Tag Archives: Open Water swimming

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Cake: See Butterfly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diana Nyad: See Marathon Swimmer.

Dover: Why so many people swim away from England.

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

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

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

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

Fraud: See Diana Nyad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marathon swimmer: Not Diana Nyad.

Marathon swimming: It’s a dumb thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Related (humour) links:

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

Two Distance Swimmers meet. (loneswimmer.com)

Swimming Taxonomy (loneswimmer.com)

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

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

Open water swimming and marathon swimming is dangerous

Eilís
Coach Eilís

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be safe.

How to be an open water swimmer …

I’ve had no time for writing recently. The huge effort of writing the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim 2013 report series, long hours at night moderating the marathonswimmers.org forum during the Diana Nyad controversy, personal crises, trips to Dover and other things have meant the blog has been quieter than since I started, I’ve always previously been able to carve out time and desire to write.

Do I still want to write? I certainly haven’t recently. Though Sylvain Estadieu’s record-setting English channel butterfly solo is something I do want to write about and share. And since I was on the infamous “review panel” I need to set out my own thoughts and response here, away from the forum. So bear with me. And let’s see if the Sun is setting on loneswimmer.com, if it coming to the end of a natural lifespan, because I just don’t know.

In the meantime, as much for myself as for you, I went back to my first ever post here. I didn’t remember that the very first two words I wrote here were “lone swimmer“. I need to think about that. 

Things have changed. Things have stayed the same.

*

Lone swimmer or solo swimmer?

We’re all solo swimmers.
I happen to like being a lone swimmer also, not that I have much choice.

Open Water swimming is an individual expression of freedom, challenging one’s physical and mental abilities in a dangerous environment. The activity does not damage any other humans or its environment.

Want to be an open water swimmer?

Go swim in open water. Rinse. Repeat.

(But some information would be helpful if you’re not sure. Loneswimmer.com is about trying to address that.).

HOW TO: Open water swim tips for triathletes

This follows up Part 1 and Part 2 of common triathlon swimming techniques and remedies, and Evan’s tips on the best use of a public pool for training and a simple effective front crawl stroke tip.

I’ve written various How To’s about different aspects of open water swimming in detail. This post is intended to be a general round-up of maybe useful advice for triathletes (based on substantial open water swimming experience).

(By the way, I’ll be indexing the How To articles soon similar to the Cold Water Swimming Index, to make it easier to navigate).

  • Open water practice is different and separate to pool practice, and equally essential. You need both.
  • Breathing and sighting are two SEPARATE activities. Breathe to the side. Sight from LOW over the water (think of it as crocodile eyes).
  • Getting through large breaking waves is simple and quick (once you’ve practised it). Dive under them. Don’t try to go over or through.
  • Different wind strengths and directions (to your swimming direction) change the water conditions in different ways. Practice in all weather conditions.
  • My idea of cold and your idea of cold are different because you are wearing a wetsuit. I prepare for my temperatures, you MUST prepare for yours, even with a wetsuit.
  • Practice in open water well in advance of your event, and practice repeatedly.
  • Navigation is a learned skill. Pick something above the water and work out how often you need to sight forward to swim straight. Expect the number to be low at the beginning.
  • Few people are as good at sighting as they think they are. Most are worse. There are too many variable to always be certain you are swimming straight.
  • Practice turns around buoys.
  • Common technique causes of drifting off-course are crossing over the body centreline with your arm and breathing to one side (where it unbalances the swimmer). Address these in your pool training.
  • Controlled breathing is important. Don’t hold your breath.
  • Don’t concentrate on lowering your stroke rate, or gliding. (Yes, I know many of you try to do the opposite).
  • Do increase your stroke rate. And train for this.
  • Forget Total Immersion.
  • Don’t kick hard.
  • Don’t sprint at the start.
  • Don’t wear new goggles for a race.
  • Don’t start at the front of a race wave if you’ve never done so before.
  • Expect full contact with other swimmers. To avoid contact start slightly behind the pack.
  • Swim to the side of the pack.
  • Don’t trust that the pack knows where it’s going.
  • My sport is more extreme and dangerous than yours but yours is more popular and with a higher fatality rate. That can be improved by better understanding of and preparation for open water.
  1. Just because water is soft, doesn’t mean it’s easy. Train appropriately.
  2. The best safety decisions are made outside of the water.
  3. Your wetsuit is NOT an open water safety aid. Don’t use it as such to enter a swim you are not sure you are capable of completing.

How To: Improving triathlon swimming performance – Part 1

This post is one of a combined series of triathlon swim articles with Evan Morrison. Evan is a top American open water and marathon swimmer who holds several long distance records including Santa Barbara and the Ederle marathon swims.  His article considers some common mistakes people make while pool swim training (not technique errors) and how to improve. (We are also the co-founders and administrators of marathonswimmers.org). Evan also recently wrote  an excellent, easy-to-understand and follow simple front-crawl stroke tip.

While I written quite a few open water How To’s that are useful for both triathletes and open water novices, I thought some observations on the most common triathlete stroke problems that I’ve seen wouldn’t go astray and simple correction for these problems. 

Stroke Analysis

While all of these issues are visible to a good coach, many triathletes, (like myself as a swimmer), don’t have a local swim squad, regular coach or other swimmers to observe, intervene, or even to casually analyse their strokes. Swimming is the most technically difficult discipline in a triathlon. Quite unlike running or cycling, simply swimming more won’t necessarily improve your technique, and may even embed stroke errors more deeply. Fitness alone also isn’t sufficient. Swimming is a two-person sport in that it requires someone else to see what you are doing. So the best first tip is to get some stroke analysis. this doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. You can ask at your pool or if you see someone whom is a good swimmer, I can pretty much guarantee that they’d be happy to help as almost all experienced swimmers understand this requirement. (Just ask when they between sets).

I know a triathlete who has been swimming for twenty years. That should make him an excellent swimmer. But because he not only doesn’t ask for input, but refuses any he is offered by anyone, his swimming hasn’t progressed or improved in any way in all that time. (And he also makes most to of the errors that Evan points out).

Breathing

The most common question or complaint from novice swimmers refers to breathing. It is  often in the form of “I am very fit, I can run and cycle for miles, but I run out of air almost immediately when swimming“. You can have a sports car in the garage but if you don’t have fuel in the car it’s not going to go anywhere. In swimming the primary fuel isn’t food but oxygen. Stretching the car analogy, food is more like the lubricant used for an internal combustion engine, and air is more like the primary fuel. You need one to start and for power, and the other to keep the system working. So it is most important that you are continuously getting enough air by breathing. As all swimmers have favourite sayings they have heard from their coaches, one of mine that is relevant to this is you need to swim around your breathing, not breathe between your swimming. Many beginners seem to think of breathing as an addendum to swimming. The oldest and still most important instruction to swimmers is relax. Without being relaxed it’s difficult to breathe efficiently. A drill that helps this is the side kicking drill (below).

  • Don’t hold your breathe but exhale continuously underwater. Use both mouth and nose exhalation.
  • Don’t worry about speed, but take controlled strokes. (You can’t swim fast or efficiently without being able to swim slow).
  • To help control your breathing you can speak a word like “breathe” underwater on every arm-cycle, or even hum underwater.
  • Learn to exhale fully. Exhale and see if you sink. If you don’t try again, this time exhaling from lower in your abdomen and stomach. Pursing your lips adds exhalation pressure. (Easily demonstrated. Exhale as much as you can while reading this, then purse your lips and you will be able to exhale a little more).

Inflexible ankles

Inflexible ankles are common in triathletes who originally come from a running background or who emphasise running training. The repetitive impacts combined with a lack of focus on ankle flexibility leads to a decreased Range of Motion (ROM) in the ankles and leave some triathletes being unable to point their toes. In some cases not being able to point the foot at all, so the foot remains at up to 90 degrees to the lower leg. This adds significant drag, in effect a water-anchor to the swimmer. Stiff ankles will also cause the legs to drop down in the water, thereby adding yet more drag.

  • A simple solution to this is to increase ankle flexibility stretching. This has the great advantage of being amenable to being done while the person is sitting and relaxing or working. Two effective stretches from Michael Alter’s excellent Sport Stretches.

Ankle stretches 1-resized

Part 2.

H2Open_tides

My first published article is in this month’s H2Open magazine

I was pretty excited a few month’s ago to be asked by Simon Griffiths, editor of the world’s first and only open water swimming magazine, to write a post on a subject I feel pretty strongly about; tides. You feel strongly about tides, Donal? You are even weirder than we thought. The magazine has previously featured loneswimmer.com and our other shared project with Evan Morrison, marathonswimmers.org, whose own blog freshwaterswimmer.com has also been featured.

Open water swimming in Ireland and the UK are primarily governed by two aspects, cold and tides. Therefore I’ve previously written a lot about both, and will continue to so do.

Incorrect (or no) understanding of tides (and waves) lead to deaths around the shores of Britain and Ireland every year, and the media don’t help the situation by regularly attributing drownings to freak waves. Tides are critical for any swimmer visiting the coast or estuaries.

Simon asked me for a comprehensive article covering theory, safety, hazards, and useful resources. I even took the photos for the article, using Newtown & Guillamenes for my images of tidal range and hazards.

The magazine is available for iPad (search H2Open) through Apple’s newstand and there are Apps for both Android and iPhone, and it’s available as subscription or individual issues (for a mere £2.99!), all from here. The App is free and comes with a free 16 page sample magazine.

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

HOW TO: Understanding hypothermia in swimmers – Mild Hypothermia

When all fails and I am at a loss for something to write about, I can write about cold, my favourite subject. Especially in the context of Cork Distance Week coming in two weeks, when we had a few people pulled from the water with hypothermia last year.

For anyone involved in open water swimming in Ireland, the UK and other Northern Hemisphere cold water locations, being able to spot and diagnose dangerous hypothermia in a swimmer is an essential skill. To do that properly an understanding of hypothermia is useful.

It’s essential to understand that there is no such thing as sudden hypothermia. Most of us grow up hearing this myth, (for example I remember stories of survivors from the Titanic freezing to death in five degree water within fifteen minutes, and that fifteen minute myth is repeated all the time).

The heat in your body can’t instantly disappear. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is always the Universe’s governing and inviolate principle. Hypothermia is a developing situation over time. Your body has enough stored heat that even in zero degree water, you probably won’t develop severe hypothermia until about thirty minutes, though you will be subject to After-drop and potentially lethal consequences even if you emerge before that time. And Afterdrop itself isn’t a myth, as is sometimes inversely claimed to sudden hypothermia, it does exist.

Cold shock response is an entirely different thing to hypothermia, it’s the bodies response to sudden cold, with gasping reflex, hyperventilation and possible acute pain in hands, feet, face and head, and even cardiac events. The biggest danger in immersion is uncontrolled hyperventilation leading to sudden aspiration of water. You gasp and breathe water into your lungs and drown.

Breathing rate increases for the first 20 seconds in cold water

This is the main reason why a diving or jumping entry into cold water for people not cold-acclimated is absolutely a stupid thing to do, and not tough or macho. This response is attenuated in cold-adapted swimmers.

Definitions of Mild Hypothermia can vary depending on where you look but a core body temperature of between 35° and 36° when body-normal is 37° is a good measure, i.e. a drop of about two degrees is a good indicator. The hormone ADH, (anti-diuretic hormone) which controls urination in suppressed and some blood volume is shunted to the core so there is a decrease in blood volume and some dehydration also. There are no long-lasting effects of mild hypothermia, (such that it can be used as a medical procedure for brain protection during certain operations). Almost every serious open water swimmer in these waters will have experienced it as completely normal, and the body acclimates and adapts as we have seen before, by blunting initial response, reducing stress hormones, and increasing brown adipose tissue.

However, people with any diagnosed cardiac problems should avoid cold water swimming.

And also as we’ve often discussed previously, mild hypothermia leads to peripheral vaso-constriction, the reduction of blood flow in the periphery. With experienced open waters mild hypothermia is the completely normal and usual state, in Irish and UK waters. The swimmer will still be able to talk and will still retain motor control in the fingers, but often with reduced dexterity. Surface temperature will be decreased.

Mild hypothermia will of course lead to more severe hypothermia shgould the swimmer continue to be immersed or unprotected. Hypothermia will eventually result for everyone in temperatures under twenty degree is they stay swimming long enough.

There are no great  concerns in recovering from mild hypothermia, just get dry and dressed quickly, following the usual procedure of dressing the torso and head first, and warming up with a walk. Do NOT vigorously dry the extremities even in mild hypothermia.

In diagnosing mild hypothermia, simply seeing if there is some chattering or shivering out of the water. In the water is more difficult, but the swimmer might have clenched jaws and have a minor difficulty speaking freely, or maybe report lesser claw-like symptoms in the hands (lessening on full hand motor control).

In the next article we look at Moderate Hypothermia.

How we FEEL cold water (loneswimmer.com)

Peripheral Vaso-constriction in pictures (loneswimmer.com)

Where did my CLAW go? (loneswimmer.com)

Extreme Cold Adaptation in Humans Part 1 (loneswimmer.com)

How waves can interfere with swimmers and cut down on their speeds

This phrase is a consistent Google autocorrect search term that bring people to the site so I thought I would use it directly.

Surf at Praia Grande. Porto Covo, Portugal

I’ve previously written a couple of posts on understanding waves, theory and some practical.

Writing recently about the 2010 eight hour pool-training swim followed by a sea swim, I was reminded of the problems waves present for many swimmers.

As we’ve seen in the previous articles waves occur where an open ocean swell meets where water gets shallow, on beaches, reefs, and rocks. Waves are somewhat unpredictable even in good conditions and care must be taken of them. So entering the water in the presence of waves requires some degree of caution, dependent on wave size. Trying to exit on rocks or reefs, in even small waves, is fraught with danger.

So why do waves present such difficulty? It’s simply because water is dense, denser than a human, and heavy and anything heavy has a lot of inertia. Difficult to start, divert or stop.

Everyone has probably stood on a beach in waist high waves and felt how easily the waves can push one around.  One cubic metre ( 1 metre x 1 metre x 1 metre, a fraction of a whole chest high wave) of water weighs one thousand kilograms. Did you ever try pushing against even a small car weighing the same? You are not as powerful as water, a six foot tall man is weaker than a five foot tall wave.

Children learn to jump as the waves approaches to go over the top, or to jump into the wave and let it take them, or to stand with one foot and chest forward to try to hold their position. These are all approaches to the mass of the wave and all and more can be used by swimmers.

Rob Dumouchel shared the video below with me, which perfectly illustrates the problems faced by swimmers unfamiliar with waves.

I hope you noticed the guy on the left at the start, who disappeared pretty quickly. He knew what to do. Instead of standing around like a scared duckling, trying to progress by hopping forward and getting pushed backward, he went under the waves.

Power within a wave is concentrated when it is breaking in the crashing top of the wave. Waves breaking into shallow water, even without being large, will travel fast and slow movement with a lot of lower density white water being pushed ahead.

The water in front of a wave is sucked up into the wave face, while the wave is moving forward so you may get a quick sensation of speed just before the wave hits. You can use this speed to your advantage to get under the wave. Just duck down and forward under the wave and then up and you will pop out well behind the wave lip and past most of the drag of the breaking water.

Remember that water being dumped on beaches by waves needs to escape back outward, so most beaches will have “channels” (some steep beaches will  instead have dangerous undertow).

The trough in front of a wave is lower than the average height, whereas the water behind a wave lip is higher. So if you plunge into a wave face and exit behind, you will be higher up, but if you come up just behind the lip of a crashing wave, you have to be careful not to get dragged back over the edge, “going over the falls”, though is generally not a problem unless you are very close.

In this image of Annestown beach, though the waves are only waist-high, one can see that the shingle isn’t all the same height, some is banked. The areas between the banks are more likely to be deeper, and more likely to be channels as this trough extends outward. The difference will usually look somewhat subtle, but is pretty consistent. If you notice in the image, where the arrow starts, the sand extends further into the shingle as this is a lower trough and this recurs along the beach, so there is actually more than one channel, more visible the more water is trying to escape. However Channels tend to exist closer to the beach and as you escape beyond the initial whitewater, the effect will dissipate.

Wave water escape channel at Annestown beach
  • Don’t panic. As I have said before, there is no situation made better by panic and most will be made worse, especially at sea.
  • Don’t try to get away from waves. You won’t win. Face them and work with what they are doing.
  • Look for channels, the narrow and usually deeper areas where waves aren’t breaking, where the incoming water has to escape back out to sea. That’s your easiest way out. But once in a Channel, don’t try to swim back in against it.
  • In water where you can walk, angle your body sideways to oncoming whitewater, and brace yourself as you move outwards, moving out in the intervals between the wave fronts.
  • Once you reach chest deep water, if you are over sand, it becomes harder to progress by walking even with no waves, so get swimming.
  • The best approach when going out from a beach is to dive under the oncoming waves.
  • Don’t take a huge intake of air, it’ll be harder to submerge. Instead hold the air into your lungs instead of trying to hold a mouthful. Popping under and behind a big wave is a pretty quick task.
  • Don’t try the same thing with waves breaking over rocks. Because idiocy.
  • Swimming against a rip current is a poor decision. Change your angle by 45 to 90° and you will quickly move out of it.
  • As you progress out pass the breaking waves, triangulate your position so you know where you started, might need to finish. Line up two objects, one of front of the other, a house and tree or similar, and you will be able to tell your position along a beach. otherwise you can be 100 metres to either side and it will still look like the same place.
So the simple answer to the initial question, which may be the subject of someone’s homework, (it wouldn’t be the first time, people sometimes include question numbers), is that waves interfere with swimmers by stopping them getting out deeper, by pushing them back into shore, by knocking them over, by pulling their legs from beneath them and by breaking over them. All these problems can be reduced or eliminated with experience and practice.

Related Articles:

Waves for swimmers, Part 1 (loneswimmer.com)

Waves for swimmers, Part 2 (loneswimmer.com)

Exploring freak waves (loneswimmer.com)

Grid waves (loneswimmer.com)

Tides for swimmers, theory (loneswimmer.com)

Tides for swimmers, local effects (loneswimmer.com)

Paul Boynton applying dolphin grease to Gertrude Ederle

Regular questions about swimming the English Channel

All Channel Swimmers get some or all the same questions, all the time. This is to help with reducing the mystery somewhat.

Is it cold? This is the biggest myth. Actually it’s a little understood fact that since the mid Twentieth Century, London’s growing population has increased the heat of the Thames outflow, adding approximately 1.07 x 10^15 Joules (1.07 petajoules) of heat to the Channel Strait per 24 hour period. Combine the (completely safe) cooling outflow from the operative Dungeness Nuclear Power Station south of Folkestone with the measured 1.15° Celsius increase in ambient temperature caused by global warming leads to warm currents flowing in both directions on every tide, warming the English Channel until it is now only a degree less on average than Cannes (in the Mediterranean), though you have to swim out a mile (two kilometres before you encounter the thermocline (warm layer).

Lisa Cummins of Sandycove and Ireland is the only swimmer to ever finish at Dungeness after her record breaking four-way Solo, and the only treatment she needed to have afterwards was a brief course of Iodine to reduce any eventual possibility of thyroid cancer.

Nicholas Adams applying baby dolphin grease to Gertrude Ederle

So you get covered in goose grease for the cold right? This myth is widely held due to the famous picture of Gertrude Ederle prior to her solo swim, the first Solo by a woman. However what is generally not realised by the public, is that the grease wasn’t goose grease, nor was it for cold. In fact, Ederle was actually allergic to brine (sea water) and since wetsuits hadn’t been made into a useful protection, and were disallowed anyway under Channel rules, her trainer, Nicholas Adams, decided that they would protect her from direct water contact as totally as possible, so they had the blubber from baby dolphins extracted and smeared it on to depth of 4 centimetres (2 inches). Since this didn’t help her throat though, on every feed she had to drink quarter of a litre (half a pint) of turkey fat instead of the usual 250 ml of bacon grease used as the normal swimmer’s feed. Later in life Ederle became concerned with the number of baby dolphins who had been squeezed for her swim so she went on to found both Greenpeace and the Sea Shepard Society to protect the marine environment. Dolphin grease is no longer used by brine-intolerant swimmers (who are rare anyway) and a modern industrial substitute (Channel Grease) is available in Boots Pharmacy in Dover, (which is processed from the sap of an Amazonian rain forest tree).

Can you touch the boat? Yes, but only with your feet. So you are allowed to go the toilet on the boat, but you have to do it without your hands touching anything whether the boat, ladder, ropes or another person or you will be disqualified (DQ’ed). Since this is so difficult in Force Five winds and since the Official Observer’s other function is to watch you on your toilet break to make sure the rules are followed, most people don’t risk the attempt.

How do you go to the toilet? Please. Like astronauts, we have no idea why this is such a popular question. One hundred and thirty five years of  Channel swimming history have taught swimmers a lot about dietary restrictions. For seven days prior to almost any swim over eight hours, a distance swimmer will gradually reduce all carbs, and reducing the carb-to-protein ratio by 2/10ths each day while at the same time increasing the overall protein volume and substituting carbohydrates with cellulose. By 24 hours prior to the swim, the swimmer’s intestine should stop processing the remaining carbs (there’s generally a one-day fudge-factor in there, pun intended). As a by-product the resultant bloating leads to a widely held belief that Channel Swimmer are fat, when in fact it is just a short-term distortion of the torso, except in those very rare case where the body can’t subsequently expel all the cellulose post-swim. Because this timing is so critical, starting a swim is quite a tricky business to co-ordinate with weather, as this situation can only be maintained for a maximum of 72 hours, and with the large volumes of semi-liquid fat that swimmers must consume during a swim, means that swims are often abandoned due to Digestive Transititis Mobilitis, or “Channel Tunnel Syndrome” as Channel swimmers often call the traumatic and sudden explosive end to some Channel swim attempts. I’d prefer not to discuss the nauseating details.

How much does it cost? The cost of Channel Swimming is quite complex and different, and depends on your country of origin, based as it on a 137 year old tradition. If you come from a EU country that’s a member of  the Eurozone, you are automatically eligable  for 105% refund on completion of swim, and return of certificate to your local Social Welfare office (or equivalent), excluding France. If you come from an EU country that is not a member of the Eurozone and excluding the UK, the cost of an attempt, excluding accommodation fees, is pegged through modern Sterling back the pre-decimal Sterling system of pounds, shillings and pence. It’s a complex fee structure related to weight for men, and age and weight for women. Generally, like an ounce of gold is often related to the cost of a gentleman’s good suit regardless of year, the average cost is loosely related to the local currency equivalent of four healthy fallow sows. English swimmers (not Scottish or Welsh) are 95% subsidized by other swimmer’s fees, however in order to make the books balance each season, 20% of those allowed to make the attempt must be assumed to have no real chance of lasting longer than 20% of the standard crossing time of 30 hours, as decided by the committee of the validating organisation. Scottish and Welsh people must pay a 10% premium over the previous season’s average cost to Australians. Kiwis are treated as Welsh. And Australians pay at Americans rates less 20% of the overall but must pay an extra levy of 1.7%, known colloquially as the “beer tax” which is paid separately to the Dover Free-Traders Association.  Due to the French Government’s refusal in the mid 1990s to further support Channel swimming, French people may only swim on production a passport from any other nation, on top of a final cost of 15% over Scottish and Welsh people, but excluding American passports, (as designated under the revised EU Shengen Agreement). Americans must pay twice the next most expensive fee, projected forward to the next season. Given the possibility of underpayment in these circumstances, successful American swimmer’s swims are therefore not ratified until the AGM of the year following full and final settlement of accounts. These however are only general guidelines as each swimmer may be subject to further loading or subsidy.

Unusually good weather

The weather in Ireland has been broken for the past five days. It didn’t operate as normal. It’s the end of March and instead of the usual dull cold grey, it’s been warm, bright and sunny. So like quite a few others I changed to a few days of sea swimming and even did a 5k, which is a first for me for March. Last year I didn’t do 5k open water until June, in 2010 it wasn’t until the middle of May.

My assertion is, despite belief to the contrary, Irish people are actually optimistic based on the single fact that whenever the weather the good, we believe it will last forever,  even though we’ve had entire summers without five consecutive days of any good weather.

I’ve recently purchased a Kodak Playsport camera, which is waterproof and shoots HD video, for a very reasonable price of about £80. So finally, finally, I’ve started taking some video of Tramore Bay and Newtown Head to share my playground with you all, instead of just the usual static images. The water is still only 10 degrees Celsius so I couldn’t spend too much time floating and getting cold, but I’m delighted to have made a start. A couple of these were shot on cold bright days a few weeks ago.

Don’t forget to select YouTube’s HD option for each.

Lowest low tide of the year. Shot with camera sitting on rocks underneath normal low tide mark.

Looking out to the Metalman and Newtown Head.

Looking up at the Guillamene.

Out further toward Newtown head

Suddenly … Gráinne!

Newtown Head. Wait for the underwater bit at the end, and see the colour of my dreams.

 

 

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

 

Monday Morning Similarities – Stephen & Lisa

I find a lot of similarity between Stephen Redmond’s fantastic Molokai Channel and Lisa Cummins’s two-way English Channel.

Waiting for news and updates all through a Sunday afternoon and night. The trackers working intermittently or not at all, and hoping for more updates from the boat through third parties. The agonising last 10 hours, wondering where they were, imagining ourselves out there in the water with them, wishing there was some way we could send out some mental help to them, wanting so hard to be able to send them our best, knowing that these two extraordinary people were making you really proud to be Irish and to know them even slightly is a privilege.

Stephen and Lisa both getting swept past the normal finish points and ending up in locations where no-one has ever previously ended a swim, Lisa on Dungeness and Stephen on Oahu’s Chinese Walls.

Finally, tired when the swims were over, trying to sleep, and lying there in the dark, thinking it all over, thoughts and imagination swirling around your head, knowing how difficult it would be to explain to others just how extraordinary these achievements are.

Another great moment in Irish and global sport, spent at home in front of a computer and a phone, connecting with friends also awake doing the same thing, done by two ordinary people, with nothing but dreams and extraordinary determination propelling them. In some way the loneliness of the watcher mirroring the loneliness of the swimmer, the empathic bond that distance swimmers feel with each other, purely through being the few who can understand.

First thing on different Monday mornings, listening to each of these extraordinary athletes on Irish radio, sounding like they hadn’t been through hell, my eyes tearing up just listening to them.

I thank them both for these unique moments and memories and making me so proud.

Steve Munatones a post-swim report on DailyNewsOfOpenwater which, as always with Stephen Redmond, is essential reading.

Click to embiggen

Swimming with The Second Law of Thermodynamics

This is a one subject site, open water swimming.

Everything on the site relates to open water swimming. But since open water swimming is part of my life, sometimes other parts of my life or some of my interests get pulled in. They may look tangential but it’s because I’m trying to contextualize my swimming life. Like all open water swimmers, you can’t extract open water swimming from our lives and somehow find the real person.

So I occasionally write about Ireland and Irish culture or humour, because it’s where I (mostly) swim. I write about pool swimming occasionally, because it’s where I swim half of the year. (But there are a multitude of better pool swimmers than me, so when I write about it, it’s from an average pool swimmer’s point of view).

I write about the sea, the weather, my dogs who accompany me to the coast, the books or media that inform or help my swimming. I write about my swimming friends, real life and online (I don’t distinguish, I don’t have to have met someone to consider them a friend) from whom I learn.

I was getting some aches as the training volume was building up so I had another massage at the end of the week. I was developing a tightness in the centre (belly) of my left deltoid (shoulder muscle) and a really deep and sore ache in my right trapezoid (upper centre back). I also has a serious pain above my left glute (butt cheek) that only expressed itself once a swim went over three hours, (so this wasn’t a problem much). The massage hurt like hell. The delt eased out completely, I won’t know about the glute until the next long swim. The trap was still really sore afterwards and I hoped it would ease out over the next 24 hours. To aid that I looked forward to the weekly (at this time of the year) cold water swim.

This is my home. Guillamene Cove, on Saturday, from side to side, Click to mucho embiggen

It was a horrible morning. Cold all week, it was a little bit warmer on Saturday while rest of Europe was being hammered on the anvil of an extreme cold snap, with even the sea-shore freezing in Britain. But the air temperature leaving the house was about 8 degrees Celsius. This is the advantage of Irish weather, it’s mild in average, no great summers, no terrible winters. But the sea water temperature was down to 6° Celsius (43°f). It was overcast, Force Three onshore wind and with about a two metre swell, but I didn’t care. Just let me out there.

According to Polar Bear Joe at the Guillamene, it was 41°f the previous day (5°C) with colder air, coldest water temperature of this winter so far.

The entry was fine, and the next 14 minutes were euphoric. That word actually came to me while I was swimming. Isn’t that part of the reason we swim, that feeling? I’ve been trying to explain that feeling for two years now. During the swim, all my existential worries evaporated and I was at peace for the first time in a week. At the fifteenth minute I noticed the cold pain beginning in fingertips and feet. Given conditions were a bit rough and I would need to navigate the rougher water returning over the Comolene reefs, I turned back before I reached the pier. I was in toward shore closer than my normal outside deeper returning track, and it was really rough passing beneath the last house on the cliff.

The coast road from the Guilllamene facing Tramore, running above the normal swim route

I was back to the steps at 41 minutes, stumbled upwards on my numb feet to my fake Crocs (thanks Nuala) high on the steps. Someone started talked to me as I fumbled to get my goggles, cap and earplugs off. All I heard was a voice. With the ear plugs off and as my eyes cleared, it was someone with an American accent standing right beside, I mean right beside me, asking me how far I’d gone. As I tried to mumble a frozen-jaw response I also tried to make my way quickly to my box to start getting changed as soon as possible.

41 minutes at six degrees Celsius is the furthest I’ve gone. I knew what was coming with the Afterdrop. It would tough. I needed to optimise getting dressed as soon as possible.

As I got changed, with some difficulty, trying to get covered as my core temperature was dropping due to the inward flow of cold blood, conversation continued about cold water swimming as I struggled to answer and make sense, not easy when in this state.

I was in that hazy post cold swim state of mild hypothermia, where I’m pretty certain that I am functioning fully and that I can remember everything clearly, but later realise it’s not necessarily the case.

Later I wonder to myself. 41 minutes at 41 minutes at six degrees Celsius doesn’t seem like that much to me. I know, as I always do, that I could have gone further, why didn’t I swim for a nice round 45 minutes? But I realise that in these circumstances, when I am by myself, I let my body and a sub-conscious experience decide my swim times. With doing 41 minutes in 6° Celsius, I now, finally, have no doubt that should we get a 5° degree temperature this winter, the ice-mile is well within my capability. But for now, I can’t actually prove that officially.

Swimming, like everything else, is governed by entropy, which always increases, therefore order (or you could term it information in certain circumstances) is always reducing. Entropy is a measure of disorder. Eventually the dead hand of the Second Law will hold sway over all, as scientist and author Stephen Baxter once wrote, it’s the ultimate scientific explanation of the universe’s evolution, which is governed by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In a closed system, entropy increases, and the universe is a closed system. Within the smaller system of the earth, the human body is a closed system. It loses heat unless energy is input back into the system to offset loss. As cold water swimmers, we understand experientially the Second Law better than most. Hypothermia will always get you, regardless of experience. If the water temperature is below normal core temperature, no matter how high otherwise, it just will take a longer time. Because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics we get cold. So we need heat and food, two forms of energy, since mass and energy are the same thing. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is always there, always swimming with you, always waiting for you.

I have a deep integral sense of the numinous wonder of the world and the universe, that for me, expresses itself most deeply and is felt most strongly in open water swimming, in immersing myself in the green waters. The world is extraordinary, the sea is transforming, my friends are a value beyond price.  But that’s just my own world view.

Will 2012 be the greatest year ever for marathon and open water swimming in this generation?

Captain Webb’s successful English Channel crossing and Gertrude Ederle’s solo make 1875 and 1926 maybe the two greatest years ever.

But for this generation of open water and marathon swimmers, operating under Channel rules, 2012 is going to be really exiting and probably astonishing.

Some of the events on the list:

  • The 2012 Olympic Open Water 5 & 10k event which will once more bring open water swimming to a wider world.
  • And from a personal point of view, I will have friends swimming many marathon swims including the English Channel, Jersey, Rottnest, Catalina, Zurich, Windermere, MIMS, and more. (I might even swim something myself).

And that’s not the whole list. Many of you will be aware of other swims not yet spoken of publicly.

What an exciting year 2012 promises to be!

Sandycove Old Bridge

Music for swimming, music while swimming

We’ve all got them. Songs we mentally summon while swimming. My age is reflected in my taste in music, I’m an 80s indie rock kid. And the future Mrs. Loneswimmer says I have typical Irish taste in music, (by which she means maudlin and depressing). I’m not aurally driven, (I’m more visual), so unlike other marathon swimmers have reported, I can’t play the whole thing in my head, it tends to be snatches and choruses.

This is not about choosing favourite songs, but about songs which have chosen themselves for swimming.

The National – Terrible Love  (usually known as It Takes An Ocean Not to Break)

Simon & Garfunkel – The Only Living Boy In New York A very … buoyant … song. 2012’s  theme tune for me & Ciarán?

The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues. My all time favourite song from my favourite group which also happens to be my favourite swimming song. I play it last thing before I get out of the car in Sandycove, turning it on as I cross the old bridge. This is my perfect motivational song (and everything else). This is the one I pull out when I need help. This was my English Channel training theme tune. And let’s not forget This Is The Sea, an obvious but perfect choice.

The Rolling Stones – You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Like Simon & Garfunkel, I’m actually not a big Stones fan either, but a great song for tough swimming.

Owl City – Fireflies. I think I’ve mentioned that this song was popular in 2010, and I wasn’t interested in it until it appeared during the night portion of my English Channel swim, and it’s a perennial now. In some way it manages to capture the magical aspect of night swimming.

Or what about a classic, Bobby Darin’s Somewhere Beyond The Sea?

Instrumental music with little or no lyrics doesn’t work for me while I’m swimming, I don’t have the ability to mentally stream it.  So even though this is one of my favourite “swimming” tracks, it doesn’t play when I’m actually swimming.

Here’s the playlist. Cue abuse of my lack of musical taste.

Oh, as for an actual music player to use while swimming? They aren’t allowed under Channel rules, so I see no point in training with one.

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

Monthly loneswimmer.com views

Some loneswimmer.com facts as celebration

I started writing this post a few weeks ago when 50,000 pageviews was starting to become visible in the near distance. One of you reading this today will be the official 50,000th person. (I won’t be able to tell which of course).

Recently I realised that should be at least 50k. WordPress (the site platform) was not reporting internal links from other WP sites, so I’ve no idea how many were missing, over almost two years (the first year I had low numbers anyway) and once the WP referrals started to be counted, the numbers jumped over a week, then they (WordPress) broke the reporting again, but it looks like I passed 50,000 some time ago, maybe weeks. Page views is a pretty inaccurate figure, but it’s one of only measurements I’ve got for this niche open water swimmer blog. (I actually hate that word blog, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, and will again). Traffic has been steadily incremental.

But Thanks Very Much Everyone!

This is the 492nd post! I have no idea how many words. About 600 images uploaded (Maybe two-thirds of those I’ve taken myself).

In Analytic terms, I broke into the Top 4 Million of popular websites … Yeah, I know, that doesn’t sound like much. It can vary on a given week though by up to three-quarters million ranking, which doesn’t seem to be traffic related or even related to the pages linking in. Links-in continue to increase, thanks very much to those who add my page to their links.

Links-In are important for Google Search results. The Site Page Rank is Three, compared for example to Sandycoveswimmers.com, also at Three and Evan’s freshwaterswimmer.com. at Four. Congrats Evan! The Page Rank Scale is out of Ten. However the Average page rank of the webs billions of page is … Zero! Google hold onto details on size of ranks, etc.

email Subscribers are from the USA, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Philippines, Germany Switzerland and Netherlands, at least! Hello to you all and thanks very much.

Ok, it’s not quite what Google itself gets every minute (two million). But it’s not bad for a niche sport and again, it wouldn’t happen without readers.

What you readers have to put with:

  • Some guy blathering on about the sea and swimming.
  • Who regularly manages to put his foot in it (you should see some of the comments and emails I’ve received, and I’ve never tried to be controversial, natural Irish ability?)
  •  Who does continue to try to stick to his ethos of putting everything he knows about open water swimming here. Even if it’s sometimes wrong, or there’s better ways of doing it. And even with all the digressions.

I have NO regional stats however, but readership is about 50% USA, 50% everywhere else.

Apart from Front Page views, the most popular ever day was during my own English Channel swim (giving you value for money by spending an extra six hours in the water!) and the What Temperature Is Too Cold To Swim In articles (variation). Expect occasional further ruminations on this question as they occur to me.

The Top Ten searches that brought people here aren’t very revealing, they seem pretty random, except the loneswimmer moniker seems alive and well, and has grown in recognition beyond my imagining, thanks to the Sandycove Swimmers crew and Steve Munatones and Daily News of Open Water Swimming. Diana Nyad’s publicity for her swims seems wildly effective if the searches are anything to go by. Penny Palfrey is also hugely popular. A short post on a prehistoric sea creature, Anomalocaris brings in a lot! And in a windy world, we see an obvious interest in weather. As an open water swimmer, who therefore don’t look like an athletic ideal, I am delighted that people are open to the differences in athlete’s body shapes.

A lot of people have seen my Swim Box and were curious. I put the Swim Box up for a laugh, and I’m constantly surprised that it seems to have developed a personality of its own, and I often meet people who have already seen it, either on the site or at the Guillamene, before I’ve met them.

Another thing from the searches is that while the more technical HOWTO topics might not capture people’s attention when they are published (and very rarely garner any comments at all), they nonetheless bring in a constant flow of people.

Meteorology and sea-related related articles, such as exploring prevailing winds or tides or waves, bring in a continuous stream and occasional diversion on swimming locations and Irish landscape and language are surprisingly popular. My article on the etiquette of lane swimming is also a perennial, showing the frustrations of lane swimmers worldwide, and it’s been know to be printed out for swimming pools that care about their customer, unlike one pool I could mention.

95% of the time I can’t tell what will be popular, which is just as well I think, since I’m writing from whatever interests me and what I can consider relevant or useful to open water swimming. For example an ordinary post called about An Ordinary Irish Early Summer’s Swim was popular when I wasn’t sure anyone would be interested in it.

So far I’ve managed to stick to my own self-imposed rule, at least to my own standards. I do like to explore aspects of the natural world that occasionally seem tangential, but mostly the marine environment. Mentions of Irish Place Names and the images from my Project Copper, swimming all of Waterford’s Copper Coast were also popular. The inspiration from Evan Morrison’s Freshwaterswimmer to be more assiduous in posting mixed media seems beneficial, I’ve always been visually driven anyway, just not very good at photography, but if you take enough photo’s, some will turn out okay.

If I take out references to people, the top results become more interesting. Searchs related to Tramore and or the Waterford coast are unsurprising, since that’s where I swim and write most about.

prevailing winds
jellyfish id
different athletic body types
anomalocaris
tall ships waterford
irish
swimovate review
salt water chafing
destructive waves diagram
tramore
keypod review
sharks
third spacing
helvick swim
cold water swimming
peoples republic of cork
sandycove swimmers
thermoreceptors

Who would thought a swim watch review would be so popular? Also with Google’s Auto-complete now used as standard, terms will bring people here when they almost definitely were looking for something else (tentacle porn anyone?)

Given I write drafts for future posts, and usually have a list of posts ready in the background, I don’t often (but not never) write any posts specific to what people actually search for, as Finbarr and Lisa remind me when I write one of my more “flowery” posts.
About a third to more than half of views every day come from search engines, sometimes swim or weather related, general or a specific person (like Fran Crippen, Diana Nyad, Penny Palfrey). Shark-related brings in constant trickle.
According to a WordPress comment: Successful blogs draw between 30 – 60 % of their incoming targeted readers from search engine referrals.
My tagging system was very poor from a search point of view, and I’ve only recently changed it, and removed the tag cloud from the front page, leaving only categories. Tags will now be more post specific, which means the Tag volume will get larger, which will make searches more accurate, but a Tag Cloud feature will be too unwieldy for readers so I removed it.
I regularly get see some weird search terms that bring people here; sandycove nudist is one of my favourites, (Ned I guess). I occasionally get hits from people who have typed in an entire school homework question except for answer, e.g. if you are farther from the amphidromic point, the tidal range is … I hope you know the answer to this now, I’ve written about it here.
One of my favourites is:
How to tell a swimmer from a normal person?
(Expect a future post with that title). I’ve always said that open Water swimmers are the proud freaks, weirdoes and outsiders of the swimming world. Apparently the same applies to our relationship to the human race as a whole.
One question that reappears that I haven’t felt qualified to address is
Is swimming in cold water bad for pregnant women?” despite all my writing about cold. I’ll try to find someone who can answer this better, or I’ll look into the research.
I’ve asked a few people to write guest articles on subjects of their own choice, you’ve seen Julie Galloway’s guest post earlier this week, expect another high-profile guest post soon. Some others have said yes but we’re still waiting …(you know who you are).
Oh, and I still have plenty to write and post about, (though things will probably slow down a bit over the winter). There are enough and better people writing about most swim technique stuff that I can’t add much, so only whether it’s relevant to me, and therefore possibly to you.
Below are some of the funnier or just weirder search terms that people have inputed into search engines that have brought them to this site, because there was something apparently here. Some I can understand, others I have no idea. Would you imagine more than one person in the world is looking for pictures of jellies babies in relation to first aid in one day? Every term here has occurred more than a single time.
  • pictures of first aid/jelly babies
  • tennis tights
  • парусники
  • where are they putting the skips in palfrey
  • سباح
  • y u no
  • the most unusual thing ever
  • infrared pics of swim teens
  • shoe helps alleged swimming
Here’s to the next fifty thousand, or whatever. I hope you continue to visit.
Thanks again …
I’m just an ordinary swimmer, in the middle of nowhere.

This Open Water swimmer’s words

Ocean. Green. Pelagic. Friends. Deep. Tide. Littoral. Headland. Cnidarian. Warm. Crab. Flood. Saline. Surge. Slipway. Gull. Springs. Diverse. Reef. Sand. Cove. Wet. Cetacean. Current. Ecosystem. Island. Clear. Lighthouse. Calm. Dream. Breaker. Dark. Coral. Foam. Neaps. Seal. Turquoise. Bay. Blue. Cape, Solo. Fun. Dive. Sprat. Aquatic. Wild. Thalassic. Swell. Glassy. Fish. Beach. Bio-luminescence. Grease. Offshore. Frigate Bird. Spray. Rock. Ebb. Pier. Shallow. Guillemot. Zooplankton. Shallow. Horizon. Separation Zone. Glassy. Marine. Adventure. Cliff. Wind. Kelp. Bilious. Habitat. Benthic. Channel. Lone. Cold. Human. Sea. Swim. Life. Live.

 

Would you believe this took me hours of work and it’s still not right?

An ordinary spring training day

Coach Eilish (aka, “sadist”, “Himmler”*, “that wagon”) never allows us to be become complacent. Like any good coach she makes sure no two days are ever the same and continuously challenges us.
After 2 years training with her, I now have a “library” of hundreds of her sessions.

But we do go through various stages of the macro season where she may be working something specific.

Today was 10k, the longest session this week (so far), which was once a long session, now not so much. Today’s 10k was an endurance session, comprising long steady sets.

So I have an hour early this morning, due to pool availability. Followed by another hour at lunchtime where the SKC staff decided to paint the pillars with enamel paint thereby choking everyone in the pool. Then off to Tramore Bay and the Guillamenes for the remainder.

TI was fine heading into the third session. Cloudy and cool with a bit of movement in the water, but no whitecaps. Down to Doneraile Head, turn at 30 minutes…and then it got tough.
It was close to a low spring tide, not the best conditions for swimming inward in T-Bay. A large section of seafloor around the pier is covered in the leathery tough types of kelp (dabberlocks, sugar kelp) that reaches the surface and is really unpleasant to swim through. I zig-zagged through it on the way in ok, but after the turn the waves were almost breaking head on and stretching out quite a bit. So I changed direction heading outward rather than normally diagonally back past the pier.

So a mile into rough water, and an adverse current in places. By the time I got back to the Guillamenes it had taken 10 minutes longer on the return journey. Which actually meant my time was spot on for what I wanted to do, but damn I felt every metre on the return journey.

Tomorrow, it’s be something completely different, and yet exactly the same.

*Himmler is something she called herself btw.