Swimming faster in open water

I’m one of the slowest open water swimmers that I know.  I want to get faster.  For many reasons.  I want to maximize my travel distance in open water, be home faster for my wife, and to just be able to compete a bit in open water swims, as well as triathlons.

This article, called “Developing World Class Open Water Swim Mechanics”, gave me the following to work on:

1.  Faster stroke count.

2.  Balance:  Balance is an issues if I can’t swim 50 yards, pretty easily, without using my legs.

3.  Missed catch:  Make sure that you actually have a catch.

4.  Follow through on wrist backend.  Wrist needs to “crack” to push as much water away, as possible.

5. Fingertips enter the water first, then pull down and to the side (no ‘S’ shape pull)

6.  Only one goggle eyepiece exits the water.  Minimal rotation.

7.  Tipped wrist and high elbow for entering the water.  “Spear into the water”  !!!
- Elbow higher than the wrist at all times.
- Fingertips pointing straight down after catch initiation
- Bent elbow on pull (don’t dig deep into the water)
- No ‘S’ shape on pull (just go straight back, with a bent elbow)

Tour of Lakes, 2013 (8 lakes in one day!)

Disclaimer:  

This post may change if I decide to “improve” the story.

Or if I remember more details.

 

Yesterday morning, my alarm kicked off at 4 am.  I had gone to bed about six hours earlier, so I had enough energy to get out of bed, without snoozing.  Skipping the shower, I dressed in jammers, tech shirt and Tevas, grabbed my tri bag and headed out the door.

Eric Church played in the truck as I steeled myself against the day.  The furthest I’d ever swam was 4.5 miles at a training swim with Patrick Phillips, at Deer Creek, a couple of years ago.  Swimming at 8 lakes in a day would be no picnic.

I met up with the SLOW group at Josh Green’s house, where we were excited, but subdued as a group.  We piled in to Gordon’s van and started our adventure.  Today’s team of swimmers would consist of:

Josh Green
Gordon Gridley
Jim Hubbard
Joelle Beard
Karl Christen
Gary Bethers
Kaitlin Ostler
Goody Tyler

I took some notes after each swim, because I knew I wouldn’t remember anything about anything, once it was over.  Here’s what I came up with (notes have been expanded upon for readability.  The small thumbnails that belong to each lake can be clicked through for a larger image.)

1.  Causey Reservoir (Weber County)
Distance:  .60 (guessing on all of these stats, because for some reason, my watch didn’t record this one.)
Time:  33:00-ish
Started at 7:00 am?
Avg pace:  56:00 minutes, maybe?
Temp:  70 degrees

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The air was cold.  I started shivering before we even got in.  We started off by swimming toward some cliffs, where we exited the water to jump from some small cliffs.  It was very fun.  The water that we navigated was extremely clear (and deep!).  Compared to Utah Lake, this was a bit of a shock.  I don’t swim in pools, usually, because Utah Lake is just so close to my house.  So it’s a little bit of an adjustment when I see such clear water.  I can see my hands and arms in front of me and even read the display on my watch!

I fell behind fast, compared to the other swimmers.  Each time I get together with friends, I realize how slowly I swim.  I’m not sure what the problem is, exactly, but it falls between two categories, I’m sure:

1.  I just paddle too slow.

2.  My technique sucks.

This might be the year to get this figured out.  Either way, I realized that while most of my peers would be swimming at each lake for about a mile, I’d have to swim about a 1/2 mile, in order to not slow down the schedule.

When I exited the water, I spoke to Gordon a bit about his earplugs.  I had felt a bit nauseous and wonder if earplugs might be a good solution.  According to a quick search on Google, this is very possible.

2.  Pineview Reservoir (down hwy 39 from Causey, in Weber County)
Distance:  .59 mi
Time:  33:03
Started at 8:09 am
Avg pace:  56:21
Temp:  76 degrees

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At Pineview Reservoir, we swam an “l” shape.  Nausea came back when I started swimming, so I tried breathing more on each side (this required a slower stroke to get full breaths.)  It seemed to help for a while.  There were a lot of boats on this lake and I noticed other swimmers “prairie-dogging” their surroundings, as I did.  The water wasn’t nearly as clear as Causey, but I soon learned that Causey had set the bar very high for our swimming, this day.

3.  East Canyon (just south of Morgan, Utah)
Distance:  .80
Time:  34:35
Started at 9:53 am
Avg pace:  45:19
Temp:  72 degrees

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There was a large hill that we had to hike down in order to get to Eastview Lake.  We did so, only to hike further though mud.  A lot of mud.  Basically, there was a big, muddy rim that evidenced the lack of water in our reservoirs and lakes, here in Utah.  It’s humbling to realize that we depend so heavily upon snowpack and rain for our sustenance.

Before we pushed off for our swim, I heard a boater say something about “dumbasses are swimming” and something about what it did to his fishing.  For the entire swim, I worked on something creative and funny to say to him when I got out of the water.

I had a decent pace on this swim, it seemed.  A good stroke and I felt strong.

When we exited the water, I realized that it was raining.  Later, I asked my van-buddies if they knew it was raining, while they’d been swimming.  None really had.  But we hiked back up the muddy trail to the van and finally reached the top.  I was breathing hard.

I admit- during this swim, some of my breakfast came back up.  It made me nervous about the rest of the day.

4.  Echo Reservoir (Coleville, Utah)
Distance:  .84 mi
Time:  42:52
Started at 11:14 am
Avg pace:  51:17
Temp:  72 degrees

echo

This lake had shallow mud.  We had to wade out about 200 feet until the water was deep enough to swim.  This was one shallow body of water.  I definitely felt sick, while swimming.  We had a bit of a headwave (word?) going out and didn’t feel too much tailwave (also: word?) coming back in.  By the time I got out, I had some slight left shoulder pain.

This was not my best swimming experience.  Let the record show, we really need more water in our lakes and reservoirs.

5.  Rockport Lake (south of Colville, Utah)
Distance:  .48 mi
Time:  26:50
Started at 1:06 pm
Avg pace:  55:60
Temp:  71 degrees

rockport

My notes on this swim simply say, “Waves!  Went into choppiness and came back with current.”  My memory is fuzzy, so I’ll defer to the other race reports to fill in the gaps.

6.  Jordanelle (between Park City and Heber)
Distance:  .72 mi
Time:  35:40
Started at 2:27 pm
Avg pace:  49:40
Temp:  72 degrees

jordanelle

I went out way too fast on this one.  My notes tell me that my arms hurt, which seems accurate, because all I remember thinking after each swim, was, “Huh.  My arms really hurt.”  On this swim, we followed a series of buoys.

Overall, I know that I enjoyed the swim, even though by now, my whole body was exhausted.  The notes are slim on this lake, too.  But I know I enjoyed this place.

After this swim, I had a chocolate milk.  Which.  Was.  Delicious.

Chocolate milk.  I will be drinking much more of that stuff after serious workouts.

7.  Deer Creek (just south of Heber)
Distance:  .50 mi
Time:  33:29
Started at 3:55 pm
Avg pace:  68:22
Temp:  75 degrees

deercreek

My notes from this swim are sufficient:  They say:

“I felt more nausea on this one.  Weak arms.  Me no want more swimmy.”

8.  Utah Lake (near Vineyard in Orem)
Distance:  .30 (these stats are messed up)
Time:  28:38
Started at 5:37 pm
Avg pace:  90 min (ish)
Temp:  76 degrees

utahlake

Everything about this swim was jacked up.  My watch recorded something, but nothing that matched what I remember.  When we walked down to the water at Vineyard, all I saw was waves.  Big waves for tired arms.  Fearlessly, everyone else swam off, toward the Pacific Ocean.  With trepidation, I walked slowly down to the waves and eased in.  I felt sicker than ever and was grateful (that was completely understated) that this was our last lake.

I was also proud, to a degree, to be back in Utah Lake.  After all, this is my lake.  Also, waves are really fun for me.  But not this day.  My arms were just flapping about, no real technique.  No real purpose.  Just trying to put some distance on so that I didn’t totally cheat this one.  But I was going nowhere.  While everyone else was out, probably getting close to Oahu, by now, I was doing my best imitation of a moron advertising for Endless Pools.  I was going nowhere.  My puny arms dutifully windmilled, but the results were doubtful.  Finally, my watch told me that I’d been out for 20 minutes.  I knew that the waves would just push me to shore, so I turned around, waiting for magic to happen.

Nothing.

All of those waves that had spurned me as I swam out sort of did nothing for me.  Other reported great success with body surfing to shore and such, but I was mocked by the Carpy water.  I wanted to protest to the group that I really do swim this lake, that I have some measure of success in it, but words are useless when the results are so clear.  I was a minnow, swimming among patient sharks who humored my efforts.  At least that’s how it felt.

And so the 8th lake ended with me gasping in waves, paddling toward shore like drowning wet cat.  It was humbling, to be mild about it.

Afterward, we all piled back into Gordon’s van and headed to Chili’s, where I met Wendy, who had left the kids in Alpine with her sister.  I ordered steak, mashed potatoes and hot chocolate, but ate only a little.  I knew I’d enjoy the meal more at home, sprawled out, watching TV.

When dinner was over, Wendy drove back up to Alpine.  I jumped back in the van to retrieve my truck up at Josh’s house, in Salt Lake.  It was a nice, quiet drive.  Everyone was exhausted.

When we arrived, I thanked everyone for the experience and jumped back in my truck.  Again, Eric Church played on Spotify as I drive 40 minutes back home, reflecting on the day.

What an accomplishment!

Special thanks to Josh, who put this crazy thing together.  Also a big thanks to Gordon for driving us all over Northern Utah!

Total Mileage:  4.83 miles

 

Sharing the lake

On Wednesday, we had a little neighborhood Pioneer Day party at our house.  Before the fireworks could begin, I rallied a few people and convinced them that it was the perfect time to go down to the lake.

The below pics are proof that it was.

There was no real swimming that took place this night.  Just splashing around and enjoying a great sunset.  But it was fun to introduce some new neighbors to their lake.  Maybe this will take hold with some of them and I’ll have some lake buddies to hang with.

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Discovering Golf Ball Beach

Yesterday I drove down to the Utah Lake State Park marina and prepared to swim.  But I lost my nerve.  On Saturday, I’d pushed off from the jetty, only to smash my pelvis on a newly exposed rock, which appeared because of low water levels.  It was a serious game-thrower.  I drove around the marina and finally drove away.  It was time to go searching for a new place to swim.

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This is the little hill you have to walk down. Barefoot, I still slid quite a bit. At the top you can see my truck peeking over the edge.

I drove up to Vineyard and parked at a place that I’m pretty sure I’ve been at before.  It’s basically just an end of the road type of situation, except that at the end of that road, it overlooks a beautiful lake.  But there is a problem…

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As mentioned, you walk through phragmites, then mud, then more phragmites, before you reach the payoff.

In order to get down to the water, one must walk through a good amount of phragmites and mud. And once you’re down to the water’s edge, you find that there are a TON of short, pokey phragmite stubs, that can really hurt (and did for me). But, as in life, perseverance is rewarded with results. I ditched my Tevas and stowed them in my Swim Safe Device and scooted along on my stomach, skimming slightly above the threatening elephant-size thumb tacks, out passed the reeds that grow about 100 feet through the water, from the shore.

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Looking West, across the Great Utah Lake.

But once you get out there a bit, heaven appears. Soft, sandy, hard packed ground emerges and our feet are rewarded with some of the cleanest, most comfortable footing I’ve enjoyed in a long time. The waves were rolling in as I pushed out for a swim. I swam against the waves for about 20 minutes and realized what I’d discovered- This was a massive, free, Endless Pool. I didn’t move more than .30 miles, as per my GPS. But I swam and swam, feeling great as I watched the static shoreline. I could stand up at any time. This is a great place to swim by oneself (if that is a good idea to begin with).

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This picture does no justice to the sun. None, whatsoever.

I finished up, satisfied that I’d found a great new place to swim. There is no boat traffic, because it’s just way too shallow. The terrain is not unlike Secret Beach (also on Utah Lake, but undisclosed, because of a family pact) with slowly grading ground. It would be a great place to bring kids (were it not for the hard work it would take to get them across mud and thumb tacks), as long as they were watched carefully.

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Sun starting to set, over a beautiful lake.

It would be easy to see how this place could become a favorite place for me. The fact that it’s such a pain to get to means solitude and all the space in the world you’d want to swim. Now, I just need to get over the fact that there are some massive carp swimming with me:

PS: Golf Ball Beach, because people are teeing off and hitting balls into the lake. The water has receeded to an alarming degree, leaving new shoreline, and along with it, tons of golf balls sunk deep in the mud.

Swimming with kites

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Yesterday as I left work, I noticed that the wind was blowing a bit.  Clearly, it was time to head down to the lake.  I arrived, still not able to find my good goggles, but headed into the slightly choppy water, anyway.

I knew within the first few strokes that this was going to be a bit hard on my left shoulder.  But within a few minutes, I’d worked into a pace and forgot about it.

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The thing about swimming in choppy water (and this is what makes it fun for me), is that you just don’t know a lot about the next couple of seconds at a time.  For instance, in a pool, or in glassy open water, you can time your breaths and strokes.  Yesterday, however, sometimes I could feel a wave rolling over my back, toward my head.  So I knew that I wasn’t going to get a breath on that particular stroke.  I’d have to wait a beat.  As soon as the wave passed over me, I’d breathe on whatever side I was facing.

Sometimes, though, that doesn’t work too well, either.  You might find a pocket of air that closes so quickly, that you can only take a half breath.  So you take that air and wait for the next stroke.  It’s pretty fun and very unpredictable.  I can already hear the criticism from readers in my head, regarding safety, but this is pretty hard to explain, unless you’ve done it.  It’s not so scary once you accept the variable water.  You learn to not panic and that air will come soon enough- it’s just unpredictable.

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Incidentally (and not to alarm anyone, because, remember, you have to try this before you knock it) I’ve never mentioned that I’ve finally gotten to the point where, when I breath in water, I can continue on, coughing out under water, gasping above to clear my lungs.  Eventually, all that is really left is a nasty taste of dirty Utah Lake water.  But I’ve finally gotten to where it doesn’t sent me into a fit of panic.  Not everytime.  But most times, now.

The first lap down to the end of the jetty consisted of my swimming against the wind and waves.  I always find it surprising that I can move through this.  It’s pretty cool to take a breath and see the land moving past you.  I finally made it to the halfway point and got excited, because I knew that I was about to get a serious pick-me-up as I now could work with the weather.

Once again, as I breathed on the left (east) side, I could see the jetty moving, but at twice the speed!  Very fun feeling.  This must be what it’s like to swim a 25 minute mile, albeit artificially.  :)

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Anyway, about halfway through my second lap, the waves sort of shifted, to where they were pushing me toward the jetty.  I had to continually swim out into the lake (about 10 feet), so that when I breathed on my left side, I could reassess and figure out how much of a correction the next 10 seconds required.  It was fun, but a little exhausting.

I really need to use a more accurate GPS for marking my water routes.

I should mention that I tested my Swim Safe Device on this swim.  In some of the rougher water, I stopped swimming and wrapped my arms around my traveling buoy.  It held my weight and kept me well above water.  I think that the only problem you’d run into, in an emergency, would be how long you could hold on, especially if you’ve already been swimming for a while.  But either way, it might buy you a few hours (or longer?) while waiting for help in the middle of a lake or ocean.

As I swam both ways on this particular workout, I could see that, over the jetty wall, in the marina, there were two kiteboarders, just doing their thing.  It was fun to see the kites in the air when I’d breathe to the east.  Very cool and a little more exciting than the typical rocks (which I still enjoy, anyway.)

When I got out of the water, I took some time to set up my iPhone and capture a little video, so that I could see what my stroke looked like in rough water (to me it looks desperate .  So I’ve included those videos, along with some pics of the kites that I saw.

My shoulder was a bit sore (and still is, this morning.)  But overall, it was a great and memorable swim.

Six new buoys converge

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Obligatory selfie.

Yesterday, I make a quick trip to the Great Utah Lake, to get a quick swim in.  I wanted to go around the newly place buoys, none of which the Utah Lake State Park can explain.  I’ve called them, posted to their Facebook page, and yet no one knows where they have come from, or why they are there.

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Look closely: You can see the six new buoys that currently haunt my dreams.

Except me.  I know.  It’s clear to me that, after years of swimming the south jetty on the

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east side of The Lake, the buoys are communicating.  They know I’m here, now.  They know I’m natural prey.  And now they know where to find me.

So they’ve gathered and are now waiting for the perfect moment to feast on Yours Truly.

For some reason I can’t find my awesome Aqua Sphere Kaiman Goggles, so I had to wear my crappy, old ones, which I’d bought when I first entered the pool to swim for my first time at the Lehi Rec. Center.  Within a few strokes the goggles were leaking.  I had to change my squinty facial expression to stop the leak (Lesson:  If you have to strike a painful facial pose so that your goggles don’t leak, you have the wrong goggles on.)

But I swam out to the first buoy and then the next, where my friend Kris and I had been on Saturday.  At one point, I freaked out and kicked away, as I heard the chain of one of the buoys.  And then, all of a sudden, I was in new territory.  I was away from the familiar jetty’s artificial shore and out into the lake.  It felt somewhat “safe” here, because I knew that boats and jet skis would be hesitant to go anywhere near the buoys, which, I think read “Achtung!”.  I suppose that, in retrospect, this would not necessarily keep American boaters away.  But, on the off-chance that some German was going to run over me, these buoys might just do the trick.

I swam around all six buoys, for a total of .3 miles, which is a lie.  I say it’s a lie, because my iPhone’s MapMyFitness app sucks at tracking me in water.  I really need to get that new Garmin, that is meant for swimming in open water.

Either way, it was a great swim.  I’m planning on going back after work, to work on conquering the new threat, that is six new buoys in Utah Lake.

A June swim in Utah Lake

Tonight, I went for a swim in Utah Lake. All of my old phobias came back to me and I struggled to calm myself down as I swam. I’ll get better at this, someday, I swear.

Anyway, I decided to map out all of the things that I’m thinking about as I swim. I know the guys in the Great Salt Lake will wonder what my problem is. In short: I happen to know that something in Utah Lake is trying to kill me.

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Getting back to it

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Today we had a neighborhood picnic across the street at the park.  The entire time, I kept looking longingly, over to the small patch of blue that I identified as a pice of Utah Lake.  I knew I had to make at least a trip, today.

So after things would down at the park, I took the Tacoma and drove over to Utah Lake State Park, to see about water temperature.

When I reached my hand down into the water by the jetty, it felt cold, but not prohibitively so.  So I brought  my towel down to the lowest rocks to the water and started in.

It.  Was.  Freezing.

Freezing, I say.  But the temperature wasn’t the only thing I noticed.  The water was up to my neck!  The last time I was able to get into the water at the jetty was last year, when the water was up to just above my waist.

So we have some water to play in, now.  Unless it’s sent to farmlands, etc.

I stayed in for less than a minute, but can’t wait to come back and start doing my jetty laps.

And a video to appease the request of nocturnal bats, who apparently have access to the internet…