January 31, 2011
Chloe Sutton has an accomplished a lot for an 18-year-old.
Already an Olympian and two-time national champion in the open
water 10k, Sutton’s barely scratched the surface as she sets
her sights set on a long career, to include the 2016 Games.
The California native has turned pro, putting off college to train with Mission Viejo Nadadores coach Bill Rose and trainer Brandon Menchaca, whom she credits for her success last year.
“(Menchaca) kept me lean and long while improving my strength and power. I now engage my core into everything I do,” she says.
Sutton says that 99 percent of her swim training is done in the pool. Logistically, it’s too difficult to train in an open water venue. “Open water has too many risks with surfers and boaters. I only train once or twice a year in open water, and that’s usually because it’s a race.”
At her first Nationals, Sutton was told to swim the 5k as a workout so she could check out the course and know what to expect for her 10k.
“The pool gives me clocks to watch. I can hear and see my coaches yelling and the workouts are much more intense,” she says.
Sutton says training for her 10k is really a breakdown of 9,000 yards of strategic planning followed by a 1,000 yard sprint. A recent workout included 80 x 100s (lcm) @ 1:20, every fourth one fast. Sutton was holding 1:12 on the easy, 1:02 on the fast. “It was challenging mentally because it was so long and repetitive. The quick change of speed between easy and fast in this set mimics an open water race,” Sutton says.
An 800 or 1500 transitions easily into open water races, she says, but it’s feeling the dynamics of a pack that takes lots of experience.
“You have to have that sixth sense of your whereabouts. You can’t go to a pool and mimic a pack of 40 vicious women all vying for space. I’m still working on the strategic knowledge part,” she says.
Sutton was notorious for always leading, but as open water competitions have grown bigger and faster, so has her strategy. She now swims comfortably in the middle or close to the front, and has relied on drafting instead of pulling others along.
“I try to stay at their hips or knees, instead of their feet, but I still have a lot to learn,” she says. “It’s a huge wrestling match.”
Wrestling might seem dramatic, but open water swimming is very much a contact sport. Sutton says every swimmer has a story, meaning something – or someone – has undermined another’s attempts for a successful race. Although rules and regulations are upheld with a yellow card (warning) for unsportsmanlike behavior or a red card (disqualification), it’s impossible for race officials to witness every incident.
At the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne, swimmers were met face-to-face with giant blue jellyfish. Many swimmers didn’t make the finish, some being rushed to the hospital with closed lungs due to allergic reactions. Sutton tried to swim on top of the jellyfish to avoid the tentacles, but she was repeatedly stung throughout the race.
That was the easy part. At one point, a swimmer whacked Sutton so hard in the head that her goggles flew off, sinking into the abyss below. She yelled to the lifeguards to throw her a spare pair, but with the jellyfish chaos, they wanted to pull her to safety. Fearful the lifeguards would touch her (an immediate disqualification), and worried about the precious seconds ticking by, Sutton was finally able to communicate her intentions to her coach on the dock. He threw extra goggles to the lifeguard, who at last pitched them to Sutton. Surprisingly, she finished 14th, earning a bright red body riddled with brutally painful stings.
Then came the 2008 World Championships. Learning from her experience, Sutton secured her goggles with duct tape and two caps, armed for any mishap. What she didn’t prepare for, though, was a complete annihilation from the pack. Starting near the front, she was mauled by the leaders and pushed under the water, forced to stay under as nearly the entire field swam over her. When she finally could emerge, she tried to sprint up to the front, but had to duck under lines. Disoriented, she slammed into the dock. She managed to fight back to the front and amazingly, finished third.
“Every open water race provides a story,” Sutton says with a laugh. “It’s always a new challenge. Ask any open water swimmer, they’ll have a crazy story to share. That’s why this is so fun.
“My biggest weakness is my lack of aggression. It’s just not in me to retaliate when others get nasty. I rely on my speed and endurance to get me through.”
After battling pack assaults, jellyfish stings and constant breaststroke kicks in the gut, it almost seems like an insult to overlook the most lurking question – sharks.
“It’s never a shark. It’s ALWAYS a dolphin…always a dolphin…always a dolphin, and I tell myself that over and over again,” she says. “And he’s just coming to say hi.
“You have to stay calm and just take everything that’s being thrown at you. My favorite poem is 'If,' by Rudyard Kipling. I say it all the time for inspiration