Dan Simonelli Envisions And Enjoys The Long Journey

Dan Simonelli Envisions And Enjoys The Long Journey

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

S.C.A.R. brings out the stars:

Sally Minty-Gravett, Elizabeth Fry, Mo Siegel, Hendrik Meerman, Scott Lautman, Janet Manning, Jim Fitzpatrick, Anna Delozier, Melodee Nugent, Cliff Crozier, Thomas W. Kofler, Kathryn Mason, and Courtney Paulk were just a few of the experienced veterans who took part in the 4-day marathon swimming stage swim.

But the S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge in Arizona also enticed some long-time open water swimmers to expand their horizons and extend their swimming range. One of those people was Californian Dan Simonelli.

Here is his perspective of the event:

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Most swimmers do not race S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge; they participate in order to finish. But you had a different purpose. You were testing about a different way to prepare and compete nutritionally. Can you explain how you changed your diet for S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge? Also, what did you eat and drink during each of your swims?

Dan Simonelli: I wouldn’t say I had a different purpose, perhaps an added purpose.

I was somewhere in the middle between racing and just finishing, due to it being unknown territory for me in terms of distance and successive days. I wanted to do well, more than just survive and simply finish.

So, I cautiously pushed at different times during the first two days, knowing that I had big Day 3 looming, and I paced myself based first on how I was feeling and then on whether someone was up ahead that I appeared to be catching up to…or if someone was catching up to me from behind.

But on Day 3, I had to forget about all that and just find my all day pace and just swim…which served me well. I felt good at 4 hours – which turned out to be about half way, then again felt good at 6 hours – my previous hour max. I thought, I got this.

Then with maybe 4-5 miles to go, I was switching back and forth with another swimmer (Brad Lundblad). So I kept close and started thinking about how much I may have left to push past at the end. And as it turned out, I was able to push relatively hard for the last mile or so and catch up and pass him. It was all new territory for me.

And the relevance this has to your first question is that I wasn’t sure how I’d fare on the long end of a swim and whether I’d have enough energy store to pick up the pace and maintain for enough time to push to the end…and I did. So, that was a nice affirmation of my training, but probably more pertinently my nutrition and feeds regimen.

I started using UCAN (Superstarch) in September or October 2011, after going to Peter Attia‘s house for his Praise the Lard presentation and dinner with about 15 other swimmers. Concurrently, I started on the road of a Low Carb-High Fat diet.

So, I’ve been on this road for quite a while before S.C.A.R.

To clarify, I never intended nor have I gone into Nutritional Ketosis. However, restricting my carbs down to a rough average. I counted at first, but then bored of it and just concentrated on choosing no sugar/HFCS, low carb, high fat meals – maybe 100g per day. This has allowed me to become “keto-adapted” (i.e., conditioned my body to primarily use fat stores over glycogen; in the absence of sugar/glucose, keeping insulin secretion down).

Over time, I shed 40-50 pounds.

This subsequently has allowed me to experience continued energy during longer and longer training swims and not relying on glucose based products for feeds.

I’ve learned for myself that I needed to hydrate more, and this of course was of more importance in Arizona. So, I started training last year with taking in more water. Around this time I asked Peter and he suggested another product he’d been trying out and liking, BioSteel. So, I started testing that out and really noticed a difference in recovery especially. And of course that was big on my mind knowing I wanted to do S.C.A.R. the following year.

So, my feed regimen over the past year came around to needing less feed and more hydration, hence I did the following:

Pre-swim: 12 ounces water with about 30g UCAN
First hour: water with Biosteel with extra water for S.C.A.R.
90 minutes: 6-8 ounces water with about 30g UCAN
Second hour: Biosteel

and so on…the same throughout, adding more water as I felt needed during S.C.A.R.

It wasn’t that hot (mid-80s) and water temperature averaged in the mid 60s, so the extra water may have been more than necessary, as I pee’d every half hour, sometimes more. But it worked, so maybe it was good.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Was your experiment and lifestyle change successful?

Dan Simonelli: I’d say yes, successful in multiple ways. Health-wise, I shed 40-50 pounds readily over time. All improved blood panels, everything. More thorough than regular and I feel great.

Swimming, I have gone longer and gotten stronger without using glucose-based products for feeding, which I had experience with using earlier in my life (during my 20s) while competing in triathlons and a few marathons. So, I wanted to do it differently this time.

Success at S.C.A.R. for me was that I felt good throughout each swim, between swims, and afterwards felt great. I was able to push and bounce back the next day and push again. Though I’d be remiss in not mentioning and acknowledging the wonderful massage after each swim.

And mentally, with feeling good from feeds. That is, I was not bloated, not particularly hungry, adequately hydrated. I was better able to relax into the swims, especially in Day 3 Apache, and even with the head winds and chop, I could focus better, relax and enjoy the ride. That’s the biggest success.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What did you learn from this change of nutrition?

Dan Simonelli: Coincidentally, a few others at S.C.A.R. are using UCAN also.

Janet Manning has been searching for something that doesn’t cause GI distress. Mo Siegel was also searching for GI distress relief. He said he’s liked it and it’s working for him. Mo ran out of feeds on the long Day 3. He did not really want what others were offering and I was able to give him one left over bottle I had while Janet hooked him up with more.

So, one thing I’ve learned from others is that GI distress relief is a main advantage of using UCAN, and that puking doesn’t have to be a commonly accepted consequence of marathon swimming, or endurance sport in general.

Personally, my paradigm shift had been the realization that our bodies can thrive without carbs during exercise and the fact of not having to rely primarily on small glycogen stores and rather the abundance of fat stores provides a critical advantage.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Did you have any change in your nutrition plans as you crossed Saguaro Lake, Canyon Lake, Apache Lake or Roosevelt Lake?

Dan Simonelli: No changes during the swims. However, between swims I ate a ton of food.

It wasn’t all low carb. I didn’t have much choice, but Peter once explained that after depleting glycogen after hard workout, there’s room for extra carbs while not upsetting the balance achieved and remaining keto-adapted. So, after Day 3, I got back and went to restaurant and ate two dinners.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: In the 9.5-mile (15.2 km) stage swim in Saguaro Lake on Day 1, did everything go to plan? What was your time?

Dan Simonelli: Saguaro: yes, as much as my plan was to relax and enjoy and go with the flow of how I felt. And, as was the case, if I felt I could push to catch someone or break away from someone, or push through the wind and chop, then I would and I did. My time was around 3 hours 50 minutes.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: In the 9-mile (14.4 km) stage swim in Canyon Lake on Day 2, how was your recovery from the first stage?

Dan Simonelli: Canyon was the same plan, though I was thinking about looming Day 3 more. Still, I felt good and tried to catch the first two males from Day 1, Cliff Crozier and Hendrik Meerman, the two Colorado boys. I came in third again and felt good. I received another massage, ate well, drank a lot of water, stretched, slept well. Good to go for Day 3. I did a similar time as Day 1, around 3 hours 50 minutes.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: In the 17-mile (27.3 km) stage swim in Apache Lake on Day 3, this was the biggest test. How did you fare? How did you feel?

Dan Simonelli: As I said, I focused on forgetting about racing and concentrated on finding a smooth, all-day pace that I could relax into and feel good with. I remember at 4 hours thinking this is fun. I was enjoying the scenery, the people and the relay boat that kept cruising back and forth and cheering, the cheering crowds of Saguaros along the hillsides (coined by Cindy Tobin Walsh for the shapes of the cacti appearance with arms raised, and thinking of Janet Lamott who we just lost the week before and her mantra of put your head down and swim, and the text from my wife from the first day that I used as mantra throughout: you’re stronger than you think.

This served me well. At the 6 hour mark, I was still feeling relaxed and good to go. I thought, “I got this!”

Even with all the wind and chop, especially during the middle hours, I was able to rely on my training especially over the last several weeks of training in Southern California wind conditions and chop, and go with the flow. I was pleasantly rewarded with catching and passing many others and building to the end. As I said, I was able to muster a good push to overtake the last swimmer I had in sight. I think my time was 8 hours 15 minutes.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: During the 6.2-mile (10 km) swim in Roosevelt Lake on Day 4, how was swimming at night?

Dan Simonelli: Again, I felt good after Day 3. I got a massage and certainly I felt it more during the kneading, but not much more soreness than after a regular hard swim. Again I ate well with the open day, big breakfast and lunch.

I was excited about the night swim as I enjoy swimming at night. Though there’s no bioluminescence there, the night sky and warm air and water were magnificent. Even with the winds blowing enough for white caps, I was feeling like I could push and I decided to leave it all out there and finished strong catching and then breaking away from two swimmers over the last mile or so.

The only regret, at that point, was since I was racing, I didn’t notice as much of the beauty surrounding us as I otherwise would have if I were just having a more relaxed swim. However, once back at the dock I realized that I left my feed bag on the pontoon boat back at the dam. So, I took a ride back on one of the shuttle boats and was able to really take in all the surroundings and beauty of the swim.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What is your next swim?

Dan Simonelli: Well, that was a very common question posed to me from many different people over the days. Catalina was the obvious assumption. However, financially that’s just not doable for me right now. So, S.C.A.R. really was my Catalina for now. I still plan to do the La Jolla 10 Mile that we do and work on my speed to see if I can catch my friend, swim partner and same age nemesis Dave Smith who has won it several times. Other than that, I have no sanctioned swims planned right now. I’ll continue swimming long and building as I’m enjoying the journey going further. I do have a notion, prompted by Tom Hecker‘s original plan, to stage swim the San Diego County coastline over long weekend swims. That would be cool and no big expense.

I also was recently asked to join a relay being planned for August, going from Avalon to La Jolla Cove, raising money for the Warrior Foundation. I’m excited about this because I’ve been thinking about this endurance swimming endeavor for awhile now in terms of what higher purpose can it serve. And my experience last December at Will Swim For Food really solidified my thinking that I want it to be more about a greater purpose and serving others rather than just about my own myopic, narcissistic endeavor. So, I am looking to do more along that vision line.

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