Partnering Your Masters Swimming Program with Triathletes and Open Water Swimmers by Frank Marcinkowski and Jim Halstead (2009)


[Frank]: What I would like to do is talk to you a little bit about our approach. Those of you who were not here in the earlier presentation, we talked a lot about the success factors of our club, that we think can lend themselves to your club [earlier talk= Success Factors in the Growth and Development of a Masters Swimming Program]. We grouped them into four different categories, and one of those categories was strategic partners. I am going to focus-in a lot more on just a couple of our strategic partners, and I’ve even broadly classifying them as: triathletes and open water swimmers. We have other strategic partners as well, including a university and some other things. But here I want to focus on these two strategic partners, and talk mostly about how we work with them. How we sort of got to where we did with them. I am not going to talk too much about how they came to the team. Did we market to them, and all of that. But ask questions because there is a lot of that too.

I will go through… I’m just I am just going to throw out a bunch of—this will be fun—I will throw out a bunch of slides and concepts and stuff like that at you. You know I think, and I am talking both open water swimmers and triathletes, our approach—not unlike our swimmers—the first step is maybe get-to-know their sport a little bit. Gain a basic understanding of their sport, including an understanding of the competition piece of their sport. We talked a lot this morning about competition within USMS and all that; our team competes pretty seriously, a little bit sometimes. But these guys do too—maybe even more so. I mean it is a social club; it is a workout. A lot of them are focused towards a competition, a self-competition at least. So get to know their sport.

I am trying… you know I have got over half of my team—and we have got almost 300 of our 500 swimmers—are triathletes or open water swimmers. I am trying to learn more about [it]… I am trying to learn how to ride a bike, to be honest with you. I have got a ways to go. Yeah, that is me [on slide] in Steamboat Springs, going down; so I have got a ways to go. But seriously, I am going to get it when I go back Performance [the bicycle manufacturer] has their biggest sale of the year. I have been talking to people. I’m getting a new mountain bike, and I am going to get a new road. I am starting to learn how to ride, but I can’t ride with them yet [the triathletes on his team]—they are too good for me. But I will get there; I will catch some of them.

You guys know this… we will start with… I will call it Part I: Triathletes; Part II: Open Water Swimmers. So the first piece, about get to know your athlete, applies to both of them.

[Part 1: Triathletes]
Now we will just talk a little bit about triathletes—there are a lot of similarities. They run, right? Many of them came from a running background. Unlike myself, they bike. Some of them bike pretty good. Biking, by the way, can get fairly technical. Swimming is very technical. You want to relate to a triathlete? Start talking gear as a bicyclist and technique in the pool as a swimmer; and they pick-up on that pretty quick.

But what about… what’s next? What’s the third part? The swimming, right. And this is not fair; I mean, there are triathletes out there that are so much better swimmers than I’ll ever be. I am generalizing here. In general, when they come to us, probably when they come to you, they bike, they run and they want to swim. Or they may swim a little bit, but they want to swim better. That is why they are with ya.

And these are some common features we’ve experienced and I think they hold true. I probably missed some—my triathletes could help me, in here. But when they come to us they are generally pretty darn good aerobic machines; they’re good athletes. Most of our triathletes come and they show up on deck and it is like: wow, where have you been training? Miles, miles, miles: on the bike, on the run and even in the weight room. They are generally severely time constrained. Boy, if you think, if we think we are time constrained as swimmers—and I am talking now to the sort of—just pick-up two more, pick-up two more sports—including a very technical sport as well: biking. Alright?

Generally, I am generalizing, they generally… maybe it is not fair to say [that] they have little-to-no swimming background; they generally have less swimming background than they do biking and running. Of the triathletes that come to us, at least 9-out-of-10 are runners or bikers by competitive background. And it is even more than that: the ones we have that have a swimming background came from within; they are swimmers who became triathletes. So hardly ever does a swimmer come to us. Ed Zerkle, we’ll talk about one of our strategic partners that… I call him the lead Z’er. Tri-Team Z is his team, he is the lead Z’er. He came from a swimming background; he’s a Division I swimmer—very unusual for us.

Okay, so they [triathletes] are generally fiercely dedicated and committed. These guys remind me… I don’t know if any of you in the room work with Department of Defense, with Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps. They remind me of Marines. They are looking for the manual. You read something to them out of the manual, and be careful what you say: they go do it. They listen—it’s just incredible.

Where do you begin? If you’ve got them coming to your program; if you want to attract to a new program: where do you begin? I think the place to begin is technique. I am not stuttering: it is so important I put it up there three times. It is just technique, technique, technique. And the question came up this morning, and it was a great question. One of our newer Masters coaches said they don’t… her group, she has a fairly-large group, and they just want to workout. They want to get their heart rate up; they want to crank yards. And this can be a problem with these guys. Can be a problem with these guys too, but, in general, they tend to listen. You have to get past this, up-front. If you can’t get them conceptually focused early-on on technique, despite the need, the limited hours, the need to train, the need…. These guys get their heart rate up a lot. I told you, they are aerobic machines. They can probably get-by with less training than your average swimmer. But technique…

[Jim]: We had a very similar experience as the young lady had this morning. So what we did was, as we developed this strategic partnership, we had this influx of athletes coming in with some special needs. We literally set aside clinics, specifically geared for them. It was awesome because they come to the table, like Frank said, the heart and the lungs: they are walking heart and lungs—these things just happen to hang around over here. So they are ready to absorb the technique. You do not have to worry about giving them a little bit of a base so they can sustain the right technique, body position and such. It is kind of there: you just have to capitalize on it.

[Frank]: You might, and this is the approach we take and it might be the approach you take to, you might want to consider beginning with some, you know, having different levels. Because often times, in our case, they are so far away from technique that, gosh, we have to almost… I want to say teach them to swim, but we have got to teach them the very, very basics of streamlining, of buoyancy, of recovery. So they are very, very much a beginner… what I would call maybe not a beginner swimmer, but a beginner efficient swimmer, beginner competitive swimmer. And then intermediates, and then you are going to have some that are intermediate-advanced or even very advanced.

But what I would maintain is when they get to that intermediate or certainly, when they get to what I call that intermediate-advanced level, they are ready for Masters. And that is our goal with them: is to assimilate them into Masters, if you will. To make them better swimmers. And the best way we can do that is to get them into the Masters program, ultimately. We’ll do the clinic work with them, we will fix your stroke and all, but we still haven’t trained them—they’re not there.

Okay, so right off the bat, let’s try teaching them stroke technique: first and foremost. Mostly freestyle, not all freestyle. Second, and this is hard: dispel the myths. And I’d like to hear you guys say more, but these are the myths I have from 9-out-of-10 triathletes that walk in the door. You know, when I start looking at their body position or even if it is good body position, I look at the legs following the rest of the body. And it is not even a 2-beat, it’s nothing; it’s following the body. I am like: where is your kick? “Oh no, we have got to save that. We have got to save that kick for, save our legs for running, for bicycling and running.” And I do not necessarily disagree with that, but again, my goal is to teach them how to swim and how to swim well. And ultimately my goal is to help in a triathlon too, and the way you’re going to help in a triathlon the most, is to teach them how to swim, right? First and foremost. And make a great swimmer out of them and develop a great kick, and then let them race, “easing off”. Maybe doing a light 6-beat kick, I’ll even say a 2-beat kick if they need it. But they are not going to get from here to there without kicking. They’re never going to get their body over their arms, they are always going to try pulling their arms past their body. So we really… these myths are huge to get beyond them.

My triathletes, they finally hop in the pool, or we start them off in the pool, and they won’t touch the bottom. They are sitting there treading water while we are talking. Then they start getting tired and they are going under. Throw in a kickboard: no, they won’t touch it. They don’t think… you know, they won’t do a flip turn—they do not want to touch the wall, a lot of them. Or if they do, it is an open turn. So we try to get a-ready… no, we are going to teach you how to swim. We are going to teach you how to kick; we are going to teach you how to kick very efficiently and hard. We want you doing flip turns.

I always say to them, and they are always… while I am talking they are worried about their aerobic base. I say: you guys are worried about your aerobic base and you want to keep it up and you want to improve it? Okay, we are going to do 5 dolphin kicks off that far wall, and we are going to do 10 dolphin kicks off this wall, and we are going to see who collapses first. And boy, they go down. And nothing will bring their aerobic base up, I think, as-quick as starting to punish them with no oxygen. Keep them underwater and they don’t breathe. And they get-it real quick when you do that; they are like, “oh my”, you know. And then when they start doing regular flip turns and stuff like that. You have got to get over the myths.

Don’t do other strokes—do you guys run into that a lot? “We’re just going to do freestyle. All the time, every workout, every set.” And now you are going to try [to] kind-of assimilating them into your Masters [workout]. What are you going to change? Are you going to change your competitive swimmers? Are you going to change your triathletes? Or are you going to do something in-between? We sort of do something in-between, but in-between geared a little bit more towards our competitive swimmers—if that makes sense. Because we are firmly convinced everything we are doing with our competitive swimmers, breaststrokers too, is going to make them better freestylers, long distance and open ocean.

[Comment from audience]: I tell them that I have used all four strokes in races: dolphin dives when you start, if it’s a little “black hole” turn over and do backstroke, and use breaststroke for sighting.
[Frank]: Yeah, I think other than climbing out or grabbing onboard, nothing will get them past panic quicker than rolling over on their back and looking at the sky. And don’t even look at what is down there. It may touch you, but don’t even look at it, just look at the sky. But they can’t do it if they can’t take that stroke and just roll over and do some elementary backstroke, you know?

[Kerry]: A million years ago, Dave Scott was… Ironman, he was the guy… and he would advocate 400 IMs. And it worked so well. You can only swim… have freestyle muscle and backstroke muscles, and you have all these other muscles that support what your freestyle does. If they are weak, you are going to have some desperate time when they may be needed. So you want to be well-rounded to prepare for that.

[Frank]: Yeah. I thought one of the first great triathletes, but I thought he was one of the first great triathletes that was such a good swimmer, ultimately. Yeah

And another one [myth] we get all the time is: they don’t ever go short distance, and don’t go fast and don’t sprint. It is a myth we hear, just… you know, it probably makes Eddie Reese just close his ears and not listen, based on his pitch [talk] the other day.

Advanced steps for us: get them into our workouts, ultimately. And once we get them in our workouts, over time we start treating them like swimmers. And eventually this guy [Jim] gets into competition. If you saw this morning’s presentation, Colony Zones, you know, 48 slots [for the event] and Curl-Burke Masters took 35 of them. And of those 35, 30 of them were stand-alone triathletes that swam a pretty-good 1650.

[Jim]: This is a good example. Ann Marie Adams who is a Curl-Burke alum, swam at Villanova, a National-level flyer, pretty strong; and [she] wanted a little break from swimming. So she started running, she started biking a little bit, ran the Marine Corps Marathon. And we were just in awe of what the other sports were doing for her. Then when she came back to the table to get back in the water again, gosh, she’s looking faster. Some of our younger kids saw that and… so they did the same thing. They went out and did the cross-training and they came back even stronger, and they could handle much, much more. So it’s a very good strategic partner.

[Frank]: But ultimately: teach them technique, dispel all the myths, get them through some clinics, get them onto our team, get them into competition. For us, the end game with our triathletes is kind of a mind [set]. I put kind of a fuzzy/off picture in there [the slide] intentionally, ‘cause it is not that clear, but it is a concept. We want them to conceptualize themselves. And it is an important concept, because when they come to us, they are triathletes. They have got two sports and they are trying to survive the third sport. When we’re done with them when they are fully integrated to Masters workouts, and maybe swim a 1000 or 1650 in Zones, we wanted them to think of themselves as having 2 sports or 4 sports. You know, most of them already think of themselves as a pretty-good bicyclist and a good runner. Oh, and they’re a triathletes. We want them to think of themselves as a swimmer, who has got other sports as well.

As soon as you make that swap in their mindset, that they can be a swimmer, forget the triathlon: they can swim pretty good on their own without another sport. We have huge advances with them conceptually. But we can come back to this with questions. As I said I will go through this fast.

[Part 2: Open Water Swimmers]
Part II really is partnered now, and there is a lot of similarities here in where do you want to end up. In where do they start, there are some big differences. So partnering with open water swimming, which is open-water swimmers. Again, we are in an area where, even with global warming, we do not do a lot of outdoor swimming come about Halloween, if you have got a wetsuit. If you do not have a wetsuit, maybe in mid-October, depending on your cold-water tolerance.

We have many months of no open water swimming. If you are an open water swimmer, just like I said with surfers: how are you going to train? What are you going to do? Cross-training is great, but if you can stay wet—if you can keep in the water and train—particularly if you can train in a fashion that is going to help you when the water warms-up and you are training again in your open water swim again—all the better.

So again, we are trying to learn… we have had to really [learn]… as people come to us with just an open-water-swimming background. That’s because they are either coming from the triathlon-side or they wanted to become a swimmer, they’re not a triathlete. And the whole pool-concept is out to them. Maybe grew-up in Upstate New York, and your swimming consisted of, for a couple of months there, the Finger Lakes, right? That‘s what you did: you dived-in off the dock, you swam out to that raft, you warmed up, and you came back. And then they come to us. So we have to do something with them.

But I think the key here—just like I think the key is technique, technique, technique for the triathletes—here, we need to learn their sport and then we need to start organizing. And there are various reasons organization is so important for us. Actually, even with the open water swimmers that come to us, we like starting… or people that want to be an open water swimmer—we actually get more of those than open water swimmers that want to train. We get people that see themselves, at some point in the future, as being able to dive-off the dock and swim to that raft. Or in our case: swim across Chesapeake Bay in early June from Sandy Point over to Kent Island, you know. 4.5 miles—that’s their goal. They are just starting; they may not even swim. We are like: oh my gosh.

So, our first approach—beyond getting organized a little bit—is usually to try to start them off in a clinic, particularly if they are just like the triathletes. If they are a beginner swimmer, before we put a lot of yards on them [or] building muscle memory. Gosh, let’s get them in a clinic; let’s see where they are at, even if we cannot initially teach them anything. Maybe they are too good for a clinic, maybe they go straight to Masters.

And if you can, those of you who get people that want to be an open water swimmer—they are looking at your team to see how it can help them. If you can [do] the clinic, I would strongly recommend starting them off with a clinic in the pool. You might not have an option. You might not have the pool space. There might be other reasons why they are more advanced and you might want to start-out open water, I strongly recommend a pool. In fact, I will show you a sequence of the way at least we try bringing them up.

So we go through a 6-week cycle in the pool. Once a week, an hour and 45 minutes. So we have time for a little video: only about an hour and 15 minutes in the water. So we are not giving them too much, but 6 weeks in the pool. And then we will do an open water clinic: not-even so much practice; never a race. But we will go from the pool to an open water clinic—kind of like you see here. This was actually not us, but a different group in Washington, D.C. that asked us to do it for them. But here is how we don’t want to start them. Alright we don’t want to get open water swimmers, and blow the whistle and say you know, there you go.

So our progressions, we like to see the progression be:
stroke clinics in the pool;
stroke clinics in calm, controlled-condition water.
Beyond that, then we like to get them in the pool training, right? Now we are going to build some base; we are going to build some confidence. Now we are going to start making swimmers out of them.
And then when it gets time to open water.
None of this is racing—I should have put open water practice. When it gets time to open water practice… (what do you say Jim? It is the crawl… it is like the crawl-walk-run concept?) We like little bodies of water: creeks and ponds are fine, swimming holes, we started one in a cattle tank—they panicked. Yeah, kind of little steps.

It is kind of funny, but one of our failures so far is the swimmer that Jim showed you: Ann Marie Adams, who became a triathlete, became a marathoner. She went to Nationals with us when they were here in Fort Lauderdale about 4 or 5 years ago—oh yeah, Coral Springs, yeah, the year-after Fort Lauderdale. And won the 200 fly at Nationals, in a tough age group: 25-29 for women is a tough age group, and for guys. We have not yet got her to be able to do an open water swim of any distance, and she desperately wants to. Desperately wants to. And I think… part of the approach is we do not offer many opportunities in cattle tanks, creeks and ponds. We swim mostly in large bodies of water. I think that if we took the right approach with her, maybe we would eventually get her there.

Why [hasn’t she down open water yet]? You guys all know this right? I mean… you know some of us actually, she is a pool… she’s a great swimmer. These things [open water swims] scare her to death. Now that is not a weed, that is a weed. I mean, show me a weed, but weeds. You know, things like weeds—I will go through these fast. Mud. They come to us. They want to be an open water swimmer, you know, we have improved their stroke. We got them into the pool. We may even have gotten them into a Masters workout. They can’t deal with the weed, they can’t think about the mud. More fears: dead fish—they are afraid of dead fish. (I just threw these pictures in there.) They might be afraid of an iguana and a crab—we don’t have those in Virginia guys, alright? They are even afraid of clown fish. They made a movie about it. They are not going to bother you, you know? The fears though… they dream them up.

There is some stuff out there. I spent a good deal of time in South America with my real job, my environmental job. What I have learned is that almost the entire Amazon Delta—and I take that being all the countries on the top, you know: Suriname, Guyana, French Guiana, and then down around the corner, of course, Brazil—and the headwaters, they are all infested with piranha. They are not just in the Amazon River. That whole region becomes one big lake during the rainy season. The Amazon and its tributaries overflow, and the piranha get deposited in the smallest of potholes and they grow and grow and grow. They get up to… on my last trip to Suriname, we were catching them up-to 18 pounds—the black piranha. At 18 pounds, they will cut a wire leader of a coat hanger without thinking about it. At 18 pounds, a piranha will bite off the end of a broom handle as fast as you can drop it in the water. And we swim with them. I mean, it took some time, but my point is there are rules of engagement.

You know what their fear is? They say to me when I come down there: you live in Virginia? Next to the ocean? Oh my God, you get in the ocean with sharks? And I look at these piranhas going: you guys are crazy. But it is the rules of engagement. You have got to understand them where you go, and you have to teach that to your open water swimmers. And, you know, what to worry about in a body of water and what not to worry about. Chances are, what to worry about is microscopic and is going to get you in a different way than….

We get porpoises up into the headwaters of the Potomac, certainly Chesapeake Bay. I swam with a whole school of them up the mouth of the Piankatank River a couple of weeks ago. When they are dark and grey and they are moving fast and they are coming at you, it is scary, you know? You got to identify them; hopefully you see them on top first. But I mean that should work, okay, that could worry you a little bit. We do not have them [sharks] in the Potomac you know? I do not even think that there has been a case of a bull shark coming up that far: the Chesapeake Bay. And even if they do, they are not really hungry.

Here [slide] is where we want to get our open water swimming. This is—what do you call it—the mindset, when they go to bed at night, this is the picture we want them to have of where we train in open water, wherever it is. We are going to talk a lot about safety. What I’ve been talking about has not been safety, it has been… and safety is a concern: of what is out there and what can hurt us. Particularly in our area: the plankton.

And what is going on with the plankton. How dry has it been? What is the salt content? Where is the salt water? Is it on top? I mean dry season, you know, dry season: very salty water. We have serious concerns with certain types of plankton, Pfiesteria, fish disease, and things like that. This is the mindset you want to give them, alright? Of course if you are Jim Halstead, you might have to get a little more elaborate; you know – he is not going to go and kiss a baby beluga whale. It is going to take a little more to get him in open water; although he is not afraid of this stuff, he is pretty good.

Beyond that, okay? So we have got the open water swimmers and we have worked a lot on stroke technique in the pool. We have worked on open water clinics stroke technique. We have worked them in the Masters workouts and such like that. At some point, and this is probably one of the things that we do different from any Masters team with their open water swimmers—not because others do not want to do it, but we have worked hard to work it out—is we want them to train open water, you know? It is not enough to… especially with all those fears I just showed you. We got the National Champion 200 fly: she won’t do it. If she can’t see the line on the bottom of the pool, she won’t go in. I think we can work beyond that, but you have to gain access.

And for us, and it may be different on the West Coast, Kerry? For us, because we are not close enough to the coast to routinely train in the ocean—we are inland, a 4 hour drive. Access is the hardest part. By access I mean: where can you go and safely train outside of the pool in the water? Unfortunately, it has gotten more and more difficult. Post 9-11 has pretty much shut-down any drinking-water source in the United States for putting the foot-in for swimming. The fears from a National-Security standpoint with the nation’s, you know, the reservoirs in our area. Occoquan Reservoir: beautiful body of water. Oh my gosh, it is clear, it’s the drinking water supply for Northern Virginia. You can’t put a foot in it. You can’t do much but cast a lure in it. Don’t even put you feet over the side of the boat and let the marine police catch you. It’s fears, you know, for security reasons. So we have shut off entire bodies of water in this country.

Now in our area, we had a place called Pohick Bay—Pohick [Bay] Regional Park, part of the Fairfax County Regional Park System. And we started open water swimming in Pohick Bay as a swim team about 15 years ago. And what it consisted of is, I would bring my boat out and we would cancel Sunday-morning workout, and they would dive-in off the dock at Pohick Bay and they would swim across the bay to Fort Belvoir—a military reservation. Get on the beach real quick, grab a handful of sand, show the sand, and then hop back-in and swim back across. Unless it was November and sunny, and then they would spend an hour trying to warm-up enough to get back across because nobody wore wetsuits, you know, back then. At least none of us did.

And what has happened over time, so over time, our open water program grew and grew and grew. We used to average 5-7 the first year we started. It grew to about 15 for a number of years. And the last open water swim we had in Pohick Bay two weeks ago, we had a 115. Which from a practice standpoint, in a semi-controlled environment, is getting kind of scary. And I will talk about how we dealt with that. Well, low-and-behold, the only place in the whole area we had—that had what I call good staging, had a lot of good safety features, we got to know it over a 15-year period of time—they took it away from us. Why did they take it away? The crazy park authorities—Fairfax County Regional Park Authority—said it is not safe.

Now think about this, you know, this is not a bass boater. We are talking about a body of water where, every year, staged out of Pohick Bay, they have anywhere from 1 to 5 bass boaters roaring-out of the marina, with 250 horsepowers and a 14-footer pushing 70 miles-an-hour. They lose 1-5 [people] a year in Pohick Bay, on high speed boats. They lose any number on jet skis, every year. I am trying to think of all they have lost, folks; and kayaks. This past year, unfortunately they lost an officer in special-ops training. They actually lost a Fairfax County Police Officer: drowned.

So there is all of these multi-use activities, none that have a perfect record, except one. Guess who has never even had an injury? A cut foot. I would say we had cold people, you know. But, we have never even had a band-aid in 15 years of swimming, in open water swimming; and Fairfax County decides open water swimming is too risky—it is not safe. Teaching swimming skills and giving confidence to swimmers is “too risky” and “not safe”, so we lost it. So we lost the use of that place to train—and we got some more grounds. But to me, it is just crazy, and maybe it is occurring in some of your areas too. But access is… if you can figure out access, you can do almost anything else with open water training safely—if you get that access. So that can be a real big impediment.

Safety and logistics go hand-in-hand. I joked a lot about the fears that most of our new open water swimmers have: they are real. We have situations with panic. We had that group from DC I showed you [in an earlier slide]. Even with the clinic at the front-end, we ended up having, in one day, 5 people panic. I do not think we have had a person panic in five years, and we had five in the same swim. And by panic, I mean go vertical and us go and kind-of rescue them sort-of-thing. But you have got to think a lot when you get access, it doesn’t do you any good if you can’t do it safely and if you can’t manage the logistics.

And the logistics for training open water are more like the logistics for racing open water: they are serious. There are some serious considerations there. There are things that you need that you do not have at the pool. I mean the kayaks, for us, are just a beautiful safety platform. We, as a rule-of-thumb, it works for us in calm/almost lake-like conditions: 1 kayak for every 7 swimmers. We can go up to 115 or 120 [swimmers], and if we keep that 1 kayak for every 7, that seems to work beautifully. And I told you we had 5 people panic, and I never felt at that time there was anybody in danger for us not being able to do what we had to do and control that situation. They were not all at the same time, fortunately. But having that kind of set-of-eyes and observation level and rescue level, per that number of swimmers seems to work really well. 1:10 you could probably get by with; 1:5 might be overkill, but I would feel even better than 1:7.

And they [the kayaks] are good little platforms, but they don’t do it all. Now if somebody panics and they are going to try climbing into that single-person—that is not a sit-on-top I don’t think—that single-person, skirted kayak. Are they going to be able to climb in there? No, they will not be able to climb in there. Will they be able to grab onto it if they are not really panicking, just rest and all? Yeah, they can do a lot there. But when you truly get into a panic situation, you want more than this.

I don’t have a picture of it, but one of the things that works really well in addition to [kayaks]… we never go with just kayaks. As a minimum we will have some surfboards. We will have a board… we will have anything from a long board up-to a full paddle board; never a short board. But we will have a long board or a paddle board that people can climb-up on top of, or you can get them on top of, if they panic. So this doesn’t do it all for you.

And then almost always, we try having at least what I would call a “command” vessel: one high-speed vessel. And this isn’t the full picture—not an advertisement for Chris-Craft—but [I] like a lot of… sort of open-bow/ski-type boats is they have a swim platform on the back that is almost on the water-line. And you can even do better than this, and hang a big, sporting inner tube off the back and tow that. And if somebody really does panic, it is amazing when they grab a-hold of that big tube how they come-back pretty-quick out of panic. But even a swim platform helps. But if you are going to have a fast boat, just make it be a boat that you can get people in and out of. It won’t do too much good… you can throw them some personal protection and flotation, but you might not be able to quickly overcome that situation, like get out on your swim platform and look at the sky, away from the water.

[Comment from audience]: It’s a little different, but I have run the town beach for the last 20 years and we do a 1.2 mile swim every July 4th. We have to worry about boats. We are in a cove and the water can be like glass; we are actually on the ocean. But one thing we use is, we just have them use the rescue buoys. I know they may not be perfect conditions to swim with, but, if anyone panics, they can just grab onto their buoy and relax. And we have an ocean kayak with an open cockpit. And one of the guys in the kayak is watching them, and if anybody needs help they are right there. But they are bright orange; they are 2 or 3 feet wide. When there are 18 bars going across, boats can see all that orange, that massive orange going across the cove. So, I know it’s kind of ridiculous.

[Frank]: Absolutely not. Everyone of these kayaks—as I said, we try going 7:1—everyone of them is towing one of those, as well. And that is how we get out of the fact that they can’t necessarily climb into the kayak. We do have some sit-on-tops. I love the two- or three-persons sit-on-tops, ‘cause now you have got a seat for somebody. But you still got to get them in. So they’re a big help.

[Commenter]: Every guard is towing a buoy, themselves…

[Frank]: Oh, the guards themselves as well. Yeah

[Commenter]: …so it just creates this massive orange. For safety reasons, for fishing boats.

[Frank]: And that is the other reason we use this boat. This actually has been rarely… a boat like this has rarely been used for rescue. I can’t tell you the number of times we have turned around a bass boater, a high-speed boat or a jet ski that was hell-bent on coming through our swimming operation.

[Jim]: How many folks have an emergency-operations plan? (Great.) If you don’t, I highly recommend doing it. If you need assistance with that, please let us know. You know, we’ve kind of adopted a little bit of the military risk-assessment model and applied it to what we do here. Certainly on a different intensity level. But everything from covering the legalities of insurance of what you are doing, to the fact that if you do have somebody panic. Or if something happens: a bass boat goes flying by and actually clips somebody. You better be able to, for that person’s life, exercise immediately that emergency operations plan. Get that command vessel that has trust in it, and backup communications on it. Know how to push the button to hit the helo, to get the bird in—if you have to do something like that. And then on your own staff, Masters Swimming I don’t know if it mandates it, Open Water probably should… do you have somebody who can run CPR; can run a small code. Those are just things that you have. I mean “code” not in the sense that we are pushing meds, but you know, do you have somebody. Have you rehearsed your plan?

Before we ever went out this first time, we went out and rated ourselves; again the lead-from-the-front mentality. We did it with a support structure: to confirm the distance, to confirm emergency operations. So you are kind of seeing the back-end of it, but there is a lot more work that goes into this for safety’s sake.

[Frank]: And safety is really paramount. And don’t use it as the excuse not to train, unless you have an unsafe venue—you know, if you cannot control [it]. If you are in a situation and you cannot control bass boaters, okay then don’t swim there. But we can set-it-up where we have got pretty good control. And we just don’t believe in racing open water without practicing, if you can avoid it. I mean, we want to give the folks racing every advantage, which is practice, practice, practice. In different conditions, get your confidence up and then race.

And racing has its own set of problems, as you guys all know. And we haven’t even talked about water polo tactics, and people being kicked and all.

I just put these [slide] in there because they can be a family event. We bring a whole family in on these things, and, in theory, the little kids workout pretty well as spotters, right? They can help keep a pair/couple of eyes on the water. Of course, the teenagers are much more reliable; so you want to bring them too. But actually these turn into family events for us, and we engage the whole family: shore side and the logistic support. And a picnic—because you have got to have a picnic after a hard open water practice, you just have to. And they set that all up and they actually do pretty good on the boats and stuff like that too.

So you really… [static in recording] …training program in the pool, leading to training for open water, including all the logistics that go along with it. And again you’re in a semi-controlled and potentially uncontrolled environment. So you are not just planning the distance between the buoys; hopefully shot on a range finder and not on a GPS. It is funny, because I to go to open water courses where people set-up to train, and they are taking splits and times and stuff. How did you shoot it [the course]? How did you put the buoys in? We got them on the GPS. Differential GPS? No, just GPS. Well, 15-meter variance, right; either way, any direction. So if it is 15 off here and the next… now we are talking 30 meters and the buoys are only 100 meters apart—that is a big difference in split. Put them on a range finder, right? Shoot them to half-meter accuracy. If you are going to give them splits, then make it accurate.

But plan your training. How are you going to do all that? Right? Where are you getting your boats? Where are you going to get your support? Ship-to-shore communications? Jim said… emergency operations. And that includes: Where are you going to stage? How are you going to stage? How are they going to start? And when they all come back, how are you going to count through? What sort of really basic system can you use, but it’s got to be foolproof. You have to be clear…. I learned this from Team Z, Ed Zerkle: he puts his kids, he puts his open water swimmers, in colored caps. They are color-coded: they are color-coded by speed. His fastest group is usually a hot color like a hot, bright pink or red—something like that. And then it goes down to different colors.

First of all, they train as a group. It doesn’t mean they have to stay side-by-side. So you are always line-the-site with a buddy and you are in a group that swims the same speed. He numbers them. He has got his pink group—fast group—1-10. He will either let them go ahead of everybody, or hold them back 30 minutes and then let them go. And they are sort of… but, when they come out, boy, every cap gets counted. As they get out of the water: boom, boom, boom; ok, all 10 are accounted for. Now that is, in my view, that is too long.

And we have got a long way to go to open water swim safely. I have been beating-up the Open Water Swim Association saying if you guys do anything, give me a safety plan. Make it foolproof, and bring the technology with open water swimming to where it is with running, you know. I do not understand when I go run a race… I go run a 10K on New Year’s Day out in Idalee Park out there in… there is a really nice one out-there in Leesburg. And they put a little sticker on my shoe and they get some data on me, and boom, the gun goes off. And I run and when I get back, waiting for me, literally in seconds, here is a computer printout. Okay, here is when you crossed the starting line, yup. We saw how you ran a legal course. Here are your splits—all along the way. I didn’t even know they were taking them.

Why aren’t we doing that with open water swimming, you know? Why aren’t we getting a signal when they cross the line and enter the water and then at every buoy. I don’t want to wait until the end of a one-hour swim and find-out somebody didn’t come out of the water. I want to know when they have been getting to every 25m-buoy in 3:15 seconds and now it is 3:30, I want to know why they did not cross that buoy. Well, where are they? Are they headed back to shore? Are they helping somebody out? You can’t wait. From a safety perspective, we have got a long way to go. And I am not saying it’s unsafe/can’t be done safely; I am just saying as an organization for open water swimming with our practices, we shouldn’t be happy with what we got. We have to push them and make this stuff better. It is not hard.

[Comment from audience]: You said… triathlon group that they get splits all the time.

[Frank]: Yeah they do. Now I have not raced any triathlons and I know some of you have. Does that exist in the water as well? In other words, if you swim a triathlon, do you get all your splits as you cross buoys? Going in and coming out… yeah.

[Audience]: There are some manufactures that are working on devices that will beradio-controlled, in-the-water type technology. So hopefully in the next year or so there will be some devices made that can guarantee in-water timing.

[Frank]: Yeah, I think that last technology just needs to be made waterproof. Because swimmers, hopefully, you get these recordings, they are still on the surface. You put the transponder on the swimmer and the beacon on the buoy, and you are there, right? You can even have them intermediate, every hundred yards, with a little signal there. It just takes time. Somebody needs to spend some time to figure it out. I hope USMS does it or the Open Water Swim Association does it.

[Audience]: On that last topic of planning your training, we have a couple hundred people on our team, probably a good 50% of them are triathletes. Every one of them has their A, B, and C races and they are all going to come at different times during the summer. Some people will peak for a Half-Ironman in July, some people do the Chicago Triathlon, some people are working towards an Ironman. And you know, I pick a couple of races that I know the team is going to do and usually I try to peak them for the end-of-summer type races. But I kind-of go at-odds a little bit with everybody’s individual training plan because we don’t do… we don’t have a triathlon coach on-staff that writes out training plans and sees everyone on the team. How do you all manage that? I just tell them: if you have got to race this weekend, maybe take-off Friday? Or swim down a lane, or go 60 minutes rather than 90—something along those lines. But we don’t try to periodize everybody’s… cause we would all go nuts.

[Frank]: We absolutely don’t, either. If we would go nuts, the competitive swimmers that are in the pool would go nuts. What we tried doing was early in the season when we plan, and fortunately we have two, three triathlon clubs as partners. And regardless of how organized two of them are, one of them always gives me a list of the biggies. And he says “Frank, if you plan your seasons, if you plan your training and do stuff with the energy systems in the water, you need to realize that these are our biggies.” And right off the bat, boom, we are going to do the Nation’s Triathlon. Some of them are going to be Lake Placid Ironman. We get the key dates and we become sensitive to that. Now, do we modify the training program of the team? Not at all, based on that. What we will do is, and fortunately so far we have had the luxury of the lane space to be able to tailor that workout, and… we do not taper basically. We cut back and we rest them, but we don’t taper them unless their coach gives them specific instructions.

We very much have a team where the Masters swimmer is very… we have instilled a sense of responsibility to communicate, to know what you want to do, to tell us what you want to do, and we will help you get there. But if you stay silent, anything could happen. It could happen to me. You may go 5,000 meters, some of it on the clock, the day before your race, if you tell us you are triathletes—it’s happened. So, over time they know that. You know, there are some hard feelings. We get beyond it and then everybody starts communicating what they are trying to do, very well. But we haven’t got that sophisticated yet to be that; you know, probably like to.

[Audience]: I have one other follow-up: Triathletes seem to want to find every excuse to taper their swimming. They come 1-2 days a week, and I often ask them to taper from what?

[Frank]: They are always tapering.

[Audience]: Yeah, I know. So I don’t know. I heard a talk, a USA-T talk, Steve Tarpinian. And he was talking about the fact that for the most part you can kind of hammer your swim pretty hard just because the water is so forgiving to them. So I… except if they have an “A” race, I kind of discourage them from taking time off. I don’t know if you have thoughts on that.

[Jim]: I think, getting back to the first question is, make that strategic partnership work both ways. For us, we go after Ed Zerkle, Team Z, and the others, and say: okay, what is your training plan? You want us to be your subject-matter experts in the water, I need to know where you want to go. So give me that cycle, give me your big cycles. And he comes back and “Hey, you can’t touch my people on this week because we are doing 3 monster rides.” So guess what? We either go into recovery mode in the water for that week for that particular group. Or he may come back and say: “You know what? We are going to take off a little bit on the ride and I want some yardage, and I want some heart-rate tracking and such.” So meeting very actively with our counterpart, and really it is a customer. We kind of work with them and find out what they want, and then we bring it.

But every once in a while I, you know, I get “Oh, I am working for this, I am working for that.” And it is always fun to call people on that: “No you’re not, you’re lying to me. Get in the water.”

[Frank]: And again, it’s part of that kind of mind-set shift that they are a swimmer, too, and they are on a team. And if we kind of get them there, then we are already starting to work away from the individualized… you know: I am going to rest, I am going to do my own thing, this and that. And then you need to communicate the big events, and they swim right-through the small ones. My biggest fear would be giving them, having a monster kick set, or really exhausting their aerobic system, a really hard aerobic workout close to a race and then they are going to crash, but we do not usually do that.

[Mel Goldstein]: One comment, or a couple of comments, and then a question. One, I, personally will not die from a shark bite or a piranha, because I won’t get in there with them.

[Frank]: Actually have some good rules of engagement for you. There are almost…

[Mel Goldstein]: No, there are no rules. Well, I personally, open water swimming is where it is at. But I think one of the key words that you brought out, and I try to bring this forth to all programs that want to work on… with triathletes and open water, and that is mind-set. The triathlon, if you know a lot about the meet directors, the swim is the most undefined system that they have. It could be 1,000 yards, it could be 1,200, it could be 800. And I always use the example of an elite swimmer that I had in the U.S. Nationals, winning the Nationals 1000 yards in something like 9:42. And the very next week he swam the same 1,000 yards in open water, and he was first out of the water in 13:45. Did he lose 5 minutes, 4 minutes in that? No, he didn’t, because he… (tide swimming the wrong way). But the key to that is the mindset, what we want to teach is technique, technique. So that you will be efficient, so that when you get out of the water, you will be able to perform the other disciplines in a better way.

And now my last question, we do not do a lot of things in Indianapolis with open water. Would love to, we have tried to do it. Do you pay the park department to use that facility? Because if I had to do what you were going to do, talk about going out there and doing all the logistics, it is not that I am opposed to it. But because we live in such a litigious society, I have to pay a tremendous premium just to get the park department to let me get those people out there—even if the support staff is already out there. So my open water swimmers go to somebody’s home on a lake, and there is not… and I have told all my coaches not to show up—it is an uncharted practice. But they do the buddy system. But the point is, I would personally like to be involved with them, even though I am not into open water swimming. So my question is: what do you pay? Or do you [pay]?

[Frank]: Back before we got kicked out, what we would do is first of all, anybody that did not live in Fairfax County would have to pay a little—$6.50 or $7.00—fee to get into the regional park. And so they would get some gate receipts there. But then, in lieu of paying anything, because there is nothing to charge for in our view, we would rent their little pavilion for a picnic for about $150 for 4 hours and that helped. But there is no reason to pay them. Now, when they threw us out, fortunately right above [and] still in Polick Bay, [is] a beautiful, controlled environment with some weeds. One of our swimmers belongs to a lakefront community, and the community has been trying to upgrade their marina facilities for years and does not have quite enough money. So we said, hey, tell you what, what if we swim there and we give you $125 every time we took one of these open water practices, and over time you would have enough. They absolutely love us. So we are literally hundreds of yards from where we got kicked out, and kinda doing these [gesture?] to the park, and we have great control of the environment. But only because we have got private waterfront ownership that gives us access. Once you are in the water, who has jurisdiction? The Coast Guard. The Department of Hatcheries?

[Mel Goldstein]: It would cost me $350 a weekend—forget about the park entrance.

[Jim]: The other thing we did was we found out who the Park Ranger was and we recruited him for the Masters team. So a gang permit was a heck of a lot easier.

[Frank]: That worked for 10 years, and then last year they had the Fairfax County police officer get killed, falling from a very-high height out of a helicopter and called it a drowning. So they said it was too unsafe to swim there. And even with the swimmer that was the Assistant Park Director—she got overruled at high bureaucratic levels.

[Audience member]: What you said is kind-of what I do. I have got a lake, I have got a couple of lakes around me, and so what I will do is lease out their place. We will go in there, and I will provide my own lifeguards and we just go ahead. And I will have the lifeguards with the weaker swimmers; they will swim with the weaker swimmers.

[Frank]: The one thing that is kind of neat about this relationship we have had is, and I think I might have mentioned it the other day, but we try really hard to get outdoors in the summer. Our summers are fairly long. We get lots of good weather—even if it is humid. And I can tell you the difference between those swimmers in my workouts that went outdoors in the summertime versus the ones that stayed-in in February, March and April—before it warms up again. I can tell you who went outdoors, even if I don’t know who went outdoors, based on watching them in the pool. And I can almost tell you who went open water, as well, because they just flat-out don’t burnout. They come back in when the water gets cold, and they train and train and train, and they can see past May when everything is open again. The rest of them have a hard time.

[Audience member]: In our area, in Palm Coast County, there is a group of Masters swimmers, but also people that work in the Masters zones, that want to do open water swimming and open water training. At one of the regional parks, which is probably 25 minutes from Walnut Creek, they have a quarry that they made into a lake that they have swim areas and such. And these people went ahead and they started their own team called SO-WAT, which I think stands for Swim Open Water Aquatic Team or something like that. And all they do is they get their own insurance policy, and everybody buys-in to pay for the insurance policy. The State Park will allow them to come-in any morning before 9 o’clock, and in the summertime after 6 o’clock until dusk. And as long as they swim with at least one other person so that they buddy-up, they are welcome to swim anywhere they want in the lake. But this group has to get together. They find out what the premium is going to be for the insurance policy, and then divide it up amongst the people who want to do it, and they do it.

Logistically from my point you know, I have a lot of swimmers who partake in that. And like you said: I don’t have to be there because it is not a Walnut Creek Masters function. And a lot of times, we won’t even announce on a Saturday workout that we have a lot of our triathletes doing/ran a workout, and that those who want to are going to ride their bike up Mount Diablo after that, because we do not want to associate the two. because once we associate the two, the swim practice… it is a Walnut Creek swim workout, but it’s not a Walnut Creek Masters swim and ride, because once they get out on the bikes, we do not want any part of that.

[Frank]: I think we have got an insurance comment back here in the back.

[Rob Butcher]: I apologize for this question, I snuck in a little bit late: do you guys have a separate fee structure for your triathletes? Or do they pay the same fee as your swimmers that want to swim?

[Frank]: It is all in-line with our concept of them thinking of themselves as a swimmer: they pay exactly the same fee structure as to wherever they go to workout and join that program. Now, they will pay an extra fee for those front-end clinics, but we keep it minimal. You know, there are two schools of thought out there, and I hear all the time about the incredible… the triathletes being generally a well-off population set—demographics I think is the right word, that they are pretty high. But the other end of that: these guys are paying and paying and paying, all the time. And it is not true that they buy a $10,000 bike, that they’re…. What it probably means is that they have less money after a $10,000 bike to pay the swim members. So our goal with them is the same as our goal with Masters swimming: we want to get quality training space at good times, and then provide good instruction and do it as cheap as possible. And I know that conflicts a little bit with the business model, alright? Jim and I got an earful the other day, yesterday, from a coach who thinks it is all about money. We didn’t quite see eye-to-eye on it, and I think you can sort of do both. I think you can pay your coach, if you structure it right, you should pay your coaches well. They need to be paid well. And I do not think that you should do it just for the money. So, we want to keep it as cheap as possible, while being able to pay our coaches basically.

[Audience member 1]: I believe if you become a USA-T club under USA Triathlon, you are covered for any scheduled event including open water swims. Is that true?

[Audience member 2]: I don’t know if that’s true. It’s got to be…

[Mel Goldstein]: It’s got to be a sanctioned event. They don’t cover you just if you are going to go out for a weekend swim with a couple of buddies. It’s got to be a sanctioned event, as I understand it.

[Audience 1]: No, I don’t mean in competition, I mean…

[Audience 2]: No. If I hold a clinic or just a… with my club, I have got to get a sanction for that. I am covered, but they are not.

[Audience 1]: Unless they are members as well.

[Audience 2]: No, no, no – they are not covered.

[Frank]: What we do with our open water practices, and Rob [Butcher] probably will like this: we make them all become USMS members. I mean, we just can’t deal with the insurance piece of it. and unfortunately, you know, if they are Open Water Swim Association or if they are triathlon association, they have all got to be USMS or we got nothing for insurance. And it is not a lot of money, and we just tell them: look, there are all these benefits out of it. You know, if you want to train with us open water, we have gone through a lot of work to make it happen, set up the course and do it cheaply. Here is what you gotta do. And nobody complains about it, you know—about joining USMS—to have that training opportunity. And then of course we have got to identify that as the site and then go through the work on that, but that is easy… so far it has been easy—hopefully these guys will not change their mind.

[Audience member]: I have had some bad luck with partnering with triathlon coaches. They have turned out to be a little bit “slippery”. You know, we talk about having their swimmers run through my program; and then 5 months later I find out second-hand that they are running their own swimming clinics and other practices. Then I am finding out that my swimmers are doing these other practices, etc. and that kind of kills the relationship. I have tried it I think two times, and now I do not even return emails from tri coaches who call and say that they will set up this wonderful partnership with me. So what I am wondering is, what did you guys do with this triathlon group, Team Z? Did you set-up a contract with them? Is it all informal? What type of relationship did you set up? Or what was the kind of business promise that you had between the two groups?

[Jim]: By the look on your face when you saw that it’s fairly informal.

[Frank]: I will call it “Code of the West”.

[Jim]: I think that we couched this with Ed. The start was, you know, we are brothers—because we are men, so we are brothers—doing the same thing in the water. Our location is a little bit different. Now, thankfully, he was a collegiate swimmer; he understands that mindset. And he also understands that there are skill-sets that other coaches can bring to the table in a non-threatening environment, in a non-financial-threatening environment. So we made sure that he understood that we were not after his athletes. If anything, some of our athletes joined his program, which is a win for us as well. Boy, that is a tough one. To get into a legal document, you know, as far as contract, I think we would probably steer away from that. Frank?

[Frank]: It was all done on a handshake, with a huge deal of respect and confidence between the two parties. You know I am convinced, in our area, I would send my kids to him to train for triathlons—I think he is that good, particularly on the mental side. He has got the same view of his triathlon team as we have of our swim team, so we share a philosophy, that’s probably a good way to put it. At DC Tri we have had good luck. They have got their own Masters group; they have got about 35. They have convinced 100 of them to swim with us and sign-up with us. So you know, numbers are—I am not concerned about numbers. They do not try doing what we do, and Jim and I do not try to teach… you saw me riding a bike.

[Jim]: And you don’t see me run.

[Frank]: In fact, the only thing with their program that is not working yet is, I thought these would be great opportunities for our swimmers to cross-train on the bike and running. And what we are finding is that these guy’s programs are so structured and they are so locked/rigid on what… you know, if I got somebody that wants to go-out and ride 25 miles on mountain bikes pretty-hard for cross-training; they may be doing a 125-mile mountain ride on road bikes and they are not going to vary. There is little opportunity for our swimmers to cross-train with these guys, unless you buy the whole system. Unless you are into their cycle, into their training. And I know it has got to be that way, but it hasn’t worked out with the opportunities I thought it would for us on a cross-training. But we are learning a lot. We are learning a lot about running and biking, particularly for people like Margie Shapiro: one of the triathletes that trains a little bit with us. We are learning their sport, enough to help our own people a little bit. But not really enough to be their coach in running or biking.

[Jim]: Any other questions?

[Frank]: So, before we, just take time to a look ahead, the next presentation is going to be Kerry O’Brien. Kerry, I think you are supposed to start at 3:00 o’clock? Oh, 2:45, okay. So we have time for a short break, but be sure and come back.

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