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.

The unique challenges of MIMS

Another interesting post on the Channel Swimmers chat group from Ned Denison (member of the MIMS selection committee), describing some of the unique challenges of MIMS compared to other famous marathon swims (e.g., English Channel):

… [snippet – see chat group for full post]

Somebody referred to MIMS as the “weak sister” of the three events. Be careful… We all know that every open water swim is different and that the same open water swim is different every year, month, day, hour and minute. A daylight EC swim in August with hot sun, warm calm water, no wind and perfect timing to land on the CAP is very different from – what most of us got or will get.

So – there are some things about MIMS that are usually a bit easier that the EC and Catalina. Here are two that resonate with me:

The MIMS team usually gets the timing right so the swimmers have current behind them going up the East and Harlem rivers.

The swimmer doesn’t need to prepare for a 15 hour swim – you will have finished or been pulled long before then.

Over the years, the MIMS team has increased/toughened the qualifying requirements for participation. We look now for swims in lower water temperatures, a bit more speed and as a result the swimmer’s resume and last 12 months swims have increased in importance. Thus, when participants actually jump in the water, they are have been forced by the enrollment process to be ready/prepared for the big event. There are economic incentives to withdraw well before the event day – so if a swimmer accepts they are not ready for swim, they will self select themselves out of the event.

There are some things about MIMS that I believe are harder: The swim is early in the summer – which greatly restricts the available open water training window in Canada, Northern USA, Ireland, Britain, etc. A huge difference for guys like me facing 2 to 6 hour training swims in 8 to 11C water in May and early June in Cork Ireland.

In some years the tide has been massive in MIMS and several EC soloers could not beat the tide in the first 45 minutes hour to get around the Battery at the lower point of Manhattan. It is rare in the EC that a swimmer will FAIL in the first two hours due to adverse tide. How many of you practice sprinting at the start of your training swims? Very few I’ll bet!

Another challenging spot is the transition at Hell Gate from the East River to the Harlem River. For instance, in 2009, the gate is where many swimmers and relays, some of them EC and Catalina channel veterans, were forced to retire. You put your head down in the channel and swim – you can’t judge your progress anyways and an adverse tide can be beat with the “investment” of a few hard hours. In MIMS the Hell Gate water can just grab you and toss you back – you don’t have the luxury of a couple of hours. You can SEE yourself going backwards – mentally it is a tough one. Can you now sprint again? And do you have the raw speed and power to beat it?

Unusual cool water temperatures and storms have taken their toll. For instance in 2003, many members of the field retired due to the water temperature – one who was a past champion of MIMS.

In MIMS you usually have fairly protected waters in the first half then usually a rough Hudson at the end. I don’t know about most of you – but I prefer to either being in constantly tough conditions – or easing conditions (we have a long lake swim in Cork that ends by going down a fast river – heaven!) but mentally it is tough knowing FOR SURE that the end will be harder.

While being with a great group of swimmers in the pre, actual and post swim time is part of the magic of MIMS. For me it make is better and easier….except… MIMS is a race – you may or may not want to be in a race or accept that is it a race. It is always an uplifting experience when in a race when I am passing people. Does anyone out there like getting passed? MIMIS is not like the EC where some other swimmer and boat may be 1/2 mile away….in MIMS you can get passed by somebody so close you can feel the wake and see them clearly!

Finally, I had to spend 9 months of training by visualizing that my upcoming MIMS would be halted for lighting or other temporary things. I am a point to point guy in mentality and once I stop I don’t restart easily….maybe a good mentality for the EC….but not MIMS. Sure enough during my swim, halfway down the Hudson I could see the lightening coming (stuff scares the crap out of me!) and looked up to see a 1/4 mile long cruise ship backing across the 1 mile wide Hudson: “all swimmers out”. The swimmer making a move to pass me at that very moment NEVER got back in when the race restarted. Ask her if MIMS is a “weak sister”

So – for anyone looking to swim MIMS…beware of that “weak sister” comment. You will be getting into a tough open water swim – you better come mentally and physically prepared…….the Hudson River will not be impressed by the Catalina and EC charts on your wall at home.

Regards, Ned

PS…didn’t want to scare you by talking about the worst of it for me….the “Spuyten Duyvil”…it scared the Dutch settlers nearly 400 years ago and you will see why!

Summer marathon swims, in pictures

What’s a marathon swim? Distance is how it’s typically defined – any swim 10K or longer. Another indicator? If you need high-level satellite imagery to view the course map.

Saturday, April 9, 2011 – Nike Swim Miami – Miami, FL – 10K

Saturday, April 23 – Tampa Bay Marathon Swim – Tampa, FL – 24 miles

Saturday, June 18 – Manhattan Island Marathon Swim – New York, NY – 28.5 miles

Saturday, July 9 – Kingdom Swim – Newport, VT – 10 miles

Saturday, August 13 – Boston Light Swim – Boston, MA – 8 miles

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!

MIMS selection process – official report

This is interesting. Ned Denison, member of the MIMS selection committee, posted the following “inside scoop” on the selection of the field for the 2011 swim. From the Channel Swimmers chat group:

Last year I reported from “inside” the committee to help you all understand how the selection process worked for the 2010 solo swim. Time to update you – a year later.  The goal is simply to de-mystify the process for future solo applicants.

The application process for Manhattan is not simple !   It takes a few hours to complete a swimmer profile and upload evidence of swims and write an essay.  The earlier one starts the more time you have to ask questions and get help. So…the final date was announced in advance and the applicants scheduled time to get up early or stay up late or take an hour or so off work (depending on their location in the world!)

  1. The first 15 applications received were very qualified, had no information outstanding, met all the diversity requirements and were automatically selected.
  2. Another four were automatically accepted out of the next 14 completed applications to help fully meet the diversity criteria. The candidates could then see on the site that THEY WERE IN !!
  3. After the site had been open 1 hour, 45 enrollments had been submitted and 30 still required additional action by the applicants. 47 enrollments were receive in total before the enrollment was manually turned off
  4. The committee then met a few days later to discuss the how to fill the remaining 13 slots. Originally was suppose to be 7, but a decision was made to expand the field due to the demand – but not to have a waitlist.
  5. The committee then filled the remaining 13 spots out from the next 16 applications received.  The difference between acceptance or not mostly came down to order of applicants completed, recent long cold swim experience and the speed required to complete the course in the maximum time.  Some consideration was given to applicants from the previous year – did they “step up” to a longer qualification swim for example.
  6. The remaining applicants, most with exceptional resume’s were not accepted.

These decisions were not easy for the committee and several – VERY QUALIFIED – swimmers didn’t get in.

Advice for future applicants:

  • Create a resume of long open water swims – and make sure that you show good activity in the year before you want to swim Manhattan.  HInt – you will be in the water in Manhattan for 8 hours (plus or minus a few!).
  • Complete a swim of 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9 hours to be a strong candidate.  This might be in a pool, a warm lake or a cold sea….the longer, colder and and more open water the stronger your record.
  • Take the application process very seriously and invest 4 hours in the summer BEFORE the swim – so you complete 95% of your application months in advance
  • Get yourself and your crew organized for the day the applications open. Hey you will need to get all of you organized for the swim anyways in the future – so call it practice!

All the best,