Training Update

Wednesday 12/23/09

I have around 25,000 yards of catch-up drill under my TYR now. Coach Val was absolutely right. This drill makes it impossible to backslide to my old “boogie woogie” stroke. The new style is almost starting to feel ingrained and the sense of sleek propulsion is just delightful. It’s difficult to judge whether I’m faster but in the Dolphin Club NYD Alcatraz qualifier last Saturday, I did finish ahead of people who normally beat me. More importantly, my finish earned me a shower without waiting in a long, cold, shivering line. I also nabbed a seat on the top bench of the sauna. That was a surprising treat given how many men showed up for the swim, many of them quite fast.

Coach has been assigning me all-drill workouts that start with something like ten, three hundred yard stretches punctuated by twenty second breaks between. Then, he’ll have me swim declining intervals of 500 yards, followed by 400, followed by 300, followed by 200, followed by 100. Then he’ll make a video of my stroke for a few lengths of the pool. Last week, we reviewed the first video recording together. It was painful for me to watch, but he was quite pleased. He said rather gleefully, “Your Dolphin friends ask me what I do to you. They say your stroke completely different.” Then he intoned, “This your new stroke. With this stroke, you can swim English Channel. With old stroke ….” At this he pursed his lips, looked down, and shook his head gravely as if contemplating a ship foundering on a leeward shore in a strong gale.

On Tuesday, he had me swim catch-up drills for about an hour and a half. Then he said, “You ready for next step.” He again showed me the “real freestyle” stroke which looks like “almost catch-up.” One hand stays pointed at the end of the swim lane while the other completes a full pull-through and returns forward to just past the head. Slightly before getting touched, the gliding hand begins its pull-through as the other one assumes the glide position and points toward the end of the lane. With this slight adjustment, the stroke generates all the power and glide provided by the catch-up drill while maintaining the maximum possible momentum.

Some time ago, a friend of mine taught me a phrase borrowed from his European friends, “Strong like ox—smart like tractor.” He would illustrate by flexing his biceps and then pointing fingers to each side of his head. A vivid picture of my friend runs through my head as I ply the pool lanes. The catch-up drill is “strong like ox.” The nearly catch-up is the “smart like tractor” part.

Just before I left the pool, Coach showed me a faster turn. My custom has been to grab hold of the pool gutter at the end of the lane and leverage my body around 180 degrees. Coach Val demonstrated a maneuver where the lead hand pushes vigorously against the wall, reversing the upper torso direction while the legs bend at the knees and continue sliding forward. The trailing hand remains pointing at the opposite end and is joined in a diver’s clasp by the one that pushed off the wall. The legs are naturally coiled in a position to immediately jet away from the wall. When executed properly, in one continuous and flowing motion, the swimmer maintains a streamlined profile and reverses course like a darting fish. Coach pointed out that this new turn technique provides a much shorter rest period between changes of direction and provides a better approximation of open water swimming.

He also took me through a brief equipment checklist. “What goggles you use in Channel?” I pointed to the ones on my head. “No allergy?” he asked. I shook my head. “No fogging?” I shook my head. “No leaking?” I shook my head. He said, “Good. Now swimsuit. What you use in Channel?” I pointed to what I was wearing. He asked about chafing or other discomfort. Getting no complaints, he cautioned, “Make sure not too tight. Then can’t pee. And not too loose. Then will cause drag.” The next topic was food. “What you eat?” I told him about Carbo-Pro and the brief testing I’d done. He strongly cautioned me to try it on longer swims in the Bay to ensure no adverse reaction. He also advised me to take along a backup food in case of a sudden change of metabolism mid-Channel. He was happy to hear that Lindsay was going to be the crew chief on the boat, taking charge of feeding and video documentation. He said, “Make sure you work out signals so she knows what you want—water, food, whatever.” I told him that was one of the things we planned to practice on the longer Bay training swims. He smiled and said, “I think you make it. No problem.”

Leaving Koret, I went to the Dolphin Club and swam a big cove putting another four squares up for the Polar Bear. It was a rough and windy day, but my new stroke slid forcefully through the chop. As I sliced through the waves I kept repeating to myself in a Texas two-step rhythm, “Strong like ox—smart like tractor.”

The Polar Bear Challenge

Monday 12/21/09

As it has every year since 1974, the Polar Bear swim started today. Many cities boast “polar bear” swims. In Chicago and Boston, bathers wade into Lake Michigan and the Atlantic on New Year’s Day and stay for several seconds. In the arctic countries, people regularly cut holes in the ice and frolic as many as two minutes. The Dolphin Club Polar Bear lasts all winter. It runs from the Winter Solstice on December 21 until it ends on March 21 with the arrival of the Spring Equinox. Members keep track of their distance in quarter-mile increments on large, quadrilled charts mounted at the entrance to the club. Logically, swimmers often refer to the distance they’ve covered in a day in terms of squares. “We did four squares today—at least a mile.” Since 1984, earning a polar bear requires swimming forty miles (or 160 squares) in the San Francisco Bay or equivalent cold, open water. An official notice on the sign-up sheet some few years ago proclaimed that “the use of wetsuits and/or swim aids is viewed with scorn and contempt.”

This swim was the inspiration of Bill Powning. The original Polar Bear began in 1974 when the requirement was set at twelve miles. In those days, Bay swimming was pretty much confined to the relatively warmer summers. For both clubs at the time, handball was the predominant winter sport. It vied only with holiday bacchanalia for popularity. Mr. Powning wanted to swim in the winter, though, and he wanted company. Cleverly, he titled the event “The Polar Bear Challenge” knowing what would spur maximum participation from the all-male membership at the time. It worked. Over the years, the mileage bar rose to eighteen, then twenty, then thirty, until it reached its current mark at forty miles. In the early 1990’s some members, perhaps facetiously, agitated for a fifty mile Polar Bear. They met with stalwart resistance and the topic was soon dropped.

Since its inception, earning a “polar bear” has meant being recognized with the gift of a three-quarter inch block of white marble. For virgin recipients, these awards are mounted with a small replica of a polar bear. Perversely, this trinket is not distributed until the November awards dinner. The memento provides a timely reminder to participants of their previous winter accomplishment and tacitly encourages them to go for one more.

For many, these marble blocks stray into drawers and closets and other hidden corners; perhaps serving as a paperweight here or a doorstop there. Not so for Mr. Powning. He glued his blocks together, creating a towering trophy reflecting the glory of his consecutive string of successful polar bears. By the time he stopped swimming, Mr. Powning held the undisputed record. The current consecutive polar bear record belongs to Vincent Huang whose first polar bear dates to the 1978-1979 season. Emulating the Polar Bear Challenge founder, Mr. Huang's stack of thirty-one glued marble blocks is only a few short years from reaching a full yard long. Mimi Osborne holds the women’s record. She started swimming the polar bear in 1980, shortly after women were admitted to the Dolphin Club. Her consecutive string stands at twenty-nine.

It wasn’t until the 1984-1985 season that the custom emerged of crowning a polar bear champion. The occasion for this was the first polar bear of more than one hundred miles. Elmer Tosta swam 101.5 miles that winter. His name was the first to grace the perpetual trophy plaque that hangs in the Staib Room of the Dolphin Club today. Since then, nine people have swum 200 miles or more during the Polar Bear Challenge. Among these is Joe Illick, a four-time winner who snagged his first championship at the age of 69. George Kebbe set a record many believed unsurpassable when he swam 255 miles one winter. A few winters later, though, Suzie Dods swam 256 miles. The next year, Mr. Kebbe returned to swim 356 miles, a mark that would surely stand forever. And it did until Ralph Wenzel tied the record with his own 356 mile polar bear in 2007.

A new wrinkle in the Polar Bear Challenge is recognition for the “first to forty.” The year of its inception, the competition was over before the New Year began. Then Peter Perez extended the idea of “double-dipping.” Most modern Polar Bear Challenge winners swim twice a day. It’s simply too cold to swim four miles in one effort. However, a “triple dip” would inevitably evoke remark. Mr. Perez had a theory, though. He hypothesized that a person could repeatedly swim a distance to the point of becoming only slightly uncomfortable; warm up; and immediately return to the water. He considered sleep deprivation the only barrier to doing this indefinitely. Putting his theory to the initial test in 2006, he successfully swam all forty miles in slightly more than four days. Copying his method, faster swimmers have shaved that record to about three and a half days.

Mr. Perez’ goal this year is to swim forty miles in less than two days. He started his first dip at 12:01a this morning. By 9:00a, he was working on his eighth mile. He is scheduled to attempt the English Channel in August, 2010 and believes that this effort is good physical and mental preparation. Although the swimming itself is interrupted, it has many of the same elements of discipline, pain, and constant exertion over a long period.

I’m sorry that Bill Powning can’t bear witness to these extraordinary endeavors. He was a wonderful sauna companion and would surely have some entertaining remarks regarding the evolution of his original notion.

The Mendoza Line

Wednesday 12/16/09

Lou Marcelli is the grizzled eminence grise of the Dolphin Club. Actor, chef, and club commodore, Mr. Marcelli maintains a disciplined year-round swimming schedule. As an avid baseball fan and keen observer of Bay water temperatures, he was the first to appropriate the phrase “Mendoza Line.”

Shortstop Mario Mendoza has long been known for setting the major league standard for beggarly batting average. Baseball players who strike the ball successfully one out of three times enjoy outsize acclaim and riches. A lifetime batting average of .333 is among the performance statistics that will trigger candidacy for the Baseball Hall of Fame. In fact, anything at or near the .300 mark qualifies as a remarkable hitting career.

George Brett, with a lifetime batting average of .305, is apocryphally credited with saddling Mr. Mendoza with his unfortunate distinction. The term applies to a player who fails to safely strike the ball in two out of ten plate appearances. As such, anyone failing to hit at least .200 is “below the Mendoza Line.” As with other colloquial phrases the origins of this one are in some dispute. Some historians theorize that years ago, when the Sunday papers didn’t report all batting averages, Mario Mendoza provided the demarcation below which this statistic was absent. Others suggest that this is a reference to failing to “hit your weight,” when a ballplayer’s batting average is less than his body weight in pounds. In this case, the Mendoza line fluctuates.

As it relates to the Bay, the Mendoza line doesn’t fluctuate. When the water chills to below 50 degrees, the line is breached. For Dolphins who are aware of this boundary, it takes a spectral form. As the temperature nears 50, Mendoza is sighted descending from Mt. Tamalpais. At 50, Mendoza is knocking on the door. When the temperature cracks the south side of 50, Mendoza takes up residence at the Oprah buoy. When the temperature remains below 50 for several days or weeks, Mendoza and his extended family are camped in a freezing caravan at the Oprah, toasting marshmallows, and singing “Let it Snow.”

Most Dolphins will agree to four general categories of Bay water temperature. Above 60 degrees is “balmy.” Between 55 and 60 is “brisk.” Between 50 and 55 is “cold.” Below the Mendoza line, it’s “f***ing freezing.”

Regarding the latter category, the betting usually revolves around whether Mendoza will arrive in time for the New Year’s Day Alcatraz swim. This year, the plunging thermometer has the smart money riding on his appearance before the Polar Bear starts on December 21st. Odds are currently at 5:1 and my money’s on Mendoza.

South End Qualifier

Saturday 12/12/09

Both Bay swimming clubs conduct numerous organized swims each year. Of the pure swim events, though, the New Year’s Day Alcatraz is hard to beat. It is easily the most adrenaline-fueled swim of the year. On one end of the scale, the greyhounds of both clubs show up in force. The vibe that emanates from Olympic class and near-Olympic class athletes is palpable. And this isn’t just sitting in the stands, admiring phenomenal performances. This is checking in, riding the boat to the island, and jumping in the water shoulder to shoulder with swimmers among the top two percent of the world. This is total immersion in a bath of fast-twitch fibers.

On the other end of the scale are the folks for whom finishing is an uncertain goal. The water temperature is often below fifty degrees as it will be this year. At close to one and a half miles, the swim is longish for slower swimmers. The currents on New Year’s Day are typically quite strong. Anxiety adds spice to the competitive pheromones circulating in the air, creating an intoxicating mixture.

Gaiety is the third contribution to this emotional soup. For a large portion of the swimmers and pilots, this is not a race; it’s a celebration and a lark. What better way to start the New Year? What fun it is to bob around in the icy Bay in the early morning while most other people are sleeping off their New Year’s Eve excesses. Silly hats, costumes, and body paint contribute to the celebratory atmosphere. If CNN or other news agencies show up, all the more giddiness.

The South End is the annual host for this dual-club extravaganza. Volunteers plan the jump time, arrange for swimmer transportation to the rock, conduct the briefing, provide timing and recording, and ensure adequate pilot coverage. The South End swim commissioner is responsible for making the final determination to start the swim or not. Dense fog or lightning can jeopardize the safety of all.

Among other safety measures in place is the requirement for participants to complete a qualifying swim. Qualifying swims approximate the chill and distance that will be encountered on NYD and provide a reliable indication of a candidate’s ability to finish. Each club operates its own qualifier and Saturday was the occasion for the South End.

Chris Blakeslee, usually referred to by his nickname, El Sharko, successfully swam the Channel in 2004. He piloted the South End qualifier and took pictures. One of my favorites is his close-up of the digital thermometer at the Kebbe showing 50.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

The South End course was an “inside/outside.” This is code for swimming to the east end of the breakwater on the shore side, or “inside.” The next leg consists of turning around and swimming back to the Opening on the Bay side, or “outside” the breakwater. From the Opening, we closely hugged Muni Pier (no shortcuts under the Roundhouse), looped around the Goal Posts and the Flag, and ended at the club beach. It was a blast! I’m eagerly anticipating the big day.

Stroke Breakthrough

Thursday 12/10/09

Coach Val has been giving me stroke advice and correction. He teaches the same way that Clint Eastwood reportedly directs movies—simple, direct, and succinct. Last week, at the end of two hours, he stood at the end of my lane and said, “Larry!” Once he had my attention, he said, “Stroke getting better.” Then he held his arms over his head with his hands about three feet apart and said, “Was like this.” Then he moved his hands two feet apart and said, “Now like this.” Then he moved his hands six inches apart and said, “Make like this.” Then he walked away.

Tuesday, I did another two hour swim at Koret. Coach started me off with a 500 yard freestyle warm-up. Then he had me do eight iterations of 800 yard intervals with a 50 second rest between each. He ended this with kicking four short lengths. This workout put me well ahead of schedule for two hour swims. It was still early morning when I got back to my office. I updated the planning calendar with a more aggressive schedule, including a five hour swim in the pool in March. Writing these numbers on the laminate immediately boosted my confidence for meeting or exceeding my Bay goals when the water starts warming up in April.

During one of the rest periods between the 800’s, Coach said, “Stroke is better. Keep practicing.” I was thrilled. I like to think of myself as a quick study and have been disappointed that I can’t seem to immediately implement the stroke guidance he’s been volunteering. This morsel of praise was delectable.

At the end of the session, though, Coach said, “Larry! Listen to me—very important. When you get tired, you go back old way swimming. It will take you 14 or 15 hours to swim Channel. Concentrate when tired. Practice all the time—at home—in Bay.” Discouraging as it was to hear, the criticism goaded me to redouble my attention to stroke mechanics.

Back in the pool on Thursday, Coach started me with 250 yards of freestyle in a lane by myself. He came over after a few laps; smiled; and said, “Very good. Making progress.” It was fortunate that I was wearing only a standard swimming costume as my swelling chest encountered no buttons to bust.

Then he had me do 2,500 yards of catch-up drill. “You know catch-up?” he asked. He pantomimed a freestyle stroke where both hands are raised straight above the head and touching one another. Then the left starts its downward motion, tracing as much of the centerline of the body as it can reach. All the while, the right hand stays extended high above the head until the left catches up and plays “tag, you’re it.” Triggered by this touch, the right hand begins its own downward descent and dissection of the body’s centerline until it returns high above the head to greet the patiently waiting left. He repeated this motion a couple of cycles and then grinned wolfishly at me. “Will make it impossible to do this.” At which point he rotated both arms wildly away from his body in a frenzied imitation of the stroke I’d originally brought to his pool.

Executing the first couple of hundred of yards of this drill, my stroke rate was about half of normal. In order to get adequate air, I had to breathe on every stroke. This led to the exhilarating discovery that breathing on the left didn’t feel nearly as awkward doing the catch-up stroke. My entire body was rotating a full 180 degrees with each stroke, making getting a breath on either side more natural. I then concentrated on increasing my stroke rate to near-normal while diligently touching each hand to the other. It felt like I was jetting forward at the end of each stroke, much like the feeling of a jet turn on snow skis in hip-deep powder. And the improved bi-lateral breathing comfort came with no additional charge.

Coach cruised by from time to time with a huge smile on his face, giving me two enthusiastic thumbs up. At one point he stopped and showed me a dry land version of front-quadrant swimming. He demonstrated a stroke that was “nearly catch-up.” The hands never actually touched, but both arms were well above shoulder level before the stroke was initiated. As his arms swung gracefully over his head, he began to bounce his torso up and down in rhythm, giving a dry land illustration of the jetting effect. Then he started chanting, “one … two … one … two” and stepping lightly from side to side as if doing the Texas two-step. With a big grin he said, “This is real freestyle.”

I was in the pool for less than an hour and a half, but was becoming absolutely pooped. In order to rest, I’d periodically slow my rotation rate back down to half-normal and still focus on touching one hand to the other and cleaving the body’s centerline with each stroke. As I tired, I felt an increasing urge to jettison the straightjacket of the graceful, balletic style and return to my wanton, boogie-woogie roots. This was plenty for one day as far as I was concerned.

Coach asked me to bring a video recorder to the next session. He said, “You’re ready for next step.” I was too tired to ask what the next step might be. There was a single predominant thought coursing through my brain. I probably needed another 50,000 yards of catch-up drill if I'm going to build the requisite “real freestyle” muscles and permanently excise the last vestige of the boogie-woogie stroke from my mind. After all, it’s a long way across that ditch.

Virgin Sunriser (Almost)

Wednesday 12/09/09

Ralph Wenzel and I are getting into a flow of Monday and Wednesday morning swims in the Bay. It’s just delightful to have a steady swim companion. Besides the camaraderie, there’s the spur to extra effort. Now that the water temperature is around 52 degrees and dropping, it’s reassuring to have the company of a fellow frigid soul. There’s also the added creativity regarding course selection.

Ralph taught me the “Maylander” course on Monday. We did a clockwise Cove, looping around the Flag and Goal Posts, hugging Muni Pier, under the Roundhouse and out to the Bad Becky. Then we reversed course and unwound the previous route in the counter-clockwise direction until we reached the Oprah. Then we swam under the Hyde Street Pier, up the fairway on the other side, around the Bad Becky and over to the Kebbe to check the thermometer there. From the Kebbe, it’s a short sprint back to the beach and hot showers and sauna. I’m not sure who Maylander is, but the swim was exhilarating. I’ll have to remember to ask Ralph about the course architect next Monday.

Ralph and I planned to swim with the Sunrisers this morning. They have been advertising a Pier 7 swim on the SERC chat group and that’s right up my alley for training purposes. It’s about a two mile swim, but should only take about forty-five minutes with the strong anticipated ebb at seven a.m. That’s a little shorter than what I’ve been doing lately, but it’s not as sheltered as Aquatic Park and has more than a modicum of “open ocean” ambience.

South End customs and common courtesy require the swimmers to help put the pilot boats away after the swim. I’m more nervous about that than I am about the swim itself. These Sunrisers are decidedly much tougher than I. The water’s cold. The air is colder. When a swim is completed, I’m ready to hightail it to the sauna. Nevertheless, I had brought my swim coat and was determined to do my part.

Ralph and I showed up at six a.m. We were there in plenty of time to help prepare and launch the “Zods,” the inflatable, motorized craft the Sunrisers use for piloting and transportation to the start. In the process, I overheard someone say that they were calling “an Alcatraz audible.” Pricking up my ears, I heard one swimmer ask if perhaps the building ebb might be a deterrent to making it to the Aquatic Park opening from Alcatraz. The reply was, “Oh, we’ll probably end up at Coughlan Beach or Fort Mason.” Well, that put a new twist on things.

I was worried before about postponing a hot shower and sauna to help pull boats. Now, I was facing scrambling into a Zodiac in the forty degree air after the swim, possibly waiting for slower swimmers, and then whizzing through the chilling breeze for another ten or fifteen minutes to get to the dock where I could help pull the boats. These Sunrisers are WAY tougher than I!

Ralph asked someone what happened to the Pier 7 plan. The answer involved a second Sunriser group (who knew there was more than one?) that swims from Alcatraz every Wednesday. The decision was to combine the two swims and increase the merriment.

I was really looking forward to getting to know these people a little better. I’d been following some of them on the SERC and Channel chat groups and knew they were on the wild and crazy side. That held more than a little appeal. This turn of events, however, shorted my circuits. Suddenly a nice, boring, two mile swim in the Cove wasn’t looking so bad. Ralph and I consulted briefly. He was still willing to go for it, but he said, “I’ve done this before. Getting into the Zodiac after a really cold swim is just miserable!” Getting to know the members of the other club was just going to have to wait.

I scratched our names off the sign-up list and we made our adieus. A few minutes later, we were on the club beach in our standard swim costumes and sporting our blinking lights. The Sunrisers were piling into the Zodiacs at the end of the dark dock and heading out for their jump at Alcatraz.

Ralph suggested we swim the Kebbe course today. I was still muddled from the hectic scene next door, so I needed to ask what that was. “Oprah, Flag, Oprah, Flag, Oprah, Flag, Oprah, Flag, Oprah.” Of course. Mr. Kebbe is still famous for his undeviating route to a 356 mile Polar Bear. We wound up doing a Modified Kebbe with a Maylander Flourish. That’s a mile and a half of back and forth followed by a trip under Hyde Street Pier, around the end, and back. We had a blast.

Standing under a hot shower afterwards, we agreed that we’d made the right choice. It’s still a long time until September and I’ll have plenty of chances to become more familiar with the folks next door. Today was a fascinating introduction, though.

My Blog Made Me Do It

Sunday 12/06/09

Holy Mackerel! A torrent of response to this blog has burst forth in the last couple of days. Nancy Friedman, Chief Wordworker at, publicized the blog in a couple of places and my email in-basket swelled with well-wishes. Responding to this outpouring causes me to realize a couple of things.

One discovery is that I very much enjoy writing about this mission ... quest ... thing. The writing compliments and inspires the physical training. Among the ideas that drift through my head during a long training swim are potential topics for a new blog entry. I’ll write and rewrite a sentence in my head for a half mile or more until a phrase erupts that makes me chuckle. Susan Sward, a professional writer of renown and member of the Dophin Club recently told me she believed that writing about the doing is mutually reinforcing. That's certainly been my experience.

The second thought that emerges is, “I can’t quit now.” It has gotten to the point that I feel I would be letting a lot of people down not to pursue this project to its logical denouement. What is perhaps more compelling is that I, too, want to find out what happens next and how the story ends. This evokes the image of a Hollywood script with plenty of room left for the actors’ improvisations. It’s a road trip, quest, and buddy story all rolled into one and chock full of drama, comedy, and mystery. Sometimes I feel as if I’m merely the chronicler.

I also like learning this new stuff. Researching various topics for blog entries gratifies my dormant inner student. Sharks in the English Channel. Nuances of tidal diamond interpretation. Hypothermia treatment protocols. All of these topics provide opportunities to put the vast resources of the internet to use. I intend to visit the library for the first time in thirty-five years to gain access to expensive scientific journals not available for free on the internet. This will give me source material for an informed essay on topics such as brown fat vs. white fat and swim-specific weight training. I hope not to find reason to research topics such as injuries to the shoulder due to repetitive use.

Anne Lamott penned a hysterically funny book about writing called, “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.” The humor embodies an ardent love letter to truth and beauty and the writing process. Lindsay gave me this book many years ago. Reading it kindled a desire to wrestle with words, paint pictures for the mind, and tell stories. In Ms. Lamott's book, she relentlessly advises the aspiring writer to simply sit down and write. Come to think of it, that’s a whole lot like the admonition to just shut up and swim. The writing and the doing are truly fraternal twins.

How's the Training Going?

Tuesday 12/01/09

I finally bit the bullet and joined the USF Masters Swim Team. Channel swimmer, Duke Dahlin, took me under his wing and ushered me through the somewhat intimidating process of applying, registering, and orientation. Mr. Dahlin introduced me to Coach Valeriy Boreyko who kindly admitted me to the program. Coach Val excused several of my Masters shortcomings. 1: I’m hopeless at any stroke but freestyle. 2: I’m not competent at flip turns. 3: I’m not very interested in pool competition. Ignoring these deficiencies, Coach has agreed to concoct a personalized program to help improve my chances for a successful crossing. My pool goals are to get in some additional mileage during the winter, work on stroke technique, and increase my sprint capacity with interval training.

In the Bay, I’m swimming a little over two miles five days a week. The temperature is closing in on 53 degrees and I’m uncomfortably cold after an hour. Ralph Wenzel and I have begun swimming together and he graciously adjusts his pace to mine. It’s simply terrific having a companion in the cove and Ralph has impeccable credentials. From December 21, 2006 through March 21, 2007, he swam 365 miles in San Francisco Bay. In those 90 days of winter, he went to work, swam two miles in the morning, went back to work, and then swam two more miles that evening. It was not a warm winter and he took nearly no days off. He’s quite an inspiration.

Lindsay found a laminated yearly planner for me online. The calendar is two feet by three feet and occupies a prominent place on my office wall. I’ve made several entries with dry-erase markers. The start and end of my Channel window are in red. Our airline travel days are in green. For the long Bay swims, I’ve used big blue numbers to indicate my intended hours in the water. During the winter, I’ve marked long pool swims with black numbers. A laminated surface and dry-erase markers were a good idea. We’ve already made multiple modifications of our own. When I told Coach that I intended to do a ten or twelve hour swim a month before my window, he pursed his lips and shook his head and said, “I don’t think that’s enough recovery time. I will check.”

Lindsay bought me a green swim cap that says, “Eat, Swim, Sleep.” That pretty much sums up the current phase of preparation. Gazing at the planner on the wall, more swimming looms.