Marathon swimming, boredom, and toys

Lake Michigan is cold right now. Too cold to swim in. It hit rock bottom (33F) sometime mid-December, and there it has stayed. What’s a marathon swimmer not living in SoCal or SoFlo to do?

The typical answer is: Long Course. And that actually has been a reasonably good solution for me… until this week. With the UIC varsity teams now approaching the championship phase of their season, the pool we share has now switched to short course ’til mid-April. So… three months until Tampa Bay and nothing but flip turns every 25 yards? Oh no!

Marathon swimmers need endurance, but equally important is being able to psychologically tolerate swimming for long stretches without stopping. This isn’t as relevant in pool competition, where the longest race is only a mile. In the mile, you still need good speed, so lots of interval training is the norm. Even in my younger days when I routinely covered 10,000m over a morning & evening practice, I’d rarely do sets that required me to swim more than 20 laps at a time (500 SCY or 1000 LCM).

In preparing for a marathon swim, though, long steady-state swims should (in my opinion) be an important part of the training diet. If you have year-round access to open water, the task is less daunting. But if you’re limited to short course and, like me, your eyes start to glaze over after 40 laps or so, you may have to get creative.

Thanks to recent advances in technology, there are now some interesting ways to mitigate boredom during long swims. In particular, waterproof MP3 players offer musical distraction, which runners have enjoyed since…I don’t know… the Walkman? And swim watches – which automatically count your laps and strokes – offer freedom from maintaining your own internal lap count (which, for me, is unreliable after about 40-50).

Over the next few posts, I’ll review four of these “swim toys,” two in each category:

Check back soon!

11 thoughts on “Marathon swimming, boredom, and toys”

  1. What we need are virtual swimmers. Picture a pool with a light every yard down the stripe. The light travels at a defined pace, try and keep up. Maybe different modes and strategies. Light maintains equal pace, builds each 100, or is a little erratic and you have to gamble to go with or not. Hell

      1. I don’t think anything. I think you could put after-market rubber mats down. Either heavy or with suction cups. All you need is to wire them to a primitive interface that could sit on or near the gutter. Imagine how much fun you have if you were racing a 1650 verse the lights and they were told to swim say 18:30 +/- 10 seconds. I think it would be fun not knowing exactly what it would take to win.

        1. I’m not so sure an outdoor LED christmas light strand wouldn’t work. I think we will see something along these lines the next olympics – possibly two from now. The yellow line technology for the WR is awesome for viewers. One way to approach the world records set with tech suits is to supply the swimmers with more live data. Have the WR line visible for the swimmers…

      1. That’s true, technically: 2 lengths per lap. But in ordinary usage (based on my observations over the years), people almost never distinguish between them. More specifically, people use “laps” to refer to lengths, but rarely use the word “lengths.”

        This may have something to do with the fact that “laps” is easier to enunciate than “lengths.”

        Also, there’s rarely a need in swimming to refer to the concept of “laps” in its literal sense. The number associated with 1000 short-course yards is always ’40’ – whether you say “laps” or “lengths” is a personal preference. You would never say, “1000 yards is 20 laps” – people would get confused.

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