Posts from Apr 2013

SBCSA announces drug-testing for marathon swims

Apr 01 2013

Last month, the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association (SBCSA) became the first major channel swimming sanctioning body to prohibit swimmers from intentionally drafting off the escort boat. The SBCSA prides itself on its position at the vanguard of protecting the integrity of marathon swimming.

Today we are excited to announce another major step forward in ridding our sport of cheaters.

Starting with our 2013 swim season, the SBCSA will be collaborating with the World Anti-Doping Agency and its counterparts, the USADA and ENGSO, to carry out random testing for prohibited substances. We expect that our fellow channel swimming governing bodies, the CCSF, CS&PF, and CSA, will soon be following suit.

What does this mean? Very simply: When you arrive on the beach at the end of your swim, exhausted, chafed, and possibly jellyfish-stung - you’d better be ready to pee in a cup. We will have personnel there to greet you as you emerge from the surf and escort you to the nearest toilet. No stopping to chat with friends and well-wishers; no posing for pictures; you must proceed directly to the toilet.

A moderate inconvenience, perhaps - but we hope our swimmers understand it is essential to ensuring fairness and a level playing field in our sport.

In the meantime, please familiarize yourself with the WADA List of Prohibited Substances. In this era of increasingly sophisticated cheating schemes, the “I Didn’t Know” defense will not be tolerated. Ignorance is equivalent to guilt. So let’s please avoid any misunderstandings.

Evan Morrison
Chairman of the Rules Committee
Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association

P.S. - April Fools!

Related Post

Reactions to the Marathon Swimming Rules Survey

Apr 03 2013

My report on the Marathon Swimming Rules Survey report generated considerable interest in the community. In particular, Steven Munatones published a series of articles on the Daily News of Open Water Swimming, each focusing on a controversial item from the survey:

Steve made a variety of interesting points.

Regarding shark divers, he recounted stories of their effectiveness during Diana Nyad’s Cuba-Florida swims, as well as his own swims in Japan. He concludes:

It is our opinion that shark divers can play an important role when sharks are known to exist in the expected course of marathon swimmers. But if marathon swimmers do not want to use a shark diver, the chances of being attacked by a curious or hungry shark remain extremely low.

Regarding stinger suits, Steve writes:

We view use stinger suits are reasonable forms of protection against possible dangers that can, literally, kill a swimmer. […]

Is it an enhancement? Protective swimwear is usually porous and creates tremendous drag for the swimmer. So it certainly does not help the speed of a swimmer and directly leads to a swimmer demonstrating greater strength and stamina.

I would simply respond: While that may be true of current models of stinger suits, who is to say companies won’t develop stinger suits that do directly enhance speed? Could I wear my old full-body Blueseventy Nero tech suit (which clearly enhances speed), and call it a “stinger suit”?

Regarding bubble caps, Steve admits that a bubble cap “feels warmer overall relative to other caps,” but then cites longstanding historical usage of bubble caps in concluding that “use of a bubble cap is not a loophole in the rules; rather, they are part of marathon swimming heritage.” I agree with this statement.

Regarding jammers, Steve makes the valid point that their widespread usage in elite pool swimming is evidence that they must enhance speed, and therefore, “use of jammers run counter to the marathon swimming and channel swimming ethos to not use anything that offers an extra edge or that enhances performance.” It’s perhaps a bit surprising, then, that nearly 80% of survey respondents approved of them.

Finally, Steve analyzed the geographical distribution of marathon swimmers from a few additional angles, to provide perspective on the predominance of North Americans in my survey sample. I agree that the survey probably did over-sample North Americans to some extent, but not unreasonably so.

Thanks again to Steve for the coverage.

The survey analysis is also covered in the April/May 2013 issue of H2Open Magazine. Though I didn’t get a byline, the writing is mine.

h2open article

Then there was this on the South End Rowing Club Facebook group:


Joe Butler refers to an ongoing controversy at SERC about the use of swim aids in the club “Nutcracker” swims.

There was also a healthy discussion of the survey on the Marathon Swimmers Forum.

April Fools!

On a different rules-related topic, Donal and I caught a few unsuspecting prey in our coordinated April Fools prank about drug testing in channel swims. Fortunately, they were pretty good sports about it.

Steve actually makes some good points about the logistics of any potential PED testing regime in channel swimming.

Just to be clear: If you swim with the SBSCA this year (and I hope you will), you are free to pose for pictures and chat with your friends on the beach. We will not require you to pee in a cup.

Wetsuits and Open-Water Swimming Safety

On a third rules-related topic, the Global Drowning Prevention Forum picked up on my commentary about the tragedy at the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon. As you may recall, I wrote:

In my view, there’s absolutely no substitute for proper training and preparation. … A wetsuit is not going to keep you safe. Swimming competence will keep you safe.

While wetsuits may decrease the chances of an individual person drowning, I believe they actually increase collective risk – by giving people a false perception of safety and encouraging them to put themselves in situations they are not prepared for.

Some interesting discussion ensued. Of particular interest was a comment by Audrey D. (bold added):

Anyone participating in an open water swim race should have many practice swims in open water prior to a race. There are multiple conditions that can occur in open water that change the parameters of how you should adjust your swim. Sadly, even skilled swimmers can drown, given changes to the water temperature, unforeseen changes to waves, and unexpected reactions to these changes. Never rely on a wetsuit to improve your swimming abilities in a race. There is no substitute for skilled instruction and subsequent practice.

Controlled Stroke Count Drill

Apr 07 2013

In Stroke Count Games and A Better SWOLF Formula I suggested a test set of 8×100, as fast as possible, holding a specific number of strokes per length (SPL), to hone in on your most efficient combination of stroke length and tempo.

I frequently do a modified version of this set as a quick tune-up before a competition or a challenging distance workout: 12×100 short-course, aiming for the following SPL on each rep: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. Moderate, controlled pace on all - no more than 75%.

Obviously, the specific SPL goals will differ for each individual. For me, 15 SPL is my 400m/500yd race pace. 14 SPL is my 1-2 mile race pace. 13 SPL is my marathon pace.

The reason I like this set as a warm-up / tune-up is that the act of “depriving myself” of one stroke-per-length on each of the first 6 reps really focuses my attention on efficiency - maximizing the amount of water I’m pulling, and minimizing drag. Then, adding one SPL on the way up (11, 12, 13, 14, 15) feels increasingly luxurious and powerful.

The over-arching goal: the 13, 14, and 15 SPL reps on the way up should feel better, faster, and more efficient than the 15, 14, and 13 SPL reps on the way down.

I took some GoPro video of myself doing this set, so you can see the subtle differences in my stroke from one rep to the next. The video shows a bottom-of-the-pool view of me descending from 15 to 10 SPL; then a side-underwater view of 14 SPL; then an above-water view of 14 SPL.

Controlled Stroke Count Drill from MSF on Vimeo.

Moments in Time

Apr 17 2013

A good snapshot keeps a moment from running away. - Eudora Welty

My friend Rob D is a man of many talents; among them a knack for taking remarkable photographs with relatively low-end equipment (typically, smart-phone cameras). What follows may be a bit self-indulgent; but I thought it worthwhile to collect a sampling of his images (of, um… me) in one place.

2010 - “Freshwater Swimmer” is born


On the shores of Lake Michigan, where it all began. Ohio Street Beach, home of the Big Shoulders 5K.

Photo-bombing Chris LaBianco at the USMS 1-mile National Championship in Huntersville, NC.

Note: This picture was featured on the Daily News of Open Water Swimming at some point. Whenever Chris LaBianco wins a race, no matter how trivial, it inevitably appears on the Daily News of Open Water Swimming.

2011 - Catalina Channel

Jumping in to pace swim for Cliff C.


A week later, my own Catalina swim…

Surveying the situation. 22nd Street Landing, San Pedro.

Surveying the situation. 22nd Street Landing, San Pedro.

Last minute nutrition.

Last minute nutrition.

The darkness.

The darkness.

With Catalina world-record holder Grace van der Byl as pace swimmer, and 10K Olympian Mark Warkentin in the kayak.

With current (but not then) Catalina world-record holder Grace van der Byl as pace swimmer, and 10K Olympian Mark Warkentin in the kayak.

2011 - Visiting Avila Beach


2012 - Santa Barbara Channel

Observing on a Santa Barbara Channel attempt

Observing on a Santa Barbara Channel attempt

Starting the Semana Nautica 6-mile swim

Starting the Semana Nautica 6-mile swim


From just a few minutes before jump-time for my Santa Cruz Island swim last September.

Cathy and I watch the sun rise over the Channel.

Mark and I approach Silver Strand Beach in Oxnard after 19 miles of swimming.


Jumping off the Avila Pier on January 1st.

Jumping off the Avila Pier on January 1st.

Cathy jumps

Cathy jumps.

Thanks, Rob, for keeping these moments from running away.

Postscript: Rob posted the following to his Facebook page, regarding this post:

This folks is why you make sure to always take pictures of your friends when they’re doing cool stuff! One of the more valuable things you can do as a crew person on a big swim is to take all the pictures that your swimmer can’t. Not every picture is going to be any good, but if you take enough you may get lucky and snap that one pic that encapsulates the whole feeling of the swim and your friend is going to be able to hang on to that feeling forever through your work.

I couldn’t agree more.