A business idea: Super Swedes

These are swedish goggles:

swedish goggles

Swedes are only goggle I’ve worn since 1992, and are among the most iconic swim gear ever. Their sleek, minimalist esthetic transcends both time and nationality. Their simple construction renders them both disposable and indestructible. Here’s an interesting history of swedes (the goggles, not the people) from Malmsten AB.

So popular are swedes among competitive swimmers that Speedo was forced to offer Speedo-branded swedes (with original Malmsten lenses, naturally) so their sponsored athletes could wear swedes at the Olympics without being in breach of contract!

Swedes’ functional minimalism cuts both ways, though. They’re cheap goggles. The lenses scratch easily. The latex straps rarely last through more than a month of regular chlorine exposure (I opt for an after-market bungee strap).

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s this:

blueseventy carbon fiber goggles
Blueseventy carbonRZR goggles

The ultimate in superfluous luxury. Carbon-fiber frames? Anti-scratch polycarbonate lenses? It can be yours for $100 – same price, incidentally, as 25 pairs of swedes. There’s an appealing sort of geek cachet to goggles made from the same material as an airplane fuselage. I’d never buy them, though. I can’t stand rubber gaskets.

But what about souped-up swedish goggles? High-quality anti-scratch lenses; chlorine-resistant straps; a nice carrying case? I might actually pay up for something like that.


Super-Swedes. It just might be the best idea since the Jump to Conclusions Mat.

Mountaineering or Marathon Swimming?

I previously alluded to a “spiritual bond between mountaineers and open-water swimmers,” in describing Jen Schumacher’s back-to-back Mt. Whitney/Lake Tahoe adventures. To illustrate what I mean, consider the following book quotations. Do they refer to mountaineering or marathon swimming? I’ve redacted any clues that would make it obvious.

Mountaineering or marathon swimming?

There were many, many fine reasons not to… but attempting to [climb Mt. X/swim Channel Y] is an intrinsically irrational act—a triumph of desire over sensibility. Any person who would seriously consider it is almost by definition beyond the sway of reasoned argument.

Mountaineering or marathon swimming?

By this time [so-and-so] was a full-time professional [climber/swimmer]. Like most of his peers, he sought funding from corporate sponsors to pay for his expensive [climbs/swims]. And he was savvy enough to understand that the more attention he got from the news media, the easier it would be to coax corporations to open their checkbooks. As it happened, he proved to be extremely adept at getting his name into print and his mug on the telly. “Yeah… he always did have a bit of a flair for publicity.”

Mountaineering or marathon swimming?

To continue receiving sponsorship from companies… a [climber/swimmer] has to keep upping the ante. The next [climb/swim] has to be harder and more spectacular than the last. It becomes an ever-tightening spiral; eventually you’re not up to the challenge anymore.

Mountaineering or marathon swimming?

The possibility of danger serves merely to sharpen his awareness and control. And perhaps this is the rationale of all risky sports: You deliberately raise the ante of effort and concentration in order, as it were, to clear your mind of trivialities.

Mountaineering or marathon swimming?

[Climbing/swimming], she understood, was an essential expression of some odd, immutable aspect of my personality that I could no sooner alter than change the color of my eyes.

Mountaineering or marathon swimming?

[Mt. X/Channel Y] has always been a magnet for kooks, publicity seekers, hopeless romantics, and others with a shaky hold on reality.

Mountaineering or marathon swimming?

She’s interested in publicity. If she had to do it anonymously I don’t think she’d be [climbing/swimming].

Mountaineering or marathon swimming?

The ratio of misery to pleasure was greater by an order of magnitude than any other [mountain/swim]; I quickly came to understand that [climbing Mt. X/swimming Channel Y] was primarily about enduring pain. And in subjecting ourselves to…toil, tedium, and suffering, it struck me that most of us were probably seeking, above all else, something like a state of grace.

Mountaineering or marathon swimming?

Unfortunately, the sort of individual who is programmed to ignore personal distress and keep pushing… is frequently programmed to disregard signs of grave and imminent danger as well.

Mountaineering or marathon swimming?

This is an activity that idealizes risk-taking; the sport’s most celebrated figures have always been those who stick their necks out the farthest and manage to get away with it. [Climbers/swimmers], as a species, are simply not distinguished by an excess of prudence.

Mountaineering or marathon swimming?

If [so-and-so] wanted to be considered among the world’s truly great [climbers/swimmers], he would need to shift his focus to [steeper/longer], very difficult, previously [unclimbed/unswum] routes.

As it turns out, each of these quotations are about mountaineering. In fact, they’re all from the same book: Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, about a disastrous 1996 Mt. Everest expedition. (Great book, by the way.)

But they very well could have been written about marathon swimming, yes??

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.

In Asheville

A friend’s wedding brought me to beautiful Asheville, North Carolina this past weekend. While hunting ’round the ‘net for a place to swim while in town, I noticed Asheville Masters was hosting an open water clinic Saturday morning. I emailed coach Andrew Pulsifer to ask if I might join them and swim around on my own during the clinic. As luck would have it, two AMS members are also preparing for upcoming long swims – the Noblesville 25K for one guy, the Ft. Myers 10K for the other guy. Andrew graciously invited me to join them.

I rolled into the tony Biltmore Lake community around 7:45am and found Coach Andrew setting up. I was the first swimmer to arrive. We chatted for a bit and I was soon reminded of how small the open water swimming world can be. One of the guys I’d be swimming with was a fellow soloist from the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim.

Biltmore Lake near Asheville, NC

We helped set up the buoys and set off on our workout. The lake (man-made – there are no natural lakes in western North Carolina) covers 62 acres, but we were confined to a triangular 200-yard course near the beach. Liability reasons, I guess. Around 8:30 the clinic participants began trickling in.

I ended up swimming for about 90 minutes, including a couple breaks to watch the clinic. Andrew’s an excellent coach, and he included lessons not only on open water technique (sighting, turns, drafting), but also on psychological issues. For many of these swimmers, the first order of business was just getting comfortable in the open water – figuring out how to relax when there’s no lanelines, walls, or black lines telling you where to go.

It was inspiring to see people with little open water experience overcoming their natural fears. And it was inspiring to see their dawning realization, after a bit, that hey… this is fun! Asheville’s not a big town, but the clinic drew 45 people. That’s got to be a hopeful sign for the future of the sport.

There’s a nice wrap-up of the event here.

Lessons from the Circle Line

The Circle Line cruise is almost a rite of passage for first-time MIMS swimmers. A 3-hour circumnavigation of Manhattan island, the cruise boat traces the same path as the marathon swim – albeit starting from 42nd St on the Hudson instead of South Cove.

The Circle Line is a unique and worthwhile experience in itself. The Manhattan skyline is visually stunning and full of interesting history – and the city’s geography lends itself to being viewed by water. But for MIMS swimmers, it’s essential research. Unlike most other marathon swims, you always know “where you are” in MIMS (i.e., how far you’ve gone, how far you have left) – so long as you’re familiar with the landmarks. Actually, I can’t think of a single other marathon swim with as many visual stimuli as MIMS.

The lower Manhattan skyline, as seen from the entrance to the Hudson River on 27 May 2011. The building under construction at center-left is the Freedom Tower, which will eventually rise 1,776 feet above Ground Zero. Swimmers will pass this view just a few minutes after the start of MIMS.

As it happens, I was in New York City this weekend. On a whim, I booked a slot on a late-afternoon Circle Line cruise. Why not get an early preview of my big swim – less than 3 weeks away? For any future MIMS swimmers-slash-Circle Line customers, here are a few tips:

  • Book online, and save $10 with the coupon code FB09.
  • Arrive early – perhaps 45 minutes to an hour – to ensure a seat with a good viewing angle.
  • The best viewing angle is on the port (left) side of the ship, given the counter-clockwise direction of the trip (same as MIMS). The top (open-air) level tends to be more crowded than the lower (covered) level. My trip was on a hot sunny day, so I took a lower-level port-side seat – and had a perfectly nice view through the window.
  • Alternatively – especially if you arrive too late to claim a good seat – they open up the ship’s bow shortly after setting sail. Position yourself near the lower-level front door and claim your “king of the world” spot when they open the door. (I hate that movie.) Personally, I think this is the best viewing spot; the obvious downside is having to stand for 3 hours.
  • Shortly before the cruise begins, find the narrator (who will be sitting on the lower level wearing a uniform) and make sure your cruise will actually make the full circumnavigation. Occasionally, due to high tides, the ship is forced to turn back at Hell Gate (entrance to the Harlem River) because it can’t clear the bridges. No refunds are offered – but as long as the ship is still in port you can leave and exchange your ticket for a later trip.
  • Watch only for the most obvious landmarks – these are the ones you’ll be able to see from water-level during the swim.
  • The Statue of Liberty – no matter how many times you see her image in books or on television – is awe-inspiring up close, in person. This really took me by surprise – I’m not ordinarily moved by such things. It’s a remarkable object.

Urban dictionary: Marathon swimming edition

Two of my favorite new phrases (well, they’re new to me, anyway):

“Getting chicked” and “grandpa pace.”

“Getting chicked” is when a man is beaten by a woman in an athletic event. Commonly uttered by exhausted men after ultra-distance races. Some might find it misogynistic, but I see it as a celebration of female superiority in endurance sports.


  • Jim got chicked by Shelley Taylor-Smith in the 1985 Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. And again in 1987. And again in 1988. And again in 1989. And again in 1998.
  • Evan got quintuple-chicked in the Nike Swim Miami. But at least they were almost all teenagers.

“Grandpa pace,” popularized by Gordon Gridley (e.g., in this post), describes a relatively slow or conservative rate of swimming, suitable for channel crossings.


  • Kevin may not be the fastest swimmer, but damn, he can hold that grandpa pace forever.
  • The main set is four times through: 5×100 best average on 1:30, followed by a 300 grandpa pace on 5:00.

Any other good ones out there??

Four Lakes, Three Rivers, and a Canal

The 2011 open water season hasn’t even started yet, but I have an important announcement to make regarding my plans for 2012.

I call it the “Four Lakes, Three Rivers, and a Canal” Swim.

Mid-June of 2012 I’ll set off from the mouth of the Chicago River and swim 375 miles north to the Straits of Mackinac. From there I’ll swim the 250-mile length of Lake Huron to the St. Clair River, which will lead me (via Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River) into Lake Erie. I’ll then swim 250 miles across Lake Erie (hugging the Canadian shore) to Buffalo, where I will enter the Erie Canal. From there it’s 360 miles to the Hudson River near Albany. Finally, I’ll take a 140-mile “victory lap” down the Hudson to New York City!

“As the current flows,” it’s about 1,500 miles from Chicago to New York. I figure it will take me about 4 months: 2.2-2.5 mph swimming pace, 6-8 hours a day of swimming, with a little extra time built in for unforeseen contingencies and slow canal locks.

I’ve assembled a world-class support crew: my wife, our cat, former president Jimmy Carter (for moral strength), and a local outdoorsman (i.e., street person) here in Chicago, whom I recruited for his scavenging skills. Did I forget to mention? After each stage we will set up camp along the shore. As it’s not feasible to carry four months’ of supplies in two kayaks, we will “acquire” our next day’s supplies at each stop. In more rural areas, this will necessitate scavenging and possibly hunting.

I’m also happy to announce that the swim – which I will be promoting by its catchy acronym “4L3RaaC” – will be a fundraiser for my favorite charity: Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled.

I’m super-excited. I wonder if this will get me on Open Water Wednesday?

N.B. 4/2/2011: This is an April Fools’ joke.