14 Essential Open Water Swimming Blogs for 2013

These are a few of my favorite OWS blogs. 14 of them, for 2013. Because I couldn’t choose just 13. They are listed in order of when I first added the RSS feed to my Google Reader (oldest to newest):

1. Rob Aquatics

robaquatics

Rob D. is the godfather of open water swim-blogging, known for his comical prose stylings, his GoPro ninja skills, his seeming indifference to cold water, and his fearsome adventure beard.

2. Lone Swimmer

loneswimmer

Donal is my Irish BFAM and fellow co-founder of the Marathon Swimmers Forum. He’s an English Channel and MIMS soloist known for his stunning photography and authoritative writing about cold-water swimming. We founded our blogs in the same month, literally (February 2010).

3. Penny & Chris Palfrey

palfrey

Quite simply: Penny is a legend. After her nearly-70 mile Cayman Islands swim, an almost-completed Cuba-to-Florida swim, and six of the seven channels in the Oceans’ Seven, one wonders what box she could possibly have left to tick?

She’s not the most active blogger, but I include her on this list because her entries remain fascinating even years after she’s written them. She is still the only successful solo swimmer off San Miguel and Santa Barbara Islands, so her reports are required reading for anyone attempting to follow in her wake.

4. Chicken’s Nuggets

chickensnuggets

Amanda (a.k.a. “Chicken of the Sea”) is one of the funniest, quirkiest humans I know, and her missives are always good for a chortle or two. (Here is a classic.)

I miss a few things about living in the Midwest, but none more than swimming at Promontory Point in Chicago. These days, “Chicken’s Nuggets” are the closest I get to feeling the soft freshwater embrace of my beloved old swim spot.

5. Gords Swim Log

gords
Gords is an English Channel soloist and the founder and race director of the Great Salt Lake Marathon Swim.

He is also famous for his super-human tolerance for long monotonous pool sets, and for being abandoned by Vito (along with Goody and Cathy) on the other side of Clear Lake, left to hitchhike back in a Rob Aquatics speedo.

Personally, I think it was Luigi’s fault.

6. WaterGirl

watergirl
Katie is an enthusiastic open-water swimmer and compelling writer hailing from Arizona — another up-and-coming open water area in the Mountain West region of the U.S.

She recently completed her first official marathon swim – Swim the Suck in Tennessee.

7. 10K Marathon Swim

10kMike

When I first came across “Iron” Mike’s blog, he was an American living in Moscow. An unlikely location for an open water swimmer, perhaps, but one that allowed for occasional fascinating trips to nearby events.

He recently moved to northern Virginia, so it will be fun to see him tackle the more plentiful OWS offerings in the States. Like Katie, Mike, recently completed Swim the Suck.

8. Feel for the Water – the Swim Smooth Blog

feelforthewater

Swim Smooth is one of several “schools of swim improvement” in the marketplace and, to my mind, the most sophisticated and worthwhile (especially for open water swimmers).

I especially enjoy the posts that are written with, essentially, a three-part structure (e.g., this recent one):

  1. Here’s something you may have learned from TI.
  2. Here’s why that makes you slow.
  3. Here’s what you should do instead.

Of course, Paul Newsome is a polite man (unlike me), so he never actually calls out TI by name. Always gives me a laugh, though.

9. The Long Swim

karenth

Karen is a sociologist from the UK, and as such, she often writes about marathon swimming from an academic perspective. Her posts are invariably thought provoking.

She’s also a successful English Channel and Catalina Channel soloist, and will complete her Triple Crown this June at MIMS.

10. Ollie’s Long Distance Swimming Blog

ollieOllie is an Aussie living in the UK, and a very fast swimmer. He and I had an exciting race a couple years ago in the Hudson, and he subsequently became the record-holder around Manhattan. Similar to me, Ollie’s marathon swims are often semi-masochistic experiences.

11. Shark Research Committee

sharkrcBecause you can never know too much about what’s swimming around below you. Or can you?

12. Throw Me In the Ocean

throwmeWhat Caitlin’s blog lacks in quantity, she more than makes up for in quality. In my opinion, the best prose stylist on this list.

13. Trent Grimsey’s Blog

trentElite athletes’ blogs and/or Twitter feeds are often poor quality (or possibly not even written by them), but Trent’s is pretty good. And it appears that he actually writes it himself!

14. Fermoy Fish

owenokeefeA relative newcomer to the OWS blogging community, Owen is already making a name for himself, in his homeland of Ireland and beyond. In 2009, Owen swam the English Channel at 16 years old – the youngest Irish person to do so.

If young Owen is any indication, the future of marathon swimming is bright indeed.

On science in marathon swimming

In marathon swimming, there’s very little in the way of credible science – that is, methodologically rigorous, experimentally controlled, peer-reviewed science. It’s not hard to understand why: Open-water swimming, especially the marathon variety, is a tiny market compared to land-based endurance sports. Market size is related to the potential for making money, and the potential for making money is, in turn, related to funding and motivation for scientific research. Even in triathlon (an enormous, lucrative market), swimming is often seen merely as a warm-up to the bike and run, so there’s little effort to understand it.

As a result, marathon swimmers are left with approximately four strategies for acquiring knowledge about their sport – specifically, the physiological demands of long-distance swimming, and the nutrition required to fulfill those demands:

  1. Figuring out what is known, scientifically, about land-based endurance activities, and applying it to swimming.
  2. Figuring out what is known, scientifically, about pool swimming (in which races last anywhere between 20 seconds and 15 minutes), and applying it to marathon swimming (in which a race or solo event may last 10 or 15 hours).
  3. Word of mouth – finding out what works for other marathon swimmers. This is how most people discover Maxim – because that’s what they use in the English Channel.
  4. Individual trial-and-error. Penny Palfrey likes watered-down porridge and chocolate ice cream. Who knew?

Most successful marathon swimmers use each of these strategies at some point. The problem with the hybrid approach, however, is that it neglects one very important thing: actual, science-based knowledge about marathon swimming. As science has continually shown since at least Galileo, there’s a lot we don’t know – and much of what we think we know might actually be totally false.

A few rhetorical questions, off the top of my head:

  • How are nutritional needs affected by the environment in which the activity occurs? E.g., how is running a marathon in 60-degree air different from swimming a marathon in 60-degree water?
  • By corollary, are products designed for land-based endurance activities sub-optimal for water-based endurance activities?
  • Is digestion during an endurance event affected by physical orientation? E.g., swimming horizontally vs. running vertically?
  • How does electrolyte loss differ between running and swimming? Are supplemental electrolytes necessary while swimming in a saltwater (i.e., electrolyte-rich) environment?
  • How should fluid consumption be adjusted for cold-water swims vs. warm-water swims?

Any others?

The first in a three-part series. See Part 2 and Part 3. Also see this post by Donal Buckley on choline supplementation.

A final word on wetsuits (in marathon swimming)

A few more volleys in the debate, from:

First, thanks to Scott for the generous mention of my post from a few days ago.

In Dave’s response, he emphasizes maintaining a clear distinction between channel-rules swims and performance-enhanced (i.e., wetsuited) swims, but stops short of agreeing with Scott that wetsuited swimming “isn’t swimming.” An important question remains:

If wetsuited swimming is “swimming,” what specifically distinguishes it from channel-rules swimming, and how does this affect how we judge achievements in each category?

Continue reading “A final word on wetsuits (in marathon swimming)”