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Tag: cold water

Puget Sound Temperatures

Once or twice a month, the folks at King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks send a boat out onto Puget Sound, drop some instruments to the bottom, pull them back up, and then do this again somewhere else. A full description of CTD sampling methods is available at King County’s Marine Monitoring website. The data they collect from this sampling is publicly available and I’m sure is put to good use, but I’ve never come across any of it in a presentable format.

So with Excel and some free time, here is a snapshot of the around 370,000 data points at three locations taken over the past 15 years.

It looks like King County offers fifteen CTD locations, but since I don’t have all the time in the world, I only looked at the three I found most interesting (i.e. closest to Alki Beach). Stations LSEP01, LSNT01, and KSSK02 are shown below.

CTD-locations

The CTD data is recorded every half meter, both on the trip down to depth and the trip back to the surface. In addition to temperature and depth, King County records conductivity, dissolved oxygen, light transmission, and chlorophyll. But again, limited time, limited resources, so I’m only looking at temperature. A temperature profile over the past five months is shown below.

CTD-LSEP01-jul15todec15

At the surface, water cools and warms quickly while the temperature the bottom trails slowly behind. Temperatures at depth peaked this year in late August or early September. We’re now in the annual cooling-off period, with surface temperatures this week getting below 10C. Early March is when coldest temperatures are found at depth.

Because of the fickle nature of surface temperatures, let’g almost totally ignore them. Instead, lets give some emphasis to the stable, plodding temperatures down towards the bottom of the Puget Sound. What are they up to?

CTD-LSEP01-2000to2015

CTD-KSSK02-2000to2015

CTD-LSNT01-2000to2015At all three locations, 2015 has had the warmest maximum and minimum temperatures of the past fifteen years by around one degree C. No wonder swimming felt so nice.

For the record, the data goes back to 21 October 1998. Why did I stop at the beginning of 2000? Well, I just forgot to, and ran out of time. The data is there if you want to look at it. At LSEP01, it looked kind of like 2008.

So what does this mean? What will this year be like? I don’t know and I don’t know. If you compare December temperatures to the rest of the year, there isn’t much of a pattern. A warm or cold December seems to have little correlation to winter lows, and even less to the next summer’s high.

CTD-LSNT01-AvgDec

So what does the future hold? My guess is that the temperatures in March will be a smidge colder than last year’s, but I’m not a magician. We’ll just have to wait and see.


data from: King County Puget Sound Marine Monitoring http://green2.kingcounty.gov/marine/Monitoring

Training

My first swim for the year is less than one month away. So what did I do today? I sat on the beach all afternoon and drank beer with swim friends in between rounds of seaweed fights. After swimming five miles, of course.

At the beginning of the season, I knew my training plan needed to be different from last year for two reasons. First, my goals were different; I’m training for several cold saltwater swims rather than a multi-stage river swim. Second, my training last year left me feeling pretty blue most of the time.

My training started at the beginning of last July with the seemingly easiest of tasks: do nothing. What put me in such a bad mood through most of last spring was the absence of an off season, and I was determined to not make that mistake again. My rule was, from July through the beginning of this year, do only 7km per week. No more, no less. This kept me in shape, and made me yearn at times to go farther. Wanting to swim is a talent that needs cultivating.

With the start of the new year, I maintained the maintainable. I took a schedule of 7km per week and made it only marginally harder. The next week was an 8km week, because if I could figure out how to work 7km into my life, surely I could add a bit more without consequence. Then a bit more the week after. And now its a 26km week. To make things more challenging, I’ve been doing all my training in the Puget Sound. Through the rain and short days of winter, lengthening my swims as the days lengthened and the water warmed. Cramming as much distance as I can handle into the weekends with hopes that it will be easy to make time during eleven-hour workdays to get the rest swum before bed on Friday night.

There’s a few other things contributing to my generally good mood and consistent swimming this year. The regular adventure of swimming in open water versus the drudgery of distance pool workouts has kept me excited. There are some days when my first smile happens during my evening workout, and more often on Monday mornings forcing a smile is too much to ask, when I’m contrasting office banalities with my most recent sea lion encounter. More importantly, I’ve found people to join me. Our little group has grown to twenty-plus, and I’ve even had frequent same-pace company during part or all of my swims, weekend and weekday alike.

And that’s how I found myself standing knee deep at low tide today, draped in kelp and sargassum. Just another sunny Saturday morning 8km swim, followed by some lounging and swimming and sunning and drinking and smiling.

Inspiration

Two years ago, a map inspired me to take a swim. That swim has led me on a journey. It isn’t just for the creative, artsy types: inspiration is easy to find if you look for it.

The first person to swim the Strait of Juan de Fuca was Bert Thomas. Two years ago, during the planning of my own Strait attempt, my research kept coming back to Bert. The local papers documented his several failed swims, alongside the attempts of many other legendary swimmers of the 1950s, before finally reporting his success. This Tacoma ex-Marine was being written up alongside the likes of Florence Chadwick and Marilyn Bell, and the world was excited to see who would be the first to complete the crossing.

The rabbit hole of the internet easily turned the story of the Strait into the story of Bert Thomas. What else did he swim? When? How? The papers, probably because of his newfound notoriety, continued to publish his exploits. Months after completing the Strait, Bert attempted an 18.5 mile swim in the Puget Sound in January of 1956. A few months later, he tried again. Then in May, he tried a third time, and successfully swam from Seattle to Tacoma.

It isn’t just his resume that a marathon swimmer finds fascinating about Bert Thomas. The articles about him say more than just “brave” and “courageous” and the like. There’s the mundane, tidbits like his hot feeds and cigarette breaks during a fifteen hour swim. Then there’s the heroic.

In April of 1958, Bert disqualified himself 41 miles into his 45 mile Columbia River swim when he had to push off an errant press boat in order to avoid being run over. A marathon swimmer can appreciate that type of principled view on the sport.

If you want to admire his swimming a bit more, there is this quotation: “The cold doesn’t bother me….I go into the water feet first, a little at a time. That way, it’s not such a shock to the system. The blood cools gradually. Once I get warmed up, I can keep going for hours.” In my opinion, this is the hardest way to get into any water, warm or cold. If nothing else, I can appreciate that he likes doing things the hard way.

And because that’s not enough, in April of 1956, Bert was forced to postpone a swim by twenty hours after a boat in the marina he was departing from caught fire. The swim was postponed because Bert had injured his hand pulling “neighboring boats away from the fiercely burning cabin cruiser.” That’s a pretty badass reason to postpone a swim.

Bert Thomas is my inspiration. This June, I’m going to swim from Tacoma to Seattle. This plan is completely inspired by Bert Thomas’s 1956 swim, the route is the reverse. I want this to be the Return of Bert Thomas, the return of an exciting era of open water swimming to the Pacific Northwest.

And this is just the first of my summer swims. This is my Summer of Bert Thomas.

Dream huge, start small: 2015

Sitting in nighttime rush hour traffic on my way to swim practice, a place I’ve not been in a while. It is something I’ve done a hundred times, slowly crawling up over the West Seattle Bridge as the sun sets straight ahead. Last year, at this exact time in fact, I was doing just this.

A year ago, my priorities were distance, and my training reflected my fear that I wouldn’t be able to swim far enough or fast enough. Consequently, on a night probably much like this, I was headed to the pool beneath the Bridge to swim a lonely four or five thousand yards in a dreary small space. Pushing myself in practice meant swimming farther and faster just as often as it meant fighting back morose thoughts and the occasional tear.

As I crested the bridge, the sunset opened up ahead in an unseasonably bright and cheery sky. The exit for the pool was just ahead on the right. My turn signal click-clacked away as I merged onto the ramp of the next exit, the exit for the beach.

I haven’t been to that pool since May, or any pool for that matter. The day I got out of that pool, wrapped myself in a towel and drove around the corner to the beach to finish my workout was a beautiful day. And the providence that bankrupted the gym thereafter and ended my monthly contract was divine. So as I drove over that bridge, heading to a dark cold workout in the Puget Sound, I chuckled quietly at my unenlightened self of last year.

My training plan for this season is simple: dream huge, start small. The dreaming is done, and it is huge. Also a little intimidating, but oh so exciting. And I’ve started, small.

Starting small is great, because means I can do all my week’s training out of a pool in open water. Starting small is necessary, because the water here is only in the high forties. Starting small is safe, because swimming has released its grip on my life and it will take a few moments to work it back into my schedule. Starting big, like last year, would be emotionally disastrous.

This year, my priorities are distance, and luckily my fear is only the cold. My training will keep me out of the pool, and can only progress as fast as my body and the water temperature will allow.

There are eighteen weeks until this season’s first swim.  Until then, the Bridge that’s now behind me will continue to bring me to a place I love, a place I want to be. This will be a long, cold, and challenging year, but only in the very best of ways. 2015.

What lies beyond the buoys

What they don’t understand,

those people who wander by while I’m undressing on a frosty morning,
or those people who watch me struggling to dress, shivering and covered in seaweed,
or those people who are my mother,

those people who ask:
Don’t you swim with a group?
Is the water too deep to touch bottom?
Do you get bored?
What if you get cold?

What they don’t understand, is

if you follow a path, you’ll end up where the path takes you;
if you hang with the pack, you’ll end up in the pack;
and if you find it unthinkable to swim at night by yourself right after eating in chilly water during a storm, you may just as well stay inside the buoys.

But there is a whole lot to see outside the guarded swim area, so maybe I should just let you look away while I quietly slip beneath the rope, where lies every place worth swimming to. Join me, or don’t.

Strait of Juan de Fuca, training 1 of 2

[Originally published in Please Tap on the Glass at USMS Blogs on 8 June 2013.]

I’ve got a theory: anyone who says they cannot find the time or place to train is lying to themselves.

Last year, I told myself I wouldn’t train for anything this year. Life being as unsettled as it is right now, how could I give the necessary effort to make any serious swim worthwhile? Look how well that worked out. This is Part 1 of 2 of my training for the Strait of Juan de Fuca. You won’t find any sets here. If you want that, check out USMS Forums, or ask a coach, or something. What you will find here are the basics of my approach to acclimatization, endurance, and how to do it without a permanent residence. In the next training post, you’ll probably see an explanation of how I’m scurrying to adjust for my plan’s shortcomings.

Last December, when I moved to Seattle, I knew I’d be travelling a lot. As I write this, I’m about to board my 40th plane of 2013. So finding a home team was out of the question. Even buying a monthly pool pass would be a waste of money since I spend less than 45% of my time in Seattle. Also, pools are hot and crowded (and gross). So I took to the Sound. Always free, always open, always empty, and always the perfect temperature to training for a cold-water swim.

The way I plan on accomplishing this swim is three-fold: brown fat, metabolism, be in shape.

The brown fat (which we’ll say represents my level of acclimatization) I’ve been working on since I first jumped in Lake Washington in January. And I’m working on it three or four times a week when I’m not out of town. Hot showers are the worst, and I break a sweat walking to the car on a chilly morning, so it seems to be working.

Metabolism also has three parts. First, stay fed. I quickly adopted a tow-behind water bottle filled with calories (maltodextrin and AminoX, mostly). Then, I started shoving a few Gu packs in my suit to snack on. During a typical training swim, I’ll consume about 500 cal/hr with more before and after. Second, vitamins. This might not be true, but I believe vitamin B boosts metabolism. Or at least, certainly doesn’t hurt it (and it’s miscible, so it’s very hard to overdose). Hence, my feed bottles contain crushed B-complex. I’d like to hear what my coworkers think when they see my crushing pills and mixing piles of white powder in the office lunchroom. My swim bag also contains gummy multivitamins and fish oil capsules. Third, move! When I move on land, I get hot quickly. Therefore, if I move fast in the water…you get the idea. Which brings us to

Be in shape. To warm up, literally, at the start of my cold water workouts, I jump in and swim as fast as possible until the cold numbs my skin. And when I start feeling cold later on? Swim faster! The product of these two is a fast-paced, survival-based swim. And this works! Despite minimal interval training, every time I jump in a pool I find my pace to still be over 4 km/hr. When I do want to work on something, in or out of the pool, it is usually getting my stroke rate up from 59-60 to anything over 60. Moving more means more calories burned means more heat generated means less dying in July. Right now, I feel like I’m in nearly the same shape I was before MIMS last year despite a very, very different training “plan”.

By the way, “Be in shape” is easier said than done when there is no coach, no workout, no pool, and no pattern to one’s life. This is where being opportunistic has come in. When I’m in Seattle, opportunistic simply means heading to the beach after work and on weekends. Everywhere else, it means exploration and adventure. Awesome adventure. There was the day in Abbotsford, BC where the wave pool was turned on for my entire pool workout. There was a 2.5k swim in Delta, BC when I high-fived snails for forty-five minutes because the water was so shallow (it was called Mud Bay, go figure). There was the gorgeous Kinsmen Centre pool in Edmonton, AB, and the time the fire department showed up when I took my to work out to the adjacent river. There were olympians at a pool in San Jose, CA, two-foot breaking waves in Lake George, NY., and instructions on igloo building from a stranger while warming up on a Vancouver beach. Opportunistic isn’t always convenient or ideal, definitely not repeatable, but it seems to be working. I could write a whole post on the merits and challenges of opportunistic training, but suffice it to say: it works for me for now.

After all of this, six months of swimming every chance and place possibly, I can get out of 50F water after two and a half hours and feel great! I am in shape, I have some brown and white fat building up, I have no excess fear for what’s to come.

I also have no idea where I’m sleeping Tuesday night, but today is Saturday and I know where I’m swimming in the morning. And it’s not in the same country I’m in right now.

Fine, you win. Here’s your workout: 200 w/u LCM, 8 x 1,000 @ 15:00 200 c/d