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On a quest to be adopted as an aquarium animal, I'm swimming as often as I can in as many places as possible. Following a recent move from New York City to Seattle, I'm slowly turning into a pinniped. This is that story.

  1. Strait of Juan de Fuca: training, part 1 of 2

    by , June 8th, 2013 at 08:46 PM (Please tap on the glass)
    Ive got a theory: anyone who says they cannot find the time or place to train is lying to themselves.

    Last year, I told myself I wouldnt train for anything this year. Life being as unsettled as it is right now, how could I give the necessary effort to make any serious swim worthwhile? Look how well that worked out. This is Part 1 of 2 of my training for the Strait of Juan de Fuca. You wont find any sets here. If you want that, check out USMS Forums, or ask a coach, or something. What you will find here are the basics of my approach to acclimatization, endurance, and how to do it without a permanent residence. In the next training post, youll probably see an explanation of how Im scurrying to adjust for my plans shortcomings.

    Last December, when I moved to Seattle, I knew Id be travelling a lot. As I write this, Im about to board my 40th plane of 2013. So finding a home team was out of the question. Even buying a monthly pool pass would be a waste of money since I spend less than 45% of my time in Seattle. Also, pools are hot and crowded (and gross). So I took to the Sound. Always free, always open, always empty, and always the perfect temperature to training for a cold-water swim.

    The way I plan on accomplishing this swim is three-fold: brown fat, metabolism, be in shape.

    The brown fat (which well say represents my level of acclimatization) Ive been working on since I first jumped in Lake Washington in January. And Im working on it three or four times a week when Im not out of town. Hot showers are the worst, and I break a sweat walking to the car on a chilly morning, so it seems to be working.

    Metabolism also has three parts. First, stay fed. I quickly adopted a tow-behind water bottle filled with calories (maltodextrin and AminoX, mostly). Then, I started shoving a few Gu packs in my suit to snack on. During a typical training swim, Ill consume about 500 cal/hr with more before and after. Second, vitamins. This might not be true, but I believe vitamin B boosts metabolism. Or at least, certainly doesnt hurt it (and its miscible, so its very hard to overdose). Hence, my feed bottles contain crushed B-complex. Id like to hear what my coworkers think when they see my crushing pills and mixing piles of white powder in the office lunchroom. My swim bag also contains gummy multivitamins and fish oil capsules. Third, move! When I move on land, I get hot quickly. Therefore, if I move fast in the wateryou get the idea. Which brings us to

    Be in shape. To warm up, literally, at the start of my cold water workouts, I jump in and swim as fast as possible until the cold numbs my skin. And when I start feeling cold later on? Swim faster! The product of these two is a fast-paced, survival-based swim. And this works! Despite minimal interval training, every time I jump in a pool I find my pace to still be over 4 km/hr. When I do want to work on something, in or out of the pool, it is usually getting my stroke rate up from 59-60 to anything over 60. Moving more means more calories burned means more heat generated means less dying in July. Right now, I feel like Im in nearly the same shape I was before MIMS last year despite a very, very different training plan.

    By the way, Be in shape is easier said than done when there is no coach, no workout, no pool, and no pattern to ones life. This is where being opportunistic has come in. When Im in Seattle, opportunistic simply means heading to the beach after work and on weekends. Everywhere else, it means exploration and adventure. Awesome adventure. There was the day in Abbotsford, BC where the wave pool was turned on for my entire pool workout. There was a 2.5k swim in Delta, BC when I high-fived snails for forty-five minutes because the water was so shallow (it was called Mud Bay, go figure). There was the gorgeous Kinsmen Centre pool in Edmonton, AB, and the time the fire department showed up when I took my to work out to the adjacent river. There were olympians at a pool in San Jose, CA, two-foot breaking waves in Lake George, NY., and instructions on igloo building from a stranger while warming up on a Vancouver beach. Opportunistic isnt always convenient or ideal, definitely not repeatable, but it seems to be working. I could write a whole post on the merits and challenges of opportunistic training, but suffice it to say: it works for me for now.

    After all of this, six months of swimming every chance and place possibly, I can get out of 50F water after two and a half hours and feel great! I am in shape, I have some brown and white fat building up, I have no excess fear for whats to come.

    I also have no idea where Im sleeping Tuesday night, but today is Saturday and I know where Im swimming in the morning. And its not in the same country Im in right now.

    Fine, you win. Heres your workout: 200 w/u LCM, 8 x 1,000 @ 15:00 200 c/d

    Updated June 17th, 2013 at 02:27 AM by andrewmalinak

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  2. To be an aquarium animal

    by , May 30th, 2013 at 05:34 PM (Please tap on the glass)
    Let me start by saying, coworkers if youre reading this, I do not hate my job. Its just, well, I feel I have a higher calling in life. It isnt you personally, but the industry as a whole; construction companies really discourage swimming in the workplace. Thats why I mailed out the below letter a few months back.

    This letter, attached to my aquarium animal resume, was snail-mailed to seventeen aquaria in the US, Canada, and farther abroad hoping for a position as an aquarium animal. I didnt expect much. I didnt specify Must Be Main Attraction, or Mammal Positions Only. I was ready to start at the bottom of the food chain, literally, and work my way up.

    So far, it has not worked out. Its been dismissed as a joke, or a clever joke, or an annoying joke, or some other kind of joke. The few (four) responses I received were all to the tune of check our website for openings. Mr. C.W., General Manager at the Vancouver Aquarium, called the effort entertaining and innovative, while Mr. CJ.C., the Seattle Aquariums Director of Life Sciences, acknowledged it is certainly one of the most unique letters [hes] ever received. What more does an aspiring sea pen (S. bollonsi, perhaps) need to do to get hired by you people other than write an entertaining, innovative, and unique letter!? Ive personally stared at your actual sea pens for hours, Seattle Aquarium, and never once seen them produce a work of nearly the same quality. Theyre lazier than I am at my real job!!!

    Am I getting too intense? Can you not handle my passion for swimming and for being sea life? That must be it, because it clearly isnt my qualifications that disappoint you. Confession, Seattle: in my free time, I stalk at your aquatic employees; I know their backstories, their scientific names, where they eat lunch. For example Ada, your sea otter. You want found hypothermic on an airport runway? I can do that. Im hypothermic on nearby Alki Beach three or four times a week, just waiting to be rescued by you. Rescued from this dry, meaningless life they call geotechnical engineering.

    So, aquarists worldwide, have some compassion. I just want an opportunity to be a sea star. Or any other echinoderm for that matter. Give me a chance. You will not regret it.

    Heres the letter:

    You probably do not receive many requests like this, I understand that most or your new additions are the product of a rigorous scouting program. However, since I fall outside of the usual candidate pools, I feel my exemplary qualifications may be overlooked and would like to inquire as to any opportunities you may have at [Specific] Aquarium.

    My interest in becoming an aquarium animal first came to light as a youth. As many young humans do, watching the sea lions at the Bronx Zoo filled me with the usual why-not-mes and dad-can-Is. It was easy to let others disapproval of the idea take hold, as I didnt even begin serious aquatic-mammal training until the age of nine. After nearly two decades of work, I now possess more aquatic experience than many of your typical employees: five times that of an elderly Giant Pacific Octopus, twice as much as a male Southern Sea Otter, and an amount equivalent to a middle-aged Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin. With my anticipated life-span, I could foreseeably become one of your most enduring exhibits.

    Aside from my proven experience as an aquatic animal, I have many innate qualities that would make me an excellent addition to your organization. I am diurnal and euryhaline, and will swim without complaint in waters between forty-five and eighty degrees Fahrenheit. I travel well without special equipment or handlers, from a crowded public bus to first-class international flights, and do not require special customs clearances. Im able to draw a crowd to watch my performances, whether circumnavigating Manhattan or demonstrating an Endless Pool at the Seattle Home Show. Whats more, I enjoy sardines and can even make my own Vitafish! Try to get a bat ray to do that.

    Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I believe in the mission of aquariums and would excel at furthering public interest in aquatic life. In most exhibits Ive seen in my lifetime, those on display rarely look interested in communicating with those of us on the dry-side of the glass; and never have I seen any ambition from the wet-side to inform or educate. Even the friendly seals and dolphins, stars of the show, often fail to show initiative or produce results without express directions by whistle or hand signal. Perhaps my most valuable contribution to your aquarium as an aquatic animal would be to clearly communicate both the rigors and beauty of life in the water with minimal managerial input and maximum client results. As a bonus, I can vocalize in both English and French.

    Please let me know if you have any openings, especially in the phyla Chordata or Mollusca (Im still uncertain of my abilities to be convincing as a Poriferan or Cnidarian). I welcome the opportunity to fill any nicheEltonian or Grinnellian, or Hutchinsonianas you see fit.

    On a final note, you will not have to worry about the Ryan Lochte problem with me. Hygiene is something I take very seriouslyI frequently bathe with soap or sterilize in a high-chlorine solution.

    Regards,
    Andrew Malinak BE EnvEng, BS EnvSci
    Full resume available upon request.

    Updated May 30th, 2013 at 07:07 PM by andrewmalinak

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  3. Swimming around San Francisco

    by , April 27th, 2013 at 01:22 AM (Please tap on the glass)
    Yes, that title is a bit misleading. Yesterday was my last day in San Francisco. Despite being sent for work, I managed to turn this mostly-paid-for trip into a great opportunity to do a lot of swimming in the Bay area.

    It began early Saturday morning. My first glimpse of the Bay, the first since my dad brought me on a whirlwind West Coast tour fifteen years ago, was gorgeous. The sky was rosy, the water sat flat, and Alcatraz looked close. Which was great, since at a few minutes past 7am, I jumped off the Aquatic Center beach with a handful of others to go out to, around, and back from Alcatraz with the Swim Around the Rock (hosted by Water World Swim). What a great start to seeing a new city!

    A swim report this is not, so I'll skip over how I got a bit lost, fought some currents, and had a generally scenic, uneventful swim. In the end, I made it back. Since January, I've been training almost exclusively in the Puget Sound at Seattle, no wetsuit, 45 to 47 degrees, so the ~53 water in the Bay felt perfect! Single cap, suit, and no ear plugs with only the slightest of shivers at the end.

    The swim was nice, but not the aquatic highlight of the trip. My father's old college friend, an OW swimmer himself, stopped by the race and we had brunch afterwards. Upon hearing I'd be working near San Jose later that week, he sent a text to his niece, a swim coach down there, asking where I may be able to jump in a pool to do a few laps. The rest of the weekend, swimming-wise, was uneventful aside from a trip to the Sutro Bath ruins.

    It was through her, my father's frat-brother's niece, that I found the Santa Clara International Swim Center. Sneaking out of work for a few hours (something I've gotten very good at), I arrived at noon to find an eight lane, 50m outdoor pool. Aside from the heat, both aquatic and solar, everything about this pool was perfect. A far cry from the public pools back in NYC, and for the same price of $3. It turns out that the pool only runs long course on Monday, but Tuesday's and Wednesday's short course sessions were offset by the presence of 22 lanes, one of which was all mine for a full 90 minutes.

    With work wrapped up Wednesday night and a flight not until mid-day Thursday, I drove back up to the Aquatic Center on my last morning for a visit to the Dolphin Club. In short, I need to go back, but with a guide. The history, tradition, and sheer awesomeness of the place was evident, but I feel I missed so much of it! Herds of swimmers in and out of the water and up and down the stairs, highways of wet footprints across the floor...yet somehow no conversations other than how to use the locker room and what a good swim course might be. During a few loops of the Aquatic Park, I found myself missing the cold, clear waters of the Puget Sound. And the friends to shiver through a post-swim cup of coffee with. Time to go home.