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

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:



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:

original1 original2 original3 original4 original5 original6 original7


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:

typed1 typed2 typed3 typed4 typed5


Equipment used for my Issyk Kul swim

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


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.



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.


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.



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 from MSF. 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 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 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!


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.

image1 (1)

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.

Issyk Kul crossing: the swim!

July 9, 2016 | 2016 Season | Permalink

(First part here, covering everything leading up to the swim.)

OK, so now on to the swim!

I woke at about 4:30 Wednesday morning, after a fitful 4 hours of sleep. (Maybe.) Woke my kids and wife up, and put on some shorts, grabbed my stuff, and left the room. My crew were already downstairs in the parking lot getting the gear together. The boat and crew were waiting for us at the pier.

My crew and I at oh-dark-thirty

My crew and I at oh-dark-thirty

We all got on the boat, but not before accomplishing the most important pre-swim ritual of jumpography.


We got on the boat and I proceeded to set myself up in the cabin for the ~2 hour trip to the south side of the lake. I knew I needed to rest…my nerves and my body.

Getting my crap ready

Getting my crap ready

Look at that sky. Yikes!

Sure, that sky might look ominous, but could you ask for better conditions on the lake?

Flat like a mirror

Flat like a mirror

Tried my best to sleep, and I think I even got some right before arriving at the launch point. I asked the crew to wake me 30 minutes prior to launch. All of a sudden Chris came into the cabin and told me to wake up. So of course I laid down to sleep more. Then about 5 minutes later I thought I better get up, so I asked my daughter to go ask the captain how close we were. She came back a minute later to tell me only 10 more minutes.

I got up, warned Sarah of the impending nudity (she ran out of the cabin quickly), and changed into my suit. I put my cap and goggles on and Maggie slathered me in sun screen. Next up came the baby butt cream (fancy people call it diaper rash ointment) under my arms and around my neck. By the time we were done with this, I headed out and Chris was ready with the kayak.


We were able to get so much closer to the shore than last year. I don’t understand lake fluid mechanics, but I don’t need to.

Captain Kurbat

Captain Kurbat

Kayaking took only a couple minutes to get us to shore. Plan was for me to get feet-dry and then raise both arms when I’m ready.


Both arms up = swim begins

Both arms up = swim begins

So, the swim began at 0651. The water felt good. I learned later that it was 18C, pretty much throughout the swim. Of course, the swim began as they always do. Me wondering why I signed up to do this. Why I spent countless (obviously not true as I counted for the last blog entry) hours in the pool. Why I voluntarily thrust myself into cold water at about a mile above sea level to swim for hours and hours. But, like I said, this is how my swims always begin (and talking to others, this is how their swims begin too).

So, from the log: mostly cloudy, flat water with a slight breeze from the west. Air temp was right at 19C. My stroke rate the first kilometer was 55 SPM. In fact, I swam the first kilometer in exactly 20 minutes, a good rate, but expected at the beginning of a swim, since nerves were driving me.

I told my crew I wanted to swim the first hour without any feeds. I had been training that way for some time, so I was ready and able to go without for an hour. First feed came up and Chris accidentally told me how far I’d gone. I yelled at him (sorry Chris!) and he never again told me. Looking at the logs now, I had swum 2.54 km in the first hour. Off my hoped for 3 km, but I expected as much with swimming at so much closer to the sun.

At an hour and a half, I was at 3.87 km. Somewhere around here I was still thinking “Why am I doing this?” Normally, that feeling is way gone by this point. On the positive side, I was peeing, which is important. (Last year, I never peed, and the doc and I think that might have helped me get nauseous.)

By 9am, the air temp was 21.6C. No wind and still overcast, with flat water. Only thing I wished for was the sun to come out. It peeked every once in a while, and it is amazing how much that does for one’s psyche. While the water remained 18C, there were cold spots that would bring my spirits down. Again, why the hell am I doing this?

But all the support I got leading up to this swim, not to mention the tough love I received from a very experienced marathon swimmer, kept me going. I didn’t want to fail anyone. And really, what’s 5 hours or so? I’ve done almost that much before.

At feed 5 (2:40 elapsed) is when I asked for some ibuprofen. My elbow started niggling me. I was really afraid that damn arthritis would knock me out. I was kind of keeping up with my timing based on the feeds, so I figured I was at about half done with the swim. Could I keep this up with a bum elbow?

At about 3:20 elapsed is when the sun started to come out. The ibuprofen was mixed in feeds 6-8, and must have done the trick because I didn’t think about my elbow again after feed 7. At 10:25 local my support swimmer and future Issyk Kul swimmer Sarah entered the water. She was way off to my right, and swimming so easily I immediately felt bad for her. With Sarah came the sun. It was glorious! So nice to feel warmth on my back. The sun kept me going for the rest of the swim. (Air temp at this point rose to 31C.)

Sarah continued heads-up breast next to me until 11:05. It really did help to have a friend in the water. Almost an hour later Chris jumped in to take some underwater shots. The water in the lake is so buoyant that his plan to take some underwater shots of me were for naught.


Feed number 11 was only water at my request. I’d had enough of Crystal Lite Mojito and Cherry-Pomegranate. Feed 12 I waved off. But right after waving off, I stopped and asked Chris if he had brownies on the boat. “No, back at the hotel.” Damn. (You see, Chris had brought a gallon-sized bag of dark chocolate brownies to Balykchy.) Being LCHF, I of course avoided them the night before (lie). But, at this point in the swim, I was so tired of the minerally lake water. I needed something. I don’t think I was hungry (wrong); I just needed to rinse my mouth.

Also by this point I started seeing trees coming up. I saw Talas and Sarah on the boat looking through binoculars, so assumed that my wife and daughter were on the beach waiting for me.

See that white dot? That's my wife.

See that white dot? That’s my wife’s car.

Sure enough, they were on the beach waiting for me. I just couldn’t get to them. Seemed I’d never get to them. The trees just looked the same…forever and ever. At this point I made the mistake of starting to sight ahead of me. When Chris came out in the kayak, I knew I must have been pretty close, but still it never seemed to end. Probably because I was going so damn slow.


Look how slow I got toward the end there. I just wanted this damn swim done.



(If I hadn’t stopped to pee, I would have completed the swim in under 6 hours.)

And the swim is done!

And the swim is done!

The minute I got feet-dry, my wife and daughter came over and gave me hugs. Unluckily for the girl, she had a bag of shashlik-flavored chips in her hand. I must have looked at it hungrily enough that she gave the bag to me. Those carb bombs tasted so damn good. I spent very little time on the beach. I really wanted to get back to the boat and back to the hotel.




Next up, the after party and lessons learned.

Issyk Kul crossing, 6 July 2016

July 8, 2016 | 2016 Season, Swimming Anthropology, Swimming Equipment | Permalink

OK, so I’ve had some time to rest and reflect. Here’s the first post covering my successful crossing of lake Issyk Kul on 6 July 2016. In this post, I’ll cover everything up to the swim.

Planning for this swim started way back last year after my DNF trying to swim this same route. Last year, due to logistics issues, I couldn’t attempt the swim until the end of September, when the water was cold (for me) at 13C. I learned a lot about organizing a swim like this in Kyrgyzstan, which helped inform me and the crew for the swim this year.

Many moons ago, the big boss offered me the use of her pool. That came at the perfect time, as swimming at the indoor place was getting tougher. Calypso Aqua Club has a two lane pool (with a side section for kids and grandmas) which they’ve turned into a three-lane pool. A really skinny three-lane pool. The only good times (read: fairly empty) to go were between 1000-1400. Hard to get away from the office and put in enough time. Especially when I’d show up and all lanes would be full with grandmas and their swim noodles not wanting their hair to get wet. Hard to do serious laps in such a skinny lane.

So, an indoor pool all my own came at a great time. It is small, so I would have to use the straps, which I am a big fan of if you’re stuck with small pools. I shared the pool with the boss and one other woman in the community, and it was a perfect relationship. I managed to get plenty of swimming in. I averaged 7000 meters per week in the 25 weeks prior to the swim. That’s not a lot for most marathon swimmers, but we must consider that for the last two weeks prior to swim-week, I only swam once each week. My elbow started to give me troubles. (I have arthritis pretty bad in my right elbow from an injury years (and years) ago.) I was afraid that my elbow would flare up during the swim; the pain can be described as a stabbing pain every time one bends the elbow. That’s serious especially when you love drinking beer.

So, take those two weeks out and the average goes up a bit, closer to 8000 meters per week. I also had a good “heavy” week of 18K about 6 weeks out from the swim. I think that helped prepare me for this swim. I like to at least swim the distance plus (depending upon race distance, I aim for 1 to 1.5 times the distance) about a month out from the swim. The swim being 13+K, my 18K week was sufficient to prepare the body. I needed a good long time “horizontal.” I only had one 2-hour swim prior to the big swim. Probably could have used a 3-hour swim prior, but I can’t argue with the results!

Timing-wise, I was thinking July 4th. Wouldn’t it have been great to shoot off fireworks after my success?! Unfortunately, I had to work on July 4th, so that wouldn’t work. Also, I wanted to have a window of possible swim days, instead of choosing one day weeks out and then having to stick to it, like last year. Thankfully, the boat Captain (Kurbat) was so impressed that a foreigner wanted to swim his lake last year, that when Talas called him to beg for a three-day window for my swim, he responded: The boat is Mike’s for as many days as he needs. Wonderful! So I picked 6-8 July, with 5 July as the travel out day and 9 July as the travel back day.

For lodging for me and my crew, I chose the Hotel Aliya again. They took care of us last September, so I decided to stick with them. The hotel is in a good location in Balykchy, right next to where the boat captain berths Appak, and with a wonderful beach and pier. Great place for people to hang out while I’m swimming the lake. Unfortunately, Olya, the wonderful lady who took care of us last year, no longer worked at the hotel. No matter; the owners were great; they and their daughters took care of us well.

Hotel Aliya staff, my family and I

Hotel Aliya staff, my family and I

The crew was easy. Most all of the same folks from last year wanted to come back and see me succeed. Added to the crew was my 16-year old daughter, Maggie, and the Peace Corps volunteer Sarah, former college swimmer who will destroy my time for this same route in August!

sarah and flag

Peace Corps volunteer & support swimmer extraordinaire, Sarah.

maggie on board appak

My daughter, Maggie, responsible for mixing my “feeds”

We drove out to the lake on 5 July, checking in rather late (4pm or so). Once the entire crew was there, we took a trip to the beach where I planned to end the swim, so my wife could see how to get there. (Plan was for my wife and youngest to meet me there at the beach, and be there for others from the embassy who might want to come see my swim.)

Beach landing spot in Toru-Aygyr

Beach landing spot in Toru-Aygyr

After the trip to the beach we went back to the hotel to eat. Dinner wasn’t too good, but I did manage to stick to my LCHF diet. After dinner, we rallied in the hotel lobby by our rooms and discussed the plan. I went over the rules of marathon swimming, and pulled out all the equipment, much of it different from the previous year.

Last year, the plan was for my son, Sam, to update my FB with my location and how I was doing. We brought our internet router on the boat and thought we’d have internet. Well, we learned that in the middle of the lake, the best you could do is 2G. My son last year did his best using up data on my phone to update people, but it wasn’t enough.

This year, I got a SpotGen and linked it to the MSF’s application. This turned out to be a wonderful choice. Due to the GPS, we didn’t have to worry about internet; all we needed was for the little orange wonder to see clear sky. Family and friends from around the world told me they were able to easily follow me.

OK, so back to the equipment discussion. I brought along a solar panel (Goal Zero Nomad 7) and battery pack (Goal Zero Venture 30). I wanted to be ready for any contingency. The battery could power a couple phones, and even more important, it could keep the GPS alive. I went over how I wanted everything to go. I reminded the crew about my safe word. Other personal rules: Never tell me how far I’ve gone or for how long. If I ask for my distance, then I have to use my safe word. In this case, if I’m over half done, go ahead and tell me. If I’m not half done, lie to me. I also made sure everyone on the boat knew that only my observer, embassy doc Chris, could end my swim. (Well, technically, I could by using the safe word and persuading Chris that I was serious. But Chris told me that this year if I asked to quit, he’d just flip me off and tell the boat to speed off.)

Discussion went well and we broke off to go to the local grocery store to get food and treats for my crew. Bought a metric sh!t-ton of water along with carb-crap for the crew. I got my sausages and cheese, should I need any food. We got back to the hotel at around 10pm. With a 4:30 wake-up, I was ready to hit the sack. I read for a little bit, then fell asleep around 11pm. Then promptly woke up again at midnight. Even with melatonin I was having trouble sleeping. Thankfully, I can sleep on the boat to the start the next morning, right?!

Next up, the swim!

Wear Sunscreen

July 8, 2016 | 2016 Season, Grand Plan, Humor | Permalink

You might have heard this song before. It’s based on a newspaper article written years ago by Mary Schmich, a commencement address she said she’d give if ever asked.

The piece has lots of sound advice in it:

  • Be kind to your knees; you’ll miss them when they’re gone.
  • Floss
  • Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

But perhaps the most appropriate advice for my recent past, and one I forgot, is:

  • Wear sunscreen

I did have my daughter put sunscreen on my back, legs and arms, but totally forgot my face.


You can see the cap line on my forehead. Google marks, too.

Can you tell which side of my face spent more time out of the water breathing?



More facts

July 7, 2016 | 2016 Season, Grand Plan | Permalink

So, adding to my previous blog post on facts about my swim:

First. As far as I can find, I am the first human to cross the lake at the location I crossed. I say human because of the basis for the crossing. I spoke with the only other person to have ever crossed the lake solo, Akhmed Anarbaev,* and he told me no one else has done the route I did. I also did research online in both English and Russian, and have found no one else ever having done a crossing of this beautiful lake. I’ve asked local Kyrgyz to search for info in Kyrgyz, and they’ve only found Mr. Anarbaev.

Second. My time for the route probably will not stand long as Sarah, the Peace Corps volunteer stationed here in Kyrgyzstan, will swim the same route at the end of August. She’s a real swimmer and will certainly destroy my glacially-slow six hours and two minutes. She swam for about a half hour to support me and I was going so slowly she did heads-up, goggles-off breast and still had to stroke very slowly to stay beside me!


Sarah to my right, easily keeping up with me!

*Anarbaev crossed the lake on the eastern end in 1982. His crossing was 17 miles and took him 11 hours. More info at the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation page here on my blog or on Facebook.