Alan Morrison Gives Honor To Captain Matthew Webb

Alan Morrison Gives Honor To Captain Matthew Webb

In a tribute to Captain Matthew Webb, the first person to successfully cross the English Channel in 1875, Alan Jay Morrison thought up a new open water swimming challenge for himself.

His goal? To replicate Captain Webb’s 1879 swim in America using breaststroke.

Morrison completed a 7.5-mile marathon swim doing breaststroke from Sandy Hook, New Jersey to Coney Island Beach in Brooklyn, New York this week.

What was it like to swim breaststroke?

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Did you swallow any water?

Alan Morrison: Yes, perhaps twice during the swim. That doesn’t sound like much, but combined with turbulent seas, it does take a toll. Also, because of the forward-facing head position when breathing, swimming breaststroke in the ocean results in sea “spray” hitting the back of the throat, which can be uncomfortable after a while.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How did you train for this swim? What was your percentage of training breaststroke versus freestyle?

Alan Morrison: This season, I had two breaststroke marathon swims – this one and the 17-mile Rose Pitonof Swim on August 10th. My training for these swims began in earnest in January and consisted entirely of indoor training until June. In January, I participated in the One Hour Swim using only breaststroke, just to get a benchmark for my future training and performance using that stroke. I swam approximately 3,420 yards, which is equivalent to around 1.9 mph. This is around 90% of my 2.15 mph freestyle speed for the OHS.

My pool training from February through May consisted of a combination of pool – 3 or 4 times per week – and dry land training – 2 or 3 times per week; light weights, calisthenics, and short distance running. My pool training consisted of a long Saturday workout building up to 10,000 yards by Spring, and shorter workouts of 3,000 yards or so during the week. My pool workouts incorporated both breaststroke and freestyle, with the majority being freestyle. In sum, though, I favor intense sprint and interval training over long stretches of moderately paced distance swimming.

Starting in June, I did my Saturday swims at Brighton Beach with CIBBOWS, while continuing my weekday pool and dry land routine. My swims varied in length, typically between 5 and 10 km.* The most I ever swam breaststroke in training was 5 km. For most long training swims, I swam no more than half the distance using breaststroke. This was simply to avoid injuring my knees.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you consider yourself a breaststroker?

Alan Morrison: Yes, I consider myself to be a breaststroker.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: If you swam freestyle, do you think it would have been easier?

Alan Morrison: Absolutely. However, my inspiration for this swim came from the fact that Captain Matthew Webb completed his 1879 swim using breaststroke. I chose to do my swim using the same stroke he used – both for the sake of integrity and as a way of honoring his achievement.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Did you ever feel like breaking stroke (i.e., swimming backstroke or freestyle)?

Alan Morrison: By the time I was a few hours into the swim, the high seas had started to take a toll on my ability to feed and drink, and thus on my energy level, psyche, and stroke mechanics. It had quickly become one of my most difficult swims yet, and my outlook on finishing was growing gloomy. To answer your question, I could think of nothing other than breaking sport.

* An example of one of his 9,000-yard pool workouts:
500 warm up
5 x 100 IM @ 1:45
2 x [5 x 100 @ 1:25, 1:30, 1:35, 1:30, 1:25] 5 x 100 kick @ 2:30
5 x 200 breast @ 3:20, 3:30, 3:40, 3:30, 3:20
500 kick [no time]
10 x 100 freestyle @ 1:45 (cycle 0 to 100 fast to 0)
5 x 200 fast @ 4:00 (touch at 2:45)
10 x 100 fast @ 2:00 (touch at 1:20)
20 x 50 fast @ 1:30 (touch under 0:40)
5 x 100 hypoxic continuous [3/5/7/3, no time]
500 cool down

Example of one of his 10,000-yard pool workouts:
500 warm up
5 x 100 IM @ 1:45
6 x 100 @ 1:30
4 x [10 x 50 alt. freestyle/breaststroke @ 1:00, 0:55, 0:50, 0:45 (all freestyle)]
10 x 50 kick @ 1:15 (alt backstroke/breaststroke)
10 x 50 freestyle @ 1:30 (touch under 0:40)
8 x 25 lung busters @ 1:00
200 easy
500, 400, 300, 200, 100 [no time, last 75 fast, 1:00 rest after each]
5 x 50 kick @ 1:15
10 x 100 freestyle @ 1:45 (floating 25 fast, starting with 1st 25)
5 x 50 kick @ 1:15
500 hypoxic set [3/5/7/5/3, no time]
5 x 50 kick @ 1:15
2 x 500 @ 8:00 (touch on 7:30)
10 x 50 fast @ 1:30 (touch under 0:40)
250 cool down

Photo by Capri Djatiasmoro shows Alan Morrison swimming away from Brighton Beach during a training swim.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones