Sunday, March 23, 2014

Cali Distance Week

The trickiest part of training to swim the English Channel in the middle of the middle of the United States is finding cold water to swim in. Since our lakes are still too cold (upper 40s, I'd guess from my wading above the knees last Thursday), I do a lot of stationary laps in the "hot tub" at one of the pools I use for training. I know this looks creepy, but believe me, I am very fortunate to have access to such a perfect tub for long cold soaks.

I planned a training trip to La Jolla, California, back in January to complete my 6-hour qualifying swim for the Channel. La Jolla is one of the most beautiful and coveted places for open water swimming. The water temps are usually near 60 at the end of April. Usually. This year, however, has been unseasonably warm and the water is already at 64 degrees. I doubt it's going to get any colder by next month.

I emailed my friend Suzie who lives in San Francisco and asked if she knew of a place I could get my qualifying swim done. Suzie, the patron saint of open water swimmers, invited me to come to Aquatic Park and swim with her and her friends with the Dolphin Club and South End Rowing Club. She's going to help me get that 6-hour monkey off my back. How cool is that?! I changed our travel plans so we'll be in La Jolla for 3 days, then go to San Francisco for the rest of the week.

So now I'm getting a full week of ocean swimming in two beautiful places with great friends. Believe me, I know this is an amazing trip and I appreciate it! Paul will have to find something to do when not watching me swim. Hmmm, strolling the beach or site seeing in La Jolla? Or walking over to Ghirardelli Chocolate for samples or for crab cakes at Fisherman's Wharf? Actually - that's what I'D do if I wasn't swimming. Paul will probably find the science and history museums and the local brewpubs.

Until then, I'm following my training plan. This was my longest weekly yardage of swimming all year - 46,650 yards. And I'm feeling it. Next week is a rest week, which doesn't mean I get to take the week off, but the total for the week will be 30 to 35,000 yards.

Speaking of rest - it's time to get to bed.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


Training to swim the English Channel doesn't come with a "Channel Crossing for Dummies" book (although plenty of people I've talked to look at me as though I'm highly qualified as a dummy). There's not a 10K to Cap Gris Nes training plan (yet ... I hope to write one) and if you interviewed 10 people who have successfully swum the Channel, you'll get 10 different approaches to training.

That said, there's some basic training that everyone does - lots of swimming, maybe some focused strength training, cold acclimatization and getting enough rest and eating well (meaning eating everything well within sight). Just like training for any endurance sport, the best way to improve is through progressive overload, where you gradually increase your distance over time. This helps build your cardio fitness while reducing the chances of getting an overuse injury.

Donal Buckley, author of the Loneswimmer blog, provides a template for this type of plan. I used his guide to help develop my own EC training plan last summer, knowing I wanted to build up to several weeks of 50,000 yard weeks leading up to my taper before the swim. It definitely helped me build up endurance and gave me some peace of mind knowing I was following some sort of training protocol based on exercise science.

More recently, I revised the plan on the advice of one of the most successful marathon swimmers in the U.S., Anne Cleveland. Instead of a 4-week cycle, Anne recommended a 3-week cycle. This means there's greater variation in the yardage, but I'm also getting more rest, which I need. I've spent over a year working on my endurance, so I feel pretty good about that. Now, I need to dial in on technique and make sure I get the rest I need to recover from long training swims. Like today's:

Donal Buckley also has a wealth of information about cold water swimming. If you're still with me, you obviously have some interest in this stuff, so go check out his blog. I took a 30-min tub soak in 54 degree water before today's workout. I find it amusing that there's a list of hot tub rules over the ancient horse tank that I sit in after filling it with cold tap water and a bucket of ice.

But better days are ahead! I scootered out to Branched Oak Lake on Saturday with some friends to see if the ice had melted. Look - look!

I waded in up to my knees and I'd guess the water temp to be in the high 40s, maybe even 50. Of course, this IS Nebraska, so yesterday's sunny 70-degree afternoon was followed by 12 degrees and snow this morning. I don't think my OW swimming friends in the coastal areas of England and Ireland get what it's like to try to train for the EC in Nebraska. They say "it's not really that cold" and "you'll get used to it in no time" but they have access to non-frozen water year-round. Eh, I can't really use my landlocked state as an excuse. I hate the cold, but I'm doing what I can to deal with it. I'm hoping Branched Oak Lake will have more than just a weekend at the 55-60 degree range.

You can see my training calendar on the "Training" tab or just click here: Calendar.