The Crowded Oceans: Swimming with Spirits

It is unsurprising that primitive peoples, faced with a world whose range and patterns they couldn’t comprehend or predict, imbued all aspects thereof with a supernatural aspect.

Before the development of monotheism, the belief in a single god, often traced to Egyptian Pharoah Akhenaten in the Fourteenth Century B.C., that desire to invest every natural force or occurrence with a mysterious and superior and even willful personality led to pantheons of gods both large and small.

The bigger the personal import of an aspect of nature, the world or even Universe on the lives on humans, the more likely that aspect was to reign high in each pantheon. Beyond and literally above all was the Sun, immediate, live-giving and over all. But across peoples of the coasts, Sea-Gods also loomed large.

While modern humans seem to retain much of the superstition of yore but in different forms (lotteries, miracles, luck, UFOs), outside specific polytheistic religions such as Shintoism or Hinduism, and following the Enlightenment with a growing understanding of the mechanisms of the world, we’ve slowly lost that personification of nature’s forces.

Open water swimmers get very close to Sea and one of the greatest and most widespread of those anthropomorphisations of nature, applying human nature to something not human , is the water deity or the Sea God. Many of the pantheons had multiple water deities of different aspects of water, from springs through storms and rain, to the ocean, far too many to itemise here.

Neptune, the classic sea god image
Neptune, the classical sea god image

The Greek and Roman pantheons are most familiar to western cultures. Rome’s god of both the Sea and freshwater was Neptune. The Greek pantheon equivalent was Poseidon. Both are similarly depicted as powerful men who carry a trident. Unlike Neptune, Poseidon’s domain was more exclusively the Ocean. Like all gods of the seas, both are powerful, and mercurial. Quick to anger, and also capable of unexpected mercy in extremis. Both must be placated to ensure safe passage but such appeasement could never be completely effective of course…

Oceanus
Oceanus

The Greek water deities were very many and due to the use on Greek root words, many still reside with us in our language.

Of the most important or memorable were: Cymopoleia, goddess of giant storm waves: Aegæon, god of storms, cognate with the Aegaen Sea: The Gorgons, malevolent sea spirits, of whom we best know the Gorgon Medusa of the stone gaze, and the Harpies, sea-spirits of sudden wind: The Hippocampi, the elemental horses of the sea: the Nymphs, of whom the Nereides (not the Naiades) were the sea spirits: the Sirens, whose call epitomises the call and hold of the Sea over many of us: Proteus, the Old Man of the Sea: Triton, son and Herald of Poseidon. Thalassa, primordial goddess of the sea, now fittingly part of our name for the primordial sea, Panthalassia. And of course the monsters Scylla and Charybdis, the “rock and a hard place” of modern idiom. And finally, Oceanus, son of Uranus and Gaia, Titan and god of the river that encircled the earth, from whom we derive Ocean.

Water deities flood our world.

Mesopotamia had many, of whom the two with whom we are most familiar through mythology are  Enki, god of water, who appears in some of the oldest surviving myths, and Tiamat, mother goddess of all the gods, saltwater and chaos, who name has been appropriated by pop culture stories.

In Indian Vedic religion, Varuna is god of water and in Hindu god of all forms of water, of the ocean and also of the Celestial Ocean.

The sea of night, the ocean of stars. The boundless limits of the world’s seas mirrored in the sky.

In Shinto, Suijin the Water God is the benevolent deity of water while Susanoo-no-Mikoto is the god of storms and of the sea.

In Mãori religion, Tangaroa is god of the Sea, one of the great gods, and son of Sea and Sky. Like Oceanus, Tangaroa was son of Gaia and Uranus, also gods of  Earth and Sky.

The ocean, born of the earth and of the sky. Interesting that idea should repeat around the world.

Celtic triskele, symbol of Manannan
Celtic triskele, symbol of Manannan

Irish  mythology is the most extant oral mythology in the world outside Greek. The main Irish sea gods were Lir and his son Manannán. Lir actually means Sea in old Irish but he is himself obscure in tales, more a distant figure. Manannán Mac Lir, i.e. Manannán son of Lir, is the more familiar, but as with others of the pre-Christian pantheon, and unlike many of the other pantheons, is more a heroic figure, like a hero-sailor, than an avatar of the sea. Manannán rides Aonbharr, his white horse of the sea, his boat is called wave-sweeper or foam-rider and it needs no sails or oars, to Manannán the sea was as land. His symbol, the triskele, represents along life, death and afterlife; the intersection of Earth, Sea and Sky.

In Scandanavian lore, Aegir was the lord of the endless sea. With his wife the sea-goddess Ran, they had nine daughters, the Billow or Wave Maidens, all named for different types of waves. I mourn the loss of this poetic conceit. I’m not a scholar, but in anything I’ve read of the Scandanavian mythologies of the Nine Maidens, I see little evidence that those doing the interpretation of names really knew the sea. The Maidens were:

Bylgja; Billow. I imagine this as representing a sea with groundswell, the long period undulations hiding a power that catches all those unaware of the real nature of the sea.

I - Swell.resized
Bylgja?

Blóðughadda: Bloody Hair, apparently representing the blood in the sea after a battle. I imagine also an encounter with Finbarr at Sandycove’s Second Corner reef brings Blóðughadda. I also wonder if it could have referred more simply to a Red Tide, a sudden growth of plankton.
Dröfn; Comber or Foaming Sea. Comber is just another name for wave. The most common wave shape is either crumbly onshore or groomed offshore depending on prevailing wind type so the original meaning may have referred to one of those.
Hefring: Riser. A waves that rises has usually hit a reef. Surfers call it a jacking wave. Hefring should be the Maiden of Surfers.
HiminglævaThat through which one can see the heaven. Almost Celtic in its long description which imparts little. I image this is the water of no wind, the flat calm of a stationary high pressure, it reflects the sky and invites a sea swimmer like little else. Oh, Himinglaeva, you temptress.
Hrönn: Welling Wave. Groundswell waves on a steeply rising beach? So much fun, so enchanting.
Dúfa: The Pitching One. What I’d call a scending wave, what others might call a pitching wave.
Uðr: Frothing Wave. A frothing wave has lost most of its power. The water ours over the falls, it’s chaotic but weakened. It is fun, but never to be dismissed.
Kólga: The Cold One. The dangerous one, I think. The one we European winter swimmers know too well. If I had a boat, I’d name her Kólga.

Source: http://ture-e.deviantart.com/art/Caraca-sea-monster-110000025

The oceans not being sufficiently populated, there are other old and new mythological water spirits, demons, and beasties who are not deities but who populate our imagination and our seas: Leviathan. Hydra. Moby Dick. The Kraken and the Aranc. The Midgard Serpent. Cthulhu and Dagon. The Bloop. Godzilla. Davy Jones. Jaws. The Peist. We will invent more.

All these and more. Gods and spirits and monsters and stories, ancient and modern.

We fill the waters, trying to measure our imagination against the raw power and untouchable vastness of the seas. It’s a crowded ocean.

Peist from John Speed's 1611 map of Ireland
Peist from John Speed’s 1611 map of Ireland

Related articles

Creeped out on the Waterford Coast

Here Be Map Monsters

 

 

 

Review: Is this the ultimate open water swimmer’s beer?

Craft beers are the thing, right? Local, interesting, more flavour, more fun. One of humanity’s oldest craft’s giving the blandness of the global industrial homogenisation of food and taste a hopeful poke in the eye.

One of the better things of living in Ireland, because of the country’s still large agricultural sector, is our access to local fresh food of extremely high quality. (America, I’ve had your bacon. It’s a pale imitation of our rashers).

As a country with a proud and long tradition of making, and a not-so-proud tradition of consuming alcohol, we nevertheless suffered in the twentieth century a reduction Irish-made spirits and beers. A desperate attempt to maximise revenues coupled with a ban on selling into Commonwealth countries reduced the once proud Irish whiskey tradition to a few brands. Prior to World War II Irish whiskey was the actually the world’s most popular spirit, before being over taken by Scottish whisky. (Though Irish whiskey is once again the fastest growing).

The brewing industry in Ireland was also large and also contracted hugely over the Twentieth century though not quite as much as the distilleries. Bushmills Distillery remains the world’s oldest operating distillery, and of course Guinness stout is globally known.

Dungarvan Brewing Co

copper_bigLocal micro-breweries started to open in the 1990s, and in 2010 local brewing company The Dungarvan Brewing Company began operation. Unfortunately I didn’t discover their beers until last year, but once I did I sought out and tried them. For blog research purposes.

The various beers, different types of stouts and pale and Irish red ales  are named after local geographical features such as Comeragh Challenger, Mahon Falls, some after my swimming locations, Helvick Gold and Copper Coast, and the notorious Black Rock, the swim out to which has eluded me for a few years. Not because of the distance or the water, but because it’s in the middle of Dungarvan Bay navigation channel. All are excellent. Black Rock stout, Copper Coast red ale, and Helvick Gold blond ale are the three main beers, with the others being seasonal.

I particularly like Copper Coast, an Irish Red Ale, but maybe more than most people some of that pleasure derives from swallowing more of the Copper Coast. Something I’m sure I’ve already done more than others.

But one, like the Black Rock in the bay eluded me, the only one not named after a local feature: Their winter beer, Coffee and Oatmeal.

Just the name: Coffee and Oatmeal. Two essential ingredients of breakfast for any long swim. How could an open water swimmer not be intrigued?

I was trying to find it in off-licenses, before we finally just did what we should have done originally; I asked Clare. Clare Morrissey is the person who inveigled me into open water swimming, was on my Channel crew, and is an all-round experienced sportswoman; solo sailor, Channel relay swimmer, scuba diver and national level rower. Thus we finally settled down in The Moorings pub in Dungarvan with Clare to enjoy a pint of Coffee and Oatmeal.

Coffee and Oatmeal stout Dungarvan Brewing Company IMG_0861.resized
Stout on the bar, the glow of the wood, the babble of the craic, telling stories until my voice started to croak.

The first taste reminded me of the old Guinness pint bottle stout. Not the stout of cans with widgets, nor the extra cold stout of modern draught (draft for those of you overseas) or even small bottles. No, it’s like the single stout bottle my Grandfather used to drink a week, when I was sent up town “to do the messages“, and sent to procure a single bottle, in a small town where it was fine to sell alcohol to a ten year-old. The bottle “with the shoulders“, as it was described, or more commonly a large bottle.”I’ll have a large bottle please“, meant only one thing.  The bottle sometimes drank at home or at a wake. Not refrigerated. With a small head, and an intense taste, very different from draught Guinness stout, to which people will unfortunately compare any stout.

Dungarvan Brewing Company’s Coffee and Oatmeal has a slightly initially slightly gassy taste. It has bundles of taste and is huge in the mouth, with a big flavour. The gassiness passes and you taste the smooth richness of the oats. (By the way, the oats come from Flahavan’s, a local well-known Irish local company producing oatmeal for over 200 years). As you swallow the full oat taste is joined by  the coffee flavour, and then as you swallow you experience a slight chocolate aftertaste. It’s super. It’s a luxurious, even adult, stout, if that’s not an oxymoron, that harkens back to the great days of Irish stout brewing. It was this taste that summoned the reminiscences of my grandfather, an Irish version of Proust’s A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu and his famous madelaines,

This is far beyond the generic stout that even Guinness now produce.

Stout. Oatmeal, Coffee. Chocolate. What more could a swimmer want?

Now you may say that it’s elusiveness is a negative. But that just means that like my beloved Copper Coast, it’s here for me to enjoy.

You’ll just have to visit.

 

Review: Finis Tempo Trainer Pro

Finis Tempo TrainerThe Finis Tempo Trainer, the original (and still available  in some outlets) model, was another interesting idea from Finis that, as usual with said company’s electronics, wasn’t particularly well executed.

I first bought one back in 2008 or ’09. It’s most obvious flaw was that you couldn’t replace the battery. So it was random luck when you bought one just how long it would last. If it was sitting in a shelf for six months, your use was shortened commensurately. To illustrate, my second unit lasted only three months. And since I only used it irregularly, this represented a poor investment so I didn’t buy a third. The case was heat sealed, and while I’m a tinkerer (model-maker) who likes to try to fix things that aren’t designed to be fixed, despite the wide range of micro tools and adhesive substances at my disposal, I couldn’t replace the battery more than once and guaranteeing a seal was almost impossible once the case was split.

TempoTrainerProA couple of years ago Finis released an updated model, ridiculously called the “Pro” (TTP). I guess though they couldn’t call it the “here’s how we should have made it first time“. Of  course what adding Pro to the title really meant of course was that Finis increased the price. I was not willingly to spend more money on a new Finis  product that would likely fail.

A couple of years on I hoped that their usual poor initial product quality would have improved, and I hit it lucky on Amazon UK (£25 over the usual price of £31.49), I finally bought the new version.

The Pro has had two major upgrades: The first and most important is the ability to allow the user to replace the battery. The second upgrade is the addition of a third timekeeping mode which can be used to set stroke rate or tempo, meaning it can be used to set strokes per minute, which could be useful for developing open water swimmers.

The battery compartment takes a CR 1620, (not the most common Li-ion coin battery), which is screwed into the unit. The threads are quite narrow. Narrow thread improves water seal but when the material is ABS or a hard plastic, it also means that the threads are easy to misalign, which will result in stripping, which will of course degrade waterproof ability. A widely-spaced deep thread with less rotations might have worked better, and still ensuring that the unit is sealed. As usual I wonder about Finis’ commitment to manufacturing quality. Regardless, you better be very careful closing the battery compartment, and make sure it’s flush with the case to ensure the threads are aligned.

As with the TT, the TTP comes with an utterly useless clip, which may have more utility in other sports. But it’s not that important as you simply put the TTP under your swim cap. The beep is loud enough for the wearer to hear (and not anyone else), with two, three or repeating beeps depending on mode used.

I typically use the Tempo Trainer (TTP) twice a week for the past couple of months. Once when doing a weekly reducing ten repetitions of 400 metres set. And second for my weekly time trial, which this winter is three consecutive kilometres, slowest through to fastest (not deliberately, it just takes me longer every year to hit maximum speed, my third kilometres is always my fastest). Last winter I was doing a three kilometre continuous time trial but I don’t have that in me this year apparently.

My most common use is in Mode One, which goes from 0:02 seconds to 99:99 seconds in hundredths of a second to set a target time for a lap (two lengths).

The Tempo Trainers are regularly used and touted for improving fitness and consequently speed. And yes, they are good for that, is you can stomach listening to that beep all the time and if you can get the setting right each day. (Maybe my speed just varies too much over a week).

All negatives aside the most unexpected benefit of using the TTP, and what has made it a valuable purchase for me, has been to see how the effect of small stroke changes during a swim affect my speed.

The TTP is a relentless target. You can start how ever you like, fast or slow, but the timer will always beep the target you must hit. It promotes consistent pacing, ideal for an open water swimmer.

I have found, entirely separately from shooting video of my stroke a every year, and usually left feeling disconsolate and frustrated, that the TTP actually allowed me to find stroke improvements that weren’t accessible via my own video. One length of poor concentration is enough to slip your target. Two lengths of poor stroke is enough to build an almost insurmountable gap to be chased. The TTP demonstrated, in a way I’d never really felt previously because the feedback was available every single length, that I needed to rotate and reach more on my weak (left) side. The improvement was immediate. It actually still feels like an exaggerated stroke to me, but with the TTP I went 11 seconds faster over my best kilometre time this year (but I still have to take another nine seconds off to hit last year’s time!). I also was able to measure the effectiveness of my “good” stroke versus my 200 to 300 metres unilateral “sprint” stroke and even to improve that.

I didn’t find Mode Three (stroke rate) as useful. My open water stroke rate is pretty consistent from years of swimming at 71 to 72 SPM (strokes per minute) normal pace (up two spm over the past two years). In the pool Mode Three really needs a long (50m) pool. An SCM or SCY pool is a bit too short, once you come out of your flip turn, if you are even a fraction out when you start stroking as adjusting takes away some of the benefit. I did do an eight by one kilometre set one day just testing this, varying each kilometre starting at 68 spm, going through 69, 70 and 71 before dropping back to 70. My open water rate is one or two strokes faster. All of this was only confirmation for me, but for someone with a too-low stroke rate, it may be useful to help develop a higher rate . I haven’t yet used it during an open water swim, as winter swims are too short. I’d prefer to use it for at least five kilometre to determine any possible utility (which I expect to be minimal).

Contrary to the advertising and Finis’ poor manufacturing and quality record, while the TTP is a useful tool for fitness, it’s especially useful for stroke improvement, especially for people like myself who don’t have anyone against whom to swim.

Amazon US link, $33 + shipping. (As with everything, the US is at least 25% cheaper than Europe).

Amazon UK link. £31.49 ($53) inc. shipping.

Perfect is the enemy of good

When I started back swimming for the first time since I was a kid, it came a huge but only slowly realised shock that I was the not the excellent swimmer I’d been as a young teenager, when I swam front crawl and butterfly in club for a year or two. I really don’t recall how long it was but it wasn’t club as we’d now know it with six a.m. training, five says a week.

I’d been away from swimming for decades and surfing didn’t really count. As soon as I started back I was breathing bilaterally naturally. After only a few weeks in the pool, not really knowing what I was doing, I swam two miles at Baile Na Gaul on my first open water swim, from the gritty and bleak tiny beach to Helvick Harbour and back. As a surfer, the sea didn’t frighten me and some time later, not knowing anyone there, I double-lapped Sandycove Island by myself, without realising that was a big target for many people. All I recall is that I had no idea of the shape of the island and at one point worrying I’d missed the turn back inside. (You need to swim Sandycove and realise that from outside the coast everything looks flat and similar and inlets disappear) to appreciate this.

So it was fairly reasonable that I thought I wasn’t a bad swimmer. It was another two years before I met Coach Eils, who rapidly disabused me of the notion. Her damning criticisms included “mechanical” and “substituting fitness for flow“.

I have over the years since changed my swimming style quite substantially. Most of it has by necessity been done by myself. But the more you know, often the less you are satisfied. I torture myself endlessly about my stroke and my speed, trying to improve, to get a smidgen more speed that I’ll never find. Is the angle of my arm correct? Are my hands parallel to the surface? What’s my streamline profile? And on and on.

Swimming technique requires constant work just for maintenance, let alone improvement. One effect of this endless treadmill is to sometimes, or in my case more often than not, lose sight of a simple fact.

I don’t have to be a perfect swimmer, to be a good swimmer. The twenty percent time and effort and work that got me eighty per cent of the way, that made me a good swimmer, is far eclipsed by the eighty percent I’ve spent in a seemingly fruitless quest to improve that final twenty percent of technique.

Sometimes you just need to remember how far you have come, rather than fretting over the remaining possible improvements you might never achieve. Not getting faster isn’t necessarily a failure. Maybe you are more relaxed instead, less likely to get injured, or maintaining fitness or speed as you get older.

So much of swimming literature and gurus and advice is aimed at perfection. But chasing perfection is Xeno’s Dichotomy. It’s often more fruitful to look how far you come.

Good enough (donal)

Can you swim comfortably? Are you relaxed in the water? Can you maintain a consistent stroke and stroke rate? Can you adapt to changing open water conditions?  Are you in control? Are you enjoying swimming?

You don’t have to be the best open water swimmer, you just have to be good enough.

 

Diana Nyad to confess all on Oprah!

How many times have I started a posted a post with similar words to; “Strange things happen in marathon swimming?

Ah, how the worm turns.

One reader of LoneSwimmer.com is a pool swimmer with their sights set on open water and their first 10k swim, always a big milestone. Their research led to LoneSwimmer.com and accidentally to my very popular LoneSwimmer.com article on Nyad’s controversial claimed Cuba to Florida swim.

oprah icon_256Said reader is also a “nondescript” (their term) employee of Harpo Productions. This  is the parent company of Oprah Prime and Oprah.com, which since the demise of the networked Oprah TV show, is the main outlet of host Oprah Winfrey. It’s the media avenue where the Lance Armstrong “confession” was made, in his failed attempt to convince the world it was everyone else’s fault.

On Friday night I received a camera phone photograph of notes taken in a post-recording production roundup meeting.

Oprah April's Fools Diana Nyad.resized.rotated

These brief coffee-stained and handwritten notes claim Diana Nyad has recorded a show with Oprah Winfrey. A brief “Executive Summary” calls the recording “Confessional and redemption-seeking” wherein she will likely admit to fraud during the events of the last Cuba to Florida attempt. Details will only be evident on the web release in May as our source didn’t see the actual recording or tape.

Given Diana Nyad’s lifelong history of self-promotion, is there any announcement in swimming less anticipated than this?

In marathon swimming, routes once apparently closed open up, connections previously unknown become apparent.

Since the events of last autumn, Diana Nyad has continued to peddle outright lies about the events, amongst which are claiming to have supplied proof of the swim to the satisfaction of the review panel, and continues to claim some mythical world records. But the supposed swim remains shrouded behind verbiage and a lack of any actual evidence and her post-swim fabrications were far more obvious to anyone interested, as could be seen on her reddit AMA in the New Year. (An online question and answer discussion session). (Some user called LoneSwimmer responds).

However, Hollywood hasn’t beaten a path to her door. She didn’t win the National Geographic People’s Choice Adventurer Award, her hoped-for musical based on her life is apparently no closer, and the public exposure of her treatment of Walter Poenisch all those years ago has become a publicity liability. So the avenues available for her further self-promotion were becoming  limited. As I can see from the search terms into LoneSwimmer, people now searching for Diana Nyad know there’s a controversy or even deception and most likely even use those words . This slipping from the public eye led to a failed turn on America’s Dancing With The Stars, some reality TV program, which like other similar reality TV dross, rounds up has-beens, never-weres and wanna-bes, in an orgy of desperate public attention-seeking.

But when those who know aren’t to be convinced, and the questions won’t go away, what better way to for a relentless self-promoter to grab the public attention than to throw themselves on the mercy of the public, and seek “redemption”. The public generally loves stories of redemption with a little bit of embarrassment.

I  have long held to the similarity between Diana Nyad and Lance Armstrong in terms of narcissism, media control, self-promotion and sporting deception. That analogy continues to be relevant.

Time will tell.

 

 

Big bag o' paddles

Review: Swimming paddles (Yet another update)

My pool bag now includes the silly total of five four five six five different types of paddles!

(Update 2013: I added another paddle and removed one, so I’m refreshing this review).

(Update March 2014: Added another paddle, subsequently removed yet another paddle. See below for comparison of PT Paddle and Complete Fitness Coaching Palm Paddle)

Big bag o’ paddles – I really need to update this photo to the current lineup.

Warning: overdoing paddle work is a mistake easily made. I was already doing a lot of metres when I increased my paddle work, and I had shoulders able to take that increase, but overdoing paddle work, especially power paddles, can lead to real shoulder injury. Start very, very, very easy, with no more than 200 metres total, if you are not already using paddles.

Medium tech paddles

1. I started years ago with Speedo Tech Paddles, medium size. Tech or technique paddles are designed mainly for aiding water-feel. They are to aid catch, early vertical forearm (EVF), strength and pull. A bit of a Jack-of-all-trades. They are good as first paddles. Useful for getting adding extra metres pulling to build up shoulder strength. Instead of putting the whole hand in the straps, once you adapt to using them, just use the middle finger loop to detect imbalances in stroke and catch. The rubber straps didn’t last well didn’t last and had to be replaced by bits of rubber tubing. I never use these any more and they are long gone.

Amazon US linkAmazon UK link.

Power Paddle
Power Paddle

2. My next and main paddles for a few years were Speedo Power Paddles. In 2009, Eilís has us doing a lot of paddle work in Channel training. Early on I was still using the tech paddles and hating them and paddle work in general. After one session with Rob Bohane, where I was killed, I decided to change my approach. So every day for the next month, I used the Power Paddles for warm-up  After that I had no more problems. These are brutal on your shoulders if you are not used to them, injuries will result if you overdo them. You can also lose your feel for the water with these. Note: All the straps on this are only one piece of surgical tubing. When I use these I only use them with the middle finger loop. However I just left the rest of the tubing attached.

Amazon US linkAmazon UK link.

Speedo StrokeMakers are reported to be excellent and widely used by experienced swimmers in the US but aren’t available in Europe. SwimOutlet link.

Forearm paddle

3. Forearm Paddles. My forearm paddles were a cheap €1.50 generic version and consequently aren’t terribly comfortable but perfectly adequate. These ones on Amazon US are identical in shape and may be the only time in my life I’ve seen something more expensive in the US.  Finis forearm bolsters should be more comfortable, as are all some of their  non-electronic products. The purpose of these is to work EVF and maximise catch and forearm pull. I often do 400m with these, combined with 400m fist drill or anti-paddles, as part of my warm up.

Amazon US link for Finis Paddles. Amazon UK link.

Speedo Finger paddle

4. Speedo Finger Paddles. I got these on the recommendation of Channel swimmers and coaches Jen Schumacher and Nuala Muir-Cochrane. They allow you to focus on your catch and your pull and vertical forearm. I have also found they are good for lengthening your stroke and overall keeping good focus throughout most phases of the stroke. They are also great for backstroke catch and technique. Lower strap removed as these are purely for technique. These are still great paddles that I regularly use and remain my favourites.

Amazon US link. Amazon UK link.

Finis PT Cruisers

5. Finis PT paddles, PT stands for “perfect technique”. These are also known as Anti-Paddles. Unlike all previous paddles which in some way enhance the arm or hand, these remove the hand completely from your stroke. Therefore they operate the same as fist drill .  Your stroke becomes all about felling the water and Early Vertical Forearm, EVF, i.e. the pull from your forearms. They are also very effective in engaging your core and driving your balance. The first couple of lengths swimming with these is like swimming with a live weasel in each hand. I’ve seen a lighter hollow version somewhere, but these are heavy and solid, which is what drives you to  engage your core to counter-balance them. And unlike fist drill, there’s no cheating with these. Your first few lengths after using them will give you a great feeling of power throughout your catch and pull. After about a year of year the external plastic casing on one cracked but they don’t seem to have deteriorated any further for the past two years.

Amazon US link.

Wearing PT Paddle
Wearing PT Paddle seen from above. Almost matches my hand outline

Two years on and I’ve grown to really dislike the PT Paddle. The plastic case split more, and the internal foam structures absorbed far more water than I’d realised until I took them home for this update. Each PT paddle (with water) weighs about 350 grams, 3/4 of a pound.  maybe 25% of that weight is absorbed water. Unlike most other paddles, all three “loops” in the tubing are needed to go on thumb and fingers to hold the paddle on while swimming, partially because of the weight, partially because of the design.

The weight is increasingly uncomfortable due to water absorption and the durability is typical of so many Finis products, who seem incapable of grasping late-20th Century Qualify Manufacturing tools. I would love to know that their DPPMs (defect parts per million) are on their various products. I had a look on Finis’ website (just trying to find things on their utterly crap flash website can give you a headache), and can’t find the PT Paddle anymore. I suspect it’s another product that’s been removed due to, well, being so badly made.

Finis Agility Paddles - Note that my thumb is straight not bent
Finis Agility Paddles – Note that my thumb is straight not bent

6. Finis Agility paddles. After being introduced in 2102, I first got a chance to use these in early 2013 and immediately bought a pair and have been using them very regularly since. These are now my favourite paddle and I regularly use them in conjunction with the finger paddles. Finis Agility paddles have no strap and fit on each hand using a simple thumb hole. In order to keep them on your hands during the stroke you must keep a good catch and pull through on every stroke. (Since using these I have also reduced my use of power paddles). Everyone who has tried this has felt the immediate technique feedback. These may be the best paddles on the market. And if you want just one paddle, I’d recommend these. They can also be used for all strokes.

Amazon US linkAmazon UK link.

7. Complete Fitness Coaching Palm Paddle.

Palm Paddle.resized

Coach Martin Hill contacted me a few months ago to ask if I wanted to try out his new Palm Paddle, versus the PT Paddle.

I’ve had the PT Paddles for a couple of years and as I updated above, increasingly came to dislike them. All fist drill type products aren’t particularly fun to swim with, eliminating, as is their purpose, the propulsive effect of the hand to develop catch, EVF and forearm pull.

The Palm Paddle in the antithesis of the PT Paddle. A hollow single-part blown-plastic paddle, with a single tube loop for the centre finger. It weighs one-tenth of the PT paddle. It is also significantly narrower, only about two-thirds of the width.

I have small to medium-sized hands (no sniggering there) and the PT paddle completely fills the hand, whereas the Palm Paddle sits more in the centre with the hand protruding to either side, and the curve of the paddle is less than the PT. This means it doesn’t slip as easily, i.e. it does catch the water a little more than the PT.

Apart from the weight, I like that it only requires a single finger, as this is how most paddles are better used. Also the light weight provides stroke feedback that the PT paddle doesn’t, which is that it can slip sideways on your hand, particularly at the end of the pull (for me) if the pitch of the hand is wrong. That said, I found a slight uncomfortable tensing of my hand because of the width toward the end of a 400 metre drill because I was cupping my hand.

Palm Paddle vs PT Paddle.resized

I compared my normal stroke without paddles, to wearing Palm Paddles, to wearing PT Paddle in swim speed terms (while maintaining a moderate pace). Palm Paddles added about 10 seconds per 50m, whereas the PT added double that. Since fist drills are not about speed but about learning to maximise the catch, that means the PT paddle is more effective at eliminating any propulsion from the hand. However I also think it adds too much body rotation as because of the weight and they are not pleasant to wear and regularly slip.

While the PT paddles are better at eliminating the hand to focus on EVF, the fact the Palm Paddles are more comfortable to swim with, while still performing the same task, means you will use them more regularly than the PT Paddles. I’ve now removed the PT Paddles from my pool gear bag.

So on the face of it, having five four five six five pairs of paddles seems like overkill. But each performs a specific useful technique and training task.

Introducing The LoneSwimmer Plan™©® to becoming a more goodlier Internet swimmer in 19 or 27 easy steps

Every so often I get asked by a runner or triathlete for a bit of stroke advice or help, which I’m always happy to do, (as, in my experience, is pretty much the case with every experienced swimmer in a public pool).

Here’s how it usually goes:

Hey, you seem like a decent swimmer. I have a triathlon coming in two weeks, can you give me some tips on getting better at the swimming leg?

I suppress my inner sigh at the allowed timeframe, analyse their stroke, give them the most essential advice (almost always; exhale underwater, and stop kicking like you’re trying for a drop-goal, give them a couple of appropriate drills* and tell them to just focus on technique for the next two weeks).

Two, three, six months, or a year later, having giving up the suggested drills after the first two days, because “well, they were slow and boring and making no difference“, they’ve made zero progress.

I finally realised the problem: I’m not T’Internet.

They are used to, indeed want, T’Internet to tell them what to do. What equipment to buy, what kind of swimmer they are and what kind they aren’t and what kind they should be. I’m just a ridiculously handsome, tall and svelte middle-aged guy in a pair of Speedoes. (As you know, I’m kind of like the Mark Foster of open  water swimming). And I’m right there. I mean if I was any good, I wouldn’t be in their pool, right? I’d be on T’Internet.

Former 6x 50m World Champion Mark Foster. Just give him to me for six months and I could make something decent out of him. A few scrapes off the reef of Sandycove's second corner would make something proper out of him
Former 6x 50m World Champion Mark Foster. Just give him to me for six months and I could make something decent out of him. A few scrapes of his face off the reef of Sandycove’s second corner would add a bit of proper manliness.

And further, I realised, the world does not have enough T’Internet Godlike Swimming Gurus.  So for all those people who want more Internet swimming and another guru, me ‘n the team here at LoneSwimmer™©® Towers™©®, having spent huge sums and committed vast resources to the development cycle, are finally unveiling the spectacularly effective LoneSwimmer™©® Internet Swimming Plan™©® (aka LISP ™©®)

The main features of LISP™©® are

1: More Swimming Acronyms (MSA), abbreviations and buzzwords.

2: A decidedly effective and concise 27** point  Personally Integrated Stroke System (PISS™©®) for easily and quickly making your frontcrawl more goodlier.

3: A Cult of Personality based entirely on me and comprising a growing network Collection of LoneSwimmers™©® Across the World (CLAW™©®).

4: New drills that are not-at-all like existing drills, tailored specifically for you with cool new names. In a breakthrough new feature not previously seen on T’Internet, every single CLAW™©® member will be given individual drill names for each drill, ensuring personalised personalisation.

5. A simple and easy rolling monthly payment plan through PayPal for your convenience, and for which you gain access to the labyrinthine LoneSwimmer.com archives, covering diverse subjects from open water techniques through social aspects of swimming to fashion and beauty tips, the value for money is extraordinary. The cumulative amount you spend will be far in excess of a visit to some local coach for basic stroke analysis who can actually see you swimming, or buying that decent swimmer a beer in exchange for their advice, but you know you are getting the best Internet advice. Let the losers get their advice locally.

6: For a modest extra fee of $14.99 per query, the team will answer all your incredibly difficult and never-encountered-before-not-ever open water swimming queries, including but not limited to:

Why can’t I swim straight?

What kind of goggles should I use?

My legs! What the hell do I do with my legs?

Are there bitey things in the water?

Does my arse look big in this?

*

I’m sure you are all excited as excited about this as I am. Years of giving out advice for nothing reciprocal is for fools.

Let it end, I say.

In Part Two we’ll look at my copyrighted and trademarked Twenty Seven Easy Steps To Becoming a Goodlier Internet Swimmer (TSESTBAGIS™©®)**.

And I’ll be rolling the awesome TSESTBAGIS™©® Franchise Coaching Opportunity (™©®) where you too can partake in CLAW™©® as a higher level for a very reasonable cost. And for every future member you sign to TSESTBAGISCLAWFCO™©® you will benefit in a financial reward that is not in any way like a pyramid scheme, and I have the lawyers and a Certification of Financial Compliance from Myanmar University of Financial Rectitude and People’s Agricultural Learning to assert such.

*

*Swim With One Leg in the Air Drill (SWOLeD™©®). I do it every day***. I proudly assert that I am the world’s best one leg in the air swimmer.

** Or 19. Or something. Actual number of steps subject to revision.

*** Really.

The Unwritten Rules of Open Water Swimming

Once again my mind was wandering during a swim. I’d had a conversation earlier in the day with someone about the “giving back” aspect of open water, how most swimmers were also involved in some way or other in maintaining the community aspect of the sport, which in turn maintains the sport itself.

This led me to think about some unwritten rules of the sport, things that are implicit or taken for granted, or even often discussed but rarely  explicitly written down.

One thing about a list such as this, is it contains items I myself think are  important or should-be-obvious precepts or even may have a local Irish flavour. But I would like to think that while there may be more, all these are built into the underlying assumptions of open water swimming.

It’s difficult to investigate assumptions while swimming or driving a keyboard, as we are usually blind to them. (Maybe we need a proper sociological investigation of rules by Channel swimmer and sociologist Dr Karen Throsby).

Rather than the assumptions of the culture though, I was thinking about, as I said above, sporting rules. Of course a rule that isn’t written down isn’t a rule. So what generally agreed guidelines do we or should we try to adhere to, that maybe need to be explored or explained?

1: If another swimmer is in difficulty, you must assist where possible. Forget the race, the title, your dreams, the sponsors. You are not required to put yourself at risk however.

2: Always think safety. The best safety decision are (yawn, here I go again) made outside the water.

3: Don’t cheat. Don’t lie or mislead supporters, sponsors, charities fans, media, friends or anyone at all, about what you are doing or planning to do. In a way this is the most common and unspoken rule of all sports, and observed by the breaking as well as by the adherence.

4: If another swimmer has a pioneering swim planned, do not steal it, by getting in before them, just to do it first. It doesn’t matter what your relationship is with the other person, this just shouldn’t be done.

5: You do not bootleg or pirate a swim where an official organisation exists to govern that swim.

6: Give back. Open water swimming is only possible through the actions of volunteers. Make sure you are doing something to help others, the variety of ways in which you can do so is very wide. You aren’t obliged to insert yourself into everything but you can organise an event, or maybe you can assist another. You don’t have to be a great swimmer, you don’t  have to have a huge ego.  You can be safety, marshall traffic, crew on boats, even write a blog. Hell, no-one knows better than a few of us that any average swimmer can get involved in something big. The range of ways in which you can contribute the sport is far wider than immediately obvious, and it’s up to you how you want to contribute, not to others to dictate to you. This one is less obviously a sport rule and crosses also into the culture domain.

7: Where applicable, follow the Two Golden Rules. (Disclose all the rules being used, such as the Marathon Swimming Federation Rules, and use an Independent experienced Observer).

*

I’m sure there are more I can’t think of right now. When I wrote the first draft of this, I thought of four items. Then I wrote another three months later. I’m pretty sure that the day this gets published, I’ll think of something else, and of course, the wisdom of crowds will think of more.

I’m looking forward to hearing your wisdom.

Review: Battle of the Jelly Babies

It was a genius idea by Dee.

Jelly babies are notorious favourites of open water distance and Channel swimmers. Tiny parcels of coloured and flavoured glucose perfectly anthropomorphised, that sate a craving.

Relatively waterproof and easy to pass to a swimmer, or for crew to snarf a few themselves, they provide an instant hit of processed dextrose for an quick burst of energy, an easily digestible treat to anticipate on a upcoming feed, and the source of one of the oldest jokes I know.

(“What’s the difference between boy jelly babies and girl jelly-babies?” Snaps fingers while saying “boy jelly babies have that much more!“).

But are all jelly babies made equal? Here at the Loneswimmer Demesne, we decided to finally end this perennial debate amongst distance swimmers with a, no … the definitive review.

In this article we pit the metaphorical Big Three of the small edible homunculi against each other and a token El Cheapo discount brand.

Don’t say LoneSwimmer.com does not strive to answer the big questions, to expose the most contested and controversial questions in the open water swimming world. 

  • Are Bassett’s Jelly Babies the Daddy?
  • What about Haribo Delicious Infants², (“Happy Happy Haribo, The Happy World Of Haribo)?
  • Or are the weighty non-humanoid creatures³ of relative newcomer The Natural Confectionary Company more morally acceptable?
  • How do vegans feel about Jelly Snakes and Monkeys?
  • In a fight between a Dino Mix Tyrannasourus Rex and a Haribo Brontosaurus, will the lesser mammal replicate the historical success of its lesser forebear over the mighty King of the Thunder Lizards?
  • What’s a Jelly Baby’s best stroke?
  • Does anthropomorphising sugar actually make taste it better?
  • What effect does the Jelly Babies colour have on its perceived taste?

We engaged in a two person two round competition, the winner of each round progressing to the final Jelly-Off.

Heat 1: A battle of classic Jelly Babies. Bassets surely go into this round as the 100 Pound Gorilla Baby favourites.

Bassets.rotated.resized.resizedBassetts Jelly Babies. Bag weight 190g. 345 Calories per 100g. €1.40 per bag.

Versus

Aldi.resized.resizedDominion (Aldi) Jelly Babies. Bag Weight 230g. 345 Calories per 100g. 55c per bag. By far the cheapest.

 

 

Heat 2: Between non-traditional shaped gums. Does not include testing those jelly and white “foam” mix confections, as these are abominations.

Haribo .rotated.resized.resizedHaribo Fantasy Mix. Bag weight 200g. 342 Calories per 100g. €1.00 per bag.

 

 

versus

Dino Mix.rotated.resized.resizedThe Natural Confectionary Co. Dino Mix. Bag weight 200g. 320 Calories per 100g. Wide range of prices from €1.25 to €2.60 per bag depending on location. Usually €1.85. Significantly the most expensive.

 

*

The arrival of The Natural Confectionary Co. into the cut-throat (well, biting heads off anyway) Jelly market has changed the manufacturer’s messages. Each proudly now boasts Natural Colours, and all except Haribo also say Natural Flavours. This may be the reason Haribo has a shelf life six months longer than all the others.

But since this is high calorie empty glucose, so I don’t really care one way or the other.

Heat One

Heat_1 jellies.resized

Bassets’ twisted confections give names to the individual babies depending on colour. The Aldi Jelly were obviously never christened. Both contain among the other ingredients, Bovine Gelatine. The Basset’s Jelly Babies have more distinct facial features and have two different shapes, a standard jelly Boy or Girl. One shape is saluting before being ingested, another sick twist that I particularly enjoy. Though maybe it’s doing backstroke? Notably the Aldi Jelly Babies have no black colour child, thought the Bassets have. Bassets are of a more uniform shape which they hold better and are a very slightly larger size. Most important though is the Taste Test.

Our independent tasters could detect NO DIFFERENCE in texture or taste. Neither displayed any noticeable variation in taste between different colours.

This lack of taste differentiation allied with the significantly lower cost makes the Aldi Jelly Babies, ironically called Dominion, the Winner of Heat One5

ITS A GIGANTIC UPSET! 

Heat Two

Heat 2 gums.resized

The Natural Confectionery Co are the arriviste upstarts of the highly-contested Jelly market. Along with the laughable conceit that they are “healthier”, monkeys, snakes and shapes and dinosaurs enhance their politically-correct middle-class offering and no actual babies (Boo!).  But dinosaurs. Each bag usually contains two or larger Tyrannasaurs. Who doesn’t want to bite the head off a Tyrannausus Rex?

On the other side of Heat Two, Haribo are so well-known that we all know and hate that damn Haribo jingle. Swimmers in Dover rave about Haribo. The Fantasy Mix is a range of animals, including two dinosaurs, a zebra, a couple of white foam half alligators, a two-tone Triceratops, an elephant, a transparent monkey, a turtle, a race car (Le Mans winner 1959), an infant soother (because that’s the perfect message for new parents; sugar-shaped soother, right?), four of the dreaded abomination of childhood, that excrescence, that shame on the global gum market: The Cola Bottle. And of curse course proving before we start that Haribo are demonic, four green Devils.

Rather than pit the mighty Tyrannosaurus we pitted the slightly larger Haribo Brontosaurusagainst a lesser TNCC baby Raptor6.

The TNCC gum was firm yet yielding. It had a dense mouth feel7, and an actual flavour. There was a slight difference in flavour between colours.

The Haribo was dense. Almost impenetrable in fact. Not chewy in a good way. Chewy in a dog-toy way. It makes a good spare rubber foot for a laptop. It was vile. I shudder at the mere reminiscence.

Winner of Heat Two is The Natural Confectionery Co Dino Mix8.

Another shock!

Final

TRex vs Baby.resized

In an extraordinary development it has to be admitted that both judges were pre-disposed to The Natural Confectionery Co. No supply of free gums was received in exchange for this favouritism though we are both open to any future bribing.

By-the-bye, dear American readers, I hope all this repetition of the words favour, colour and flavour, isn’t causing you too much distress!

The Brontosausus/Raptors having been dispatched, the Final pitted the mighty Tyrannasurus Rex versus the puny Aldi Dominion Baby.

Puny Aldi Baby put a good fight, armed as he was by his all-round Value For Money special ability which he used to fight the Mighty Thunder Lizard almost to a standstill. But the ThunderSuarus unleashed a devastating blow: The ability to retain shape better without melting in a hot car glove compartment during summer.  It was close. But then a shock. The bag only had ONE Tyrannosaur!

The gums of the TNCC were ultimately defeated however by the simple fact that jelly babies are smaller and softer so can be eaten in a single bite by a swimmer in the water.

Winner: El Cheapo Dominion Aldi Jelly Babies!

Well, that was utterly unexpected.

P.s. I’ve got a bag of Haribo Fantasy Mix left over which even the dogs won’t eat.  As to preferred swimming stroke, they’re made of sugar … so they sink.

I did all this just so I add this as new banner pic
I did all this just so I add this as new banner pic, Aldi are the left four, Bassett’s are the right five

_______________________________________________________________

May not actually be a real debate.

² Not the actual Haribo product name.

³ If you are a bluebottle.

Me ‘n Dee.

Except for you borderline cannibals for whom accurate sugary replication of human infants is important.

Yes, I know there was no such thing as a Brontosaurus. Paleontologists please use the site’s Contact Form to send me your classification of the TNCC dino’s.

7 I read heard this phrase on a cookery program.

Unless you are a fake-Satanist, in which case the Haribo is the preferred choice.

The Swimming Smoothie – food for swimmers

(This is a repost and update, due to a resurgence in interest in this post. As it’s a few years since the original post, I’ve played with other variations of ingredients since.)

Swimming generally and open water swimming especially is a sport of high energy demand. Many swimmers struggle to keep weight stable let alone increase it. The demands of cold water training are extraordinary and can project an average person’s appetite into the realms normally associated with power lifters and Olympian swimmers.

A favourite of endurance athletes of all disciplines for its slow release of energy, porridge (oats) is the quintessential breakfast to fuel any high energy effort.

Though I dislike it, I can force myself to eat it. I think the only time I’ve ever enjoyed it was in the middle of the night of the 24 hour swim.

One solution was a homemade Oat, honey or syrup & peanut butter bar,  which is very useful for a travelling breakfast or high carb snack, and has some real advantages, high carbs since it’s also made from oats and protein. With honey as a binder.

I played around some more and hit on the Swimming Smoothie. I’ve actually been eating this for about two years, and completely forgot to mention it.

This makes a really quick and tasty meal, whether breakfast or otherwise. It contains plenty of slow release calories from oats, but also has quicker release carbs from berries and juice, with protein for better carbohydrate metabolisation.

Ingredients before mixing
Ingredients before mixing
  • Apple juice or milk* (grape juice may need to be avoided**)
  • Smoothie IMG_9949.resized.rotatedLow fat natural yoghurt
  • Small banana or pineapple (optional)
  • Berries including blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries (frozen berries work fine and have the advantage of cooling the smoothie).
  • Half mug of uncooked porridge flakes (oats). (That’s about the amount you’d use to make a bowl of porridge. You won’t even taste them in the smoothie).
  • Depending on mood, requirement and what’s in the fridge, I might add pineapple, creme fraiche or even full cream if I have it.
Finished smoothie. Yum.
Finished smoothie. Yum.

*Apple juice is chosen because it has lower G.I, (slower release and thus effect on insulin) and higher fibre BUT it has higher fructose than glucose and tastes sweet. Orange juice also works of course is less sweet than apple but any fructose has a lower G.I. than sucrose. Milk works well as a liquid alternative to juice, and for lactose intolerant people soya or almond milk would also work well.

**For swimmers in very heavy training who are concerned about becoming anemic, they can easily add an iron-rich water like Spatone. When taking any iron supplementation though, it’s important to avoid grapes or grape juice as this binds iron and stops absorption.

A nutritionist make suggest other substitutes, but I’m all for convenient and easy. And I know this works after using it for many years.  

It’s possible, and might even be necessary, for you to tinker with this, especially if you have any Irritable Bowel Syndrome caused by fruit, or fructose mal-absorption problems.

The fruit chosen should have the fructose balanced with glucose, meaning ripe bananas, berries, pineapple, kiwi, orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime, plum.

Remember this started as, and still is primarily, a morning meal, specifically to fuel long swims, and I’ve been happy with the use and results over years. 

You could add whey and/or Maxim also, I’ve never felt the need.

A half litre (about a pint) of this Smoothie will give plenty of energy to last for hours. I’ve often made it for lunch on the go, and it works great to have as breakfast in the car. It’s flexible both in making and consumption.

A smoothie doesn’t stay fresh for long. It’ll start to ferment within a few hours because of the fructose, so if you make it the night before for the morning,  you’ll obviously have to keep it refrigerated.

I’ve gone through a new blender about every two years. Last year my sister gave me a gift of a Kenwood Smoothie2Go which makes the smoothie directly inside a large plastic smoothie cup. It comes with two cups and lids and is a great improvement over a larger blender, with less waste, quieter, quicker and it’s easier to clean. Recommended.

Ice Mile Dilemmas – III – Black Rain

Part 1

Part 2

Ten minutes after briefing and the swimmers were lined up on Lough Dan’s so-called beach for the group photo seen in the previous part.

Sometimes writing about the minutiae of swimming is really boring. Sometimes such reportage can mask some other truth. Sometimes I think that the more I try to explain the less I succeed.

Unlike a marathon swim that can take multiple hours, the Ice Mile swim was short enough to recall detail of each of the four 400 metre laps, especially for someone who is used to trying to capture sensations for writing. But an ultra-detailed analysis can often be to see the paint on the building rather than the architecture.

Me at the start, sighting on the pontoon, taken by Vanessa Daws
Me at the start, sighting on the pontoon, taken by Vanessa Daws

The entry and swim out to the start pontoon was fine. I can get into extremely cold water comfortably after years of winter swimming and the 3 degrees Celsius (37.4° F.) at the edge was better than wading through ice as we had the previous year. Entry is easier when there is no wind or rain and you are swimming with others.

I relaxed through the first two laps. Almost certainly too much in retrospect. I was much slower than normal for the first 800 metres.

At the start of the third lap, I allocated part of my awareness as a monitor. Its only job was to check myself, my perceptions and reactions for as long as was possible. Cold slows and thickens the blood, cognition becomes impaired but the hypothermic person doesn’t realise this. Those movies where a hypothermic person clearly realises they must get moving or they will freeze are mostly nonsense.

By the third lap I had developed extreme pain in my hands and feet. Please remember I am used to really cold water, and I don’t describe that pain lightly as extreme. I began to get nervous about one of the lesser-known possible side effects of extreme cold water swimming, that of nerve damage to fingers (not frostbite). So I started clenching my fists and fingers hard during stroke recovery. I also put the pain away, walled it off. It was severe, but I’m a distance swimmer so it wasn’t relevant and I ignored it.

That penultimate lap hurt. So much.

Finbarr passed me. Everyone else had already moved in front of me though I’d been first to swim away from the beach. (I had swum to the pontoon to start, which wasn’t necessary, but I had wanted to so do). On the third lap I had reached the 75% distance that mirrored my 75% pre-swim confidence. I touched the buoy on the pontoon for the seventh time and started the last lap. I never took any notice of Eoin Gaffney on the pontoon or the kayakers or the RIB crew for the entire swim, except for the occasional taste of diesel in the water.

I was cold, then colder. Into hypothermia. As you know, cold is a word that holds no meaning in this situation, but I don’t have a better one. Unless you are cold water swimmer you have no idea what I mean, you just think your experience of an ordinary cold winter day is analagous.

There was pain, present but also distant because I disregarding it. Still swimming. Still focused. Hands quite extraordinarily not in The Claw. Still slow. I tried increasing my stroke rate. I couldn’t hold it for long.

Going down the seventh leg in the last 400 metres, the Black Rain developed.

The Black Rain. I have not heard any other cold water swimmer describe this. I have suffered it once previously. Spots before the eyes is a poor descriptor. It is more like a shifting rain, starting very light, almost imperceptible. Varying sizes, speed and seeming distances in front of me.  Just like rain, except its colour.

I touched the far buoy for the last time. 200 metres to go. Then the swim in. Okay, just the 200 metres to worry about. I knew I would make it.

The RIB was near. There was a kayaker beside me. I could not tell what or if they might have been saying. I didn’t really focus on them, and didn’t think to try. I didn’t think of anything beyond monitoring myself. Swim in. That was all. That was everything. The Black Rain was heavier and I was developing tunnel vision. Not a metaphor, but actual vignetting of my sight. The boats were near but felt far away, not really having anything to do with me, on the far side of a veil. Head for the beach.

Cold blood. Cold enuf blood becomes viscus blood. Viscous. Swim. Thick blood. Thick blood flowz slowly. swim. coLd blub blood Passes oxigen 2 ur brain slowli. always swim. keep swim. Your thinking. ur Thinking gets slowly. never stop swimin. never stop, never stop. never stop cccold. izh beach. shallow. stand. colm’s son. Mr Awesome. OUt. Dee. gEt Drest.

I didn’t need to touch the pontoon at the end of the 1600 metres. Since the beach was further away I had de facto completed the distance. Warren Roche and Tom Healy helped me once got into shallow water and stumbled semi-upright.

*

Despite the ever-encroaching cold, I had never stopped swimming, never stopped making forward progress, never lost sight of what I was doing. Years of cold water swimming makes a difference. Deeply ingrained habits and patterns and thinking mean everything.

The last two legs of the swim had taken both zero time and infinity. Time travel jokes become inessential when time itself ceases to have meaning. Cold is the universe’s ultimate time machine encased in the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Time, like my trap, is a mental construct of swimmers. Time is a beast, or a wall, something huge, not the little parasites of seconds and minutes. If we are close enough we can’t see it all and it either slips away or fills our sight and becomes meaningless.

Immediately afterwards the freight train of Afterdrop took me harder than it ever has previously. Many people helped me as I was virtually unable to dress myself, but especially Tom Healy. I was almost unresponsive. My memory of the fifteen or twenty minutes post swim is hazy at best.

I’ve had mild hypothermia more times than I can recall, like most cold water swimmers. We don’t call it hypothermia of course, we just say chills and shivers. It sounds safer, doesn’t scare others. I have been in serious hypothermia (by my scale of experience) twice before. I’ve had memory loss. Loss of motor control. Inability to speak, to walk, to drive. So I can with confidence say that this was the worst hypothermia experience I’ve yet endured.

I am thankful specifically for the help of Mr Awesome Tom and his partner Rachel, Nicola Gilliland, Alan Smith, Colm Breathnach’s friend Warren Roche whom I thought was Colm’s son. (Should I apologise to Colm or Warren or both?)

And of course my regular accomplice Dee, who didn’t panic either and is still making fun of what she describes as the manic rictus of my face post-swim. I think she’s mixing it up with my regular face.

For reference, you have seen me write many times that I am an average range speed swimmer. The Sandycove Island Challenge each autumn is a similar distance when including the extra Ice Mile start and finish portions, about 1750 metres when the water is flat.

My time for the 2013 Sandycove Island Challenge, which had similar flat conditions and was maybe 14°C. , and my best ever race lap, was 25:30. Course record is held by Irish International swimmer Chris Bryan at 19:40 or thereabouts. My time for the same distance Ice Mile was astonishingly over 37 minutes. That’s what cold can do to a really experienced cold water swimmer. For reference I am 171 centimeters tall and weighed 76 kilos for the swim and my resting heart rate the previous morning was 53.

I had stopped shivering and was recovered and was out and about for photographs in under an hour, thanks to heat, hot water bottles applied correctly, glucose, rubbing and all the techniques used on a hypothermic person. Core temperature took a while longer to recover, until about the time we were half way home, two and half to three hours after the swim.

Seven of the nine Ice Milers finished. Colm Breathnach and Donal Jacob pulled out at 1200 metres due to not feeling right during the swim. You should recall that Colm is already an Ice Miler and a faster and better cold water swimmer than I. Fergal says, and I agree, having done the same myself last year, that for a swimmer such as Colm to pull out during a swim displays self-knowledge, confidence and experience that others should take note of and emulate, and hopefully indicates to others just how seriously this swim should be approached. I have great respect for both swimmers for the decision they made on the day.

*

Given a choice between a "heroic" pic and this one, there was little option
Given the choice between a “heroic” image and this one, I think the truth is more important

Did you think it might be different? More macho or inspirational?Something with less…pain?

I can’t do macho. Don’t know how. King of the Channel in the late 70′s, Des Renford used a phrase “Doing It Tough”. I did my Ice Mile tough. Frankly and honestly in my opinion this stuff is too dangerous to load  macho bullshit onto it.

Winning ugly” according to DeeNot pretty”, she also said, (though that may have been a general observation about me).

Getting it done. No need, no plan, to do it again, I swam out of the trap. I wish I could swim out of other traps.

The Ice Mile was awful, painful and horrible.

Cold is such an insufficient word.

*

Similar images of Finbarr are often the last thing many water polo and open water swimmers see before leaving the surface. Be afraid!
Similar images of Finbarr are often the last thing many water polo and open water swimmers see before departing the surface. Be afraid!

Afterward:

Later after warming up my heart rate was elevated for a few hours. Two days later I developed muscles pain for 24 hours almost identical to what I experience after the first five or six-hour pool swim of winter similar to what Colm reported after his Ice Mile swim last year. It felt like lactic buildup aches in my triceps, lats, pecs, along with lower back and thighs. The aches over the kidneys lasted another two days. I had an unidentified bruise and swelling on one finger, when I rarely bruise even after impacts. Minor issues and otherwise I am perfectly fine.

Here at the end of Part III, I’m taking a temporary break from the subject before returning with reflections and thoughts on the wider context of Ice Mile swimming, with the challenges, dangers, frauds, difficulties and some recommendations.

*

Fergal’s  writeup is here.

Vanessa’s excellent video is here.

Ice Mile Dilemmas – II – Surprisingly Cold

Driving to Wicklow that morning, it never once occurred to us that the water temperature would be cold enough. I was absolutely fine with that.

Here’s anther stupid thing we are doing on yet another early morning“, may have been something Dee said.

We passed over the Wicklow Gap pass, and there was no snow or ice on the mountain tops. The outside air temperature was about two degrees Celsius on the high pass.

We reached Lough Dan just after ten a.m. It’s the main outdoor location for Ireland’s Scout troops but there weren’t any present this weekend. Down at the lake edge everyone had arrived before us, and there were many people milling about, from kayakers and family, to support and safety personnel and half- and mile swimmers. North Channel “earliest, coldest and boldest” Fergal Somerville, the man behind the swim, and others were busy erecting a welcome new addition, a large tent for changing.

After 10 or 15 minutes of chat, I asked about the temperature and was surprised to hear it was somewhere around three degrees. I literally did not believe that but Fergal pointed out the four thermometers out on the rocks around the cove for me to check. They did indicate a range of temperatures from 3.0 ° to 3.5 °Celcius. So it looked like the Ice Mile swim attempt was on!

Four thermometers for certainty.
Four thermometers for certainty.

I did have an initial reaction that the water was again too cold for me. If an Ice Mile can be done at exactly 5.0 ° C., then honestly that’s the temperature at which I’d prefer to do it the swim. I am not in an ego match with anyone who can swim in even colder water. But such precision or luck is not in the nature of Irish weather and water.

Unlike last year though, once that initial reaction passed, I was always going to do the swim. If last year there was only a 25% chance I might do it, this year there was only a 25% chance I wouldn’t do it. To allocate a greater degree of certainty would be to ignore the ever-changing nature of cold and open water swimming and many lessons learned over years of open water swimming. 75% was what I needed.

Mentally I was engaged. After years of hurling myself into cold water, I’ve long ago shed fear and even nervousness and I’ve discarded negative pre-swim thoughts. I might have put myself into this trap, but that didn’t mean I was going to be negative about it. Such a mindset is not conducive to extreme cold water swimming. A swimmer needs to be positive and in control of their thought processes, because that is all they have power over. I was going to swim my way out of this trap.

There were originally ten swimmers planning to take on the full mile challenge, with nine present on the day of whom four were already Ice Milers from last year: Fergal Somerville, Colm Breathnach, Patrick Corkery and Finbarr Hedderman.

To those were added the Aspirants; Moldavan Irish-based Ion Lazarenco, Swiss and also Irish-based speedster Sabrina Weidmer, Eastern Bay Channel Aspirant Paraic Brady, Waterford triathlete Donal Jacob, and myself. There was another group of swimmers who would attempt an 800 metre (half mile) swim.

Two-time English Channel swimmer Eoin Gaffney was on time and lap keeping duty out on a pontoon for the 400 metres laps. Five kayakers and a RIB. A medical Doctor (and swimmer) Nicole Gilliland. Three Fire Brigade staff, all extremely experienced and knowledgeable open water swimmers and paramedics, Tom Mr Awesome Healy, Irish Republic English Channel record holder, his partner Rachel Lee, holder of multiple Irish swimming records, and Alan Smith from Waterford, who had a big effect on the Sandycove Swimmers in his methodical planning. And more:  John Daly,  English Channel Solo and Ice Miler, Mark Lynch, Eastern Bay SC and organiser, Declan Proctor, Swim Director, Barry O’Shaughnessy, Lough Dan Scout Leader. Families and individual helpers and even multiple dogs.

Fergal puts on his happy face for the safety briefing
Fergal puts on his happy face for the safety briefing

There may have been 50 people present to help us out, to watch over us, to keep us safe. All necessary. All potentially essential.

In the last post I wrote:

An Ice Mile requires experience, training, planning and safety and support personnel.

Eastern Bay Swim Club’s Declan, Mark and  Fergal put on the safest, best planned and supported Ice Mile conceivable.

This was an Invitation Only event. The swimmers all had a record of recent cold water training, medicals, and all were known to the organisers and most of us knew each other and Fergal knew each of us. At the start of the winter he had requested we each keep training logs (which I do anyway). We all had recent medicals. I’d been swimming more than last winter, though the extraordinary series storms of mid-December to mid-February had severely impaired almost everyone over the preceding four weeks, when I’d only managed two ocean swims. At 76 kg. I weigh all of 1.4 kg more than last year. Not much, and not what I wanted to be (77-78kg) but more importantly, I haven’t had a recent weight loss like last year.

A portion of my Jan 2014 ECG!
A portion of my Jan 2014 ECG

The safety briefing was comprehensive and included all the important caveats which which open water swimmers should be familiar:

  • It’s only a swim. You can always swim another day.
  • You MUST obey anyone in a boat if told to get out.
  • You can always pull out and you are never more than 200 metres from land.
  • You can always swim another day. Always worth repeating.

A very important rule was added for this specific event:

  • Swimmers must be on the last 400 metre lap by 40 minutes or at least making steady progress to the finish. (Otherwise they would be too slow and too cold). Swimmers also could not stop, tread water or switch to breaststroke, all excellent local rules to ensure safety.

At about 11.10 a.m, as people drifted from the safety briefing to get ready, I spoke quietly in an aside with Tom Mr Awesome Healy.

Tom. I’ll get badly cold. I wanted to warn you, so it doesn’t come as a shock.

I think I may told him not to panic, which Tom with swim and Fire Brigade and paramedic experience was absolutely NOT going to do anyway. I’m sure he’ll forgive me.

It’s good you know yourself Donal. Thanks for letting me know.”

All the swimmers before the start.
All the swimmers before the start.

*

I hadn’t planned to split the account of the Ice Mile into two parts. However, I did not wish to de-emphasise the excellent support of and importance of Eastern Bay Swim Club’s pre-eminent support and the safety aspects of such a swim. Therefore the next part will cover the entire swim itself.

Lough Dan on swim morning before the buoys were placed
Lough Dan on swim morning before the buoys were placed

Ice Mile Dilemmas – I – The Trap

Sometime back in winter of 2010, Sandycove Island Channel swimmer and local legend Finbarr Hedderman and I discussed attempting an Ice Mile.  At the time the International Ice Swimming Association was very new and less than a dozen people had joined its ranks, and half of those were the founders. For those unaware of the Ice Mile challenge:

1) You are better off.

2) It’s a mile (1600 metres) swum in open water of temperatures of five degrees Celsius or lower, wearing only standard swim costume and cap. It’s pretty much as least as horrible as it sounds, and in probably worse. It’s governed by the International Ice Swimming Association founded in 2009 in South Africa by five swimmers. The goal for the IISA is to have the Ice Mile introduced to the Winter Olympics.

InternationalIceSwimmingAssociation_logo

In retrospect the best time for me to have done an ice-mile would have been the previous winter of 2009/10 when I was training for the English Channel and doing a lot of cold water and the Association had just been founded but unfortunately my time machine is temporally out-of-order. (Gee, I wrote a time machine joke.). 

I’m going to put an important disclaimer and reminder here early on, and a subject to which I will return. I cannot stress these enough.

An Ice Mile requires experience, training, planning and safety and support personnel. An Ice Mile should not ever be attempted casually, and for most people should never be attempted.

The temperatures here in Ireland are marginal in two ways: For most of the year the temperatures are such that only experienced open water swimmers are comfortable in our cool water. The other margin is that the cold winter sea temperatures usually hover about six degrees Celsius, just above the prerequisite five degrees to allow an Ice Mile attempt.

Therefore any Ice Mile attempt in Ireland usually requires co-operative (cold) weather and there are only a few usable locations, the most suitable of which are cold mountain lakes.

As those who read this blog last winter will recall, English and earliest-and-coldest-ever North Channel swimmer Fergal Somerville hosted on an Ice Mile attempt at Dublin’s North Wall in February of 2013. We didn’t get the necessary temperature, and I suffered significant post-swim hypothermia due mainly to a then-recent  weight loss of almost six kilos. I’m not a big person anyway so that was not insignificant weight loss. I turned down another opportunity just a week later to join others of my good friends and personal heroes Finbarr Hedderman, Ciarán Byrne and Rob Bohane in an Ice Mile swim in the Kerry Mountains.  A few weeks later Fergal again hosted another Ice Mile attempt, moving location to Lough Dan in the Wicklow Mountains.

That day in 2013, surrounded by snow and ice, my mind mostly elsewhere, I decided against swimming the full mile, ans swam half the distance, partly because of the very low temperatures; one point four degrees through surface ice at the lake edge. And partly because I was just wasn’t at all mentally engaged for personal reasons that weekend. I remember saying to Dee that I didn’t have it in me that day to mentally go where I would need to go in order to complete the mile.

Indeed I wrote here afterwards: “most importantly, I knew I was unwilling to dig into the mental reserves I knew I’d have to access in order to complete. I know how to find and access those mental reserves for swims but [knew they] would come with a physical price. And I also know that sometimes pushing myself too far isn’t the wisest thing to do”. 

I’ve got a little thing I like to say when appropriate. It’s not poetry or memorable but I really believe it very strongly and it’s my own open water mantra:

Safety decisions are best made OUTSIDE the water.

That day Fergal, Colm Breathnach, Patrick Corkery, John Daly and Carmel Collins all completed the swim and became Ice Milers, all excellent cold water swimmers.

Glendalough log MG_1374_01 (Unsharp 3.0).resized
Taken at Glendalough Upper Lake, hours after the 2012 Lough Dan Ice Mile.

It was unexpected that afterwards people both commiserated with me and congratulated me on my decision, even at the CS&PF Channel Dinner in the UK. I wasn’t at all bothered by not doing the swim and was happier with making a personal educated decision to not swim the full mile, (despite irresponsible pressure from one swimmer). I made that decision based on knowing myself; my experience, my physiological state and my thought processes.

One year later, in this 2013/2014 winter, which isn’t as cold as last year’s bitter season, Fergal and The Eastern Bay Swim Club once again decided to host an invitation-only Ice Mile attempt in Lough Dan high up (relatively speaking, our mountains are low) in the Wicklow Mountains. The actual date stayed flexible to allow for weather and temperature changes. but the third and fourth weeks are usually the coldest water temperature here. The date was finally fixed one week beforehand and I indicated I’d accept the invitation and made my final decision to go only 24 hours beforehand. But honestly, with the milder temperature, I certainly did not think we would have the necessary low temperature, nor did most of the other attendees. And I wasn’t at all bothered. A swim at six degrees would suit me fine and I’d be hypothermic afterwards anyway.

Now let me say, and this is also important and key to this whole thing, that I’ve changed my mind about the Ice Mile challenge over the last couple of years since Finn and I first discussed it, starting before last year’s attempts and solidifying early last year. I was no longer particularly interested in the challenge for myself.  I’ll get into those thoughts about the Ice Mile challenge later in this series.

So this was the context of my first dilemma.

I write about cold water swimming. It’s my favourite subject, my favourite palette, and my articles on the subject (index on top right of the page!) are part of what define Loneswimmer.com.

I love cold water, love that bite. But it’s Hobson’s Choice: We don’t have warm water here so it’s cold water or no water, love it or leave it. I also believe in trying to help educate about open water and cold water swimming’s dangers and benefits.

And specifically, I also know that I like cold water, down to about six degrees Celsius (42.8° F).

Sure, I can and have, swum in water of five degrees and colder. But I don’t (always) enjoy it. The balance of reward versus difficulty doesn’t really work for me unless I also reduce the time commensurately. At five degrees, 15 to 20 minutes is fine. (For me). At four degrees, I don’t like swimming longer than 12 to 15 minutes. I also don’t want to increase my weight significantly, nor do I want to push the swimming time limit weekend after weekend, as I would need to do and have previously done, to increase my cold tolerance. For most of the coldest winter months here, I generally swim anywhere from twenty to forty-five minutes depending on the day and conditions and month. I want to enjoy it, to explore my own mind while doing so, to feel what inspiration may come.

But there’s an increase in attention to the International Ice Mile Association and the numbers doing Ice Mile swims are growing, particularly in such areas of regular cold water swimming as Ireland, the UK, South Africa and the northern latitude American continent. I started to feel pressured.

How can we take Donal’s writing on cold seriously? He’s not even an Ice Miler“.

It was a mental construct and a trap entirely of my own making. Sure, I knew it for the fancy that it was. But I couldn’t shrug it off and I still felt I needed to do an Ice Mile, if only for the sake of my existing cold water writing, rather than any particular desire to achieve the target.

We do this, us stupid swimming apes, build imaginary mental obstacles and make them real, and sometimes impossible. I’m a master at it.

*

Allied with this was another dilemma, what I think of as The Paul Kimmage Effect.

Paul Kimmage was a Irish professional cyclist in the late eighties and early nineties. He was not successful and retired quickly and wrote a very good expose of his experience and the drug culture of cycling, including his own use of prohibited substances. He later became one of the long-term key anti-Lance Armstrong journalists and subject to one of Lance Armstrong’s more famous and vicious attacks.

Because Kimmage (of whom I am a fan) had not been successful in his cycling career and because he had exposed something that many cyclists didn’t want discussed, he was heavily criticised and even disregarded.

There are aspects of this challenge that I wanted to write about that I felt could be disregarded if I myself had not completed the challenge. Ironically, I had built that trap myself by completing the half mile swim last year. Had I said up front that I wasn’t at all going to even attempt that swim and proceeded from there, subsequent discussion may have been easier as I’d have just been an educated observer and commentator. Otherwise I’d have been one of the people who didn’t or couldn’t do it. So this really felt like a Catch 22.

I didn’t particularly want to do it, but I felt I would probably have to do it sometime.

Force Twelve - Hurricane Force

The Atlantic – III

This is the third and final part of the series on the Atlantic. I hope you enjoyed this private tour. Part 1 & Part 2.

Summer
Summer

 

Comber
Comber

 

Atlantic Trance
Atlantic Blackgreen

 

Scale
Scale

 

Permanence in Motion
Scending Wave

 

The Island
The Island

 

Chop
Chop

 

Storms Pass
Storms Pass

 

Tidal Lagoon
Tidal Lagoon

 

Storm Wave
Storm Wave

 

Night Sea
Night Sea

 

Force Twelve - Hurricane Force
Hurricane Force Twelve

The Atlantic – II

This is the second part of a three-part series of a pictorial exploration of the Atlantic Ocean as I know it, primarily on Ireland’s south and south-east coasts. As with the last time, these images are best viewed individually at a larger size. All will be added at full resolution to my Flickr account.

Atlantic Pulse

Atlantic Pulse

 

II -  Interface IMG_4757 USM rad 3.0.resized
Atlantic Assault

 

Evening with Groundswell
Evening At High Tide

 

Force Three
Force Three

 

Beach Ripple
Rippling Onto A Beach

 

Storm
Atlantic Storm

 

Anvil of Rock
Anvil of Rock

 

Force Two
Force Two
Force Ten
Force Ten

The Atlantic – I

The Atlantic Ocean is in me.

For almost 20 years since it got its hook into me, I’ve been haunting, (in a moderate non-weird way), the Irish Atlantic coast, primarily the west, south and my own Copper Coast in the south-east.

For many years, in the depths of grim nights, I have stared into the dark and summoned the ocean as a blanket. I can float on groundswell as it pulses and lifts and lowers me. Experience the ground vibrations from huge breakers. Smell the plankton. Feel the wind tighten my face. Taste the salt. The Atlantic became as much part of me as I become a miniscule part  of it.

It’s a grey ocean. Grey, not gray, my American friends. The word was surely invented for the Atlantic. Not a dull description of colour, it’s a dimension, a world, a universe, The Soulstealer Sea. The Grey Atlantic, not the Blue Pacific. It’s a metal ocean. Steel and iron, verdigris if you are lucky. Hard.  Complete.

Welcome to my ocean.

{The photographs of the Atlantic in this three-part series are the best I’ve  taken, over a two and half year period, of various representational of elements of the Atlantic. It’s a personal, creative and a continuing journey. It is as important to me as taking the photographs to let them be seen. I feel like a photographer for once. All are better on full screen for a more, well, immersive experience.}

A Wave
A Wave
Winter Horizon I
Winter Horizon I
Winter Horizon II
Winter Horizon II
Sky & Sea
Vast
I - Swell.resized
Visitors from Far Away
The Sky In The Sea
The Sky In The Sea
Squall
Squall
A Reef
A Reef
The Storm Will Pass
Storms Always Pass
Local
Local
Evening Sea With Two Islands
Evening Sea With Two Islands

 

Force Nine
Force Nine

Cold Water Acclimatization

This post was a companion to HABITUATION, both of which I wrote in early 2010. Since I revisited and largely rewrote that as Cold Water Habituation, my plan was to do the same in this post also.

Acclimatization (acclimatisation for those of us who forego the use of the z)  is a different factor to habituation.

While habituation is simply the process of adapting to getting into cold water, acclimatization is about a person’s ability to stay in cold water for longer.

(Acclimation is the same process but done in controlled or lab conditions).

In brief, as every open water swimmer knows, the more you train in cold water, the better you will be able to tolerate the cold, and the longer you will be able to swim in the water.

Acclimatization is a more difficult and often almost mysterious process than habituation. It takes longer to develop and longer to lose. It tests one far more, requiring a greater willingness to push ourselves.

I’ve luckily gotten to know a lot of cold water swimmers, originally through the Sandycove swimmers group, many of whom say you can think your way through cold, at least up, to a certain point. I know one swimmer and psychologist who helps people in this area, and stress overcoming the fear, that the swimmer should tell themselves that they are warm when they feel the cold, or to focus on different subjects, or to imagine they swimming in warm water, etc. These are classic sports visualization methods that are used to transcend different problems.

Guillamenes platform during winter storm, long exposure
The Guillamenes platform during a winter storm, (long exposure)

I have certainly found for myself that even getting into  6 or 7 º C., after the first minutes of pain, that I now have a definite whole-body feeling of warmth, (excepting feet and hands).

However, there is the problem that physics and the laws of thermodynamics are absolute. A favourite quotation of mine is  “eventually the dead hand of the Second Law will hold sway over everything”. (Yes, I have a melancholy bent). However, this alludes to the fact that entropy increases and heat is lost in everything in the universe. As open water swimmers we are affected by such facts as:

  • One loses heat in water at 30 times the rate in air (thermal conductivity).
  • Heat loss is slower on sunny calm days than overcast windy days which strip body heat away even more quickly.
  • You lose 10% of your heat through your head, (in proportion with the rest of your body).
  • The ratio of heat loss is proportional to the volume and surface area, so larger people lose heat more slowly as the ratio of volume to surface area is increased.
  • Fat is an insulator and slows heat loss.
  • Insufficient food and fluids, alcohol intake, illness or not enough sleep all make one feel colder.
  • Pockets of changing water temperatures have a significant effect.
  • The Second Law of Thermodynamics: In a closed system, entropy increases. In the case of swimming, the closed system is the body, the air and the water. heat will flow from the warm body to the cooler water. You lose heat unless you input sufficient heat energy.
  • No-one is immune to heat loss or hypothermia.

Put all that together and all you get is what you already know. You get colder quicker in water, but the rate of change is dependent on a range of factors.

One factor I didn’t put in there is the mental aspect, because it’s difficult to see how thought (Werner Heisenberg & Quantum Mechanics aside :-) ) can have any effect on the rate of change of the system, i.e. how can thought slow your cooling rate? Many experienced swimmers will say you can think your way into extending your time in the water. I’d never been able to say this. I do believe that you can stay calmer, and accept what’s happening, which makes it feel easier.

I think that you get more used to being in cold, and you recognise your early hypothermia indicators better so you can push your limits more. You learn to swim further into your own cold experience. You get better at preparing and recovering. Some of those very experienced swimmers I know have learned to accept and box off the cold, realise it’s there, know the efficiency is decreasing but at the same time know there can be a long gap between the early hypothermia indicators and remaining period during which much swimming can still be done.

The simple positive feedback process of improving cold ability
The simple positive feedback process of improving cold ability

There is also the case that with improving  habituation, that heart rate and stress hormones decrease, and therefore the person feels better about getting into cold water and less nervous. Less heat will be lost in the initial minutes, which also leads to greater capability. This is the positive adaptive feedback system that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

The small improvements drive confidence, the confidence allows the swimmer to push themselves while staying more relaxed. The mental aspect of cold water swimming was the single thing I most struggled to understand in my first few years of winter swimming. It seemed too trite, too easy, without really saying anything useful. It is easy to say that mental attitude allows one to swim longer but it has taken me years of winter cold water swimming to really realise this, to integrate it and to try to convey it. To understand what it means and to comprehend the effect that thought has on my own cold acclimatisation and ability, and not least to be able to explain that better for myself and hopefully others.

It has not been a short journey. If I could do it, so can you.

Cold Water Habituation

HABITUATION was one of my very first posts, and the first post I wrote about cold and cold water swimming, over four years ago, little realising it would become my favourite subject. Although it is linked in the Cold Water Articles Index, I decided to air it out and rewrite it. (And change those capitals).

Back then I mentioned how I  had progressed in cold. I used myself as an example to demonstrate progressive cold water ability. I was previously a surfer, wearing wetsuits year round and thinking I knew what real cold was. I later realised I had only ever once been close to getting as cold as I regularly get as an open water swimmer after 30 or 40 minutes. I had been surfing for six hours straight with no hood in winter that time.

 I started swimming open water during summer, but wore a wet-suit for the first winter for very irregular swims, and I was still surfing regularly. Toward the end of my second winter of swimming, which wasn’t as regular as I swim now, I decided to do my first non-wet-suit swim of the year, which was in late March I think, only a month after what is usually the lowest temperature of the winter here. March is still very cold water. 

Ballydowane Cove across to St. John's island
Ballydowane Cove across to St. John’s island

I clearly recall, will never forget in fact, arriving at Ballydowane Cove on a cold Sunday morning, with chest high waves, and feel physical effects of profound apprehension, even fear.

I recall that first experience of 7 or 8 degree water like it was yesterday, and I swam for 10 minutes. Disappearing in the waves, and ending up swimming the short length of the beach, and taking ten minutes to so do, and having warned her I’d only be in for a few minutes, Dee thought I’d been drowned. It seems a long time ago. The fear lasted for the next few swims before it disappeared.

The process of getting inured to getting into cold water is called Habituation.

It is not special, it’s not a reflection of an innate ability to handle cold. it doesn’t mean or signify anything. It’s a purely physical response and almost everyone can do it. (Excluding people with cardiac problems or certain circulatory or cardio-respiratory illness or other underlying contra-indicated health issues).

It will hurt for a few seconds or even a few minutes. Increased adrenaline beforehand may elevate your heart rate before you get in the water. You will find it difficult to breathe the first minute or so. You may flail about for the first one hundred metres. You can just relax and float in the water, you don’t have to swim. In fact that’s what King of the Channel Kevin Murphy prefers to do in cold water.

But, you will also settle and relax and get used to it.

coldI know it won’t kill me.

This is a primary mistake that some people make. They think that other swimmers, (more capable or tougher swimmers than them, in their mind), don’t feel it. They do. I do. It just matters less. Of course I also feel the same about other’s swimmers capability. Somewhere is a swimmer who really is better at cold than everyone. It make be Finbarr Hedderman. Or Kevin. Or Fergal, or Lisa or Alison or someone else. But we are all on the same spectrum of tolerance, just in different locations.

When I wrote this in 2010, I’d just met cold water Sandycove legend and Channel swimmer Finbarr the previous weekend, river swimming in Fermoy in 7½º Celcius (45½F) water, in October. At the time of writing, I wrote that seemed too cold for me as a sudden transition  from sea swimming in 10º Celcius. And I had a few years of cold water swimming behind me already.

It made me feel like he’s good at cold and I’m not. But Finbarr is much taller than I, meaning an overall greater heat retention.  He is also exceptional in his ability. He swam 35 minutes in that temperature. I was seriously impressed. I’m sure it hurt him too though, just as much as a 10ºC (50F) hurt me then.

Finbarr's smile here belies the fact that his foot is planted on Liam Maher's neck underwater.
Finbarr’s smile here belies the fact that his foot is planted on Liam Maher’s neck. Underwater.

In 2013/2014, I don’t consider that exceptional, and regularly swim the same or longer in that temperature. Of course Finbarr is swimming an hour.

The first few times you immerse yourself in very cold water will provoke a fight-or-flight response, elevating heart rate and stress hormones, potentially leading to anxiety or even fear.

I saw this with a friend recently when we were going for a swim at around 7.5º C. He hadn’t been in cold water for a couple of months so he was very anxious beforehand. He was utterly fine during his swim and afterwards.

Habituation just means becoming accustomed. In our case become accustomed to getting in cold water. It only takes four to six repetitions before the pre-swim anxiety abates and your heart rate to stay controlled. It become easier. The pain of immersion will decrease, though never disappear, and cold shock response will also reduce somewhat. Indeed there are few physical activities from which we can have such a speedy response.

More importantly, is you will realise that it’s not going to kill you. All the pre-swim anxiety will start to diminish. That the pain is not what you anticipated, that your imagination is worse than the reality. That every time you experience that initial response, you are reducing the power that cold may have over you.

You will start to see Cold in a different way, as a more intangible ghost over which you also have power. Until you too are part of this cult.

A Cynical Devil’s Dictionary of (Open Water) Swimming

In the early twentieth century, American satirist Ambrose Bierce collected his weekly newspaper columns into a book which he intended to call a Cynic’s Dictionary. His repeated characterisation as a devil by various US politicians of the day led to its publication under the title of Devil’s Dictionary.

I have neither the wit not skill of Bierce, but I thought it would be fun to devise a brief Cynical Devil’s Swimming Dictionary. It so transpired, such that I may continue to add to it.

***

Anti-fog: The biggest lie told by the swimming industry.

Butterfly: Vicki Keith & Sylvain Estadieu are nut-cases. More importantly, a type of post-swim cupcake. Mmm, cake.

Bioprene: The next big thing in celebrity diets. Just you wait. Sunday supplements and Horizon specials, here we come.

Cake: See Butterfly.

Carbs: Cake in another form. Sometimes chocolate. Or just cake. Mmm, cake.

Catch: The nonsensical idea that swimmers grab onto and hold and pull the water, under water, with their hands, in order to move forward. Clearly they move by micturating prodigiously behind themselves. Or open water swimmers anyway.

Costume: Swimsuits, Cossies, Bathers, Budgies, Banana Hammocks, Speedos, Togs, Swimmers and “middle-aged men shouldn’t be allowed to wear those in public” are all various terms for wisps of artificial fabric swimming apparel that are changed and cleaned less often than a hobo’s underwear but cost more per gram than real fur.

Channel: A body of water stretching between Stupid and Broke.

Channel swimmers: A cult or a club. Or both.

Cold: No. No, it’s not, you baby. Get in.

Copper Coast: My paradise. My playground. Bloody cold. Full of bloody jellyfish. Few swimmers. Applications to swim must come through this office.

Depth: It’s not under me, it’s not under me. It’s not under me.

Diana Nyad: See Marathon Swimmer.

Dover: Why so many people swim away from England.

England: More people try to swim away from it than anywhere else in the world. See Dover.

France: Bloody hell. I suppose it could be worse. It could be Belgium. Or England again. I gave up my two-way attempt because I didn’t want to swim to Dover. Two-way attempt? Hey, if you ever have to swim from France for an hour to get back to your pilot, you too can reasonably claim it was a two-way attempt.

Feeds: The technical description of the vast quantities of infant food open water swimmers stuff into their gaping never-satiated mouths, like huge baby birds.

Fish: The Men in the Grey Suits. The Landlord. Does not include any other fish.

Fraud: See Diana Nyad.

Goggles: When asked the first time what is best in life Conan The Barbarian said: “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women. And new goggles. I love new googles.” That’s a Hollywood Fact.

Grease: The best stuff is made from baby dolphin juice. I can hook you up. Call me.

Imagination and Intelligence: Lack of. Why marathon swimmers keep swimming. How marathon swimmers keep swimming. Really, we’re pretty dumb. Ted Erikson said so and he’d know.

Ireland: Home of swimming Gods and Goddesses, Ocean Giants and Sea Conquerors, a coastal cold water heaven. And a lone swimmer.

Jellyfish: Boom. Right in the kisser! Who says the little bastards have no brains?

Kick: This is how you stop triathletes trying to pass you. In the head, for best effect. I do not condone this. On a completely and utterly unrelated note, triathletes can’t tell one skin swimmer from another, we all look alike to them. So if you accidentally kicked one in the head, that would have nothing to do with me and you probably wouldn’t get caught.

Lakes: Old-timey version of pools. No chlorine but you do get the urine and dilute cowshit for free.

Lengths: Not as commonly thought, a  pool measurement, but in multiple figures is the real distance in body lengths between a swimmer who tells their wife/husband they came third in a race, and actual third place. Cannot be a fraction.

Marathon swimmer: Not Diana Nyad.

Marathon swimming: It’s a dumb thing.

NST: Non-Shivering Thermogenesis. This is the technical description of the time just before  male cold water swimmer’s testicles become safely ensconced within their bodies.

Nude: Ned Denison’s scary predilection for swimming without togs on club swims. Never mentioned in his IMSHOF induction.

Ocean: Home. See Water. Also sea water. Free.

Observers: Hauled-out crusty old sea dogs. Bring your own food. Lock up your daughters.

Open Water Swimmers: the very zenith nadir of the swimming world. Above Below Tadpole Age Groupers.

Pilot: Someone you pay a lot of money to insult you, while you swim, just at the point when you already feel most stupid.

Pool: A box of urine and chlorine. Pay to use.

Propellor: Anyone who worries a lot about Fish hasn’t been too close for comfort to a moving propeller. Aka The Spinning Blades of Sharp Cutting Pain and Dismemberment.

Qualification: The complex and lengthy process of incorrectly and fraudulently  filling out multiple forms and questionnaires, forging signatures and lying about swim times in order to swim somewhere stupid so that next time, you won’t have to write the entire work of fiction from scratch.

Recovery: That morning you stayed in bed and still regretted it. The day you went swimming … and still regretted it.

Reefs: If you are racing, don’t get between us and them. See also Kick.

Swimming: A bad metaphor for life. A good substitute for life.

Sharks: The Landlord. The Men In Grey Suits. Bitey. Grey. Also gray. See Fish.

Swedes: Either butterfly nut-case Sylvain Estadieu’s fiancée, Great Greta, or a type of elitist swim goggle. Depending on your geographical location and preference. We all know Sylvain’s preference, right? Right?

Technique: It’s a little-known fact that before Atlas was condemned to roll a stone uphill for eternity, he was first put to perfecting his front crawl swim technique, but it deemed too cruel a punishment. Any swimmer left to their own devices will rapidly devolve to the worst technique possible, except open water swimmers, who have none to begin with.

Tides: Often treated a fairy tale  by swimmers who swim on lakes. The variability in time, height  and location prove God is a woman. Or a man. I dunno, I’m no theologian or misogynist.

Under the boat: Don’t go there. I’ve been. It’s not nice.

Viking Princess: Reg Brickell’s Channel boat. You ain’t crewed till you crewed on Viking Princess. Unless, you know, you have crewed.

Water: Are you frequently damp? That’d be the water. You’ll find it’s wet.

Wildlife:  Technical swimmer’s collective noun for all things that are Not Jellyfish and Not Sharks.

X-Men: A supposed superhero team which has no swimmers. You know the rest of the world makes fun of Aquaman? That because they all can’t swim. Aquaman would kick Wolverine’s ass in the water. And I doubt that wheelchair of Professor X is much good as a pull-buoy. Also, begins with X. You try it if you are so smart.

Youghal: A coastal town in Ireland that begins with a Y.  Goddamn it it’s late!

Zip-line: Every open water swimmers’ favourite  race technique, that they pretend to utterly deplore and sworn they’ve never used. I’ve myself have certainly never used it. Ever. In unrelated advice, grease your ankles.

***

Related (humour) links:

Open Water Swimmer’s Fashion & Beauty Tips. (loneswimmer.com).

Two Distance Swimmers meet. (loneswimmer.com)

Swimming Taxonomy (loneswimmer.com)

GRANT PROPOSAL AND APPLICATION – TOWARD A POST-MODERN CONTEXTUALIZATION OF SWIMMING SUB-CULTURES (loneswimmer.com)

Introducing a precise open water  temperature scale (loneswimmer.com)

Cold Shock Response and the Mammalian Diving Reflex in cold water swimming – Positive & Negative Feedback systems

I read a blog recently about cold immersion and cold baths, and cold swimming to a lesser extent. The author was speaking about the positive physical and mental benefits of regular ice baths. Similar benefits to what we as cold water swimmers regularly experience. All well and good. For aspirant Channel swimmers without access to regular cold water swimming, the recommendation for cold showers and baths is old and trusted.

However in his explanation of what was happening in the body the author focused exclusively on the Mammalian Diving Reflex as the primary response of the body when being immersed in cold water and completely ignored or didn’t understand the effect of Cold Shock Response and its place in the equation. (I didn’t save the blog link, sorry.)

That blog wasn’t the only place you see this. If you search on Mammalian Diving Reflex you will see it widely referred as the (only) process  in action when people are immersed or submerged in (cold) water. It’s a classic example of people taking all their knowledge from Wikipedia, because it seems the same Wikipedia core text is used all over the place.

I’ve covered both before and as a cold water swimmer, rather than someone sitting into a cool water bath, and I’ve focused as  much on Cold Shock Response, and the issue of Habituation, the process of getting used to getting into cold water, (not the process of staying in it).

The blog author just cut and pasted a Wikipedia article on Mammalian Diving Reflex, and while the Wikipedia article wasn’t wrong, both it and the blog were incomplete from the perspective of a  cold water swimmer.

So what are each of these and do they interact?

While swimming in Tramore Bay the other day, the water having risen by a degree in two weeks to about 7.5 Celsius, I got thinking about these two responses and how one, Cold Shock Response could be considered a positive feedback system while the Mammalian Diving Reflex could be considered a negative feedback system.

It’s not the first time I’ve wondered about Positive Feedback in a biological sense in open cold water swimming. Previously I considered that the Habituation/Acclimatisation process in cold water swimmers could also be a positive feedback system.

The simple process of improving cold ability
The simple process of improving cold ability

In Systems Theory (and elsewhere) a Positive Feedback System is where a small change causes a further bigger change. Therefore positive feedback is often considered a de-stabilising process. One example might be the international banking system that led to the 2008 collapse: Increased risks led to larger profits which led to larger risks until the system collapsed. However positive feedback can also be a process for change or improvement: If you swim more, you get fitter and able to swim even more, i.e. the training effect. Or the more you get in cold water, the better you get at getting into cold water.

Negative Feedback is often considered a stabilising process, the most common example is a thermostat which regulates heats by switching off when it gets too hot, switching on when it gets too cold: Negative Feedback acts in the opposite direction to the initial impulse.

Cold Shock Response is the bodies response to sudden cold water immersion. It results in varying degrees according to the person’s habituation experience, primarily in elevated heart rate, and elevated stress hormones. It is the elevated heart rate which is dangerous, to lesser extent in the increased chance of cardiac arrest, but more commonly in the chance of aspirating water due to shock and subsequently drowning. Less habituated or experienced swimmers will note an increased heart rate and nervousness even before immersion occurs if they are expecting the cold. I noted some years ago that the first time I ever swam during winter without a wet-suit, I was literally terrified beforehand. Then the initial cold shock drives the heart rate higher. This is a limited example of Positive Feedback, where the initial is destabilised by something (cold) that acts on the input.

The Mammalian Diving Reflex is another innate biological response to immersion. As the name implies all mammals exhibit this, human to weaker extent, but it exists to extend the time that animals can survive while submerged by reducing the need for respiration. This occurs in swimmers through two main biological reactions; decreasing heart rate (brachycardia) and therefore slowing the buildup of carbon dioxide in the body, (as excess carbon dioxide is what cause us to have to breathe); our constant companion, peripheral vaso-constriction, where the capillaries and blood flow in the extremities is restricted to allow more oxygenated blood to be available to the heart and brain.

The Mammalian Diving Reflex is initiated when the fact is submerged, and this is the reason I have previously written many times that you should splash your face before getting in the water, rather than the incorrect but widely cited slashing water down your back.

The Mammalian Diving Reflex is obviously a case of Negative Feedback, where the body reacts in opposition to submersion to protect itself.

So we can see that there is both positive and later negative feedback in operation in cold water swimming, where the negative feedback occurs to stabilise and protect a human through adaptive physiological response. But the initial negative feedback of Cold Shock is very significant and should not be ignores, as so many non-cold water writers seem to do, as it carries its own significant risk factor.

The bottom line though, is that this is another way of saying, that ability in cold water swimming improves with repetition. Habituation improves much more quickly than Acclimatization. In a little as four to five repeats, people become much more comfortable with getting into cold water.

Now get out there!

Loneswimmer.com is four years old

I had forgotten about the anniversary but I started LoneSwimmer.com on a whim on the afternoon of 18th of January, 2010. Little did I guess where it would lead.

Since then LoneSwimmer has grown year on year, and often month on month. It was viewed in 185 countries in 2013 though the countries that most read LoneSwimmer are the USA, UK, Ireland and Australia, in that order. English Channel aficionados will know those are the four biggest Channel swimming nurseries. It’s possible that LoneSwimmer, which amazingly won the inaugural 2012 award for the best sports and recreation blog in Ireland, may be the most popular entirely amateur open water swimming blog in the world! This is both gratifying and terrifying to me. Though as you may know I did once get some free goggles and paddles for review, nonetheless LoneSwimmer is just me, one average swimmer on the south-east coast of Ireland, still talking shite from the middle of nowhere (and making nothing from it). Let me mention up front here my invaluable behind-the-scenes editor, partner and second-shooter photographer and all round supporter Dee. The longer a post here is, or the more typos it contains, the less likely it is that Dee proofed it. Like this this one.

LoneSwimmer monthly charts 4 years no data
47 months of LoneSwimmer.com

Writing LoneSwimmer has been challenging, time-consuming, frustrating, dispiriting, heart-breaking, seemingly never-ending, boring and exciting. Remarkably like open water swimming in fact.

I have a typically cynical Irish view of many things, including “mission statements”, but I’ve striven to keep the blog on the (extended) subject of open water swimming, and to keep anything else about me or my life away from here, and that has occasionally not been easy, because … life. My original idea for this blog was to share everything I’ve learned the hard way about open water and that has remained my guiding principle. It has also meant increasingly covering pool training aspects and ranging into entirely unexpected areas. I discovered over the four years that there many things that open water swimmers all know, but that no-one had written down. So there are other versions and opinions of everything I write, and I’d encourage you to keep those opinions, or to seek them out elsewhere or to write them down and publish them yourself. I’ve been asked by a few people about writing blogs and I’m always happy to share all the many mistakes and long learning curve I’ve endured.

I re-organised the blog in mid-2013 to index all the How To articles and they range in utility for all levels, from beginners to resources for Channel and marathon swimmers. The compliment I value most continues to be the simple “Thanks” from anyone whom I’ve helped by something I’ve written.

When I started I just knew my own swimming friends here in Ireland. Now I have swimming friends all over the world.

I read many swimming blogs, so many I had to make a separate fixed page of links for your ease-of-use. Sometime after I started LoneSwimmer, I came across another blog called Freshwaterswimmer.com by American Channel swimmer, Evan Morrison. (That link will take you to the newer version of Evan’s blog; Farther, Colder, Rougher). Evan had started Freshwaterswimmer.com within two weeks of LoneSwimmer.com.

Somehow, and I’m not even sure how or when looking back, Evan and I became transatlantic writing partners and collaborators. I suspect it was partially because Evan and I agree on many aspects of marathon swimming and the people and challenges involved, and neither of us like people hoarding information to gain some spurious power. As you know by now, that link with Evan led through various discussions with many people to the formation of the marathonswimmers.org forum by Evan, who is the site owner, and myself.

The forum is now the most vibrant community of Channel, marathon and aspiring marathon swimmers globally. This in turn led to the Global Marathon Swimming Awards, the only peer-voted marathon awards in the world. And from there it led to the recent release of the Rules of Marathon Swimming by a core group of authors and reviewers, which rules have already been welcomed and endorsed by an astonishing number of well-known marathon swimmers from around the world. (If you haven’t endorsed the rules yet, regardless of your accomplishments or level, it’s never too late, you can do it over there or email me, or email rules@marathonswimmers.org).

The foundation of marathonswimmers.org and the writing and release of the rules of marathon swimming may be the two most important swimming-related things I have or ever will do, though Evan and I are not finished with our ideas. We both believe in the democratization of open water swimming and the power of community input and ideas. 

Whew. How did all this happen an average swimmer from and in the middle of nowhere?

My very first posts were about my local swimming area, Waterford’s then not widely-known but gorgeous Copper Coast. When people think of Ireland’s coast it is often the west and south-west coasts, but four years later the Copper Coast has now become better known and more appreciated. It’s a quiet, isolated 40 kilometre stretch of cliffs, intermittent coves and small villages, and it’s my playground. A small number of you have even come here to swim it with me and you are all always welcome to join me at play here.

Kilfarrassey rocks_MG_8854.resized
Kilfarrassey on The Copper Coast

My next post was about cold water habituation. Little did I realise that for four years I would continue to write article after article about cold water swimming.  I collected those ongoing articles into a Cold Water Swimming Index in mid 2013 and was amazed to find there were about 50 articles on that subject alone to which I continue to add. Surprisingly only nine months later, the index page itself is now the second most popular, and the most linked into and referenced page on LoneSwimmer. Two of the articles on that subject are the site’s most popular individual articles, the perennial and humourous Introducing a precise open water swimming temperature scale and the eternal question “What temperature of water is too cold to swim in?”.

This_is_your_brain_on_open-water_swimmingI’m not a naturally funny person, so when I write something humourous I get a special kick from it. I can’t draw, at all either, so I did one cartoon in a simple graphics package that I’ve seen appear elsewhere a few times since and I still think is accurate.

In 2011 I wrote an April’s Fools post that caused outrage across the Channel swimming world. I got some shall we say strong messages, which made me laugh all the more. I remember leaving the pool that Friday evening, to a phone that was almost red-hot with all the emails, calls and SMSes. DNOWS and many in Dover and elsewhere were all caught. That post is long deleted, I did a another one on a different subject  in 2012 that caught many actual Channel swimmers but when I suggested to Evan that we combine our blogs for the 2013 version, we once again sucked in more people, including, again, the open water swimming media. A good April’s Fool’s joke should sting the victims, and hopefully made them laugh later. Catching people globally once was great fun, twice even more, but three times? Well I don’t know what that says about you all, or me. I am now retired form April’s Fool’s jokes.

I almost stopped writing LoneSwimmer in late 2013, as was obvious to regular readers, for what was and continues to be a combination of many reasons but for the moment, LoneSwimmer struggles fitfully on. Actually even this post has had three different revisions, one more negative, and one more positive, than this one. I never know where LoneSwimmer is going, I never had a plan beyond that original idea. Most often I have panic, when I think I have already written everything I could say. Right now, as I write this, I don’t feel like continuing, but tomorrow I may be different. I’ve learned to mostly ignore how I feel about it. Sometimes writing has been almost all I have had to hang onto.

One thing I do know, is that had I not started writing LoneSwimmer I would never have written the posts of which I am proudest:

Two golden rules of open water and marathon swimming. This ideas in this post have become embedded in the rules of marathon swimming linked above. It’s worth it all for that alone.

My multi-part series on Trent Grimsey’s and Sylvain Estadieu’s English Channel records. Our sport to this day is still one that is essentially done in private and we still huddle around the electronic campfire  telling stories of swims. It was a fantastic honour that both swimmers and friends allowed me to see firsthand and later tell their stories. I have other stories of other friends, which were not covered here, not willingly, but because I did not think it was my place to so do. These most obviously include Rob Bohane, Alan Clack, Gábor Molnar, Owen O’Keeffe and Páraic Casey. I love covering swims, and you know where to find me…

Part Five of the series on Diana Nyad: Probity & Integrity. Evan & I, as co-founders of the forum were dragged into the astonishing unveiling of the truth in the Diana Nyad story on that extraordinary thread which set international headlines. I had written previously about her a few times before this series, changing from being a fan and supporter into a cynic and eventually an opponent, while the swimming and regular media embarrassed themselves, again, with their unquestioning sycophantic acceptance of her duplicitous lies and bullshit. I’ve been saying recently when asked, that when you see a sportsperson whom is suspected of cheating, who has an asterisk beside their name in the records books, someone had to put that asterisk there. Someone cared, someone wanted honesty and integrity in their sport. I believe all us honest swimmers put the asterisk after Diana Nyad’s name and I am proud that that post seems to articulate something with which every single swimmer I’ve met has agreed.

The series on MIMS 2013. I think NYCSwim treated most of the 2013 Manhattan Island Marathon Swim entrants shamefully and things currently look no better for 2014. I put a lot of effort into covering what happened, once again doing a news story which none of the actual swim news sites covered ,especially since LoneSwimmer isn’t a swim news blog.

Much of what I write is intended to be functional and/or instructive. For example, when I wrote down the etiquette of lane swimming, I wasn’t saying anything new. Others had written similar before me and I was just exercising the demons that all pool swimmers are plagued by, when joined by people who don’t know what they are doing. A couple of years later, those rules have now been read thousands and thousands of times.

When writing you can’t always go to the well. You’d run dry very quickly, run out of things to say. Had I stopped writing LoneSwimmer early on, maybe I wouldn’t go the well at all. I certainly wouldn’t have written this post from just over a week ago which I think is the single best post I’ve yet written.

Another Winter Dawn, my most popular image on Flickr.
Another Winter Dawn, on Flickr.

Had I never started writing LoneSwimmer, I’d also likely never have taken up photography. Luckily my tastes in photography tend toward the exact images that we open water swimmers enjoy, and which are often disregarded by others as mere landscapes.  You can check out my Flickr page  RSS in the sidebar and you can always contact me if you want prints of any photo here. For the record, this has never happened! I shall keep trying to get better.

I’m an average swimmer and resource-restricted so I don’t or can’t aspire to extraordinary undreamed of swims.

I’m Irish, where we as individuals are not encouraged to be proud of our own achievements and where as a country very many people are still in a very dark place, including myself.

Writing LoneSwimmer, friendships in the swimming community and your continued interest, all have allowed me to achieve and aspire to other things in swimming.

My name is Donal Buckley. Some people now even call me the lone swimmer. I’m a Channel Swimmer, and a swim blogger.

Thank you for visiting my site.

The Worst Three Minutes

Over a year ago I wrote a popular post called The First Three Minutes, which investigated just the first few minutes of a cold water swim. (A real cold water swim, not your balmy 10 degree Celsius getting a tan (50F) water for softies).

We know, us cold water swimmers, that passers-by focus on the water and the time of year. They ask themselves and us, how could anyone possibly get into bitterly cold water in the depth of an Irish winter, without a wet-suit. It’s behaviour that borders on the insane to everyone else. It certainly is at best aberrant, definitely risky, beyond any conceivable reward.  The tourists, passersby and pass-remarkers extrapolate from their own personal experience of cold on land or an occasional cold shower and from that they believe they can understand our world. Or at least believe that what we are doing is a sign that we are lacking in something.

They cannot and will never comprehend why we do what we do and though I have explained why we swim in cold water, that explanation will only resonate with fellow cold water swimmers or similar adventurers.

I had long thought that those first three minutes though were not the worst three minutes. Nor indeed was the worst time during swimming , afterdrop or when enduring the usual mild or moderate hypothermia that many of us endure on a regular basis.

The worst three minutes occur at T-minus. That is, the worst part of cold water swimming happens before you swim, or at least, before I swim.

It’s a cold mid-January Saturday. It’s lunchtime, past mid-day, late for a weekend swim. I didn’t sleep much of the previous night, I’ve been oscillating into and out of insomnia for months now and the previous night I got almost no sleep, finally drifting off only shortly before dawn, and stumbling awake after a couple of hours. The morning was the cold wet grey that is Ireland’s other natural colour. On such a dispiriting morning the lack of rest sapped my desire to get down to the coast but I eventually bestirred myself and arrived at the Newtown and Guillamene car park about 1 p.m., with the car thermometer reading 2.5 degrees Celsius. The bay at least was calm but that only meant that the light breeze was cross-offshore which meant cold. Combine that with the air and the ambient temperature felt about zero degrees. Wind chill is a stupid phrase. Winter swimming is stupid.

Zero degrees. Grey skies, grey water, breeze, rain. Out in the bay the big Dunmore East RNLI Trent-class lifeboat was steaming toward Powerstown Head, quartering the bay. Dunmore East is about 10 miles away, the local big fishing port. The reason the Elizabeth-and-Ronald (as an entirely charitable organisation which receives no government funds, RNLI boats are named after significant philanthropists) was in the bay was to search for the body of a poor lost soul, likely jumped from Powerstown Head across the bay, two days previously.

RNLI lifeboat in rain P1020036.resized.rotated
(Thanks to David Dammerman for the camera! A friendly and generous gesture more appreciated than he maybe realises).

Down on the concrete, the morning polar bear dippers had all left. Just myself, the breeze, the rain, the cold. Given the rain I put the box in the single occupant alcove which I only use in these circumstances. I took my thermometer out of the box and stood there and looked out. Rain dropped off the rocks into which the alcove is hewn, the yellow-green algae and lichen everywhere seeming almost to glow in the wet conditions.

The alcove, the box, the rock, the rain, the algae.
The alcove, the box, the rock, the rain, the algae.

Clad in my heavy winter coat I gingerly went down the steps to the water’s edge, the algae on the steps having reached a dangerously lethal slippiness since last week. The tide was almost out, so all the steps were exposed down to the final ladder. Spring tide, over five metres range between high tide and low tide.

Zero degrees. Grey skies, grey water, breeze, rain, low tide. 

Such was the surface underfoot that I had to use the stainless steel railings on either side. The steel was colder than ice-cubes and utterly necessary. By the time I’d measured the water (7.4 degrees Celsius, ~ 45 F., up three-quarters of a degree since the previous weekend but the combined air and water temperature was colder) and made it back to the alcove, my hands were painfully cold.

Zero degrees. Grey skies, grey water, breeze, rain, low tide, cold water, tired.

No-one around for a quick chat or  hello. A lifeboat in the bay looking for the body of another likely victim of the recession in Ireland. Grim.

I started to get undressed, pulled my freezing cold and wet togs over my bare luminous white arse, there being no-one around to require the towel-dance. Togs on, coat still on, I stopped. I just … stopped.

I stood there. In the alcove, my feet getting cold, my hands sore even before I was ready. So tired that I knew the cold would hurt more than usual.

It wasn’t the first time. There have been other days, other winters like this. Every winter has days like this. If it happens, this is the worst three minutes.

All you have to do either swim or go home. Nothing will happen if you go home. The world won’t end. Except, you tell yourself, or I tell myself, maybe this will be the first crack. Fail to get in the water once for no good reason, and maybe the next time it’ll be easier to not get in. Worse, next time, maybe it’ll be easier to stay at home. Maybe not getting in the water means it’ll be all over for me. Maybe I’ll lose the thing keeping me going.

I stood there, and there was no epiphany. It remained desolate, cold, wet and grey. No lesson about anything here. I imagined I looked grey because I felt grey. Pathetic fallacy writ large. Nothing new for an open water swimmer. Nothing to see here.

And then I finished getting ready and I got in the water and I swam. And afterwards I went home.

They think cold water is tough? They don’t really know what’s the hard part. The worst part. And this week there was no Reverie. There was just paying the price of entrance, paying now for some warmer swim later or some other cold swim, swimming in the bay watching the lifeboats searching for another soul lost at sea, similar to me. And like all entry fees, there’s a single person supplement. A lone swimmer supplement.

A temporary sandbar appears at lowest tide beyond the rocks at Benvoy
A temporary sandbar appears at lowest Spring tide beyond the rocks at Benvoy. Maybe I am the only person who ever walked on it. I walked around the edge so not to leave even footprints.

Open water swimming and marathon swimming is dangerous

Eilís
Coach Eilís

In November 2010, Cork and Sandycove Channel Coach Eilís Burns held one of her irregular brief seminars for prospective Channel solo swimmers for the 2011 Channel season.

It wasn’t an open-to-all seminar. Those attending were people who had contacted Eilís asking her to coach them. Eilís is careful in whom she agrees to coach, requiring a proven desire, a willingness to do the required work, and the temperament to do what she says.

As part of that seminar Eilís had asked four of the local Channel swimmers to attend and speak briefly on subjects of our own choice. The four were; Lisa Cummins, two-way English Channel solo; Imelda Lynch, first Sandycove and Cork female Channel swimmer and a local legend amongst Sandycove swimmers for her tenacity and tough training regime; Rob Bohane, aka The Bull, who as part of the Magnificent Seven, first attempted the Channel in 2010 a few weeks after me; and the fourth was myself.

Six of The Magnificent Seven. From left; Ciaran Byrne, Donal, Liam Maher, Jennifer Hurley, Rob Bohane, Gabor Molnar. Channel swimmers one and all.
Six of The Magnificent Seven. From left; Ciaran Byrne, Donal, Liam Maher, Jennifer Hurley, Rob Bohane, Gabor Molnar. Channel swimmers one and all. Not a gram of fake tan between us.

I remember all the presentations with varying degrees of clarity. But my own and Rob’s are much clearer.

Rob had attempted the Channel in late August, a couple of weeks after Jen Hurley and I had swum, and within 12 hours of Ciarán Byrne soloing. Liam Maher, Jen Hurley, myself and Ciarán had all succeeded, the first four of the Magnificent Seven, with Rob, Danny and Gábor still to go.

All through training, and Eilís’ training regime for us was brutal, we became increasingly convinced we would be one hundred percent successful as a group. The Channel taught us all otherwise. Rob encountered the horrendous weather of which the Channel is still capable of throwing at Solos even with modern forecasting. Ciarán had gotten to France before getting shut out by the Channel but Rob ran into the full force of the Channel’s brutal face. After a dozen hours of swimming, Rob was pulled from the water by hos crew and later hospitalized with cold water pulmonary edema. That story continued because Rob recovered and on his second attempt in 2012 he was also denied with more horrendous weather. But he eventually prevailed and indeed Rob went on to set the Sandycove club Channel record. Less than the fast time, what is far more important is Rob’s journey to get there.

Wearing the Hardship Award Hat in 2011
Wearing the Hardship Award Hat in 2011

In 2011, following a visit to the Cork University Hospital Emergency by Liam Maher after a particularly … challenging, Sandycove Island Challenge race, a new Sandycove Island Swimming Club annual award was introduced for the most dangerous swim undergone or most damage suffered by a club member, known as the Hardship Award. I was the retrospective inaugural 2010 winner for my Channel solo, followed by Liam, then Rob, with Ned being the 2013 winner for the emotional damage he suffered for losing many of his records in 2013 to other club members. The not-at-all-coveted Hardship Award is a Hard Hat!

At EilÍs’ 2010/2011 seminar, still raw from the first crossing, Rob spoke eloquently of how he had a great family and life, and that if not making it across the English Channel was the worst that had happened him, then he was a very lucky man.

My own input was brief, I only wanted to say one thing really:

I told the assembled aspirants that the thing they most needed to comprehend themselves, that they most needed to discuss honestly with their partners or parents or family, is that solo Channel swimming is dangerous.

We don’t like to discuss this aspect. We like even to pretend otherwise.

In 2010 I had my own near-lethal experience in the Channel and then Rob had been hospitalised. Lisa had been hospitalised after her two-way Channel swim, Ned had been hospitalized after Santa Barbara. Four members from one club, and while I was the only one of that four not hospitalized the experience was no less dangerous. (BTW, as Evan once pointedly asked me, just where is the full account of my Channel swim, given the other swim’s I’ve covered? The answer is, it’s a long comprehensively written account and part a longer term project that may never see light and so may eventually surface here, Frankly the story is far too often told and repeated as a rumour in Ireland, such I’ve been asked, “did you hear about the guy who swam and the Channel and …”).

Let me repeat: Open water swimming is dangerous. To be responsible to the others we help, advise or even inadvertently inspire we MUST honestly acknowledge this. Channel swimming is especially dangerous.

2012 we lost Sandycove swimmer and our much-loved friend Paráic Casey in the English Channel. In 2013 the Channel swimming community and her family and friends lost Susan Taylor in the English Channel. I mean no disrespect to any others by not continuing a roll call, as part of my point is these are the dangers and losses incurred within the community of people I know myself. (I’d met Susan in Dover in 2012).

I looked at those people in Cork at the seminar and told them this was their first task as Aspirant Channel swimmer: To be honest with themselves and the people important to them. Open water, Channel and marathon swimming is dangerous.

Regardless of our experience and skill, the sea particularly is a vastness beyond us. To accept this and the inherent risk is to improve our ability to survive.

If you can accept that fact, integrate it as well as it is possible for anyone who thinks they the measure of their own dreams, you have taken a significant first step to being a real open water swimmer.

After that seminar, one of the attendees, who had been present with their partner, decided against the Channel. As someone who encourages open water and Channel swimming, I considered and still consider that a good result. 

I am obviously not against people being open water swimmers or setting their sights on extreme swimming goals or following dreams. But I do strongly believe that you should do it from a prepared base. I will not help someone whom I don’t think takes the risk seriously.

I’m (mostly) a lone swimmer. As a consequence I am not reckless (despite views to the contrary) but consider carefully both my own abilities and thresholds, and each day’s conditions, and weigh each and every swim before I start.

By accepting the existence of risk and hazard (the potential outcome of risk) we actually gain another tool in our repertoire.  By being brave enough to stand our ground and know when not to swim, when not to risk our limits is to know ourselves.

No-one swims, or at least no serious open water swimmer, with the thought of not returning, any more that mountain climbers or polar explorers do. But the possibility is part of what makes open water swimming what it is and a properly cognizant open water swimmer is pursuing a type of existentialism, not fatalism. By realising that understanding our constraints and boundaries and the immutable superiority of nature, which we don’t actually conquer, but temporarily deceive or elude, you are making yourselves a more capable and adaptable swimmer. 

Be safe.

The Reverie of Cold

Look away, look away.

My head whirls, sentences and clauses. Words and incantations. I need to hold the intent, remember the state. I need to write. I have swum, and now more than anything, I need to write. More than I need people or food, more even than I need heat, I need to vomit out the words.

This time we run
This time we hide
This time we draw
On all the fire we have inside.

My foot is heavy on the accelerator as I drive homeward, the car’s heater blasting warm air around me, an illusion of warmth, my core temperature still depressed, and dressed as I am in four layers of clothes with a heavy coat, gloves and a wooly hat over all. 

So look away, look away
Hide your eyes from the land
Where I lie cold.

I’m in a fugue, and I know I will soon forget. I am one-millionth of a second displaced from the world and I am untouchable and redeemed. That one-millionth gap is a void. Lone swimming ninja ghost. Invisible, alone. I have tunnel vision and I feel like I’ve taken all the world’s narcotics. But I will warm up and then I shall be returned from the Fey Lands, rewarm and forget the connection. Forget the disconnection. Forget the Fey Lands, forget the fugue, start to distrust myself again. I will become normal and insufficient and lose the brief Redemption.

The Fey Lands. Jotunheim. Tír na nÓg. Tuatha Dé Danann and Lachlanach. Celts and Vikings, on the edge of the World. They knew. Earth, fire, wind and water. Cold also is elemental, a succubus. I can only get there in winter, in cold, through cold, with Cold. There is no map, no Google Earth, no App for the Fey Lands. When we leave the Fey Lands we forget their existence. To remember is madness. Others have found different entrances, different landscapes, different climates. Hell is ice not fire. I neither believe in hell nor heaven. Ascetics, hermits, ecstasists. All pilgrims to the Fey Lands. I’m a pilgrim of Cold. Holymad. I approach by swimming, in cold water, enrobed by cold, into Cold. Soon the Fey Lands will slip away, my memory of their existence will attenuate and dissipate, I will distrust my own words, you will think me cracked, the ecstasy of extremism lost to my mundane failed existence. I will forget the reverie of the Cold. Pools cannot ever do this. Other people are masking agents that stop me losing myself to the Fey Lands. Chlorine and warmth are bulwarks, palisades that stop me throwing down heaven, bar me from finding the Fey Lands. 

Look away, look away
From the love that I hide
Way down deep in my soul.

Do this. Don’t do that. Be careful of. You are not allowed. You will fail. You have failed. I am not capable. I couldn’t. I was not able. I failed. I’m embarrassed. I shouldn’t say it. I shouldn’t write it. Bollocks. Out there I am invincible, untouchable, inviolate.

Look away, look away
From the lies in the stories
That were told.

I swim to the edge of the Fey Lands. If things are sufficiently marginal, I will glimpse them from the water. I didn’t know, I never knew, I never know that I am swimming to the Fey Lands. 

Cold water. Cold isn’t cold. It’s fire. It burns your skin. Fingertips sting. The soles of feet excruciate. You feel the entire surface of your body at once, you feel the entire skin of the waters and the world. The Cold possesses you, becomes you. No. You become the Cold. The holy Cold. No synonyms are required, nor sufficient.

The currents were strong. Stronger than in years. Not as strong as me. Not this time. All my years there I never had to swim to avoid that reef. Swept past the steps and the concrete, the water still wants me but I turn back, fight back, swim back. I know, know it’s enough and the time doesn’t matter.

Then I broke loose
You weren’t around
So I raised banks
And trains until I tracked you down.

Out of the water, the first glimpse of the Fey Lands is gone. I only know later there was the glimpse. Or was there?  Illusion. Delusion. I get dressed and feel great, powerful, more alive, more life than one body can hold. I have a window of time. An absolute learnt span when I must get dressed before the Freight Train arrives. Grab my box, shamble up the steps.

Fifty steps. Sea to world. Why fifty? Why does fifty seem important? I know. But I feel great. I’ll go for a walk.

Open the lock box on the car. Fire my stuff inside the boot. It’s here. The Freight Train is here. The Freight Train always arrives, inevitably. No walk. I’ll just sit into the car, turn on the heater. Warm air, warm clothes. I’m on the Freight Train. I am in the fugue. Shivering and shaking, the Freight Train takes me. What will the ride be like this time?

We made some friends
But now it’s done
I always knew that we would
Never find the sun.

Short but intense. The Freight Train isn’t a commuter train. No light shivers here, it’s a ride of clattering shakes and chattering jaw.  I don’t feel cold. I never feel cold. I never feel cold. You misunderstand cold. You walked in the rain and got wet on a cold day? I am a connoisseur of Cold. The Fey Lands are different. Your commuter colours are pastel shades but my Freight Train is primary hues. I am alive on the Freight Train. No nodding off on the Freight Train. No mere commuters on the Freight Train. The Fey Lands are around me on the Freight Train. I see them. You cannot. Are you a pilgrim too? How long will I be on the Freight Train, this time?

Afterdrop. Hypothermia. Cold. Rewarming. Mealy words, accurate but inaccurate.

I just realised I am, what do I say, cool? Chilled is the word. Not cold. Cold, that cold, the Cold, the fugue, is a different state. Cold is sacred. The fugue is gone, I’m off the Freight Train. I catch a branch line back. I’ve left the Fey Lands. 

The words. The words weren’t right. I didn’t hold the intent. The fugue. The Fey Lands. The Reverie of Cold. So easy to lose, to forget. People, hot chocolate, fingers on a keyboard. I’m just a cuckoo again. What are these words about? They consumed me and I don’t know. Did I imagine it all?

I shall just have to swim again. In cold water.

Maybe I’ll stop. Maybe I won’t. 

So look away, look away
Hide your eyes from the land
Where I lie cold.

Look away, look away
From the lies in the stories
That were told.

Look away, look away
From the love that I hide
Way down deep in my soul.

__________________________________________________________________________________

* Words by Chowning & Randle

Advice for New Year Swimming Resolutionistas, whether for exercise, swimming improvement or weight loss

For the entire  year your pool is pretty predictable: “Hey Larry“, “How are you Mary?”, “Want to split the lane, Conor?“. (These are a fictional Larry, Mary and Conor in my local pool, not the actual real-life Larry, Mary and Conor in my local pool).

Then it’s the start of January and the first full week after New Year, they arrive, the Resolutionistas. The New Year’s Resolution to lose weight and/or get fit folk.

Every single year we see them and every single year they are usually gone by the last week of January or the middle of February at the latest.

On the one side they can cause problems for regular swimmers as they fill lanes with Furious Bob’s who have no idea what they are doing. (Thanks to Niek Kloots for the updated link. Just in case that link breaks, I’m mirroring the letter on a static page on LoneSwimmer.com).

On the other and more important side, people who really want to make a change need help and encouragement.

So in a spirit of encouragement for those Resolutionistas who are embarking on an attempt at building a better new life with swimming as a component,  be it to lose weight, get more exercise, become better swimmers or any of the above, I thought I’d offer some advice from someone whose primary qualification is a lifetime throwing himself into and off of things.

  • Swimming is hard. Really, It’s far harder than you think. Sure it doesn’t seem so, as undistinguished-looking middle-aged folk like myself saunter down the deck wearing (shudder) Speedoes like that TV ad singing I gotta be me. Surely the fit looking young people lounging outside the sauna are more worthy of emulation? Good swimming is a combination of superb cardio-respiratory conditioning (heart and lung fitness), highly attuned proprioceptive senses (understanding what every part of your body is doing)  and multiple hours and years of technique training. And I’m an average swimmer by swimming standards. Almost no other sport you have done will compare, thought ballet or dance, about which I know nothing, come to mind as analogous. Think you could pull off a Swan Lake prima donna performance based on 20 minutes practice every second day for two weeks? I don’t. So give yourself a break and take your time. By the way, dump the board shorts and bikinis and take a look at swimming etiquette. There’s a good reason all swimmers wear proper swim wear: Everything else adds drag and therefore difficulty.
  • Pepe-Le-Pew-cartoon-classics-756112_388_335As with any physical exercise consistency is the single most important aspect. You can’t go from zero to hero in four weeks. You have to think long-term. Not a day, instead a week. Not a week , instead a month. Not a month, instead a year. A year is long isn’t it? No, it’s not. You have to rationally understand your improvements are made through attainable and sustainable improvements and measurements. Ridiculous targets in fitness level, ability or weight loss will either not be reached and will lead to disillusionment, or if you make some unexpected change, like weight loss accelerating after four weeks of exercise, it will not be sustainable. Swim, then swim more, then keep swimming.
  • Keep realistic and consistent measurements. There’s hardly an engineer or sportsperson alive who doesn’t think that measurement is vital to improvement. Measure simple things in swimming. First if you can swim 100 metres or yards continuously, whether that’s two or four pool lengths. Forget about how long it takes you because you are not ready for racing. Then see if you can repeat that five times. Then keep an eye on long you have to rest between each 100 metres. I’ve been keeping a detailed log for years, and I enjoy seeing my own progression. But remember, swimmers don’t think or talk in lengths or laps.
  • Learn to breathe. Seriously. The most repeated complaint any swim coach or swimmer has ever heard from a non-, beginner or improving swimmer are the words “I can swim fine but I have problems breathing“. If you cannot breathe, then you actually aren’t a good swimmer. That’s like saying a particular car is good except for the small problem that it needs fuel. Swimmer all repeat coaching aphorisms. I have always liked; swim around your breathing, don’t breathe around your swimming. That means that breath comes before movement in order of priority. You learn to breathe properly in a controlled fashion and integrate that into your stroke. Want the super-secret swimming secret of how this is done? Exhale constantly underwater. Don’t tell the other swimmers I told you the secret.
  • Swimming really does take effort. The other thing swimmers all hear is that their swimming looks effortless. Swimmers are like swans in that way, all seeming grace on the surface, but furious action underneath. We warm up in the pool then we do the main swim sets, then we cool down by easy swimming at the end.
  • Swimming is poor for weight loss in beginners. You will not be getting as much exercise as you think, because you really probably are out of breathe. That is not the same as effort. Swimming also stimulates appetite, unlike many other sports and people often overeat after swimming. (On the positive side experienced hard-training swimmers can generally eat as much of anything as they want as they consume so many calories. Ever eaten 6000 to 8000 calories, in a day, every day and not gained weight?) But some good news also results from a 2013 scientific study that shows even moderate exercise results in changes in the genome that affects fat storage.
  • Keep it simple but vary each day. You should not be trying to emulate the good swimmer in the lane. Be Pepe Le Pew: Relax, and set your sight on eventually catching up with Mon Cherie when they are not expecting it. Don’t do complex sets but don’t do the same thing every day. The main part of your swimming set is that central portion, where you do one particular thing. Today you can do sets of four lengths with a shortish rest. Tomorrow you can do single lengths and try to do them faster with a longer rest between.
  • Gon on red top
    On the red top

    The clock is your friend. Learn to watch it, not for how fast you are swimming, but for how long you are resting. Reducing rest interval times means your heart cardiorespiratory  (heart and respiratory fitness) is improving. Cardiorespiratory fitness is one of the most important predictors of long-term health.

  • The Internet does not know what you are doing. I don’t mean Facebook or Twitter etc. By the way though,  don’t post what you are doing there until you are sure it will stick (at least a year). Instead I mean that YouTube etc have great swimming advice. I even have some here. But I or YouTube are not as effective as the good swimmer in your pool or the local swim coach who can see you. Someone who knows what they are doing who can make actual suggestions relevant to your specific swimming is the best option.
  • Enjoy the improvements. People often say to enjoy the process and that’s true but it’s deceptive. It is the case that every swimmer will tell you, that swimming is full of frustration and exhaustion. Sure there are those indescribable days of “flow“, but they are rare. But the real enjoyment comes from being consistently healthy and fit, and from actually seeing improvement. Your bad swimming days are not special. Your bad swimming days only become special if you allow them to be your last swimming day.

I’m with you. It’s never too late to start, and you can do it.

You are already the captain, pilot and owner of the greatest vehicle you will ever own, your own body. You just need to get a bit more familiar with the controls.

What about we meet here next year and you can tell me about your success?

Related articles

HOWTO: Write a simple swimming training set (loneswimmer.com)

How To use the pace clock (Farther, Colder, Rougher)

HOWTO: Read Swimming Notation (loneswimmer.com)

HOWTO: Lane swimming etiquette (loneswimmer.com)

HOWTO: Introduce interval training to your swimming (loneswimmer.com)

HOWTO: Why you SHOULD shower before you use the pool and why you SHOULDN’T pee in the pool. (loneswimmer.com)

Who dares swims …

%d bloggers like this: