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Open Water Guidance From Ned Denison

Courtesy of Ned Denison, Cork, Ireland.

Ned Denison is a 59-year-old global-trotting open water swimmer, coach, mentor and administrator who was inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in the Class of 2012. He shared a plethora of advice and guidance:

For many of you the open water season is over.

One suggestion – make a record of your top longest and/or fastest 2018 swims and update it over time.

As open water swimming gets more popular, it is common for organisers locally and in places like Spain where you might end up on holiday to ask your background and recent open water swimming experience. They do this for safety reasons and the quicker you reply in an organised fashion, the better your chances or getting in. For longer swims, organisers increasingly look for a medical certificate. I get my doctor to sign a 4-page English Channel certificate as part of an annual January exam.


* 2 km ‘Vibes & Scribes’ Lee Swim 2018 in 49 minutes 17 seconds
* 5.3 km Sandycove around the Island 1.5 times to the Dock in 1 hour 40 minutes 6 seconds

We have one problem locally – which is also a global problem. The number of swimmers unable to make published cut-off times is increasing.

The maximum time limits are there for reasons:

1. Individual swimmer safety: after the cut-off time, the swimmers are often getting cold and tired and hence slower. The tides may be turning or for afternoon and early evening swims, the light will be fading, making possible spotting and rescues much harder.

2. Overall swimmer safety: the safety cover of ribs and kayaks is generally planned to spread across a distance calculated based on minimum swimmer speed. It spreads too thin if the slowest swimmers fail to maintain that speed.

3. Pulling one swimmer into a rib beyond the maximum time can easily cause injuries to the swimmer’s arms or shoulders and crew’s arms or shoulders and backs. Pulling five swimmers is a nightmare – all the safety eyes in the rib are focused on the swimmer being pulled – not the others.

4. Insurance cover mandates a maximum swim time for the reasons above.

5. Swimmers often resist being pulled and abuse the volunteers. The volunteers feel terrible and don’t come back the next year. In one event this year, an angry swimmer went under an open canoe with two paddlers trying to avoid being stopped – nearly resulting in three bodies to be rescued.

6. Finally, it is not easy to get all the required boating, kayaking and shore-based volunteers. Swim organisers set their expectations for times required and when the swim runs late, the volunteers are late to collect their own children from a sports event, music lesson, etc. We lose these volunteers for the future.

This is not just an issue in point-to-point open water swimming. Many distance events on land will have intermediate cut-off times. Example: a running marathon may consist of 4 laps with a minimum time to complete the second lap.

If you are one of these swimmers having difficulty making the posted cut-off times, this poses you with a challenge. You must PLEASE change something because a repeat in the future can not happen:

1. Take private swimming technique lessons and/or get fitter to become faster.

2. If you swam in togs – get a proper swimming wetsuit which will make you 10 to 25% faster.

* In either case practice, time yourself in early summer 2019 and record it as part of your log to ensure that you have this required minimum speed.

3. Some organisers will – with discussions well in advance – allow you to supply you own safety rib/crew. This can support a longer distance for the safety cover or allow you to set off 30 minutes early. Likewise, if you can supply 5 shore-based volunteers – the organiser might be able to shift some others to the boats/kayaks.

4. Seek permission from the harbour authorities, arrange your own rib/crew and do a solo swim on a different day.

This is a painful issue for all organisers. At a deep level, we all want to see you succeed and admire your determination. And nobody wants to tell you that you aren’t welcome back the next year.

However, it is a safety issue for you, all other swimmers, crews and endangers our ability to get future insurance cover and volunteers. So, please be proactive this winter with your training and look seriously at cut-off times for 2019 events – and realistically judge your ability to make these times.

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