Tag Archives: Penny Palfrey

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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. 

Limiting Factors in Marathon Swimming – Part 1 – Physical Factors

The northern hemisphere summer swimming season is on the horizon , though it doesn’t feel like it here in Ireland where we’ve been having the coldest spring “since records began” (that phrase we are all familiar with from the past few years).  there will be big swims, both attempted and successful. 

Before genuine and extravagant claims are made by ill-informed media covering swims about which they know little and understand less, I though it might be worthwhile to round up the limiting factors for ultra-endurance marathon swims that might help people to apply some criteria to help evaluate some of those swims. Limiting factors which constrain or control a process.

Limiting factors on marathons swims can broadly be said to fall into three categories, with further subdivisions in two of those three.

  • Physical
  • Environmental
  • Psychological

In this first part we will consider the physical limitations.

The Physical Constraints to long swims pertain to the individual swimmer and will be influenced by their experience, training, and preparation.

The god bottle
The god bottle

Energy: Often seen by non-swimmers as the defining criteria, Energy relates to the swimmer’s ability to keep swimming. For experienced marathon swimmers however this is not often the as critical as is seen from outside. Evan and I have covered marathon feeding aspects in the past, from mechanics to content and possible supplementation, but the simple fact is that a tested feed plan, appropriate for the conditions and swimmer, will usually provide the pre-requisite energy. Most marathon swimmers use concentrated carbohydrate as the primary feed, with electrolytes to keep the body’s systems operating.  Changes to this basic plan vary with the swimmer but as long as the swimmer can keep feeding, they will take in sufficient energy.

Digestion: There is often talk of vomiting amongst marathon swimmers. Many, and I am one, think it is worthwhile to get used to being able to swim if or even while vomiting. While many swimmers put the pre-disposition of marathon swimmers to vomit at the door of feed plans and high carbohydrate loads, I think there can be other possible causes, (though the body regardless of size can only process so much carbohydrate per hour). Additionally  there are also the small amounts of salt water that even very experienced swimmers can take in due either to the odd mouthful of choppy water, or salt spray in rough conditions. And which I think is important but unquantified, is the extended time in a prone position which could hinder digestion. Peristalsis, the contraction of internal muscles to move food through the digestive process, has been shown in studies to be independent of gravity for most positions (unsurprisingly, since the intestine leads in all directions). Though peristalsis in the prone head-down position was not shown to be statistically abnormal (i.e. the swimming position) those studies were of short duration.  It is possible, but undetermined, if a longer time period could cause a greater likelihood of digestive problems causing vomiting. Vomiting during a swim usually isn’t particularly energy-consuming , and can even be a relief for once-off incidences. But should the vomiting frequency increase  greater distress can be caused and lead to a collapse in energy.

Nothing_Great_Is_EasyStrength: Like energy, strength is often more considered a limiting factor by non-swimmers. Marathon swimmers don’t often operate on strength alone but more usually on continuous repetition obviously and on technique. Hundreds or thousands of kilometres of swim training act as low-repetition strength training and cause swimmers to have very strong (if not very defined) muscles. A typical training load of a thousand kilometres a year (some swim less, some swim much more) prepares distance swimmers physically. Marathon swimmer’s embrace of the Nothing Great is Easy aphorism is simply one of our ways of explaining that physical strength is not the most important attribute.

Typical English Channel swimmer with salt mouth
Typical English Channel swimmer with salt mouth

Salt Mouth: I’ve written on Salt Mouth specifically as being a serious limiting factor for long swims. In brief it is the build-up of salt in the swimmer’s mouth and throat which can in the worst cases lead the swimmer to be unable to feed or even swallow, and can cause the sloughing of the epidermis of the tongue and throat. It can be extremely painful. Only swimmers who have run into this can understand how painful it can be. With all the talk of stinger suits and shark protection, I think ways this problem is far more important for those willing to risk  extending the outer limits of distance swimming. When evaluating a long swim it is worth looking at the salinity of the region. Kevin Murphy’s record 53 hours in the English Channel was in a region of higher salinity and is one of the many reasons swimmers who understand this limiting factor hold Kevin in such high esteem. Swims in the Caribbean such as Chloe McCardels or Penny Palfrey’s Cuba to Florida swim attempts are also in a region of high salinity. The US West Coast is lower salinity that the US East Coast and the Mediterranean is higher than any of these.

Global ocean salinity
Global ocean salinity

Sleep: If you’ve ever missed a night sleep and spent the next day in an utter daze, one may find it hard to imagine that sleep deprivation in itself is not as much a limiting factor as one may guess. There are studies showing that the sleep two nights before a big athletic event is of more importance that of the preceding night. And the majority of English Channel swimmers start their swim in the middle of the might and will miss most if not all of sleep of the night before. Once actually swimming, and assuming the swimmer has the requisite physical and mental stamina, lack of sleep for a second night does not seem to be the most critical factor. Obviously scientific study of the whole of marathon swimming in low enough given the small numbers involved, but the numbers of people who have swum over 24 hours (the 24 hour club) is very small with no scientific study to speak of, and only inferences can be made. Key is probably the factor that the athletic endeavour of marathon swimming is well below the swimmer/athlete’s VO2 Max ability, (what the athlete is capable of at their threshold limit).

Stroke training
Stroke training

Technique: Marathon swimmers range in style and technical ability. Some are not at really graceful or obviously and some like Evan or Trent are elegant controlled swimmers. Most of us though fall in the the wider intermediate range. We train technique along with all the other aspects and just are there are different ways to skin a cat there are different techniques in swimming from a bludgeoning powerhouse to a smooth FLOWer. Excellent technique in itself is not a determiner of success in marathon swimming, but equally being a powerhouse swimmer isn’t either. Good technique though is much less likely to lead to an overuse injury during a significantly long swim. Slight stroke imbalances when repeated 30,000 times for an average English channel swim, or even more for more epic swims, accumulate tiny stresses in the body of the swimmer, especially the neck and shoulders, that could lead to injury during a swim.

Coming in Part Two, environmental limiting factors of marathon swimming.

Penny Palfrey has started Cuba to Florida (at 12pm GMT)

Update: After swimming strongly all through Saturday, and well into Saturday night, unfortunately Penny was pulled after over 40 hours of swimming, around 6 am GMT, due to encountering a strong south-easterly current which was pushing her away from land. As always, thoughts and best wishes to the swimmer and her crew this morning.

(Mid-day GMT time, Friday 29th).

Her tracker is LIVE! at

http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0cAjquq6FOarjFHTO97xpp2abd0R729uN

Penny’s twitter account for irregular direct updates.

For those of you non-swimmers, Cuba to Florida has long been a swim dream since Diana Nyad first attempted it in the mid 70′s. Susie Maroney swam it in a shark cage and wetsuit (so it is considered an assisted swim). Diana Nyad made two attempts last year, which, though beyond the reach of most of us, were coloured by deviations to the normally accepted rules of Channel swimming. She was stopped by severe agonizing jellyfish stings. She will make another attempt this year.

But if anyone in the world can do this it’s (Lisa Cummins or) Penny Palfrey. It will be a long weekend just watching, so imagine how it will be for Penny swimming. We are all behind her, Penny is considered currently the world’s greatest marathon swimmer by those in the sport (and will do this swim without the huge and all-pervasive publicity machine of Diana Nyad so there won’t be as many information sources).

Penny will FOLLOW this warm water beast, where there are huge risks of sharks and Box Jellyfish, (which cause enduring agony for swimmers stuck) by attempting to complete the Ocean’s 7 with The Mouth of Hell, the North Channel between Scotland and Ireland, in August, at the other end of the temperature scale and with our local Lion’s Mane jellies which though not individiually as severe as Box, exist in larger blooms and have a paralysing cumulative toxic buildup effect.

Penny is a member of marathonswimmers.org forum, where she occasionally posted in-between all her insane training.

 

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!

End Polio

The Penny Palfrey Project

 Astonishing ultramarathon swimmer Penny Palfrey launched a new website last week to promote and support her Cuba to Florida swim next June, AND next year’s Rotary Club charity Global Swimarathon to eliminate polio. The two are inextricably linked. Penny is the first Global Ambassador to end Polio, and she needs to fund-raise for the Cuba-Florida attempt.

Cuba to Florida has been attempted by a few, and even swum (by Susie Maroney) but in a shark cage. Penny will be swimming without a shark cage. Penny Palfrey is the world record holder for the longest solo unassisted open water ocean swim and Penny is regarded as “the best” open water marathon swimmer in the world, highly respected and admired by her peers and the one of the few people capable of defeating the water that divides Cuba from Florida.

The Rotary Global Swimarathon’s website. The swim will be on February 25th organised by local Rotary Clubs and you can register interest on the website for updates, download a poster for the project, donate to the charity or sponsor Penny directly. Sponsors can even get to join Penny’s team.

You can contact the Rotary Clubs in your area (e.g Irish Rotary club directory or International). I’ve contacted Waterford Rotary Club to offer assistance in organising a swim for that day. The original Rotary Swimarathon was a team relay to do the maximum number of lengths in 55 minutes, something many of us could do by ourselves. Why don’t you do the same?

And the Cuba to Florida isn’t all. Penny is signed up for the Mouth of Hell, the North Channel in August of next year, the last swim for her in her attempt to be the first to complete the Ocean’s Seven, having recently completed Tsugaru.

As the quote above says, marathon swimmers (and others) around the world consider Penny the world’s best. But it’s a costly sport. For Penny to complete these swims in her own words; “we need to raise the money to pay for it”; she doesn’t have a huge PR organisation.

The Rotary Club has a donation page for one-off, or recurring donations. The Rotary Foundation enables Rotarians to advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through the improvement of health, the support of education, and the alleviation of poverty.

Edit: By the way: here’s Penny’s Twitter account.

 

 

Global Swimathon, June 2012, Penny Palfrey Cuba to Florida, Stephen Redmond

From The Daily News of Open Water Swimming:

Rotary International emblem
Image via Wikipedia

The Rotary Club made an announcement about its Global Swimarathon with a bit of additional news on the open water swimming front. According to the press release issued on World Polio Day, Penny Palfrey is going to attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida sometime in June 2012.

The past 22 years, the Rotary Club of Grantham, England has held a highly successful RotarySwimarathon every February that has raised over £500,000 for local charities and deserving causes.

In 2012, the Rotary Club will also hold an extra event – the Rotary Global Swimarathon – that will attempt to break the world record (presently 2,533) for the most number of people swimming at the same time anywhere in the world. So far, swimmers from New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa, Hong Kong, Portugal and the United Kingdom. Argentina, Austria, Australia, Bangladesh, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Cayman Islands, Croatia, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Holland, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Norway, Phillipines, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, Wales and the USA have registered in a charity event to eradicate polio.

Penny was named the official Ambassador of the Rotary Global Swimarathon in their ‘End Polio Now’ campaign. Concurrently, Penny will be in training to attempt the 168K channel between Cuba and Florida. 

The Rotary Global Swimarathon will take place on February 25th 2012 at 1:00 pm GMT. To qualify for the World Record attempt, swimmers will have to swim just 100 yards without stopping within the hour. There will be a nominal entrance fee which will all go to the Rotary Foundation and help in the campaign to rid the world of polio.

Contribution received will help Rotary raise US$200 million to match US$355 million in challenge grants received from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The resulting US$555 million will directly support immunization campaigns in developing countries, where polio continues to infect and paralyze children, robbing them of their futures and compounding the hardships faced by their families. 

Two big items there:

1. The global swim itself, something everyone can do, which will probably do more for open water swimming than that Ronan Keating nonsense.

2. Penny Palfrey to swim Cuba to Florida. If there was  rating system in non-professional open water swimming, Penny would certainly be recognised as the current world’s best marathon swimmer and someone I’d LOVE to meet, maybe some day I’ll be lucky.

Also from The Daily News is a Youtube link to Stephen Redmond talking about Catalina!

Penny Palfrey in Dover

Ocean’s Seven – Six down, one to go for Penny Palfrey

From Penny Palfrey’s site:

Ocean Seven – 6 Down 1 to Go For Penny

The [O]cean’s Seven is the marathon swimming equivalent of the mountain climbing challenge, the “Seven Summits”. But unlike its land based equivalent, the ocean’s seven has never been completed.

(Donal’s note: The Ocean’s Seven was proposed as a goal by Steve Munatones. Steve, did you think someone would get so close so quickly? Although I guess it always seemed that Penny was the most likely?)

The seven swims referred to, are as follows (together with details of location, distance and particular difficulties/challenges) :

English Channel (England to France – 34k) – cold, strong currents, heavy shipping traffic. (Another note from Donal. I wish to dog it had only been 34k. 60k for me!)

Cook Strait (between north and south islands of New Zealand – 26k) – cold, strong currents, marine life

Molokai Channel (between Molokai and Oahu, Hawaii – 42k) – big oceanic swells, strong currents, marine life

Catalina channel (California, Los Angeles – 33k) – swum at night, cold, marine life

Tsugaru Strait (Japan – 20k) – very strong currents, cold, often rough

Strait of Gibraltar (Spain to Morocco – 15k) – strong currents, windy, heavy shipping traffic

Irish North Channel (between Scotland and Ireland – 34k) – very cold, often rough and windy, nasty jellyfish

With Penny’s recent conquest of the Tsugaru Strait, between the Japanese islands of Hokkaido and Honshu, Penny‘s now completed all of the above, except for the North Channel.”

Penny Palfrey in Dover

Penny Palfrey and crew CLEARED of shark killing allegations

I’ve been sitting on this news for a few days until it was officially released.

So I’ll start with what Steve reports on Daily News of Open Water. The Investigation reported on Facebook (of all places):

As organizers of Penny Palfrey’s Bridging the Cayman Islands swim, the Flowers Group launched an investigation into the reports and rumors that sharks were killed during this endeavor. 

We have reached out to various Government agencies and members of both the local and international crew.

The findings were that The Cayman Islands Department of Tourism contacted the individual named in the original report, Charles Ebanks, who confirmed that he did not kill any sharks during the historic Bridging swim and states that reports to the contrary are inaccurate. He stated that he “hooked the sharks and lead them away”, he further added, “I was there, I did not kill any sharks. They are assuming I did something which is not true and you can quote me on this.”

Charles stated that the boat captain from the boat asked him what he did with the sharks and he replied, “I got rid of them.” He said he thinks this could have been taken to mean that they were killed.

Based on Charles’ account, various members of the Bridge crew were conferred with, and corroborated this description. Images have also been reviewed from various individuals who were on the boats. From these findings, there is no evidence to suggest that any sharks were killed.

It is unfortunate that these reports caused such a firestorm of controversy. It is hoped that this puts this matter to rest and allows Penny much deserved accolades for this historic achievement.

*

When I first wrote about this on Monday, I put a non-involved swimmer’s point of view, not attempting to speak for anyone except myself. Not other swimmers. Not conservationists or environmentalists. And I said, also, let’s wait until full story is in. It’s now in.

And in the meantime I saw the story and abuse continue. It’s always easier to throw abuse and get judgemental than wait for facts apparently.

Now my next question: do you think all the people who attacked Penny, Chris, Steve and the crew and swim will now apologise? Yeah, right.

Regardless, Congrats again to Penny, Chris and Steve and crew.

Penny Palfrey

Any chance the rest of the critics would like to go back to doing something productive about the 70 million sharks killed every year? And maybe leave us real sea people to our selves and the sea?

It’s actions like the attack on Penny and crew that stop me from describing myself as an environmentalist a lot of the time.

Updates continue on the Penny Palfrey story.

If you were interested in the Penny Palfrey story yesterday, then it is important you continue to follow it. I said yesterday I had seen a lot of vitriol thrown online at Penny and crew and I said we needed to wait for the full story. Apparently even that was unacceptable for some, it’s always easier to accuse and judge than to listen.

Alleged shark killing during Penny Palfrey’s Cayman Islands swim

White shark
Image by Ken Bondy via Flickr

EDIT: updated.

EDIT 2: See the results of the investigation here.

This may be the biggest subject in OW swimming this week.

Here’s a long story about killing of endangered (Oceanic White Tip) sharks during Penny’s swim. Here’s the follow-up with comments from Penny’s husband. Here’s Steve Munatones article on it.

I recommend reading the comments on all also to see some of the bile directed at Penny and crew and some different opinions. If my very limited experience of press is anything to go by, the truth will more complex than is currently being portrayed.

Some comments I would make as a swimmer:

  • There has to be complete trust between a swimmer and crew. The swimmer rarely knows the full story from the crew. Some swimmers want to be told the truth, some want to be lied to. Only distance swimmers and crew will really understand this dynamic. Afterwards or even during you might be angry or disagree with even simple things happening. But as a swimmer you’ve put your life into the hands of the crew. Make no mistake, distance swimming is one of the most extreme sports and it takes more than just the swimmer to accomplish.
  • I haven’t met Penny Palfrey (though we have people we know in common). I’m pretty certain that she feels as I do about the sea, that she loves it and all its glory in the way only someone who spends their life in it could. I sure she is upset at any loss, more so than people that have never swum a metre or spent time in the sea and even more upset at the coverage and the vitriol aimed at her swim, but I doubt she feels she should have sacrificed herself. I’ll be interested in her thoughts. IF the events happened as are being  portrayed, it’s entirely possible  that she wishes she’d been pulled but she would not have been aware of anything. The swimmer is both the boss and the least aware, at the same time, but never in charge. That apparent dichotomy exists in every swim. But it’s also possible that she is happy with the situation as I’m sure she knows more about it than we do. I’m not a mind-reader and can only speculate.
  • Any possible legal proceedings should it be determined there is a reason, would be interesting. Since I swim in water that doesn’t have fish (only dangerous sharks are called fish by OW swimmers), I don’t know whether they had to get any different permits for this swim. Or, if it happened outside territorial waters, then there will be no proceedings since as far as I am aware it’s not a protected area. Don’t misunderstand me there, I’m not saying something is ok or not depending on where it happens.
  • The bile and hysteria toward Penny is completely unwarranted. People who wring their hands dump plastic that kill birds and turtles. They flush their condoms to choke wildlife. They eat fish that are only caught by processes whose byproduct is the seas being emptied (e.g. shark bycatch). They throw and flush their shit and phosphates everywhere and dump their poisons in the sea and still lecture other people while they drive around in SUVs. Environmental improvements will never be achieved by screeching mobs or dictats but by consensus amongst everyone. This is actually one of the primary tenets of the environmental movement but unheeded both by Green politicians and many activists. (The sea led directly to me doing an environmental Master’s degree. The article I’d actually already written for today was about wildlife loss in the Atlantic).
  • “Fish skin is used as a source of gelatine as well as leather in making clothing, shoes, handbags, wallets, belts and other items. Larger fish are more suited to leather production owing to the size of the skins. Common sources of leather include shark [...]. Shark cartilage is used in many pharmaceutical preparations and reduced in powder, creams and capsules, as are other parts of sharks, e.g. ovaries, brain, skin and stomach … Several splits by more product forms for several species have also been introduced, in particular for meat and fillets, as well as the introduction of shark fins in cured form.[...] UN - State of World Fisheries 2010.
  • Some 73 million sharks are killed by man every year, mainly for their fins. That averages out to well over six million per month, more than one and a half million per week, over 217,000 per day, upwards of 9,000 per hour, and around 150 per minute. In fact, in the 40 hours and 41 minutes it took Palfrey to break the world record for longest unassisted oceanic swim, over 366,000 sharks were killed somewhere in the world. – From the link above.
  • If I was in a situation where something the choice was between a swim and an endangered animal, I’d prefer to have my swim abandoned that have that endangered creature killed for my swim. But if a crew told me they killed a shark for my safety, I’d ABSOLUTELY believe and trust them. Those two things are completely compatible.
  • The fundamental question being asked by many is whether any swim is worth such a price. For this particular swim, I think we still need more clarity, and certainly not a rush to judgement.
  • I ask you this: if such swim are to be abandoned, then why is all the other mass- scale killing allowed? Personally, I have long been in favour of Marine Protection Zones (Reservations) rather than just a quota system. Quota systems, which are the primary method of marine protection are open to widespread corruption and lobbying and local political pressure. And they generally don’t work. The world has very few Marine Reservations. Marine biologists and environmentalists believe Marine Reservations (and outright bans) are the best way to protect species and habitats. If the Caymans were a protection zone or marine reservation, with NO marine traffic, then such swims should be abandoned. But let’s see how many will stand up for that. What, why we can’t go there? But how many creature are killed unknowing by propellers and dumped rubbish from boats and pollution? It’s hypocrisy to attack the swimmer and crew in ignorance while the rest of the world does its best to destroy everything.
  • I consider myself an aquatic creature. I have as much right to swim as any other creature. Being a thinking creature also, I seek for balance and understanding and an awareness of the world around me. I constantly fail.
  •  I’m also an environmentalist. But environmentalism has to exist in a real, contested world.
Disclaimer: The second article above seems to me to imply Steve Munatones is lying (I’d be very unhappy about it if I was Steve). I don’t believe this. Steve was there, unlike the others. If Steve says it didn’t happen, I believe him, it didn’t happen. Steve is the foremost promoter of Open Water swimming in the world, and is always open in his opinions. I know Steve from personal email discussions, he reads here occasionally, and he has featured my writing and interviewed me for Daily News of Open Water. (And Steve and I have disagreed in the past also, and no-one who knows me would accuse me of sycophancy).