Crack the Code to Open Water Swimming



Want to feel more comfortable in open water? D3 Mental Skills Coach Will Murray will be presenting Crack the Code on Open Water Swimming at Colorado Multisport on May 16 from 6 PM – 7 PM (coincides with packet pick-up for Without Limits Productions Summer Open)

In just 50 minutes you’ll learn techniques for specific skills:
++Get Your Mind Right—planning for a great swim
++Breathe easy—key insights from physiology for comfort in the water
++The Warm up—how to have a great start and finish
++Wee (and not so wee) Besties—what is in that water anyway, and how to regard the marine life
++Feet and Elbows—overcoming getting touched by other swimmers

Don’t just endure the swim—learn to love it.

Presenter Will Murray is our Team’s mental skills coach, a USA Triathlon certified coach, and co-author of The Four Pillars of Triathlon: Vital Mental Skills for Endurance Athletes.

Event details here

SwimLabs Announces Grant Ranch Swim Schedule

Grant Ranch will offer swimmers an opportunity to train for their upcoming events or to simply practice their open water skills. There will be two courses available, 1/2 mile triangle or a 1.2 mile loop.  Grant Ranch is free of motorized boats, which allows for a very safe environment.

Grant Ranch Address: 
7255 West Grant Ranch Boulevard
Lakewood, CO 80123

Open Water Swim Days/Times:   
May 19th – September 9th

Tuesdays, May 22nd – Sept. 4th – 5:30AM – 7:00AM (Must be out of water by 6:50 AM
Thursdays, May 24th – Sept. 6th – 5:30AM – 7:00AM (Must be out of water by 6:50 AM)
Saturdays, May 19th – Sept. 8th – 7:00AM – 9:30AM (Must be out of water by 9:20 AM)
Sundays, May 20th – Sept. 9th – 5:30AM – 9:30AM (Must be out of water by 9:20 AM)

NO SWIMMING DATES (swim meets at Grant Ranch) – June 9th, July 7th and July 14th


Drop In, Punch Passes and Season Passes are available.


All the details and swim waiver can be found on the SwimLabs website HERE

No Open Water Swimming at Grant Ranch in 2018

It looks like triathletes who swim at Grant Ranch may need to find other options for open water swimming this year.

Presently, Grant Ranch and Swim Labs have not come an agreement on operating open water swimming for 2018. Paul Lefever of Grant Ranch said the board is not actively soliciting proposals from any other organization that may want to offer open water swimming. He added they are open to proposals, but the board is satisfied operating without the revenue of open water swimming. Michael Mann of Swim Labs is still hopeful a deal can be worked out so stay tuned and hopefully we will have good news to report in the near future.

We will be sure to keep everyone up to date.  Be sure to check our 2018 event calendar for all of the OWS opportunities this season.

Women’s Wednesday: Colorado’s Sarah Thomas – the woman who swam a century and made history

Sarah Thomas © Ken Classen

 “…only three athletes active today have finished ‘current-neutral’ swims of 63 miles or more — all three of them women.”

Unnoticed and unfeted, a US swimmer is breaking the sport’s boundaries

From Financial Times

Last week Sarah Thomas got up at 5am and drove the 25 miles from her home to the swimming pool in Lakewood, Colorado, as she does most mornings. There she completed her 6,000-yard workout before heading to work as a healthcare recruiter. She was untroubled by autograph hunters; no TV crews stopped her to seek an interview.

And yet Thomas is, according to Steven Munatones, founder of the World Open Water Swimming Association, “an outlier, a once-in-a-generation athlete, and a motivator who is showing others how far they can push themselves”. In August she completed what must rank as one of 2017’s greatest achievements in endurance sport, swimming further than anyone — man or woman — has swum before without the assistance of currents: a scarcely believable 104 miles, nonstop, in three days and nights in the water.

“The record wasn’t really the big incentive for me,” Thomas tells me from her home in Denver. “It was about finding and pushing my personal limits.” What could be a weary trope coming from many athletes rings true from Thomas. She swims without sponsorship — fitting her training around her full-time job. Her achievements have received little media attention; her record-breaking swim has not, to date, even been mentioned in a national newspaper.

“Sarah herself doesn’t seek out publicity,” Ken Classen, her coach and training partner, tells me. “If it wasn’t for her friends and mother-in-law she’d probably have no publicity and quite frankly I don’t think she’d care either way.”

Last year Thomas swam a record 82 miles nonstop in Lake Powell but felt she could go further — the 100-mile barrier beckoned. In choosing the current-free Lake Champlain for her swim, Thomas was attempting something no one of either gender had previously done. “A few people have swum over 100 miles before,” explains Evan Morrison, co-founder of the Marathon Swimming Federation, that adjudicated Thomas’ swim, but only with the assistance of strong, predictable currents.

These include a 139.8-mile effort by the late Croatian swimmer, Veljko Rogosic, in the Adriatic. “His swim was very impressive, but it belongs in a separate category,” explains Morrison. According to his records, only three athletes active today have finished “current-neutral” swims of 63 miles or more — all three of them women.

Beat Knechtle, a Swiss doctor and endurance athlete who has studied female performance in open-water swimming, offers two possible explanations for this dominance. “Women have an advantage due to their higher body fat, which provides insulation against the cold and better buoyancy.” As wetsuits may not be worn for official open-water swims, this could be an important advantage. Then there is the mental side. “In open-water swimming women have learnt that they are able to beat men and therefore expect to compete at a higher level,” says Knechtle.

Thomas agrees. “Women have a long history of swimming: it’s been socially acceptable for us to be athletes in the pool and open water for much longer than in other sports. I think having that strong foundation has really helped women to compete and train at a high level.”

Read the full article

Tri Coach Tuesday: Increase Your Open Water Comfort Level

By Will Murray

Originally posted on USA Triathlon

Open water swimming and the emotions swirling around it get plenty of attention these days. Many triathletes describe the “panic attacks” as feelings they experience in open water and not in their pool swims.

Maybe their attacks are not panic at all. Make no mistake, these sensations are awful and real. But they may have a physical origin. And, fortunately, there are simple, effective and fast techniques to quell open water swim issues and make swimming one of the most comfortable parts of triathlon.

First, let’s describe the feelings of discomfort that some triathletes call an attack. Then let’s look at the physiological causes of this feeling. Finally, let us practice a couple of specific, fast and easy techniques for relieving those sensations once and for all.

Maybe it’s not a panic attack.
Triathletes often describe the sensations that they interpret as an attack: shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, dizziness, light-headedness and strong self-talk. Symptoms of a panic attack, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), sound similar:

  • Racing heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing, feeling as though you ‘can’t get enough air’
  • Terror that is almost paralyzing
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or nausea
  • Trembling, sweating, shaking
  • Choking, chest pains
  • Hot flashes or sudden chills
  • Tingling in fingers or toes (pins and needles)
  • Fear that you’re going to go crazy or are about to die


However, there are some important differences. Again, according to the APA: “A panic attack is a sudden surge of overwhelming fear that comes without warning and without any obvious reason.”

The main difference here is “without any obvious reason.” In the case of open water swimming, there could be some very obvious reasons.

For starters, let’s see if perhaps there aren’t physiological rather than psychological causes.

Get off my neck.
One way to induce the symptoms some swimmers feel is a tight collar. On either side of your neck you have a carotid artery. Inside the carotid artery below your jawline is the carotid body, a small area that includes pressure sensors. Pressure on the carotid body increases blood pressure, which then signals your heart to slow down. Your carotid body sends this signal to your heart via the vagus nerve, which will become even more important later in the story.

This carotid sinus reflex is sufficiently dependable that doctors sometimes use mild pressure on the carotid sinus to reduce heart rate in patients whose hearts are beating too fast. According to Selvin and Howland (1961), males older than 50 years and with high blood pressure can be disproportionally susceptible to carotid sinus reflex.

The location of carotid body, high up on your neck under your jaw, is well out of the way of most collars on wetsuits specifically designed for swimming. However, neoprene swim caps with a chin strap may get close to this area of your neck.

One of the easiest things to do to avoid all those icky feelings: make sure that nothing much is pressing on your neck.

Before you don your wetsuit, try putting a plastic grocery bag on your foot, then slip into the leg of your suit and when your suit is all the way on your leg and your foot protrudes, pull off the bag. Repeat with the other leg and both hands. The slippery plastic bag helps your limbs slide into your suit effortlessly and completely, to get your legs and arms well into the suit. Make sure you create a little gather of neoprene at the front of your shoulder to avoid having any tension on your collar. Once you are in your suit, pull the collar away from your throat.

It’s in your face.
A second physiological phenomenon that can cause similar symptoms is a result of you being a mammal. Maybe you have seen stories of children who fall through the ice and get rescued many minutes afterward being submerged, only to recover fully. All mammals have this natural ability, called the mammalian diving reflex (DR), to respond to submersion.

It works like this:
When you put your face in cold water and hold your breath, the trigeminal nerve in your face sends a signal to your vagus nerve (there’s the vagus again) to slow down your heartbeat. Your body also shunts blood flow from your extremities to your internal core and brain.

You could imagine this conversation:
“Hey, wait wait wait wait! I feel cold water and pressure on my face and I’ve stopped breathing!”
“What do you think this means?”
“What, are you dense? We are drowning!”
“What should we do?”
“OK, well first let’s slow down the heart rate and ship more blood to the brain, so we can keep that going at least and conserve as much as we can until we surface.” “Hey, good idea.”

This mammalian diving reflex is just fine for keeping you from dying too fast underwater, but it really feels inconvenient when you are trying to swim. You slip into the water, and it’s cold. For the purposes of your trigeminal nerve, anything in the 70s and below (F) qualifies as cold. As you start to swim, your mammalian diving reflex kicks in, your vagus nerve reduces your heart rate and your blood departs your extremities.

But also when you start your swim, another part of your system wants to elevate your heart rate and flush your swimming muscles with blood.

When you jump into cold water and swim away, if you feel as though you have a war going on in your chest, you are not far off. According to Rennie (2012) “A disadvantageous consequence, however, is that the muscles in the limbs must then rely more on anaerobic energy metabolism to keep working, so they build up lactic acid and tire more rapidly than they would from comparable exercise at the surface.” Maybe this feels true to you. And according to Panneton (2013),“The DR is the most powerful autonomic reflex known.” He goes on to say, in laboratory experiments, “100 percent of rats get it 100 percent of the time.”

You are dealing with very strong forces here.

Fortunately again, there is an easy solution to the mammalian diving reflex war in your chest.


Recall your first swim lesson — blow bubbles.

Even before you start your swimming warm-up, you might consider doing your breathing warm-up. You do this by bobbing in the water. Yes, bobbing. As in, bobbing up and down. The easiest way to prevent that feeling is to warm up a little before you swim off.



Get in the water. Let the water trickle into your wetsuit. Float around for a few moments and feel the temperature of the water on your hands, feet, face and head. Adjust the collar of your wetsuit off your neck to make sure that your wetsuit is not pressing on your carotid arteries.
Bob. Take a breath. Put your face in the water and in a relaxed way exhale bubbles for 10 or 15 seconds. Lift your face into the air, take in a relaxed breath and then bob again. Repeat this for perhaps a minute or two.
Swim a little. Do some 25- or 50-meter easy swimming back and forth along the shoreline to get your muscles and your heart on the same page.

Go swim.
By gently bobbing for perhaps a whole entire minute before you start swimming, you settle down your trigeminal-vagus nerve cascade, get your inner mammalian diving reflex part to realize that indeed you are not drowning and you can just calm down. Then you can settle into your swim warm up and carry on.

Those two physiology issues, carotid sinus reflex and mammalian diving reflex, can explain a lot of that panicky feeling. Let’s get back to psychology for a moment.

One of the things about panic attacks: they can lead to altered behavior. Most important is to avoid developing panic attacks by attending to the physical causes and gaining the calmness in the water that makes open water swimming so rewarding.




APA. Panic attacks: the hallmark of panic disorder. Retrieved from
Panneton, W. Michael. (2013). The Mammalian Diving Response: an enigmatic reflex to preserve life? Physiology: 28(5) p. 284-297
Rennie, J. (2012). How the dive reflex extends breath-holding. Scientific American, March 22, 2012
Selvin, B and Howland, WS. M.D. (1961). New concepts of the physiology of the carotid sinus reflex. Journal of the American Medical Association. 1961;176(1):12-15. doi:10.1001/jama.1961.03040140014004.


Will Murray is a USA Triathlon Certified Coach and is the mental skills coach for D3 Multisport. He is co-author, with Craig Howie, of “The Four Pillars of Triathlon: Vital Mental Conditioning for Endurance Athletes.”

Monday Masters: Split Tempo for Open Water Swimming

Pool swimming is controlled. Open water swimming is not. Current Photo via Mike Lewis/Ola Vista Photography

From SwimSwam

Courtesy of Eney Jones

“If you don’t own the ocean, you’ll be seasick everyday” Leonard Cohen


My best ideas usually come submerged in water. The same experience Archimedes had when he screamed “Eureka!” (Greek “εὕρηκα!,” meaning “I have found it!”).

The story of Archimedes tells of how he invented a method for determining the volume of an object with an irregular shape. According to Vitrivius, a crown had been made for King Hiero II, who had supplied the pure gold to be used, and Archimedes was asked to determine whether some silver had been substituted by the dishonest goldsmith. Archimedes had to solve the problem without damaging the crown, so he could not melt it down into a regularly shaped body in order to calculate its density.

While taking a bath, he noticed that the level of the water in the tub rose as he got in, and realized that this effect could be used to determine the volume of the crown. For practical purposes water is incompressible so the submerged crown would displace an amount of water equal to its own volume. By dividing the mass of the crown by the volume of water displaced, the density of the crown could be obtained. This density would be lower than that of gold if cheaper and less dense metals had been added. Archimedes then took to the streets naked, so excited by his discovery that he had forgotten to dress and screamed “Eureka!”. The test was conducted successfully, proving that silver had indeed been mixed in.

Pool swimming is controlled. Open water swimming is not. There are many variables which are for the most part, uncontrolled. Water and air are two different elements, with two different densities, thus creating many choices. How can you respond to these choices rather than react?

Read the full story

Tri Coach Tuesday: How Cold is Too Cold?

Living in Colorado, we’ve come to learn that spring weather is unpredictable at best.  This can make for less than optimal conditions for swimming and racing outdoors.  Many of us have been disappointed when our anticipated triathlon becomes a duathlon or an OWS gets postponed or cancelled all together.  Although it doesn’t always satisfy our disappointment, the race directors always have athlete safety and well being in mind when these decisions need to be made.


Some venues have strict guidelines they follow.  Often times it comes down to a combination of swim distance, water temp, air temp, wind speed, type of event, etc etc.  In the end, if an event goes on as planned, the decision to participate comes down to the athlete.  Some athletes  can handle 52 degree for 1/2 mile, while others should opt out at 57 degrees.


Without Limits Productions RD, Lance Panigutti, reminds everyone that “RD’s have to make a determination based on all the athletes safety and skill set.  While some elites may be able to handle more extreme circumstances everyone needs to understand that it’s about the collective whole when it comes to moving forward to cancelling/modifying a portion of the event.”  He adds, “Every athlete needs to know and practice what they can handle, prepare for everything and hope for sunny skies”.

Bottom line:  Be educated on the effects of the cold and how they effect you.  In the end, you are responsible for your safety and well being in any type of event.


Other things to considered:


Cold Shock

Cold water zaps your body heat 25 times quicker than cold air. Add to that the physically exhausting nature of swimming, and you’re losing body heat at a rapid pace. Extremely cold water — 50 degrees or below — can lead to cold shock. This occurs when the body is overwhelmed by extreme cold, and it can send your body into a heart attack or unconsciousness, the latter of which can lead to drowning. Your body responds to a sudden plunge into cold water by making you involuntarily gasp, and if you’re under water this can cause you to drown before you get to the surface.


You’re probably well aware of hypothermia, which occurs when the body loses heat at a rapid pace. This can also occur in cold temperatures of 50 or below. While hypothermia takes longer than cold shock, it can be just as serious. Exposure to cold water for long periods of time lower your core body temperature. The lower it gets, the less your body can function. Once your core temperature reaches 93 degrees, you’ll be unable to use your arms and legs, and your mental function begins to deteriorate. At 80 degrees, you can become unconscious and drown.


Excerpt from


Excerpt from

One can’t reasonably expect to go from pool swimming to doing an hour in 7C / 45 F without a wetsuit, based on desire to swim alone. Granted, this isn’t likely to occur, but I’m trying to illustrate a point.  Ability to handle COLD is again a matter of a few factors more important than others (all other things like alcohol, food, illness, sleep being equal): namely, experience and weight.

People with plenty of experience of cold can swim in very cold water. I can swim for 20 minutes in 5 C / 40 F water, because I’ve gotten used to it. But I certainly don’t recommend it and I won’t claim it’s fun. And the bigger and heavier you are the more you can handle with less training. Fat is an insulator. Just having plenty of fat alone makes cold easier to deal with. But fat does not lessen the pain of the initial shock for example.

I have done some reading on regular cold water immersion. It seems the evidence says regular immersion in water temperatures of less than 10 Celsius is very beneficial for health, in a few different areas; improved respiration and circulation, lessened chances of infection and heart attack. However once the time goes over 10 minutes some of those benefits tend to reverse, especially hypertension and cardiac arrhythmia.

Highest Tri in the World – 106 West – “still has faint heartbeat”

Early this morning, various news sources, including 9News and the Summit Daily, reported this year’s 106 West Triathlon had  been cancelled.

Human Movement, owned by Powder Corp (sic), decided to cancel the race and focus on events closer to Copper Mountain, 9News reported.

However, 303’s Bill Plock pulled out his reporter’s notebook and asked some questions, revealing there is more to the story…

By Bill Plock

For ten years Jeff Suffolk, president of Louisville’s Human Movement, worked on bringing the 106Degree Triathlon to life in 2016. It was an epic event. (Full review below.) From being the first time humans could legally swim in Dillon Reservoir to being the highest altitude triathlon in the world, the 106 offered something unique.

But, according to Jeff, it’s not dead yet: “It has a faint heartbeat,” he told me this afternoon. The realities are a few very vocal people influenced officials to want to reroute the bike course and confine it to the Reservoir roads and trails.  Jeff said, “Yes, we could’ve had a three loop bike course, but that would simply take all the ‘epic-ness’ out of it.” Jeff went on to praise local officials who last year went out of their way to make the bike course very free of any traffic and with plenty of room for racers.

Human Movement was purchased in 2015 by Powdr, the owners of Copper Mountain and many other resort properties. The strategic vision is for Human Movement to focus on races and events that enhance the experience of their resorts. Events such as obstacle mud races and ninja courses, the kinds of events Human Movement also produces.

The 106 being in Summit county surely had some reach into the Copper Mountain community, but with its indirect impact, the race really needed to remain epic to afford the expense of keeping it going, and when the bike loop was dramatically changed it made it hard to continue with the same model.

Jeff said they could still pull it off this year, but because it looks bleak, he decided to refund money to athletes so they could shore up the race schedules and not be left in limbo wondering. “If it does indeed happen, it will probably be sort of last minute from a training perspective, and I just didn’t think that was fair,” says Jeff.

So stay tuned, crazier things have happened, the highest triathlon in the world may happen again someday!

106 Degree West Tri: Highest Tri in the World Recap



Boyd Lake Spring Splash



1st Race in the Mountain Swim Series

The Boyd Lake Spring Splash, is a late spring Colorado swim race.  Participants have the opportunity to swim a 1.2 mile race, a 2.4 mile race or a 5K race.  Participants swimming the 1.2 mile as well as either the 2.4 or 5K swim races will receive a discount.  Awards will be given out to the top three finishers in each division for each race.  Divisions will be both non-wetsuit and wetsuit for both men and women for each race.


Event details and registration here


Other events include:

Solstice Swim, June 24th

Carter Lake Crossing, July 29th

Chatfield Crossing, August 13th



Monday Masters: Open Water Swim Training with Boulder Coach Grant Holicky

Photo Credit: Griffin Scott
Photo Credit: Griffin Scott

“The physical nature of the sport is so different and simply being touched is what many swimmers dislike as they come to open water.”

From Swim World Magazineby Robbie Dickson, Swimming World College Intern.

Grant Holicky, head coach of Rallysport Aquatics (RACE) in Boulder, Colorado, has been working with elite open water swimmers for several years now. Two of his most notable athletes are Joey Pedraza, who finished third in the 5k at the 2014 Nationals, and Christine Jennings, who has been to both World Championships and the Pan Pacific Championships for open water.

With all this success, plus the success that Coach Holicky has with his pool swimmers, you would assume that he has some of the best facilities in the country. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth, RallySport Aquatics practice in a six lane, hotel pool. Oh and it is outside the ENTIRE year. In Colorado. That makes for some very cold morning practices…

Read the full article…