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May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, July 2000 Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7
WORK YOUR: Trapezius, delts, pecs, lower back, neck
Marcia Cleveland didn't have to worry about getting lost when she set the American women's speed record for swimming around Manhattan (5 hours, 57 minutes, 53 seconds), what with all the architectural landmarks and floating pit-bull corpses to use as guideposts. But for most outings, Cleveland, like other open-water swimmers, has had to set her course by sighting. Currents, wind, sun, optical illusions, and, say, your triathlon competitors kicking you in the head during the swim leg can spell serious disorientation. In one race, Cleveland recalls, the straightest path was to cut across the pack after the lead group had lost its way. For all you Wrong-Way Corrigans in wetsuits out there, sighting is indispensable. Now towel off and listen up.

"You basically need to select a fixed point in the landscape and never take your eye off it," says Cleveland. "Look for buildings, really tall trees, something big and anchored in the ground." Your guidepost will work best if it's lined up directly with your destination, but it can be off to the side as long as you orient yourself accordingly. And you must also factor in currents: If it's coming from the right and you want to go straight, you'll need to angle right. The stronger the current, the more severe the angle.

Sighting may be necessary as often as every three strokes, but more realistically between your tenth and twentieth stroke. Turn your head toward the horizon with the arc of your stroke, holding it at the top long enough to catch a glimpse of the horizon. You'll need to lift your head out of the water, much like a water polo player craning forward to see the ball. Sounds easy, but the move takes diligent practice because it calls on muscles not commonly used in swimming (those in your lower back, especially), and you must adjust your course based on a brief glimpse of your landmark. "After 12 years," says Cleveland, "I'm still trying to perfect it."

Photo: Brad Hines

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