Swimming The 46km Manhattan Island Marathon Swim

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If you've been following our Head Coach Paul Newsome on Twitter you'll know that he and six other swimmers from Perth have been training hard for the mighty 46km (28.5 mile) Manhattan Island Marathon Swim next weekend. Here's Paul's pre-event report on how his preparation's being going and his thoughts in the build up to this major challenge:

Some would say that I was lucky having the world's largest mass-participation marathon channel swimming event on my doorstep (the Rottnest Channel Swim) in Perth, Western Australia. Others would say I was mad to contemplate crossing the 19.7km swim through shark-infested waters when the longest race I had done up until my first attempt in 2009 was just 1500m in a triathlon.

Whichever way you look at it though, marathon swimming has become such a massive part of my life since I embarked on the journey exactly five years ago that I feel very privileged to now be taking on my next challenge along with my six other training buddies, the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (MIMS for short) on Saturday 8th June 2013. Just 38 swimmers from around the world have been selected to swim this amazing event, with seven of those 38 from our training squad in Perth.

From L-R: Ceinwen Roberts, Paul Newsome, Paul Downie, Andrew Hunt, Geoff Wilson, Wayne Morris (missing in action: Lisa Delaurentis)
And from behind! I'm now recognised as an "Honorary Aussie" but will always be a true Brit!

The MIMS will be my fifth major marathon swimming event following three successful crossings of the Rottnest Channel in 2009, 2011 and 2013, as well as the English Channel (34km or 21½ miles) in September 2011. The whopping 46km distance circumnavigates the entire island of Manhattan in an anti-clockwise fashion, starting at 7.40am and finishing approximately 8 hours later at Battery Point. The water temperature for the swim is normally 17 to 21 ºC (62 to 70 ºF), although it looks set to be a few degrees cooler this year given the cold winter the US has experienced - good job I'm in Canada right now beefing up my layer of insulation with some last minute buffalo wings and pizza at dawn! 

About to hit the icy waters of the English Channel in September 2011 - all goose greased up!

Whilst the MIMS is longer than both the Rottnest Channel Swim and the English Channel, the favourable currents in the East River, Harlem River and the Hudson River mean we all hope to be able to complete the event in about 8 hours (with a cut-off time of 9½ hours being in place for the safety of the swimmers). The 38 solo swimmers will start in three separate waves (based on ability, with the fastest setting off last) and will be escorted by one or two kayaks and a boat around the entire course. Swimmers will typically stop every 30 minutes for fluid and carbohydrate refuelling - a perfect opportunity for their support crews to give them a little positive pep talk and encouragement. 

The fastest swimmers will complete the course in a little over 7 hours, with the strong favourites this year being the Catalina Channel world record holder Grace van der Byl from California, FINA World Cup 10km swimmer Gustavo Helguera from Argentina and 17 year old Lochie Hinds from Australia who's been racking up over 120km per week in training in the lead up to this event! Incredible stuff!

The whole field of 38 swimmers can be viewed here - with live GPS tracking of all the swimmers from 7.40am EDT (12.40pm GMT and 7.40pm WST) on Saturday 8th June:


Geoff getting greased up in the car park before another dawn training swim!

From the nycswim.org website:

"NYC Swim is the premier organizer of swimming events in the waters around New York City. Since 1993, its events have attracted well over 15,000 participants in more than 165 swimming races, thus helping to revive a local aquatic tradition that had been abandoned for almost a century. The mission of the organization is three-fold: hosting world-class open water events situated around New York City's most recognizable landmarks; supporting charities like Swim Free that aim to improve the health and well-being of children and adults through swimming; and creating stakeholders with a vested interest in the local waters.

Swimming the waterways of New York City is a tradition dating back to the 1800s. In the mid- to late 1920s, the swim around Manhattan grew in stature and national prominence. However, by the early 1990s, interest in the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (MIMS) was ebbing, as was local swimming generally. Morty Berger, a two-time solo MIMS swimmer, realized that birth of MIMS could be linked to revitalization of open water swimming in the New York region as a whole. In 1993, a dozen swimmers and a band of volunteers opened the modern chapter of MIMS with great fanfare, as the event was featured on the cover of The New York Times.

Today, the band of volunteers has grown into a small staff backed by an army of dedicated volunteers – some of whom can trace their involvement with the organization back to those early days in the 90s. The list of NYC Swim events has also grown to 11 annual events built around some of New York’s most recognizable landmarks, such as the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. Professional and recreational swimmers from New York and around the world are able to participate in races ranging from 1 kilometer to 28.5 miles and experience for themselves the vastly cleaner waters of the Hudson, East, and Harlem Rivers. As the organization heads into the future, the New York City skyline is the only limit in sight."

Cranking out the long kilometres in the Swan River, Perth

Training has gone very well for me in the lead-up to this event and I'm excited about the prospect of racing around what is arguably my favourite city anywhere in the world. Whilst we made mention of Australian über-fish Lochie Hinds knocking out 120+km each week in training, as a mere mortal with full-time job and very young family, I've been consistently racking up 50km each week in the following format:

• Monday = 3km easy technique swim (pool)
• Tuesday = 10km challenging aerobic swim (80% pool and 20% open water), e.g. 10x 800m + 2km open water swim
• Wednesday = 3km easy technique swim (pool)
• Thursday = 10km challenging open water swim at 1:18 to 1:22 pace per 100m (completed now 25 weeks in a row)
• Friday = 3km easy technique swim (pool)
• Saturday = 4km to 8km challenging aerobic swim, e.g. 2x (1600m, 800m, 2 x 400m, 4 x 200m) working down from 1:25 to 1:17 per 100m
• Sunday = 14km to 20km long race simulation swim with my best being a 4h35m 20km swim (1:22/100m) on the 19th May

The key for me personally has to be setting a consistently achievable program that I can complete week-in, week-out around my busy schedule and this last training phase has been very consistent for the last 25 weeks or so. As such I feel that I am in as best shape that I can be in for this event, although I am always cognisant of how a multitude of factors out of your control can crop up in marathon swimming events, so I will just get out there and do my best. As my mum used to tell me as an age-group swimmer and then triathlete, that's all she or I can hope for "to do your best and to enjoy what you're doing" - and so I will! 

Knocking out 10x 800m with my training buddy and MIMS swimmer, Ceinwen Roberts

The plan will be to settle into a good rhythm as soon as possible within the East River, tackle whatever elements the infamous Harlem throws at me, and then all being well have some steam left in the tank for the mighty Hudson. I'll be stopping every 30 minutes to alternate between 250ml of 32Gi energy drink and 250ml drink + a carbohydrate gel. I've found 32Gi to be a wonderful addition to my marathon swimming program as the low-GI formula helps to avoid peaks and troughs in blood glucose levels. And the peach-tea flavour should mask whatever grossness I might be tasting in the rivers at the time!

I've got my paddling buddy Amanda Nitschke flying all the way out from Perth to assist me as my kayaker for the day and my partner in Swim Smooth Adam Young supporting me from the boat - let's hope he doesn't get sea sick this time around as after my super-rough English Channel crossing he muttered the time-honoured phrase "never again!". I've also been receiving some Champion Mindset mental preparation coaching from none-other-than five time winner of the MIMS event and former record holder, Shelley Taylor-Smith, so I'm all set!

What do you think when you're swimming for 8hrs+ in the open water? Like Dory: Just Keep Swimming!

I will be raising money for the Swim Free foundation at this link - it's a great charity dedicated to helping improve the health of children and adults through swimming. If you feel you are able and inclined to sponsor me for this event, your donations will be warmly received. Thank you.

Aside from following the live GPS tracking on the official NYC Swim website on the day, also check out my Twitter feed at @SwimSmoothPaul with commentary from our boat as we go (subject to signal). Messages of support and encouragement really make the difference in these kinds of events, so please tweet in during the day!

Finally, to find out a little more about our group from Perth, Western Australia (The "Swimming Sandgropers"), please check out swimmingsandgropers.com.au - the whole team will be posting blogs and pictures for your information whilst we are over in the US.



Recognise Any Of These Swimming Personality Traits?

The Swim Smooth coaching team have just had a social get together here in Perth trading experiences about coaching different Swim Types. Below is a list of some of our more left-field observations about the personalities of each of the different Swim Types.

Cyndy, being a classic Swinger, likes her bright bathers.

If you're a coach and have used the Swim Type system we're sure you'll immediately recognise many of these traits, or as a swimmer you might recognise something about your own personality! If you've not seen our Swim Type system before, check out how you can use it to develop your own swimming or coaching at : www.swimtypes.com

The Arnie/Arnette (full profile and videos here)

- May arrive for sessions late and in a bit of a fluster.
- Often shortens their name as much as possible (e.g. Robert becomes Bob).
- May use their partner's email address and write with caps-lock on.
- Has a tendency to say "yes... yes... yes..." or "yip... yip... yip..." to hurry along a coaching conversation.
- Tends to see the coaching relationship as a means to an end.
- Often frustrated with swimming and why they're not faster than they are.
- Responds well to a subtle ego massage.

For some unknown reason, Smooths
like to get in the pool and start
swimming this way.
The Bambino (full profile and videos here)

- The first thing they tell a coach is "I'm really not very good".
- Values the coaching relationship for its own sake.
- Dislikes leading a lane (opposite of the Smooth).
- Gets a huge buzz from small improvements.
- Generally warm and open personality.

The Kicktastic (full profile and videos here)

- Quite quiet and may appear aloof.
- Dislikes cameras and having their photo taken.
- Likes taking notes (can anyone explain why this is...?)
- Often wears ankle bracelets or foot jewellery.
- Often turns up late for swim sessions.
- Gets bored easily (needs variety in their sessions).
- May be a bit "earthy" or "hippy".

The Overglider (full profile and videos here)

- Tendency to wear long (jammer) style bathers.
- May prefer use of their full name (e.g. Jonathan instead of John), this is the opposite of the Arnie.
- Enjoys long technical discussions.
- Struggles not to constantly analyse an area of their stroke or their performance.
- Often wears a large watch or heart rate monitor when swimming.
- Likes stroke technique work.

The Swinger (full profile and videos here)

- Hates when people stand around the end of lanes and get in the way (everyone dislikes that but especially Swingers!)
- Lives "in the now" and likes to get on with things without undue discussion.
- The first on the pool deck and dying to get in the water.
- Dislikes clutter in their houses (we said this was going to be left-field!).
- Can easily turn the brain off and just swim (opposite of the Overglider).
- Likes wearing bright bathers.
- Finds stroke technique work boring.

The Smooth (find out more here)

- Likes to lead the lane and have clear water.
- Doesn't like having swimmers on their toes.
- When entering a shallow pool, likes to jump in feet first and then immediately bounce forwards into a dive (odd but true!).
- May have trouble motivating themselves and training consistently as an adult.
- Often likes to enter the pool by jumping in feet first and diving forward straight into their freestyle.
- Always well groomed.

Do any of them ring any bells with you or do you have any observations of your own? Post them on the comments section of this blog here. This is just a bit of light hearted fun and not to be taken too seriously. :)

Swim Smooth!

The Gradual Crescendo

Olympic Triathlon Gold Medallist Alistair Brownlee ran a 28:32 10,000m on the track at the Payton Jordan Invitational in Stanford a couple of weeks ago. If you're a runner or triathlete you'll appreciate that's serious running speed:

After the event Alistair tweeted: Learnt that 68s felt easy at 3k and 69's felt hard at 8k. Can't wait for another go.

Alistair's referring to his lap time per 400m on the running track, where in the early stages of the race 68 seconds per lap felt easy but later in the race 69 seconds per lap felt hard. We call this progressive increase in how hard a well paced effort feels the "gradual crescendo" and it should feel this way in all sports, including swimming.

Approximately 80% of world records are set this way with even pacing or a slight negative split (with the second half quicker than the first). However, most age group swimmers and triathletes pace things out like this in their races and training: http://bit.ly/4e1Hk2

How Training Sets And Races Should Feel

If you swim a hard effort (say a 400m or 1500m timetrial) and you pace it out evenly (with every 50m swum at the same speed) the feeling of effort should rise throughout the swim like this:

The first quarter of a well paced effort feels pretty easy and in fact it's possible to go significantly faster over this initial distance. However by the half way point of the swim, the effort has risen and you are aware you are working hard to stay with the pace. By the last quarter of the distance you are getting close to maximum effort, working very hard to finish off the effort.

Remember, this is all at the same actual speed, you're not speeding up through the swim. The same pace is gradually feeling harder and harder - this is the gradual crescendo.

If I Can, Shouldn't I Work Harder Earlier?

In a word, no. For two reasons:

- It feels easy to do but by going faster in the early stages of a race you will do damage which you cannot recover from. It takes a while for your breathing rate and heart rate to catch up but by starting fast you will slow down in the second half of the race and be much slower overall. This is why nearly all world records are set with an even or slight negative split.

- In a training set, if you start too fast and then blow up and slow down you will not get the training benefit that you would by pacing out your training sets well. If you feel that your swimming fitness is on a plateau this could be where you are going wrong. By pacing things out properly your fitness fill continue again on an upward curve; as a bonus not only are well paced swim sets more beneficial but they are less painful too.

To help get your pacing right, we strongly recommend the use of a Tempo Trainer Pro in mode 1 or 2. This will beep to you when you should be turning at the end of each lap helping you pace out your training sets perfectly. Many swimmers find that it's only when you use a Tempo Trainer for the first time you fully appreciate how bad your pacing skills are!

Pacing Is An Essential Part Of Swimming Technique

At the moment when you think of your swimming technique you might just think of your stroke mechanics but your pacing skills are also a critical part of your technique to swim at your best. Pacing out training sets and races is critical to reach your potential in the water, it's something that elite swimmers and triathletes have developed and honed during thousands of training hours in the water and on the running track.

Get your pacing right and you will experience that gradual crescendo yourself, and you might well set some personal bests right away without any other improvements in technique or fitness.

Swim Smooth!

Announcing Swim Smooth / Triathlon England Open Water Training Days This Summer

Swim Smooth are very proud to announce that we have been selected by Triathlon England to operate a series of Open Water Swimming Training Days in England this summer.

Each course will be run by our Swim Smooth Coaches at venues throughout England over the summer months. There are two variations:

1) A novice course to get you into open water for the first time and develop the skills and techniques you need to swim comfortably and effectively in the great outdoors.

2) A more advanced session for those accustomed to swimming in open water but looking to improve their skills such as sighting, drafting and turning to improve their race performances.

Bookings for these days are being taken by Triathlon England (not Swim Smooth). For full information and to sign up, see the Triathlon England website: www.triathlonengland.org/take-part/open-water
(please don't hesitate to book up, we are expecting the days to fill up in just a few hours following this announcement)

Don't worry if there isn't an event local to you yet, further venues are being finalised by Triathlon England and will be announced shortly on that webpage.

We very much look forward to working with you soon and sprinkling a little Swim Smooth magic on your open water swimming!

Swim Smooth!

Is Your Athleticism Holding You Back In The Water?

Last week on the blog we discussed swimmers who have low drag but poor propulsion. Not surprisingly we received a lot of emails and tweets asking us to take a look at the opposite situation, where your drag is high but your propulsion is relatively good.

To that end let's look at a case study involving just such a swimmer who has made some big strides forwards by reducing his drag:

If you've attended one of our clinics or talks in the UK recently you might have seen some video footage of Charles showing his legs lying low in the water when he swims:

This footage was taken in 2011 and we show it to highlight how your perception of your stroke might be very different from reality. Charles felt that his legs were quite low but estimated they were "4-5cm" lower than they should be. Watching back the video footage of his stroke, he was quite shocked to see that his legs were sinking by as much as 60cm (2 ft) beneath the surface.

Charles is a strongly built triathlete with lots of lean muscle mass. He's a strong cyclist and runner but finds swimming frustrating and looking at the shot above it's easy to see why with his legs sinking low in the water, creating a huge amount of drag. This a classic trait of our Arnie Swim Type, together with their strong tendency to fight the water with a crossover of the centre line in front of the head, as we see Charles doing here:

Just prior to taking this footage Charles swam 42 minutes for 1500m which (with his competitive mindset) he called "a disaster". Unfortunately it doesn't matter how fit Charles is, dragging his legs through the water like that is going to slow him down dramatically.

During our initial video analysis and stroke correction session with Charles we worked on:

- His exhalation technique into the water, ridding his lungs of excess buoyancy which otherwise lifts him up at the front and sinks the legs
- Improving his swimming posture to remove his crossover in front of the head
- Keeping his head low when he breathes
- Improving his kicking technique to avoid bending from the knee and scissor kicking the legs wide apart
- Slowing down his stroke rate a touch to help him straighten out the stroke

Charles found that immediately following this session he dropped his 1500m time to 35 minutes, which was a nice improvement in a very short period of time.

(Follow this stroke correction process yourself, or the one appropriate for your Swim Type, in our Swim Type Guides here.)

Is Your Athleticism Holding You Back When You Swim?

If you are an Arnie yourself, you will know how difficult and frustrating swimming can be despite your natural athleticism. Ironically it's actually this athleticism that is making swimming harder for you as your lean muscular legs sink downwards in the water.

If you have low-lying legs when you swim unfortunately there's no silver bullet to lifting your legs high, it's going to take diligent and consistent work on all of the areas of your stroke we mentioned above. However, be persistent and disciplined, and the improvements will come:

Two Years Later

Since that initial consultation in 2011 we hadn't seen Charles until he came back for a follow-up session with us last week. We were very impressed with how much his body position had improved since 2011:

Although he's not yet perfectly horizontal in the water, his body position is drastically improved and although there's still a slight tendency to cross over the centre line with the right arm, this is much improved too:

These stroke improvements are giving him some very large speed gains. In fact he recently swam 28½ minutes for 1500m, a full 13½ minutes faster than two years ago!

As well as consistently working on all the areas we mentioned above, Charles has found that swimming with a light flutter kick results in a lower effort than trying to use a minimal two-beat kick. Although some additional energy is being used in the faster kick, this is more than offset by his legs sitting higher in the water.

Some swimmers are naturally suited to a 2-beat kick, particularly those with good natural buoyancy and shorter punchier stroke styles. But with such a dense muscle mass, Charles will always be best served with a light flutter to help bring his legs higher. This a classic example of why you must always think of yourself as an individual and not follow a "one size fits all" approach to swimming.

Persistence And Chipping Away

After further refining his stroke technique in our follow up session, we are excited about the improvements Charles will now experience as he continues to improve his stroke technique. Getting into the 25-26 minute 1500m speed range is a realistic short term goal for him and he's also aware he will gain another minute or two when he dons his wetsuit for open water events. This means he should now exit the swim towards the front of his age-group rather than coming out at the rear and having to play catch-up on the bike.

So a big congratulations from us to Charles on the large improvements he's made with his swimming, it's not been an easy journey but your persistence and hard work is really starting to pay dividends. Thanks also for allowing us to share your experiences with the wider world.

Swim Smooth!

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