Iron Mike's Marathon Swims The life so shorte, the crafte so long to lerne

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Twelve

December 25, 2017 | Spirit of Marathon Swimming | Permalink

Iron Mike here presents to you twelve days of gift ideas for the marathon swimmer in your life. Check back daily!

Day twelve: Monday, 25 December, Christmas!

No. It is not too late to get the marathon swimmer in your life a gift for Christmas. And no, I’m not calling on Amazon’s unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver Christmas cheer in two hours or less.

More than anything, your swimmer wants to thank you for your support in his/her crazy pursuits. Your swimmer wants you to know that they love you for it and are so happy that you are in their life.

So if you want to get the marathon swimmer in your life something that they’ll remember forever, march right over to and hug them. Give ’em a big hug and kiss and say “I love you. And even though I have no idea why you enjoy immersing yourself in cold water for hours simply to go from point A to point B, I love you for it. You’re an oddball, but again, that’s why I love you.”

From IronMike’s family to yours, a very Merry Christmas!

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Eleven

December 24, 2017 | Spirit of Marathon Swimming | Permalink

Iron Mike here presents to you twelve days of gift ideas for the marathon swimmer in your life. Check back daily!

Day eleven: Sunday, 24 December, Christmas Eve Movie Night!

You can find movies (DVDs) on swimming technique all over the internet. That’s not what I’m talking about. (But if I were, I’d recommend this one by the folks at Swim Smooth.) I’m talking about entertaining films that are about swimming, specifically marathon or channel swimming and the spirit of marathon swimming.

One that I loved watching was Dangerous When Wet. Loved it so much I did a review of it. It’s a bit cheesy, having been filmed in 1953, but the best part of it is when the English Channel race organizer goes over the rules of the race:

Do not touch your rowboat. Or your trainer. Or you will be disqualified. When you reach Dover, you must wade ashore unaided.

At another point, the main character is in the middle of the English Channel and her love interest comes out to swim with her, and she says “Stay back, don’t touch me!” Even movie producers in the ’50s understood marathon swim rules and why we marathon swimmers are so passionate about them.

Bottom line, if you want a nice, romping and cheesy family movie with a huge swim as the setting, watch Esther Williams in Dangerous When Wet.

Next, I recommend Driven. This is one of the most fun movies you’ll ever watch. If you’re not a marathon swimmer, but you wonder why crazy people do things like swim in cold water for half a day (or more), then you need to watch this film. The film makers follow three marathon swimmers as they train and swim some difficult channel crossings in the Santa Barbara Channel. The cinematography is incredible, offering views few get to see. (How many support crew want to dive into 57* water and swim under the marathon swimmer?)

Driven was crowd-sourced and I am in awe of what the community was able to do to get this film produced. It was a final selection in two international film festivals (Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo); what I would have done to get to see it on the big screen. I couldn’t say it any better than the Santa Barbara Independent, when they said the movie…

…manages to wow with its story-line while simultaneously mesmerize with its cinematography”

Two thumbs up. And it is available in digital format as well as physical DVD.

There are other movies out there, but I haven’t seen them. There’s a movie out there about Captain Matthew Webb, first person to swim the English Channel. Fittingly it is called Captain Webb. I have not seen it as I can’t get online access to it here in Russia. Maybe I’ll watch it when next in the U.S.

Another I want to watch when I get access to it is Heart: The Marilyn Bell Story, about the teenager who in 1954 became the first person to swim across Lake Ontario. Her story is incredible and should be known among all marathon swimmers. Her story is also a great story for young girls, and one I shared with my daughters.

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Ten

December 23, 2017 | Swimming Equipment | Permalink

Iron Mike here presents to you twelve days of gift ideas for the marathon swimmer in your life. Check back daily!

Day ten: Saturday, 23 December. Lap counter.

If you swim by yourself in a pool, you need a way to keep track of the distances you’ve swum. Swimmers with a coach can simply follow the workout, and at the end know how many yards or meters they’ve swum.

But, if you’re like me and you swim without the benefit of a coach, you might need a way to keep track. For my long swims, a workout like 5 x 1000, I need a way to remember what lap I’m on. Especially in my tiny Russian pool where it takes 30 laps to do 1000 yards. Not to mention a longer swim like a 10,000 yard session, or 300 laps.

For this, I use the SportCounter Lap Counter. Simple piece of tech. It does one thing: it counts your laps. Well, that’s not completely true. It doesn’t automatically count your laps for you like some of those more expensive watches. This counter has a simple button you can press with your thumb and a small screen to tell you how many laps you’ve swum.

When I start my workout, I press the button (lap 1). Every time I return back to the “home” wall I press it again. If I get lost in the middle of the workout, day-dreaming my yards away, I can take a quick gander at the counter on my right index finger and figure out where I am in the workout. Easy peasy!


12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Nine

December 22, 2017 | Swimming Equipment | Permalink

Iron Mike here presents to you twelve days of gift ideas for the marathon swimmer in your life. Check back daily!

Day nine: Friday, 22 December. Towels.

You can use the towel that your gym or pool issues, if you go to those sorts of places. But what about when you go to the lake?

Well, one thing you need to think about when you go to the lake is space. If you’ve got your handy rescue buoy with you (from yesterday’s post), you know you have limited space in there. No room for a nice, warm, fluffy bath towel.

Take a note from divers: chamois! These types of towels ring out and dry fast and can be crammed into a very small space, like your buoy. Being dry after your swim is important if you have a loved one who’ll sit in the driver’s seat of your car anytime after you’ve swum. Trust me on this.

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Eight

December 21, 2017 | Swimming Equipment | Permalink

Iron Mike here presents to you twelve days of gift ideas for the marathon swimmer in your life. Check back daily!

Day eight: Thursday, 21 December. Rescue/safety buoys.

I advise all open water swimmers to use a safety buoy when they’re swimming, especially if they’re swimming alone. Your visibility is important. There are too many drunk boaters and crazy jetskiers out there trying their hardest to run you over. Along with your terribly bright swim cap, you should tow along a buoy.

My favorite is the ISHOF SaferSwimmer. Large enough for a towel, cell phone, car keys, flip-flops. Very large and orange for those drunk boaters! Simply put your items in it, roll the top flap over 2 or 3 times and clip the plastic brackets. Then you blow up the air pocket and you’re ready. I’ve even thrown my Garmin GPS watch in there and it has correctly tracked my swim throughout.

There are other buoys out there, but this is the only one I’ve used. No matter which one you choose, make sure you wear it while swimming in open water!

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Seven

December 20, 2017 | Swimming Equipment | Permalink

Iron Mike here presents to you twelve days of gift ideas for the marathon swimmer in your life. Check back daily!

Day seven: Wednesday, 20 December. Bags.

If you’ve read up to now, you’ve got all the basics covered for your marathon swimmer, except where will s/he carry all the stuff? In a swim bag of course!

You can go a few ways with this. For the true minimalist swimmer, you really just need a bag to carry your suit, cap and goggles. A small mesh bag, or a drawstring one suits just fine.

But some of us need more space. We might need room for clothing after the swim. A place for shampoo. A pocket for a water bottle. For this, you need a beefier swim bag. And there are many available.

My favorite is the Speedo Teamster bag. Shop around because if you don’t care what color you get, you can find some deals.

Ugly as sin, but half the price of the pretty ones

There is a middle ground as well. I have a locker at work, in which I have my basic equipment (pull buoy, fins, paddles). I never travel with it, so its ease of sitting on my shoulders matters not. But breathability is important, to keep mildew and stank away. For this, I have a big mesh bag. These are quite inexpensive, and come in many colors, as well!

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Six

December 19, 2017 | Swimming Equipment | Permalink

Iron Mike here presents to you twelve days of gift ideas for the marathon swimmer in your life. Check back daily!

Day six: Tuesday, 19 December. Paddles.

Like fins, you can get away with not having paddles. But if you really want to dial in your stroke, they are a useful accessory. And for my money, there is only one paddle worth your money.

Now I have a love-hate relationship with Finis, mostly due to some marketing decisions they’ve made in the past. Also for their shoddy electronics. But I believe so much in the Freestyler paddle, it wouldn’t be fair to not recommend it.

As its name implies, the Freestyler is for swimmers who primarily swim the crawl stroke. That’s 99% of us marathon swimmers. (Those 1% who find marathon swims too easy and complete them doing butterfly are, by definition, crazy. This paddle is not for them.) The Freestyler forcing your hand to make a proper catch and follow through. If your hand describes the keyhole shape many of us grew up learning, the paddle makes your hand slip in the water, giving you immediate feedback: Bad swimmer! Bad!

In order for this to work, you cannot cheat. You can see by their design, they are smaller near where your fingers will be. This makes it easy to cheat and wrap your fingers around the paddle. This negates the feedback you’ll get with an improper catch and pull. All you do is simply insert your middle finger through the tubing, hand flat against the paddle and swim.

There are other paddles out there, from small ones that fit in your palm, to monsters that dwarf your hand. (If you’re competing in SwimRun, may I recommend these monsters?) But if you’re simply looking to improve your catch and pull in freestyle, the Freestylers are the ones.

*So I guess this is a good time to mention that I am getting nothing from any of the stores that I link to. 

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Five

December 18, 2017 | Swimming Equipment | Permalink

Iron Mike here presents to you twelve days of gift ideas for the marathon swimmer in your life. Check back daily!

Day five: Monday, 18 December. Fins.

Fins you could do without. I did for quite a bit, but I finally realized their usefulness. They help you with efficiency in your kick (if you’re concerned with that). They, like pull buoys, help you with keeping your body horizontal. I use them when I’m doing stroke drills (6/3/6 for example) to keep my body aligned while torpedoing.

But the reason I use them is to get a feeling for what swimming fast feels like. Now wait, before you poo-poo that, hear me out. Even with shorty fins that only extend beyond your toes maybe 2-3 inches, you can get enough of an extra boost that you can feel what your body feels like when swimming fast. You learn to adjust your stroke to the increased speed.

There are various types of fins available from short (meaning the end of the fin is barely past your toes) to medium to long (like a scuba diver would wear). The choice is really yours, but be sure to check the reviews of the fins you’re looking at. Check for true-to-size comments. Many of these fins come in size ranges. I bought a pair recently that were 6-7 or 8-9. I’m an 8 so I bought the latter. You guessed it. A bit too big.

If you’ve done your homework and get the pair and they’re still slightly too big, you do have options (besides sending them back). There are little socks you can buy that will give you a snugger fit, with a bonus of preventing blisters. This is probably what I’ll have to do now.

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Four

December 17, 2017 | Swimming Equipment | Permalink

Iron Mike here presents to you twelve days of gift ideas for the marathon swimmer in your life. Check back daily!

Day four: Sunday, 17 December. Pull buoys.

Pull buoys are important if you’d like to feel what your body position should feel like. When I started, my feet dragged in the water due to a weak kick. Using a pull buoy gave me a feel for the water that I then tried to emulate when I didn’t have the buoy between my legs holding my bottom half up.

When I swim now with the buoy it is so I can concentrate on my pull. I can ignore my legs and just work on my catch. But not all pull buoys are created equal.

My legs are heavy. The wimpy buoys that many pools have in a cage on deck usually don’t hold my legs up. I need a nice solid buoy. The one I like and use the most now is the TYR Stars & Stripes pull buoy. One, because I’m unabashedly patriotic. Two, it is large enough to hold up my heavy legs.

There are other styles of pull buoy out there. The old style two white Styrofoam version. The pull buoy/kickboard combo style.

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Three

December 16, 2017 | Swimming Equipment | Permalink

Iron Mike here presents to you twelve days of gift ideas for the marathon swimmer in your life. Check back daily!

Day three: Saturday, 16 December. Goggles.

Of course the swimmer in your life needs goggles. They are an important staple in your swimmer’s bag. But oh so personal.

I would have trouble recommending to you which pair of goggles to get. They really are dependent upon face size, eye socket physiology, and probably more metrics I’m not even thinking of. However, there are other aspects of goggle choice to take into account. For one, color of lens.

I’ve been through various hues of lens: blue, black, mirrored, clear. Two basic colors make up the vast majority of my goggle collection. Clear and black.

Clear goggles I use in the pool. Indoor pool that is. I like to be able to see the pool, who’s pretending to drown in the deep end, where the lifeguard is sitting, what the pace clock says, etc. There really is little reason to wear dark goggles in a pool. I guess if the pool is so overly lit it hurts your eyes? Who knows. But clear is a go-to color.

And so is black. Or dark. Or whatever works best for you under sunny skies. One of the joys of open water swimming is the great outdoors, but as you’re doing lap upon lap around your favorite watering hole, turning to breath and staring directly into the sun will hurt, and you don’t need your eyes watering inside your goggles. Likewise looking up and sighting into the sun. Buy the darkest you can for those wonderfully beautiful days.

But what about overcast days? I’ve found that if the day is guaranteed to be overcast the entire time, I’ll swim in my clear ones. For a race. If I’m in the lake for training, I’ll throw a dark pair in my trunks in case the sun makes a lasting appearance. What I will never do again, though, is buy blue.

I had blue because I had read somewhere they were great for the not too bright, kinda overcast days. So I raced in them. And immediately discovered their liability: seeing blue buoys.

The race was in National Harbor, MD, and the buoys were blue-ish, or close enough that they pretty much disappeared as I looked in the general direction everyone was swimming. For that entire race (5K I think?) I had to rely on other swimmers to follow to find the buoys. That’s fine if you’re fast and you’re up there with other speed demons. But in the back of the pack with the recreational/amateur swimmers, we’re not all the best navigators. Maybe I’m following someone who also can’t swim straight and we both are going not on the best line to that buoy. All because I bought blue goggles.

A pair I got recently that I think I like have dark grey/light black on the main round part of the lens, but clear around the sides. I wore these a couple times in Strogino here in Moscow and I really liked them. Dark enough that I had protection when breathing and sighting, but the sides allowed some light in. I’m going to look for more like them.


This is a great time to talk about favorite products. If you find a piece of swim equipment that you like, much as I did with these Speedo Hydrospex goggles, buy many of them! Speedo has gone and “improved” the Hydrospex (now Hydrospex2) which, for my head was not an improvement. They added a button which allows one to tighten the straps easier, but for me that is not needed, and the extra plastic on the edges of the goggles had changed the goggle socket and now they leak. I’ve gone out of my way to buy the Hydrospex Classics whenever and wherever I see them, but I do know that some online stores are running low on stock.