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


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


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


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


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 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

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


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


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


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.

Marathon Swimming Nutrition: Art vs. Science

First, a Michael Pollan-inspired minimalist manifesto:

  1. Drink some carbs.
  2. Not too much.
  3. Some carbs are better than others.

One of the most daunting and mysterious aspects of preparing for a marathon swim is planning a nutrition strategy. And for good reason: Nutrition can make or break a marathon swim.

So, aspiring marathon swimmers often seek advice from their more experienced brethren. But how to sort through conflicting information and opinions?

  • Lynne Cox munches on bagels with peanut butter
  • David Barra spikes his drinks with ginger tea and agave nectar
  • Erica Rose chews dried pineapple slices
  • Capt. Matthew Webb favored (I mean, favoured) beef tea and brandy
  • For Janet Harris, variety is the spice of life.
  • Peter Attia has been pounding the table for SuperStarch.
  • Penny Palfrey likes watered-down porridge, and famously once had a tub of chocolate ice cream flown in via helicopter (while playing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in her head!)

The textbooks aren’t much better:

  • In Dover Solo, Marcia Cleveland recommends “warm, energy-providing liquids, followed possibly by some solid food, or energy gel.”
  • Steven Munatones’ book suggests to “try everything within reason: energy drinks, bananas, sliced peaches, chocolate, and cookies.” He also wisely notes that “what works for another swimmer may not necessarily work for you.”
  • Penny Lee Dean devotes a section to nutrition in her book, but in 2012 her recommendations are a bit dated. A lot has changed in sports nutrition since 1998.

Here’s the thing: In planning your nutrition strategy, you must distinguish the art from the science – the “best practices” from the “special sauce.” Think for yourself. Pay attention to best practices, but don’t eat bagels and peanut butter just because Lynne Cox did.

What are the best practices? Here’s a good start:

Drink some carbs. Your gut processes liquid food faster than solid food.

Not too much. The goal isn’t to replace everything you burn. There’s a limit to how much your body can process at once. A basic hour’s portion of Maxim (or equivalent) provides 58g of carbohydrates, 233 calories, and 750ml fluids (a 7.7% solution). Exceed that only with caution and care.

Some carbs are better than others. Maltodextrin is better than simple sugars* (e.g., sucrose, dextrose, and high-fructose corn syrup). Maltodextrin is the typical carbohydrate source in high-end, “designer” endurance fuels such as products by Hammer, First Endurance, and Infinit (and of course, Maxim and Carbo-Pro).

Simple sugars are the typical carbohydrate source in lower-end, mass-production sports drinks such as Gatorade, Powerade, and Vitamin Water.

Basically, if you can buy it at a gas station, don’t use it on a marathon swim.

And… that’s it. All the other stuff – protein, amino acids, electrolytes – you don’t actually need them (and in some cases you don’t want them). Under certain circumstances, they may help at the margin; but there are risks. Supplemental protein and electrolytes have probably harmed more marathon swims than they have helped. The main thing is to consume carbohydrates – in a form and amount your body can easily digest while swimming. Everything else is just “special sauce.”

Regarding the last point: Why is maltodextrin better than simple sugars? To answer this question, I’ve recruited a special guest author. Stay tuned for the next post…

* Note: I am aware of Peter Attia’s argument that SuperStarch is superior to maltodextrin. That may be true – but I haven’t tried it. I would simply note that Dr. Attia agrees that maltodextrin is superior to simple sugars.

The “Freshies” – My 10 favorite open-water happenings of 2011

End-of-year list-making: It’s not just for music aficionados, film buffs, and the New York Times Book Review. Why not open water swimmers, too?

So, here are my 10 favorite open-water “happenings” of 2011 (“happenings” because they’re not all swims).

The list is, admittedly, U.S.-centric – America is where I live and what I pay the closest attention to. While I greatly admire (for example) Nejib Belhedi’s 1400K Swim Across Tunisia, I have no unique insights to add to what others have already said. Perhaps Donal or somebody can make an international list.

The list also reflects my own personal biases. I readily admit, I couldn’t care less about “stunts” in which the promotional efforts are more impressive than the swim itself. Sorry, but I find such things distasteful and think they degrade our sport.

With that in mind, here are the winners of the inaugural “freshies” (in no particular order):

Rob Dumouchel: New Year’s Day Polar Bear 10K.

6 miles through sharky 53F (11.6C) ocean, from Avila Beach to Pismo Beach, CA. Quite possibly, the northern hemisphere’s first marathon swim of 2011. Long live the adventure beard!

David Barra & Rondi Davies: 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim.

A 120-mile expedition stage swim from Catskill, NY to the Big Apple. Earned a feature in the New York Times while still seeming under-promoted. A surprising omission from the WOWSA nominations.

Jen Schumacher: Mt. Whitney & Lake Tahoe Back-to-Back.

Day 1: Climb Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the continental U.S. (14,505ft / 4,421m). Day 2: Swim across Lake Tahoe length-wise (21 miles at 6,225 ft elevation). A lung-busting feat of cross-training. A tacit acknowledgment of the spiritual bond between mountaineers and open-water swimmers.

Forrest Nelson: Catalina Circumnavigation.

Forrest doesn’t call the L.A. Times. He doesn’t hire a camera crew to film a made-for-TV special. Forrest lets his swimming do the talking. The most impressive marathon swim of 2011 by someone not named Penny Palfrey.

  1. Roger Allsopp: English Channel at age 65.
  2. Pat Gallant-Charette: Catalina Channel at age 60.
  3. Elizabeth Fry: Double crossing of the English Channel at age 52.

Three heroic swims, three new age records.

NYC Swim: A re-written record book. The first double-Ederle swim, by Elizabeth Fry (and along the way, new one-way records in each direction).
Then, re-broken one-way Ederle records, by Lance Ogren and myself.
Best of all: Rondi Davies’ and Ollie Wilkinson’s incredible MIMS match race, with both swimmers breaking Shelley Taylor-Smith’s legendary 16-year old round-Manhattan record.
Morty Berger isn’t someone who seeks out attention, but I’ll just go ahead and say: He deserves a lot of the credit for these record-breaking swims.

Penny Palfrey: Cayman Islands Swim. If this wasn’t the greatest feat of endurance swimming in history, it’s second only to the English Channel triple-crossings (Jon Erikson, Alison Streeter, & Philip Rush).

Petar Stoychev. Not a terribly original choice, but you can’t under-sing this guy’s praises. Petar is, it would seem, immune to water temperature. He already holds the fastest English Channel crossing (6 hr, 57 min). This year, he won the FINA 25K world championship in 32C (90F) water. He has won the FINA Grand Prix circuit 10 years in a row, and is still going strong at age 34. At some point soon, he will probably be acknowledged as the greatest open water swimmer…ever.

USA Swimming 10K Open-Water National Championships. Rough-water swimming at its finest – and the most exciting open-water race I’ve ever seen. For 9,800m, Andrew Gemmell, Sean Ryan, Arthur Frayler, and Mark Warkentin battled it out in insanely choppy conditions. Swimmers were colliding with each other from opposite directions on a rectangular course. Alex Meyer slipped in for the win, to qualify for World Championships (and eventually, London). Here’s a video.

State of California: Shark fin ban. Because shark-finning is barbaric and shameful. Sometimes, government can make a difference.

For what it’s worth, I endorse the following nominees for the WOWSA awards:

  • Man of the Year: Simon Griffiths (publisher of the new H20pen Magazine)
  • Woman of the Year: Penny Palfrey
    • Note: Penny is listed in both this category and the “performance of the year” category. As I predicted, she is splitting her own vote.
  • Performance of the Year: Forrest Nelson
    • Need another reason to vote for Forrest? I haven’t gotten a single email or Facebook post from him, begging for my vote.

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.