From point A to point B in the open water is rarely straight.

John van Wisse is a 3-time winner of the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim as well as a swim coach and channel swimmer who completed a two-way of the English Channel in 19 hours 55 minutes.

He swam with a double hernia and torn abdominal muscles in one of his victories in what had to be on one of the most painful circumnavigations in history. “I couldn’t have the surgery before the race as it was only a month away. The doc assured me though that it was unlikely to split more just swimming so I just put up with it. It turned out I also had a torn ab that they stitched up during the surgery.”

He explained how he prepares for and races the circumnavigation of Manhattan Island:

I’m self-employed working as a swim coach. I run my own adult swim squads and one on ones with triathletes and open water swimmers as well as for people after general fitness so I can’t train with other swim squads. For my Manhattan prep, I cut my afternoon clients out.

I’d work from 5 am to 10 am, eat, then head to the pool at 11 am. In peak training I’m doing 70,000 to 80,0000 kilometers per week. Generally, I do one 15 kilometer session Monday through Friday in a 50m pool on my own. I then go home and sleep and eat for a few hours before I take the squad again at night. On the weekends, I’m pretty stuffed but I still have squads and clients going so I don’t really do much physically. If I do, it’s no more than 2 to 3 kilometers at the beach.

I tend to repeat similar sets. It takes me a few months of building. By three months until Manhattan, I usually do 15 x 1 km reps at least three times per week with no warm-up or cool-down. I did one set of 17 x 1km reps but it stuffed me for the next day just doing those extra 2 one Ks.

I also do 7 x 2km reps a bit and 30 x 400m. I’m not a superfast swimmer. The best I could manage for the 15 x 1km’s was leaving off the 12 minute 30 second cycle with very little rest, but that stuffed me up also for a few days.

I generally comfortably leaving off 13:30 holding 13 minutes day in day out. People at the pool think I’m mad.

I also did two 15km swims in 11ºC (51.8ºF) which was tough. We have a sea baths here where you can do 300m squares (50 of them). It’s great also because they have a stream room and hot showers. We have the Harry Raisbeck Winter Mile race here in July where the water is 6 or 7ºC (42-44ºF) without wetsuits which is always tough. I’ve been doing it for 16 years. I love it. The group’s called the Icebergers. People of all ages do it including Harry Raisbeck swam 600m daily through winter up to his early 90’s. He had his 99th birthday and is a legend to us.

I’m not the most talented swimmer, but I’m very stubborn and like to finish what I start. When I was young I pulled out of a few cold water swims with hyperthermia and got pulled out of the English Channel in 1993. I went back the next year and made it (8 hours 17 minutes in 1994). I put on 23kgs of fat for insulation and swam through winter back home until I could barely walk to the showers.

Manhattan is a real tactical race. As there’s so many currents, you can get a big lead but someone can pass you like you are standing still on a different line. So I usually just conserve a little and feel my way through, trying to cover moves until I turn for home up the Hudson. Then I just fang it. I’m really lucky that my kayaker (Richard Clifford) knows the waters so well. I feed every twenty minutes on fluids or gels. I’m a 100kg guy so I need the constant fuel.

But I’m normally really nervous at the start of the Manhattan race. I wonder why I’m do it and become religious. By the finish I’m in a zombie state, but I’m still fired up. I am obviously tired but really satisfied and relieved.”

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source