Category Archives: Open Water training

Checking my Stroke Rate during a swim (including poll)

We’ve spoken before about the importance of stroke rate in open water swimming, especially in cold water to maintain body temperature through thermogenesis and to help in rough water, where a slower stroke rate can be overwhelmed.

It’s also the case that realising that stroke rate was important was something that didn’t happen immediately for me, and though I had been swimming open water for four years, the first time I became aware of it was during my participation in a two-way English channel relay in 2008. Even then I only realised because the Official Observer was checking stroke rates. (As an aside, we had two Official Observer’s, being a two-way. For one of them it was her first Channel trip in choppy water and she was utterly debilitated for the entire twenty-four hours, leaving the other to carry out all Observing duty).

My solo English Channel reports shows I was 70 strokes per minute., +/- , with most right on 70. Consistent. I sometimes check my rate, but usually only after about an hour. So I decided to do a three-hour swim for a more comprehensive check as those occasional observations had led me to believe it may have changed this year, especially as two recent two-hour swims hadn’t gone well and I needed to regain a bit of confidence.

The conditions for the day were cloudy, with very light Force Two breeze, mixed water surface and swim direction, both against and with the small swell, and water temperature of 14.5 Celsius. Good conditions for requiring a consistent stroke. The route was the Guillamene to the Beach to 300 metres outside Newtown Head. I had one feed at two hours at the Guillamene, then swim to under Doneraile Head and back to the Guillamene.  I planned to check stroke approximately every 30 minutes.

Billy Kehoe, President of the Newtown & Guillamene Swimming club.
Billy Kehoe, President of the Newtown & Guillamene Swimming club.

Stroke rate at 10 mins: 74. I waited until I’d settled down before the first check.

At 30 mins: Just after turning back into waves from Tramore beach; 72

At 60 mins: Passing Comolees, in almost glassy water for next fifteen minutes; 72

At 85 mins: Three hundred metres past Newtown head, just before turning back; 72. Swell had risen from half a metre to two metres and gotten choppy also.

At 90 mins: Swimming back with 2 metre swell behind; 72

At 115 mins: Just before feed; 72

At 130 mins: 10 mins after feed, swell dropping while swimming across waves to out int he bay; 74

At 150: Doneraile Head, heading back out, one metre choppy; 74

At 180: Swimming across swell to Guillamene, just before end of swim; 76. I nearly always up my rate at the end of a swim.

Newtown head from the sea
Newtown Head from the sea

So this did seem to confirm my suspicion that my stroke rate has shifted up by two strokes per minute. A point that may arise is my observational bias or confidence in the readings, but I before each measurement (full 60 second count on my watch, rather than ten second count multiplied by six) I would become more aware of my stroke, and make sure I wasn’t adjusting tempo.

The relevant question would be as to why it has shifted upwards.

Seeing my stroke on video during the SwimSmooth clinic back in February was a shocking. I hadn’t seen any video of myself in a couple of years, and there are speed and technique downsides to swimming by yourself most of the time. My stroke looked terrible. For the next two weeks I reintroduced a lot of technique work and after that I went back to basic principles and make sure to that one day most weeks is mostly technique and drill work. There has been an improvement.

When having my stroke filmed I asked Paul Newsome to shoot both my cruising stroke and my faster stroke. My cruising or open water stroke is a bilateral-breathing stroke and it was fine. But the most significant discovery was just how much technique I was sacrificing in the faster stroke for not a lot of time benefit. A crossover had crept into my left arm, and I was losing a lot of pull in my catch and pull phase on both arms. I’d also developed a slight thumb-first entry on my right hand. And all this was only gaining me maybe one to two seconds per one hundred metres. All surprising and disheartening developments when I didn’t think I exhibited any of these problems. I made a common swimmer’s mistake of being sure I was in tune with my stroke.

So I began working on all these problems with various drills, the toolbox of all swimmers. I might go over the drills I have been using just for general interest in a follow-up post. Along with drills I have stayed in the pool this summer, whereas in 2010 to 2012 I abandoned it for almost four months for open water, (not just for this reason). This has led to me retaining a higher anaerobic capability or threshold capacity.

Finally, within my pool work I have reduced the number of repeat 100s, so common to distance swimmers, and I am instead doing more repeat 200s and 400s (well, every distance swimmer loves 400s anyway, so that’s no sacrifice). And I’ve been doing more timed 1000′s. Not so much 1500s. All this has led to a (currently) improved stroke. The biggest change has been that I am retaining my bilateral stroke while swimming closer to my threshold.

Following all this, I need to reiterate that 70 or 72 strokes per minute is my rate. It’s not a target. We all have our own rate and you should seek to establish that rate and determine from there whether it is your normal rate, or whether you may wish to increase it. It’s even possible that if your are just wind-milling your arms with a poor stroke, if you address stroke issue you may actually even decrease your rate.

What’s your stroke rate?

Chris Bryan2

Guest Article: Chris Bryan, Irish International 10k swimmer

Guest articles are one of the huge joys and honours for me in writing loneswimmer. I always feel lucky to feature one of them and privileged when people agree and I to get to read them in advance.

Chris Bryan is from Shannon, Co. Clare (west of Ireland, origin of the Irish Coffee!) and is Ireland’s first international  5k and 10k open water swimmer. His training base is the High Performance Centre [HPCUL], University of Limerick Arena  in Limerick, one of the two High Performance swimming centres in Ireland. He’s in his fourth year of college studying  Sport and Exercise Science and was born in 1990.

Chris is on Twitter and Facebook.

Results to date:

FINA World Championships 2011, 5km, 8th place
LEN European Championships 2011, 10km, 11th place
First Irish man to qualify and compete for European Championships (2010) and World Championships (2011) open water.
LEN European cup 5km, Turkey(2011): 1st
LEN European cup 10km Israel (2012): 3rd

A minor one, but if I’m not mistaken, I think he also holds the lap record for Sandycove Island, has been unbeatable when he has raced it.

Draft remaining 2012 Schedule:
Olympic Marathon 10km swim Qualifier- Setubal Portugal June10th. That’s next Sunday folks!)
Great East Swim- Alton Lake, Britain 16th June
German Nationals- Großkrotzenburg, Germany 28th and 30th June
Olympics 10km, London, 10th August
Belgian Nationals- Hazewinkel,Belgium 26/27th August
European Championships- Piombino, Italy 12-16th September
I3 swim series- Kilaloe, Ireland 22/23rd September

I’m delighted to contribute towards LoneSwimmer.com [not as much as I am - Donal]; hopefully it will help me to reconnect with all the real open water swimmers at home. I’ve currently fallen out of the Irish national circuit as sadly most races I have had my eye on seem to clash with my international commitments.

Training Program:

I’m currently training in the High Performance Training Centre in the University of Limerick under Coach Ronald Claes. The centre is broken into development squads which hope to feed swimmers into the main ‘Elite Squad’ in which each athlete has the opportunity to compete at the highest level internationally.

The Elite squad program involves up to 10/11 swim sessions on a regular week.
Training starts in the morning on deck at 5.10a.m., where 20 – 30mins of dry land work is done.

Dry land involves:

  • Skipping (used as a warm-up).
  • Sit ups, back ups and plank variations. (To increase core stability strength and endurance in the pool to provide optimal streamline).
  • Shoulder endurance exercises and push ups.
  • Hand paddle stretch cord work. (Technique focus and strength endurance / power work).

Then to the pool! In the morning this can be from 5/6km up to 17/18km, all depending on time in the training cycle & season and the week intensity! Of course all swimmers in the squads are broken up into their groups based on their race distance. (Sprint / Middle / Distance / OW)

In the evening we begin at 2pm if we have a gym or circuit training, or 2.30pm if we just have a choice of land warm up/loosen out before the swim session. We begin in the water at 3pm. Distance in the evening is usually less ranging from 3 to 7km.

Pre-habilitate

Post all swim sessions a certain amount of ‘pre-habilitation’ is always carried out such as flexibility and general stretching, muscle control and core strength. Of course this includes shoulder control and stability work. Swimming is not a natural movement! We were not designed to rotate our arms thousands of times a day above our heads! (On average we’ll say 35 strokes a length and for 14km/280 lengths a day, in other words 9,800 times! And that’s a relatively low estimate personally)!

I do a lot of Internal and external rotations with a theraband twice a day after every session,

3×10 reps each arm working concentrically for 2 seconds and eccentrically for 4 seconds.

For me personally I find that if I go a few sessions without this I get a constant ‘niggling’ in my shoulder which is just something I can’t afford to worry about.

The Elite Squad is supported by a coaching, sports science & medical team:

  • Full time coach
  • Dietician
  • Performance analyst
  • Chartered physiotherapist
  • Sports psychologist
  • Sports physiologist
  • Strength & conditioning
  • Medical officer

All areas which are of importance to high performance sport and development. Some support is used more than others but they are all vital ingredients on the way to success at the highest level.

I am very privileged to have such a structured and fully supported set up, I have been to many world-class squads over the past few years and have seen the training base of some of the world’s best and I can confidently say that in UL through the support of the Sports council, Swim Ireland and the University of Limerick we have the facilities to compete with any one of those international set ups.

Still there are no short cuts to success - only hard work and attention to detail and “Without self-discipline, success is impossible, period.” (Lou Holtz)

Having confidence in your training regime and confidence in the staff is essential, it’s hard enough getting up at 4.35am without having to ask if I’m really doing the right things in training, it’s a blind faith in my coach that I need. Studying Sports Science does gives an extra insight into my training and often helps me get that little more out of myself when I know ‘this I what I need to do to succeed’ , but it also raises many questions and doubts, but I very much have to emphasise that just a little bit of information sometimes can be a bad thing. So I leave the worrying up the coach and blindly follow!

One question I often get asked is about the major differences between pool swimming and open water, they both can be broken into 2 main areas in my opinion:

Stroke: A higher and more relaxed stroke is essential for the open water. In the pool stroke length is of huge importance for swimming fast and count strokes per length cannot be under estimated, for open water the focus on training a higher rhythmic and comfortable stroke rate often out-weighs the need for stroke length based on the constant changing environment of open water.

Race perspective: In the pool there are 8 lanes all the same length, same width and with the same amount of water in each, really from a purely physical aspect it is non-contact and nothing the competitor beside you does can affect your race, this is a constant environment. In the open water every race is different, competitors, course, temperature, chop. This constantly changing dynamic environment makes things a lot more uncertain and ‘race smarts’ become very important. There is of course always going to be a little bit of luck to each race, but the thing I find about luck is that, the harder I work the more I tend to have of it! It’s also not by chance that the best guys always seem to come out on top!

The basics of both in and out of the pool though are not so different, the technical aspects of the stroke, the physical conditioning, and fast swimming! The 10km marathon event is the Olympic distance and on average the pace would be 66-68 seconds per 100 m long course [Donal's added emphasis]. With the last 1000m being the fastest and the last 400m being about 4 minutes at the top level.

I have always considered myself a hard worker and am a very driven person but one major lesson I have learned over the past two years is the importance of smart training. It is of course to train hard and to the best of you abilities but if there is no structure or no time for your body to adapt and recover from the training it doesn’t matter how hard you train!

I find the above graph very important, training isn’t just about what you do in the water or in the gym but what you do outside of training is just as important! It’s a 24/7 career, if you don’t recover appropriately then all the hard work will never be as effective. I try not to obsess about this but rather make sure to follow a few rules of thumb:

  • ‘Golden Window’ Within 30 mins of post train need to eat a snack including carbohydrate and some protein (banana and a yogurt drink.)

  • Have a main meal within 2 hours post session. (Carbohydrate focus)

  • Morning heart rates. Can be a great indicator of over training or oncoming sickness before it’s too late and you can quickly adjust intensity.

  • Pre-habilitation. (As discussed above.)

  • If you’re not in 100% fitness you won’t be able to train 100% . Cut your losses and adjust intensity.

First we make our habits, then our habits make us.

This year is an exciting year obviously being an Olympic year, especially for me as it is probably as close to a home Olympics that I’m going to get. The qualifying procedure for open water is a hard one and slightly complicated.

Olympic Games: 25 athletes for Male and Female

Olympic Qualifier, race 1 of 2: World Championships 2011, 10 athletes qualified, the only opportunity for 2 athletes from one nation to qualify, 2 athletes from both Germany and Russia made it in the top 10. The average age of the Top Ten was 28 years.

Olympic Qualifier, race 2 of 2, Portugal June 10th: There are 15 more places up for grabs. A Top 9 finish guarantees qualification (only 1 per nation). There is then one spot allocated for Great Britain and then one place (5 in total) are allocated to each of the next highest placed competitors, one from each continent after the 9 already qualified. In the case where there is more than one per nation in the top 9, the second place will be reallocated to the 11th place finisher and so on (per continent).

There are 62 entires for the race at this point and a lot to play for. Training has gone amazing this year and I’ve left no stone unturned and have made sure to put myself in the best possible position, so now I just have to be confident in my preparations and know what I’m capable of and if anyone else thinks they deserve to qualify ahead of me they sure as hell are going to have to work for it! Qualifying won’t be easy for anyone in this race no matter if you’re World 25km or 10km Champion, 1500m Olympic Champion, English Channel record holder, they are all in there, but for me I can’t possibly imagine anyone wants it more than me, or has worked as hard or as smart! “There’s only one way to succeed in anything, and that is to give it everything!’

I hope to continue in this chase to pursue the chance to reach my utmost potential. After this year I hope first to finish my college degree and manage to juggle my training and athlete lifestyle around it. Even though my schedule is a hectic one, I am someone who loves to have structure to my life and I will always have goals and certain aspirations in which I will strive to achieve, be it academic, sporting, family or business. This sport of swimming has already afforded me so many positive experiences and has made me into who I am moulded me to become the best I can be in all aspects of my life. It’s given me contacts, friends, colleagues, the opportunity to travel the world and meet and talk to some truly inspirational and amazing people. Ever since I was young I dreamed of being able to compete with the best in the world and always knew I could. It is that deep self-belief that keeps me going through disappointing results, and grows from the good. I hope to continue to achieve and compete at the highest level and by no means intend to sell myself short. Who knows what the next few years will bring if by Rio de Janeiro 2016 I’ll be challenging to achieve at the pinnacle of my sport.

Reminder again of Chris’ Twitter and Facebook accounts. And everyone? Let’s all wish him the best for next Sunday’s Olympic Qualifier and the London Olympics.

There is a link broadcast of the race on Portuguese tv, but there is also an internet link and this one

December

Come with me on this cold water swim

2:25 p.m. I’m just in home within the last few minutes. It’s one hour and 13 minutes since I got out of the water at the Guillamene.


8 a.m. I weigh 75.5 kg. I have dropped 2.5 kg since I resumed pool training seven weeks ago. I forgot to check my pulse after I woke, (yet again). Last time I checked about a week ago, it was 53 BPM. It’s Day 6 of my week, tomorrow is the rest day. I was more tired this week than I expected and not swimming well.

9 a.m. It’s the weekend so I allow myself a coffee and continuing read One Hell Of a Gamble, the inside story of the Cuban missile crisis that is based on US and Russian official documents.

10 a.m. I have fried rashers, black pudding, cherry tomatoes and mushrooms on  wholemeal toast for breakfast, along with another coffee. I heard yesterday on the radio about a bacon jam that I’d love to try.

20,000 years ago. Ireland is covered in ice sheet.

November 2011: Ireland has its mildest November in 150 years.

10.45 a.m. Put a towel in the swim box in the car, make a flask of hot chocolate, put the dogs in the car. Make sure I have my camera as always.

Two weeks ago: Winter arrived. The average daily temperature is about 4 degrees Celsius.

December Sunlight

11.45 a.m. Get to the Guillamene car park. The car thermometer says the air temperature is 6 degrees Celsius (43 F.). There’s only one other car present and no people around. Let the dogs play around for a while and take some photos. The sky is cloudless and a watery blue. There is a bitter north-westerly wind. My hands are already cold, as I am not wearing gloves.

Christmas Toby

12:10 to 12:08 p.m. Dogs back in the car, I head down to the platform. Two of the Newtown & Guillamene Swimming Club Polar Bears have arrived at the same time and we chat while changing. I check the water temperature with my infrared thermometer but it’s sill reading incorrectly. It’s certainly not the 12C it reads. It’s been inaccurate for weeks despite opening it up and drying out the electronics. Time for a new one.

16,000 years ago: The ice sheets retreat and Ireland start to recover. The ice scoured the land and the clearing of the flora and fauna means Ireland will have a very low species biodiversity in the future. The eliminated weight of the glaciers means Ireland will gradually rebound from the sea, even as the sea-levels rise. Ireland becomes separated from Great Britain and the Continental land bridge. The thermohaline circulation system and the Gulf Stream will dictate Ireland’s year’s weather pattern.

12:09 p.m. I’d forgotten my main togs, and only had a horrible pair of Slazenger backup togs, they are too narrow at the waist and quite thong-like, and the string had slipped back into the waist holes and I only realised this after getting ready. I wasted two minutes trying to extract it while I got colder. By the time I was ready to swim the other two guys had already finished their three-minute dips and were back out. I wore two silicon caps, ear plugs, and greased under my arms and behind my neck, an area that recently has again  started to chaff more. The concrete was very cold, I put on my deck sandals for the 10 metre water to the steps.

12:20 p.m. With  the sun in the sky, although cold, it’s easier to get in the water. Having left the sandals at the top of the steps, I walked down to the water and stood waist deep. The water was fairly flat, but there is a low amplitude but long period groundswell coming in, which meant the waves will not break high but would be powerful. I splashed water on my face, gave my ear plugs a final push in and dove in.

12:20 to 12:22 p.m. The water was cold of course but I didn’t experience the cold associated with 5 Celsius degree water, and I’ve been doing this for a while. I took the first two minutes to adjust easily while I swam out of the tiny cove but my breathing was fine and there wasn’t much cold shock. After two minutes I could start to really compare to my last swim seven days ago.

12:22 p.m. The water was colder than last week. I was feeling the wind on my shoulders and upper back, but the sky was clear and the water was calm. Off to the pier. Concentrating on the technique I’d been doing (re-doing) for the past seven weeks.

12:40 p.m. Approaching the pier, I decided to go past the harbour entrance, down another 100 metres then turn.

12:42 p.m. I turned back into the swell. Sun was directly ahead.

12:52 p.m. At thirty minutes I started to feel the soles of my feet cold and sore.  Unusual.

12:55 p.m. I realised I would be back before 45 mins had elapsed so as I passed the Colomene rocks, I angled outwards in order to add a few minutes.

13:02 p.m. A few hundred metres to go, the steps and metal railings caught and reflected the sun as I angled in. My hands were starting to claw. I opened it up and sprinted in, switching to mainly right side breathing.

13:07 p.m. I had difficulty getting out even though the water was calm because the long period swell power pushed me past railing for a few seconds and I had to make a second pass to grab on. Very unusual.

13:07:30 p.m. Holding the railing I moved up the steps. The wind was really cold blowing across my wet skin. A silhouette was talking down to me from in front of the low sun. I awkwardly removed my ear plugs to hear what they were saying as I put my sandals on and walked immediate to my box. Something about “how long was I in”? I gave a swimmer’s answer, in distance terms, and got it completely wrong. The two important things were the difficulty I had in moving my jaws and the simple mistake I make, which I then corrected. My feet were really really painful from the cold and from the upturned plastic knobs in my sandals. I need new cheap flat, easy to slip on sandals for winter, I reminded myself. Again. Nuala Muir-Cochrane has suggested Crocs, but can my image stand the damage?

13:08 to 13:12 p.m. Standing on a cheap €2 rubber car mat, I tried to get dressed as quickly as possible.

This is the most critical time, I was now racing Afterdrop, when the cold blood in my periphery moves back into my core and I get very cold. It would take 10 minutes or so for this to take full effect.

It was very cold on my hands, head and legs and feet. I gave my hair a peremptory single towel run , same for my torso, and pulled on a merino wool t-shirt. I was still half damp, but since it’s Merino, the damp didn’t matter. Next were two merino wool long-sleeved base layers, medium wool weight. Then was a jumper (Irish name for sweater). Next was my English Channel woolly hat. I was alone by now on the platform. My co-ordination is not the Mae West. My top clothes were not put on smoothly and were bunched. I rubbed my legs with the towel, took off my togs, realised that even thought there was no one around I better drape a towel around me. I would never have done this if I was warmer. I got my underwear on, and dried my legs a bit better, but with no vigourous rubbing. With difficulty, I pulled a pair of merino wool long-johns on (thanks Aldi). Then pants. I couldn’t close any buttons except at the waist as my dexterity was poor, but I learned long ago to wear a belt. I pulled on a coat and then turned to the final but most difficult task of getting my socks and Dr. Marten’s boots on. My feet were more painful, and I had difficulty opening up the laces more to get my feet in but finally did. I didn’t even bother trying the tie up the laces. As I finally pulled on gloves, one of the gents came back down, he was keeping an eye on me, and told me that Polar Bear Joe had been down for a swim and already left while I was in, and had measured the water at 43.5 Fahrenheit, (under 6.4 Celsius). All the older members think in Fahrenheit, I think in Celsius. We agreed that seemed maybe a degree low and I know Joe’s measurements were previously about a degree Fahrenheit lower than mine, so the temperature was probably between 7 C and 7.5 C, definitely colder than last weekend.

It’s now 15:15: Thirty-five minutes since I started writing this, just over two hours since I emerged. I feel fine, I am still wearing everything except coat, hat and gloves. I realise I forgot to turn on the heating so the house is cold. My hands are fine but the back of them feel very cold as I press them against my face.

13:32 p.m. I got back to the car and opened the Keypod, and put my stuff inside. I didn’t let the dogs out. I sat into the car and the Afterdrop was coming on hard. I poured a cup of hot chocolate outside the car in case the shakes caused me to spill it inside. I left  it on the dash for a minute. I turned on the engine, and switched the heating to max. I should really have gone for a walk for a better warm up, but the cold wind and Afterdrop made me decide to do other than the best thing. I started to hunch over without thinking about it and started to drink the hot chocolate, only able to hold the cup in both hands to calm the shaking.

13:42 p.m. Since I’d driven down, the car heated up quickly. Thirty five minutes after I’d emerged from the water, the shakes passed and I was able to drive safely. I drank two cups of hot chocolate. Their benefit was twofold. The volume and heat difference of a hot drink make little difference to heating up a body, the thermodynamic equation is too unmatched, because the volume of the human body is too great beside a cup of hot chocolate. But there are benefits: First, psychological; drinking something hot just makes you feel better. Second, it defers the raging Zombie-like hunger I would otherwise encounter on the way home, when I would have to pull over and scour the car for anything to eat.

13:47p.m. I arrived at Tesco Supermarket, but after five minutes I decided I didn’t need anything urgently, and it was cold, though I knew it really wasn’t and I also knew I needed to buy something for dinner. I went back to the car and headed home.

14:01 p.m. Almost an hour out, as I passed the Waterford & Suir Heritage small-gauge steam railway, I saw they were opened for a holiday Santa run and I realised my jaws were starting to relax, without having previously noticed how tightly clamped they were.

14:12 p.m. I was about five of minutes from home, and I realised that my jaws didn’t actually relax previously but they were now. At the same time I became aware I am sitting on two lump of cold meat, as my arse-cheeks were the slowest to recover.

15:35 p.m. I am out of the water slightly over two and a half hours as I finish this up. Time for a warm shower and ready to be productive again. I wanted to write this while it was fresh.

December

Despite all the times I’ve done this, I made small simple mistakes; I forgot my preferred swim togs, I didn’t check the backup pair was ready before I got undressed,  I wore boots instead of shoes, (more difficult to put on when you have lost dexterity). None of them had a huge effect.

I could have swum further, but we always can in these conditions, that is the danger of cold and hypothermia, it lures you into a sense of calm. Swimming five minutes further wouldn’t have had much effect but I think ten minutes would have made a significant difference.

On this weekend last year, the temperature was 4.8 degrees Celsius and I swam for 14 minutes. At equivalent temperatures to now last winter, I was swimming half the time I am this year, between 20 to 25 minutes whereas I am still swimming around 50 minutes. Though I could easily have gone further last year, I didn’t have the drive to do so that I have this year.

Every year there are improvements. We can all get better.

Anyway, I hope there’s something of interest here. I wanted to try to take you inside my head for a normal December swim.

The effects of a long swim on the human body

It’s long time since I wrote about Third Spacing of Fluids, the increase of fluids in intercellular spaces that occurs when a person is swimming for a long time, and causes all marathon swimmers to swell and literally bloat.

I though it might be best to show the effects more clearly.

The first video is a commercial my sister, a noted Film and TV producer made using me as the swimmer one typical day driving down to, and then swimming at Sandycove… Notice I look particularly slim, tanned and healthy from my open water swimming life, full of life and raring to go (and some might say, handsome, though that’s not for me to comment). Notice the grace and elegance and indeed, presence and sense of belonging in the water that I embody. Though I do note that my stroke technique was a bit off that day.

Next is a video taken after this year’s of Rob Bohane and I at this year’s Sandycove Distance Week six-hour swim, in 12 to 13 degrees Celsius water . Look at the profound effects. Our body are much enlarged. Swim, goggle and cap lines have created deep creases in the skin, sand and kelp have accumulated on the lanolin, we’re both somewhat clumsy once on land, and we’re quite a peculiar colour, the whole body enlarged. Rob’s demeanour has changed from his normal sunny self to a grumpy disposition and we’re certainly not looking our best, though Rob is looking even worse than me.

Lewis Pugh

Introducing a precise open water swimming temperature scale

Next year’s Cork Distance Week will have a record number of attendees, many from outside Ireland. Some will be coming nervous or terrified about the potential temperatures especially if they heard any of 2011′s details.

They need a scale of reference for that fear and we need a common terminology!

Steve Munatones on Daily News of Open Water Swimming had a post recently on the temperatures at which people consider water cold.

I remember Finbarr once saying to me that; “10ºC is the point at which you can start to do some proper distance”. But that’s when the temperature is going up in the late spring. What about when it is dropping in the autumn and winter?

Jack Bright might have some input into this also. :-)

I think it would be fair to say that many, if not most (but not all), of the (serious) Irish and British swimmers would fall into the 7% category, it’s getting cold under 10° C.

So here’s my purely personal swimmer’s temperature scale:

Over 18°C (65°F): This temperature is entirely theoretical and only happens on TV and in the movies. The only conclusion I can come to about the 32% who said this is cold are that they are someone’s imaginary friends. Or maybe foetuses.

16°C to 18°C (61 to 64°F): This is paradise. This is the temperature range at which Irish and British swimmers bring soap into the sea. The most common exclamation heard at this stage is “it’s a bath”!!! Sunburn is common. Swimmers float on their backs and laugh and play gaily like children. They wear shorts and t-shirts after finally emerging. They actually feel a bit guilty about swimming in such warm water. Possible exposures times are above 40 hours for us. It’s a pity we have to get out to sleep and eat.

14°C to 16°C (57° to 61°F): Aaahhh, summerAll is well with the world, the sea and the swimmers. Exposure times are at least 20 to 40 hours. Sandycove Swimmers will swim 6 hour to 16 hour qualification swims, some just for the hell of it and because others might be doing so. Lisa Cummins will see no need to get out of the water at all and will just sleep while floating, to get a head start on the next day’s training.

13°C (55° to 56°F): GrandYou can do a 6 hour swim, and have a bit of fun. Daily long distance training is fine. Barbecues in Sandycove. The first Irish teenagers start to appear.

12°C (53/54°F): Well manageable! You can still do a 6 hour swim, it’ll hurt but it’s possible. Otherwise it’s fine for regular 2 to 4 hour swims. This the temperature of the North Channel.

11°C (51/52°F): Ah well (with a shrug). Distance training is well underway. Ned, Rob, Ciarán, Craig, Danny C., Imelda, Eddie, Jen Lane, Jen Hurley & myself, at the very least, have all recorded 6 hour qualification swims at this temperature. Lisa did 9 hours at this temperature. Swimmers chuckle and murmur quietly amongst themselves when they hear tourists running screaming in agony from the water, throwing children out of the way… 

10°C (50°F): Usually known as It’s Still Ok”. A key temperature. This is the one hour point, where one hour swims become a regular event when the temperature is rising. We start wearing hats after swims.

9°C (48/49°F):A Bit Nippy”No point trying to do more than an hour, it can be done, but you won’t gain much from it unless you are contemplating the Mouth of Hell swim. Christmas Day swim range. Someone might remember to bring a flask of tea. No milk for me, thanks.

8°C (46/48°F): The precise technical term is “Chilly”. Sub one-hour swims. Weather plays a huge role. Gloves after swims. Sandycove Swimmers scoff at the notion they might be hypothermic.

7°C (44/45°F): “Cold”. Yes, it exists. It’s here. The front door to Cold-Town is 7.9°C.

6°C (42/43°F): “Damn, that hurts”. You baby.

5°C (40/41°F): Holy F*ck!That’s a technical term. Swimmers like to remind people this is the same temperature as the inside of a quite cold domestic fridge. Don’t worry if you can’t remember actually swimming, getting out of the water or trying to talk. Memory loss is a fun game for all the family. This occurs usually around the middle to end of February.

Under 5°C (Under 40 °F). This is only for bragging rights.There are no adequate words for this. In fact speech is impossible.  It’s completely acceptable to measure exposure times in multiples of half minutes and temperatures in one-tenths of a degree. This is hard-core.  When you’ve done this, you can tell others to “Bite me, (’cause I won’t feel it)”. (4.8°C 1.4°C is mine, Feb. 2013). Carl Reynolds starts to get a bit nervous. Lisa make sure her suntan lotion is packed.

Ned Denison during the winter

2.5°C  to 5°C. South London Swimming Club and British Cold Water Swimming Championships live here. If you are enjoying this, please seek immediate psychological help. Lisa might zip up her hoodie.

1.5°C to 2.5°C: Lynn Coxian temperatures. You are officially a loon.

0°C to 1.5°C: Aka “Lewis Pughiantemperatures. Long duration nerve damage, probably death for the rest of us. Lisa considers putting on shoes instead of sandals. But probably she won’t.

*Grand is a purely Irish use that ranges from; “don’t mind me, I’ll be over here slowly bleeding to death, don’t put yourself out … Son“, to “ok” and “the best“, indicated entirely by context and tone.

Related articles

First open water goggles swimming review

Some things are so important, yet so mundane.

Wherever you gather a few swimmers together, you can be certain the subject of goggles will arise. And pool swimmers and open water swimmers often differ quite widely.

In pool swimming people often go for smaller goggles, either Swedish or goggles based on the Swedish design. For those who don’t know, Swedish goggles are the cheapest goggles you can find. They are made by a Swedish company called Malmsten and often sold under other labels such as Speedo, as Swedish Style Goggles. Indeed the Speedo double-pack from Amazon are good value since they come in a two-pack of mirrored and clear.

Various types of Swedish style goggles.
Image via Wikipedia

They have no frills, just plain plastic with string as a nose guard, no rubber gasket or seal, usually no anti-fog. Some people literally can’t wear them. They can take days to get the fit right, with people going so far as to file down edges to get the fit correct. They are light and low profile. For those who can wear Swedish goggles, they swear there is nothing better and they never come off and are the most personalised goggles possible.

However … as said above, some people can’t wear them or get them to fit correctly. They are not really designed to wear for extended periods of time like a marathon swim. And the lack of anti-fog is a problem. The growth in triathlons worldwide meant that pretty quickly there was growing demand for goggles for open water. Goggles that would stand up to rough water, be anti-fog, be easy to fit and comfortable for long periods of time and yet still be 100% watertight. Ease of adjustment is often a consideration.

In my first year I went through <a lot> of goggles trying to find the right ones. I actually gave them all away last year to my local pool to use for school kids who came in having forgot their goggles. There were twelve pairs if I recall, all practically unused. (The first thing that happened was two of the staff took some for themselves and their kids, but the local pool is a different and longer and more depressing story!)

And then I finally found Aqua Sphere Kaimans. (Mainly because some of the other guys started using them).

Three pairs of Kaiman Goggles

These were designed specifically for open water. They have good visibility, anti-fog, secure no leak, and most importantly, I can wear them for ever with no problems whether swimming the Channel, or doing  a 24 hour pool swim.

I have bought one pair of the mirrored ones, which had no anti-fog on them and were useless. I’ve used clear, dark and amber ones though. They come in different frame colours and different sizes,  Junior, Lady, Regular and Small Face. They are also very easy to either loosen or tighten. I prefer clear frames with amber or blue lenses for open water and clear or amber lenses for the pool. There was one problem with the some of the straps splitting at the back in the same place after six months, but I complained to Aqua Sphere and got a bag of straps in return.

Where Kaiman straps always split

I get about 9 months to a year from a pair of heavy use. I’m good at remembering to rinse after the pool, but not after the sea, so they tend to grow a mold line inside the lenses.

Inside the skanky goggles

The Aquasphere Kaimans have been superceded by the newer Aqua Sphere Kayenne, which are slightly more expensive. The frame is lower profile, the visibility is still excellent. I’ve only used them in the pool so far. The box is better and the living plastic hinge should last longer that the Kaiman box before I have to duct-tape the halves together. I wore them for six hours yesterday and can report they are just as good. I’m struggling to understand, other than styling and box, why they are €4 more expensive.

I know some of the guys like Karen Throsby use Blue Seventy Vision goggles, also designed for open water, and swear by those also, but I haven’t tried them, since Aqua Sphere work so well, I see no point in changing anymore.

EDIT: I’ve since added another goggle review here and I haven’t used Aquasphere myself in a few years, though I still believe they are excellent open water goggles for those who prefer a fuller gasket-type goggle.

Total Immersion in marathon swimming

I mentioned T.I. in an email to a well-known record-setting swimmer and we thought I might write a post on it. When someone who has set a new record thinks it’s a good subject, you write!

Many of you will be aware that Total Immersion, (T.I.) is a method of teaching swimming developed by Terry Laughlin, which focuses on long strokes and gliding through the water. Swim like a fish, is the motto of T.I..

When I’ve occasionally helped swimmers, especially triathletes, I’ve used some drills that apparently have come from T.I.. T.I. is particularly popular amongst triathletes worldwide, because of its focus on energy efficiency and gliding, so triathletes can use T.I. to finish the swim leg having expended as little energy as possible to be more ready for the cycling leg (triathlons are rarely won or lost on the swimming leg). (T.I. got some extra attention last year in a TED video by Tim Ferriss.)

With triathletes especially it’s best to reduce the flailing, to try to get them conscious of gliding through the water and of relaxing, rather than fighting the water. Pretty much what all swimmers learn, but in a more compressed time.

But one consequence of T.I. is a reduced stroke count, which is imparted, it seems to me, as the most desired result, at least this is how those people I’ve met who have learned T.I. impart it to me. Having read some of Terry’s many thoughts on T.I. and this subject, it seems that he himself is not as rigid as many of the people who go through T.I. training here seem to be, when he himself advocates having a quiver of responses ready for varying open water conditions, something I’ve said myself previously about for example, breathing patterns.

It should be remembered as very important that many or most triathlons (all here in Ireland and the UK) require the triathletes to wear a wetsuit. Indeed Alan Smith, Waterford local multiple Ironman triathlete and Channel Aspirant told how just a couple of weeks before his Channel attempt he was forced to take the black and wear a wetsuit for a paltry short swim of about 1k because the rules required them.

Some months back I discovered (too late) that one EC Aspirant, whom I was occasionally advising through email, was actually using T.I., as the athlete had come from a triathlon background. With very little time left I had to stress they dump the T.I. approach immediately.

Why? Simply, it would not keep them warm in the Channel. Let me give an example, again I think I this mentioned it before.

Guillamene steps from the rocks below

Some months ago I was walking down the steps at the Guillamene, when I saw someone coming in from the Pier, rare enough. And I immediately noticed they had a very low stroke count, so low that I stopped to count (which I’ve never done before). I can’t remember exactly, but I think it was in the 40s. I was concerned for whomever it was, because a stroke rate that low, unless they were a large person with lots of experience, was looking at getting cold very quickly. And it turned out to be a friend, whom had been advised to reduce their stroke count to extend the glide on the extension. Someone experienced who never previously got cold, got really cold that day and it was a warmish summer day (by Irish standards). it was incorrect advice from someone who didn’t know, whose open water experience came from a book. It wasn’t exactly T.I. but quite similar.

At the weekend, indeed I was talking to the swimmer who had given that advice, who was wearing a wetsuit, and in winter pool training was focusing exclusively, as I expected, on stroke count reduction by increasing distance per stroke.

Oh, I just remembered, Penny Palfrey, probably the best (non-FINA) marathon swimmer in the world right now, apparently has a stroke rate of 80.

Triathletes using T.I. have a wetsuit to cushion this effect of slower stroke rate to keep them warm. Removing a wetsuit and keeping a low stroke count is a recipe for hypothermia in cold water. More than anything else in cold water you must be able to maintain a steady consistent stroke rate. A 10% variation in a marathon swimmer is a big variation. Most of us won’t vary by more than about 5%. I’ll use again the example of my E.C. I was 70 strokes per minute almost every measurement , never dropped below 68, never went higher than 74. An old S.I. article on Doc Counsilman’s EC solo in 1979 (from Evan) mentioned his metronomic pace of about 64 (same for example as Ned). Gábor stayed at 68 if I remember correctly, after he settled down after the first two hours (he was up toward 80 at the start, excitement and the effects of tapering priming him for a nervous muscular explosive start).

I don’t actually have a problem with T.I., it has its uses, I like what I’ve seen of the drills and some of its ideas, and when I read it, I also like Terry Laughlin’s own blog and his thoughts on the mindfulness of swimming, something I think any distance swimmer can appreciate. I like his meditative frame of mind and consideration of swimming, after all many times myself I’ve compared the purity of night swimming in particular to meditation or how we operate mentally on long swims, something I have a post planned on again.

After years of open water, I know my stroke is 70 +- 4 spm. Anytime I check it in the water, it’s 68 to 72, unlikely to outside that unless I am increasing speed or slowing down. I can just feel the rate by now. This is a vital skill and very different from pool swimming. I know people who have come from a competitive pool background and never once thought about stroke rate. Your SPM might be 58 or 64 or whatever, it’s your stroke rate, the one that works for you as a consequence of your fitness and size and training and background. I’ve noticed bigger people tend toward lower stroke rates but I don’t think that’s a rule or anything.

T.I. might teach you to monitor your stroke rate very closely, but it won’t teach you to increase it to keep your internal heat production high enough. Maybe it’s fine in warm water, but at any water temperature lower than about 28 degrees, you are losing heat. You must combat this by internal thermogenesis.

By the way, in winter pool training, (oh, I’m later going back to it this year than ever before, I’m still in the sea), I do actually work on DPS, distance per stroke.

I’m personally wary of any absolutes when those absolutes are just opinions, like one particular swimming style. That’ll come as no surprise to long-term readers here.

Separate from the heat retention aspects, what I find myself is that there are consequences to my stroke that come from open water swimming. If you watch most OW swimmers, you will see that they have a high hand recovery, quite different to pool swimmers, which comes about as a consequence having to lift the hand higher to avoid it crashing into chop. It’s a rare day in the sea that you can have a high elbow recovery. This is sure to also reduce your rotation, which in turn increases your stroke rate. Then there is the effect of sighting, where you have to lift your head, like you never would in the pool, which again, will change your body position and therefore stroke mechanics. At least that’s how it seems to me.

Maybe it’s different in warm water, (apparently there are places in the world with warm water, it’s been reported), where you don’t have to worry about cold. But remember, at any temperature below about 24° Celsius, eventually, you will become hypothermic. For those  of us for whom 24° C is much warmer than we ever get, we tend to forget this.

But in cold water you must swim to keep yourself warm, because you are literally swimming for your life.

Back again to the same old subject of Cold

Cold Water:

Prepare-
I often put on my togs before leaving the house. (Saves me a minute or two of cooling down before getting in the water). Most important on windy days. I stay warm as long as possible. Uncomfortably warm is good!

Monitor-
How do you feel in the water?
How are your fingers/feet?
What are today’s conditions?
Are you having fun? (After all, isn’t that why you’re doing it?)

Recover-
Get dressed as quickly as possible. Try to be dressed within 5 minutes.
(Have something stand on while getting dressed. I use a €2 rubber car mat.) Choice of clothes is important. (Anyone used to outdoor pursuits knows denim isn’t good. It does not retain warmth and is particularly bad when damp.) Hat. Gloves, etc.

Warm/hot drinks are psycholoigically comforting, but pretty useless for rewarming. The discrepency in temperature between body & drink is far outweighted by the fact that the body weighs a couple of hundred times what the drink does. For drink to be effective in raising core temperature, one would have to drink a couple of gallons.

Wearing clothes that trap & retain the maximum radiated body heat is more effective. As is exercise, which will raise your temperature internally (exothermically). After a cold swim you will only need moderate exercise for the effect so a walk is good.

Record.
Why not? You measure it, it will get better.

Guillamenes and Newtown images.

Took a slightly better picture this morning. Nice view of the Guillamenes concrete apron area taken from the road above.
As you can see from the reflection path, we’re facing directly south here.
Two series of steps for entry or project yourself from the lip.

If you look to the below the top of the horizon line on the second picture, there is a lighter blue line running across from the left. This is the “Scarf” current I’ve mentioned previously and which moves about.

The third image is Newtown cove, just around the corner, about 200 (swimming) metres away.

Click for full size.

My hypothermia experience…

In 2008 I did the first* Blackrock to Cobh 8 mile (tide-assisted) in October without a wetsuit that took me 3 hours in 12 to 12.5 Deg Celsius. I had already done a couple of similar or longer distance swims but not at this temperature continuously. (I had done Clew Bay at 12 miles and at a similar temperature for the first hour and a half, but swimming into a river estuary which gradually raised the temperature.)

I was expecting about a degree warmer. There were 14 swimmers some with wetsuits, some without. I was the thinnest without a wetsuit and the last exiting the water.
It was quite cold at start, for maybe 1 minute, I felt OK after a few minutes. I swam fine for the first 50 minutes, when I had my first food break (a warm drink). My hands never regained full flexibility after that and they gradually lost efficiency.

My fingers were spreading at 1 hour. I had warm drinks about every 45 minutes after first break. After coming out of the Passage Channel and around Haulbowline, the last mile was horrible with wind against tide, lots of chop, very shallow in places, and I was really struggling. Support kayaks were checking me for the last hour, to see if I could the remember day of week etc, simple cognition and speaking tests. My hands were completely frozen and clawed, and my arms numb to my elbows.
I was “Mildly Hypothermic” for 15 minutes after the finish. With my fiancée’s assistance, I was able to get dressed but I don’t remember anything for those 15 minutes though I <was> functional. My girlfriend says I was coherent but speaking extremely slowly, taking seconds per word. Lots of layers and warm drink to warm up. I don’t however recall any serious shivering but I’m not saying there wasn’t, only my memory isn’t reliable so I think there must have been. I guess it took me a hour to get comfortable, and maybe another hour to feel ok. I’m sure you noticed the word Mild there. There are various states of hypothermia, mild to severe. Mild is body temperature of 32 to 35 C. (36.5 to 37.5 C is normal). At Moderate you are turning blue etc. Mild Hypothermia is a lot more than just being bloody cold!

That was a very valuable experience and useful information about my own limits. Had I done the same swim last year, I think I’d have checked the water temperature first. If it was the same….I’d have worn a suit, I’d learned what I needed.

*(Renewed) As this was originally first swam by Coach Eilish when she was 14 years old!