Posts from May 2013

Daytime goggles, Nighttime goggles

May 09 2013

In summer 2011, I started using two pairs of Swedish goggles (Speedo Swedish 2-pack) – one with dark metallized lenses for daytime, one with clear lenses for mornings, evenings, & night. As per usual, I eschewed the included latex straps for after-market bungee straps.

swedish goggles

It’s a testament to Swedes’ durability that I’m still using these same goggles almost two years later.

Notice something else about the above photo, though: The color of the straps. Two years ago, these straps were the same color. Remember, the top pair I wear during the day, in bright sunlight. The bottom pair I wear in low light.

These are your goggles. These are your goggles on UV radiation.

Swim Report: Five Coves of Death

May 12 2013

I renewed my membership at the South End Rowing Club this year, and am determined to get my money’s worth. So far this year I’ve done two club swims, a “sunriser” swim, an Alcatraz swim, numerous casual swims in and around Aquatic Park with fellow club members, and crewed on Cathy’s epic 3 Bridges Swim. Last weekend was the infamous “Five Coves of Death” – five laps around the perimeter of Aquatic Park at 5:00pm on May 5th. 5CoD is also the qualifier for Bay to Breakers, the crown jewel of the club’s long swim program.

What exactly constitutes a lap of Aquatic Park? This is a source of some confusion and controversy.  A “tight cove” is shown in an illustration by Joe B. :


Starting from the South End/Dolphin Club beach, one swims:

A “tight cove” (per Roper) or “honest cove” (per Walker) is about 1.35 km (0.84 miles) for one lap, or 6.75 km (4.2 miles) for 5 laps.

On the beach before the start. Photo by Jane K.

On the beach before the start. Photo by Jane K.

But how tight is a “tight cove”? How close must you swim to Muni Pier along its curve? It’s not defined precisely. Some advocate swimming under the pier all the way, which eliminates any ambiguity (“Reptile cove”). Some advocate swimming close enough that the fishing lines and crab pots dangling from above are actually on your right shoulder (“Delneo cove”). Others find this unnecessarily dangerous, and swim further out for a somewhat “looser” cove. No one likes getting hooked by a fisherman.

As an example of the latter, here’s the course taken by the fastest three swimmers - Jim, Darrin, and me.


This cove is not as tight as it looks. I measured it in Google Earth and we averaged 25 yards off the Muni Pier curve. According to reports, some of the men directly behind us were even further off the pier (possibly in an attempt to catch up to us). We’ll call this the “Connolly cove,” in honor of the former swim commissioner Darrin, who led us along this course.

A few minutes after the start. The lead swimmers are approaching The Flag (center-left). Photo by Kim P-H.

A few minutes after the start. The lead swimmers are approaching The Flag (center-left). Photo by Kim P-H.

currents55Anyway, it was a nice day for a swim. Water temp 54F, air temp low 60’s, winds calm. We began about 20 minutes before slack water at the Golden Gate preceding a 3.4-knot flood.

I finished the Five Coves in 1 hour, 44 minutes, 26 seconds, placing third behind Jim and Darrin. My splits per lap were: 19:40, 19:35, 21:25, 21:35, and 22:11. Note, that first split includes about 20 seconds of swimming between the beach and the end of the dock that was not included in the other four splits. The Garmin Fenix GPS watch I had under my cap credited me with 4.13 miles of swimming.

I was getting cold on my fifth lap - I could feel my stroke falling apart - but perhaps I wasn’t as bad off as I thought, because I took only a few minutes in the shower and sauna to warm up.

Next up: Bay to Breakers (Bay Bridge to Ocean Beach) on Memorial Day, May 27th. Cathy did a fun write-up on the 2010 B2B. Looking forward to it!

The last swimmer finishes. A perfect day in the Bay.

The last swimmer finishes. A perfect day in the Bay.

My favorite stroke tip

May 18 2013

Beginning with the catch, and continuing through the finish of your pull:

This is a distilled version of the “paddle stroke,” which has been taught in elite USA Swimming programs since the mid-1990s, but only recently taught in adult Masters programs.

I like this stroke tip for several reasons:


I use this “stroke thought” almost every time I swim these days. If I’m feeling fatigued or unfocused, it’s surprisingly easy to fall back on an “S” pull pattern (an unconscious but ineffective attempt to gain more purchase on the water), or to let my elbows slip.

Yet another reason I love the FINIS Agility Paddles: it is much easier to “feel” the early catch, and sustain it throughout the pull. If you start pulling through at odd angles (rather than straight back), the paddle may slip right off your hand.


Follow-up review: FINIS Swimsense watch

May 20 2013

I had high hopes for the Swimsense, I really did.

Unfortunately, in the 2+ years since I bought the watch I’ve had two major issues that remain unresolved. With worthy competitors now available from Garmin - the original recommendation of the Swimsense.

The deal-breaking issues are:

1. Build quality.

I’m now on my fourth Swimsense. The first three all became unusable after half a year of infrequent use, each time for a different reason. To FINIS’ credit, each was replaced free of charge.

My first Swimsense lost the ability to connect to my computer via the dock (and thus the ability to re-charge the battery). My second Swimsense developed moisture behind the crystal, and shortly thereafter stopped connecting to the dock. My third Swimsense developed a tear in a strap hole (see photo below) and no longer fit my wrist properly. Unlike the Garmin Swim, Swimsense wrist straps are not replaceable.


Keep in mind, I don’t even use the Swimsense that frequently! Once a week at most. For a $200 watch, these quality-control issues are unacceptable. (I paid $200 in January 2011. The price has gradually dropped ever since - does that tell you something?!)

2. Accidental power-ons.

The Swimsense powers-on with the just a slight press of the top-left button. It’s so easy to turn on that it often happens accidentally. A most infuriating design flaw! I’ve learned to avoid putting the Swimsense in my swim bag. Inevitably, the jostling of carrying the bag to and from the pool will power-on the Swimsense. Then, next time I try to use the Swimsense, I’ll find the battery drained.

It’s happened more times than I can count. I’ve never come closer to smashing a piece of swim equipment against the nearest wall than I have with the Swimsense.

So, if I were to purchase a swim watch today, I would choose the Garmin Swim.

All that being said, if I have a working Swimsense in my possession, and if I succeed in transporting it to the pool without accidentally draining the battery… then it does a reasonably good job of counting laps and strokes.

How to get an effective workout at public lap swim

May 27 2013

Whenever possible, I prefer swimming with other people - either with a training partner or in a coached squad workout. But occasionally my schedule dictates finding water at a public lap swim session. It’s possible to get a good workout at open lap swim, but it takes a bit of planning and training know-how.

Based on my observations at hundreds of public lap swim sessions over the years, there are some folks who come to swim laps, desire to become better swimmers, but simply don’t know how to go about the task. For those without a background in competitive swimming or similar sport, it may not be at all obvious.

For example, one of the more common approaches I see at the pool consists of: (1) Getting in the water. (2) Swimming continuously for X amount of time. (3) Getting out.

With that in mind, here are a few pointers on getting the most out of solo workouts at a public lap swim session:

Learn proper lane etiquette.

It will be less frustrating for you… and everyone around you in the pool.

Have a workout plan.

Not necessarily a full written workout with every detail, but at least a basic mental structure of a workout. What do you want to accomplish today?

A basic workout structure can be as simple as this:

Interval training is more efficient than continuous swimming.

Continuous low-intensity swimming is an inefficient way to build cardiovascular endurance. Interval training (repetitions of shorter distances, swum at higher intensities than one could sustain continuously) is far more effective.

Check out the Marathon Swimmers Forum for some good example interval sets:

Don’t rely on pool gear.

Fins, paddles, buoys and snorkels are swim tools, designed for specific purposes, typically strength or technique-related. When you use any swim tool for an entire workout (or majority of it), it’s no longer a tool but rather a swim aid.

If you can’t swim without fins, in my view, you can’t swim. What happens when they fall off accidentally in the ocean? If you always strap on paddles for the main set, what happens when you compete and you can’t use your paddles.

Learn flip turns - even if you only compete in open water.

If you do open turns, you’re basically coming to a complete stop between every length of the pool. Open turns are surprisingly common among triathletes, even relatively fast ones. I’ve never understood it; plus it looks goofy. Flip turns (sometimes called tumble turns) allow you to transfer much more momentum from one length to the next. It makes pool swimming much more bearable.

Learn all four strokes - even if you only compete in freestyle/front-crawl.

Different strokes work different muscle groups, and it will make you a better athlete. Backstroke can provide a nice change of pace for your shoulders after too much front-crawl.