An interview with Steven Munatones

Today we are thrilled to have a conversation with Steven Munatones, who may know more about OW swimming, swims, history, training, competitors, and techniques than any other human on the planet.  He is the man behind 10KSwimmer, the encyclopaedic must-read blog for anyone interested in OW swimming.  We don’t know how he manages to be everywhere at once in the world of OW swimming, but we are thankful he does.

Read on for our interview with Steven Munatones, with a few special tips for newer competitive OW swimmers at the bottom.

What would you like readers to know about you?
I see my role to help promote the sport, educate coaches and support athletes and parents in any way possible using every form of media available.  I also see my role as a historian of the sport and helping document the rules and write about swimmers of all ages, abilities and backgrounds.

As a swimmer, when did you first become interested in open water swimming?
I did my first open water swim in Southern California at the age of 6.

How did it go?
It was in a bay in Southern California and, although I do not remember the result, the effect was extremely positive.  I am still passionately involved in open water swimming 41 years later.

Worst open water swim you swam yourself?  Worse you’ve witnessed or heard about?
The professional Around-the-Island Swim in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1984.  The water temperature dropped from the high 50’s to the low- to mid-50’s during the ocean part and I was pulled out with hypothermia.  Of the over 25 experienced marathon swimmers who started, I think only 6 finishers.  I was pretty disappointed in myself and committed myself to improving my ability to swim in cold water ever since.

What do you think is contributing to the growing interest in OW swimming?  Where, geographically, do you see the most growth happening?  What will help support its growth?
Several phenomena are occurring to booster the interest in open water swimming: The growing and sustained interest in triathlons, the addition of the 10K event to the Olympics, the ease of obtaining information on open water swimming via the Internet, and the increasing professionalism and excitement of local open water swims.  Geographically, the engine of growth is Europe, by far.  The European races are popular, professionally organized, televised on occasion and draw thousands in every kind of venue available.  Brazil is also a hot bed for the sport with the Brazil Swimming Federation providing great leadership and vision.  Domestically, the number of events in the US has increased threefold over the past several years with a large number of new events in the Midwest and in the South.

With the 10K now an Olympic sport, do you think we’ll see the 10K grow in popularity?
Not compared to the shorter races.  The 10K is still pretty far for most swimmers and I believe it will remain in the realm of the elite or competitive swimmer.  However, swims above 25K are showing tremendous growth among endurance athletes of all ages and abilities.  So, the shorter races under 5K are, by far, the most popular (about 85% of all races in the US).

On that topic, do you think it’s likely we’ll see a growth in middle-distance events (5K-10K) or are there not enough swimmers interested in those distances?
We may see a slight increase, but nothing like the shorter events and the number of swimmers who will challenge themselves to the marathon swims above 10K.

Some open water races require entrants to submit proof of some kind of qualifying swim (for distance or time or both), but many don’t.  With growing interest in OW swimming, do you think that USA Triathlon, US Masters swimming and USA Swimming should develop some kind of policy on qualifying standards for open water swimming?
The number of open water races that require proof of ability remains very small and I believe it will remain so.  I think most athletes self-police themselves and do not attempt swims that they believe they may not be able to complete or competitively swim.  USA Swimming has some standards for its national championship events, but I do not believe qualifying standards should be set by these organizations.  The local race committee is in the best position to make these standards because each venue and each day provides different conditions for open water swimmers.

How do you manage to keep on top of all the information you share on 10K Swimmer?  I’m constantly amazed at the breadth of your output!
I spend hours every day – 365 days a year – sifting through open water swimming information in all forms – and I have been doing this for decades.  I have been studying, researching, observing and writing about open water swimming since 1982 so I have piles and piles of information that has yet to be posted, published, explained or shared.  I also have reams of valuable and rare information on swimmers and events from other prolific writers or open water coaches or administrators – some whom have passed away – that I have yet to post, publish or analyze.  In addition, many helpful individuals around the world send me information.  Of all the information I receive, I estimate that I only post or publish less than 5%.  I wish I could do this full-time in order to promote all the capable swimmers and wonderful events throughout the world.

How about that Eva Fabian?  It seems as though a lot of the pro-level swimmers are older (mid-20s+), and Fabian is coming on gangbusters.  What’s she doing that the rest of us should be doing?
Eva is a special young lady with a drive that is rarely seen domestically (in the open water world).  Her coach and father, Jack Fabian, is also a special coach.  They both seek knowledge about open water swimming and their minds are open to doing things differently than pure pool swimmers.  Eva and her coach/father do special pool and open water workouts that Gerry Rodrigues and I have been advocating for years.  Her father/coach takes the information that Gerry and I provide and modifies it as necessary.  Eva has really stepped up to the plate and it is personally extraordinarily gratifying to see someone improve and move into the ranks of the world’s elite.

SOME QUESTIONS FOR  THOSE OF US NEWER TO COMPETITIVE OW SWIMMING:

What’s the best approach for improving your sustainable speed over distances of, say, 5K and above?  Lots of short, hard repeats w/ short breaks?  Longer repeats with longer breaks?  Long repeats, short breaks?  Pyramids?  A little bit of everything?
There are seven elements of success in the world of open water swimming.  I can discuss these seven elements for hours, but your last phrase was smack on: A little bit of everything is required.

Turnover or efficiency?  We know efficiency is important over long distance, but at the same time when we’re passed by the really fast people, their turnover is noticeably faster.  What’s a good turnover speed for an ordinary mortal to aim for?
If we look at the turnover of the world’s best open water swimmers, they are usually doing at least 78 strokes per minute (39 cycles) and some of the them get above 84 strokes per minute.  This is exactly the turnover they use in swim practice every single day.  Depending on your age, strength, level of fitness and stroke technique, I would advocate at least a 75 stroke per minute pace must be maintained throughout any give race with a higher stroke count in the first 500 yards and last 500 yards of each race.

On the subject of turnover, we’ve also found it’s harder to maintain turnover speed in choppy/sloshy water.  Any tips?
I know this answer sounds either corny or dismissive, but the best way to maintain turnover speed in choppy water is to practice in choppy water.  Most people, however, avoid – or do not have the opportunity to – practice in choppy water.  If you have access to the open water, I strongly advocate swimming in the late afternoon when the winds are strong at least a few times before a race, so you can become accustomed to such wavy and choppy conditions.  Swimming in choppy water requires strength and a sense of balance that is best developed before the race.

Can’t get enough Steven M?  Here’s a link to another interview.

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