Saturday, 17 July 2010

Interview with George Brunstad

Thanks to Karen Reeder for kindly allowing this interview to be re printed here..

75-year old George Brunstad recently competed in the USMS 6K National Championships in Windsor, Colorado, finishing in 2:29:23.7. USOWSC had a chance to talk with George, who, in 2004, became the oldest swimmer to successfully cross the English Channel with a time of 15 hours, 59 minutes.

As you look back upon your English Channel Swim, what parts were the most difficult and the most memorable?
Several areas stand out as challenging. Water temperature acclimatization was one. I spent some time in Long Island Sound in the fall and spring when the ocean temperatures were around 58-62 F and took cold showers after workouts at the Wilton CT YMCA. Taking the lead of Marcia Cleveland, I rented a cottage on Harpswell Neck near Brunswick ME forthree weeks making escorted swims in Casco Bay of 3-6 hours in 55-60 F water. Another, one not anticipated, was feeding. I had it down pat in training with a malodextrin and soy mix but had not tested it beyond 6 hours. After six hours in the Channel swim the mix began to back up undigested in my stomach. Mike Oram simply had me skip a feeding to empty the stomach and then switched to strait moltodextrin and it was smooth sailing thereafter. Another was to craft the proper amount and intensity of training considering my age. The window is smaller for the proper amount - it had to be not too much or too little. I had no one my age to consult but managed to train with enough intensity to accomplish the task without breaking down.

Most memorable was the finish under a full moon with Allison Streeter and MarcyMcDonald flankingme for the last 300 meters and the three of us striding up on the beach under acouple of spotlights, my arms raised in victory.

Do you have any advice for people who are going to swim the English Channel?
Training building in intensity as the time approaches, cross training (land as well as the other strokes), one long swim each week, cold water adaptation, feeding practice, a short taper, crew coordination, proper diet, adequate rest, a goal and purpose for the swim, and in my case, faith in my Lord and Creator, prayers by many.

As they age, some swimmers tend to have more difficulty adjusting to cold water temperatures. Have you noticed this and do you have any advice for older swimmers?
I have noticed that it is more difficult for me at 75 than 70. My advice would be to follow the program I have mentioned above. The cold water camp was crucial for me.

How often do you swim every week now and approximately how much yardage are you swimming on a weekly basis?
I am not swimming as much as in the past because I was incapacitated by Poly Myalgia Rhumatica last summer (Immune system attacks theskeletal muscles). I am now asymptomatic but my speed has not returned. I am working back into a routine of three days Monday-Wednesday-Fridayin the pool and the fitnessroom plus swims in the lake on Tuesday and Thursday. For my Channel year in 2004 at age 70, I did mixed swims (intervals, IM, etc) on Monday and Wednesday with fitness cross-training on Tuesday and Thursday, and then increasingly longer freestyle swims on Friday. Saturday and Sundays were recovery. Note that I swam only three days a week for my Channel year. This was in deference to my age.

Is there anywhere in particular where you train in open water? Do you have a favorite place to swim in open water?
Now it is Lakes Winnipesaukee and Winnesquam NH.

What other swimming races are you planning to compete in this summer?
Possibly the 22 mile Lake Winnipesaukee swim for charity in August.

What has been your swimming experience through your life?
I started swimming at age 3 inWashington State. I was a varsity swimmer at Washington State with no accomplishments to speak of. But I swam nothing more than 200 yards. I had no idea that I am in reality a pure endurance athlete. It took a while in Masters swimming to realize this as well after I started in 1973. At first I swam short races but did not find success until I started swimming the longer distances (1500 M free, 400 MIM, 200 M fly, etc.) but found my real place when I started open water competition in 1992.

What are 3 main things you think are most important for new open water swimmers to learn?
1) Efficiency of stroke and this means bilateral breathing. I firmly believe in being able to breathe equally well to either side, and devoting equal time to both sides during training and when racing. I have always considered swimming as a lifetime commitment and am convinced of the merits of a balanced and symmetrical stroke on the overall harmony of stresses and strains on the spine, shoulders, joints, tendons and muscles. It is difficult to get symmetrical action from a stroke that always twists and pulls to only one side. There is invariably a difference in the way the two arms and shoulders work for one-side breathers and it must certainly not be good for the neck and spine over many years to twist the neck tens of thousands of times one way and never to the other. How can the muscles and tendons develop equally under this scenario? I taught hundreds of young kids to swim in the largest swim program in New England at the Wilton YMCA in Connecticut. NONE of them left my teaching class without being able to breathe equally well to either side.

2) I do a lot of distance free with limited breathing. I do not race this way but it has built my wind and endurance. 3) Cross training on dry land, freestyle intervals with practice in the other strokes as well.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Thanks for sharing. good stuff.

hahaha on on the tri girl/link below!