Dave Scott on open-water swimming technique

After his victory at MIMS, Paul Newsome and his Swim Smooth business partner Adam Young embarked on a cross-continental road trip to experience America via swimming.

Along the way, they stopped in Boulder, Colorado and met up with 6-time Ironman world champion Dave Scott. Paul did an interesting video interview with Dave on the topic of open-water swimming technique. It’s worth your time to watch all 7 minutes, 46 seconds of this video. Here’s the money quote from Dave:

“I’m not concerned about distance per stroke. I like an effective front-end of the stroke, on the catch.”

MIMS 2013, Part 1: A perfect storm

MIMS 2013 was a disappointing, even heartbreaking experience for a number of very accomplished and competent marathon swimmers. Of the 39 soloists who started from Pier A, only 11 made it around the island unassisted – compared to 100% finish rates in 2011 and 2012.

I’m not in a position to grasp all the factors that contributed to the situation on race day – I daresay none of the swimmers are, either – but my sense is that it was a perfect storm of bad luck. Perhaps some human error (as should be expected in chaotic, stressful situations), but mostly just bad luck.

– A storm (literally), producing several inches of rainfall that swelled the rivers, inhibiting the predicted flood tide and amplifying the predicted ebb.

NYC-region weather radar - the day before MIMS.
NYC-region weather radar – the day before MIMS.

– Unseasonably cold water temperatures (61F/16C in the East & Harlem Rivers; a couple degrees warmer in the Hudson). The qualifying swim of 4 hours in 61F is designed to weed out unacclimatized swimmers; nonetheless, some swimmers were unprepared for the cold.

– A stable of escort boats still recovering from Sandy, leaving far less leeway for no-shows.

– Inevitable no-shows among the remaining escort boats, leading to chaos and last-minute reassignments at the starting line…

– leading to a delayed start, thus missing the peak flood current in the East River…

– leading to the slower two-thirds of the field missing the tide change at Hell Gate.

There may be (and has been) a tendency to blame the event organizers for the disappointing outcome. And while I don’t mean to completely absolve the organizers of blame – again, I don’t have enough information to judge (and neither do you!) – I would caution people against this tendency. I would encourage them to think of how many things have to go right in order for an event as complicated as MIMS to go off in the first place.

What does it say that people have come to expect 100% success rates?

Nothing is “guaranteed” in marathon swimming. Shelling out $1000s doesn’t entitle you to a successful swim – unfortunately, even for those whom the $1000s are actually significant.

My experience of MIMS 2013 was different than most. I was honored to be asked by Paul Newsome (founder of Swim Smooth) to serve on his crew. Paul was not only one of the 11 finishers; he was first among them. By my analysis, the delayed start and storm-shifted tides benefited him (due to his speed – and thus his ability to beat the tide changes) in the same way that it doomed the prospects of the slower swimmers.

More on this in Part 2…

On the South End Rowing Club “Pride Swim”

This Sunday is the annual South End Rowing Club “Pride Swim,” a short ~1.2 mile flood-assisted swim from “Coghlan Beach” (fronting the Golden Gate Yacht Club) to the SERC beach. It is one of many LGBT Pride-related sporting events in San Francisco, the Proudest among cities, and one in which I will Proudly take part.

Course route: "Coghlan Beach" to SERC
Course route: “Coghlan Beach” to SERC

Recently long-time SERC member Daniel M. sent the following message to the club email list, detailing some interesting history, placing SERC in the context of gay rights, AIDS, and the progressive tradition of San Francisco.

This email is one of many reasons I am Proud to be a South Ender.

Full names have been abridged in the interest of privacy.

This “Pride Swim” Sunday is in and part of a great progressive tradition of the SERC.  So everyone knows, in the early 1980s, Rich “Richy” P. was an out front gay member of our club and always stood up for gay rights.  He was a swimmer and a rower.  I met and befriended him in 1984 when I joined the club as I was immediately drawn to him as one of the most progressive members of our club at the time. There were still some male members of the club who hated the fact that the club was now integrated with women let alone open gays like Richy.  Richy also stood up for women’s participation in all aspects of the club and got into public verbal combat with other male members who were openly misogynist.

Sadly his lover was one of the first people who contracted the “gay cancer” which later became know as AIDS.  He was also a member of the club but I didn’t know him that well. If my memory serves me correctly, I believe his first name was Kevin.  He came into the sauna near the end of his life one day looking like a refugee from a WW2 fascist death camp.  We couldn’t figure out why he was so bone thin and didn’t want to embarrass him by asking.  Richy told us later what was going on and many club members, both men and women, came out in open emotional support of both of them.

There was a lot of fear about how AIDS was spread at the time so putting down the false rumors and standing by Richy continuing to be allowed in the club was super important.  He had a “bummer sticker” on his locker which had a slogan “SILENCE = DEATH” in the middle of a large pink triangle.  Amazingly, Richy never contracted AIDS and for years he gave his blood weekly so scientists could study why his immune system had resisted the AIDS virus.  As South Enders we were convinced that it was because he swam in the bay!!  He was too!!

Later in 1980’s, Richy lead many club members, including myself, to participate in the Gay Olympics, invented in San Francisco back then of course and which was open to both gay and straight amateur athletes.  I believe Richy was also a charter member and organizer of the Gay Olympics.

We did the swim division and, like the swim you will do Sunday, it was great fun!!!  It was also important as the USOC filed a law suit against Gay Olympics saying that it owned the right to word “Olympics” because they did not want gay people to use it.  The case went all the way to the reactionary Reagan Supreme Court at the time which upheld the USOC complaint. However, it did not stop the growth of what is now called and widely celebrated as the “Gay Games”!

Richy moved away from SF in the early 1990’s and I lost, sadly, lost contact with him. I do not know it he is still an “out of town member” of the club.  I hope is doing well where ever he is.

Given all this, it might be appropriate to celebrate Richy P. this Sunday…maybe name the swim after him in the future.  He did allot for all our democratic rights and participation in our club as well as gay folks “back in the day” when that was extremely hard to do.

Respect and Appreciation for our club doing this “Pride Swim” Sunday.

MIMS 2013

It’s that time of year again! In the weeks leading up to the annual Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, the solo field starts trawling the internet en masse, looking for free last-minute advice. I always know MIMS is approaching when the incoming search-engine hits start spiking for my MIMS 2011 report.

I figured I’d save everyone some time and put all my MIMS posts in one place.

Race Report: Manhattan Island Marathon Swim 2011

Other MIMS Posts

Photo by Hannah B.
Photo by Hannah B.

I’m excited to return to New York City this weekend for the first time since the Ederle Swim in 2011. I’ll be crewing for Paul Newsome, founder and head coach of Swim Smooth, a school of swim instruction far superior (IMO) to Total Immersion. I’m a long-time Swim Smooth fanboy, so this is quite an hono(u)r indeed.

Best of luck to the field, in particular Suzie Dods (fellow South Ender), Jim Neitz (SBCSA swimmer and benefactor), Karen Throsby, and Grace van der Byl (my Catalina support swimmer).

It’s possible I will be providing some on-the-water commentary via Twitter.