Iron Mike's Marathon Swims All I am is a body adrift in water, salt and sky

Sarah did it!

August 24, 2016 | 2016 Season, Iconic marathon swim | Permalink

OK, so if you’ve followed the Marathon Swimmers Federation FB page, you know that Sarah has successfully swum across lake Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan. She killed it with a time of 4:43.38, destroying my time for the same crossing by more than 76 minutes.

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This makes Sarah only the third person to ever swim across Issyk Kul, the second person to cross this route, the first female to cross Issyk Kul anywhere, the second American to cross the lake, and the fastest time across this route.

I’ve said it before, but Sarah’s got a much better audio-visual crew than I ever did. Check out her video (don’t worry, she doesn’t speak Kyrgyz for the entire time):

 

Sarah’s swimming Issyk Kul now!

August 23, 2016 | 2016 Season, Iconic marathon swim | Permalink

My friend Sarah is about 5KM across Issyk Kul now, 0252 GMT, 23 August. She is set to destroy my time across the lake.

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In case you’re wondering about the start icon a bit off of shore, it looks like the crew might have forgotten to click on the bootprint on the Spot Gen3, which starts the little GPS wonder tracking Sarah’s location. To keep track of where Sarah is, go to her tracker page.

I know what I’ll be doing today. How about you?

Peace Corps Volunteer to Swim Issyk Kul!

August 15, 2016 | Iconic marathon swim, Spirit of Marathon Swimming | Permalink

Dear reader(s) already know my friend and former crew-mate Sarah. She’s the Peace Corps volunteer here who helped me with my recent crossing. As you know, she’ll be swimming the same route at the end of this month.

Well score one for Sarah and the Peace Corps art team. Her announcement is awesome!

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Isn’t that cool?

Here’s the rest of her announcement:

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Good luck Sarah!

Issyk Kul crossing coming up in about 10 days

August 13, 2016 | Iconic marathon swim, Spirit of Marathon Swimming | Permalink

This is a follow-up to my last post. Sarah, peace corps volunteer and member of my crew last month, Florida International collegiate swimmer and 2011 NJCAA National Champion in the 200 Fly, scholastic all-American and top-10 scholar athlete, will be crossing Issyk Kul’s “historic route” at the end of this month. Sarah’s window starts 23 August at around 07.00 local time, which is 01.00 GMT time and 21.00 eastern time and 18.00 pacific time the evening of 22 August in the U.S. If 23 August doesn’t work, she also has the boat reserved for 24-25 August.

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Sarah’s got a tracker online, using the same service I did for mine, track.rs. The page for her particular site is already set up here, so bookmark it and set your alarm so you can follow her! More at the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation on Facebook.

Sarah is an incredible swimmer and a great person. I fully expect my weenie time of 6:02.45 for the crossing will be destroyed by Sarah!

Another Issyk Kul crossing on the horizon

July 25, 2016 | 2016 Season | Permalink

My friend and crew member from my swim Sarah will be crossing Issyk Kul in August. Dear reader(s) will remember that she came in and swam with me for a bit during my swim. She swam heads-up breast while I was churning the water with my adult-onset-learned technique. She’s gonna kill the crossing. I only wish I could help by crewing for her.

6:02.45

Sarah timing me.

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Sarah and the Kyrgyz flag

Training for Issyk Kul

July 23, 2016 | 2016 Season | Permalink

Training for a “big” swim (quotes because this swim isn’t big in the grand scheme of things) takes a lot of training. However, not all of us have a standard job with consistent hours; not all of us have the time to swim 2+ hours, five days a week and 4+ on Saturday and Sunday; not all of us have understanding families (I do, just saying that not all of us do); not all of us have ready-access to a year-round pool; not all of us have access to a close-by open water location. With the exception of the understanding family, I fall into all of the other not all of us‘s I mentioned above.

Time horizontal. Dear reader(s) of my blog know my history with respect to time horizontal and open water race success. This need for time to get my lower back conditions features highly in my thoughts when training for something that I know will take me many hours to complete. It did for Issyk Kul, as well. Only problem was how busy I found myself this year. I was lucky in so many ways, with my big boss giving me access to her pool during work hours, AND having an understanding immediate boss who gave me time off work to swim. Despite that, the longest swims I managed were 1:40. I did a bunch of those. But still, I rarely had a week where I could leave work to swim every work day. In fact, I just looked at my logs. I didn’t have any weeks where I went everyday. I had a few weeks were I swam four times. As I mentioned elsewhere, I had only one week where I swam the equivalent of what I thought would be my time for the Issyk Kul swim (and for that matter, I thought it would be the maximum time it would take), and that was a week where I swam a total of 6:03, to include my one and only two-hour swim this training season. (Whoa…that’s scary. I swam the Issyk Kul crossing in 6:02.45…insert Twilight Zone music here.)

Outdoor pool open! Once the weather got nice I had my outdoor pool cleaned and filled. I got a significant number of swims done in that pool (still on straps of course), but it wasn’t easy. Bishkek is surrounded on the south by very large mountains, and quite often in the late afternoons summer storms would roll in. Now, this place doesn’t get much lightning. But that doesn’t mean I don’t freak out when those dark storm clouds roll in, and I’m swimming in a pool next to a bunch of out-buildings with metal roofs. Let’s just say I got a lot fewer after-work swims in than I would have preferred.

Indoor lap pool, no. I’ve talked before about the one nice and close indoor pool here. They’ve still got the noodler babushkas in there, along with the two-lanes-turned-into-three really skinny lanes. I’ve used that pool a few times, before I got access to The Boss’s indoor pool, but it was just so annoying to have to swim around folks who really don’t understand lap swimming, and then to have to do it in what amounted to a lane that is about 60% the width of an ordinary lap lane. Frustrating.

Swimming on straps. Will not make you faster, or even allow you to keep your speed, no matter how many times you do “100 strokes fast, 100 strokes slow, 80 fast, 80 slow…” It will, however, get you in the pool and get you time horizontal. Only a couple of times during my swim did I think “Oh, was that my lower back starting to hurt?” But then I didn’t think about it again for hours. (And it never hurt in the days after.) That’s pretty good when you consider this swim was the longest I’d swum, ever. Six hours is an hour and 15 minutes longer than the longest I’ve ever swum (Swim the Suck) and 2:20 minutes longer than my longest ever pool swim (3:40 for a 10,000 meter swim years ago). But my speed has definitely declined.

Speed. The last race I had was Raslina 5K in Croatia in July 2015. 1:52 and some change. Like I said in the post race report, that 5K was the best I’d ever felt in a race and I was kicking it in the high 80% effort the entire time, to include quite the kick at the end. And it is still slower than I think I could do. I prepared for that race by doing the fast/slow thing described above. But that didn’t matter. When I get to Moscow and back to that pool I know (and love), I’m going to start working on intervals, and get back to working on my critical swim speed again (thank you Swim Smooth). I know I can get myself back to 3200-3300 meters per hour, but I’m sure right now I’m closer to 2700m per hour in the pool. That’s quite a drop that I don’t think can be explained away by age. (I just did some math. Interestingly, my average hourly rate for Issyk Kul was 2297 meters, and that includes stopping 3 times per hour for feeding (I kept those short, but still that adds a couple minutes of not moving per hour). My hourly rate in Raslina with absolutely no stopping was 2680 meters per hour. Not too bad when you consider it was almost exactly a year between the two events and Issyk Kul was at a much greater elevation (5270 ft) than Raslina (21 ft).)

Elevation. How to train for a swim at a mile elevation while you live at less than half a mile elevation? I really thought this one through. I cannot be totally sure that last year’s attempt wasn’t somewhat affected by the altitude (in addition to the other issues). I searched ultramarathon runner forums for my answer. Apparently, if you’re unable to train at a higher elevation, the best thing to do is to either a) travel to the location and do your event within the first 24 hours, or b) travel to the location 3-4 days early to get acclimatized. For Issyk Kul, we arrived at 4pm on Tuesday and I started the swim right before 7am on Wednesday, so that’s within the first 24 hours. It must have worked, yes?

Open water. I had grand plans to run to the lake every other weekend starting in late April to get some open water swims in. That didn’t happen. I did, however, get two quick trips to the lake about a month prior to the swim. One was a quickie, maybe 10 minutes. The other, though, was a nice hour-long swim in 18C water, which was perfect. It was also an hour in the exact location that I planned to (and did) complete the swim, so that was nice, especially as I’m swimming to the end of my Issyk Kul swim and I’m seeing the same trees leading me to the beach. Mentally gratifying.

Good press

July 16, 2016 | 2016 Season | Permalink

I was honored with a post all my own on my embassy’s FB page today.

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And the best part? Exactly what I had hoped would happen: A local has expressed interest in duplicating my feat. That’s awesome! I hope to see annual gatherings of local swimmers here on the lake crossing this beautiful body of water.

Some local Kyrgyz newspapers latched onto the embassy’s page and did their own reports about me. One news agency even seems to have found the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation page on FB, because they have a bunch of pictures of me and my crew, as well as a quote from me. (They even managed to put their watermark on my pictures…nice.)

For the record, I corrected the embassy’s FB post in my first comment, pointing out that I swam it in just over six hours. With that in mind, here’s the stopwatch:

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Observer logs for Issyk Kul swim

July 15, 2016 | 2016 Season, Grand Plan, Spirit of Marathon Swimming | Permalink

For posterity’s sake, I’m uploading my observer logs on the blog. In marathon swimming, especially when claiming as first, as I am here, it is important that an independent observer watch the swimmer, ensuring that proper marathon swim rules are followed. My observer Chris is a retired Army special forces officer and current State Department medical officer. The below are his notes along with some notes from the rest of the crew.

First, the original notes:

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Chris, being a doctor, doesn’t have the best handwriting, so he provided a typed-up version of the above, on the MSF observer log:

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Equipment used for my Issyk Kul swim

July 10, 2016 | 2016 Season, Swimming Equipment | Permalink

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Packing for a swim is pretty much an individual endeavor. If you talk to 10 swimmers, you’ll get 10 different packing lists. I read what marathon swimmers I respect suggest for a long swim and came up with my own kit for Issyk Kul. What follows is a list of stuff I brought with an explanation of why I picked it and how (or if) it was used during the swim. I add links to the items so that you can read others’ reviews and even purchase the item if desired.

FOR THE SWIMMER

Suit

I’m a square-leg suit guy. Not a grape-smuggler wearer. I also like the Dolfin Uglies series because, well, they’re ugly. But on the boat as I was going through my suits, my team chief Chris noticed that the Ugly that I brought this year is the same one I wore when I DNF’d last year. Oh no way I’m wearing that this year! I switched to my prefered suit, Speedo Endurance.

Swim cap

I had hoped that the MSF cap would make it here before my swim, but unfortunately it is still in the mail. Not a problem though as I have a Speedo silicone cap, bright orange. I wear this same cap when I’m swimming by myself with my ISHOF swim dry bag, also orange. Figured that gives me a chance against the drunk crazies.

Sweatshirt and cap

You’re going to be cold when you exit the water. No matter the air temp. Upon completion of mine, the air temperature was 31C, or 88F. That’s hot! No matter. My body was shedding heat. I also wore my wool cap. A huge percentage of body heat is lost through the head, and when you’re follicly-challenged like yours truly, you need a cap. (No links because this is a personal choice, but if you like my OSS Dart 10K sweatshirt, you can buy it here.)

Propaganda shirts

Like the swim cap, I had hoped my MSF polo would be here, but not yet. I do have two MSF t-shirts from the last quarter’s swag issuance, and brought those. I call them propaganda shirts because I like to “sell” organizations that I support. Sadly here, many think MSF is for Doctors without Borders. No links for this because if you didn’t order these already, you’re SOL.

Sandals or flip-flops

I am sold on the Adidas “massage” sandals. I’m on my second pair, not because they wore out (although I lost some of the nubs), but because I lost my first pair. You need something on the boat and to/from your hotel.

Goggles

This is another personal choice. For me, the ones that work are the Speedo Hydrospex junior (notice a trend?). I have a big head but the area around my eyes appreciate the smallness of the junior-size eye cup. All I have to say is that once you find goggles that work for you, buy a hundred pairs. If Murphy works for you as it does for me, once you love something, the company will stop making it. I advise clear and dark. I’ve used blue lens before and it made buoys and other on-water stuff hard to see.

Sun protection

For this swim I used SolRX SPF 50, which worked great. My daughter applied it to me prior to the swim, and four hours later when the sun finally came out, I was still adequately protected. Someone on the MSF forums recommended this product years ago and it had been sitting in my Amazon list for years. So glad I used it.

 

Baby butt cream

OK, so other, normal people, call this stuff diaper rash ointment. Call it what you will, it is necessary. I’ve done enough swims where I either forgot about it or didn’t use enough, then I’ve got to live with a horrible rash in the most uncomfortable places. There are plenty of products out there, go to the baby aisle. For this swim, I still had the tube of baby butt cream that someone let me have last year, so that’s what I used in all the rubby spaces.

ELECTRONICS

Tracker

You’re going to want something that’ll track your swim. Whether it is just for yourself later, or for your family and friends watching from home, you’ll want something to record your exploits. In 2015, my crew discovered that despite our preparations (wifi router, laptop, phone), we weren’t able to update my position for my family. So for 2016, I bought a SpotGen3. But instead of using Spot Gen’s own webpage to track my swim, I connected my device to track.rs from MSF. Track.rs is an application that easily links to your GPS device (whether it is your phone or some other piece of gear). Anyone anywhere can bring up your track.rs page and follow your swim, either on a computer or on their phone. For the swimmer, you can’t beat it. It’s $5 to use track.rs. How can you beat that?

Timing devices

I brought a couple watches and stopwatches on this trip. I wanted several timers going in case something went kaput. Chris wore my Garmin 310XT. I love this watch and have used it in hikes and swims for a few years now. But the last month or so it seemed to be acting up, dying quickly even after a full charge. It worked great on this swim (Chris wore it from start point to boat and in the kayak to the finish point. Otherwise it was strapped to a railing on the boat). I also brought along a Finis stopwatch. I used this when coaching and swear by it. Three of the crew also timed me on their iPhones.

Water bottles

You’re going to need to be fed. If you’re not going to use feed powders like me, you at least need water. Last year I used a huge bottle that I would have to unscrew each time. Didn’t like it. Someone on the MSF forums recommended the Rubbermaid Chug bottle. These bottles come with a plastic ring to which you can tie the 550-cord or string. The drink opening could be a bit wider, but I was able to drink enough at each feeding that I’ll stick to these bottles.

 

This is most everything I brought on my swim. Things not mentioned include treats for your crew while they’re sitting on the boat getting sunburn on your behalf; waterproof digital camera if you want one of your crew to take action shots, or you’re simply expecting a clumsy crew member to drop your camera in the drink; in that same vein, how about a camera floating wrist strap?

Issyk Kul after party

July 9, 2016 | 2016 Season, Grand Plan, Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

(First post on my Issyk Kul swim here. Second post here.)

So, the swim was done and I was back on the boat. I had my daughter’s bag of chips, and some other bag of diabetes I was stuffing into my pie-hole at an alarming rate. Never did chips and crackers taste so good.

Me explaining some detail of my swim

Me explaining some detail of my swim

I was warm and happy and ready for the hour-or-so trip back to Balykchy. But when you’ve got a chiropractor-massage therapist on board, there’s no rest. Against my protestations, I was ordered to lie down and accept my fate.

Let the torture begin

Let the torture begin

Pain! But later that pain turned to comfort, especially in the legs. When I was coming into the beach to finish the swim, and popped a squat to take care of Mother Nature’s call, my calves cramped up something fierce. Once Olesya started working on my legs, I fell asleep. Next thing I know we are at the pier and the weather had turned. Clouds and heavy winds. Perfect timing on my part!

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Hard to tell in that picture, but the wind started picking up, clouds came rolling in and it looked like rain to the north by the mountains. We got back to the pier where a bunch of Kyrgyz kids were swimming and enjoying themselves, the embassy folks were taking pictures, and a gaggle of Kyrgyz men came to congratulate me.

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Arriving back in Balykchy

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L-R: Boat captain Kurbat; his son Bakyt; me; hotel owner; no idea

After all the pictures, we headed back up to the hotel. At this point, the wonderful embassy folks who came all the way out to see me had to return to Bishkek. 5 hours (minimum) there and back just to hang out for a few minutes to congratulate me. How awesome is that? I’ve got the best co-workers.

While still on the boat, someone asked me if I wanted the sauna turned on back at the hotel. Hells yeah, I responded. They have a wonderful sauna right on the beach, actually on a pier over the water. You can heat yourself up and then jump into the lake, then repeat. By the time we got back to the hotel, however, I was ready to eat.

You can just see the roof of the sauna at the bottom of this picture

You can just see the roof of the sauna at the bottom of this picture

Two of my crew had to depart immediately with the rest of the folks going back to Bishkek. Talas had a soccer game that night to get to, and Olesya had to get home as she was scheduled to run with the famous American ultramarathoner, Dean Karnazes, who is running 525k through Central Asia. So that meant a late lunch/early dinner (linner? dunch?) with my family and Chris and Sarah.

Food was great. We found a nice place by the hotel with outside seating and had some wonderful local Kyrgyz food. Good for the body to replace the calories lost. (My Garmin says I worked off 790 calories during my six-hour swim…how in God’s name can that even be right?) Dinner took a while, but no one was in a hurry. While we were in the restaurant, the winds and clouds died down and it got back to being beautifully sunny. Upon return to the hotel, the owners asked us again if we wanted the sauna. My family and I said yes!

The sauna felt great, especially jumping back into the cool lake water. There were a few Kyrgyz boys jumping off the sauna-pier, enjoying the lake. From inside the sauna they sounded like elephants. In reality, they were 10-year olds barely hitting 70 pounds on the scale. Great kids. I asked them how deep the lake was there and they decided the best way to tell me was to show me. A couple of them jumped into the lake, yelling at me to watch them as they went under with their arms above their heads. (“Байке, Байке, посмотрите!”) About an hour later when my wife and I were ready to go back to the hotel (our kids having since returned), all the Kyrgyz boys were gone except for one little guy. I asked him how he enjoyed his swimming, and he said he had to leave because they saw a shark in the water. I guffawed and told him that’s impossible, there are no sharks in the lake. He insisted there were, and I tried to explain to him that it wasn’t possible. Finally I saw a sneaky little smile on his face and knew he was trying to josh the foreigner.

We all got cleaned up and had some tea and fruit in the hotel (the fruit here is so incredibly fresh and plentiful, I’m really going to miss it). Chris was already in his room sacked out and I was not long from that state of being as well. We had a little emergency which kept me (and everyone else) up a bit longer though.

Right before sleepy time, a huge storm came through, complete with pouring rain and lightning. Just as our son Sam was giving us the “I’m going to bed” call, a dripping of water started out of one of the ceiling lights in the kids’ room. Off I went to get a bucket. (Slowly…by this point I had a cramp in my calf that was forcing me to walk with a limp.) The owner came up to the room with her maintenance guy and they talked a bit in Kyrgyz about what’s to be done. The bucket did the job, but the dripping turned into a steady stream a few minutes later. And then to top it off, as my son (and daughters) were resigned to sleeping in the room complete with Chinese water torture, another dripping started right onto my son’s bed. This time it was coming from one of the fire suppression thingys in the ceiling. Nope, this wasn’t going to work.

The owner got my kids another room down the hall, complete with a better bathroom than mom and dad had in the “family room.” With the kids safely tucked into bed I was now ready to lie down. Sleep came quickly. In the morning, it was sunny again and I felt great. The cramp had gone (I ate a banana before bed) and the soreness in my shoulders and upper body reminded me of how awesome I am. (snort)  We had a wonderful breakfast with Sarah and Chris, who departed right after, and then the family and I headed on home to Bishkek. But not before taking a picture of the hotel crew, who gifted my kids with Hotel Aliya hats.

Hotel Aliya staff, my family and I

Hotel Aliya owners, my family and I

Swim done, thank goodness. Next up in the blog, lessons learned and my hopes for the future of swimming in Kyrgyzstan and the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation.