This blog entry is for those looking for the next step up in Open Water Swimming at WNB or looking for some information about longer distance swimming. Over the years I have accumulated some experience on long swims. Finding that information or advice though "googleing it" is a tough road so I decided it was worth sharing.
Course: A challenging 5 mile course that extends to border of Caumsett Park.
West Neck Beach swimmers normally swim within a zone that extends from WNB, south about 1 mile and north about 2 miles. Various swim routes distances can be swum within those boundaries but its unusual to venture outside those routes.
The most common swims are 1.25mile, 2miles or 3miles. Those swim are well marked and stay within well known waters and swum hundreds of times by countless swimmers.
With proper planning, swimmers can venture outside this normal swimming zone. Those new routes can offer beautiful new views , gorgeous water, swimming challenges and stunning bird sanctuaries... These courses can challenge the best swimmers. Both one way and return routes are possible. Last summer a 5 mile return swim was planned and executed a few times to work the details.
what am I swimming, when do I leave, where are the exit points, how to get back if I fail, tide, current, fuel, gear, etc. Some can do this without planning. I prefer not to , having been caught in bad situations.
Swimmers CAN venture into long swims without considering the complete tide cycle during the swim ( or the wind sweep ) . Those that swam with me last year have a few stories times - when we did NO detailed tide planning. There is nothing worse spending a few hours swimming out , accomplishing the half way point, then realizing the tide turned while we were swimming and the home swim will be all against the tide.
In one swim, we had to exit at Fort Hill beach due to exhaustion and run back to WNB ( yes without shoes ) . Not a planned activity nor one I wish to repeat.
The average Open Water swimmer swims about 1.5 to 2.0 miles an hour. The fast swimmer is likely swimming at 2.5 miles an hour in ideal situations. At these swim speeds, you should consider time spent at 3 to 4 hrs in the water for 5 mile swims. The tidal planning needs to span 3 to 4 hrs in either an even pattern or unbalanced pattern.
To plan these swims I prefer tide graphs rather than tide tables. My favorite tide graphs are here. For long swims, knowing the time of high tide and low tide can be not enough. The length of the swim that needs to be considered as well to determine WHEN the tide turns. A well planned swim takes advantage of the complete tide cycle.
BAD ( or Challenging ) SWIM ( BLUE/GREEN ) : The worst swim is against the tide both ways. A BLUE/GREEN swim at 3:30pm to 6:30pm would be against the tide going out and against the tide going back. This would be a good time to keep the distance short.
In the end, the key planning elements of swims with tides:
- time of high tide
- time of low tide
- tidal surge ( "height of the tide"). In Cold Spring Harbor, average tide change is 7 feet / 8 feet. A high tidal swing is 11 to 12 feet.
- tide speed at various times during the swim.
- expected location in the swim at tidal change and slack tide.
A good tidal plan makes a good and fun swim.
One of the brave souls that swam with me last summer , opened my eyes up to the affects of the moon. A short "sailboat" swim took almost 90 minutes. We were stumped and exhausted. There was very little chop or sweep. Why would the tide be particularly strong today?
We went back to assess the potential affects and we came to the conclusion that the phases of the moon affected tide strength in such a way that we need to plan for then. That day our plans were to go the point and back. We had factored in tide and sweep but forgot the moon. Not a surprise that the moon phase can affect tide but the amount of affect was an eye opener for us.
For shorter swims the tide strength will likely would not stop a swim ( moon affect of tide seems to be an additional 30 to 45 minutes ).
At distances beyond 3 miles, the moon affect is an anywhere from an additional 60 mins to 2 hrs.
The difference in the tide swing between full moon and half moon is almost 3 feet. The extra 3 feet of tidal surge must enter the harbor in the same time as "normal tide". That's almost a 50% increase in tidal flow from full moon to halfmoon. This translates into a 50% stronger tide. A perspective : The increase in tide levels during the hurricane of 2011 was 4.5 feet.
The Actual Five Mile Route
The most promising/challenging new water 5 mile route starts out at WNB , rounds the Point to a small jetty and then returns back to West Neck. ( see map below )
The nice part of this route is that there is a very good exit point at 3.5miles at Fort Hill beach and its floating dock. Water and fuel can be staged here on the dock if needed.
During one swim of the 5 mile route, we had to abandon the swim at this exit point. The tide was too strong and dehydration had set in. We exited at the 3.5 mile point and ran back to the beach. Although running back is not an ideal situation, swimming the remaining 1.5miles against the strong tide was a not possible.
The swim around point is different and exhilarating. The water can be cooler , rougher and darker than the protected Cold Spring Harbor. But the views are awesome with a protected bird sanctuary near the turn point. Its tempting to want to go further but my suggestion is to be harsh about your turn point. When you hit the turn point, do not question the decision. Remember, you are only half way.
( image of WNB start , last summer ( 2011) Cold Spring Harbor 5 Mile route ) . The circles represent Mile Markers.
In the picture below the swim around the point should be wind to avoid the sharp rocks. If the tide plan is off, coming back into the harbor may require an swim alternative path . During a few swims around the point, the tide was so strong that we had to head to shore near the point - sprinting - and then shallow water walk for 0.25 miles.
The sprint "exit" is noted in the picture below. The Exit can be used if the tide is too strong and the swimmer can walk ( WATCH FOR SHARP ROCKS under the Water !! ) until the tide is easier to deal with. The tide is weaker near the shore and swimming can continue for another 1/2 or full mile hugging the shore line.
The corner has very sharp rocks under the water right at the point. Swimmers should be WIDE around the Point. There is a Flag marker that seems far out from the Point ( out about 50 feet ). Recommendation is to swim to that flag and around it or near it. The water at most tide levels is high enough at that location . You don't cut up your feet so early in the swim.
Much like other activities ( running, biking ) it possible to complete long swim routes without considering pre-swim, during the swim and post swim fuel. At one hour, its easy to argue your body can take it consuming something. At 2hs, the argument gets harder. For swim routes that extend beyond 2 hours, its not a good idea although I am sure there are many that do.
When swimming long distances, you are not likely not swimming back and forth in front of your car. Running out of energy while swimming is dangerous and/or immensely inconvenient. I remember being sick in the water during a 10K race and realizing that maybe it would have been a good idea to plan out how I was to fuel instead of just "gutting it out". I have planned ever since
I have used Hammer Nutrition supplements , for many years and there is a great quote from them...
“To suggest that fluids, sodium, and fuels-induced glycogen replenishment can happen at the same rate as it is spent during exercise is simply not true. Endurance exercise beyond 1-2 hours is a deficit spending entity, with proportionate return or replenishment always in arrears. The endurance exercise outcome is to postpone fatigue, not to replace all of the fuel, fluids, and electrolytes lost during the event. It can’t be done, though many of us have tried.”
A great guide is here if you want to read in detail
My fuel plan for long swims is usually
1: Pre-swim.. A good protein/carb mix of either Hammer Perpetuem ( Hammer ) or Mix1 ( Protein drink )
2: During Swim : 1 gel every hour ( ie..2 for a 3 hr swim ). I usually take the gels on a schedule. When you feel you need the gels, its likely too late. Gels can take about 10 to 15 minutes to hit the system
3: Post Swim Protein / Carb mix . Post swim to help recovery and not crash all day, I usually have Hammer Recoverite drink.
This is easy.. Drink ! Either carry it in your suit , tow it, have the kayaker carry it or stage it. One way or another its not a good assumption that swimming in salt water helps you with both sodium intake and fluids.
You should hydrate for long swims, one way or another. Y
Gear and Gear at Pre-Swim
My gear of choice for long swims beyond the usual equipment ( suit, cap, goggles )
I always carry a small bottle of ammonia / water mixture ( 30/70 ) for Jellyfish stings. Although I put on SeaSafe , WaterProof SunTan lotion and Vaseline , it is comforting to have this mixture in hand. I have used it many times on long swims and the ammonia mixture will reduce the affect of stings. Remember, you could be a few hours away from home base so in water treatment is extremely useful.
I always put on Vaseline around the potential rub points. For long swims, my recommendation is to place it ( or BodyGlide ) on all possible places where rubbing can occur. I put it on both sides of my face, under my arms and my neck. With a wetsuit, the rub points are different but loading up on Vaseline is extremely worthwhile. After 3 or 4 hours in the water, rub points will show up.
For long swims, if you can have a Kayaker, they can potentially carry all your supplies. If not, the "SafeSwimmer" Flotation Buoy is a perfect device to carry supplies.
Water & Electrolytes. There are lots of combinations here but carrying water with Electrolytes is essential. I usually carry a bottle of water with Hammer Heed in it , in high concentration. There are also great tablets or chews that work as well.
Sneakers . if you can ( either in tow or in Kayak ) , carry sneakers . A few times we wished we had them and makes potential exits easier on the feet. It also allows for a one way swim to Caumsett and an exit in the park
Early Exiting : Know your Limits
Nothing much else on this topic.