Murphy’s Law and Yhprum's Law, Experiencing Both in the Open Water

Murphy’s Law and Yhprum’s Law, Experiencing Both in the Open Water

Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Yhprum’s Law: Everything that can work, will work.

Note: Yhprum’s Law is the opposite of Murphy’s law. Yhprum is Murphy spelled backwards.

What I have seen in open water swimming races, channel swims, marathon swims, stage swims, ice swims is that Murphy’s Law and Yhprum’s Law often both occur in the same swim,” observes Steven Munatones. “One example of Murphy’s Law is when the feeding pontoon at the 2016 Olympic marathon swim in Rio de Janeiro broke in half and sunk 36 hours before the start of the race.  The organizers did not panic. They just got to work and went to Plan B. An example of Yhprum’s Law is when that very same 2016 Olympic marathon swim on both the men’s and women’s side offered some of the most exciting finishes in Olympic history.”

Examples of Murphy’s Laws – and examples in the open water swimming world – include:

* If the possibility exists of several things going wrong, the one that will go wrong is the one that will do the most damage.

In the open water: Swimmers wear a swim cap, goggles, swimsuit and perhaps a pair of earplugs and skin lubricant. But it is usually the goggles that cause the most damage by leaking, fogging, and its strap breaking.

* Everything will go wrong at one time.

In the open water: Swimmers in a competitive race head towards a feeding station. When a feeding is missed, other swimmers are in the way, the contents of the cup are dropped, the coach mistakes the swimmer for another swimmer, and too much time is taken to try to rectify the situation.

* If nothing can go wrong, something will.

In the open water: The conditions for a lake or channel crossing look good. The timing of the tides are right. The wind forecast is mild. The water temperature is reported as ideal. When the swim starts, the tides are not quite what is forecasted, the winds pick up, and the water temperature drops to unexpected levels.

* Nothing is as easy as it looks.

In the open water: Looking over the course in a race across a tranquil open body of water, swimmers imagine an enjoyable swim. In the heat of a competitive race, the optimal direction between turn buoys becomes uncertain and the pack of lead swimmers is difficult to swim with and swimmers around you are much more physical than swimmers first imagined.

* Everything takes longer than you think.

In the open water: Looking at the course finish or coastline ahead, the swimmer can imagine finishing in a certain time. The expectation of finishing in that time is nearly never met.

* Left to themselves, things always go from bad to worse.

In the open water: A solo crossing or a relay, conditions start off very nice. And gradually get more difficult as time passes. Almost always.

* Nature always sides with the hidden flaw.

In the open water: See above.

* Mother Nature is unpredictable.

In the open water: See above.

* The universe is not indifferent to intelligence, it is actively hostile to it.

In the open water: Pre-swim planning is comprehensive and based on historical data and previous swims. An experienced support crew and veteran pilot use GPS, pace swimmers, and kayakers. And yet conditions make the crossing more difficult than planned.

* If it doesn’t fit, use a bigger hammer.

In the open water: If the conditions are getting tougher and more turbulent, the escort pilot and crew always yells, “Swim faster” or “Just push for one more hour.”

On the other hand, open water swimmers and other endurance athletes also experience Yhprum’s Law or the adage that states “Everything that can work, will work.”

Vito Bialla recalls during one of the Night Train Swimmers relay crossings from the Farallon Islands to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Bay. “I think it was our second attempt. Things going just fine with a max flood of 3.5 knots and the finish in sight. But Joe Locke was swimming in place six miles from the Golden Gate Bridge. After an hour, he started going backwards.

The dams in the Sierra Mountains and up in Sacramento were opened due to excessive snow and water. So here we are swimming in fresh water six miles off shore – and not a taste of salt in the water. We all started laughing and called it a day.”

Paul Asmuth, one of history’s greatest professional marathon swimmers experienced his own share of both bad and good during his 59 professional races. “In the early 1980s during one of the Atlantic City Around Island Swims, the ocean leg was very rough with big swells. After about an hour of swimming through this slop, something strange happened to the lifeguard dory that I was drafting behind. When I looked up, the boat had capsized and thrown my coach Dr. Sam Freas Jr. about 6 feet away.

The boat was half filled with water and all of our gear was floating in the water or had sunk.

I assessed the situation and saw Sam was safe and said, ‘See you later’ and kept swimming toward Longport. There were enough other boats around that I knew my general direction was good. I didn’t know if Sam would be able to continue with me or not and I may have even taken a feed from James Kegley or another swimmers boat nearby. About 20 minutes later, Sam had collected all the gear he could salvage, bailed out the boat, and caught back up with me.

We went on to win the race.”

Ben Stubenberg has established one of the world’s most beautiful races in Turks & Caicos – the Race for the Conch” Eco-SeaSwim. He recalled his first swim in San Francisco Bay in an Alcatraz race in 2002. He was in a wetsuit and everything went perfectly. “Friends and family cheered when I got to the beach. I felt terrific and was not very cold. It was Yhprum’s Law at work. I was amped up and decided to swim the race the following year without a wetsuit.

In 2003, I was hoping to stay dressed in a hoodie and sweatpants while on the ferry, but for some reason we could only bring what we were going to swim with. So, I boarded with only Speedo and goggles. I could feel the chill right away and just hoped the ferry would get to the drop-off point quickly. But, of course, it did not.

There was an hour delay, maybe to wait for the slack tide. Meanwhile, I’m starting to shiver and acutely conscious that my body temperature was dropping. At one point, I awkwardly asked a couple of people in wetsuits if I could sit between them.

Finally, officials called out that swimmers could jump in the water and wait for the ferry whistle to signal the start. I hit the cold San Francisco Bay water and knew I had to keep moving. The whistle didn’t blast for another five minutes, but at least I was off. Soon I could feel my hands and then my forearms going numb. I just kept going even as the numbness reached past my elbows and it felt like I was moving two sticks through the water. Then I looked to the left and to the right, but I could not see any kayakers through fog.

It was a perfect time, I thought, for a Great White Shark to grab me. At least I sighted well enough to reach the cut in the Aquatic Park seawall which was a huge psychological boost. I ran up on the beach and straight to the sauna. I was so glad they had one. I sat in the sauna for 30 minutes until I warmed up again.

It was a lesson learned: Plan for the worst.”

Antonio Argüelles of Mexico, the oldest individual to complete the Oceans Seven, described his Yhprum’s Law moment. “It came days before my swim of the North Channel. Years of mental training paid off [see here].

My Murphy’s Law moment came the day I did my first long swim when I was just starting to do open water swimming. I went with Nora Toledano to Lago de Zirahuén, a lake in Michoacán to do a long workout. The objective that day was to swim in the dark and do six hours using Maxim as part of my feeding. We woke up and the lake was totally surrounded by fog. Even so, we started swimming at 4 in the morning.

My feeding began at the hour and from there it was downhill. I could not handle Maxim. Since quitting was not an option, I continued drinking and drowning up until we finish. When I got out of the water I was almost fainting. They did a blood test and I had hypoglycemia, my glucose level was 68 mg/dl.”

Photo above is of Kate Steels of Ice Sevens fame, swimming an Ice Mile in Andark Lake, UK. Credit Terry Scott. To donate for her Samaritans charity drive, visit here.

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Steven Munatones