Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Open Water Swim Safety

Over the last few years there have been a sudden increase in deaths during the swim leg of a triathlon. Being an active triathlete and someone who encourages people to participate in triathlons, this sudden increase in deaths bothers me. I collected a few articles and studies available online and contacted a few people who shared their thoughts and studies with me. (Thank you Brad Kearns, Race Director of the Auburn triathlon, for the prompt email and for being on the forefront of triathlon swim safety. Thank you Rudy Dressendorfer for the article and thoughts.)

I have summarized the notes below in points and added links to the full articles:

Preswim Safety:

Dan Empfield’s notes on a safe swim [Dan's article]:
1) Warm up.
2) Do not suit up till 5 minutes before your wave.
3) Line up at the start according to your ability.
4) Get a properly fitted wetsuit.

Rudy Dressendorfer PT, PhD, FACSM – notes on a safe swim [Rudy's article]:
1) Avoid a tight wetsuit.
2) Do preliminary exercises before immersion to promote blood flow to extremities
3) Submerge gradually
4) Do an easy warm-up after immersion to help redistribute the central blood volume
5) Do not over hydrate within minutes before the swim start
6) In the event of a panic attack discontinue the competitive effort, float on your back and signal for help. Do not resume swimming until your breathing is back to normal.
7) If possible, become habituated to the swim venue in advance.

The common theme is:

And I add, TRAIN WELL AND TRAIN FOR RACE CONDITIONS. A warm pool swim training plan will not help you for an Alcatraz swim.
The Auburn Triathlon, run by Brad Kearns, has initiated a mandatory warm-up prior to the swim start. Thanks to RDs like him we will see a good and safe change in triathlon swimming.

Further to the preswim safety notes/instructions, Rudy has written about the probable causes of pulmonary edema (PE) in healthy, experienced swimmers. Summary of his notes are [Full article here]:
1) Immersion in general – and face immersion in particular
2) Cold water
3) A tight wetsuit
4) Physical exertion without warming up
5) Excessive hydration

Here are more articles on Open Water swimming that have some great points for general Open Water swimming, cold water swimming, worst case scenarios:

Open Water Training Tips By Clay Evans and Bonnie Adair•Competitor Magazine [Full Article]

8 Ways to Handle Swimming in Cold Water [Full Article]

6 Common Worst Case Scenarios for Open Water Swimmers and How to Avoid Them

Other articles and studies on Triathlon related deaths in water are:
Washington Post article: I agree more with Rudy's probable causes than panic attacks occurring in regular healthy triathletes. I'd agree that panic attacks are common in novice swimmers going out for their first few races. I have no data to back this, it is just a 'regular open water swimmer' hunch.

A JAMA study on Triathlon deaths

A JAMA letter, 'Causes of sudden death during a triathlon'

USAT is conducting a full study on these swim related deaths and their findings are yet to be published.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Expedition Man - 8/25/2012

Expedition Man - Ironman Distance race # 10. (Ten and done?)

Ten years ago I did my first Ironman race – Expedition Man was my 10th race in that distance.

And boy! Was I the least motivated to do this race…I really did not feel like racing, but went to do it anyway.

Expedition Man is a small, new, independent Iron distance race in Nevada. The swim is in Zephyr Cove, Lake Tahoe (2.4 miles), the bike from Zephyr Cove to Sparks, NV (112 miles) and the run was around Sparks, NV (26.2 miles).

Chakri, Murali Krishna (MK) and I drove up for the race, we were camping at Zephyr Cove (across the road from the swim start). The first logistic problem was figuring out how to get back from the finish in Sparks, NV to Zephyr Cove as this was a point to point race. After the convoluted registration process, which included a bike check at the Scheels Bike Store [delayed things and was rather lame], we set our running gear up in the boxes provided to us [neat idea by the RD]. We asked if there was a shuttle to bring us back to the start after the finish and the RD said nope...but there was a shuttle (you had to pay for it) leaving one of the Sparks hotels at 2:30AM taking folks from Sparks to Zephyr Cove. MK, who signed up for the half distance race, offered to drive the car at 2:00AM and park it at the hotel and take the shuttle back to the start – that way we had a car to come back after the finish! Thanks MK!

After checking in our bikes in the evening and setting up our tents in total darkness we folded in for the night. MK was up and out at 2:00AM...poor guy, due to some road closers he missed the shuttle at the first hotel and had to call the second hotel to hold the shuttle for him. The shuttle driver was not the most pleasant person, but she waited just long enough for MK to park and rush into the bus!

Chakri and I made it to the start with plenty of time to spare (it was just a walk across the road). I had forgotten my gels in the bear locker (yup there are bears around Lake Tahoe) so had to run back to fetch those. The race start was delayed as the sun had not risen we hung around waiting for the buoys to be fixed and the swim course to be figured out. Once the course was explained we set off for the 2.4 mile swim. I must say this was probably my best swim experience – the water was superb! Clear, clean, calm and cool. My timing did not matter – I was having fun. Once out of the water there is a 4-5 mile 1000 foot climb to about 7,300 feet out of Zephyr Cove, followed by an amazing 10 mile downhill to about 4,700 feet! After that the bike course has some rolling hills and some scenic spots. The last 20 miles were pure hell, nothing but in and out of residential areas in order to make the miles. The volunteers were great but did not know much about where the next water stops were . The last water stop at mile 90 or 93 miles also gave out incorrect information...they said ‘you have 6 miles to go’ – I looked any my watch and thought, wow that GPS is really screwed up! They also only half filled my bottles (while I ran to a bike shop to use the restroom) the next 15 miles were really irritating...more out and backs and I had run out of water.

The run was a 13.1 mile loop in one direction and then a few smaller loops in another direction. As usual, I had not checked the course so I was clueless. The first 13.1 loop was fine as there were other runners (including the relays and the half distance runners) so I just followed them. As I came back to the transition (a huge mall parking lot) I was pretty much lost...the volunteers had gone and I had no idea where I was supposed to go. I asked a guy in an orange vest and he directed me back towards the same loop I had come off I went. The cop at the highway crossing was shocked ‘didn’t you just come this way? Why are you heading back?’ I mumbled something about a second loop and he said ‘Oh! Second loop? of luck’. Off I went running in the wrong direction! I met Chakri and he told me I was running in the wrong direction but I was convinced I was right :)and carried on. The water stops were shutting down and one of them even called in to race central saying ‘Bib 320 is back! Looks like he really liked the loop and wants to run it again!’ I had no idea, I plugged on. The other water-stops were gone, the turnaround at the hotel was gone too...I started cursing the RD...I was out of gels, water and gas! As I was slowly fading a golf cart come racing towards me...the volunteers handed me some water and some ghastly sweet twisties! Ugh! They did not have any gels. A mile later a few more volunteers came by in a pickup and handed me coke, gels, water and one of the volunteers, Debbie Strickland, who founded the Northern Nevada Children's Cancer Foundation, walked with me with a flashlight as it was getting dark. I finished the race, laughing at my stupidity and the RD said I was fine as I did run a marathon...even though it was not on the actual race course!

Chakri finished just before mid-night and had his own drama on the run course, I think he ran a couple of miles more! After packing up we finally left for Zephyr Cove well past mid-night. MK was really tired and so was I – but we managed to keep talking long enough to get us back safely. I just jumped into my sleeping back and was out for the count in seconds...the bath could wait till morning!

Summary: Good race, great swim. The bike ride is fine...gets a bit boring later on. Make sure you carry enough stuff with you (Gels etc). They also need more porta johns along the bike course. The run is confusing, but hopefully next year they will have the marking done right. I will definitely recommend this race, the swim is great!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

OptimisSport - Distance Swim Challenge.
10 Km swim off Venice Beach in Los Angeles, CA

A calm morning in Marina Del Ray,
A serene ocean promised a brilliant day.
Bodyglide applied for rash free locomotion,
6:30AM all of us trotted into the Ocean.
Some ran and dashed in, in a flurry,
I don't get it, what is the big hurry?
Hit the first buoy and made a right,
First hint of sunlight…what a sight!
Coastline - framed in a golden glow,
Sun rose, the sea got clearer below.
Mesmerized by the gentle ocean swells,
wrapped in the earth's bosom, and it's spell.
Well into a rhythm past Venice beach pier,
A brush with kelp...shook me out of my rapture!
The runs into the beach were greeted with cheer,
The big breakers oft landed me on my derriere.
'This way!' she said, 'the current you can't fight',
To the gal on the surfboard, I owe you one alright!
The open seas, for sure, has a certain allure,
If all goes well, I'll be back next year!

(View of the coast from Venice Beach Pier)
(going back in during one of the 'out & back' sections)

(Saturday on the pier - we saw dolphins!)