Jul 24, 2010

400 training miles, swimming from Chicago to Indianapolis and back

400 miles of swim training year to date, boy how the time has flown. A year ago, well a bit more since it was June 2009 when I committed to swim the English Channel, I would have never imagined crossing this mileage standard?

Today I swim 5000 meters relaxed in one and a half hours as if it's a walk in the park. I will need to remember these days soon though...next years goal and the training that comes with it is just beyond the horizon.

I feel confident, I continue to learn much about how my body adapts to the different stresses of training. After last weekends 10k nationals I was amazed at how much it took for me to feel normal. Clearly the heat, hot lake water affected my hydration more than I cared to realize. This is an excellent training threshold to have learned, just like the others yet to come.

Two weeks until the Boston Lighthouse 8 mile race in the harbor. Getting excited and feeling great. This will be a great learning swim. It's my first salt water swim for anything more than an hour and certainly allot more since I have been in training full tilt. The goal is to finish with a strong time, guessing 4 hours or so, feeling relaxed and comfortable with much more left in the "tank" so to speak.

Jul 23, 2010

Research on why we do what we do...aka...long distance swimming

Chris Arnot
guardian.co.uk, Monday 19 July 2010 20.01 BST
Article history

Karen Throsby doing some long-distance training in 2009. Photograph: Guardian
Few academics plan to immerse themselves in their subject matter quite as literally as Dr Karen Throsby, a sociologist from Warwick University. Next month, she plans to swim the Channel as part of a project sub-titled "Embodiment and identity in an extreme sporting culture".

Her research aims to explore what motivates people to engage in an extreme sports such as Channel swimming. She has funding from the Economic and Social Research Council for two and a half years, towards the end of which she hopes to write a book that will reach out beyond the purely academic market to tap into the post-Olympic debate on the motivation to take part in sport.

"Swimming is a big part of the Olympic action plan," she says. "But I want to look at the really positive things that people can get out of physical activity and move away from the current obsession with seeing it simply as a way of reducing bodyweight." In fact, as part of her preparation for ploughing across the 21 miles of chilly, turbulent tides that separate Dover from Calais, she has had to put on a stone in weight. "I simply ate more of what I normally eat and then maintained that weight," she says.

Throsby wants her research to question orthodox ideas about what counts as a sporting body in contemporary society. And the body she is using to explore those issues is her own. Her training regime has involved swimming around Jersey in 10 and a half hours, as well as ploughing up and down Coventry's Olympic-length swimming pool, just down the road from the university. Not surprisingly, perhaps, her shoulder and neck muscles have "bulked up", as she puts it, "in ways that are counter-normative for women but not for men".

Throsby, 42, has always been interested in gender issues and is fascinated by the reaction of friends whom she hasn't seen for a while when they remark about her evident upper-body strength. Does that bother her? "In some ways it does. It's not entirely comfortable to know that you're being looked at critically. On the other hand, this is part of an experiment purposefully to change one's body while remaining in control. Women usually make those changes in the context of the socially accepted ideal of what we should look like." And that is not all the result of celebrity culture and glossy mags. "Medically, we're all supposed to be slimming down. But I have a politicised view of body size and I find the link between thinness and health very troubling. The promotion of physical activity primarily as a way of losing weight is the route to shame, self-hatred and guilt."

These issues will be explored in an academic paper to be published roughly six months after her cross-Channel swim.

The success rate of the Dover-Calais swim is between 60 and 65%. Only slightly more than 1,000 people have completed the 21 miles since Captain Matthew Webb, smeared in porpoise oil, took the first epic plunge back in 1875. That is fewer people than those who have climbed Everest since it was first conquered in 1953.

Should Throsby join their ranks, it will add lustre to what she calls her "auto-ethnography". But the research project won't end there. "The second part will be a more conventional study of the community that surrounds an extreme sporting culture," she explains. "By looking at the obsessive end of sport we can learn about motivation, and that could be transferable to those who want a much more reasonable and moderate engagement with physical activity."

Aside from the Channel swimmers, there is an online community all over the world of long-distance swimmers training for stretches of water such as the Catalina Channel in California. This is comparable in length to the Channel, but not as tidal. "Our Channel still has an iconic status among marathon swimmers because of the challenges it poses," she says.

At the moment, Throsby is spending every weekend with the Kent-based community of groups who get together to train in Dover Harbour. "I shall be interviewing them at length, but it's already very clear that their motivations vary. Some are doing it for adventure, others because they enjoy a challenge. Then there are those who like to break records, raise funds for charity or simply improve their health and well-being."

Throsby will also be talking to the wider community, such as the trainers, swimmers' families and the boat pilots who offer guidance, support for swimmers in difficulty and sustenance every half hour or so: an energy drink, banana and – in her case – jelly babies. "Finally," she says, "there are the volunteers who come to the harbour every weekend to give us food, offer encouragement and look after our shoes while we're away."

The aquatic sociologist insists that swimming long distances is relaxing and "empties the mind". She knows that in her own case, however, she is going to have to fill that mind quickly. Once the swimming is over, the writing has to start in earnest.

Jul 18, 2010

2010 USMS 10K Championships Start & my race experience

Start of the Race, those that know my stroke will notice where I am, Ha, Ha!

Swimming with the Big Dogs, what an experience! U.S. Masters National Championship for the 10k marathon race was a solid success for me and a wonderful experience participating with 200 plus total marathon swimmers from 22 states some of them former world record holders, a number that have already done the English Channel and other large marathon events. 

I placed 5th in my age group (45 - 49, they break down every 5 years) and 51st overall. It took me just over 2 hours and 50 minutes to complete the 6.2 mile course (2:52.26 to be exact). This is a personal best for me and I dropped 14 minutes from my previous 10k just 3 weeks prior.

Here is the sun rising just before warm-ups! what a beautiful view:

The event was held at Morse Reservoir in Noblesville, Indiana in very warm (hot by my definition these days) of 84f. The water was so warm that dehydration and heat stroke was as reality. The water being so warm of course had algae blooming very thick (...think very diluted split pea soup, I could barely see my hands as they entered the water and pulled beneath my chest). The air temperature was also in the high 80's when the gun went off at 7:00am. So the total thermal heat load was some 160 degrees which is huge almost comparable to the Hawaii Iron man. In the end, everyone was safe but seriously dehydrated. I have probably drank the better part of 1-2 gallons of various fluids since then Saturday after the race until Sunday evening.

The race for me was my first ever national level event so the nerves were a bit rough, didn't sleep very well the night before waking up at 3am two whole hours before I was supposed to wake up. Tried to go back to sleep but found myself, dreaming about big lochness water monsters. So perhaps someone out there can tell me what that meant? Jennifer, my wife was so gracious to follow me on this trip and get up early as well braving the non-Starbucks start of the day. We arrived at the event and lots of folks were already in swim suits chomping at the bit. You could cut the excitement with a knife as folks mulled around preparing themselves with swim caps, Vaseline (we use this where needed to prevent chaffing), goggles, etc. As start time neared, folks were in doing there warm up swims of a couple hundred yards. You could already smell the safety boats engine oil and gas wafting in the air and taste in my mouth. We did the usual national anthem which was really something with the sun coming up and 200 folks standing in their swim gear. I found myself thinking about the movie "Apocalypse Now" and the part where where the Colonel says something along the lines of "I love the smell of Napalm early in the morning...Its, Its, the smell of victory"! 

The first wave started at 7am and the second wave, which I was in, at 7:05am. So about 60-80 people per wave went tearing off in a wild frenzy of arms and legs, climbing over each other, bumping, etc. I was pleased to not feel much of this as I usually like to stay away from the fray so as not to expend extra energy but also to mentally allow myself to get into a rhythm. For me it takes somewhere up to a mile or so to begin to settle down into what feels good. But in this hot water, it was very different this time, the heat load came on quick and I could tell by my breathing my body warmed up and it was going to be really important to "listen to my body" and work through the different feelings of stress, pain and aches.

The course is a two lap circuit each three miles (5k) around. The course was very comfortable for me to navigate, I prefer long open stretches rather than circling around buoys. Each way up or down is about 1.5 miles. We started at the bottom of the picture. At each end I stopped for a very quick (10-20 seconds) gulp of water and a GU pack. At the half way point, I gulped down an 8 oz. bottle of my usual Maxim energy drink. 

My first laps were pretty consistent time wise ranging anywhere from 40 odd minutes and seconds to 46 on the third lap and then negative splitting back down to 40 minutes on the last lap (this was really tough however).  I began to feel either cramping or the cumulative affects of the dehydration in my arms half way down the third lap or it could have been the slug of carbohydrates I had just consumed 20 minutes before at the half way point? (I need to learn from this as it was a challenging period). My stroke shortened and I had to really focus on staying calm and to relax during this segment but as the next several hundred yards passed so did this feeling. After hitting the last turn I knew I was doing well, I felt better and as I pulled away from the turn buoy I felt my longer relaxed stroke come back. As the yards ticked away, I got stronger, I could see people in front me and slowly worked to pass as many as I could. I was a mental rush seeing someone splashing away 100 or 200 yards up and then a few moments later passing them. The last turn buoy before the finish I was in all out sprint, it hurt like hell but I was in the zone. I drove to the finish and popped up just across the line with a cheery Hi, that was fun comment to the race officials as I backstroked over to the beach. Of course moments later the endorphins came crashing down and it was then I realized I was hot and tired. I didn't stay in the water to warm down like usual because it was so hot. Everyone was happily talking and sharing there experiences, young and old. 

Everyone finished up and we proceeded to have a lunch and awards. I was astonished to see the age groupings, there was a small group of just out of college kids then very few later 20's to early thirty year old's. The bulk of these talented swimmers really started in the late 30's, then my age grouping but the biggest group was the 50's. there were a number of 60 year old's as well. This was truly remarkable to see.

About the time we finished up with awards for the top eight in each age group, one older guy came in and finished 4 hours and something seconds. Everyone stopped what they were doing and began to cheer with thunderous applause. In that moment I discovered why I love swimming, but more to the point the people that swim with you. This is a very small fraternity of very, very talented and in some cases world class athletes that are caring and engaged with their competitors and their families. 

My training partner, Doug McConnell and Coach Marcia cleveland were there as well. Marcia won her age group and yes, she stomped my butt again swimming something like a 2:40 race. Doug had a great swim, he has been coming back from spine surgery earlier in the year and had missed three months of practice. He finished 6th in his age group 50-55 in with some real fast guys around 2:50 minutes. 

One fun note for the Goshen, Indiana folks! I Dave Oplinger (swam in the late 1970's with the Gibsons, Neff and company) was there in a relay. I hadn't seen Dave since high school and it was really allot of fun to see him again and share great memories and laughs. He did well in his relay and also swims Masters in Indy, still cranking out the butterfly.

In the end it was a great experience and very different from my larger goal of swimming across a large open water distance like the English Channel. Hey this was the US Nationals! 

Jul 14, 2010

Water Temp. up to 70f & US Masters Nationals 10k Race

Have adapted back to the cooler water since the last post (58-61f) and continued swimming in Lake Michigan several times last week while water temp edged up to just 70f felt great. As you swim for long periods of time it is really interesting to learn (and sense) the amount of heat you generate in these swims. When I stop to take a break and look around, I feel warm and seconds later you can sense the evaporation of heat off your head and shoulders when the wind blows. Several days the water was like glass and I was the only one in and today it was rough and took two times longer getting back than down range over our usual 2.5 mile training course along the beach.

Looking forward to this weekend's big event, the US Masters Nationals 10k (6.2) mile race in Morse Lake in Indianapolis, IN. I'll be the first to admit that I am in with the big dogs and will learn much from swimming with them. Some world and Olympic former swimmers all different ages, men and women. For me just the chance to participate is the success and depending how the swim goes who knows, might rip one off. I don't really care for the mass starts and tend to start off a bit slower and build to a moderate/faster tempo as the race goes on. So the game plan will be that and just enjoy the next "training swim" as I keep telling myself, since my eye is on the big prize next summer. But you all know me well enough, once I lock onto someone in front of me swimming, I will of course have to track them down and keep on going.
I know the water will be very warm (last night 84f. I mean this is freaking hot tub water to me!!!) so body temp. and dehydration will be interesting.

Jul 5, 2010

Skin on fire ... Water temp drops 65f to 58f

Independence day (july 4th) plus one brought a great swim in a calm lake Michigan this morning with doug McConnell, Marcia Cleveland and cool water. Sun was shinning, water was crystal clear and we had the lake to ourselves.

Walked into the water with my usual smile with what I thought was gonna be a nice casual training swim, the lake had other ideas, it was time for a reality check and lesson. I immediately began to feel my feet burn from the cold water, i splashed water up on my chest to adjust to the cold, kept walking up to my waist. I noticed my heart was beating quickly and breathes were short and shallow reacting to the cold. At this point I was thinking to myself "wow, how does the lake go from 65 to 58f?", two days ago I was swimming in 78 f pool water. Appearently the wind had been blowing across lake Michigan west to east late in the week and this drives the colder middle lake water to shore. Welcome to open water swimming.

To know what this feels like, take a large glass ice water and pour it over your head the next time your outside, at the pool or lake or stick your face in a cooler filled with ice water. The physical shock is something. Imagine putting your whole body in this and swimming for over an hour.

We swam down 1200 yards or so to a large peer and then back, twice. Each length was around 17 minutes. The first was really rough, I was hyperventilating so my strokes were very short and erratic. Length two eased up, the third more so allowing me to relax and work on taking long strokes with better body rotation while breathing on both sides. The last length, coming back in, I was back to my old self stroking away, having navigated the cold was building my confidence, and I could have kept going when we finished up around 1:10 minutes later.

This was a great experience and re-focused me back to how critical cold water accimilation is to this effort. After all the training I realize I have so much more to learn.

Jul 2, 2010

2.5 miles of lake Michigan practice, 1 miles up and down

Cruising through the weeks leading up to masters open water national 10k(6.2 mile) race and continue logging 28k yards per week. Spent this week in the open water, except two pool practices, focused on longer swims at a solid pace and working on technique. Tired but gaining confidence to swim through the next several weeks and big races to my real test, that at Boston 8 to 10 miles cold (55-65f) ocean race then on to my 6-8 hour English channel qualifying swim in the fall.

Had a good swim with my coach (Marcia Cleveland) in lake Michigan this week. Booked 2.5 miles in a 1-3 foot swells. Learning to sense the pattern of the waves, several big rollers and the calm. During the calm I take advantage and bi- lateral breath which balances my stroke and releives my neck stress, then back at riding the waves. It's amazing how different it is swimming in even easy rolling waves, the extra time it requires, to complete the same distance in a pool or smooth lake. But I am now confident I can take on some big wavy water if needed and be patient and work through it. Next on my trainig regime is to swim a night. I finally found a few folks willing to tolerate me crazy dream and help me out at night kayaking with glow sticks and head lamps while I swim. We'll try easy lake Zurich first and then move on to lake Michigan.

As for Boston, I will be honest I am a little nervous, it's my first big ocean swim despite the fact that I will have been swimming in and around martha's vineyard the week before. Guess where jaws was filmed ... You guessed it...martha's vineyard. Oh the joy of knowing this. But I have to face these fears because In the end, get busy living or get busy dying. I'll be just fine in all these but it's the mental game.

Thank you to everyone that sends notes and akses about how it's going. You can't imagine the challenge of something this big, the details, the logistics, the learning of both oneself and how to work with mother nature. Special thanks to jennifer, mom and dad, Katie, Ted, Kevin, and my swi coaches marita, Marcia and John, and doug McConnell (he inspires me every to try harder). Oh one last driving reason, to teach my daughter that despite very big odds, something like this can be done, I hope she someday she has a similar opportunity of a life challenge.