On Maltodextrin: Maxim vs. Carbo Pro

Among channel swimmers, the Danish sports drink Maxim is something of a magical elixir. The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this post, but for additional details I recommend a search of the Channel Swimmers chat archives – especially posts by CS&PF pilot Michael Oram.

Maxim is an excellent product. Indeed, it fueled three of my four ultra-marathon events this year (Tampa, MIMS, and Catalina). What’s interesting about Maxim is how simple it is. The ingredients: 97% maltodextrin, with a smattering of Vitamins C and B1. Maltodextrin is a complex carbohydrate of chained glucose polymers, and is the basis for other popular endurance fuels including Perpetuem, HEED, and EFS. Maxim, however, has no added protein (Perpetuem), no added amino acids (EFS), and no added electrolytes (all three).

As you know if you read my DIY recovery drink post, bulk maltodextrin is available very cheaply – much cheaper than Maxim. So why pay $28 + $8 S/H to ship Maxim from the UK? (There is no currently no American importer of Maxim products.) Is Maxim maltodextrin superior to bulk maltodextrin? Do the added vitamins make a meaningful difference?

Maybe… maybe not. I’m no chemist. For what it’s worth, Maxim does seem to dissolve more readily in water than the bulk stuff. I don’t know why that is, or what it means. Possibly something to do with which grains were used to synthesize it.

In any case… getting to the point of this post. Remember the Ederle Swim earlier this month? Long story, but suffice to say: The night before the swim I discovered that I didn’t have enough Maxim to mix my feeds. Oh, f*ck. Where am I going to find Maxim at 7pm in New York City?

I didn’t find Maxim… but I did find a great little shop in midtown, Swim Bike Run. They carried a product, Carbo Pro, that appeared to be pretty similar to Maxim. Pure maltodextrin, and none of the other crap. To my delight, the Carbo Pro dissolved almost instantly into water – just like Maxim.

Even more to my delight, Carbo Pro worked great the next day, during my 17.5-mile swim – just like Maxim. As far as I’m concerned, the two products are interchangeable. The only difference being, Carbo Pro is easier to obtain in the US.

Price comparison (and this surprised me):

  • Maxim: 2kg tub for $28.54 + $8.00 S/H = $8.29/pound
  • Carbo Pro: 2lb bag for $17.89 + free Amazon shipping = $8.94/pound
  • NOW Foods bulk maltodextrin: 12lb bag for $33.54 + free Amazon shipping = $2.79/pound

Hidden gems of YouTube: “The Crossing”

I’ll go out on a limb and say: This may be the best video ever made about a marathon swim. At least, it’s the best one I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a few). Perhaps it’s more appropriate to call it a “short film.” The production values are that high.

The film, by Stephen Lewis, tells the story of Marc Lewis’ unprecedented 27.5-mile swim between Santa Rosa Island and the California mainland in 2008. It features 720p video quality, an imaginative soundtrack of Sigur Ros, The Ventures, Radiohead and Beethoven, stunning photography of the Santa Barbara Channel, and thoughtful interviews with Marc’s family, coaches, observers, and crew.

The cast reads like a “who’s who” of So-Cal marathon swimming. Carol Sing and Forrest Nelson as observers; David Clark as swim coordinator; Bob West, godfather of the La Jolla Cove Swim Club; Sickie Marcikic, head coach of UCSD Masters. Marc had some incredible folks supporting his swim; listen closely to what they have to say.

“The Crossing” captures the beauty of an open-ocean channel swim, but also accurately reflects the monotonous reality of swimming and crewing such a swim. It’s a long night on the boat for everyone involved. It’s 35 minutes long, but worth the time investment. I don’t know how it only has (at the time of this writing) 99 views. By comparison, my Catalina video – with iPhone-quality video, no music, and zero production values – has more than twice as many views in less than 2 months. It’s not right.

Just watch it (if you’re viewing this in a feed reader, you’ll have to click through to YouTube):

As a random sidenote, the finish line for the Santa Rosa swim, Coal Oil Point in Goleta (accompanied here by the swelling strings of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony) – is just a few hundred meters down the coast from “R” Beach, a favorite spot from my youth.

Rules on Catalina tandem swimming

Correcting a bit of misinformation from the comments section of a recent post…

Tandem swimming is allowed on Catalina swims, so long as each member of the tandem is sanctioned by CCSF. This is from a CCSF official:

The CCSF recognizes a difference between a SANCTIONED swimmer and a COMPANION swimmer. Sanctioned tandem swims are allowed.

What’s at issue is the COMPANION swimmer, who typically knows the swimmer but has no relationship with the CCSF (eg application, swim history, insurance). For safety purposes, the CCSF wishes to limit that swimmer’s time in the water to a maximum of 3 hours in shifts no longer than 60-minutes. That’s more in accordance with English Channel standards. Different than Dover, a CCSF swimmer could– if they so desired– recruit 5 companion swimmers. Technically, they could rotate 1-hour legs for a 15-hour crossing (5x 3-hours). I have also pondered having a tandem event from the same boat: One solo swimmer going side-by-side with a 6-person relay. Though, it would take some serious synchronized swimming to make that feasible….

The SBCSA also allows for tandem swimming (with each swimmer being sanctioned), but has not yet followed CCSF in adopting a 3-hour limit on pace swimmers.

Catalina Channel stats: An epidemiological view

The second in a series of posts taking a statistical look at the history of Catalina Channel swimming. These analyses have not been validated or endorsed by the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation and should be considered “unofficial.” 2011 swims are included, but are unofficial until the ratification banquet on November 5.

CCSF’s official list of successful swims is available here. Penny Lee Dean’s authoritative history is here.

On January 15, 1927, George Young was the only one of 102 participants to finish the Wrigley Ocean Marathon, and in so doing, became the first person to swim across the Catalina Channel. For his achievement Young earned a $25,000 prize – approximately $325,000 in 2011 dollars, and richer (even in nominal dollars) than any current cash prize in professional marathon swimming.

Seven of the DNF’s in the Wrigley Ocean Marathon – four men and three women – returned later that year to try again; four finished. But Catalina Channel swimming didn’t catch on after this rousing first year. Over the next 25 years only two more swimmers added their names to the list. Despite a brief resurgence in the late 1970’s (including double-crossings by Penny Lee Dean, Cindy Cleveland, Dan Slosberg, and John York), the typical number of calendar-year crossings was still 5 or fewer into the mid-2000’s.

Catalina Channel solo crossings per year, 1927-2011

Then it took off. In 2005, 12 swimmers crossed the Channel. Followed in subsequent years by 13, 8, 25, 16, and 29 crossings. So far in 2011, there have been 22. What happened? My guess would be the marketing of the “Triple Crown.”

Catalina Channel solo crossings - Cumulative


Joining the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association Board of Directors

Recently I was honored to be asked to fill an opening on the Board of Directors for the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association (SBCSA). Of course, I said yes! As a marathon swimmer who grew up with a view of Santa Cruz Island looming on the horizon, I can’t think of an organization I’d be happier to serve.

The Santa Barbara Channel Islands

The Santa Barbara Channel Islands comprise 8 islands off the coast of Southern California. In distance from the mainland, they range from 12.4 miles (Anacapa) to over 60 miles (San Nicolas). Five of the islands (San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Barbara) are part of Channel Islands National Park; two of the islands (San Nicolas and San Clemente) are controlled by the U.S. Navy; the eighth, Santa Catalina (popularly known as “Catalina”) is the only island with a substantial civilian population.

The SBCSA supports and sanctions open-water swims to, from, and between seven of the eight Channel Islands – all except Catalina, which has a separate governing body, the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation. There are a variety of interesting and challenging swims available to Santa Barbara Channel swimmers, ranging from Anacapa (25 successful solo swims) to San Nicolas, which has never even been attempted. A map of potential swim routes is available here.

The SBCSA website is worth bookmarking. For many of the successful swims there are written narratives or YouTube videos to accompany the entry. If you want to know what it’s like to do a marathon swim, you should be reading and/or watching as many of these as possible.

Are you subscribed to the SBCSA newsletter? If not, you can do so here.

View of Santa Cruz Island from the mountains above Goleta, after a wildfire (photo by M. Briggs)

Catalina Channel: A history in numbers

The first in a series of posts taking a statistical look at the history of Catalina Channel swimming. These analyses have not been validated or endorsed by the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation and should be considered “unofficial.” 2011 swims are included, but are unofficial until the ratification banquet on November 5. CCSF’s official list of successful swims is available here.

I should note that Penny Lee Dean did some similar statistical work in her authoritative History of the Catalina Channel Swims Since 1927. However, the book has not been updated in 1996, and in any case, the stats chapter seems to have been removed from the online version.

The Catalina Channel was first conquered in 1927 by George Young of Canada, in 15 hours, 44 minutes, 30 seconds. Since then (through September 2011) there have been 259 successful solo crossings by 220 individuals, including 7 double-crossings.

The short list of double-crossers includes some of the greatest marathon swimmers in history.

From the mainland (M-C-M):

  • John York – 16:42 in 1978
  • Dan Slosberg – 19:32 in 1978
  • Tina Neill – 22:02 in 2008
  • Cindy Cleveland – 24:30 in 1977

From Catalina (C-M-C):

  • Penny Lee Dean – 20:03 in 1977
  • Forrest Nelson – 23:01 in 2010
  • Greta Anderson – 26:53 in 1958

Of the 252 one-way crossings, only 19 went from the mainland to Catalina (M-C). Penny Lee Dean still holds the overall record for this direction: 7:15 in 1976. With the exception of the Swim 22 relay last year, there hasn’t been a one-way M-C crossing since 1977. The most recent M-C crossing was achieved by Suzie Dods in 2010.

The remaining 233 one-way crossings started at Catalina and finished on the mainland (C-M). The 10 fastest C-M crossings are as follows:

  • Karen Burton – 7:43 in 1994
  • Todd Robinson – 8:05 in 2009
  • Hank Wise – 8:07 in 2010
  • Chad Hundeby – 8:14 in 1993
  • Blair Cannon – 8:18 in 2011
  • Gemma Jensen – 8:20 in 2006
  • Jim McConica – 8:27 in 1983
  • Rendy Lynn Opdycke – 8:28 in 2008
  • John York – 8:32 in 2000
  • Penny Lee Dean – 8:33 in 1977 (first leg of a C-M-C double)

My 8:55:59 ranks as the 24th-fastest swim, a mere 11 seconds ahead of David Blanke, Elizabeth Fry, and Marcia Cleveland’s tandem crossing in 2005.

The slowest C-M crossing was achieved by Paul Chotteau of France in 1936 – a herculean 33 hours, 50 minutes! The median C-M crossing is 11 hours, 10 minutes.

Of the 240 C-M crossings (including legs en route to a double):

  • One was faster than 8 hours (Karen Burton);
  • 26 were between 8 and 9 hours;
  • 38 were between 9 and 10 hours;
  • 51 were between 10 and 11 hours;
  • 32 were between 11 and 12 hours;
  • 26 were between 12 and 13 hours;
  • 23 were between 13 and 14 hours;
  • 8 were between 14 and 15 hours;
  • 17 were between 15 and 16 hours;
  • 10 were between 16 and 20 hours;
  • and 8 were longer than 20 hours – the most recent being Jamshid Khajavi of Iran in 1995 (20:47).

Four swimmers have crossed the channel using a stroke other than what we now call “freestyle”:

  • Henry Sullivan – 22:45 breaststroke in 1927
  • Vicki Keith – 14:53 butterfly in 1989
  • Tina Neill – 10:37 backstroke in 2008
  • Jason Lassen – 15:59 breaststroke in 2010

To be continued…

Race Report: Ederle Swim

Janet Harris

I met Janet Harris at a CIBBOWS gathering after the Great Hudson River Swim in May. A few weeks later, we swam side-by-side for a few minutes during the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. Janet is known in the NYC-area swimming community for her infectious smile and tasty baked goods. Recently, she’s been making a name for herself as a marathon swimmer – as part of a 1st-place MIMS relay duo with John Humenik, and then completing two solo stages of the 8 Bridges Hudson River swim.

This past weekend, Janet placed a strong 5th overall in the Ederle Swim. Here is her race report.

I wanted to highlight Janet’s report because her experience, as she tells it, was everything mine was not (or everything I wish it had been). She writes of a tension between swimming “at sightseeing pace, taking my time and taking in all the beauty along the way and savoring the privilege of being able to swim under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, by the Statue of Liberty,” on the one hand, and “giving it my very best effort, and pushing myself to see how I could stack up against a strong field of contenders,” on the other.

Somehow, she managed to strike a perfect balance between the two:

I felt like I was pushing myself beyond comfortable the entire time…. I was also constantly taking in and loving everything around me—the blue-and-puffy-clouded sky, the undulation of the waves, the feeling of being surrounded and supported by the water. I waved to the Romer Shoal Lighthouse and the Statue of Liberty as I passed by, blew a kiss to the VZ bridge as I backstroked under it, and was excited by the ever-nearing skyline of Manhattan. The whole swim was simply joyful, and was the kind of peak athletic experience where the more energy I expended, the more I felt like I had to give.

This is marathon swimming at its best, isn’t it? An epic physical challenge, and at the same time a joyful adventure. A chance to push one’s limits of endurance and pain, and also to experience geographical places in unique ways. Millions have driven over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, but how many people get to swim under it?

Under the VZ Bridge, on the way to Sandy Hook (photo by Vlad Brezina)

As I reflect on my season and look forward to the next one, one of my goals is to be more Janet-like. To experience my swimming more joyfully. There were many individual moments of joy this year, but they were always fleeting. As Janet showed, “joyful” doesn’t have to mean “slow” – and I can probably strike a better balance.

My typical experience during these swims has been as a struggle between body and mind. For how long can I maintain a certain pace? How much pain can I endure? A “masochistic death march,” is how I described it in a comment.

Not warm enough (photo by Kevin T.)

For me, the Ederle Swim was pretty much a death march from start to finish. Is it unsporting to suggest a swim that earned me a record and an AP mention was actually my worst of the year? Probably. So I won’t dwell on it too much. My training since Catalina has been sporadic at best, so I shouldn’t have expected a peak performance. I didn’t bother to taper – there wasn’t anything to taper from.

But my big unforced error was dressing inadequately for the boat ride to Sandy Hook. Such a rookie mistake! After an hour speeding across the water at 20 knots in sub-50F air temps, by the time I arrived at the start I was chilled and tight. Though the water was warm enough (68F) that I was in no danger of hypothermia, I never really recovered. I just felt unbalanced and uncomfortable the entire swim.

These things happen… but I’m disappointed that I let it detract from my joy in experiencing this beautiful, historic swim. It’s a rare thing to backstroke under the looming Verrazano; to watch the lower Manhattan skyline grow on the horizon from water level; to share the water with impossibly large cruise ships and barges. That’s why people pay good money for this.

The blue Atlantic meets the muddy Hudson (photo by Rondi Davies)

We can’t always have good days out there. Some days, I’m sure even Janet would struggle to muster much joy – she’s human like the rest of us. The lesson, I think, is that on those occasional bad days, to the extent you can step back from the pain and appreciate the beauty and privilege of what you’re doing, your experience will be much the better. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t even see the Statue of Liberty as I passed it. I knew she was there, but I didn’t bother to look for her – I was too busy grinding. Three days later, I profoundly regret this.

A few words on my crew: I lucked out again. Manning the boat was my MIMS pilot Barry D.; paddling next to me was Kevin T. They steered me confidently through a multitude of odd currents and the confused chop of the final 2 miles. Pulling double-duty as official observer and crew was John Hughes – a warm and encouraging presence every 20 minutes when I stopped to feed. Thanks, guys.

So, that’s a wrap for my 2011 open water season! For now I’m taking a few days off to regroup and re-acquaint myself with the reality-based world. It’s tough to say what adventures 2012 will bring, but you’ll hear it here first. Thanks so much to my family and friends for their support and encouragement this year, and to my readers for their continued engagement.

May your off-season be joyful!

Approaching Manhattan from the south (photo by Vlad Brezina)

Links of Interest:

  • Official results [NYC Swim]
  • Daily News of Open Water Swimming article
  • Associated Press article (syndicated by ESPN, Washington Post, SF Chronicle, & others)
  • NYC Swim newsletter
  • History of the Ederle Swim [NYC Swim]
  • Fascinating analysis by Vlad Brezina (kayaker for Janet Harris)
  • My brand-new Openwaterpedia page, c/o Steve Munatones 🙂