Suzanne Heim Bowen: Open Water, Open Mind

Suzanne Heim-Bowen: Open Water, Open Mind

This summer’s open water swimming theme is Open Water, Open Mind. Suzanne Heim-Bowen, who is back from New York City, completed a lifetime’s goal: a 28-mile swim around Manhattan Island. Even though the WCM member since 1992 crossed the English Channel (3 solos,1 relay)– she wanted to take a bite out of the Big Apple. “I had unfinished business,” she said.  We sat down with Suzanne before her practice of choice – 7 to 8 PM, Monday through Thursday.

How Did You Train for the NYC Swim?

First of all, I never think I train enough (that's a distance swimmer’s mentality). I do a lot of open water training at the DC Club in Aquatic Park, where I would swim for up to 2.5 hours in the Bay.  I completed a 10k in Bermuda and I also train at Cowell Pool (in Concord)  with the Terrapins.  Part of my training was a 4-hour, non-stop  15k pool swim.  At about three hours I get into a meditative state and I do not think about time and just think about tempo. 

What Is Your Routine?

I breathe on the left side—and yes I know you should breathe to both sides for a balanced stroke but I am still a work in progress!  I broke my long swim in the pool into these sets: 10,X500s, 10,X400s, 10,X300s  10 X 200’s and 10 X 100’s with a 10-20 second drink/food  break every 30 minutes.

What Was the Hardest Part of the NYC SWIM?

Getting accepted!  They only accept 50 swimmers from around the world. It felt like it took me four times as long to complete the application process for the swim than to actually complete the entire swim!  I did a 4-hour swim in 60 degree water with an official observer in mid-November in Lake Del Valle.  The application process also included a chest X-ray, ECG, medical check up, an hour swim for time, sample workouts, a mile for time and an essay. The most difficult part in the swim itself was the last 2 hours where the wind was blowing one way and the tide was going out in the opposite direction causing some significant, character building waves and chop.  There was also quite a lot of rain the night before and a water advisory went out about the water quality, so I had to make a decision about taking a chance and swim —which was just fine by the way, and very similar to the Bay some times (at the NY start a dead rat did float by).

How Does Being a WCM member help you on your swimming challenges?

It totally does! There were quite a few days where I did not feel like training hard and my team mates pushed me along. They knew that I needed to do some extra yardage and swam with me which helped immensely.  Of course our coaches are the best and offered encouragement as well as questioning my sanity at times!  (they were not the only ones).

What advice do you have for someone who wants to try open water, but is still hesitant? Pacific Masters Swimming offered a clinic a couple of weeks ago and I would suggest if you are hesitant to do the same! At the clinic when we get in the open water where we have a very good ratio of instructor/swimmer per swim group.  For most people, attending the clinic is a confidence builder.  I also suggest using the USMS FLOG page where you keep track of your yardage and general training.  Feel free to ask me, or someone who has completed open water swims on what to do and how to train. There are little short cuts and tips here and there.

PS. Thanks to Phil for his support and cheerleading!