out hard, as the 50 fastest swimmers all tried to find clear water at the same time. I stuck with the leaders out to the first buoy. Going around the first buoy I got a little disoriented in my navigation and fell off the lead pack. I also was starting to fatigue - as I said, we took it out hard, and I simply wasn’t warmed up enough to maintain that pace.
I swam with two others through the end of the first lap, at which point one of them fell behind me, and the other pulled ahead. So the second lap was a lonely one - until I started lapping folks from later waves. Navigation was a bit of a chore: The chop made it tough to see the 8-ft tall buoys until you were almost on top of them. It was worst on the first leg, as there was nothing else to sight from. On the 2nd leg the downtown skyline provided some assistance; and on the final leg there’s a tall, conveniently located condo building.
I was 10th out of the water among the elite wave - 34 seconds behind 9th and 59 seconds ahead of 11th. I found out later that two dudes in the 4th wave had gone faster, though one was wearing a wetsuit so he doesn’t count 🙂 Final time of 1:11:07 - 9:40 slower than last year. The winner finished in 1:06:17, also about 10 minutes slower than last year.
I’ve now had a couple days to think it over, and I still can’t decide how to evaluate my performance. I took it out way too hard, though after the first buoy I was passed only once. I felt terrible for the entire second lap, and my stroke was a thrashing mess. Some of that was probably lack of warm-up, some of it was probably my ill-advised pacing… but the conditions were also a major factor. Chop and cold both sap energy. But I don’t have a lot of experience with either, so who knows.
For most of the second lap, I was consumed by negative thoughts. This is probably my biggest disappointment. I got so pissed off at the rogue barge that I almost made a special sidetrip, just to yell at them. Negativity is a potent energy sapper, too - and I knew better than to let that happen.
In the end, I did fine. I moved up 6 places from last year - 17th to 11th - and frankly, the folks who beat me are legitimately faster swimmers. I could have swum a better race, but I’m tougher for having endured it. It was a memorable challenge. And if next year’s Big Shoulders is warm and sunny, we’ll appreciate it that much more.
Bonus Coverage: Don’t miss Rob’s account of our Friday morning “preview swim.”
Summer’s almost gone in Chicago. The winds are picking up; white caps on the lake are a little more frequent; the morning temperatures have a little more bite; the evenings a little less light. Soon, the lake will turn over, bringing the cold depths to the surface, and the air will fail to warm them.
So, it’s about time that I write about my favorite little corner of Lake Michigan: the cove formed by the southern face of Promontory Point and the 59th Street Pier, with the 57th Street Beach in between. “The Point” has been used by long-distance swimmers for decades, who appreciate its several unique features:
Here’s a satellite image of the swim area, showing approximate distances:
Most people just follow the buoy line, but you can mix things up with a trip to the 57th Street beach. Point-to-Pier is 750m as a straight line, but the buoys run slightly outside the line drawn above, which makes that path closer to 800m. The triangle shown above is a total of 1700m.
While most people swim on the south side of the Point, the north side also provides a nice (albeit shallower) swim zone, with a protected cove, small beach, and buoys during the summer. Swimming on the north side of the Point is technically illegal - it’s not an officially sanctioned “swimming beach” - but this doesn’t appear to be actively enforced.
The Point also provides natural protection against swells and chop, depending on the wind direction. With a north wind (swells coming from north to south), the north side of the Point bears the brunt of the action, which protects the south side. With a south wind, the opposite occurs.
Yesterday we had northeast winds. Here’s what the north side of the Point looked like:
And here’s what we had on the south side of the Point:
I took these pictures within 5 minutes of each other!
The water has been holding steady in the mid-60s, but the “Point penguins” know time is short, and the lake will soon become inhospitable to even the hardiest among us. “50 to 50” is oft-heard saying - that is, 50 degrees (spring) to 50 degrees (fall). Most likely, we have less than a month remaining of temperatures reliably in that zone.
After that, it’s “see you in the spring!” In the meantime, enjoy this beautiful article written for USMS by one of the morning regulars.
And now, a belated report on the Diamond Lake Open Water Challenge, in which I partook two Saturdays ago, September 18. I had been waiting on the official photos from the day, but no such luck. The images below I either took myself or scavenged off Facebook.
I hadn’t planned to do this race, but late last month I had one of those “Oh, what the hell” moments, and that was that. Even as the official Olympic marathon swim distance, 10K’s are still pretty rare below the elite level. And this one was less than a 2 hour drive from Chicago. I saw it as an opportunity to see what I could do in a casual setting, where I probably wouldn’t be racing anyone, in water that wasn’t 84 degrees - in other words, everything the Noblesville 10K wasn’t.
The venue: a bucolic lake about 20 miles northeast of South Bend, Indiana. The base of operations (registration, start, finish, etc.) - a small island in the middle of the lake. There’s no bridge to this island, so you take a barge across from the mainland.
On the barge, heading toward Diamond Isle:
Once on the island, there’s no beach or park area to speak of, so where did they set up the venue? That’s right - they borrowed someone’s lakefront house and dock! Registration: in the living room. Bag storage and body-marking? On the back deck.
After the living-room check-in, the 10K swimmers hung out on the back deck, stretched, and in many cases, put on wetsuits. Though the water was 68F, 5 of the 8 men in the 10K wore wetsuits, and 2 of the 3 who didn’t wear them failed to finish. None of the 4 women in the 10K wore wetsuits, and all finished. There were also 5K and 2.5K races, which started later in the morning.
The deck scene:
The twelve 10K swimmers were set off en masse from an in-water start. I took it out smoothly, as I hadn’t warmed up beforehand. One guy managed to stay with me for a couple of minutes but pretty soon I was on my own.
And they’re off!
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention- the course! This was really the only blight on an otherwise charming day. Just a single 1.25K-long line of buoys. You kept the buoys on your right going out, on your left coming back, and did it four times. Like a cable swim without a cable. And without the cable is key. Don’t get me wrong: There were plenty of buoys. Sighting was not the issue. The problem was, the “straight line” was not a straight line. I think it was straight at some point that morning (before we started), but it didn’t take long for the wind to blow them off their spots. Perhaps too much slack in the anchor tie? So eventually, it looked like this:
Whoops! The best part: The buoy arrangement changed each lap. What an adventure.
Back to the race… I put about 90 seconds between myself and my wetsuited challenger on the first lap. Then another ~30 seconds on the second lap. On the third lap I started to grind a bit and didn’t gain further. On the last lap I found a second wind and was able to tack on another 30 seconds or so.
I rolled through the pair of buoys marking the finish after 2 hours, 28 minutes, 50 seconds - pretty slow for a 10K but not half bad for 11K 🙂 My beautiful, sweet wife was right there to greet me - all the reward I needed after my fourth 10K of the summer.
For the next 90 minutes or so we hung out on the back deck while the rest of the field finished (including 5K’ers & 2.5K’ers). A local restaurant provided some delicious BBQ goodness, and in between mouthfuls the swimmers shared experiences. For many, this was a first open-water swim of that distance. Meanwhile, some other local residents took the opportunity to go for a swim:
Once everyone was back in the barn, we gathered in the living room for some brief words from the race director (Craig) and the announcement of results. Craig took the novel approach of offering substantial discounts on products from Hammer Nutrition and 2 X U instead of handing out medals. At first I sort of chuckled at the idea of having to “pay” for my own award, but given that I already use Hammer products, this was actually a rather valuable offer.
I hope the Diamond Lake swims will continue and prosper. The event has an extremely friendly, low-key vibe, and is a great opportunity for anyone looking to dip their toes in open-water or try a challenging new distance. For more veteran swimmers, there are certainly more interesting course layouts and more competitive fields… but it’s tough to beat this: