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??

Race Report: Nike Swim Miami 2011


Pre-race with college roommate and swim team-mate John


My second visit to the Nike Swim Miami went much better than the first, even if my time (2:27:51) didn’t really reflect it. I felt strong from start to finish and held my stroke rate consistently in the high 60’s / low 70’s. Even accounting for slight navigational errors, 2:27-high seems way off – even more so considering the favorable (if somewhat warm) conditions and buoyantly saline water.

The course was probably a bit longer than 2K – and then compounded over 5 laps. But that’s just the nature of the game in open water. Who knows what times mean. Even, apparently, with a closed-loop course under neutral conditions.

So how else to judge my swim, if not by time?

  • My “2K” splits were consistent – 27:49, 29:37, 30:02, 30:07, 30:17. Almost certainly my best-split 10K OW.
  • I nailed my nutrition: 150-calorie carb drink at 2/4/6/8K, supplemented with 90-calorie gels at 4K & 6K. Plenty of energy throughout (thanks to my wife who spent 2+ hours sitting on a dock in UV-Index-10 sun with a bunch of coaches).
  • The 10K field was almost identical to last year’s. 62 swimmers, split about 50/50 between USA-S and USMS. 6-8 super-elite / professional / national-team types at the top.
  • Last year, I finished 27/62 overall and 9th among Masters swimmers. This year, I was 14/62 overall and 1st among Masters. (A 32-year old guy finished 3rd overall but didn’t swim with the Masters wave. He’s also a 4-time Olympian).
  • Last year, I was 34 minutes behind the winner. This year, I was 22 minutes behind. Continue reading “Race Report: Nike Swim Miami 2011”

It begins…

My 2011 open water season officially begins this Saturday, at the Nike Swim Miami. The 10K main event is scheduled for 10am EDT, and will be streamed live on the web at Swimming World TV (and syndicated here).

There’s a new venue this year – the Miami Yacht Club on Watson Island. According to the promotional materials, the Yacht Club offers “cleaner water and a more beautiful backdrop,” as well as the opportunity to “swim past homes of notorious celebrities, one of which is Gloria Estefan’s residence.” Wait…what?

Because, let’s be honest: The biggest issue with the previous venue is that we didn’t get to swim past Gloria Estefan’s house.

Yacht Club = red | Marine Stadium = blue

The course has also changed a bit – a 5 laps of 2K rather than 4 laps of 2.5K – to reflect the layout of the 2012 London Olympics course.

It will be my first race and first non-chlorinated swim (with one brief exception) since October. Time to dust off the cobwebs!

As some of you know, I did this race last year (my first 10K). Amazing what a comedy of errors it seems in retrospect. Should be plenty of room for improvement.

More Lance

So apparently this is Lance Armstrong finishing the 2.4-mile RLE Open Water Swim at Mansfield Dam in Austin, TX. He’s the third guy out of the water, behind pro triathletes James Bonney and James Cotter:

And here’s (what I assume to be) the three of them rounding the buoy at the halfway mark:

A couple observations. First, Lance isn’t really close enough to Bonney and Cotter to be getting any draft – which is evidence against some folks’ theories that he must have drafted the whole way. Second, it sure doesn’t look like these guys are going 48-high/49-low speed. Lance even does a little breaststroke coming into the buoy. But who knows.

Am I crazy to think it’s newsworthy that one of the most famous athletes in the world competed in an open water swim? It generated lively discussion on the USMS board and various triathlon boards, yet… not a peep from the “swimming media” (such as it is).

Don’t fight the water

People sometimes ask me what I think of Total Immersion. A full discussion is beyond the scope of this post, but suffice to say: While I may quarrel with a few of the details, I think it’s general emphasis on “harmony with the water” is quite valid – and its validity increases with swim distance.

T.I. coaches teach their students to not “fight” the water. Beginning swimmers often fight the water (almost by definition), but advanced swimmers aren’t immune. I often catch myself doing this when I’m fatigued and trying to hold a pace slightly beyond my comfort zone. I’ve paid much more attention to not fighting the water since I started doing marathon swims. You might be able to get away with fighting the water in a 50, or even a 200, but in a marathon this is death. A relaxed, efficient stroke is essential.

On days when I’m not feeling so hot, I try to forget about going fast and just focus on relaxing and swimming efficiently. If I’m working out with a team, this may require slight adjustments to sets.

For example, say the coach assigns a descend set – 4×200 descended 1-4. Instead of trying to go faster on each 200, I’ll try to hold the same pace on each one, but with progressively less effort. The only way to hold pace constant while using less effort is to become more efficient. Incidentally, I think these types of sets are useful as a warm-up to a long swim – or during the few days leading up to it.

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.

Surf from Above

I recently came across some stunning photo slideshows at Surfline – aerial shots of the Southern California coast. (They require you to watch a short ad before viewing the slideshow – sorry about that.)

Riptide near La Jolla

The photos are geared towards surfers, but there’s great stuff for swimmers as well. Or for anyone – I can’t imagine who wouldn’t be awed by the power and beauty of the ocean and this magnificent stretch of coast.

My Dad surfed some of those same breaks (in Ventura County) on his longboard in the ’60s. I, on the other hand, never spent much time in the ocean as a kid – despite growing up in Santa Barbara. And I never learned to surf properly. Guess I was too busy in the pool?

In several of these photos Catalina Island is clearly visible on the horizon. Shortly after midnight this August 25th I’ll set off from that distant shore – and attempt to make up for lost time.