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Evan Morrison’s LongSwims Database And So Much More

Courtesy of WOWSA, The Olympic Club, San Francisco, California.

Scott Zornig has worked with Evan Morrison on the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association board of directors since 2011. “During this period, I developed enormous respect for Evan’s dedication to the sport of marathon swimming.

I became acutely aware of his superior intelligence, skills, passion and work ethic. Evan has not only made the board better at serving our community, but he is one of four or five people globally to have had the most impact on our sport both as a leader and athlete.

The Marathon Swimmers Federation, the Marathon Swimmers Forum, The Rules of Marathon Swimming and the Long Distance Data base are just a few of the examples of Evan’s influence and unification of traditional marathon swimming.”

Lynn Kubasek, another member of the board of directors, reiterates Zorning’s respect for the marathon swimming mover and shaker, “Evan is amazing. He has brought marathon swimming out of mysterious aquatic shadows by creating tools and resources to benefit and enlighten swimmers and supporters. From the valuable marathon swim forum (co-created with the also-awesome Donal “loneswimmer” Buckley), to Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association’s online application process, to the fantastic application – my favorite. The world of marathon swimming is an exciting and better place thanks to his efforts.”

Morrison is a marathon swimmer, administrator, and technology developer based in San Francisco, California. As co-founder of the Marathon Swimmers Federation, he has created innovations such as the LongSwimsDB historical results database, the TRACK.RS live GPS tracking system, the MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, the Marathon Swimmers Forum, and the MSF Documented Swims platform for authenticating independent marathon swims.

The graduate of Princeton and Stanford Universities also serves as president of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association, and as a selector for the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame. His record-setting swim across the Santa Barbara Channel from Santa Cruz Island was featured in the documentary film DRIVEN. He has also completed solo swims of the Catalina Channel, Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, Sandy Hook to Manhattan, Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, and the Maui Channel.

Morrison will be one of the featured speakers at the upcoming WOWSA Talks & WOWSA Awards held at The Olympic Club in San Francisco on November 9th – 11th. He will present a talk entitled ‘LongSwims database, insights and data analyses‘ and discussed his work and his innovations in the sport:

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: You have created the LongSwimsDB and do all kinds of analyses based on real-world marathon swims all over the world. This skill is not something that one can just pick up. Where did you learn these skills?

Evan Morrison: I studied statistics while studying for a Masters in experimental psychology at Stanford. Later, I learned programming and databases while working in advertiser analytics at Google. Then I picked up some web development on the fly while building the various MSF resources such as the Forum and the Documented Swims program.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Is all the data presentation on the Marathon Swimmers Federation the result of your work?

Evan Morrison: Not at all. Marathon Swimmers Federation has ratified nearly 60 independently documented marathon swims since 2013, with text, photo, and video content provided by swimmers, their observers, and crew. As an example, the documentation of Sarah Thomas’ world record 168.3 km Lake Champlain swim has not only the real-time observations of Elaine Howley and myself, but also photos and video provided by Cathy Delneo, Ken Classen, and Phil White; and an extensive first-person narrative from Sarah Thomas herself.

Additionally, well over one thousand individuals have contributed content to the Marathon Swimmers Forum since its founding in 2012.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Objectivity through data and transparency of information are among the goals for your work in the sport. But the data has to be collected in some measurable, replicable way. In the previous century, marathon swimmers relied on observer’s reports. Nowadays, data can be collected and analyzed in multiple ways. Can you explain how you go about your data collection and what equipment and technologies that you use?

Evan Morrison: I collect swim results data with a constantly evolving combination of automated and ad-hoc Python scripts, string matching algorithms, optical character recognition software, and occasionally brute-force manual data entry.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What kind of new equipment or emerging technologies for data collection do you foresee in the near or distant future?

Evan Morrison: The existing technologies for converting raw results data into a quality-controlled, formally designed database, are already quite good. But I think promoting more consistency by event organizers in reporting results, as well as continuing to bring historical results (on paper or older digital media) to the surface, will help further develop the project over time.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Your parameters to decide a current-neutral swim are fascinating. Can you describe what a current-neutral swim is?

Evan Morrison: An open water swim is “current neutral” if the swimmer’s progress along the route does not gain a significant overall net benefit from surface currents.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: You have to be spending a lot of time documenting and analyzing the sport and growing the LongSwimsDB. Do you still swim yourself? Any big swims in your near future?

Evan Morrison: I swim regularly in San Francisco Bay with the South End Rowing Club. I plan to continue swimming in both the pool and open water for the rest of my life. Due to a congenital hip injury, it’s one of the only sports I can do without pain or limitation.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: I would be interested in the average time by age and gender of the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming (i.e., English Channel, Catalina Channel, Manhattan Island). I want to compare how these average times differ between men and women and as people get older. Is that possible or readily available on the Marathon Swimmers Federation?

Evan Morrison: It’s definitely possible to run this query on the existing database, though as you know, age data are inconsistently reported by organizers, so it will necessarily be incomplete.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Would you like to add anything in order to give the marathon swimming community a greater appreciation for the information presented on the Marathon Swimmers Federation website?

Evan Morrison: Since the launch of the MSF Documented Swims program in 2014 with Craig Lenning’s Farallon swim, I’ve been deeply gratified by the community’s interest in thoroughly documenting their swims and publishing them for public viewing. The effort that goes into organizing the training for such swims is quite significant, so I appreciate the extra work that goes into documenting these swims for posterity. Swim documentation should be considered as the enduring legacy of an event – the raw material of a remarkable athletic feat, providing delicious detail for the future historians of the sport.

To meet and listen to Morrison at the WOWSA Talks & WOWSA Awards, visit here.

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