Tag Archives: Evan Morrison

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 Diana Nyad Controversy, a personal reflection – Part 4 – Assisted or Unassisted?

Parts 1, 2, 3.

I’m really sorry that this is taking so long, I have better things to do myself! I’ve found it difficult to distil this subject down to essentials. I’ve written long series before, and there’s no way I’m giving Diana Nyad more blog parts than more important subjects like Understanding Cold Adaptation in Humans or Trent Grimsey’s  English Channel record. So you are getting long posts instead.

*

An important moment came for me during the entire controversy. I’d asked for advice or even new questions from various swim friends for the review panel. One respondent, she knows who she is, gave some excellent media advice: Stick to the message, don’t get bogged down in technicalities that the public doesn’t understand or care about. I planned to do so. And then, on the panel, I realised that while it was excellent advice, it wasn’t the right advice for me just then.

I actually don’t really care if the American public paints an American flag on Diana Nyad’s face and makes her Queen. I only care about the swimming. (If I’d had to endure the media questioning, this may have been different but as a swim blogger, especially one outside the shadow Diana Nyad casts over the US media, I can both be dismissed and still retain freedom).

The words assisted or unassisted don’t matter to the general public, but they do matter … to me, to my friends, to the swimmers who came before Diana Nyad, to the swimmers who will come afterwards and they may even matter to Diana Nyad.

When you ask yourself who has a vested interest here, ask yourself which of us, myself or Diana Nyad, has more reasons for deception. (None of all this writing gains me one cent toward funding any of the swims I can’t afford to do).  If you are a Diana Nyad supporter, maybe you can ponder that while you are waiting for your credit card to process.

I speak for myself and no-one else. I came to believe that the level of deception was deliberate and purposeful, some unwittingly so by crew chosen with little understanding of the context and apparently no guiding rules.

The extent of that contravention is unknown. Experienced marathon swimmers and crew, who know what we are looking at, who can make judgements based on knowing when something looks wrong, will keep going back to this brief video when Diana Nyad is supposed to be going at her fastest pace due to a current assist.

The public through Diana Nyad’s website and Daily News of Open Water Swimming and repeated public speaking and writing were led to believe that the swims would be attempted unsupported, especially the 2011 and first 2012 swim.

In the absence of published rules, I can only infer that Diana Nyad contravened rules generally adhered to around the world for over a century. These rules are called English Channel rules and dictate swimming not just in the English Channel but any swim where aren’t specific local rules. They are guidelines. There are exceptions to these rules (Cook, Manhattan) BUT these exceptions are codified and in place BEFOREHAND, and not used to claim records and aren’t directly compared to unassisted swims.

The media and the Diana Nyad team have since the swim repeatedly focused on these words, “English Channel Rules“, and used them in a deceptive manner. “Throw out that stuffy rule book“, said one of Diana Nyad’s team on the forum, showing a profound lack of understanding of the debate. No-one ever said that Diana Nyad had to use these rules. However in the absence of any clarifying guidelines, for which no-one but Diana Nyad herself is responsible, these rules are a universal constant of marathon swimming, like water. Diana Nyad only has herself to blame because she squandered or deliberately misplaced any opportunity to clarify before and after every attempt.

If you want to play games with experts don’t be surprised when they don’t buy your line of bullshit.

I already mentioned that I was contacted, along with other swimmers, to “respectfully” contribute to a discussion of a device under consideration for the second 2012 swim. We’ve seen Diana Nyad use the word pre-emptively respectfully repeatedly with the media and with swimmers, and the media bite this hook. I’m not the most perceptive person you’ll meet in person but damn it if even I didn’t see it for what it was; media manipulation by an expert, to an uncomprehending, uncritical audience, and damn it if it doesn’t remind me of how when Lance Armstrong was questioned he always used cancer as the response to divert.

Prior to September 2013 the most discussed marathonswimmers.org forum discussion was the 2012 discussion of Diana Nyad’s second attempt of that year. Following the announcement of her “success” on her fifth attempt in early September this year, the forum lit up with discussion of that swim, of which thread I initially stayed clear. It has became the most discussed topic in forum history. What that tells you is that the majority of marathon swimmers, best qualified to understand and support or question, were engaged.

As I wrote previously those threads are fascinating reading and essential if you want the context and the thoughts of a wide selection of actual marathon swimmers, and also of some Diana Nyad crew and supporters.  There were extraordinary revelatory moments, amongst which was swimmer Andrew Malinak’s actually scouring of the data from Diana Nyad’s website, that led to the questions about Diana Nyad’s speed increase after thirty hours. It led to the subsequent engagement by Diana Nyad’s webmaster, Chris. (Had Diana Nyad ensured her Observers were of the same calibre of transparency as Chris, this issue could have been over by now). And Sarah Thomas’ hugely popular articulation of how many feel, and also Niek Kloot’s detective work on Walter Poenisch.

*

It’s a lot isn’t it? The forum, the blogs, the newspaper and online articles, the media interviews, this seemingly interminable series… How can you really come to a definitive conclusion?

How can I get this monkey off my back? A soupçon of Socratic Method, cut by Occam’s Razor, leavened by gut feeling. Questions and answers. (Or lack of answers in this case).

Throughout this controversy there has been one recurring issue for actual marathon swimmers, rather than the adoring public, an issue that’s been growing: The question of integrity.

I’ll put it another way: There are serious questions over Diana Nyad’s probity and trustworthiness.

“But she’s a 64-year-old woman who did an astonishing swim you couldn’t do! She’s an amazing inspiration”.

Yes, I’ve already heard that. Playing to the gallery means nothing. Had Diana Nyad taken the most simple of steps, we could have been all celebrating her. But most of the people best qualified to understand Diana Nyad and her claimed success certainly aren’t so doing. You need to grasp that fact. The fact that most marathon swimmer’s don’t seem to believe Diana Nyad is a very telling weathervane.

Diana Nyad’s actions in the 1970′s and 1990′s were a demonstration of her questionable probity when she attacked both Walter Poenisch and Suzie Maroney in the media over their respective Cuba to Florida assisted swims. She attempted to subvert Walter Poenisches  attempt and unleashed a vicious attack on him afterwards, only retracted on legal threats. For over 30 years she falsely claimed to be the first woman to swim Around Manhattan.

(This article about Walter Poenisch, his wife and widow, and the part a much younger Diana Nyad played in trying to destroy his life is astonishing, essential reading).

Yet she herself is now being defensive and even duplicitous about similar issues. Her 2010 and 2012 Cuba to Florida swims incontrovertibly showed that she was still not above misleading everyone prior to, during and after swims. It is safe to say that those swims alienated many members of the marathon swimming community. She held onto and got into support boats. She herself was the cause of the alienation, not this bad man from Ireland. She took the trust people initially placed in her as a swimmer, and she destroyed it.

She’s not the first swimmer to make dubious claims, and won’t be last but this is the swim where I draw my own line.

Here is the swim and the swimmer where I choose to say: No. I don’t believe you. Clearly, so anyone who chooses can hear.

*

Diana Nyad demonstrated a complete lack of interest in rules.

Rules. A small word, a big concept, but one that is easy to grasp. Rules are essential as guidelines for all human activity, and specific in the sporting realm. Clear published rules allows us the ability to judge and evaluate, to demonstrate fair play and to aid in the evaluation of effort, to present a level playing surface for all competitors. To separate the merely excellent from the truly historic or exceptional.

Rules aren’t a burden. They also protect the average honest athlete giving their all to the effort, dividing them from the cheats and the self-promoters. One of the features of rules is that they need to be published. Why do I have to explain that rules need to be known to everyone BEFOREHAND? I’m frustrated that, in light of this shambles, I, an adult, am trying to explaining what rules are for and why, to you, other adults, all of whom already know this. 

Nor did Diana Nyad care about what actual marathon swimmer thought, despite her later protestations, despite the faux-respect of the panel. Our concerns previously had no effect on her, and she had only engaged when it became clear that we were being listened to. We weren’t disgruntled because we were feeling left out, or that we wanted to be in control, as the Extreme Dreamers would assert.

A brief perusal of the marathon swimmers forum will demonstrate a lively, energetic, engaged community, celebrating and supporting swims and swimmers around the world.

Instead we had genuine questions, that could so easily have been assuaged with information and some planning changes. They knew we were here, so they had to have known the questions and concerns. Diana Nyad also didn’t choose to get the marathon swimmers on her side, and you have to wonder why, since media and public attention is clearly at the heart of what she desires. Could it be that actual experienced swimming Observers would be so much more difficult to bamboozle?

Diana Nyad  has only reacted in 2013 because our debate got outside the swimming community, first published by Simon Griffiths and H2Open magazine on Septemeber the 2nd, then followed by a National Geographic web story and then Suzanne Sataline for the New York Times, which then very quickly became the story of the week. We were tarnishing the image, and far more importantly I suspect, the earning potential, and casting a shadow on her ego, so clearly seen in her claims of a new world record.

Her probity and integrity was amply demonstrated (and probably irreparably to the swimming community) to be at odds with the values of the marathon swimming community when she attacked volunteers. This is no small matter for people who place their dreams and lives into the safekeeping of those selfsame volunteers. The About page on Loneswimmer.com written well over three and a half years ago expressly thanks those who have helped me in my minor achievements. Every swimmer I know understands this. Without exception.

People have pointed out her attack on what she perceived as her competitors, Penny Palfrey and Chloe McCardel, both of whom have acted in an entirely more honourable and open fashion regarding the same swim. I do think it’s possible to put that aside, even though a lack of willingness to help others in the community achieve swims is also anathema to marathon swimmers. The attack on the volunteers is very different and a repulsive attitude to the worldwide cadre of swimmers.

*

The post-panel email discussion went on for over a week. Other additions to the panel included Skip Storch, who had attempted the swim in the 90′s,  Captain Timothy Johnson, Author of The History of Marathon Swimming, Sid Cassidy, a Team USA coach, and I’ve heard Lynne Cox was listening in (allegedly). Members of the panel were part of the post-swim discussion. A few days in, it seemed to me, (very subjective), that there may be a move to have some kind of a vote by the IMSHOF members, who would have included from the panel, I think, Steve Munatones, Skip Storch and Penny Dean.

Concerned something like a “star-chamber” might arise to decree the swim unassisted, Evan and I decided to give marathonswimmers.org forum members their chance to cast their decision. For 48 hours we ran a simple unannounced vote on the forum on this simple question:

Was Diana Nyad’s swim assisted or unassisted?

Unlike the WOWSA awards this wasn’t a public vote. We allowed no new membership applications during the time to avoid vote brigading, (the biggest problem with the WOWSA awards), no comments were allowed in the thread and there was no prior notification of its announcement, and no canvassing. Just a simple vote. Diana Nyad repeatedly spoke about the consensus of the marathon swimming community after her swim. Here was a way to see what that consensus was.

After 48 hours the vote was

82 votes for Assisted 

2 votes for Unassisted

Actual marathon swimmers had spoken. Overwhelmingly and unambiguously.

The consensus Diana Nyad which looked for has happened, but that consensus of marathon swimmers said her swim is Assisted. Which makes her the Third Assisted Cuba to Florida swimmer after Walter Poenisch and Suzie Maroney.

Two weeks after this vote, Diana Nyad, who reportedly said “I don’t want the record if they’re going to call it assisted because that’s the equivalent of fins or shark cage” is still doing the media rounds.

*

I’m almost there, I promise, just one more to go. Stay with me and let’s all see this series through to the end.

The Diana Nyad Controversy, a personal reflection – Part 3 – Diana Nyad, Penny Dean and me

Parts 1& 2.

As I said previously, I endured three hours of the panel on the telephone before bailing out about thirty minutes before the end. You are surely thinking to yourself, only three hours compared to this unending series? Yes, that’s how I feel also, actually. :-)

Swim promoter, panel organiser, Moderator and former Observer and Sponsor of Diana Nyad, Steve Munatones said there would be people from Hawaii to Germany on the call, but mine was the only voice from outside the USA, and as such I felt uncomfortable, a token voice of the stuffy English Channel community. The bad European from Hollywood movies, my Irish brogue an unusual substitute for the more common clipped tones of a German or English film baddie, (apologies to my English and German friends)! Rampant paranoia, I have to admit.

Because this wasn’t the world of swimming I know, the world of shite-talk about swimming, and craic* with friends at the Guillamene, in Sandycove or Dover, going for a Sandycove lap or three. Instead this was a world of famous swimmers, lawyers, media and manipulation.

Other facts contributed to my paranoia. In the lead-up to the call, Steve Munatones emailed that he was looking forward to my contributions on the subject of the current. This set off more alarm bells for me. I write here about tides and currents for swimmers, but mostly tides because I think it’s a woefully under-represented subject that’s really important for safety, and if I can learn something and pass it on that’s helpful.

Ocean currents are specific to their region and as such beyond my limited knowledge. I’m not even a sailor. The only ocean navigation map I have studied in any great detail is the English Channel map. I quickly disabused Steve of any notion that I claim expertise. I can understand the global and macro regional details but that’s about it and that’s only because I like reading about that stuff.

It was enough that I had to suffer the essential charade of the panel. Can we agree that I did so you didn’t have to?

I’ll stick mostly to my own input, with an occasional foray into other’s contributions as I saw them. Should any of the other panel members wish to add any comments here, please email them to me guys, and I’ll add them here (publicly identified Panel Members 1 to 10, number 11 Mike Lewis has his own paid outlet, he was a conflict-of-interest previous Nyad Observer, he can take a flying jump) .

The call started with Moderator and Diana Nyad supporter and swim promoter Steve Munatones introducing everyone very briefly, extended introductions would have been interminable (like this subject) and intimidating (for me).

Diana Nyad made a lengthy opening statement. The word respectfully was used by Diana Nyad again, apparently without any irony. It included a statement that she has never cheated in her life. As with almost everyone she said, I felt her statements were not for the panel or the subject, but with a firm eye to the media. Yes, I had preconceptions. I am not at all embarrassed by this.

Ding, Ding. Round 1

The significant first portion of the call contained John Bartlett outlining experience with his confirmation of the existence of the northerly current. Then we went through a round of Q&A with each member of the panel. John Bartlett answered some, Diana Nyad or Bonnie Stoll answered some others. Then next round would move onto the next subject.

You can jump the technical parts by going straight from the bold arrow below, to the next bold arrow further down.

——>> Jump.

Gertrude Ederle, just to break up the page
Gertrude Ederle, just to break up the page

I can swim in the winter in Ireland because as every Irish school child knows, the 50º+ North Latitudes of Ireland and Great Britain is kept clear of ice during the winter months by the North Atlantic Drift current. This is part of the Global Thermohaline Circulation, also known as the Global Conveyor Belt. The North Atlantic Drift current is fed by the warm Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream comprises two main components, the important-for-our-discussion Florida Current and the Antilles Current which flows north and east of Cuba to where both join off the Florida coast. The Florida Current flows out of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean between Cuba and the Florida Keys, a long stretch of interconnected islands and atolls. Deep breath.

The Florida current is fed by the warm waters and weather of the western Caribbean/Gulf of Mexico and must flow in a north-easterly direction to exit into the Atlantic, since of course there is land is the way otherwise. This gap between Florida and Cuba is known as the Florida Strait. A Strait, like the Dover or Cook Straits, is a narrow stretch of water that connects two larger bodies of water and as such is usually typified by strong currents, the so-called finger-over-a-garden-hose effect.

To swim from Havana to Florida, Diana Nyad had to swim across this current to the north, when it would be trying to push her North-east, away from land. To see the effects on the path of a swimmer swimming across a normally three knot tidal current, look at the first section of almost any English Channel swimming map of which there are many out there. (Ignore Trent’s world record map as atypical). Aand relax.

——>> End of jump.

Part of the problem of analysing the swim is that Diana Nyad apparently swam almost due north across the usual flow of current or had it flowing directly behind her pushing her toward land. And she did so at a greater than world record pace. Bored yet? You will be.

John Bartlett, Team Nyad Navigator essentially said that the team had the advice of an oceanographer who used a process the oceanographer called altimetry. This is a phrase for measurement of the ocean surface height, presumably from satellite. I have been unable to determine the origin or wide-spread use of this phrase in meteorology but I do know satellite altimetry is used to measure tidal movement. Measuring the ocean height would lead to the identification of upwellings and downwellings. These are the flows of cold water (upwellings) and warm (downwellings water of water from and to the ocean surface respectively. One will supposedly come with an anti-clockwise rotation, the other with a clockwise rotation, I can’t remember which is which. I do know that other things such as prevailing wind also affects the surface current direction of either.

I’d like to point here out that I, a self-identified disbeliever of the Diana Nyad story and not-at-all-an-oceanographer-or-navigator, can convey this more clearly than any of the vague hand-waving of Team Nyad outside the panel, and apparently better than Diana Nyad, who was seemingly content to not understand any of this, as she herself said. I don’t really even want to go into the incredulous story of what they claimed about last year’s swim but briefly the pilot and handler knew the 2012 swim wasn’t possible but they went out for 40 hours of swimming anyway. Seriously.

Correct identification of the current state of the ocean would allow Team Nyad to catch an anti-clockwise gyre (rotational current) across the prevailing north-easterly current and essentially catch a free ride to Florida, pushed by currents. It sounds good to a layman. I’m a layman, so I can’t really interrogate it. All this took quite a while and I found John Bartlett credible, like I found Diana Nyad’s webmaster Chris, (who unfortunately had nothing to do with the swim). I know, you are shocked, you thought I was going to argue with everything. If so you misunderstand me.

John Bartlett says that he confirmed the presence or absence of this current over many trips out in the Florida Straits over at least two years, taking about 100 drift measurements. He spoke about using special equipment, but I’ve seen ordinary boats with regular GPS identify currents or lack thereof, so that means nothing one way or t’other, it’s just curious.

I wanted to use my first round of questions in a particular area related to this so I started asking about the measurements. I wanted to get to a quantification of the area of measurement, and measurement deficiency, and a feel for the GIS grid of the prediction. No idea what I’m talking about? That’s ok, I doubt any of the other panel members did either and please remember I really am not even slightly expert in these areas. it might be worthwhile taking a jump over the following section, as I can tell you now it led nowhere.

Jump ——>>

Here’s an analogy: Weather forecasting in the upper-latitude eastern United States is excellent and very detailed and specific in time compared to the western Irish Atlantic seaboard where it’s less accurate. Do you know part of the reason for this? The prevailing winds are the same for both in the same latitudes. But one of the factors that improves the US forecasting is the large number of sensors to the west. You can have a large number of sensors…because it’s land. West of Ireland is the Atlantic, and measurement is difficult because … deep water. Satellites are increasingly used but local sensors are still essential. The further apart the sensors the quicker minor variations between them turn in unexpected localised weather changes. Weather is a chaotic unpredictable system (technically a dynamic non-linear system), and this is exactly what the butterfly flapping its wings analogy is  intended to convey. The GIS grid is the Geographical Information System, or more simply the size of the measurement grid.

I was interested in trying to understand measurement time and distance intervals to see how granular they could get in identifying the magic current. To identify such a current, I think you would need a very small, very granular GIS measurement grid. Small in GIS terms is still intervals of miles. 

This line went nowhere, when John Barlett told us there was no Oceanographer to answer these details, so I stopped and I’m finally explaining here what I was trying to understand. If I had any chance of identifying the feasibility of the theory, I needed to understand how it is identified and measured.

I know Forrest Nelson, President of the Catalina Channel Swimming Association had a conversation separately a few days before with John Barlett, but I don’t know any more than that.

Oh, you want another more apt analogy, that speaks specifically to the subject of marathon swimming?

——>> End of jump

The English Channel waters, (yawn, yes here we go again, Diana Nyad supporters) west of Cap Gris Nez are the most swam marathon waters in the world and the highest marine traffic lanes in the world. The charts are therefore pretty complete and the waters relatively well understood. Yet, as many channel swimmers and pilots will tell you should you ask, (as I have ’cause I’m a Channel Junkie), unexpected currents, weather shifts and changes of timing regularly occur. Fast swimmers are slow, slow swimmer are fast. Tide show up 30 or more minutes early, or late. Localised micro-depressions appear (one did during Sylvain Estadieu’s swim) not visible on weather forecasts or radar. And this happens in an area with all this traffic and recording on both sides, and two actual marine traffic control centres exist. Get my point? Unpredictable, in a smaller area, even with fairly close measurements. So you can extrapolate from there why I was asking: I can guess cold water temperatures all I like based on experience, but I have to calibrate that against an actual thermometer.

The Scientific Method considers physical testing (i.e. measurement) as important as the actual hypothesis.  Intervals and measurement accuracy are important for understanding, and hence for prediction. 

Now there have been many public discussions of the biggest questions over Diana Nyad; the sudden and sustained speed increase, the direction, the lack of feeding. I’m not going to go through them one by one here but I will address them later. Once again, I point you back to the forum discussion which has all the relevant information. There will be no surprise data announcements in these posts. Instead I’m trying to do what I said to Diana Nyad I was going to try in my second round questions to her, to synthesize what was already available or discussed.

Round 2. Seconds out. Let’s keep those punches above the belt.

Penny Dean, a global legend in open water swimming, Steve Munatones’ and former US open water coach, former English Channel world record-holder and the woman who literally wrote the book on open water swimming, (sigh) had been at best sycophantic on the first round. She apologised to Diana Nyad for the questions she was being asked, obviously by the rest of us. But Penny had no right to apologise for us. Prior to any real discussion she congratulated Diana Nyad. I don’t like writing that and she is entitled to say anything she pleases given her record especially compared to me, but  I really don’t know why she was on the panel, if this was “a review panel”.

Possibly sensing the whitewash direction of the call, some of the panel shifted to a more direct path for the “second round”. Since I don’t want to speak for any of the panel I can say the questions varied and Barbara Held, someone who claims large admiration amongst marathon swimmers went directly to the point of the seven and half hours with no feeds. Dave Barra questioned which record Diana Nyad was actually claiming. Ron Collins asked about the apparent freshness of Diana Nyad immediately post-swim. Richard Clifford questioned on the discrepancy between videos and what was reported, such as apparent stroke rate, and recorded comments from the navigator. Evan Morrison asked specific questions about whether she exit the water or touched the boat and then about training. The answers were no (she didn’t exit), she couldn’t remember touching the boat, her speed is 50m per minute in training, i.e. two minutes per 100m but she can hold this “forever” and the unsolicited nonsense about peeing in the pool, again done for the media.

I’ll have to let those guys give their own public impression should they wish to so do but they all sounded great to me. I didn’t feel alone.

The call had already heard plenty of faux drawing-room courtesy, straight from Oscar Wilde with lots of effusiveness on both sides. I was somewhat sucked in, I’m now embarrassed to say. But this was an American call after all, I was the interloper, replete with Irish scepticism.

When the second round of questioning came to me, I waffled too long in asking my question. I hadn’t prepared it other than having it on a vague list, as I had no idea which way the call would develop. So I winged it, which led to a too-long introduction from me.

I was far too long-winded. But my essential question did make it through clearly: Why, in a swim with global visibility and of a commercial nature, therefore unlike any other swim, didn’t Diana Nyad set out to maximise transparency and use fully independent observers?

We as humans are attuned to communication signals. I sensed, in the ether of telephonic cyberspace, where the words in a telephone network switch meet, that Diana Nyad had just crossed me off her Christmas Card list.

The response was frosty and disingenuous, at best. As with earlier, I felt the answer really wasn’t going for me, but for the media, but further that I had made her uncomfortable. In the response, (no “I’m glad you asked that question” for me)  Diana Nyad said that she had been out of marathon swimming for 30 years and was unaware of the rules, and wasn’t aware that she needed to personally know the observers.

At this point Penny Dean intervened and started congratulating Diana Nyad again.

So I had to stop her.

Me, a nobody, had to stop one of the most famous open water swimmers of the latter half of the twentieth-century from speaking. You couldn’t hear it in my voice but I think there was a quaver. It was in a way one of the most scary moments of my swimming life.

I disabused Diana Nyad of her response. I said that the rules of marathon swimming go back 138 years and they were in place before she stopped and are well-known, and that I wasn’t postulating a mass conspiracy theory, nor did I believe in one. Essentially she was putting words in my mouth, (the old straw-man argument tactic, say your opponent said something they didn’t so you can knock it down).

She responded again this time saying that no-one in the marathon swimming community reached out to her. This response was utter nonsense.

If you’ve read the forum thread you will know that I said that a person (Ned Denison) had emailed Penny Palfrey, Diana Nyad and Steve Munatones 18 months previously with three options on how to handle a future swim, including an offer to actually set up an zero-cost official Florida Straits Swimming Association and allow Penny and Diana Nyad substantial input to setting out Florida Strait rules. Thus giving Diana Nyad exactly what she and her supporters have been saying, that only she or the first person to do it, which at that time could only have been Penny.

You’ll also know from the forum that she said she never received it, despite that Penny Palfrey and Steve Munatones had, and that Steve Munatones  was actually sitting beside her at that point. Steve neglected to mention this for the camera or anyone else. Diana Nyad said she couldn’t respond to an anonymous critic, which is fair, so I pointed out that the person (Ned) is an Honour Administrator in the International Marathon Swim Hall of Fame, which at least means a lot of people know him. When I said I would give the name to Steve Munatones privately, he never mentioned that he already knew whom it was.

Why would she turn this down? I can postulate that any prior disclosure of any rules at all was still too limiting to what she had planned.

On the forum Angel Yanigahara of Team Nyad later said that “perhaps only Diana, Chloe and Penny should make the rules for this body of water“. She is not the only supporter of Diana Nyad to make a similar claim. Indeed Diana Nyad herself back in the 1970′s claimed that the first swimmer got to make the rules, though of course Diana Nyad herself ruined the life of the first person to swim those waters, Walter Poenisch.

Would you like that bread buttered on both sides, Diana? And how about a slice of this special cake-that-you-can-have-and-eat also?

I also mentioned that Team Nyad had of course directly Tweeted me the previous year soliciting my opinion and input, as mentioned previously.

As was the tone of the entire call, when it suited Diana Nyad, her team were responsible whether either things went right or things went wrong, to suit herself and she, a journalist, doesn’t know how to use Twitter or Facebook.

I finished with the specific point that she had made two demonstrably incorrect claims regardless of what she had just claimed.

With that I was done. My foreboding of a whitewash and setup didn’t waver. I think that the reason Diana Nyad didn’t use the panel more widely afterwards was that she assumed we would be more easily wooed or impressed or roll over. Many important questions were never answered or even addressed, especially the other Observation questions.

Diana Nyad never did answer that question I’d asked.

I got two hours sleep and left for Dover, hoping to decompress from this nonsense and to crew for Sylvain Estadieu’s English Channel butterfly. English Channel two-way legend Lisa Cummins was sitting beside me on the plane, and had to listen to it all, poor her. (If you haven’t visited Dover beach with Lisa, you really don’t understand how she is viewed).

*

I’ve finished writing. I’m not even sure how to describe the next part except it’s long. Long even by these standards. There will be a final part after that, just in time for the Global Conference in Cork. I didn’t originally plan it that way, I found no way to comprehensively cover the subject and we know that DNOWS won’t do it. Far too many words and too much time on this for me.

*

*I refuse to clarify this post with a definition of the indefinable yet quintessential Irish word craic. The easiest way to find is to come to the Global Conference in Cork. Lots will be had. For giggles, you could watch Steve Munatones and I dance warily around each other. We should teach him The Siege of Ennis … in swim togs. (Someone should teach me first).

The Diana Nyad Controversy, a personal reflection – Part 1- Some History

I mentioned in my last post that this subject was outstanding.

A “review panel” was recently held to consider Diana Nyad’s claimed Cuba to Florida to swim. (On Tuesday 10th September, 2013)

This panel was unprecedented in marathon swimming. I had nothing to do with the genesis thereof nor arranging or my invitation to the panel.

I consider the holding of such a review panel, regardless of the motivation of the organisers, regardless of any future decision or announcement, an actual success for the marathon swimming community. Ordinary swimmers spoke out, and had to be listened to. Consequently I am inordinately proud of the marathonswimmers.org forum and all its members whatever their opinion.

The next morning, a few brief hours after the lengthy call, I left on a flight to the UK and Dover to crew for an English Channel swim. Then a second trip back to Dover after we got weathered-out on the first trip. So for the rest of the week , shrouded as I was in the Channel Bubble, having the craic with Channel swimmers and friends or sitting on Paraic’s Bench in Varne, I had no time to write about the events leading to the panel, the panel itself or the subsequent story.

The time and distance spent with swimmers from around the world in the home of long distance swimming, including crewing for Sylvain Estadieu’s astonishing English Channel butterfly swim, gave me a breathing space sadly lacking in the previous week.  Co-founder Evan Morrison and I were having to spend long hours moderating the discussion on the marathonswimmers.org forum, (for about five days it was taking me eight hours night, finishing at 1 or 2 a.m.) and Evan had to handle all the media requests, I being safely in the despicable land of Old Europe.

Following is my entirely personal perspective. It is not intended to be a comprehensive debate or exploration of the issue but instead to outline the leadup to the panel, and my current thoughts following the panel.

My opinions are informed by my own swimming and crewing experience, a little observing and quite a bit of swim writing by now. And also by discussions with other swimmers and friends from around the world.

While I have written some posts on the forum thread on this subject, a careful reading of the discussion will see it was some time I joined the debate. I’ll explain that below.

The discussion that stirred the press finally, is extensive. It is an order of magnitude greater than most discussions on the forum and will take hours if not days to read. It is technical, passionate, occasionally adversarial or personal, and highly recommended.

Finally, I want to explain in my opening that I’ve chosen to write here for three specific reasons:

  • My blog allows me the latitude of length. I can explore issues as I see fit without a word constraint.
  • Diana Nyad doesn’t look to marathon swimmers. She looks to an uncomprehending general public. LoneSwimmer.com reaches a more general audience than the forum, but it is still a specific audience.
  • As forum co-founder, I actually try to separate the functions of Administrator  and Moderator from my personal opinions. The behind-the-scenes moderation during the height of the controversy was considerable and I tried to be balanced. But on LoneSwimmer.com, I can explore and outline my own thoughts unconstrained by the role, even it is only to myself and Evan that this distinction is important.

*

Diana Nyad was a long distance swimmer in the 1970′s. Her swims included Around Manhattan and Lake Ontario. She was also unsuccessful in three attempts in the English Channel. In 1978 she attempted to swim from Cuba to Florida in a shark-cage and wasn’t successful. She retired in 1979 and spent a career as a successful journalist and author and latterly a motivational speaker. None other than Jim ‘Doc’ Counsilman, a legendary coach in swimming and the man most associated with the scientific study of the sport, famously said of Diana Nyad: “a very mediocre swimmer with a very good publicist”. I’m a mediocre swimmer, though I usually use the word ‘average’, so I don’t take that as an insult necessarily.

I was mostly unfamiliar with her except for her Bahamas to Florida distance-setting swim in 1979. My immersion, excuse the pun, into Channel and marathon swimming culture and history has been gradual. Like many Channel swimmers, in my early open water swimming days I knew little of the shared history, and few of the great names of our sport, though Diana Nyad was certainly not one of those, except maybe in her head or that of her supporters. There was also a rumour I’d heard that her Manhattan Island swim wasn’t entirely kosher, and we’ll return to this subject later.

Past the age of 60, Diana Nyad returned to distance swimming and an unsuccessful attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida in 2011, two attempts in 2012, and her most recent swim in 2013.

A search of my site will illustrate the change in my opinions. I went from being very interested and a mild fan, through disillusionment and disinterest, to an active contrary stance, before ultimately saying that I was done with any further comment. My opinions didn’t matter, I still don’t think they matter outside the swim community which is all I’m interested in. I am just a swim blogger and hype is always better than truth.

When I first posted about Diana Nyad out of interest, I had reached the dizzy heights of maybe 30 people a day reading the blog. By the time I’d become more antagonistic, I was reaching maybe 500 people a day average. That number hardly changes the world but I didn’t care about the world, the people read loneswimmer are the ones I care about and have written for, not the Diana Nyad fans, not for the public. But I really did mean I was increasingly disinterested and antipathetic. In the end I wanted to leave Diana Nyad to her own devices.

I want you to be clear that I am not veiling my opinions, not sucking you in with a link-bait title to take advantage of a story for site hits, nor do I care about increasing traffic outside my target area of open water swimmers. I’ve been vociferous in my opinions on the subject now for some time.

I don’t buy the hype. I don’t buy the empty exhortations. I don’t buy the story and I literally don’t buy any of the merchandise. My life is full of swimmers I’ve met whom I admire, who feats astonish and inspire me. I’m supportive of these people, so for me to develop such a strong adversarial opinion is in itself unusual.

And you know what? This my blog. You come here. You don’t like my opinion, that’s fine. But my opinion is free. I don’t charge you for it. So in that way, it’s worth exactly what you pay for it.

But if you come here with some stupid empty threat that I couldn’t do what Diana Nyad did, nor swim what she swam? That’s true but sod off because Diana Nyad couldn’t do what I did. I and my friends don’t take money from anyone to swim, we don’t twist the truth about swims, and as a consequence we can walk into any group of marathon swimmers in the world with our heads held high. If you are new here, looking to argue with me, you better be prepared to step into my world. My opinion shouldn’t matter to you but if you come here for it, it is a valid experienced opinion. Vacuous insults and treats (treats would be nice!) threats mean less than nothing to me and the mere fact of them only colours my opinion even more, because such behaviour is utterly at odds with almost everything I’ve experienced about the sport, which is usually open, welcoming, friendly, supportive and collaborative.

Right up front I want you to know my opinions and you might as well have them raw.

I had four main objections that had developed to Diana Nyad’s swims:

  1. Deliberate misleading of the public and supporters by not publishing any rules or guidelines before any of the swims.
  2. In the absence of published rules, seeming disregard of established and rules. Diana Nyad’s team’s use of the phrase English Channel Rules is deceptive to the general public because they never explain that English Channel rules are used worldwide.
  3. Obfuscation of actual events during swims. Briefly mentioned here, much more detail can be found on the forum.
  4. Online attacks of experienced marathon swimmers. This refers to the invitation by Diana Nyad of myself and others to respectfully take part in an online discussion of a proposed heat device. Those swimmers who took the bait were respectful, yet were treated with utter disrespect. I’ve noted Diana Nyad’s repeated masterful use of the word “respectfully” to imply that we are the one who lack it.

All four opinions were to later inform my reaction to the 2013 swim and the review panel so I will very briefly explain the context.

In the attempts of 2012, on both occasions Diana Nyad exited the water onto a boat. Prior to either swim I myself had never seen any mention that getting on the boat would be allowed.

The rules were never clarified, but it was mentioned by swim promoter Steve Munatones, AFTER the exit, that the swim would change to stage swim rules. Governing Rules for the swim were never actually explained before or after any of her swims, even as I write this over two weeks after the panel. Any claimed achievement without guiding rules is meaningless. It is akin to setting the world’s record for standing on one leg, but without rules which specify actually only using one leg … and instead using two legs.

The two other recent Cuba to Florida swimmers, Penny Palfrey and Chloe MacCardel, had both very clearly and transparently discussed their plans and the rules they would use before their respective swims. Penny even initiated a discussion about the use of stinger suits before her swim.

During the 2012 second attempt, the fourth overall it became clear from her own video by her own team that Diana Nyad held onto the boat. Along with this was the exiting of the water onto the boat.

In Part 2 I’ll explore the context of the panel some more and the events and questions before the panel.

In Part Three, I’ll discuss the panel, mostly my own input and interaction and in the final Part 4 where the post-swim and panel events have led me.

For transparency for visitors, below are links to three previous articles I’d written in 2012 on the subject of Diana Nyad.

Two Golden Rules. I’ve said that you can follow whatever swim rules you like, and that there are only two golden rules you need to follow. Publish the rules beforehand, and have a trusted reputable independent observer. Curiously, once again in the 2013 swim, Diana Nyad followed neither.

This post has been approved by the sport of open water swimming. Diana Nyad has made repeated statements that imply she has the blessing or approval of this mysterious organisation.

Comments on Diana Nyad’s heat drip device. A discussion of a questionable device and the treatment of swimmers by Diana Nyad.

Post Diana Nyad swim. The point at which I lost interest.

Comments are disabled for this post. If you really can’t wait until this series closes to insult me, the comments on About page is my preferred location. However unless you can add intelligence or relevant experience to the discussion, don’t expect your comment to see the light of day. 

Announcing the First Annual marathonswimmers.org Global Marathon Swimming Awards

Early in 2012, Evan Morrison, myself and a small group of well-known swimmers corresponded to discuss the possibility of initiating a global marathon swimming award.

Our desire was to focus exclusively on swimmers and swims which followed the traditionally accepted marathon swimming guidelines; single, non-stop, non-assisted swims over 10 kilometres. Our concern was that with the proliferation of new and alternative types of swims, all acceptable on their own merits, the long-established sport of unaided marathon and Channel swimming was losing visibility and confusion was growing. We believe in fact that in 2012 this problem has grown to an even greater extent, as I have written about previously.

This discussion led in turn to the creation of marathonswimmers.org, the first forum to support and promote traditional marathons swimming, for all abilities, from beginners to Aspirants, to experienced marathon and Channel swimmers. After seven months in operation, with a steadily increasing membership, including hundreds of Channel swimmers,  Evan and I we feel comfortable that marathonswimmers.org is healthy and that now is an apt time to announce the First Annual Global Marathon Swimming Awards.

This first year, there will be three categories.

Dave Barra & Donal Buckley on Brighton Beach

The Barra Award is named after forum Charter Member* and valued part of all our discussions and all-round funny guy, David Barra, who in one season completed English Channel, Catalina Channel, Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, Maui Channel, Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, Ederle Swim, and the Boston Light Swim. Dave’s email and forum signature is typical of a marathon swimmer’s ethos. “Anything worth doing, is worth overdoing“.

The awards selection will be by a nomination and vote process of the forum members, followed by a committee decision. Nominees do not have to be forum members. Only members of the marathonswimmers.org forum are eligible to nominate and vote, and with only one vote and nomination per category per member.

  • We will only consider swims for the calendar year of 2012. (Any meritorious swims occurring after the announcement in 2012 will instead be eligible in 2013).
  • We will not announce running totals, so there will be no leading of votes.
  • There will be no multiple votes possible per member or IP address.

More details are on the link.

It’s worth reiterating therefore that these awards will be: By Swimmers. For Swimmers.

* Forum Charter member were those involved in the early discussions who signed up early in the first round. It’s our way of recognising and thanking them for their help and early participation.

Related articles:

The announcement on Evan’s freshwaterswimmer.com.

FLOW: the ideal swimming state

Every swimmer knows how the actual act of swimming can be both rewarding and frustrating. I can’t speak how it is for everyone else, but for me most of the time it’s somewhere in the middle, (like most of life). Sometimes the frustration is horrible, getting in the pool unconcerned but then the water feels like it is fighting me on every movement, my (already average) times are down, and I wonder what the hell I am doing wrong.

And then there are other days, days which are rarer. But from conversations with other swimmers, most recognise this state. The rare day is the day when you are completely in tune with yourself and the water and moving through the medium in a different fashion. It’s not specifically about speed, but as swimmers that’s how the feeling often manifests itself. I was reminded of this when I read a Tweet from Evan Morrison recently:

“50×200 SCY in <2.5 hrs this AM. Unexpectedly firing on all cylinders. Frankly, one of the best workouts of my life. We live for such days.”

Now you may know Evan is a ridiculously fast open water and Channel swimmer and Ederle Swim record holder, so don’t get hung up on the fact that most of us will never reach his times. Before Evan responds that he is not that fast, he has done 25k as 250 x 100, all off 1:30. No, the point is how even a swimmer like Evan also experiences this state. (Even Evan has a nice ring, doesn’t it?)

We can mostly remember those days for quite a while. A while back, I was doing repeat 200s when I realised I was doing my repeats 10 seconds faster than normal, and yet it was effortless. There really is no better word. It’s not that I was setting speed records, but I was in a different mental place to normal, which manifested itself as a different physical sensation.  I wasn’t even sure when it started, and my first thoughts were that I had been reading the lap clock wrong. I recall an unusual sensation of calmness. I saw the times, was curious, but utterly relaxed, and I didn’t get excited but just stayed calm, without trying too hard. And I held the times. I’ve had good days since then, but not quite as good as that. "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience"-Cover

In 1990, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience was published by psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, a study identifying a positive state of happiness that arose from the pursuit of expertise. He defines it as: a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity. In the article, he identifies the following factors as accompanying an experience of flow.

  1. Concentrating, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
  2. loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness. Action with awareness fades into action alone.
  3. Distorted sense of time, one’s subjective experience of time is altered.
  4. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  5. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  6. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  7. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
  8. A lack of awareness of bodily needs (to the extent that one can reach a point of great hunger or fatigue without realizing it)
  9. Absorption into the activity, narrowing of the focus of awareness down to the activity itself, action awareness merging. Action with awareness fades into action alone.

The author says that not all these factors need to be concurrent for flow to be experienced, but I think, on those rare swimming days, those days that you literally couldn’t pay for, you probably are exhibiting most if not all of the list. In tune, in the groove, flyin’, all are terms we have for the sensation. According to Csíkszentmihályi, Flow state arises as a function of expertise and difficulty, which is ideal for swimmers, who spend years of complete concentration and dedication trying to make minute improvements, (to an extent that non-swimmers don’t realise). When the task is difficult and expertise is brought to bear on it, the flow state can result. Both must match for Flow to result. Now if only the flow state was more readily or regularly accessible. But even if it’s not, the sweet transcendent and rare taste of it, is something that keeps us swimming and pursuing other complex tasks. It’s one of the ineffable rewards of swimming.

Two days ago, I FLOWed. It was good.

marathon swimmers.org cropped & levelled banner

Announcing: marathonswimmers.org

Hello friends, future friends, open water swimmers, readers, Aspirants and marathon swimmers!

For some time Evan Morrison and some others and myself have been discussing global marathon swimming.

Marathon swimming is a tiny but still growing sport. As a group, we wish to see marathon swimming continue to be celebrated and encouraged and confusion with other types of swimming reduced (which intends no disrespect to those swimmers and swims). But Evan and I and many others adhere to 136 year old rules that have derived from Captain Webb‘s first English Channel swim in 1875.

As a step toward fostering and supporting marathon swimming, we’re inviting you to view and hopefully join The Marathon Swimmers Forum at marathonswimmers.org.

We had a “soft” launch last week with a small global invitation list in order to get some people involved before announcing the forum more widely and to test it and see if the idea was valid or potentially valuable, and the thirty-ish people signed up from the invitation list  includes some very successful marathon swimmers and also some Aspirants.

The CS&PF Channel email group, Facebook and various Association’s websites and blogs and email lists already play an important global role in communication, education and  connection. Marathonswimmers.org is not intended to replace or compete with any of those, or any other medium, but is hoped to promote, help and add to our global community.

It is intended to be open, global and to also allow anonymity.

Evan, (who is a committee member of Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association) has registered the domain and there is no cost and no commercial element. It’s a free forum that we hope will become integral to the global marathon swimming community, both beginners and experienced swimmers. We’d love your participation.

We hope it will be useful for learning AND teaching, advice, sharing information and help, volunteering, making connections, encouragement, trackers, cheering, celebrations and congratulations, and whatever else you’re having yourself.

From beginner to the world’s most famous open water and marathons swimmers, all are welcome.

We dearly hope if this is your area of interest you will drop by and make it yours, (not ours).

Here’s to a marathon swimming world.

Please share this if you wish.

Regards
Donal & Evan

 

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HOW TO: Important factors in marathon swim feeding

Evan did a great 4-part series on open water marathon feeding and nutrition. I’ve covered the possible use of Choline supplementation and I’ve a long-standing request in with a friend for a guest post on the subject of further supplementation.

Given some questions that have arisen though, it seems we haven’t covered enough of the subject. It struck me that we hadn’t covered mechanics and some of the complicating factors.

Let’s start with a reminder:

The most important thing is: Feeding is different for everyone.

Feeding is not diet or general nutrition, but the process of taking in nutrition/food for energy during a long swim. It’s a long and complex subject which entertains and causes endless discussion amongst marathon swimmers.

The next most thing, the marathon swimming motto: Practice everything.

  • First, when do you have to feed?

You can generally assume that you have enough glycogen in your body to last from two to three hours. (Contingent on not having depleted it in training or recent exercise).

So for a swim or race under two hours, you probably don’t need to feed.

Swims where feeding is necessary dictate practice and experience.

FINA marathoners will probably feed small amount every 10 minutes from a plastic cup. This technique was pioneered by Peggy Dean and the US team in the 80′s. The rest of us tend to feed at intervals from 15 minutes to 45 minutes. (I feed at thirty minutes). But this MUST be tested, everyone’s requirements are different.

Also, you may not need or want to start on intervals right from the start of a marathon swim. it’s quite common that swimmers will feed hourly for the first two OR three hours and then switch to their shorter interval. Once again, I cannot tell you what those times will be for you. The four to eight-hour swims that we do in Sandycove give us the advantage to test these factors. It is another reason faking a qualifying swim makes someone a fool to a more experienced swimmer.

  • Second – what do you feed on?

For most swimmers, the primary fuel is maltodextrin, pure carbs,, as Evan has covered in detail. (Not however glucose). The product name isn’t important though Maxim is by far the most popular for distance swimmers as it has no taste and can be added to any food or drink. It’s a 100% maltodextrin. High5 or similar are carbs with a protein mix in a 4:1 ration, scientifically shown to be more effective in metabolization but has proven to be a problem for many swimmers (e.g. me) in distance sea swimming for a few reasons: (salt intake, prone position, soya protein metabolization).

Again, there are many exceptions. Some swimmers like gel pack (like GU) others won’t touch them, as they can be useless because they require a separate liquid intake, and the salt intake during a swim can make them useless or cause exceptional bloating or vomiting. Some English Channel Pilots only believe in/use Maxim.  Many swimmers have no problem with a 4:1 protein/carb mix, (I am not one, like a lot of swimmers, I found after about four to five hours with it I am no longer able to digest). Some swimmers forego these methods and swim on solid food (Penny Palfrey used dilute porridge).

  • How do you feed?

For myself for swims, I attach a D-clip to the bottle itself (whether by tape, string or lid attachment), and then the line attached to the clip, rather than tying a line to a bottle directly, as having multiple changeable bottles allows more flexibility.

Alan Clack’s feed pole

Feed (dolly) poles (typically a wooden brush handle … ) have a hook or holder on the end, which hand a cup or bottle to the swimmer. The one on the left is one used by Alan Clack on a 10k Lac d’Archambeau swim last year.  Poles are good in flat water but they are less flexible in bad weather as they require a fixed distance to the swimmer. If using a pole the swimmer must not grab the pole itself. I’ve also seen (and used) a telescopic fishing pole but the line is too light and too easily tangled.

Or simply a bottle dropped on a rope. The problem with this is knots and retracting the line (this was a mistake I hadn’t considered in the Channel).  A solution I’ve seen and really liked is a simple traditional-type kite reel (usually made of plastic).

My subsequent solution … A retractable dog-leash, my choice for future swims. So much easier for the crew.

Retractable Dog leash


  • Feed containers

Many experienced swimmers will often only use a container or bottle with particular features. I’ve written before about the God Bottle. This is not necessarily a minor concern as using a wrong bottle type for a swimmer can lead to salt water or air ingestion, both significant is you are swimming for more than 6 or 8 hours. Gábor used a narrow neck squeezy sports bottle, as that was what he used in training and practised with. (I must have a wide neck bottle… However some swimmers just don’t care or don’t have an issue).

Mike Oram, famous English Channel pilot, prefers plastic milk cartons, which have a wide neck and a handle to attack the line, and are easily replaced. Liam Maher added the point that it might be good idea to collect your milk lids for a week before hand, so the crew have more lids than bottles, that way the swimmer isn’t focused on trying to replace the lid.

Stephen Redmond feeding in Catalina

Stephen Redmond  uses a twin bottle approach to swimming: A standard squeezy bottle and a shaker bottle, taped together but in opposite directions for easier access!


  • Is it a cold water swim?

You must consider the water temperature: Should the food be warm or cold? Most Channel swims are cold or cool water so warm feeds are essential. But that can require  a lot of warm water. Your pilot may have a galley where water can be heated, but in rough weather this isn’t easy. One solution to this, just in case, is to bring a thermos (or many) of hot water. Pre-mix the feed to double concentration (half volume) and top up with hot water. The crew MUST be careful not to burn the swimmer, which can happen easily as the swimmer’s mouth will cool down during a swim. Bringing a thermos also frees up the crew to look after you.

  • Will you need/use electrolytes?

In a sea swim, the best swimmers will still ingest salt from the air. So the actual salt requirement is low. One misconception I run with swimmers into all the time, is the bodies need for potassium. How many times have you seen/heard someone have a cramp while pool swimming and someone tells them to eat a banana beforehand “for the potassium”? But usually that’s just simple dehydration. Bananas also provide magnesium, another essential salt, used for ATP synthesis, but we do not need huge amounts of either and deficiencies are rare, and in fact too much potassium in a 24 hours period will slow digestion and cause vomiting. That said, scheduling in an electrolyte is not uncommon for long swims, and allows the body a respite from the carbs.

  • Do you have a feed plan?
An hourly feed plan give a swimmer confidence their requirements are being met. Just as importantly, if the primary crew person goes down with sea-sickness, a feed plan that can be handed onto the next person means continuity in feeding. Feed plans can include extras. For example mine includes an asthma inhaler drop on four hourly breaks, just in case. The plan can also be used to schedule in special treats or prophylactic pain-killers.
  • How long do you expect the swim to last?

Do you have enough supplies if your swim runs over expected time? If you are Lisa or Stephen and are out in the water for 24 to 36 hours, do you have enough water and carb to keep going, all other things being equal? Are there enough supplies … for the crew? Better to take 40 litres and throw out 20, than take 10 litres and need 12. (I know this is not environmentally sound, but there is no way around it).

Finally, do not assume that knowledge of feeding in other endurance events will transfer to sea-swimming. It most likely will not, for example the gel packs beloved of tri-athletes, the extra salt intake and the prone position, are all complicating factors in sea-swimming.

Remember, practice everything. Which means consider and think about everything.

Evan Morrison in Catalina Channel

Evan Morrison in Catalina.

Friend-of-the-blog, to use his own phrase, Evan Morrison, aka freshwaterswimmer, started his Catalina swim two hours ago, just after 12am local time. His Twitter is here. Some pictures: Crew on the boat, (more space that I’ve had on EC boats). Evan’s last pre-swim feed:

Evan Morrison, last feed before start

With night sticks. I love this picture, the blurring adds an inadvertent artistry to it, it reminds of one of my favourite artists, Dave McKean. All Channel swimmers know these moments before starting. The fear has passed and you are like a coiled spring, but a spring that you have to keep clamped down tight, you can’t afford to let it unwind suddenly. Just let me in the water!

Evan with nightsticks

And he’s done! Evan crossed in 8.56, a fantastic time. Well done Evan!

Congratulations to the MIMS swimmers

Congrats to my adopted Hungarian child Gábor, Eddie Irwin, and Evan Morrison on finishing the Manhattan Island swim yesterday. Evan finished in third place about 10.20pm GMT after a storming swim down the Hudson overtaking two people, fantastic. He reached a maximum speed on 7mph on the other side of the island! Erica Rose (US) was first and John Van Wisse (Aus, Double EC last year while we over there, and visitor here last year with Chloe McCardel, last year’s MIMS winner) was second.

MIMS 2011 GPS finish

The GPS was a bit flaky for the last 45 minutes making it difficult to figure out who was where. At one point it looked like Erica Rose might have abandoned only half a mile from the finish. Eddie and Gábor finished before midnight (not sure exactly, Eddie said it was a lovely swim).

Well done one and all. Looking forward to the swim reports