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.
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.
This post is part of a collaborative project with Donal at LoneSwimmer, delving into basic issues of training and technique in swimming. Donal also published a post today, check it out here.
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.
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:
Warm-up – mostly easy swimming.
Technique work & build into main set.
Kick or pull set.
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.
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.
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 910xt and the Garmin Swim – these nagging issues are a deal-breaker. Absent any major product revisions by FINIS, I must retract my 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.
Beginning with the catch, and continuing through the finish of your pull:
Keep your fingers pointed straight down toward the bottom of the pool,
palm facing directly behind you,
This is a distilled version of the “paddle stroke,” which has been taught in elite USA Swimming programs since the mid-1990s, but has only recently been widely taught in adult Masters programs.
I like this stroke tip for several reasons:
It’s simple and easy to understand, even for new swimmers.
It’s high-leverage, meaning it can produce large gains in speed.
It’s useful for swimmers of all abilities.
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.
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:
To the end of the docks, making a hard left around the Dolphin Club dock.
Along the buoy line and around the Flag with a right shoulder.
Through the goal posts and then the solitary post just beyond with a right shoulder.
Hug Municipal Pier as closely as possible along the full length of the curve.
Under the end of the pier (a.k.a. “wedding cake” or “roundhouse”) being careful not to impale oneself on broken pilings.
Around the buoy at the Opening with a right shoulder.
Under the rounded end of the breakwater (a.k.a. “Jacuzzi“), being careful not to scrape oneself on the barnacle encrusted concrete supports.
Behind the Balclutha and Thayer (port side, right shoulder facing the boats).
Around the bow of the Thayer and back to the docks.
Rinse, repeat, etc.
A “tight cove” (per Roper) or “honest cove” (per Walker) is about 0.85 miles (1.33 km) for one lap, or 4.25 miles for five laps.
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.
Anyway, 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!
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.
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.
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.
One photo in particular, I might even call “iconic.” I can’t remember a picture (of, um… me) that has ever spoken to me so powerfully. From just a few minutes before jump-time for Santa Cruz Island swim last September: Now, going back to the beginning…
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…
2011 – Visiting Avila Beach
2012 – Santa Barbara Channel
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.