Race Reports & Wrap-Up: Semana Nautica 2012

Saturday, 30 June 2012, 9am. East Beach.
3-mile Ocean Swim
Water temp: 61F. Air temp: 65F.

The course: Bathhouse –> Stearns Wharf –> end of East Beach –> Bathhouse
Wetsuits = DQ
An unusual east wind gave us a nice ride to Stearns Wharf. But then the real fun started: A 1.5-mile grind against the current & a head chop. At this point I was leading by ~20 seconds.
First out of the water, 1:27 ahead of a 2008 10K Olympic Trialist.
Santa Barbara News-Press article, Part 1 (click to enlarge)
Santa Barbara News-Press article, Part 2 (click to enlarge)

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Whirlpool Drill

Whirlpool Drill is one of my very favorite swimming drills – yet when I’ve shown or told people about it, I’ve been surprised how few have heard of it. It’s so much fun it almost seems like it shouldn’t be a drill. So here I am, sharing the wealth.

The other day I was doing a filming session off Santa Cruz Island (more on that later), and Whirlpool Drill was accidentally caught on tape! I was treading water, talking to one of the filmmakers, and a little whirlpool started to form near one of my hands. I got my interlocutor’s attention and made the whirlpool bigger for a few seconds while he kept the GoPro running. At one point, a stray piece of kelp was drawn into the vortex. Here’s the clip:

Basically, you scull your hand back and forth a few inches under water – rapidly, trying to maintain constant pressure against the water. If you’re doing it right, you’ll make a whirlpool! Bonus points for big and/or long-lasting whirlpools. Extra bonus points for keeping two of them going – both hands, at the same time!

Whirlpool Drill is basically a more focused, intense form of the various sculling drills, which are intended to reinforce a solid catch and “feel for the water.”

How big is your whirlpool?

My New Beach

I recently moved across town, and my new digs have one especially compelling feature: It’s walking distance from the Pacific Ocean! Fifteen minutes from door to sand: Two minutes along a sidewalk to the access trail; 11 minutes along a dirt path through an open-space preserve; two minutes down a cliff to the sand. As the crow flies, I’m about 2/3 of a mile from the water.

And it’s a gem of a beach:

Click to enlarge

Even on the sunniest days, it’s nearly deserted due to its vehicular inaccessibility. On the entire stretch of coast shown in the photo above (6pm on a weekday – prime-time for the after-work crowd), there were about five people. While tourists crowd the downtown beaches – East, West, Butterfly, and Leadbetter – this beach remains remarkably off-the-radar, even to many Santa Barbara locals.

I hesitate to reveal the beach’s name or location because – probably for good reasons – it rarely appears on the internet. But it shouldn’t be difficult to deduce with a little sleuthing, using the clues I’ve already provided.

Approaching the edge of the cliff, through a eucalyptus grove. 

My new beach is a special place; at certain times of the day, even magical. The water seems cleaner; the landscape more wild and natural. Without crowds, cars, or any sign of development, one feels more directly the magnificent power of the ocean; the vertiginous sense of standing on the edge of a continent.

Fancy a swim? 

I look forward to spending more time here.

Guest Post: Abby Nunn on winning the 2012 Manhattan Island Marathon Swim

Abby Nunn has had a big couple of months. In May, she graduated from Yale University with a degree in History of Science and Medicine. A scholar-athlete in the truest sense, Abby received the Kiphuth Award for highest GPA among varsity athletes – while specializing in distance freestyle for the Lady Bulldog swimmers.

Five weeks later, Abby became the 30th champion of the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim.

I got to know Abby through the Marathon Swimmers Forum, and have enjoyed keeping in touch as she prepared for her biggest swim yet (her previous-longest was the 12.5-mile Swim Around Key West).

One interesting bit of trivia about Abby is that she’s a 6-beat kicker – which is unusual for an ultra-distance swimmer. Back in March she asked the Forum: Is 6-beat kicking prudent for a marathon swim? Apparently, she had been advised that “trying to maintain [a 6-beat kick] for 7-8 hours is counterproductive/a waste of energy, if not impossible.”

Some Forum members agreed with this sentiment. I did not. If someone has been 6-beat kicking her entire swimming career; 6-beat kicking in training; 6-beat kicking in the 500/1000/1650 pool events; 6-beat kicking in 5km open-water races; 6-beat kicking around Key West — why would she fundamentally change her stroke for MIMS? 

People are different. Human bodies are different. Therefore, it seems obvious that individual swimmers’ adaptations to water – and moving through it efficiently – will be different. 6-beat kicking for 8 hours would not be efficient for me; perhaps it wouldn’t be efficient for most marathon swimmers. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be efficient for Abby.

You know how the story ends: Abby dominated MIMS – 17 minutes ahead of second place. And she 6-beat kicked the whole way. Even at the end, she was still pulling away.

Different strokes for different folks.

Abby graciously agreed to write a guest post about her experience swimming around Manhattan. I’m honored to publish it here.

Continue reading “Guest Post: Abby Nunn on winning the 2012 Manhattan Island Marathon Swim”

Race Report: Reef & Run #1

My sleepy little beach town of Santa Barbara has not just one – but two! – weekly summer evening splash n’ dash series. Nite Moves, now in its 23rd season, is Wednesdays at Leadbetter Beach, and involves a 1000m swim and/or a 5km run up Shoreline Drive. Reef & Run, a more recent addition to the local scene, is Thursdays at East Beach and offers the choice of a 500m, 1000m, or 1-mile swim followed (select weeks only) by a beach run.

Last week I participated in the season-opening Reef & Run, which was free to all comers. From a swimmer’s perspective, it has a lot to recommend it:

  • meatier, 1-mile swim (plus 500m and 1000m options)
  • locker room and showers at the Cabrillo Bathhouse
  • more affordable $120 season pass (or $15/day)
  • large, easily-sighted buoys
  • East Beach is, quite simply, a great beach – one of the best in town.
East Beach and Cabrillo Bathhouse. Photo by Flickr user Damian Gadal

Neither series distinguish between wetsuits and skins in the results – which is an argument I may never win. In the organizers’ defense, these events are logistically complicated enough without sorting out who’s wearing a wetsuit and who isn’t, week in and week out.

Anyway, it was a glorious evening – about 24 hours before the summer solstice. Air temp in the mid-70s with lots of sun. Water was 63F with incredible visibility – close to 15 feet, which is almost unheard of close to shore in this region.

I finished 4/104 in the 1-mile swim, in 19:52. The 500m and 1000m swims attracted 79 others – a tremendous turnout.

Looking forward to next week!

Mad dash to the first buoy. Photo by James Crosby, courtesy of Presidio Sports

MIMS 2012

I will be live-tweeting the 2012 Manhattan Island Marathon Swim from NYC Swim’s Twitter account – follow along at twitter.com/nycswim, starting around 10:20am Eastern, Saturday.

Many friends will be in the water, on the water, or otherwise involved in this great celebration of marathon swimming. I wish everyone the best.

For convenience, here are links to my report from MIMS 2011:

Good Workouts and Bad Workouts

100×100 may be “the most famous of all distance swimming sessions” – but I’d never actually done it… until last Friday. Mark invited me to his USA-S squad’s morning practice, for reasons unspecified, and had this “special surprise” waiting for us: 100×100 (SCY), as:

  • 10 @ 1:30, warm-up
  • 10 @ 1:20
  • 10 @ { 2 @ 1:15, 3 @ 1:10, 3 @ 1:20, 2 @ 1:30 }
  • 6x: 10 @ { 4 @ 1:10, 3 @ 1:30, 2 @ 1:05, 1 @ 2:10 }
  • 10 @ 1:30, cool-down

Normally this would be a make-able (if challenging) set for me. Unfortunately, Friday was not a normal day. For whatever reason, my body was just not cooperating. I lifted weights on Thursday, but I don’t think that entirely accounts for it. It was just one of those days.

I have a “lead balloon” day once a month or so. I recognize it within minutes of getting in the water. Wow… I’ve got *nothing* today. On such days, I usually adjust my plans. Slow drilling, sculling, kicking… anything but a distance-overload set on tight intervals.

By the second round of 10×100 (1:20 interval), it was clear I was having “one of those days.” My body position felt off. I was having trouble hitting my stroke count (14), which on a normal day I can do with my eyes closed (literally). I was approaching the wall in-between strokes (e.g., 14 & and a half), and thus either jamming or floating my turns. It didn’t help that I was swimming in an end-lane without visual targets on the walls. One time I actually “whiffed” on a flip-turn – like, I totally missed the wall – which I can’t remember ever doing, even when I was 7 years old.

I was a mess.

And yet – at the end of that second round, I still had 80x100s to go! 240 flip turns. Ugh. If this were a solo workout, I’d probably try to get through an hour and call it a day. If this were Masters – probably the same. But this was different. When you swim with kids half your age, your pride is at stake. You can’t just bail a third of the way through the workout.

So, I kept swimming. I didn’t make every send-off, but I completed every lap. If you look at the “main set” of 60×100, you’ll notice every 10th repeat is on 2:10 – providing a buffer for those who missed one (or both) of the 1:05 send-offs to catch up. This buffer was my saving grace.

As much as possible, I tried not to struggle. I focused on good technique – on trying to feel smooth, even if I felt like a lead balloon. My goal was to finish 10,000 yards without hurting myself. As much as possible, I ignored the clock. Speed was a secondary consideration.

Much like a channel swim, actually. In my younger, pool-swimming focused days, I might have considered this a “bad workout.” In pool swimming, “good” and bad” is defined by speed. In a channel swim, though, the primary consideration is: Did you make it across? Did you keep swimming for as long as it took?

And in that sense, this was a useful workout. Not a “good” workout, exactly… but a useful one.