LoneSwimmer is mostly about covering the positive aspects about swimming, or at least, of my swimming life, and imparting what I’ve learned in the hope of spreading the knowledge. But every swimmer, every person involved in any sport has things about their sport that they dislike or … maybe even hate…
1. Extreme Cold Water
I hate water under 7 degrees Celsius. I don’t care what anyone else says, there’s little or in my case no pleasure in it. I’m not hugely keen on water between 7 and 9 degrees either in truth, though for some stupid reason I swim in it, treating such swimming like an insurance policy for warmer water. However if you think 10 degrees Celsius (50 Fahrenheit) is cold, then you need to be swimming at lesser temperatures to really appreciate that 10 degrees is the start of summer or the last gasp of autumn.
What You Can Do
Don’t swim in water under 8 degrees if you don’t want to. I simply don’t believe the people who say they enjoy it, and put that down to self-serving macho bullshit. Enjoying succeeding at a swim in this range is not the same as enjoying the swimming. Don’t feel pressured by the stupid Ice Mile nonsense, or by club mates or friends telling you colder is better, and very cold is the very best. That’s nonsense being pedalled by the ISSA as a vested interest and by a few people intent on standing on a platform wearing a blazer at the Winter Olympics, and by some people who have not or cannot achieve anything else in swimming. Freda Streeter, the world’s most successful English Channel swimming coach, doesn’t like her swimmers training regularly in water under…12 degrees (12ºC/54ºF!) Celsius.
I hate marathon swim frauds. There are far too many of them. It’s beyond me how pretending you’ve done something garners any sense of satisfaction that can outweigh being a cheat. My own journey into and through the sport had stripped the rose-coloured glasses from my eyes and the behind the scenes truth I know about many subjects has quite disillusioned me over some aspects of the sport. There are more frauds, cheats and over-weening self-promoters than I ever dreamed of when I started out. Possibly or probably this says more about my naive immature expectations than anything else.
What You Can Do
Learn to recognise them. There are a list of tell-tale indicators that are woolly edged and which I’d classify as “it requires being a marathon swimmer to recognise a fraudulent one” but there is one certain incontrovertible way to recognise them. Offer to swim with them. They will refuse. The excuses will be multitudinous and diversionary, but they will be present. Whereas actual marathon swimmers will generally treat a request to swim with someone in the marathon community as a Royal Summons. And call the frauds out. So they will know that the experts are willing to speak out and the social cost of fraud becomes higher.
3. Over-priced Swims
I hate over-priced short swims. So many swim promoters seem to forget that we don’t want to do one swim. We want to do all the swims. One over-priced well-known swim is usually worth less than two lesser known swims, case in point Lee Swim, Sandycove swim, most especially my local Helvick swim. I have become oh so much more a lone swimmer by choice for the last couple of years.
What You Can Do
You don’t have to support those swims. Don’t be swayed by the exhortation of “it’s an excellent cause“. Most causes are excellent and we are not responsible for them. You know what’s also a great cause? Developing the sport of open water swimming. Over-priced swims will not accomplish that. Remember that if you love open water swimming, you can still swim in a spirit of freedom and adventure without having to subscribe to over-priced swims. Seeks out smaller lesser know swims. It’s a frequent correlation that the better-known a swim the more excessive the costs.
4. Wetsuits Are Not Equal to Skin
All open water swimmers hate wetsuit swimming and skin swimmers being treated as equal in races or organised swims. I train to be able to swim without a wetsuit. It took years. How are we equal? Not just protection from cold, a wetsuit also confers a speed advantage. I can’t buy my moderate ability, I train it. But because I am not getting faster doesn’t mean my answer is to buy an external aid that will make me faster. This idea of buying advantage is one of my two biggest problems with triathlon swimming (the other being the substitution of equipment for experience and training and safety). I prefer to see wetsuits as gateway drug, that allow new people to participate in our cold water sport, and progress while learning skills and experience, until they shed the body condom. I am possibly open to accusations of being an elitist on this as I do not think of exclusively wetsuit swimmers as being complete open water swimmers. You’ll find the form to send me your hate mail on the About page. If you want to accuse me of being an elitist, to do so you better take off your body condom and come join me or better the pensioners who swim daily year round and don’t even wear a swim cap,
What You Can Do
Again, don’t enter swims where skins and wetsuit are “equal“. At the least explain the difference with to the organisers. A wetsuit confers a speed advantage of up to four seconds per hundred metres! Neoprene? – Just Say No-prene!
I am not a fast enough swimmer that I expect to win. But I do like to think that every so often a combination of circumstances might put me in contention for a top three or five or ten place, and such has occasionally transpired. US Olympic swimmer Rowdy Gaines said, “we race in water, not on paper“. Because the very nature of sport is the unpredictable occurrence. Though in theory it shouldn’t, application of handicapping often aids faster swimmers because it reduces the random chance of racing. And subsequent virtual punishment of someone who has a random out of form result by increasing their handicap disproportionally is a related problem.
What You Can Do
This is less a don’t support the swim issue (though I have never participated in Leinster swims because of the notoriously unfair to outsiders handicapping system). This is more about talking with organisers and understanding the criteria and hopefully improving their handicap system over time. It’s not a quick or easy fix.
6. Swim Product Price Inflation
The aforementioned influence of triathletes buying anything and everything that might gain them 1/100th of a second faster on their Saturday morning local club league has had a negative effects on the price and range of swimming products and most affects open water swimmers. No-where is this seen more clearly than in the introduction and pricing of many mediocre so-called open water goggles, which cost more, perform worse and fail sooner than well-tested established goggles, as companies chase the high valued triathlon market. As I outlined in my comparison of the different types of swimming goggles, rather than understand the different types, application and suitability of goggles, the current situation seems to be to just introduce a short-lived high-priced funkily-coloured gasket-type goggle, and hope the triathletes will keep buying them. This plan? Seems to be working. By getting multiple seasons from a pair of goggles, swimsuit and cap, I must be doing something wrong.
What You Can Do
Don’t buy €75 Speedo goggles or their equivalent. Don’t buy electronic goggles that show you the way. Don’t ask the triathlon shop assistant for advice. Open water swimming isn’t about technology. Throw off the GPS watch and remember the freedom of finding your own way and setting your own time in the water.
7. Not Swimming In The Pool
I hate that some open water swimmers adopt a certain reverse superiority to the pool. I like the chlorine and concrete box and endless black lines jibes as much as the next open water swimmer, but unless you live in one of those incredibly rare locations (where are they?) where you can swim open water every day of the year, then pool training is essential. I see the pool as the tool that confers the ability to explore and enjoy the untrammeled freedom of open water.
What You Can Do
Swim regularly in the pool. It’s the best place to develop and improve technique and speed. By adopting a consistent year-long pool training regime, you put yourself in the position where you can then swim open water without worrying about being insufficiently trained or fit. By interval training in the pool you can will work and set a consistent stroke rate that is the fundamental building block of a confident and capable open water swimmer.
There is a conflation of increased weight with open water success and even the assumption that extra weight is necessary. The oft-repeated question of and by marathon swimmers is fit or fast? I have often repeated the comment that open water swimmers are one group of sports people who are usually better seen with their clothes on. But it is a sad truth that the general public and even many swimmers see extra, even excess weight as a prerequisite for the sport, especially in the very cold water waters of Ireland and the UK. I have myself had people surprised that I’d swum the Channel since “I thought you’d need to be much heavier“. I’ve been asked more than a couple of times if I’ve lost a significant amount of weight since. I find this sad or even disturbing. Like many people I’ve sometimes struggled with weight, but that struggle is within a reasonable full range of about three and a half kilograms (less than 8 pounds). At the upper end I consider myself overweight and try to adjust my diet accordingly. Decades of experience and just listening to the science means I frankly do not subscribe in general to the Internet concept called HAES (Health At Any Size), which is a mere online construct, laudable as it was in its early incarnation, now seems to have deviated into an excuse for being overweight. Are there open water swimmers who are very successful while being very overweight? Of course, and some of them are friends. Those few people swim train many hours a week. And they could and should still be lighter, and know this themselves. I think the oft-repeated positive and accepting communal nature of the open water swimming community means this is rarely discussed, but no-where is the problem more obvious than with Ice Mile swimming, where many people seem to dismiss the extremely obvious links between weight and extreme cold water ability. Note, I am not against fat. Some of it is essential for most open water swimming. Fat is a physiological and dietary necessity. But I am against wilfully ignoring the central importance of fat for good or ill in open water swimming. Again, I know I am stepping into an area that many are loath to enter, and point you to the comments section or the form on the About page to send your particularly lengthy hate mail on this topic.
9. Insufficient Experience Requirements For Organised Swims
I hate not being asked for prior experience before entering a swim. Sure this might seem like it makes your life easier. Maybe it does. Maybe you want to enter your first 5 or 7 k swim and being asked for your previous experience in the 3 to 5 k range is a problem if you don’t have any. But if you are like me and know what you are doing, wouldn’t you want to know that others in the same swim also know what they are doing? I also wonder about the organisers of such swims if they fail to implement the single most useful safety precaution of pre-vetting the swimmers for appropriate swim experience.
What You Can Do
Don’t enter those swims. Develop your experience. Want to enter a 7k but you’ve never trained or swum further than 3K? Then enter a 4k. If you develop your own skills and experience incrementally, then you will find yourself in the enviable position of having confidence going into swims instead of just hoping to “make it through“, or “giving it a lash“. Because insufficient checking of experience puts everyone at risk. It risks the people who might have to help in a fraught situation and it risks the sport when it is poorly organised.
What we do or don’t do defines us, as does what we think. I want to be positive on this blog, but I have found over the years that we can as a sport ignore certain aspects. For example when I wrote about open water swimming being a dangerous sport, I remember one criticism that I wasn’t positive enough. Deluded false “positivity” does not have a place in my world or in the sea. You won’t gain real swimming experience by reading this blog. It’s only a signpost, and that signpost leads to the water.
Education, reflection and experience are more beneficial than transparently self-serving and fake motivational/inspirational exhortations.
10. Not Developing Open Water Skills And Experience
Maybe it’s the years of swimming by myself. But I find that many open water swimmers don’t develop their ancillary open water skills sufficiently. Do you know what wind strength and direction it is by looking at the water? What’s the local tidal range? Just how well do you understand your current cold swimming tolerance? What does that white water or that water surface mean? Etc. These take time, knowledge and practice.
What You Can Do
You’re already doing it right now. Read LoneSwimmer.com. And then get yourself to the water!
11. Forgetting What Open Water Swimming Is About. AKA Organisational Self-Importance
Open water swimming, a sport of the quintessence of freedom and enjoyment of the open air and outdoors is becoming one of required sponsorship, of charities (however worthy), and tallying of swims, of organisations where the bureaucratic DNA of organisations has become more important than the water, the swims and swimmers they represent, where the politics of some organisations have lost touch with the swimmers, where people forget the simple message of having unconstrained fun and adventure.
My message? (Irony intended). Forget the power plays. Ignore the insecure swimming politicians, the idle vacuous so-called Inspirational speakers, the abuse, the lies, misdirection and manipulation, the people hoping to be standing on the podium at the next winter Olympics or some Conference or AGM, or the ones who sell you their fake swimming credentials and place on some committee in the hope of bolstering their own egos. and selling you the idea that they are some kind of guru.
What You Can Do
Forget them all. Just go swimming. Seek freedom. Have fun. Learn, Improve. I’ll meet you down at the coast. TITW at 10am.