Sep 25, 2012

Support my friend, Doug McConnell's Catalina Swim

Please consider supporting Doug's swim! I'll be crewing this time and here is Doug's detail.

After another year of training and standing on the threshhold of another world-class swimming challenge, the butterflies in my stomach make me philosophical, nervous, hopeful and grateful.  We have done what we can, and we have controlled what can be controlled.  Such a big part of a challenge like this, though, is being prepared to confront things that are unknown and uncontrollable, and to deal with them physically and mentally.  For example, I know that this swim is 21 miles and will require about 30,000 strokes.  I know that there will be times that it will be frightening, particularly at night.  I know that, if September 27th is a day that the Channel will let someone across, I can swim that far.  I can be that guy. 

Most of all, I know that, as the teammate in the Speedo, the A Long Swim team is the best team in the world to be on.  Beyond that, sometimes I feel like I don’t know too much at all. 

As Nelson Mandela said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” 

Fear.  Inadequacy.  Powerful beyond measure.  Darkness to light.  Now is the time to get our heads on straight, dig deep and swim far.

See you on the beach.  After all, this is California, dude. 

Following Along on the Internet

If you have an interest in following along with the Catalina swim, we will have the same technology we had last year during the English Channel swim, whereby a GPS marker will be sent every ten minutes.  There aren’t too many things that can make open water swimming into a spectator sport, but this GPS technology helps.  As my sister, Ellen, has said, “Waiting for the next little marker to come up is even more exciting than waiting for the next Chilean miner to come out of the ground!” 

To follow it on your computer, click in to the following link and keep your fingers crossed that we set it up correctly:


Fundraising has been very gratifying this year.  A Long Swim is again supporting the Les Turner ALS Foundation, and the donations have been nothing short of humbling.  There is a very prominent donation button on, or checks can be mailed to the good folks at:

A Long Swim
c/o Les Turner ALS Foundation

Sep 22, 2012

Anxiety & Stress relief lasts long after workout

Relaxing before a morning swim, Don Macdonald, Isle Royale

“While it is well-known that exercise improves mood, among other benefits, not as much is known about the potency of exercise’s impact on emotional state and whether these positive effects endure when we’re faced with everyday stressors once we leave the gym,” explains J. Carson Smith of University of Maryland School of Public Health.

Straight from the Source

DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31826d5ce5
“We found that exercise helps to buffer the effects of emotional exposure. If you exercise, you’ll not only reduce your anxiety, but you’ll be better able to maintain that reduced anxiety when confronted with emotional events.”
Smith, whose research explores how exercise and physical activity affect brain function, aging, and mental health, compared how moderate intensity cycling versus a period of quiet rest—both for 30 minutes—affected anxiety levels in a group of healthy college students.
As reported in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, he assessed their anxiety state before the period of activity (or rest), 15 minutes after, and finally after exposing them to a variety of intense pleasant and unpleasant photographs, as well as neutral images.
At each point, study participants answered 20 questions from the State-Trait Anxiety inventory, which is designed to assess different symptoms of anxiety. All participants were put through both the exercise and the rest states on different days and tested for anxiety levels pre-exercise, post-exercise, and post-picture viewing.
Smith found that exercise and quiet rest were equally effective at reducing anxiety levels initially. However, after looking at the emotionally charged images for roughly 20 minutes, the anxiety levels of those who had simply rested went back up to their initial levels, whereas those who had exercised maintained their reduced anxiety levels.
“The set of photographic stimuli we used from the IAPS database was designed to simulate the range of emotional events you might experience in daily life,” explains Smith, an assistant professor in the department of kinesiology.
“They represent pleasant emotional events, neutral events and unpleasant events or stimuli. These vary from pictures of babies, families, puppies, and appetizing food items, to very neutral things like plates, cups, furniture, and city landscapes, to very unpleasant images of violence, mutilations, and other gruesome things.”
The study findings suggest that exercise may play an important role in helping people to better endure life’s daily anxieties and stressors.
Smith plans to explore if exercise could have the same persistent beneficial effect in patients who regularly experience anxiety and depression symptoms.
In collaboration with the new Maryland Neuroimaging Center, he is also exploring the addition of functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to measure brain activity during the period of exposure to emotionally stimulating images to see how exercise may alter the brain’s emotion-related neural networks.
Smith also investigates the role of exercise in preventing cognitive decline in older adults. His research has shown that physical activity promotes changes in the brain that may protect those at high risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Source: University of Maryland

Sep 18, 2012

Resting Heart Rate, the key to long term health, fitness and endurance training success. 

Resting heart rate monitoring can be one indicator of long term heath
helping you detect that health change, like a rogue wave. 

Recently in Human Kinetics, this article reprint drove home some simple ways to monitor and detect early changes in your bodies health and level of fitness.

When I was in deep training for the English Channel my resting heart rate was 42-48 regularly. Now 6 months later, and just getting back into the training, weight lifting and a routine post cardiac stent placement in June for blockages we unexpectedly discovered early in the year my resting heart rate was 51 this morning. My experience tells me that you lose quickly the benefits of training and this will come back too. 

One of the most valu­able long-term pieces of infor­ma­tion you can gath­er is rest­ing heart rate. When you wake up each morn­ing, take a minute to get an accu­rate rest­ing heart rate and keep a log. You’ll find this an invalu­able tool, pro­vid­ing feed­back on injury, ill­ness, over­train­ing, stress, incom­plete recov­ery, and so on. It is also a very sim­ple gauge of improve­ments in fit­ness. We know ath­letes who have gath­ered rest­ing heart rate data for years and in a day or two can iden­ti­fy a 1 or 2 bpm ele­va­tion that pre­cedes an ill­ness or a bonk ses­sion. Some newer heart rate mon­i­tors have the capac­i­ty for 24-hour mon­i­tor­ing. 

Sev­er­al fac­tors affect heart rate at rest and dur­ing exer­cise. In gen­er­al, the main fac­tors affect­ing heart rate at rest are fit­ness and state of recov­ery. Gen­der also is sug­gest­ed to play a role, albeit incon­sis­tent­ly (more about this later). In gen­er­al, fit­ter peo­ple tend to have lower rest­ing heart rates. Some great ath­letes of the past have record­ed remark­ably low rest­ing heart rates. For exam­ple, Miguel Indurain, five-time win­ner of the Tour de France, report­ed a rest­ing heart rate of only 28 bpm. The rea­son for this is that, with appro­pri­ate train­ing, the heart mus­cle increas­es in both size and strength. The stronger heart moves more blood with each beat (this is called stroke vol­ume) and there­fore can do the same amount of work with fewer beats. As you get fit­ter, your rest­ing heart rate should get lower. 

The sec­ond main fac­tor affect­ing rest­ing heart rate is state of recov­ery. After exercise, par­tic­u­lar­ly after a long run or bike ride, sev­er­al things hap­pen in the body. Fuel sources are deplet­ed, tem­per­a­ture increas­es, and mus­cles are dam­aged. All of these fac­tors must be addressed and cor­rect­ed. The body has to work hard­er, and this increased work results in a high­er heart rate. Even though you might feel okay at rest, your body is work­ing hard­er to repair itself, and you’ll notice an ele­vat­ed heart rate. Mon­i­tor­ing your rest­ing heart rate and your exer­cise heart rate will allow you to make appro­pri­ate adjust­ments such as eat­ing more or tak­ing a day off when your rate is ele­vat­ed. 

These same fac­tors of recov­ery and injury also affect heart rate dur­ing exer­cise. The fac­tors that ele­vate rest­ing heart rate also ele­vate exer­cise heart rate. If you’re not fully recov­ered from a pre­vi­ous work­out, you might notice, for exam­ple, at your usual steady-state pace, an exer­cise heart rate that is 5 to 10 bpm high­er than nor­mal. This is usu­al­ly accom­pa­nied by a rapid­ly increas­ing heart rate through­out the exer­cise ses­sion. 

An extreme­ly impor­tant fac­tor affect­ing exer­cise heart rate is tem­per­a­ture. Warmer tem­per­a­tures cause the heart to beat faster and place con­sid­er­able strain on the body. Sim­ply put, when it is hot, the body must move more blood to the skin to cool it while also main­tain­ing blood flow to the mus­cles. The only way to do both of these things is to increase over­all blood flow, which means that the heart must beat faster. Depend­ing on how fit you are and how hot it is, this might mean a heart rate that is 20 to 40 bpm high­er than nor­mal. Fluid intake is very impor­tant under these con­di­tions. Sweat­ing changes blood vol­ume, which even­tu­al­ly can cause car­diac prob­lems. The sim­plest and most effec­tive inter­ven­tion to address high tem­per­a­ture and heart rate is reg­u­lar fluid intake. This helps to pre­serve the blood volume and pre­vent the heart from beat­ing faster and faster. 

Anoth­er impor­tant fac­tor affect­ing exer­cise heart rate is age. In gen­er­al, MHR will decline by about 1 beat per year start­ing at around 20 years old. Inter­est­ing­ly, resting heart rate is not affect­ed. This is why the basic pre­dic­tion equa­tion of 220 – age has an age cor­rec­tion fac­tor. As a side note, this decrease in MHR often is used to explain decreas­es in VO2max and endurance per­for­mance with increas­ing age, because the num­ber of times the heart beats in a minute affects how much blood is moved and avail­able to the mus­cles. We have coached and test­ed thou­sands of athletes, and the gen­er­al trend is that ath­letes of the same age who pro­duce high­er heart rates often have high­er fit­ness scores. How­ev­er, your MHR is what it is, and you can­not change it. Don’t obsess over it.

A final fac­tor is gen­der. Recent stud­ies have sug­gest­ed a vari­a­tion in MHR between males and females. How­ev­er, the data are incon­clu­sive with the cal­cu­la­tions resulting in lowerMHRs for males ver­sus females of the same age, while anec­do­tal reports sug­gest that theMHRs are actu­al­ly high­er in males. In gen­er­al, females have small­er hearts and small­er mus­cles over­all than males. Both of these fac­tors would sup­port the con­clu­sion of a high­er MHR in females, cer­tain­ly at the same work­load. We have to con­clude that the jury is still out on the gen­der effect.

This excerpt is from the author of Heart Rate Train­ing. It's pub­lished with per­mis­sion of Human Kinet­ics, Roy Benson.

Sep 7, 2012

What would you pay to keep from getting sick as you get older? How about a daily walk or other exercise? A new study suggests that’s exactly the right investment. In the study, people who were the most fit at midlife lived longer and spent less time being sick than middle-aged folks who weren’t fit.

I am actually a better swimmer today than when I was 20, says Don, now 50.
I find the mental ability to overcome barriers can easily let me keep swimming further.
In recent years Don has trained millions of yards, most in cold open water below 70f with no wetsuit.

Probably the most difficult aspect of training as we get older is cross training to balance fitness and muscle response to prevent injury.


There are many benefits to staying physically active and exercising daily. Exercise
  • strengthens the heart and lungs
  • makes blood vessels more flexible and responsive, improving circulation
  • controls blood pressure and cholesterol
  • helps muscles burn sugar
  • reduces stress
  • decreases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, and other chronic conditions
  • preserves memory and prolongs life
Another important effect of exercise, one that doesn’t get enough attention, is that it improves fitness. Fitness is a measure of how well your heart, blood vessels, blood, and lungs work together to supply muscles with oxygen during sustained exercise. It also estimates how efficiently the muscles use the oxygen. Fitness also reflects your exercise capacity.
The most accurate fitness gauge requires complicated machinery and sensors to measure the maximum oxygen consumed during exercise. This is called VO2max. It can also be done using the kind of treadmill test that cardiologists commonly use to check for heart disease.

Fitness translates to better health later on

To explore the effect of fitness on health status in old age, researchers with the Cooper Institute in Dallas looked at information that had been gathered from more than 18,600 men and women who were part of another long-term health study. When the study began, their median age was 49. Fitness levels were measured using a type of treadmill test. Once a volunteer reached age 65, the researchers tracked his or her health with Medicare claims information.
Those who were the most fit at midlife were less likely over the course of the 26-year study to have died of coronary artery disease, Alzheimer’s, heart failure, diabetes and other chronic conditions, the researchers reported in Archives of Internal Medicine. Just over 2,400 people died during the study. In the last five years of their lives, the people who had been most fit at midlife spent about 50% less time with four or more chronic diseases than the least fit group and 34% more time with no or one chronic disease.

Find your fitness

How do you improve your fitness? Increase the amount and the intensity of exercise over time.
Exercise capacity is usually measured in metabolic equivalents (METs). One MET is the amount of oxygen used when sitting still or sleeping. Nonathletic, healthy, middle-aged men and women have peak exercise capacities in the range of 8 to 10 METs. Marathon runners can have values as high as 18 to 24.
But you don’t need an expensive exercise stress test to determine your fitness. Many fitness centers have exercise machines that show METs. Some home treadmills and elliptical trainers also show METs.
If you don’t have access to such a machine, or don’t like exercising on one, you can measure your current fitness with a simple walking test. All it takes is a one-mile track or level terrain that you know is one mile long. You’ll also need a stopwatch or watch with a second hand, paper, and a pen or pencil.
First, get yourself warmed up by walking briskly for a few minutes. Record the time and start walking as fast as you can. Push yourself, but don’t overdo it. When you cross the one-mile mark, record the time again. Calculate how many minutes it took to finish the mile.
Time in minutes to walk one mile
Fitness level50-year-old woman50-year-old man
Excellentunder 14:42under 13:24
Good14:42 to 15:3613:24 to 14:24
Average15:37 to 17:0014:25 to 15:12
Fair17:01 to 18:0615:13 to 16:30
Poormore than 18:06more than 16:30
Don’t be concerned about how low your METs are now or how slow you walked. What’s important is to improve them. You can do this with regular exercise that challenges your body. That means working hard enough to speed up your heartbeat and breathing.
The intensity of exercise and the amount of time spent exercising that are needed to improve fitness differ from person to person. The goal is to increase your METs or decrease the number of minutes it takes you walk one mile. Don’t rush it. Improving fitness starts within weeks but will continue for months.
Reprinted from: 

Sep 5, 2012

One Stroke at a Time Wins Nomination for Best Swimming Blog

"The nominations are an annual collection of the web’s most inspirational and thought-provoking blogs geared to teaching resilience through the educational systems of our country".

2012 Fascination Awards – Swimming Blogs
2012 fascination awards swimming blogs
I am fortunate to receive such a nomination, any nomination, for the blog which simply reflects a persons journey to conquer life-long dreams despite everyday obstacles, to perhaps touch someone, somehow to take that next step, just outside their comfort zone by taking "One Stroke at a Time".
This journey is actually a team effort even through I am usually the one in the water. My team and this recognition belongs to my family members, coaches, close friends and training partners that support me to swim in various places around the world, namely the big marathon swims such as the English Channel, Tampa Bay, Catalina, Lake Superior, Hudson River all 20 plus miles each and usually a 10-14 hour event. The real work happens every day in a lake or pool, not the big event. 

This nomination came as a nice surprise but the article I wrote wasn't. The article nominated was for recalling my post English Channel attempt routine physical stress test where we discovered I had arterial blockage and during the recovery period actually flat lined for 8 seconds. Good news it was likely the post recovery withdrawal of Beta Blockers that were used to suppress my heart rate too quickly and that's it. I guess being a swimmer with a normal resting heart rate of 42 or so plus these drugs doesn't mix well. Since then I have completed a post procedure stress and passed with flying colors and recently re-started strength training and will later in the fall be back to swimming regularly for next season.