10 mile swim

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


On Drafting

Drafting is the technique of closely following another swimmer so as to take advantage of his or her slipstream and swim faster with less effort. I have swum many open water races, and I have read about drafting, and once I even went to a one-day clinic on open water swimming where we discussed and practiced drafting. I have one key piece of information for you about drafting:

Don’t draft off me.

In all that I have learned about drafting, theory and practice, I have never heard anyone explain how to do it without being annoying as hell to the person you are drafting off.

In theory, when you are drafting, you are simply following behind (or beside, for side drafting) a slightly faster swimmer. But in my experience, when you are drafting, you are repeatedly poking my feet.

Look, if you are an Olympic athlete swimming the 10K in Rio for the honor of your country or if you’re a pro competing for huge monetary prizes, then go ahead and draft (also, hey, thanks for coming by the blog). But if you’re in races with me, you’re just swimming for fun. There are no big awards. The last race I swam, a race in which someone tried drafting off me, I won the old women’s division (I didn’t know that there was an old women’s division — they called it “masters female”). My prize was a drawstring bag, a tube of Body Glide, and a $15 gift card. It was nice to win a prize, but there was nothing there that made me think, “I’d be a jerk to a fellow swimmer to win this stuff!”

These women are practicing drafting in a pool. The one in pink is planning to drown the one in black.

These women are practicing drafting in a pool. If I were the one in pink, I would be planning to drown the one in black. Image from FeelForTheWater.com.

Most articles I have read on the topic (see this one) emphasize that drafting in swimming is “100% legal” and “something ALL the pros do.” In contrast, drafting is not always legal in the cycling portions of triathlons, and one online commentator suggests that drafting in swimming should be considered cheating too.

I don’t know that drafting is a form of cheating. Open water competitions are not like pool competitions: in a pool we endeavor to make sure that the competitors in a race swim in nearly identical environments, but in open water we cannot control the conditions. The swimmers take different routes. They hit different waves. The varying conditions are part of the joy of open water swimming.

What I do know, however, is that drafting is annoying: it’s annoying to have someone hitting your feet while you’re trying to swim.

Deep in the core of my being, I am a ten-year-old swim team kid who swam packed in a lane with four or five other swim team kids. Swim team kids are taught to space themselves out in a lane, leaving five seconds or so between each swimmer and letting the fastest lead the lane. But kids don’t always do this. Sometimes a swimmer goes first, and the next swimmer doesn’t wait; instead, he leaves right after her and pokes pokes pokes at her feet until she outswims him or kills him with her bare hands. Ask any swim team kid: repeatedly poking at someone’s feet is an act of aggression.

And I don’t just hate people drafting off me; I also hate drafting myself. Why would I want to swim with someone kicking bubbles in my face? In the beginning of a race, when people are often boxed in, I’m most interested in getting out of the pack and swimming clear. I want to swim in open water, not on top of your feet.

If you know how to draft in such a way that you enjoy your swim and don’t annoy others, please tell me in the comments; I’d love to know. In the meantime, I have learned how to take evasive action when someone is drafting off me. I can get you off my feet if I need to. But why should I need to? We have a great big body of water to swim in.


The Eight Mile Report

For the first three to four miles of my eight mile swim I was mentally composing an angry blog post about how I had been unfairly prevented from swimming eight miles that day. It was going to have lots of boldface and ALL CAPS and extra exclamation points!!! I was expecting to get yanked out of the water around 6000 meters. But no one came to stop me. And as an object in motion stays in motion, I just kept swimming.

I went to Westside Aquatic to do the eight miles. Two weeks ago I went out there on a Saturday and was turned away; there was no lap swim because of lifeguard training. I protested at the time that the website had said nothing about a closure, but I was told it was an exceptional circumstance. So this Friday I called to confirm that the competition pool would be open for lap swim on Saturday, and I was assured multiple times that there would be lap swim and it would be in the competition pool.

Well, you can probably guess where this is going. When I got there, there was no lap swim lane (two are scheduled); one person said he would make me one, and then a supervisor came to say that he couldn’t. The supervisor offered me the therapy pool, but I said no way; that pool is 86 degrees F, and I don’t want to swim eight miles in a hot pool. It’s borderline dangerous and absolutely unpleasant.

There were intense negotiations, but to make a long story short, I was allowed to swim in the 50 meter pool in a lane with a loosely fastened lane rope on one side and no lane rope on the other. On my lane rope side there were lifeguard classes; on the open side there was a floating bouncy inflatable. And I was told that when the birthday party scheduled for 1 pm for the bouncy inflatable showed up, I was going to be moved to the hot pool.

The floating bouncy inflatable. Image from Westside Aquatic.

I swam the first half or so of the swim filled with righteous indignation, which means I swam it way too fast. But I was expecting someone to grab me, and I wanted to get in all the distance I could. On the lane rope side of me, two different lifeguard training classes were going on (there was a third in another corner of the pool), and they were jumping in and rescuing each other in different ways and configurations. There were splashes and waves, and the loosely fastened lane rope was pushed into my lane. But I had enough space to swim, and watching the lifeguard training kept me amused. I kept swimming.

As time passed and no one stopped me, I took a break for food and asked the one lifeguard in charge of me — she was sitting on the starting block of the next lane, my own personal lifeguard  — where the birthday party was. She said they didn’t know. I kept swimming.

Eventually the birthday party kids appeared to play on the bouncy inflatable. My personal lifeguard moved to guard them. More kids (and adults too) appeared, but still no one stopped me. I was concerned that flying children might drop on me, but they didn’t. The only person who got in my way was a grown man; he and he alone floated into my lane three different times, in spite of the fact that I stopped and told him it was the lap swim lane the first time. It’s always the grown men. Still, I kept swimming.

In any case, I swam the full eight miles in the 50 meter pool. It was a hard swim, mostly because I started too fast and ran out of energy. Angry swimming is not sensible swimming. I think, however, that it was a useful training exercise simulating race conditions; I tend to get excited and go out faster than I should. I also swam far more straight freestyle than I would ordinarily — again to get in as much distance as possible — and my shoulders were sore by the end.

I pulled myself onto the deck. And then, my friends, I was the belle of the ball. Three lifeguarding classes had been watching me swim for four hours, and the lifeguards and trainers all wanted to know how far I had swum and what I was preparing for. They said complimentary things. It was all very flattering.

Next Saturday I’ll be swimming the Lowcountry Splash in Charleston, and the Saturday after that Westside has a planned closure for a swim meet. Perhaps by June it will be safe to swim on a Saturday again.

I swam the eight miles in 2000 meter blocks, with 200 kick in between. After I realized that I might be allowed to stay in the 50 meter pool, I introduced some breaststroke, but I was never comfortable enough to try backstroke: far too many obstacles in my path.

  • 2000 swim
  • 200 kick
  • 2000 swim
  • 200 kick
  • 2000 swim
  • 200 kick
  • 4 x (100 breast, 400 free)
  • 200 kick
  • 4 x 500 ladders (200, 150, 100, 50)
  • 200 kick
  • 4 x (100 breast, 400 free with breathwork)

The total was 13000 meters, just a smidge over eight miles. I was hungry early in the swim; I had started late with all the negotiations and it was closer to lunch than breakfast. I sucked down one Ensure-like beverage at 4400 and another at 8800.

Here is my progress for the year as of May 18: 287.68 miles

May 17 totals

Image from my USMS fitness log