Dover, Catalina and Chicago, Oh My

Record English Channel Swims

In English Channel news, two swims for the ages took place this weekend.  A 24-year old Australian dude named Trent Grimsey swam the Channel in the world record time of 6:55, which broke the 2007 record by two minutes.  That’s six hours and fifty-five minutes.  Even at his young age, Grimsey is a legend in the open water swimming world (blah, blah) AND he had Michael Oram as his boat pilot (yadda, yadda) AND he had essentially perfect conditions for the swim (whine, whine).  At the end of the day, however, he really did swim the English Channel TWICE AS FAST AS I DID.  Yikes.

Another Australian, Chloe McCardle, attempted a three-way swim.  Only two other three-way swims have ever been completed, and Chloe certainly has the capability to start in Dover, swim to France, turn around back to Dover, and turn around again to head back to France.   She made the first two legs, and was a quarter of the way through the third leg when she was pulled out because of weather.  One of the biggest challenges of a three-way effort like that is getting lucky with the weather for that extended window of time, and Chloe’s luck just ran out.  Her capabilities as a swimmer didn’t run out, however, as she completed the two-way in just over 19 hours, in itself very close to a record.

These are awe-inspiring performances, and they will set the bar for future swims.  The beauty of swimming is that swimmers always get faster and stronger; it is just a question of how long someone gets to hold a record.  No swimming record is untouchable, and every feat that can be contemplated will be achieved.  These gifted young people will be good custodians of these records, at least until the next superstars come along.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi!

Catalina Update

The time for the Catalina Channel swim is upon us.  In a little over two weeks, we’ll head out to Los Angeles and be ready to hop in the water on the 26th.

That means that the taper has begun.  Swimming is known for its grueling training, and this year has been no different; most of the time, a swimmer is just tired.  Exhausted.  Out of gas. The theory is that a long period of time of extreme fatigue can be followed by a rest that will lead to top performance for a short period of time. The resting process is called a “taper,” in which the work load tapers off as the swimmer’s muscles heal, repair and get stronger. Tapering is an art, not a science.

I have learned over the years that I need a longer taper than most.  It takes me more than two weeks to get the ache out of my muscles.  Before the English Channel swim, for example, I started with a three-week taper that I was convinced I would enjoy like a good steak.  Two weeks into it, we traveled to England and swam the next day, which meant that the three week taper was truncated by a full week.  I was there to swim, not to complain about not having enough rest, and the swim came off (as the Brits would say, “Brilliantly.”)  At the same time, I recall many times during the hours in the Channel that another week of rest would have made me feel a lot better.

The early part of a taper feels horrible, as your body adjusts to the unfamiliar lighter workloads.  The end of a taper, though, is a feeling that is hard to describe.  After a season of fatigue and a full-body dull ache, you suddenly begin to feel strong and powerful, with endless energy.  One of the most curious feelings toward the end of a taper is an illusion, where your new-found strength makes it feel like you are actually swimming downhill.  You work all year for that feeling, and I am so excited to feel it again.

Chicago’s Big Shoulders


This weekend in Chicago was the 22nd annual Big Shoulders Open Water Classic.  It is a 5k swim (a shade over three miles; an alternate distance is 2.5k) and welcomes swimmers from around the world to race around a buoy course in beautiful Lake Michigan.

In the early years, a few dozen swimmers would show up and spend more time visiting and trash-talking with each other than they did swimming.  Now, it has become one of the premier races in the world, and the Chicago Park District lifeguards cut off registrations at 1,200.  There is still plenty of visiting and trash-talking, but the crowd really fills Ohio Street Beach.  It is just so much fun to have grown up with a race that so many people anticipate and, in some cases, gear their whole season around.

Based on the wind direction, this year’s race was pretty wavy, though the water was a balmy 74 degrees and the sun was shining brightly.  The third leg of the swim is along Lake Shore Drive, and Chicago never looked more beautiful.  I was fortunate to be in the first wave of swimmers, and the horn sounded a few minutes after 8:00 a.m.  Some statistics for those keeping score at home:

  • My time was 1:14:34
  • The winner was 59:33
  • My time placed me 87th overall (of 632 swimmers that did the 5k swim)
  • It also placed me 13th among the 64 guys in my age group (50 – 54; I will never understand why my age and gender is so over-represented at these events)

We had our traditional post-Big Shoulders breakfast at another Chicago landmark that is a testament to the legions of Swedish immigrants in the city, Ann Sather’s, so a good time was had by all.

See you at the beach.  I will report back.