The Only Swim Goggle Defogger You’ll Ever Need

Here’s a neat trick that we learned last year. Dave got a tip at a dive shop about how some divers use baby shampoo to keep their masks from fogging up. So we did some experimenting, and here’s my solution.

First, all you need are 1) baby shampoo, 2) tap water, and 3) a mini spray bottle that you can get at most drug stores:

What I do first is remove the spray nozzle unit and dip the plastic stem into the baby shampoo so it gets a very light coating:

I then fill the spray bottle about 7/8 full of tap water, leaving a bit of room at the top:

Finally, I place the shampoo-coated stem into the water-filled bottle and screw on the cap:

Whenever I need an instant defogging solution, all I have to do is shake up the bottle and apply a few sprays to each lens:

I keep the mixture dilute enough so I don’t have to rinse out my goggles or mask before putting them on. But feel free to do so if you just want a very light coating of the mixture.

The great thing about using baby shampoo is that it works unbelievably well as a defogger. Also, it’s specifically designed not to irritate your eyes (i.e. “no more tears’).

So give it a shot the next time you suit up. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much more effective it is than the much pricier defoggers at the sports stores. And the nice aroma also makes for a much more blissful swim experience!

How to Sight in the Open Water

In the “I don’t know how I missed this earlier” category, here’s a great video from Leslie Thomas at Swim Art on how to properly sight in the open water:

Check out the whole thing!

Swim Report – August 19, 2009 – Vertigo in the "Washing Machine"

Dave and I had spoke earlier in the day, and he reported lake temperatures of 68F (69F at Ohio Street Beach). Shortly after that, some pretty vigorous thunderstorms arrived and stayed with us into the early evening. The rains subsided a bit after 7:00pm, so I decided to do a run out to Ladder #1 and get in a quick swim.

The water temperature was quite pleasant at Ladder #1 in just my swim trunks. No immersion shock or thermoclines, so the heavy rains and winds had not affected the 68F mark one bit. But the water still had a 12-inch chop along with some rolling swells. This combination provided a “perfect storm” for vertigo – which began to settle in once I started swimming.

I stayed close to Ladder #1 and opted to do back-and-forth laps parallel to the wall. But I was surprised at how quickly the vertigo would set in once I slowed down or stopped completely. I tried focusing on the water rhythms, and that helped a little bit. But the only thing that really shook off the vertigo was just powering through the chops in short but intense bursts.

The key here is that when the lake gives you “washing machine” conditions, you’re not fighting a current per se. This makes it difficult to gauge the rhythms and patterns of the water movements – and the result can be dizziness or vertigo. So if you find yourself in these conditions, don’t go for a long aerobic swim. Instead, make it a short swim with higher intensity “sprints” in the water. And stay close to the edge or the shore so you can “bail out” if you start feeling too overwhelmed.

Rip Currents in Lake Michigan

Many of us recall our grandparents warning us about “undertows” or “undercurrents” along the coastlines of the Great Lakes or the oceans. A bit later on, the term “rip tides” came into vogue only to be replaced by the contemporary version of “rip currents.”

Regardless of the moniker, the phenomenon is still very much a reality to those of us who play or swim in open water. And while rip currents are not a significant issue at many of our swim sites, they are still a very real hazard to many of you who swim in Lake Michigan at other locations.

Please take a quick moment to check out this PSA on rip currents. It may just save your life one of these days.

Cherries and Post-Workout Recovery

Just a quick note. Cherries are in season right now, and recent studies have indicated that cherries or cherry juice are excellent for post-workout muscle recovery. They taste pretty good, too. But watch out for those pits!

How to Swim in Choppy Water

If you spend all your time training in a swimming pool, you really miss out on the fun experience of swimming in choppy, wavy water. And yes – you did read that right. It can be a heckuva lot of fun as long as you approach it prudently and armed with the best possible information.

So here are some tips:

1) Relax

Swimming out in the elements means forgoing the static, artificial environment of a swimming pool. It also means leaving a calm and controlled setting for one that can be highly unpredictable and even chaotic. As Dave notes:

Panic sets in once you realize that the surface is not flat, that it’s difficult to spot a point in the distance to aim for, and that the water is not clear. So it’s like swimming in a fog while looking in the water, which can be quite freaky.

The key theme here is control. In a swimming pool, everything’s controlled for you. The water is calm, clear, and temperate. You’re never more than a few feet from the edge of the pool, and you can see and touch the bottom at all times. You are essentially exercising in a very large bathtub.

Out in the lake, there are no such safety nets (or limitations, as we like to call them). You give up external control over your immediate environment in exchange for the (fun) challenge of interacting with the elements as they are. So you need to shift your locus of control internally. Namely, you need to give up trying to manage the water and instead focus on managing your reaction to everything.

2) Find the rhythm of the water

Nature may be whimsical at times, but it tends to defer to rhythms, cycles, and patterns that you can use to your advantage if you can just relax and keep your head during the swim. Even in the most ferociously choppy conditions, there is an ebb an flow pattern that you need to identify and work with – not against. Dave again:

You need to learn how to tell when your body is rising and falling in the waves to determine when it might be best to take a breath without the free mouthful of water. And all of these things will make you change your breathing pattern and stroke sequence in order to swim with the chop.

3) When in nature, mimic nature

Have you ever watched the activity patterns of aquatic mammals and waterfowl? They’re all masters at navigating chaotic water conditions because they instinctively know how to move and act in those circumstances. So do you – but all those hours of pool swimming have dulled your animal instincts.

The key is to act primal in the water. This means to throw out your pre-programmed swim/workout routine and apply short-burst, omni-directional movements that conserve energy by working with the patterns of the water – and not against them.

If you look at a seal or an otter, you’ll notice that they take an indirect, angular approach to currents and waves. If the chop is too large, they’ll time it right and dive underneath it versus expending energy fighting it. And they’re also quite adept at snatching a quick breath at any time and from any direction. You need to do this too.

4) Enjoy the adventure

In a nutshell – stop keeping score. This isn’t the high school state swim championship, and you don’t (hopefully) have a micromanaging coach and helicopter parents screaming at you from the beach. Think of it as just another fun adventure that happens to provide you with intense but manageable physical, mental, and emotional challenges – all of which you can brag about when you get together with your unenlightened pool swim buddies!

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SF Bay Swimming Primer

As more and more of you get comfortable swimming in Lake Michigan, I guarantee that you will be enticed by some of the more exotic swim events in San Francisco Bay. And you should definitely consider signing up for one (or more!) of them because they are hands down some of the coolest swim events you can do.

I field a lot of questions about swimming in SF Bay, and I’m always surprised at the level of misinformation surrounding these events. Most people seem to harbor two beliefs – namely, that SF Bay is dangerously cold and that it is infested by man-eating sharks. Both of these are false.

Regarding the latter, here’s a blurb from the Federal Bureau of Prisons site on the history of Alcatraz:

One of the many myths about Alcatraz is that it was impossible to survive a swim from the island to the mainland because of sharks. In fact, there are no “man-eating” sharks in San Francisco Bay, only small bottom-feeding sharks. The main obstacles were the cold temperature (averaging 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit), the strong currents, and the distance to shore (at least 1-1/4 miles). Prior to the Federal institution opening in 1934, a teenage girl swam to the island to prove it was possible. Fitness guru Jack LaLanne once swam to the island pulling a rowboat, and several years ago, two 10-year-old children also made the swim.

Regarding the former, yes the water in SF Bay is colder than an 80F swimming pool. But compared to Lake Michigan, it is relatively balmy for most of the year. While the SF Bay temperature rarely hits the 60F mark during the summer, the water doesn’t freeze over like it does here. Most of the time the SF Bay water temperature hovers in the 52F – 55F range, which we typically swim in on either end of the summer months (and during the winter, we swim in MUCH lower temperatures).

Just to give you an idea of what it’s like, here’s a write up for the Escape From the Rock Triathlon on what to expect during the swim:

If you find that when you jump in the water or start to swim that your heart begins to beat rapidly and your breathing feels out of control, this is perfectly normal. It’s just the adrenaline rush of race day paired with the shock of the cold bay water. Use your own judgment on whether to continue, especially if you have any medical conditions, but most people find that if they continue to swim, they warm up, get their breathing back under control and are able to get back into a groove and finish the swim. You may backstroke, or swim with your head out of the water until you’re comfortable to swim again.

Bottom line: with the proper equipment and preparation (all of which we blog about here) you can easily add a SF Bay swim to your list of endurance sports accomplishments.

The ultimate fact is that thousands of people do a Bay swim each year – and for many of these swimmers it’s their first open water experience ever. And if you still think this is something beyond your ability, let me remind you that a dog did the Alcatraz swim back in 2005 in just under 42 minutes.

How to Keep Your Stuff Safe When Swimming

When I first started going out to the lake to swim, I was always paranoid about what to do with my valuables. In fact, I would have recurring nightmares where I would visualize packs of Chicago hoodlums gleefully rifling through my possessions while I watched helplessly from 1/4 mile off shore.

These days, I’m less concerned about this since I’ve developed a system for managing this risk. Here’s what I do:

1) I only bring out items that I need – most of which I will be wearing anyway (i.e. wetsuit, goggles, swim cap).

This means that I leave many items such as my wallet, cell phone, and extra keys at home. I’ll lock up my bike and take the bike lock key with me in a zip lock bag. However, I don’t leave a bunch of stuff out in the open for strangers to peruse. If someone wants to pilfer my ratty old swim towel, I figure they must really be desperate – so I view it as an act of charity on my part.

2) If I have to bring out valuables, I make it as difficult as possible to purloin them.

If I decide to bring out a cell phone or house keys, I’ll stash them in one of the other swimmer’s vehicles or I’ll find a way to secure them on site. One of my favorite gadgets for this is a PacSafe travel pouch used by backpackers and travelers. It’s “slash proof,” and you can lock it up to your bike or to a fixed object.

3) I always try to swim in an organized group setting so there are people around to keep watch.

This is one of the side benefits to running and organizing a swim group. Having more people out at the swim site raises the overall level of monitoring and supervision. Not only does this keep you safer in the water, but it also ensures that more people will be watching over everyone’s stuff.

Learn Open-Water Swimming Skills for Summer Racing

Here’s another great swimming article at Active.com by Michael Collins, Masters swimming and triathlon coach. You can check out the link, but it’s so succinct that I copied it here in its entirety:

If you’re planning to swim in open water this summer, you already know the big blue sea requires some different–and additional–skills than does the pool. Here are five tips to help you shave time off your open-water swims:

1. Practice with a purpose: During open-water practice, try repeats of swimming out and back instead of relying solely on long, non-stop swims. Completing a 4×500 (swimming 250 meters out and 250 meters back, four times) can help with necessary open-water skills such as turning/swimming around buoys, navigation, and getting in and out of the water. You’ll also be more likely to bump into people unintentionally, which helps prepare for the inevitable contact found in open-water events.

2. Draft: Practice drafting with other swimmers just as you would practice drafting on your bike. You may gain some speed, you’ll get used to swimming with others in close proximity, and you won’t have to look up to sight quite as much. It’s still best to be responsible for your own positioning and do your own sighting to confirm where you’re going.

3. Straight as an arrow: Learn to swim straight. Most swimmers have a stronger side and prefer breathing to one side — both of which can send you off on an angle, fast. Practice regular sight-breathing in the pool as well as in open-water practice. Start by looking up every 8-10 strokes, and gradually work up to 20.

4. By the buoy: Turning directly next to buoys in open-water events may not be your ticket to a faster time. Avoid the inevitable slowing with all the crowds next to the buoy by swimming just a bit wider. You’ll save overall time and avoid much of the kicking and thrashing that is common at the turns.

5. Peel rubber: If you plan to wear a wetsuit for triathlons or other open-water swim races, practice, practice, practice getting your wetsuit off. Experiment with what works best for you to facilitate quick and easy removal. Many swimmers like to “pre-treat” their legs with a petroleum-free roll-on protectant used to prevent chafing, or with a fat-free cooking spray.

8 Ways to Handle Swimming in Cold Water

Kevin Koskella of Tri Swim Coach has an article at Active.com on “8 Ways to Handle Swimming in Cold Water.” Here are his recommendations:

1. Wear two caps. You lose most of your heat through your head, and doubling up your “capage” helps you to keep your heat in.

2. Wear a neoprene cap. Neoprene is better suited for cold water than standard latex.

3. You also lose lots of heat through your feet. Neoprene socks are a good idea, but you may want to use these mostly on training swims, as they can be a hassle when it comes to transitioning to your bike on race day.

4. Wear a wetsuit—but more specifically, a full suit. The sleeveless suits allow heat to escape through your armpits. I learned this the hard way when doing the Alcatraz swim in 52 degree water with a sleeveless, Farmer John-style suit. By the time I finished, I was in the early stages of frostbite. Keep in mind that, according to USA Triathlon rules, wetsuits are allowed at triathlons with water temperatures of 75 degrees Fahrenheit or below.

5. Put in earplugs. When the water drops below 60 degrees, I think earplugs become necessary—and they do work well in keeping your core temperature up.

6. Practice swimming in cold water in the weeks before your race. At first, it can be a shock to your system that can lead to hyperventilating or a panicked feeling. You will want to swim slowly until you catch your breath. The first time you experience this it can throw you off, but with practice you will get used to it and be able to relax into your swim.

7. Do a significant warm-up the morning of your race (10 to 15 minutes, minimum). This will minimize the shock effect that cold water can have and allow you to get into a stroke rhythm much faster.

8. Blow bubbles before taking off on your swim. When the cold water hits your face, the shock causes your lungs to contract, causing breathing problems. Go waist deep into the water and submerge your face to blow bubbles. This helps alleviate the shock of the cold water.

These are really good tips, especially the part about taking it slow early on in the race. Just a few items to add to this list:

9. “Prime” your body with a progressive cold shower 30-45 minutes prior to immersion. Train the water on your head, face, neck, and upper torso since these areas contain the greatest concentration of skin temperature receptors. If done correctly, you can easily forgo the ear plugs, neoprene cap, booties, and even the wetsuit in water as low as 50F.

10. Avoid dehydration (i.e. alcohol, caffeine consumption), low electrolyte intake, and sleep deprivation 8-12 hours before the swim. These things compromise your body’s ability to manage colder temperatures.

11. Smile and have fun out there!