2010 Open-Water Season in Review

Despite my best efforts, the 2010 open-water season is now over! Like Rob, my original plan was relatively modest compared to the end result (though it seemed ambitious at the time). At first, I aimed to run the gauntlet of USMS open-water national championship series – North Carolina, California, Colorado, Virginia, and Indiana – and finish off the season at Big Shoulders in Chicago.

As the year wore on, I found excuses – one by one – to add more events. For the Nike Swim Miami, it was an excuse to visit an old college roommate. For the Cascade Lakes Festival, I got to meet up with my parents and visit my grandmother. For Madison, the drive from Chicago was too short to pass up. Ditto for Diamond Lake. For Little Red Lighthouse, it was a chance to try an NYC Swim race before applying to MIMS. For Swim the Suck, it was a chance to try a true marathon swim and extend my season into October.

And now here we are, 17 races (in 12 states) and 57.4 racing miles (92.4K) later. True to the blog’s title, all races took place in freshwater lakes, with three exceptions:

  • Nike Swim Miami (Atlantic Ocean)
  • Little Red Lighthouse Swim (Hudson River)
  • Swim the Suck (Tennessee River)

How to even begin to sum up this experience? With a list, of course!

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“Race” Report: USMS 10K Postal Championship

Another Friday, another long-ass postal swim at the UIC Natatorium. This time, for 10K: 200 laps of a 50-meter pool.

The 10K Postal Swim is as much a psychological challenge as physical. Even 5K is a pretty brutal distance to do as a straight pool swim. For the 10K, you do the 5K… and you’re only halfway done. So it may very well be the single toughest USMS-sanctioned event – except perhaps for the biennial open-water 25K.

I was joined by fellow distance freak Amanda Hunt, which made for less lonely laps. Heidi K. from the Smelts and my favorite U-Chicago professor were also on deck, as lap counters – which I’m told on good authority is a similarly mind-numbing experience.

My goal? 2:17:52 – my open-water 10K time from Noblesville in July.

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“Race” Report: USMS 5K Postal Championship

See background post below, or here.

  • What: 5,000 long-course meters – for time
  • When: Friday, August 27, 2010. 5:45pm CDT
  • Where: Flames Natatorium, University of Illinois-Chicago
  • Why: Why not?
  • Training context: Monday, 4900 LCM; Tuesday, 5600 LCM; Wednesday, 4100 LCM; Thursday, 2800 SCY; Friday morning, 1 mile open-water
  • Gear (for any doubting Thomases out there – haha): FINIS racing jammer, silicone cap, swedish goggles
  • Goal Time: 1:06:40 (1:20 per 100m)

Final time: 1:05:26 (pace of 1:18.5).

Here’s how I did it:

  • By 500’s: 6:23.9, 6:25.7, 6:28.3, 6:31.2, 6:32.0, 6:32.7, 6:33.9, 6:32.7, 6:31.7
  • By 1000’s: 12:49.7, 12:59.5, 13:04.7, 13:06.1, 13:04.4
  • Through the first 1500m:
    • 100: 1:14.1
    • 200: 2:31.0
    • 400: 5:06.4
    • 800: 10:15.7
    • 1500: 19:18.0

Note: To get a clearer picture of my actual pace through the swim, these splits are adjusted for the 3 Gatorade breaks I took at 1500m, 3000m, and 4000m. I calculated this by taking the 100m split before the break, the 2nd 100m split after the break, and averaging the two to estimate the 100m split directly after the break (which in the raw split sheet includes the break time).

In total, I “adjusted out” 21.9 seconds of break time: 8.0 seconds at 1500m, 8.4 seconds at 3000m, and 5.5 seconds at 4000m.

Obviously, this is for illustrative purposes only, and I will be submitting the raw splits (including break time) to USMS.

Here’s a chart of my 100m splits (again, with breaks adjusted out):


It was a remarkably consistent swim. After a smooth 1:14 to start, I held 1:17’s (with one exception) through my first Gatorade break at 1500m. After that, I basically held 1:18’s for the rest of the swim – with 3 splits slightly above 1:19 and a 1:17 on the final 100m. Excluding the first 100, my fastest split was 1:16.9 and my slowest split was 1:19.3 – a range of only 2.4 seconds over 4900m.

I focused on maintaining a consistent “race” tempo (even though I was alone in the pool), and I think I did this successfully. Over time I’ve learned that when I fatigue, my technique declines before my tempo does. So, I also focused on maintaining a strong catch up front and following through past my hip. What tends to happen is, as I struggle to keep up my tempo, my catch starts to “slide” and I start my recovery before my follow-through is complete.

To put it mildly, I was pleased with this swim. In last year’s 5K Postal, there were 5 faster times overall (out of 266) – and that was before tech suits were banned. We’ll see how it plays out.

Race Report: USMS 10K Championship (Noblesville, IN)

RESULTS posted here.

The final USMS Open-Water Championship of the year – a 10K at Morse Reservoir in Noblesville, Indiana – was impeccably organized, highly competitive, and set in a gorgeous location. In short, everything a successful open-water event should be.

But Dick Sidner and NASTI went above and beyond. From the boat tours of the course, the loaded goody bags, the detailed pre-race briefing, the generous sponsor gifts, to the efficient hydration/feeding procedures, the friendly and encouraging volunteers, the large shade tent, the delicious post-race lunch – all the details were just right. One expects a certain amount of fly-by-the-seat-of-pants organizing at open-water events, but this one was smooth from start to finish – a gold standard for all future hosts of the 10K Championship.

It was both the most enjoyable and most painful open-water event I’ve ever participated in.

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Race Report: USMS 2-mile Cable Championship (Charlottesville, VA)

RESULTS posted here (PDF).

The 2-mile Cable Champs at Chris Greene Lake was another “surgical strike.” Fly in one evening, swim the next morning, fly out the same evening. It’s not my favorite way to do things – I would have loved to check out UVA and Monticello, for instance – but my budget (time, financial, and marital!) dictated that I get back to Chicago in time for dinner.

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Race Report: USMS 6K Open-Water Champs (Windsor, CO)

Results posted here.

The third USMS Open-Water Championship of the season – this time, for 6K – was held in a man-made lake in Windsor, CO (near Fort Collins). It’s one of only two races on my schedule in which I’m truly “flying solo” – that is, not an excuse to take a semi-vacation with the wife (Charlotte, Noblesville, Madison), to see family (California, Oregon) or friends (Miami), or take a dip in my local lake (Big Shoulders).

So, though it was my first time visiting Colorado (excluding airports), I didn’t stick around to sightsee: I flew in Friday afternoon, raced the next morning, and flew back the Columbus the same evening in time for a late dinner and episode of ‘Mad Men.’

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Race Report: USMS 1.5-mile Open-Water Champs (Livermore, CA)

RESULTS: overall / age-group

The 2nd USMS Open-Water Championship – 1.5 miles around Lake Del Valle, south of Livermore, CA – promised to be a competitive one, given all the stacked Masters teams in the Bay Area. And that it was.

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