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Open Water Swimming

Interview with Alexander Studzinski and Ferry Weertman

You compete both in open water and in the pool. Which do you prefer, and in which do you think you perform better?

Ferry: I really like doing both, because in the pool it's much more about your own race and swimming as fast as possible. But in the open water it's all about tactics and the battle with your opponents. I really like that I'm able to do both on such a high level and I hope I can keep combining them in the future, but the 10km is my main distance and is most important for me. I think I am better in the open water.

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Ferry Weertman swimming in open water

What are the added challenges of swimming in open water versus in a pool? What are the advantages?

Alex: In the pool all the conditions are the same, everywhere you swim. You have your lane for yourself. The water temperature is controlled and everything has a standard. In the open water you need to prepare for everything. You never know what will happen during a race. It can be cold/warm, choppy/flat, salt water/ fresh water, a big field, a tough and hard race. You never know. That is kind of exciting.

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Open water race with Alex Studzinski

Alex, you’ve raced everywhere from 1 mile to 57 kms. What is your favorite distance? In which distance do you excel?

Alex: My longest race was actually 88 km! But that is only 1:30h longer than the 57 km because the river where we swim in is much wider and bigger, so the current is stronger.

I like to swim any distance, as long as it is outside. 1 Mile races are interesting because there aren't many tactics involved. 10 km (which is the Olympic distance) is always tough, rough, hard and fast. And the longer races require a lot of tactics and self-control. Everything has its pros and cons. But I usually like the longer races more.

Ferry, you were named the Male Open Water Swimmer of the Year by Swim Swam in 2014. What steps in your career got you to this point?

Ferry: Almost 5 years ago I went to Eindhoven (the Dutch swimming capitol) to become a full time swimmer. This totally changed my view on swimming and training in general. They've made me think much more about what to do and how to swim. We try to innovate everyday to keep in front of the competition and I try to do every stroke as well as possible. This and a lot of hard work made me two time European Champions on the 10km and the 5km Team Event.

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Ferry Weertman

How do you train for a marathon distance swim?

Alex: I only train in the pool. As I said everything in a pool is in a controlled environment. So you know how much you swim, how fast, what are your times, your pulse. You can check everything which makes it perfect for training. Outdoors you don´t have that. And the experience comes from racing. So if you want to be a good racer, you need to race a lot, obviously.

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Alex in the pool.

Ferry: My average week consists of 10 swim practices, 6 core trainings and 3 strength sessions. My average swim session is about 2hours and around 6,5km. That totals up to almost 30 hours of training! But when we are on trainings camp I'll do 11 swim sessions and I can swim up to 100km a week.

What’s the toughest scenario you’ve encountered during a race and how did you get through it?

Ferry: The first time I did the European Junior Championships it was in Hoorn, Holland, and there were really high waves and the water was pretty cold. Even though it was only 5km it was one of my toughest races I've ever done. I started off way too quickly so the last 2km was really just surviving and with a 26th place, I still had a lot to learn!

Have you encountered marine life? How do you prepare or react to the animals in the water with you?

Alex: Usually we don´t encounter that much sealife. Most of the races are in secure spots, but you never know. I swam through jelly fish swarms which hurts a lot. I also got stung by a seacucumber once, which was the worst. I still have a small scar from that. In Hawaii (Maui Channel Swim) there is always the danger of shark, mostly tiger sharks, but I never saw one. Luckily! I just heard that someone else saw something, but this never happened to me. So I have no idea what I would do. But in longer races we always have a boat next to us, so I think it is pretty safe. In an emergency you can always jump onto your boat.

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Ferry and fellow swimmer resting by their boat.

Alex, in 2014 you completed a 57km swim. How did your body respond to spending over 8 hours in the water? How do you train, swim, and recover?

Alex: This wasn´t my first 8h swim. You get used to it. Sure it hurts after a while, but it is ok. You get a bit tired and try to stick with the pack to try to save energy. At the end you are exausted but happy to have made it.

The race itself usually starts very slow and easy and then you never know! But most of the time in the first 5 hours, not a lot happens. Then it depends how you feel. I try to pick up the speed a bit for the last 1-2 hours to see who can follow. But most of the times races, even 8 hour races, are coming down to a sprint finish.

For such a race you need to train for years. That doesn´t come by easily. I train between 70-80 km a week (total 3,500 km a year). That is 7-8 km twice a day. Plus a bit of gym and stretching.

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Alex pauses for water during a race.

What do you find to be your most effective racing strategy?

Ferry: My strength is in the last part of the race, so I don't want to waste too much energy in the first rounds of the race. But I shouldn't be too much in the back, because I won't be able to close the gap when the group is at high speed in the final rounds.

Through your careers you are “swimming around the world,” throughout Europe, South America, and North America. Which country have you found most accommodating for open water swimmers?

Alex: I like to swim in Canada a lot. The people there are really friendly and nice. But everywhere I race the people try to be friendly and accommodating.

Ferry: I really like going to South America, because Open Water is a much bigger sport in that part of the world. When I went to Argentina there was a really big crowd and some even stood in the water to see as much of the race as possible. That really gives you a special feeling while you're in the water.

What goals are you working towards now?

Ferry: My biggest goal this season is qualifying for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The qualification is during the World Championships in Kazan this summer, where I have to swim top 10, the goal is to qualify by winning a medal.

Alex: I would like to win the overall ranking of the FINA Grand-Prix series one time.

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Alex swimming in open water.

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Alexander Studzinski has traveled around the world representing Germany and competing on the FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix circuit. His is the six time German Champion in the 25 km event. He also finished 3rd in the FINA Grand-Prix ranking in 2010. To read more about Alex, visit his wesbite.

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Throughout his swimming career, Ferry Weertman has always been more of a long distance swimmer. When he qualified for the European Junior Championships in 2010, he made the switch to Open Water swimming. The year after he qualified again for the EJC and finished 3rd. This was a conformation that he'd made the right choice. Read more about his accomplishments at his website.

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