Race Report: Tampa Bay Marathon Swim

by Evan Morrison. 27 April 2011.


Part 1: “Ultra”

If 10K is a “marathon swim,” what is 24 miles?

First, it’s different physiologically. In a 2-2.5 hour 10K, you’re still within the range of your pre-race glycogen stores (perhaps topped off with a couple mid-race feedings). Which means it’s possible to swim at near-threshold pace for the entire swim. In a 24-mile swim, you burn through not only your entire cache of muscle glycogen (perhaps 1,500 calories), but you’re burning through more calories per hour than you can possibly consume. Which means you must start metabolizing fat - a plentiful but less rapidly mobilized energy source - and swim at a substantially slower pace.

Even more important, a 24-mile swim is different psychologically. I’m thinking of two big issues here. First, failure is a distinct possibility, even for the best swimmers. Seasickness, digestive problems, hypothermia, tide changes - all can potentially end a swim. DNF’s happen in 10K’s, but as long as you’re a reasonably good swimmer and the water isn’t below about 16C, they’re pretty rare. In a 24-mile swim, you’re truly at the mercy of the swimming gods, no matter who you are.

A swim this long is almost inevitably a struggle. There will be dark phases, and you can’t avoid them. You’re standing on the beach before the start, staring out at the water, and you know what’s coming. Maybe not the specifics of it… but you know there will be pain and doubt and frustration and possibly thoughts of giving up - but that you must try to push through them - to endure. This simply isn’t comparable to a 4-5 loop 10K (not to mention any pool race).

In the running world, distances longer than marathons are called “ultra.” But I’m not sure that communicates the quantum leap of going from 10Ks or a river-assisted 10-mile swim… to 24 miles.

Part 2: The Team

Without a team, a 24-mile swim doesn’t happen. Simple as that. And the swim’s success - it’s efficiency - depends on the quality of the team. Long swims are isolating experiences: A swimmer and his thoughts. But there’s an irony: The longer the swim, the more you utterly depend on your support team.

So any discussion of my experience in Tampa Bay must begin with my team.

The Team (L-R): Kathy, Carl, Pat, Michael, Kim... Frankland Bridge in the distance. (Photo Credit: Distance Matters)

It’s tough to overstate how fortunate I was.

I’m grateful to them all.

Part 3: The Data

A few stats (some actual, some approximate):

GPS Track

Credit my boat pilot for that incredibly true line. More on him later.

Re: the detours at each bridge, that’s because certain portions of those bridges are too low for the boat to pass under. Specifically, the parts crossing over the shortest path to the finish. So the boat went around to find higher clearance, while my kayaker and I went under.

Splits

First, the splits. Splits, of course, are in the form of [time / distance]. I got times from the GPS timestamps, and I got distances by using mapping software to calculate the length of each straight-line segment in the course taken by our excellent pilot. Here are the results:

time location total time total dist split time split dist pace
7:17 start 0:00   - - -
8:00 14 St S 0:43 1.7 miles 0:43 1.7 miles 25.6 min/mile
8:20 Bay Vista Rec Ctr 1:03 2.5 0:20 0.8 25.2
8:51 turning North 1:34 3.8 0:31 1.3 24.0
9:29 Lewis Blvd, Coq.Key 2:12 5.5 0:38 1.7 22.3
10:47 St. Pete Pier 3:30 8.9 1:18 3.4 22.9
11:57 Venetian Isles 4:40 11.8 1:10 2.9 24.0
12:45 Weedon Island 5:28 13.6 0:48 1.8 26.7
13:54 Gandy Bridge 6:37 16.3 1:09 2.7 25.5
15:14 Frankland Bridge 7:57 19.7 1:20 3.4 23.3
16:16 finish 8:59 22.4 1:02 2.7 23.1

Lots of interesting stuff here! I could have told you:

  1. I was absolutely flying through about the St. Petersburg Pier - though my actual progress was slowed in the first 4 miles by a 12-knot headwind and relentless chop.
  2. The segment from St. Pete Pier to the Gandy was tough, both physically and mentally. There’s nothing to see and you think the bridge will never come. This is where the demons rise up from the depths (well, actually Tampa Bay is pretty shallow) - and you must beat them back!
  3. I got a second wind after the Gandy, and another one after the Frankland. Also the flood tide was nearing its apex around this time.

I could have told you all these things, but I don’t need to - it’s all there in the data.

Speaking of the flood tide, here’s what the current looked like at the Frankland Bridge that day:

Current at Frankland Bridge. Max flood: 0.23 knots, 5:08pm

So the flood tide maxed out at 5:08pm - 52 minutes after I finished. Those under the bridge at that point were getting a 0.23 knot push - not much, but better than nothing (about 7 meters per minute).

The data also tell you things you didn’t know. For example, it seems we managed to shave 1.6 miles off the official length of the course. Did I mention my pilot is a genius?

Stroke count. I was really proud of this. Surely, I was pulling less water in the latter part of the race, but in open water I prefer to sacrifice a little efficiency in favor of maintaining rhythm. 

Strokes per minute

Nutrition & Hydration. Nailed it. 311 calories and 36oz of fluids per hour. Maxim at the :20 and :40; Perpetuem at the hour. Advil at 5:20 and 7:40.

Down-time. Because I wasn’t in a close race, I took pretty leisurely feeds - especially in the dark phase between St. Pete and the Gandy. It was comforting to exchange a few words with Kathy. I didn’t ask Kim to time my feeds, but she estimates I averaged about 30 seconds per. Over 26 feeds, that’s 13 minutes of down-time. If I reduced my feeds to 10 seconds, I’d save 8 minutes, 40 seconds - or about 600m of swimming. In a race like MIMS, that could be decisive.

Part 4: Hail of Bullets

20 minutes at a time. In marathon swimming as in life, projects that seem impossibly large can be reduced to a series of smaller, achievable tasks. Don’t think about swimming for 9 hours; think about swimming for 20 minutes - and then rewarding yourself with a tasty drink. Rinse, repeat. My feeds were refueling stops (104 calories each), but also a destination - something to look forward to.

Discomfort maintenance. A 24-mile swim is bad enough. Sunburn, chafing, saltwater mouth, and even seasickness - all are avoidable problems. The first three may not be swim-enders, but they certainly affect how you’ll feel the next day. Sunscreen, grease, mouthwash, and ginger - they are your friends.

Coppertone and Banana Boat probably won’t cut it. It doesn’t matter if it’s SPF 100 if it’s only waterproof for 2 hours. I used Solrx (8-hour waterproof) and it worked like a charm. Don’t forget the bottoms of your feet!

And Body Glide definitely won’t cut it (for 2+ hour swims). I use vaseline and lanolin in a 50/50 mixture.

Marine life. I heard reports of dolphins, but alas, I wasn’t so lucky. I had fish brush up against my legs every so often - harmless but definitely startling. And I had an unfortunate dust-up with a bed of oysters. Rounding Pinellas Point we were surprised by some sudden shallows. I took a quick glance at my lacerated hand… and hoped the sharks wouldn’t be next.

A few minutes before the start (Photo Credit: Distance Matters)
Video from 15 minutes after the start.

Past St. Pete - approaching the dark phase.

Flavia Zappa. Truly, the story of the day. She’s entered TBMS as a solo for the past seven years. 2005 - DNF at the Pier (7 hours). 2006 - DNF between the bridges. 2007 - another DNF. 2008 - DNF at the Pier. 2009 - DNF after rounding the Point. 2010 - DNF at the Gandy (12 hours).

2011 - finished in 15:10. A new course record for endurance! That’s just incredible, folks. Is there anything more important in marathon swimming than persistence and stubbornness? She’s got ‘em in spades. Congrats, Flavia!

Part 5: Wrap-Up

A few good links:

Thanks to Ron and Rebecca Collins for organizing a memorable weekend.

Coming up in 7 weeks: MIMS.

Did that really just happen? (Photo Credit: Distance Matters)

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Posted in: swim reports Tags: Tampa Bay

Comments

On 2011-04-24 18:25:22, Bo Martin said:
AWESOME!!!! I'll set my goal that tomorrow morning at practice all of my 100 splits will be 1:16 or better :-) Bo

On 2011-04-25 07:15:01, Katie said:
YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Great job! Can't wait to see the full report.

On 2011-04-25 09:03:39, Barton Cobb said:
Congratulations on your win Saturday - great swim!

On 2011-04-25 12:56:42, Mark said:
Congrats on the finish and win!

On 2011-04-25 13:30:30, Bob Needham said:
Great swim Evan. I was far back in the field, but my goal was to finish and I am thrilled to have succeeded. When is your Catalina date? I go on 9/19. Bob PS: I am assuming you estimated the water temperature because I swam through water that was 86 - 88 in the afternoon.

On 2011-04-25 14:10:01, Ron Collins said:
Terrific swim, Evan. You're now in a great position to have an awesome year! Very David Barraesque!!!

On 2011-04-25 14:44:07, Gords said:
Congratulations Evan, not only finish, but in 8:59? That is fantastic! Way to go. I bet your totally high right now. Enjoy it.

On 2011-04-25 15:08:47, John Hobson said:
Evan - Congratulations !! I was there to witness you exiting the water, and you were kind enough to visit with me a while. What a GREAT accomplishment. All the best for a great year !! John Hobson

On 2011-04-25 17:55:38, Evan said:
Bo, it's a good way to practice mental arithmetic, too!

On 2011-04-25 18:52:07, Evan said:
Bob - I'm thrilled for you! That swim is an absolute beast. My Catalina date is 8/24 (into the 25th). 80F was just what I heard at the start. I'm sure it warmed a bit during the day. The only part I felt was much more than 82 (during my swim, at least) was in the last couple hundred yards before the finish.

On 2011-04-25 19:33:03, Erik said:
Congratulations! I look forward to reading more about your training and future swims.

On 2011-04-25 20:07:30, Anthony McCarley said:
Congratulations on a great swim. It was a pleasure to meet you. Good luck with the rest of your swims this year.

On 2011-04-25 20:07:50, Swim Jim said:
Sweet swim Evan. I have to believe your arms felt like they were going to fall off. Nice to break the nine hour barrier too. I mentioned to our lane this morning about beginning to train for next year's 24 mile swim...no takers yet. Great swim! Jim R.

On 2011-04-25 21:03:05, Evan said:
Hi John - I enjoyed our chat on the beach. I wish you the best with your 25K in Noblesville... I may have been there myself if not for the Manhattan swim on the same day!

On 2011-04-25 21:06:00, Evan said:
Anthony, I was busy loading the boat and applying sunscreen most of the morning, so those few minutes on the beach right before the start were about the only calm & peace I had the whole time. Pleasure to meet you too.

On 2011-04-25 21:07:32, Evan said:
Jim, thanks very much. My arms still feel like they will fall off, even 2 days later.

On 2011-04-25 21:09:28, Evan said:
Thanks Erik!

On 2011-04-25 21:10:59, Evan said:
Thanks Katie... soon.

On 2011-04-25 21:11:16, Evan said:
Ron – I was certainly inspired by DB’s incredible year. Thanks again for all your work.

On 2011-04-25 21:11:25, Evan said:
Bart – Thanks, and good seeing you again. I’ll follow your E.C. blog with interest.

On 2011-04-25 21:11:33, Evan said:
Gords – hey! Yeah, I’m happy about it. Still, plenty of room for improvement before Manhattan.

On 2011-04-25 21:12:24, Evan said:
Thanks Mark. See you at UIC once I can lift my arms again.

On 2011-04-25 22:22:42, Michelle Nelson said:
AMAZING swim--super fast!!! Enjoy some recovery time:)

On 2011-04-26 05:53:29, Susie said:
Evan Almighty indeed! What a physical accomplishment but more impressed with mental fortitude it took to finish! Congrats! Susan

On 2011-04-26 17:35:27, Evan said:
Thanks Michelle! You bet I have been. I love the picture I saw of you at the finish - so happy.

On 2011-04-26 17:37:04, Evan said:
Susan, thanks. It took a fair bit of both, but the mental aspect was definitely foremost.

On 2011-04-27 06:04:47, Anthony McCarley said:
Hope I didn't wreck your calm and peace. It helped me somehow. Thanks. I was happy to finish. I enjoy your blog. Did you have a boat lined up for Boston Light? Do you know a captain that you can recommend?

On 2011-04-27 08:44:45, Evan said:
Anthony - not at all! It helped me too. Congrats on your finish. I actually haven't done Boston Light before, and sadly I can't do it this year either. I imagine Greg or Elaine could provide a few suggestions. Good luck - that will be an incredible swim!

On 2011-04-27 20:43:33, Gords said:
Nice stats Evan. Where did you get the lanolin?

On 2011-04-27 21:36:15, d barra said:
great report evan! gords, i get tubs of anhydrous lanolin from my pharmacy... they are special order. one issue regarding the TI comment though: i have had hours and hours of conversations and practice with terry about this very subject, and the general consensus is, and always was, that the optimal stroke length and rate is not a static # but should be determined by many factors, not the least of which are pain and fatigue management. other factors that effect my stroke rate are water temp and other swimmers near by... i tend to lower my stroke rate when i'm swimming close to other people. keep up the good work, and i'll see you in june!

On 2011-04-27 21:57:51, chris robinson said:
Can I just say that it e3ncourages me to know that someone in my neighborhood can even swim this distance? At 41, I just completed my beginner swim class at Southside YMCA last week. Am hoping to work myself up to a mile by...some point this year. To see someone still able to stand after doing 22 is an inspiration to me. I literally cannot swim a lap without rest. I've got a long way to go. But I'll chunk it down and keep at it. I mean, you can't possibly be more than 22 times the man that I am can you? LOL! Just a great post.

On 2011-04-27 22:16:15, Evan said:
This is what I buy. Then I get one of those little 3.5oz vaseline containers, scoop out half of the vaseline & put it aside. Then I fill the container with lanolin and mix with a spoon. 3.5oz turns out to be almost exactly enough to lube the important parts for one race. If you get it on your hands accidentally, soap doesn't work. Paper towels (or real towels) do, however.

On 2011-04-27 22:41:26, Evan said:
DB - thanks for the comment. I am no TI scholar by any means. I only read Terry's blog, and I realize it's easy to take something out of context (even unintentionally) and misread the intent. The post I linked to seemed to glorify stroke length while relegating stroke rate to an "emotional...overpowering instinct" that should be overcome with the "rational" choice of maintaining length. My own sense is that this is mostly true in the pool, but less true in open water - and completely inapplicable in rough water. I think stroke rate is, in fact, essential in rough water. Perhaps I'm misreading Terry? I know you know him well and have discussed these issues. In any case, I'd love to hear more.

On 2011-04-27 22:49:15, Evan said:
PS. I removed the snark in the original post, because it was unfair.

On 2011-04-27 22:59:39, Evan said:
Chris, thanks for the comment! If you are on the south side you should come join us at Promontory Point. 6am weekdays, 7am weekends. We meet at the ladders on the southeast edge of the Point. Lots of free parking nearby. Swimmers of all abilities. It's just a beautiful place to swim. Once the water temp is into the high 50's there will be people there every morning.

On 2011-04-27 23:07:01, david b said:
just briefly: speed = SL x SR last year, i worked on getting my SR up (for years i was between 55 and 60) mainly to generate some heat early on and loosen up the muscles. i managed to get comfortable at a rate of 72. obviously, i had to sacrifice some SL, but i felt the lighter touch worked well for an alternate breathing pattern. for the EC, my pilot requested that i swim on the left side of the boat. i was glad that i could maintain a breathing pattern/ stroke rate the let me hold my position to the boat easily. SR is the most important stat for my crew. below 60, and they know to keep a close eye..... i'm rambling.... we'll have to hang out some time.

On 2011-04-28 06:47:40, Josh said:
Evan, I've been reading about your recent swim, what an inspiration, getting lots of good info from your posts . I have my own 24 mile swim across lake erie for charity coming up this summer (2nd time). I would like to talk to you sometime and bounce some ideas off you and compare stories. thanks josh

On 2011-04-28 10:04:56, Evan said:
Yes. I guess what I'm wondering is how that's compatible with what Terry wrote about the Bernard vs. Lezak race. We'll hang out soon.

On 2011-04-28 10:24:26, Evan said:
Josh - That's an impressive swim! I have a buddy who swam at Pitt... though given your ages I don't think you overlapped. Happy to chat - I'll shoot you an email.

On 2011-04-28 12:32:33, Katie said:
I think the black and white language in TL's post obscures his overall message. -In the final 50M, Bernard took 46 strokes at about .55 seconds per stroke. 46 * .552173913 = 25.4 -Lezak took 34 strokes at .72 seconds per stroke. 34 * .72 = 24.5 If Bernard had maintained a stroke rate of .55 seconds per stroke and cut his stroke count by 2, he would have beaten Lezak even though he took 10 extra strokes. A slightly slower stroke rate early in the race might have saved him the energy he would have needed to do that. 44 * .55 = 24.2 I am confident that Terry Laughlin understands this. I think the "always use a longer stroke" language is directed more at beginning/intermediate swimmers than at swim gods such as yourself ;)

On 2011-04-28 13:29:45, Ron Collins said:
Thanks for sharing your data and experiences, Evan! More climatological data is available at: http://forums.usms.org/showthread.php?t=17660l Gords: Lanolin is available at the drug store. See if you can find tubes of "Udder Balm" that kinda look like toothpaste and very easy to apply.

On 2011-04-28 13:31:52, Evan said:
Ron - yeah, it was pretty tough to miss that thread :-) haha

On 2011-04-28 14:02:58, Evan said:
Katie, it's true: I don't "do" black-and-white very well. I still have issues with TL's analysis of the Lezak/Bernard race, though. He argues, as if it were scientific fact, that Lezak won because he took longer strokes than Bernard. Really? How is it possible to know the causal relationship? What if Lezak's natural SL is longer than Bernard's anyway? So comparing Lezak and Bernard to each other is a bit misleading. The better question is: What did Lezak do, compared to what he usually does, to have the best swim of his life? And what did Bernard do, compared to what he usually does, to have the worst swim of his life? What if we found out that Bernard's SR in that race was similar to what he usually does in a 100m Free? Then we would have to assume he was pulling less water (lower SL). But there are many potential reasons for that, not just that he was "spinning his wheels." Maybe he was cramping. Maybe he wasn't properly warmed up. You can't just assume that he would have been better off by reducing his SR. Maybe that would have made him even slower. Sometimes swimmers "die" in races. It doesn't automatically mean their SR was too high. TL says: "Barnard was mostly moving water around with his strokes. Lezak passed him and won the race because his strokes were moving him forward." How does he know this? TL says: "Lezak took two fewer strokes on the first 25, and three fewer on the second 25, falling back slightly – but saving crucial heartbeats." How does he know this? Did he have Lezak hooked up to a heartrate monitor? Lower SR doesn't automatically mean lower HR. Grr...

On 2011-04-28 14:31:23, Evan said:
Back to my original point, though. TL's "overall message" seems to be that it's more important to maintain stroke length (SL) than stroke rate (SR). I'm willing to grant that can be true in pool races, from an energy efficiency perspective. But I think it's the opposite in rough water conditions. A higher SR helps you "punch" through waves and chop, while in my experience a nice long TI-style stroke is just asking to get tossed around. And higher SR doesn't have to mean higher energy expenditure, either - think of the "lighter touch" David referred to. Look at the best rough water swimmers in the world. Do any of them use a TI-style stroke? I can't think of a single one. Look at Penny Palfrey and John Van Wisse in the NYC Swim video I posted a couple weeks ago. There's nothing remotely TI-like about their strokes. Look at this video of Thomas Lurz (the best OW swimmer in the world). If TL has said anywhere that the relative importance of SR and SL might possibly be reversed in rough water conditions, I haven't seen it. Which is interesting, because his main audience seems to be triathletes (who often compete in rough water).

On 2011-04-29 18:11:25, TERRY LAUGHLIN said:
Evan Congratulations on your win at TBM. Having swum it last year, I can attest to what a challenging swim it can be. My experience in marathons (2 x MIMS and Maui Channel stroke-for-stroke with Dave Barra [and Willie Miller a few weeks before TBM last year ) suggests that mental strength and endurance are more critical than physical. I had the poor fortune of contracting a stomach virus on the day of the TBM last year which made it a bit of a death march, and probably contributed in no small manner to my subsequent decision to forgo any future marathons. Thanks for reading the blog. I'm always grateful for interest and don't mind critical comment. I do think it's fairly unarguable that Lezak won the race because he did a far better job moving his body forward. After all, Bernard is a couple inches taller and yet took 9 more strokes over the final 25m. Even a 10 year old has the capacity to cover 25m in fewer than 28 strokes. If you read the entire series, you know the presentation from which that blog is drawn was for a triathlon conference and the main point I was seeking to get across was that it's important -- when you do a sport that combines both aquatic and terrestrial disciplines -- to be cognizant that, as a terrestrrial mammal that which seems to come very naturally on land, in water can easily result in the wheels coming off. As I noted, Bernard's collapse would be inconceivable in the anchor leg of the 4 x 100 relay -- or even the 4 x 400 relay -- on the track. It could ONLY happen in the pool. The message for triathletes is you need to be a lot more intentional, mindful and strategic about how you pursue speed in swimming. And often the better choice is NOT to pursue it, but to save heartbeats for when you're back on land. The Bernard-Lezak video was a dramatic way of illustrating those points. Having said that I will go on to say that there's no dispute that the single factor which correlates most reliably with superior speed is Stroke Length. No one but no one disputes that. However, as with the other familiar equation Area = Width x Length, you can't complete the equation without Stroke Rate being a factor. One can't deny that SR is sinfully easy to create and SL devilishly difficult. Good luck on future long swims.

On 2011-04-29 18:54:35, Evan said:
Terry, Thanks for the comment. I do enjoy your blog and will continue reading it! This discussion of the Lezak/Bernard race is secondary to the point I was trying to make. My original point - as detailed in my 2nd comment to Katie (see above) - is that your emphasis on SL over SR may be less applicable (or even inapplicable) in rough water conditions. I pointed to several swimmers who excel in rough water, and argue that their success is due in part to their ability to maintain high SR over long distances. High SR helps in rough water because it helps a swimmer "punch" through waves and chop. You didn't address this issue in your response, and I'd be interested to hear what you think. Dave Barra seemed to indicate that there is room for this idea in the TI framework. If so, I'd like to hear how.

I do think it’s fairly unarguable that Lezak won the race because he did a far better job moving his body forward.
This is tautological - but OK. My issue was with the "moving water around" comment - implying that Lezak and Bernard were expending the same amount of energy, but Lezak translated his energy into speed more efficiently. Maybe that's true, but maybe not. Possibly Bernard was expending less energy than Lezak, because he wasn't able to tap into it for some reason (cramping, poor warm-up, etc.). And perhaps that's why he was slower. The point is - you don't know.
Bernard’s collapse would be inconceivable in the anchor leg of the 4 x 100 relay — or even the 4 x 400 relay — on the track. It could ONLY happen in the pool.
There has never been a come-from-behind victory in a 4x400 track relay, due to the anchor leg having a bad day? Really? Have you actually researched this issue?
The message for triathletes is you need to be a lot more intentional, mindful and strategic about how you pursue speed in swimming. And often the better choice is NOT to pursue it, but to save heartbeats for when you’re back on land.
And my message is, lower SR doesn't necessarily mean lower HR.
Having said that I will go on to say that there’s no dispute that the single factor which correlates most reliably with superior speed is Stroke Length. No one but no one disputes that.
I dispute it (respectfully). How do you know this? Please point me to the peer-reviewed research on the subject. What are the respective correlation coefficients? Did the study population include all swimmers (including novices), or elite swimmers only? V = SL * SR. Don't both matter, by definition? I can also think of obvious exceptions to your rule. For example, Janet Evans. And more recently, Laure Manaudou. And those are just pool swimmers. Among elite open-water swimmers, high stroke rates are even more common (in my observation).
One can’t deny that SR is sinfully easy to create and SL devilishly difficult.
I deny it (again, respectfully). I have a very difficult time getting my SR above 75, except when I'm sprinting. On the other hand, I can easily increase my stroke length, such that I can control whether I take 10, 12, 14, or 16 strokes per 25-yards, with not too much difference in speed. I find that 14-15 is most efficient, though (for me).
Good luck on future long swims.
Thanks! All long swims depend on luck to some extent.

On 2011-04-30 07:41:08, IronMike said:
Never had more fun reading comments...

On 2011-04-30 13:53:38, Evan said:
Never had more fun writing them :-)

On 2011-04-30 16:12:33, d barra said:
i would be curious to know what the SR ranges of John and Penny are. when i watched them swim MIMS in '09 they both maintained SR's that would be impossible for me ... if i recall, John at about 78, and Penny 84. i would speculate that moving at the speed that those two swim is what helps them punch through the water rough or not. neither changed SR noticeably when they reached the choppy hudson.

On 2011-04-30 17:35:06, Evan said:
@DB I wouldn't expect their SRs would change much. But I do think their high SR's help them thrive (relative to others) when they encounter choppier water. (I'll expand on this in my reply to your comment in the other post.) 78 is just an incredibly high SR for someone of John's height. Regarding Penny, I would speculate (with no evidence) that her SL is in the lower half of the distribution for the MIMS field, and probably lower than all the men. Her SR, however, is off the charts. You're right about their speed.

On 2011-04-30 23:54:44, david b said:
just watched the video link. i didn't notice any rough water other than the wake of the boat. in summary, i think its an incomplete theory to say that the three swimmers named above benefit in the rough from their high SRs without a comparison to swimmers with lower SR's who swim at similar speeds in flat water. i'm not sure that i have expressed this idea clearly....

On 2011-05-01 14:40:42, Evan said:
@DB It's an incomplete theory, for sure. It's a theory based on my observation that the best open water swimmers tend to have higher stroke rates and choppier, less-TI-like technique, compared to the best pool swimmers. My observation doesn't prove anything, but it's suggestive. There are many reasons a swimmer would excel in OW compared to the pool, but being good in rough water is an important one. The roughwater kayak analogy isn't perfect, but I can't help finding this article quite compelling. The money quote:

When the water is rough, you need shorter, more frequent strokes and steady, smooth power. The slightly higher stroke rate will make up for the loss of run (glide between strokes) that you will experience in rough water.
Here is Grant Hackett during his world record 1500m swim, stroking along at a steady 75 SPM: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c52CAXf2PSw Look at that beautiful, patient catch. And here is Thomas Lurz in the Tiburon Mile, at 95 SPM: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_GfYzBLCg0 Not a pretty stroke, but devastatingly effective in OW. Interestingly, I just found an article Terry wrote a couple years ago: "The Open Water Stroke." Terry actually takes the opposite lesson as I do from observing SRs in LCM vs. SCY. He thinks in OW you should stretch the stroke out even longer. Of course his video demonstration is in glassy-smooth water. As I said in my reply to Sully, one benefit of high SR in rough water (for me) is balance. Chop hits at random points in the stroke cycle, and with high SR there's less time between being knocked off-balance and re-gaining balance with the next catch. I also find it easier to breathe bilaterally with higher SR - less time that I have to hold my breath.

On 2011-05-01 16:51:31, d barra said:
indeed i have found that a higher SR is more comfortable for alt breathing as well. a friend i was swimming with in the UK not too long ago who has quite a long SL, only breathes one side. he has had quite a successful career so far and cited the extra time between breaths (when alternate breathing) was the big deterrent for him.

On 2011-05-03 09:33:12, Donal said:
Congrats man. Fantastic achievement. Sorry I didn't catch up with you last week when it happened. Well done though!

On 2011-05-03 19:20:00, Evan said:
Thanks, Donal. I understand most folks have better things to do than keep up with my marathon swimming career (such as it is) :-)

On 2011-05-04 17:42:00, Bob Needham said:
Next time, can you wait up for me? I promise to swim faster.

On 2011-05-05 09:38:14, Evan said:
believe me, i didn't want to be in that water any longer than you did!

On 2011-05-12 16:34:42, Terry Laughlin said:
Dave Barra and I have swum together for 100s of hours. We've also had many contests for who can outswim the other on lower rate. Those were enormously enjoyable. When we swam Maui Channel in March 2010, we synchronized strokes - and thus stroke rate - for a cumulative 4+ hours and 8+ miles. Our other compadre, Willie Miller, has a shorter stroke and therefore could not synchronize with us. E.G. It took him a lot more strokes to complete the swim. I think it's worth noting that, at 60 years of age, I give away 14 years to both Dave and Willie, both of whom are high-performing even in their own age group. I simply don't have the metabolic capacity to match them on the work side. I have to be more efficient in order to swim with them. So stroke rates will be a factor as well of age and metabolic capacity. Having broken USMS age group records for 1- and 2-mile open water swims on three occasions, it's hard to make an argument that I've not been well-served by swimming with relatively low rate and a relatively long stroke. Having said that I do train for neural adaptability -- and advocate the same to others constantly. Using a Tempo Trainer I've trained at rates as fast as .8sec/stroke and as leisurely as 1.8 sec/stroke. I gain benefit from both ends, but the largest benefit is adaptability. I have more arrows in my quiver than most swimmers, and can therefore adjust opportunistically to a wide variety of conditions. While training in Dover Harbor with Dave and Willie, I encountered a kind of chop I'd never experienced before, mainly because of wind intensity and direction and the bathtub effect of swimming between two sea walls. I found I couldn't keep up with them with my more typical longer, slower stroke so I switched to a faster, lighter stroke with higher elbows (i.e. less spear forward) and was able to stay with them. Even so, I was trying to disturb the water as little as possible. You're welcome to dispute the principle that no factor correlates with speed as closely as Stroke Length, but Bill Boomer, Al Craig, John Troup, Jonty Skinner and Gennadi Touretski have all affirmed it. Can you cite someone who says another factor is more important?

On 2011-05-21 14:56:33, Evan said:
You wrote:

Having broken USMS age group records for 1- and 2-mile open water swims on three occasions, it’s hard to make an argument that I’ve not been well-served by swimming with relatively low rate and a relatively long stroke.
I think Gerry Rodrigues (who, unlike you, actually has a track record coaching elite OW swimmers) put it best when he said about you on SlowTwitch:
I'm uncertain how to break the news to the TI followers, but here's direct: Terry is a good guy, and pretty fair to mediocre swimmer; technically sound in many areas, but medoicre in speed. Winning a 2-mile cable swim may seem to give credibility, and for some justify these training techniques, but a USMS 2-mile cable swim may have 100 people total entered in it. And 46 minutes in a cable swim (read as you can't swim crooked) is pretty mediocre swimming for a "swimmer", even at 56 year old. Here is keeping it simple, real simple: Train at faster rates to be fast, train only slow to be slow. There is one major element that TI misses: STROKE RATE. Terry claims his is 55 strokes per minute. At a recent 10k swim race in Brazil, the lead pack swam at a rate of approx. 84/min, until the break occured at about the 7k, where rates went to 92-100 for the entire last 3k. Go check the stroke race rates from the likes of: Andy Potts, John Flannigan, Sara McClarty, Hayley Piersol, Clayton Fettel, Havier Gomez.....none are low.
Yep, that about sums it up. You wrote:
You’re welcome to dispute the principle that no factor correlates with speed as closely as Stroke Length, but Bill Boomer, Al Craig, John Troup, Jonty Skinner and Gennadi Touretski have all affirmed it. Can you cite someone who says another factor is more important?
Sorry, I'm not impressed by name-dropping. I know famous coaches, too - so what? I never argued that Stroke Rate is "more important" than Length. Like Gerry Rodrigues above, I argued that focusing on SL at the expense of SR is a recipe for slow swimming. SL correlates highly with speed if the study population includes all swimmers (including novices). That's just common sense. In order to swim fast, one must first swim well. Once you've achieved a certain level of swimming proficiency, however, the correlation declines and then disappears. Among elite swimmers, the correlation is non-existent. See Salo & Riewald, Appendix A. Let's not forget - in your blog post that I was responding to, you were discussing Lezak vs. Bernard.

On 2011-06-01 10:46:58, Leonard said:
Evan - Congrats on Tampa & good luck @ NYC. In your Tampa race report you mentioned that you used SolRx sunblock. Did you use the regular or the extended (broader spectrum, I guess) version? Also, how many "coats" did you use? Have you ever tried Waterman's Scientific sunblock and, if so, how does it stack up to the SolRx? I'm doing the first leg of David Barra's 8 Bridges swim and know that Bullfrog just won't hold up to 8+ hours in the water. Since I fry easily, I am casting about for something better. Best Fishes, Leonard

On 2011-06-01 11:57:31, Evan said:
Leonard, thanks for stopping by. I used the original formula, which I bought from a vendor at the Nike Swim Miami who recommended it as "the best." I hadn't heard of the extended UVA version, but I'd imagine it's also quality stuff. I used 2 coats on my back and face, 1 coat everywhere else. But I think 1 coat is probably sufficient. Tampa UV index was off the charts, though, so I wanted to be sure. After 9 hours in the water I was "tan," but not even close to burned. I've heard of Watermans but haven't tried it. I do appreciate the SolRx makes a specific claim to be 8-hour waterproof - which Watermans, as far as I can tell, does not. Have fun with the 8 Bridges swim! I don't know how you can beat a day on the water with Dave and Rondi.

On 2011-06-22 11:45:56, John said:
Evan - Congratulations on a great swim at MIMS. Would love to hear your take on the differences between Tampa and MMs sometime.

On 2011-06-23 21:04:56, Evan said:
This is John from our conversation at the finish in Tampa, right? Thanks for stopping by again! I'll see what I can do about comparing to Tampa in my MIMS report.

On 2016-10-04 19:26:26, Flavia L. Zappa Medlin said:
Thank you Evan:)! Happy Swimming!