Let’s start with some clarification: I do not consider myself a marathon swim expert. I have a reasonable amount of experience in many different forms of swimming. I do love swimming. Any kind of swimming. I have been involved in swimming my entire life. I enjoy sharing my swim knowledge. I enjoy seeing people achieve their swim goals. I enjoy learning from other swimmers and coaches alike. Hearing about others swim experiences and different perspectives on swim technique and performance is part of the learning process. I don’t care if you swim in a costume, in a wetsuit, want to learn to swim, swim a mile on the ocean or conquer a channel or two. To me it’s all swimming and swimming is cool.
Last week ITV called me up for an ‘expert opinion’. I am not sure why they called me or how they got my number. I know there is a lot I do know and far more I don’t know. I’d prefer to share my opinion with those that care about the sport – the swimmers. The growth of open water swimming in the last 5 years has been terrific. It’s exciting. The number of global open water swim events of all kinds has exploded. There are currently four swimmers who have completed the amazing Oceans 7 and a number look soon to complete this epic swim challenge. Each week there are more and more swimmers completing their first ever open water challenge. All are amazing, remarkable achievements. Achievements that deserved to be celebrated. Recently Diana Nyad completed her Cuba to Florida swim. I was gob smacked. This was her 5th attempt. Such tenacity. Such drive. Truly impressive perhaps fanatical drive for her to put so much into such a swim. I don’t think many of us would go past two attempts, let alone three or four, certainly not five. Diana deserves to be recognised for this swim, it is truly remarkable. It has been fascinating following the post swim media after Diana’s swim. Diana clearly has a huge team in place and works hard at publicity. Not all the publicity following her swim has been complimentary (most was) however a number of swimmers have asked questions about specifics of the swim. When a person places themselves firmly in the public spotlight such as Diana Nyad you must be aware that you actions will be open to question, sometimes critical questions, just as much as you will receive compliments and praise. Surely in this day and age this would not come as a surprise to anyone?
I for one was a little curious after Diana completed her swim. There was a part of her blog that indicated she had not eaten for 8 hours, wow. Also following one of her previous attempts I believe I saw an online picture of her on her support boat taken during the swim. I understood she subsequently got back in and carried on. I have no problem with this however the media releases during the swim made no indication a rest (for whatever reason) was taking place. For these two reasons I needed to hear proof that Diana had actually swum this distance. I’m now very happy that she has – wow. Amazing. I read today in the Miami Herald that Diana will be claiming her swim as unassisted. In the same article it states that team members helped her put on her ‘stinger suit’ as well as helping to duct tape gloves and booties on wrists and ankles each evening during the swim. The article also quotes Diana as saying ‘I don’t want the record if they are going to call it assisted because that is the equivalent of swimming in fins or a shark cage’ . I would argue yes and no to this. What is the definition of ‘Assist’? ‘To give help or support to’ OR ‘The action of helping someone with a task’. Diana you are amazing, the swim is mind blowing. I don’t care about rules one iota but you definitely did have some help. Let me put it to you like this. My mum turns 70 next year. Let’s say she decides to swim Cuba to Florida … naked and with no support boat at all. I think I could accurately describe this as a naked unassisted swim. If Dianas swim is also listed as ‘unassisted’ any unassuming person would think the only difference between Diana’s swim and my mums is the lack of clothing. For Diana to complete this swim she required minimal help, but she did receive some help just the same. I think we are all very clear she did not wear fins nor did she swim in a shark cage. But I think it’s also important that we leave the ‘unassisted’ description clear for the person who swims it for the first time without receiving any direct assistance. To put it differently the assistance provided from a support boat is a grey area but for me it becomes black and white when support crew are physically touching you to help you with a task – you are receiving assistance. It does not need to about propelling you forward; assistance in direct form does reduce workload.
I don’t believe we need further governance or rules in open water swimming to make this clarification when common sense can easily allow us to make a distinction. Fair enough? Finally my hat is off and I am in awe of Diana’s amazing achievement. Well done.
www.realswimadventures.com are extraordinary swimming experiences in the beautiful waters of New Zealand and the Cook Islands. Our swim locations are surrounded by some of the world’s most breath taking scenery.
A lifetime of conventional swimming inspired swim coach Dan Abel to create a swim experience like no other; ‘I have coached hundreds of swimmers both in the pool and the open water. Many swimmers love competition but for a large majority, the swim experience is much more than a finish line and a finisher’s medal. I wanted to create swim activities that are not just about swimming as fast as you can or beating the person next to you.’
RealSwim Adventures is about experiencing and enjoying the open water. The playground is the water; The RealSwim Adventures concept is based on the belief that swimming, even when learning or training, should be fun both in and out of the water. Sharing food or drink afterwards deepens the sense of reward and pleasure from the swim experience.
RealSwim Adventures has assembled an amazing line up of renowned swimming and triathlon experts including; wim coach Dan Abel, Open Water legend Philip Rush, Ex Olympic swimmer and Olympic Swim Coach Brett Naylor, Former Ironman World Champion Scott Molina and triple Olympic swimmer Helen Norfolk.
Whether it’s a relaxing swim around an amazing reef in warm tropical clear waters, taking on the challenging Cook Strait or preparing for a triathlon, we craft the perfect blend of coaching and adventure.
Come and join us on a RealSwim Adventure of a lifetime https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94qQ43m9K6w
Body position, flow, breathing, relaxed yet controlled awareness of body and mind … am I talking about yoga or swimming? The reality is I could be talking about either. After decades of swimming , poor posture and some brief experiences with yoga I finally have a season, routine , means and motivation to dedicate some proper time to yoga. For the past two months I have been attending yoga sessions 2-3 times a week. After a month I noticed changes. Years of swimming and shoulder and chest development had pulled my shoulders forward and down, my spine is rounded more than most, even still I had not realized how much I looked down rather than forward when I walked. After just a month I noticed how my walk had changed I was looking up rather than at my feet and seeing the world from a whole new perspective. My spine feels long and my body feels much more comfortable. I have found the yoga sessions complement the smooth rhythm required of swimming along with the requirement for control of breath.
As a guy attending yoga for the first time can be intimidating, most classes seem to be predominately female. The moves take some time to learn and girls generally have a far greater range of motion than the guys. But give it time and the moves do start to flow even when you are as uncoordinated as me. I have also been lucky in South West London to have an inspirational teacher, Ellie. Ellie took the time to introduce herself to me at my first class as she does with every single new student. She explains that in her yoga class there are no wrong moves, it’s all part of a learning journey. I have found the classes have helped me find calm outside of my busy life and away from the pool, my muscles feel more limber, long and loose and my shoulder blades are getting drawn together for the first time in a long time improving my posture and comfort tremendously. If you are looking for a great complement to your swimming give yoga a try. And if you are in South West London and are looking for a great instructor send Ellie an e-mail email@example.com She teaches classes all over SW London and teaches private lesson too and best of all she’ll be relating yoga moves to swimming throughout the class so you won’t miss a beat.
Simon Griffiths Editor of http://www.h2openmagazine.com/ published a blog post titled ‘Is drafting over-rated’. The full script is below … and below that is my response.
Elite swimmers race in packs for a simple reason. If you swim behind and to the side of another swimmer, or directly behind them, you can swim faster for less effort. There’s no doubt that drafting can help you swim quicker but, in an open water event, should our default position be to swim in someone else’s wake?
I think, not necessarily.
The major benefit of drafting is that you can swim faster than your regular pace, or you can maintain your regular pace with less effort. If you trust the person in front to follow the correct swim route, you may also get away with sighting less.
If you’re in a race and you’re after the prize money or prestige that comes with a fast time or good finishing position, by all means go ahead and draft, and swim faster. Likewise, if you’re in a triathlon and your finishing position is important (isn’t it always in triathlon) then stick on someone’s feet and conserve energy for the bike and run.
But, as open water swimmers, it’s possible we might have other goals than a fast finishing time, like having a pleasant swim or enjoying our surroundings, and drafting can spoil that for you. Here are some other reasons why drafting might not be for you.
The main point, I guess, is that if you’re swimming for pleasure or personal challenge rather than speed and medals, then drafting might not be for you. However, a lot of people, perhaps who’ve spent a lot of time reading triathlon publications, or who have come from a triathlon background, seem to adopt drafting as a default in open water swimming. It is possible for the majority of people to complete the distance without being dragged along by someone else, so why make your swim less pleasant for the sake of a few seconds or a slightly lower number against your name on the finishers list?
The other thing that annoys: if you go to a lake where swimming is organised – i.e. you pay money and there is a course marked out to follow – why do complete strangers start swimming on your feet? If you want to practise drafting, do it with your friends or training buddies rather than someone you don’t know.
FitandAbel’s Dan Abel responds
Is drafting over-rated? My answer is unequivocally No.
In our swim coaching sessions we talk about an ‘open water swimming tool kit’. It’s a figurative rather than literal toolkit. Its contents are open water swim skills; being able to breath both sides, ability to relaxed in rough water, comfort with natural water temperatures, being able to sight and navigate and being able to draft. The more tools in your tool kit the better equipped you are to deal with the varying conditions confronted when open water swimming.
We are in agreement – the major benefit of drafting is being able to hold a faster pace or being able to maintain a pace with less energy expenditure. However that is not the only benefit of drafting. Drafting is an open water skill. Practicing and refining your drafting skills is part of becoming more adept at open water swimming. Swimming in proximity to other people and non-aggressive body contact is a large part of open water swimming.
Many of the reasons you list in your blog for not drafting are experiences a swimmer would have if they are not adept at this skill; eg
- Drafting is hard work It shouldn’t be, It can actually be a great time to relax and chill out
- You are more likely to be kicked, punched or swum over Truly? Or you are more likely to leave the pack behind?
- You can’t often maintain your natural stroke This is inexperience , plain and simple
- It annoys the person in front especially if you keep tapping on toes Generally they will only get annoyed if they are also inexperienced. Learning to ignore body contact and focus on your swim is a key skill.
A large proportion of swimmers come to our coaching sessions because they want to be faster, more efficient and more competent in open water. Like get used to biking in a pack when road cycling , learning to swim in proximity to others and understanding the benefits of drafting and how to properly draft are essential open water skills. Drafting teaches swimmers how to conserve energy, it teaches them how to swim in proximity to others. Many new swimmers get annoyed at having their feet touched or at any body contact what so ever in open water swimming. We don’t have lane lines in open water. One of the hardest things to do is to swim a straight line. You may be swimming slightly left, I may be swimming slightly right of track. We may accidentally have some contact. It happens. Or I may be drafting you, I may touch your toes either accidentally or to ensure I am in the pocket OR to let you know I’m drafting (maybe we could take turns and leave the pack for dust?) . If you have trained for and are experienced in these situations you are more likely to cope, less likely to be annoyed or distracted and therefore you are more likely to perform better and enjoy your swim more.
No you do not have to draft but Yes you should most certainly practice and learn how to draft properly. Drafting can make you faster and more efficient. It will most certainly make you a more confident and competent open water swimmer.
For the second season in a row I made the trip out to Henley on Thames for the Iconic Henley to Marlow ‘Bridge to Bridge’ 14km sportive swim. This year I was accompanied by five enthusiastic Fit&Abel swimmers, four of whom were completing a 10km or greater swim for the very first time.
The Henley on Thames bridge is the starting point for this marathon swim. The bridge was constructed in 1786 and sits picturesquely on the river Thames. It is a beautiful site from upon the bridge and the same can be said from under the bridge as swimmers soon discover. How many people can say they have bobbed in the river Thames under a 227 year old bridge ?
Close to 300 swimmers started the event this year; We all start as one, a mass of green caps , wetsuits and bathers, swimming with the current on the first 4km leg of the journey . I have said this event is Iconic, it is also very unique. There are four locks/weirs that need to be negotiated enroute. Swimmers must physically exit the water, the event crew supply food and drink at each of the four exit points – for the inexperienced it is perfect training to learn how to sip a drink, have some banana and then get back in and start swimming.
The swim is billed as non-competitive/sportive due to having to negotiate the 4 weirs and because of all the boat traffic on the Thames. It allows canoe escort to be provided to ‘pods’ of swimmers . This does require swimmers to adjust swim speeds to suit a group.
The 14km swim down to Marlow provides some very picturesque swimming; you see beautiful buildings and parks, wildlife and greenery. You can see the bottom of the river and long flowing grass growing and flowing in the current. I’ve seen fish, but no sharks and no piranha . There is a walk way the entire route so family and friends can follow you cheer and support you. And best of all because you have four compulsory stops there is a chance to say ‘Hi’ more than once to fellow swimmers, making swimming as it should be, as much about the experience and a social event than just a swim.
Read the local press release on this years swim http://www.henleystandard.co.uk/news/news.php?id=39087
For more on the Bridge to Bridge see their website http://www.henleyswim.com/bridge-to-bridge/
After swimming Cook Strait in March I was looking for some shorter fun swims to enjoy over the English summer. Brownsea Island swim ticked all the boxes. Set in Poole harbour, by Bournemouth. The race starts and finishes at Brownsea castle, the swim setting could not be more iconic. It is a 6.5km around island current assisted swim, Brownsea offers plenty of interest, challenge and variety for an open water swimmer.
Registration is competitive and can be a turn off. This years 250 spots were booked within 6 hours of registration opening. It’s not the easiest system but 1. It works 2. It’s worth it ; what a beautiful island. Starting in front of this magnificent castle the field soon spreads out, there is only one marker buoy the entire way – the half way point. Navigation is your own concern, there are shallow sand banks which can make things fun , but plenty of deep water and some tidal assistance too. If you’re a right breathing you’d best get working on your bilateral breathing as the swim is anti clock wise around the island. There seemed to be more than adequate safety cover , plenty of kayaks and rescue craft to hand with water available to those who needed a drink . Watching the changing landscape of the island, checking out boats and often a nice view of the sandy bottom all help tick off time . Post swim there is a prize giving on Brownsea, a chance to socialise, check out the wildlife and spend some time drinking in the greenery and sea air. The Brownsea Island 6.5km sea swim gets a Big tick in the interest swim category and a highly recommended from Fit&Abel.http://www.rlss-poole.org.uk/brownsea2.htm