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

The obscure endurance sport women are quietly dominating

September 14, 2016 | Iconic marathon swim, Spirit of Marathon Swimming | Permalink

NY Magazine recently did a great article on marathon swimming. More specifically, the article was about the phenomenon seen in marathon swimming with respect to men’s vs. women’s times for major-distance swims. It appears that when you add distance (and water), race results are quite contrary to common “wisdom.”

When you talk running, even ultra-distance runs, men are still about 12% faster than women. But when you add water and time (basically we’re talking races of 6 hours or more), then “on average, the best women were 12 to 14 percent faster than the best men.” Researchers looked at the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (MIMS), a 28.5 mile tide-assisted marathon around, you guessed it, Manhattan.

Now, dear reader(s), we’ve talked about MIMS before, most recently when discussing integrity (or lack thereof) of a certain well-known (to marathon swimming history/spirit/rules illiterates) personality/celebrity/”national treasure.” As MIMS is tidally-assisted, it is hard to compare things like “fastest man” and “fastest woman.” Where this article and the referenced study excels, though, is that the study researchers looked at 30 years of MIMS times. When n=about 500 swimmers (or more?) then things like tide are factored out. Another study looked at 87 years (!!!) of Catalina Channel swims, and the results were that women, on average, completed the 21-mile channel swim 52:54 faster than men.

But you know what this article and all these studies really show us? The importance of rules, standards, record-keeping! It is because of rule-following and record-keeping that we know DN lied on her FB or Twitter or whatever that picture is that I linked to in the last post. It is the reason why I founded the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation. It is the reason more swimming groups are springing up around the world now.

Anyway, it is a great article, even though it misnames the MSF. Give it your 3-4 minutes to read, and pass it around your friend-circle. Thanks Melissa Dahl for a great article.

Integrity first

September 3, 2016 | Spirit of Marathon Swimming | Permalink

DN Manhattan Lie

Yep, she-who-cannot-be-named-without-owing-a-beer-to-your-fellow-swimmers has reared her head again. Just days after NYC Swim closed its doors, shifting responsibility for the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (MIMS) to the able hands of New York Open Water, Diana Nyad posted the above to her FB. Right there in black and white she states that she was the first woman to ever swim around Manhattan when, in 1975, she completed the swim in 7:57.

Only problem? She was beat to the “first woman” title 59 years previously by Ida Elionsky.

1916 first woman manhattan

For those of you with eyes like mine, here’s the article zoomed in:


Not only was she wrong by decades, but she wasn’t even the second (or third, or fourth) woman around the island. In fact, she was the seventh. What she was absolutely honest about in that post (from only a week ago…keep that in mind) is that she did beat all the men (and women) with that sub-8 hour time. (But what most marathon swimmers understand is that MIMS is a current-assisted swim, so times don’t really reflect the speed of the swimmer; you could have a good current day or a bad current day.)

Nyad’s FB post disappeared when some commenters pointed out to her how wrong she was, but thankfully it is preserved by the magic of the internet. What’s most telling about her, integrity-wise, is this old blog post of hers, that she has also deleted from her blog but is still alive in the Interwebs:


The most important parts of her blog post is at the very beginning, where she blames her misunderstanding upon the NY Times and other publications. (Later she became a journalist…ponder that.) The BS part of this statement is that anyone who’d gone through all the work to set up a solo Manhattan swim, talking to the Coast Guard, for one, would of course research to see who else swam around the island and how fast. She’s stated many times that she’s a feminist, so one would expect she’d ask the “have any women swum around the island” question, also.

Even more important in the above is the date she posted that in her blog. Five years ago she admitted she was not the first woman to swim around the island. So why the recent FB post saying she was?

Because she’s a pathological liar! The founder of NYC Swim interviewed the boat captain for Nyad’s 1975 swim, who stated that Nyad held onto the boat during the swim. That is a clear violation of marathon swimming rules, not to mention contrary to the spirit of marathon swimming. She has a history of lying about her swims, which is why those of us with integrity are always skeptical of anything she claims to have done.

The rare times my interlocutor even knows what marathon swimming is, s/he will invariably bring up Diana Nyad. Usually the look on my face tells him/her what I think of her. If you want to understand my puke face at the mention of her name, all you have to do is read this short thread at the MSF forums. (There are other longer threads about her if you search her last name.) This thread explains why integrity is so important to those of us in the marathon swimming community. At the very least, read the first post and the definition of integrity from Sarah Thomas, marathon swimmer extraordinaire. It is worth your time.

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.

Screenshot 2016-08-24 at 20.02.01

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.

Screenshot 2016-08-23 at 05.45.41

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!


Isn’t that cool?

Here’s the rest of her announcement:


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.


Sarah’s got a tracker online, using the same service I did for mine, 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.


Sarah timing me.

sarah and flag

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.


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: