10 mile swim

It isn't far to swim when you have friends waiting at the end.


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Book Review: Open Water Swimming, Steven Munatones

I borrowed Steven Munatones’s Open Water Swimming from the library (through the wonder of interlibrary loan), but I had only read about halfway through it before I knew I needed to buy my own copy. I live in a house full of books–seriously, it’s full of books; you can’t walk down the hall with a laundry basket without knocking books off the shelf–so I don’t buy a book unless I know I want to read it and reread it and take notes in it. This is a book I’m going to return to again and again.

Open Water Swimming has ten chapters (plus resources and a glossary):

  1. The Open Water Swimmer
  2. Overcoming the Elements
  3. Choosing Your Events
  4. The Open Water Tool Kit
  5. Building a Faster Freestyle
  6. Preparing for Short-Distance Swims
  7. Preparing for Middle-Distance Swims
  8. Preparing for Marathon Swims
  9. Racing Tactics for Every Event
  10. Triathlon Training and Finishing Fast

You can tell from the list that the book aims at a wide audience, from the beginning triathlete to the marathon swimmer, so parts of the book do not apply to me right now and might not apply to you. Someday, though, maybe I’m going to want to swim the Tsugaru Channel (known for nighttime blooms of squid!), and I’ll know where to look for info.

On the other hand, chapters five and six contain specific training advice that I am already putting into practice. In chapter five (“Building a Faster Freestyle”), Munatones clearly explains details of a strong open water freestyle (i.e. front crawl stroke), with drills to help with body positioning and efficient sighting. In chapter six (titled somewhat misleadingly “Preparing for Short-Distance Swims” as it contains workout suggestions for short, middle, and marathon distances), he sets up a framework he calls the Pyramid of Open Water Success; its foundation is base training, speed training, and distance tolerance. He then gives sets to help swimmers work on each of those aspects, and, to my great enjoyment, discusses how swimming other strokes in practices can help you swim long distances freestyle on event day. I’m already using some of his IM sets. Munatones also makes the absolutely terrific suggestion of beginning an interval from the middle of the pool, rather than by pushing off the wall. This is a great idea to practice starting from treading water; yesterday I did a 10 x 200 set (alternating IMs and free) in this way, and it truly kicked my butt. I was delighted. I will do it again.

In addition, chapter six has detailed directions about how to set up your pool to do POW (Pool Open Water) training; as I don’t control the set-up of my pool, they aren’t much use to me, but I can see these ideas being very helpful to a coach or team.

I also appreciate the way Munatones covers interactions among swimmers during a race. He sets up three distinctions: swimming defensively, swimming offensively, and swimming aggressively. Now, I have no desire to swim offensively or aggressively, but having swum several races, I understand the need to swim defensively. Munatones discusses drafting in chapter nine (“Racing Tactics for Every Event”), and I wish I had read his advice earlier: I would have been better prepared to deal with the miserable so-and-so who was poking my feet for a quarter of a mile at the Lake Lure swim last August. I’m still angry about it six months later. On the other hand, Table 9.1: How to Execute Turns with Authority made me laugh with glee; I want to execute turns with authority, and this season, I will.

There is more valuable information in this book than I am able to present here, including the overview in chapter one (“The Open Water Swimmer”), the discussion of equipment in chapter four (“The Open Water Tool Kit”–he’s just about convinced me that I need a swimmer’s snorkel), and the pre-race preparation advice in chapter seven (“Preparing for the Middle-Distance Swim”). Other swimmers might get excited about different pieces of advice in the book; there’s a lot here. But as for me, I think this book is a keeper. You can borrow my copy, but I’m going to want it back.

Open Water Swimming by Steven Munatones was published by Human Kinetics in 2011; it’s available in paperback or Kindle from Amazon.

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Book Review: In Cold Water, Mike Humphreys

Last week I read In Cold Water by Mike Humphreys, his account of preparing to swim the English Channel. I will avoid all spoilers here about what happens on his swim, except to say that there are surprises. I thoroughly enjoyed this book; I read it over the course of a few days, whenever I got a chance to sit down and read a few chapters. It’s that kind of book: many short chapters, each a complete whole, so that you can read it in pieces. The book is a memoir, but it focuses less on personal introspection and more on the depiction of a community of swimmers and supporters centered physically and emotionally around Dover.

I ran into mention of this book on the Marathon Swimmers Forum, in a discussion of books about swimming. The author himself is a participant on the forum. In the book, we hear about Humphreys’s training and his injuries. But even more we hear about the friends he makes through the sport, the people who accompany him on his training swims (I love the depiction of Dale McKinnon, his kayaker, a woman who is not putting up with any of his nonsense), the owners of the B&B where he stays in Dover, and the swimmers, pilots, and support teams that embark on the Channel swims together. He devotes chapters to swimmers like Miyuki Fujita (and her coach Haruyuki Ishii) and coaches like Tanya Harding (and her swimmers, including Ros Hardiman).

One of my favorite parts is the chapter on Freda Streeter. I thought I knew a little about how Channel swims work, but I knew nothing about Streeter or the other volunteers who maintain the safety of the swimmers training at Swimmer’s Beach in Dover. We meet her when she is berating Humphreys about getting in the water; she also tells him off for swimming alone and directs him on how long to train that day (much longer than he planned). Humphreys calls her “the Channel General ruling Dover Beach with a velvet fist.” Throughout the book, we get a real sense of people like Freda Streeter–those who work to help others realize their dreams of swimming the English Channel. Long-distance swimming looks like an individual sport, but for every swimmer there is a team of people helping make that swim possible.

Humphreys himself comes across as a likeable guy, honest about his shortcomings, willing to poke fun at himself. We repeatedly see him sit down in front of his computer with a bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups–he needs to put on some fat to keep him warm in the Channel–and he describes the “swimmer’s belly” he’s developed as a result. He doesn’t spend a lot of time in psychoanalysis, but he describes his worries and his fears, as well as his love of being in the open water. Reading the book is like going out for coffee with a new friend; the book is not overly confiding, but it’s thoughtful and charming. I liked hanging out with Humphreys, and I want to know what will happen to him next.

In Cold Water came out in July 2013 through AuthorHouse. I read it using the Kindle app on my phone.