Jun 142016

On June 12, 2016, I completed my 7th Great Chesapeake Bay Swim. My time was 2 hours and 36 minutes which is my best to date. I finished in 520th place among the 642 finishers. This does mean that a lot of swimmers finished ahead of me, but it also means I came in ahead of 122 others, all younger than myself. I finished first in my age group (75-79) although, full disclosure, there were only two of us in that age group. My Garmin Forerunner sport watch counted the 4,136 swimming strokes it took me to swim the 4.4 miles, and it estimated I burned 1,619 calories. My family made up this calorie deficit afterward with a barbecue dinner at the Red, Hot, & Blue place. The race was won by a 20-year-old man with a time of 1:24, which was a near record. The swimmers who swim across the bay that fast seem beyond mere mortals to me.

The weather was a good news/bad news affair. There were winds blowing 33 miles per hour, but the wind was blowing in the direction we were swimming. However, the wind was kicking up waves said officially to be 2-3 feet but felt to be more like 4-5 feet by those of us in the water. It was hard to get reliable breaths without taking in mouthfuls of water. I kept thinking of the expression "tossed around like a cork." But the water was a pleasant temperature and the tidal currents were less than usual. Other than the terrific wind and waves, it was a great day for a swim.

I'm addressing 5 questions I've been asked about swimming out in open water.

Why do you do this?

Sometime around the year 2003, I was sitting at a company event next to a man named John Jellen. I'd recently given up running and taken up lap swimming. Jellen had recently completed the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, I asked him many questions about the swim, and I began thinking I'd love to do this myself. Sometime after that, I was innocently driving across the Bay Bridge on a second Sunday in June, and had the astonishing view of all those swimmers far down below in the water. I wondered if I could ever do a thing like that. Then later I decided to try.  I began doing shorter open water swims, eventually qualified to enter the Bay Swim, and completed my first one in 2005. 

The effort and discipline of getting ready for this swim gives me great incentive to stay healthy and keep in shape throughout the year. I know that at my age I can't get out of shape during the year and hope to do the swim on short notice. So I swim all year round, but with increasing effort starting in January.

I've always been drawn to adventure, and open water swimming is certainly in that category. At my age and now with an artificial right hip, I can't run or play tennis or climb mountains as I used to. But I can swim, and swim a lot. I think swimming is the ideal form of exercise for my situation. The next Bay Swim motivates my regular swimming and fitness all year long.

What do you think about?  

This was an interesting question. The person who asked may have thought you get bored swimming for two and a half hours. That can be true of swimming long distance in a lap pool. For that I have a waterproof MP3 player and a variety of music.

But out in open water there is much to do and much to occupy the mind. You must sight ahead and navigate your course. In many cases that's a full-time job. But along with that you have to avoid collisions with other swimmers, and the traps and other dangers you encounter. In rough water, every stroke and breath is different, and you're constantly trying to better adjust. You try to get in sync with the waves, to be in harmony with the elements instead of struggling against them. But that struggle is a struggle.

In a long swim, you have to keep assessing your level of effort, and balancing the desire to swim fast with the need to stay within your ability. There's a debate inside your head. One voice says go all out, and the other says slow down and play it safe. You have to moderate that debate and then deal with the consequences.

There's also the matter of motivation. There is almost always some adversity to be overcome. And the adversity requires a mental as well as a physical effort.

In the first half mile of this year's swim, I went through a period of tough breathing. It seemed I was getting a mouth full of water with every breath, and unable to get any breath at all between some strokes. There was some sense of panic in my thinking then, and I had to fight that, make myself slow down, and stay calm and work through this.

I mainly have the Chesapeake Bay Bridge memorized now, and as I swim I decide on new objectives one after another. This breaks up the course into manageable chunks.  This, also, occupies the mind.

How does swimming like this compare to pool swimming?  

Pool and open water swimming both involve making your way through water, but there are many differences after that.

Lap swimming in a pool is very safe, set, and structured. You swim down a marked lane and back, in nice clear water, with a life guard watching over you. The water is calm and temperature controlled, and its purity is closely monitored. At the end of the lane you get a big push off the wall before starting back. Any time you want you can stop and rest. You have your water bottle right there if you decide on a drink. You can hang off the side of the pool and chat with friends.

Out in a lake or river or bay or ocean, almost none of those things exists. Unlike the pool, you never know what you may experience, and you have to adjust to unexpected and often variable circumstances. Pool swimming is like walking the dog around an accustomed neighborhood route. Open water swimming is like exploring strange new territory or climbing a hill where no trail exists. You must improvise and adapt to whatever you encounter. You are more on your own, and the miles come harder. But the reward will most likely be greater.

I don't mean to disparage pool swimming, or imply it's only good for conditioning. After many years of swimming laps, I still keep learning and finding new challenges. If I could only swim in a pool, I would keep swimming in the pool for sure.

I own and ride two bicycles: a road bike and a mountain bike. Both are bicycles. Both have 2 tires and a chain and seat and handlebars and gears and sprockets. But one bike is built for speed on a smooth surface. The other is heavier and slower with full suspension and lower gearing and built to handle rough terrain. The same conditioning is good for both types of riding, but the challenges and skill sets are different. Road riding is more even and predictable. Off-road biking is more variable, presenting a great variety of situations and requiring more improvisation. That, for me, is an appropriate analogy for swimming in the lap lanes as contrasted with swimming in open water.

How do you prepare to swim across the Chesapeake Bay?   

This is more about hard work and common sense than anything else. I try to eat healthy and keep in shape all year round. I put in many miles of laps in swimming pools all year round, but increasing in intensity as the event approaches. I average swimming 14-15 miles most weeks, including a lot of 3 mile swims and some 4's as well. I time every swim and keep track of my times and distances.

I do other things that benefit other parts of the body: hiking, bicycle riding, daily stretching and core-building exercises. If possible, I do shorter swims in open water in preparation. This year I did the Nanticoke River Swim (3 miles) about a month ahead of the Bay Swim. Since I swim in a wetsuit, I also do wetsuit training swims in the pool ahead of the swim. Wearing a wetsuit changes your balance in the water and affects your stroke, and it is good to adjust to this in practice ahead of time.

Two weeks before the swim I taper off. I cut back on mileage. The week before the swim this year I did a one mile swim on Monday, followed by half mile swims on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. But those half miles consisted of 100 yard sprints at the fastest pace I could do. And I rested a lot otherwise. I prepared mentally by going over the swim course and my lessons learned from previous years. And another thing, very important, is hydration. I drink water, water, water the day before and the morning of the swim. I once passed out from dehydration after a 3 mile swim, and learned a hard lesson.

What is so special about the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim?  

The Bay Swim is a premier event among U.S. open water swims. I would't claim it to be the greatest, but it is up there with the Manhattan Island and Alcatraz Island swims for its unique and scenic location. I have done swims in Lake Bled, Slovenia, and along the southern Turkish coast where the swimmer views are stunning. The Bay Swim is still inspiring to me, even after several crossings.

We start from the beach of Sandy Point State Park on the Maryland western shore, swim out and into the 100-yard-wide space between the spans of the towering Chesapeake Bay Bridge, swim across the bay between those spans, exit at the eastern shore, and finish at the Hemingway's Marina beach. 

There are 650 of us swimming. We're supported by over 700 volunteers. They're in boats, kayaks, busses, firetrucks, ambulances, food trucks, overhead in 2 helicopters. Volunteers are handling all sorts of support and logistical duties. The U.S. Coast guard has 18 ships lined across the bay on both sides, closing off all boat traffic. It's the only time in the year this major shipping lane to Baltimore Harbor is closed. If you take time to look while swimminbg, you can see the crowded bridge traffic high above you, or a gathering of cormorants around the base of a bridge support. You see assorted great blue herons and ospreys, and should you be lucky a nesting peregrine falcon. When you finally emerge from under the bridge after 4 miles of swimming, you see the finish another half mile straight ahead down the jetty. The protected water there is smoother, more like a pool. And a cheering crowd is there, and you get to race down this homestretch with whatever swimmers are finishing there around you. 

That is all good to great. And this event has been going on annually for 25 years now, and has a great history of supporting worthy, charitable causes, with over $2M donated thus far.

The first time I did this swim, I wasn't as prepared as I was last Sunday. I came out of the water exhausted and hurting. I remember saying to my wife: "I'm glad I did this once, but I don't think I'll ever try it again."


Long before the January registration deadline, I was eager to try it again. 

[Thoughts and comments are welcome. To read other articles on this subject, select the “Open Water Swim Events” category in the column on the right. To receive an email notification when new articles are posted here, click “Subscribe” in the menu bar above and enter your email address.]

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May 022016

I have previously written about the annual open water swimming event in Maryland’s Nanticoke River. The 2012 swim is here and lthe 2013 swim is here. I won’t repeat descriptions of the area and the event, but simply report on my experience there just yesterday – May 1, 2016.

Nanticoke scenic river on Maryland's Eastern Shore

Nanticoke scenic river on Maryland's Eastern Shore

To say that it was a cold and rainy day is putting it mildly. Rain was coming down almost constantly and alternating between light, medium, and heavy. The water temperature which is normally expected to be in the mid to upper 60’s was 55 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s 12.8 Celsius. Last summer I swam in my coldest water to date, which was 17 Celsius in an alpine river in Italy. I worried before the Nanticoke race that the water temperature would keep me from getting enough breath. It actually did not. The cold was painful at first, but as I got into the swim I was able to swim and breathe normally. 

I have dear swimming friends who literally love cold water and thrive on swimming in colder and colder environments. I will not be joining those ranks. This day after the swim, I am glad I was able to swim in such water, but I will not look forward to doing so again.

Also many of my cold water loving friends swim bare-skinned in bathing suits. I do not. At the Nanticoke I wore my Orca full length wetsuit, wetsuit insulated socks, and a Blue Seventy insulated cap under the race cap. If there was anything else I could have worn to help with the cold, I would have worn it.

Other than rain and cold water, conditions for the 2016 Nanticoke swim were quite favorable. The wind and waves were minimal, and the tidal currents were much less than in my previous swims there. The race was also less crowded, due perhaps to the expected cold temperatures. The 3-mile portion of the event, my group, had only 50 participants.

I swam well and felt I had done about as good as I am capable of. My time was an hour and forty three minutes, an average of 34 minutes per mile. I placed 37th out of the 50 finishers. 

I had hoped for a time of an hour and a half. I can swim 3 miles in that time doing laps in the pool. But there is a considerable difference between swimming in open water and swimming laps in the pool. I have been thinking about the differences that would make my time in the river slower than my expected time in the pool. I have several thoughts about the question.

(1) In the pool you get a big breath and strong push off the wall every 25 yards or meters. You can never do sustained swimming as fast as you come off the wall at the ends of the lane. There is no pushing off out in a lake or river or ocean. (2) In the pool you are swimming an exact distance following a marked lane. In open water, despite your best effort to sight ahead and stay on course, you wander and add distance. (3) In the pool your time ends when you finish the last lap, but in most open water swim events (like Nanticoke), you have to haul yourself out of the water onto a beach, get your footing, and walk/run to a finish line and timing mat, adding additional time. (4) Then, of course, the water temperature in a pool is controlled and kept at an optimal temperature. I can only assume there is some physical handicap to swimming in 55 degree water as opposed to 78 or so degrees. 

Somewhere there must be scientific studies with data on this question, but I have yet to see them. For now, these points comprise my excuses for swimming at a 34 minute pace instead of a 30 minute pace. I would be interested in other thoughts, experiences, observations, or research on the matter.

I am now looking forward to participating in my seventh Great Chesapeake Bay Swim event on Sunday, June 12th. The water should be warmer.

[Thoughts and comments are welcome. To read other articles on this subject, select the “Open Water Swim Events” category in the column on the right. To receive an email notification when new articles are posted here, click “Subscribe” in the menu bar above and enter your email address.]

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Jun 092014

Today was my fourth completion of 4.4 mile Great Chesapeake Bay Swim. I’ve described this event is previous articles and won’t repeat the details here, except to say that it continues to be, for me, a thrilling and satisfying thing to do.

Other people do not always understand this.

Bay Swim rescue boat with swimmerI came out of the water near a woman who told me that she thought she may have saved someone’s life during the swim. A man near her was suddenly in distress and she motioned for help and assisted in getting him into the boat. This event has something like 80 boats standing by to assist if needed, so help is never far away from anyone. Sadly, we later learned that the swimmer’s distress was due to a heart attack and despite the emergency responders’ efforts he was dead on arrival at the hospital.

Robert Matysek from Bay SwimsHis name was Robert Matysek and he was 58 years old. A native of nearby Baltimore, he came from his home in South Carolina to attempt this swim for the 20th time. Several of his family members were also swimming. His family testified that “This weekend was always like Christmas, Fourth of July, and his birthday all rolled into one. He passed doing one of the things he truly loved.”

I was reminded of my East Tennessee hometown days. One of our local physicians loved the hike to Mt. LeConte in the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He had a ritual of making this hike on New Year’s Day with friends and family members. He had done is for years, when one year he had a heart attack and died on the trail. “He passed doing one of the things he truly loved.”

A high school classmate of mine started and owned a large and successful business. But his passion is hiking and climbing mountains in the Sierras. That is the thing he truly loves.

A few weeks ago I did an open water swim across the Tred Avon River from Oxford, Maryland. The distance across the river was only a mile. But “only” is a relative term. As the group of us were walking along the street in Oxford to begin the swim, we passed some local residents standing in a yard and eyeing us curiously. One of them solemnly pronounced: “You people are crazy.”

“Crazy” is also relative. Diana Nyad, who swam from Cuba to Florida, sounds crazy to some. NFL linebackers and Navy Seals and skydivers and Mt. Everest climbers are only a few of those whose passions are far out of line with those of “normal” people. Just riding a motorcycle is judged to be crazy in some estimations. Riding one is okay with others, but riding without a helmet is not, or riding one up steep rocky hillsides is crazy. All is relative, and we each make up our own minds about adjusting the balance of risk and reward.

I do take risks, but not unmeasured ones. I drive my car carefully and avoid crazy drivers if I can. I get health checkups. I do not want my life ended by doing something stupid if I can help it. I started preparing myself to swim across the Chesapeake Bay in early January and kept at it religiously. Robert Matysek had also prepared, being a veteran of this event. He had completed a demanding open water swim in South Carolina just weeks before.

The bay swim was tough for me this year, tough as always. It took me almost three hours to finish. The waves kept pounding in my face and I swallowed no telling how much bay water. Toward the end, where you have to turn directly toward the incoming tide flow I could barely make progress to get past the bridge and around the jetty to the finish. I finished in position 551 out of the 628 of us who started.

I may never do better than this, but I will likely keep trying.  It’s like Christmas and July 4th and my birthday all rolled into one.

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Sep 172013

Continuing to pursue my passion for open water swimming, I will be joining a group of eleven swimmers for a week of swimming in Sardinia starting this Saturday September 21st.

Sardinia swim mapThe northern tip of Sardinia on the mainland Italy side has an archipelago called La Maddalena. Its largest island and city share the same name, and this will be our headquarters. Each day we will be going out to swim to and from and around the various islands nearby. We will have local guides and escort boats. We will be swimming about 13 miles total during the week. Needless to say, I am looking forward to this adventure.

The Mediterranean Sea is said to be clear and teeming with sea life around these islands. I have purchased a small waterproof camera to carry on some of the swims and hopefully get some interesting shots from a swimmer perspective, as well as underwater.  Expect a future post describing this swimming trek.

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Jun 102013

The 2013 Great Chesapeake Bay Swim was held for the 22nd consecutive time yesterday, despite threatening weather and weather-related complications. Because of recent storms and flood runoff, the county health department had issued a water quality advisory which apparently caused registered 34 swimmers to stay home.  616 of us were not deterred, and 572 completed the swim. Due mainly to the strong  currents, 44 of the starting swimmers were not able to finish the 4.4 miles. These get picked up by the attending power boats and transported to the finish. Despite the qualifications needed to get into the event, there are always a few swimmers who start out and then pull out, but 44 was an unusually large number. My finishing time of 3 hours and 4 minutes was disappointing, although it was enough to win my age group.  It was 24 minutes slower than my time last year, which I would not have guessed because the swim felt strong and fast to me.

I’ve thought a lot about the 44 swimmers who did not complete the swim. There are no casual entries in the bay swim. Each of these people made a decision to enter back in December. They were picked from a lottery with 1200 entries. In January they were notified that they were eligible for the swim and they paid a $250 entry fee which was non-refundable after April 15. We can assume that for the prior months they had trained hard to be ready for this event, putting in countless miles and pushing to increase their speed and endurance. And we can assume that no swimmer stands on the Sandy Point beach waiting for the starting gun but planning to just swim out for part of the distance and then signal to be picked up and have a boat ride to the far shore. No, every swimmer fiercely intends to complete the 4.4 miles, and on this day a large number were unable to make it.

bay bridge swim logoThe main challenge I personally encountered was the wind blowing from the south. I am one of those freestyle swimmers who breathe on the right side after every stroke. In the past I have tried to learn bilateral breathing, but have never succeeded. In yesterday’s swim there were waves coming toward my face every time I tried to get a breath. Often I got a mouthful of water instead of a breath. I began needing to roll further toward my left side and point my face more upward in order to breath reliably.  This took extra effort and modifying my stroke. I assume this and the currents accounted for my slower overall time.

In Tennessee where I was raised, we had an expression for something that produced a mixture of pleasure and pain. We said that it “hurt good.” Even after sleeping nearly 12 hours last night, every bone and muscle seemed to complain loudly this morning. I groaned every time I moved. And yet it was satisfying because it represented a good effort. It hurt good.

Chesapeake Bay BridgeThis was my 4th Chesapeake Bay Swim. Although familiar, it is still an extraordinary event. I would even say inspiring. Some 700 volunteers run the event to perfection. On the water there are 25 Coast Guard vessels, another 55 private power boats, and some 50 kayaks all keeping watch and standing by to help if needed. We swimmers get an awesome view of the majestic bay bridge overhead. The welcoming crowd on the far shore lifts you up. Everyone is so friendly and supportive.

After I was called up for my age group award, a young man congratulated me and told me he was much more impressed with the accomplishment of the older swimmers than with those his own age.

I am definitely an older swimmer, aged 76 the day of the swim.

Why would someone my age want to swim across the Chesapeake Bay?  Hey, some people my age are settled retirement centers, sitting around and taking life easy, watching daytime TV and playing cards. 

I had a dear professor friend named Clyde Francisco. Clyde loved to play golf. One day we were playing with friends on a course that was part of a gated retirement community. We were walking down the fairway when chimes started playing, of all things, “Nearer my God to Thee.” Clyde looked at me and I looked at him. There was a sarcastic twinkle in his eye and a little smile playing around his lips. And he said to me, seriously, “You know, Ed, this life may be good for some people, but not for me. I want to be out doing things in the real world and not cooped up with a bunch of old people just passing the time.”

There’s another Tennessee saying for this. “I’d rather burn out than rust out.”

My sentiments exactly. 

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Jun 032013

The Bay Swim is just a week away now. I am in the tapering stage of preparation.  Last week I swam 6 miles instead of the usual 8.  This week I will do several short swims just to stay in rhythm and keep the feel of the water and my wetsuit. The Bay Swim starts two hours earlier this year. We get away at 8am instead of 10. I like the earlier start, as the winds tend to be calmer then. My main hope for the day is calm winds and waves. If there has to be wind, let it be from the west and not in our faces from the east.

I have tried a different training routine this year.  I started intensive training just 4 months ago instead of 6, and I have been putting in 8 mile weeks instead of 10. But I have also been doing more hard sprints and longer distance swims.  Most weeks I only swam 3 times, but I did many 3-mile swims and lots of intervals.  A month ago I began doing 4-mile swims, usually 2 per week.  I have been working harder on speed and having some success. Hopefully I am ready.

Mental preparation is also important, I think. Since we mainly swim between the spans of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, I have continued to study the bridge and memorize it. I screen captured it from overhead using Google Earth, and marked the 4.4 miles in sections relative to the bridge. I think it helps to divide the swim into sections and to be able to follow my progress and anticipate the distances remaining. (click on the image to enlarge)

The first mile goes from the beach out and under the north span and down to the big curve where the bridges are straight for the rest of the way. The second mile goes across the main shipping channel to the second huge pillar that holds up the highest point of the roadways above. The third mile takes us to the second and lower shipping channel. There begins the fourth mile where we swim along the seemingly endless smaller pillars and watch the cars getting lower and lower overhead. Near the eastern shore we exit on the south side and swim the last tenths of a mile to the finish.

This is the swimmer's view from about mile 3 and looking back to where we came from. You can see the big curve where mile 2 begins in the far distance, and closer on the two huge masonry pillars on the right side. I doubt that I will stop and turn around to take this view, but the views you get all along the way are pretty awesome, as I hope the picture shows.

Reading on the subject of "tapering" in preparation for endurance events is interesting. There is general agreement that tapering is beneficial, but the specific formulas vary greatly. I am being more aggressive about tapering this year. Aggressive meaning I am taking fewer days off during the final week and pushing harder when I do swim.  I am swimming quarter miles (only, despite the temptation to do more) but pushing for speed.  Also I am swimming in my wetsuit in an outdoor 50 meter pool. I expect to do these swims Monday through Friday. After this I will focus on resting and hydrating and trust the process.

Expect a full report on the 2013 swim in about a week.

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May 182013

It is not entirely clear that human beings were intended to swim in water. Compared to fish and birds and other swimming animals, we are slow and very limited. Still we, and I, keep trying. Doctors tell us it's great exercise. As a former runner, I know it beats pounding the pavement with my feet, ankles, knees, and hips. 

The earth is covered with a lot of unfrozen water where swimming can take place. There are oceans, bays, rivers, and lakes abundant. But for most of us, swimming takes place in artificial man-made pools filled with clean, filtered water and with life guards watching. There are well marked swim lanes of measured distances and timing clocks to consult. There is a uniformity, a sameness, about swimming in these places, whether indoors or outdoors. I know that in a pool with 25 meter lanes, I need to do 64 lengths, 32 laps, to make a mile. There is no risk of getting lost or off course. Just follow the black line on the bottom of the pool. 

But swimming in the lakes and rivers and oceans is a different matter. And swimming in a tidal river like the Nanticoke on the Eastern Shore of Maryland is especially so. If this account of the 2013 swim is of interest, do read my account of the same Nanticoke swim event from 2012.

As before, the Nanticoke swim begins at a small beach near the marina and starts out along a sea wall to the river. The course is triangular and you swim counter clockwise, staying to the outside of each marker buoy at the corners. We came expecting a three mile swim, which requires swimming around the triangle twice. But when the Coast Guard arrived, they announced that small craft warnings had been posted because of rough conditions which would make swimming difficult if not dangerous. A settlement was negotiated with race officials to allow the swim to go on, but shortened to two miles. Two miles meant swimming out and around the triangle once, and then back to the finish. It also defined a course with five legs which I have numbered on the graphic. 

Nanticoke River Swim 2013 diagramThe first leg was in water mostly protected from the winds and river current. The challenges included starting out with the mass of swimmers in a small space and trying to get use to the unusually cold water, about 61 degrees. The cold water made it hard to breath, and I kept running into other swimmers or having them run into me. I arrived at the first buoy to begin the second leg still struggling.

The second leg was by far the hardest. There was some tidal current in our favor but a terrific wind and breaking waves in our face. Normally in open water you want to swim with your head down as you would in the pool, raising up to check your position about every 6-8 strokes. When I tried to swim like this there were two problems: I was still not getting enough breath, and often times when I tried to breath I got hit in the face by a wave and swallowed salt water instead of breathing air. This put me even further in breathing deficit.  I ended up swimming most of the second leg doing a survival breast stroke and holding my head up to try and anticipate the large waves coming toward me. I knew I was moving slowly but it was the best I could do. I looked forward to the turn into leg three where we would at least be swimming cross-wind and somewhat down wind as well.

I have experienced the effects of wind as both a runner, a swimmer, and a bicyclist. The effects are significant in each of these sports.  One might assume that the wind is more of a factor in biking or running, since you are upright and more exposed to it. One might assume that a swimmer, whose body is mainly beneath the water, would be largely unaffected. This is not the case, and the game changer is the force of moving water. In open water swimming, the wind moves the water and you must deal with that force. If the waves are coming directly toward you and breaking in white caps, water hits you head on and tries to drive you backward. On the other hand, if you are lucky enough to have the wind at your back, and you time your strokes just right, you can actually get a "ride" off of the breaking waves, somewhat like body surfing. If waves are coming from the right and you breath on that side as most of us do, you are facing the waves as you search for a quick breath.  There is much to consider and adjust to in terms of the wind.

I finally made the turn and sighted toward the next buoy far out in the river. Indeed, I was now able to swim normally. But the river had another surprise in store. When I got my next sighting of the buoy it was far to my right.  I was heading straight down the river, parallel to the shore. I corrected and swam more. The next time I sighted the same thing had happened.  I corrected even more and swam harder. What I and other swimmers did not know was that the tidal current was flowing downstream and not upstream in this area. Some later called it a whirlpool. I know I was carried far off a straight course on this leg, but finally I rounded the marker, wondering what lay in store as we headed cross-river toward the finish.

It was not as bad as I feared. I feared that this unpredictable tide would be pushing me off course. But I was able to take a bearing that helped greatly. I sighted a line from an anchored sailboat to some distant houses beyond it.  The sailboat was very close to where I needed to go.  I knew if I stayed on the course of this alignment, I would be heading straight.  This worked out well, and I was able to finish the course rather strongly, probably at about a 30 minute per mile pace. However, my total time for the two miles was an hour and 21 minutes.

I would have hoped to complete this course in an hour or less. Even under these conditions, some younger and stronger swimmers completed in 45 minutes. I was grudgingly happy to have completed it at all. The next day I found myself replaying the course and the conditions and wishing I could do it over and do it better.

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Jan 082013

Yesterday I got welcome news. My entry into the lottery for the 2013 Chesapeake Bay Swim was drawn and I am now registered for the swim on Sunday June 9th. Some 1200 of us entered the lottery, and about 700 of us were drawn and allowed to register. This will be my fourth bay swim event. Review my experiences with the 2012 swim here.

bay swim startI ran across some pictures from previous swims.  The upper one shows a typical start from the beach at Sandy Point State Park on the western side of the bay. Do not imagine that I'm one of the mass of bodies surging ahead in the water.  I'm one of those in the back with arms folded, waiting for the crowd to thin out!

The lower picture shows a typical finish from the small beach at Hemingway's Marina on the eastern side of the bay. In between this and the start is 4.4 miles of water and, for me, over two and a half hours of navigating and swimming. In open water swimming, navigation assumes an all-important role, especially given the shifting tides and currents you experience during this crossing.

The start and finish beaches are both outside the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, BaySwim_061310_swimmersbridge2although most of the swimming takes place inside the two great bridge spans.

I am trying a somewhat different training strategy for this year's swim. Last year I started training in December for the June swim. I set a goal of swimming ten miles a week and pretty much kept with it.  I typically set the clock for 4:50 a.m. and was in the water at 6:00.  There was nothing wrong with this approach, but this year I am trying something different.

This year I plan to swim less miles but to do more intensive speed workouts and dry land exercises. I am doing 100 meter sprints as fast as I can go, resting 60 seconds, and then going again.  I am aiming to do a couple of miles worth of these a week, plus a variety of strength training for swimmers.  I may only put in 7 miles or so of swimming a week, but I think this may work well.

I'll know after June the 9th.

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Jul 022012

Every open water swim is different from every other. The factors that make this so include the setting, the weather, the event, and the varying condition of the swimmer. The setting for my June 24th swim in Lake Chatuge was idyllic. A meandering mountain lake surrounded by natural beauty and blessed by clean water and almost perfect weather. A well run event with only 114 swimmers, and those a mix of fast and leisurely paces. I was mostly in good condition for the five kilometer race and finished strongly with energy to spare. Unknown to my strong finish, however, I had failed to hydrate properly for this event and paid penalty which I’ll describe shortly. Continue reading »

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Jun 202012

The first time I entered and finished the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim (2005) I came out of the water and said "I'm glad I did this once but I never want to do it again." Two years later I wanted to do it again and did. And now, five years later, I have done it for the third time. This year, three men were recognized who have done it 25 years in a row. Multiple swims are the exception, however. Sixty percent of those who complete the bay swim only do it once. Continue reading »

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