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


December 17, 2016 | 2016 Season, Spirit of Marathon Swimming | Permalink

So, this just* happened: Seems yours truly has been nominated for Solo Swim of the Year (male) as part of the 2016 Global Marathon Swimming Awards. I was nominated by Jaimie, probably one of the most incredible non-professional marathon swimmers out there, with dozens of seriously long-distance swims to her name.

These awards are different than other similar marathon swimming awards in that only members of the Marathon Swimmers Forum can vote. There is no way for a nominee to enlist family and friends to go join the forum and vote for them as there are deadlines for membership and forum participation requirements, both of which remain a mystery to all of us. Any of us members can nominate someone, and the top 3-4 in each category (based on “likes” received) move on to the final voting round. For that round, each forum member is emailed a special voting token that can only be used once. Compare this to another well-known marathon swimming award and their “vote early and vote often” rule, and you’ll see why the MSF Global Marathon Swimming Awards are much more respected by marathon swimmers. And what do you get? Absolutely nothing, but the most important award possible: the respect and acknowledgement of your peers.

What an honor! I never expected it. I was nominated for my Issyk Kul crossing in July. I never thought a measly 8.5 mile swim would get me nominated. In her nomination, Jaimie said

Although it may be one of the shorter swims nominated in this category, this is a meaningful, challenging, and beautiful swim. Swimming at altitude is always tough unless you live at altitude, and this is a swim that had never been done before so logistics and planning were relatively difficult.

It truly is an honor to be nominated and I have no expectation of winning. (Just look at my competition. Oy!) What I do like about this, though, is the exposure Kyrgyzstan and lake Issyk Kul is getting. It is my sincere hope that this will inspire one or more swimmers out there to take the leap and go swim in that beautiful lake among the incredibly hospitable Kyrgyz. (And my Guide to swimming the lake is available here, if you’re interested!)

Flat like a mirror


*It didn’t “just” happen. I was nominated earlier in the month and voting started about a week ago, but I’ve been debating on whether or not to even write about this. Vanity won out.

Back in the saddle

December 16, 2016 | Science!, Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

So the pool was refilled almost immediately and I’m back in the saddle. Yes, the water still turns my ears blue, no stopping that apparently. I’m still using the increasingly-bluer goggles and swim cap (no reason to ruin another MSF cap). But the few of us who regularly swim in the pool had to deal with an issue right off the bat.

Seems the Russian pool manager thought the water was too cold. The water was only 80*F.

So the first day back in the pool I see my swimming buddy Anthony, lapping away in lane #2. He always gets there a bit earlier than I do as he lives right there on the embassy, while I’ve got a 45-60 min public transportation route to complete first. He seemed to be swimming just fine, so without thinking of dipping a toe in I simply jumped…

…into 86-ish degrees of bath water. Maybe even higher. (This pool has been at 90* before.) It was just too much. Anthony came into the wall and I looked at him and he simply said, “Yeah. Right?” It was brutal. Swimming in your bath tub.

So, after my work-out I did what I also did 6 years ago, and composed an email to the management of the pool, pointing out to them the recommended temperature for indoor pools. I also pointed out the health risks of swimming in too-hot water. But mostly what got them was the info about how pool chemicals were made to work in certain temperature ranges. Seems that algae and bacteria absolutely love really warm water.

That very day I ran into the embassy’s facilities manager, who told me that the pool manager had found a way to open the lock box and adjust the water temperature. The facilities guy had to buy a new lock and institute new check-out procedures for the key. The pool manager explained that the kids were complaining the pool water was too cold. He was told to explain to their parents about how the chemicals work and ask the parents if they’d rather their children get sick from ingesting bacteria- and algae-filled pool water.

And from that day on, the water has been a pleasant (yet still too warm) 78*F.  Ah!

Before and After

November 20, 2016 | Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

Dear reader(s) who have been on this journey with me for some time know that strange things happen to me and my equipment when I swim in my pool here in Moscow.

When I got back to Moscow in August I was terribly excited to use my new swim cap, courtesy of the Marathon Swimmers Federation.


Nice, vibrant yellow, advertising the best swimming organization in the world, next to my preferred Speedo Hydrospex clear goggles, perfect for indoor pools.

I’ve only been swimming in the embassy pool (this time) for about 3 months. And of course I almost immediately noticed the blue. If you’ve read my older posts over the last 5-6 years, you’ll know that something in this pool turns my ear wax blue (TMI? Nah!). Not just that, but the grey in my beard turns blue (so I shave once or twice a week). What in the world is this blue crap?


Check out around the goggle rims and the bottom of the cap. All blue. Here’s a close-up of the goggles.


The blue-ing of my ear wax lasts about 3-4 days. No matter what I do. Trust me, dear reader(s), I scrub my ears with soap. Doesn’t help. One day at work my colleague said, “Your ears look like they’re bleeding blue.” I told her about the pool, then showed her the bright blue left on a tissue. Thankfully she’s a medic, so it didn’t gross her out. In fact she was intrigued.

A few days later I had an appointment for a physical; I wanted to be ready in case a physical was needed for any big swims in 2017. (Spoiler alert: check out my Schedule page.)

Anyway, I’m in the doctor’s office, explaining to her why I need a physical, answering the usual questions of why anyone would want to spend so much time in the water swimming. When it got to the point she was to look into my ears, I told her I’d be very interested in what she sees in there.

“That’s an odd thing to say. Do you have a scar on your ear drum or something?”

“You’ll see doc,” I answered.

She was taken aback immediately. “I see a lot of blue in there. What’s that from?” I told her all about the pool and how this has happened to me since 2010. Turns out she occasionally swims in the pool and noticed the same things a couple months prior. She said she’d investigate further, and ensure the folks at the pool had the chemicals right.

Well, last week walking by the pool I noticed it was being drained. Turned out they did discover what it was in the water that was turning my goggles, cap and ear blue: copper. Too much copper. Where’s the copper coming from? When the pool was constructed, they used copper pipes. Apparently the copper is leaching into the water. The doc assures all of us that it’s safe, the levels are low, but I guess their new regime will be to drain the pool annually. Ugg.

This is how you do it

November 4, 2016 | Uncategorized | Permalink

I’ve talked about the incredible athlete Sarah Thomas already, here and on my FB. For those who have been under a rock for the last few weeks, Sarah just swam 80 miles straight, unassisted, in a current-neutral lake in Utah and Arizona. She set the record for the longest unassisted swim in history.

Unlike the infamous marathon swimmer who made (ignorant) headlines in the last few years, Sarah’s team clearly and fully documented her entire swim. She chose two observers known to the community. She wore only a suit, goggles, one cap, ear plugs and zinc-oxide for her entire swim. She never touched her support boats. None of her crew ever touched her.

In other words, she followed marathon swimming rules and kept to the spirit of marathon swimming. If you want to read about this wonderful swim by this awesome person, read the logs here. Here’s an example:


Been offline for a while

October 30, 2016 | Uncategorized | Permalink

Hello dear reader(s). Yes, I’ve been offline for a while. I figured it was time to write something.

I’ve been swimming a lot. It’s been wonderful. I’m back in the tiny pool I started this crazy obsession in so many years ago. Yes, I’m back in Russia, at the U.S. embassy in Moscow. Back in the tiny pool that turns my ear was blue. Yeah, you remember.

The pool is 50 feet, 4 inches long. So three laps is a bit over 100 yards. 300 and 2 feet for 3 laps. 100.8 yards per 3 laps. I round down to 100 yards. Good enough.

This is the pool that I trained in for my first-ever 10K. I did do a 10,000 yard swim in this pool 6 years ago, which made the Russian aquatics director guffaw at me in amazement. So…it took me 3:40. Tons of flip-turns. But why not?

I also did most of the training for my first beyond-10k-marathon-swim, Swim the Suck, in this very same pool. I love this pool. Except for what it does to the wax in my ears. And the little peach-fuzz hairs near my ears or between my eyebrows. Weird? Yeah. I have no idea why. And I don’t want to ask. I just live with it.

So back in this pool. And with a big swim in my mind. I’m training hard, hoping to get into a big swim next summer. Registration opens 1 November. I’ll be watching the internet for when the registration opens. The swim I’m looking at should take me between 8 and 10 hours to complete. I’ve done 6 hours straight. What’s a few more hours?

In other news, lots going on in the Iron Mike family. The youngest just destroyed some of her classmates in the pool with super fast 50m free and 50m back (her best event). She swam fast enough she qualified for the high school European meet (she’s still in junior high) that’ll happen in Warsaw in December. Also, our oldest just graduated Coast Guard basic training and is on his way to his first duty station in Seattle. I’m one happy Iron Mike-Dad!

So friggin’ impressive

October 6, 2016 | Iconic marathon swim, Spirit of Marathon Swimming | Permalink

For two days now, FOR TWO DAYS, I’ve been following my friend Sarah Thomas as she swims 82 miles (yes…MILES) in lake Powell in Arizona.

EIGHTY-TWO MILES. For my non-swimming friends, that’s 50-60 hours STRAIGHT. Yes, she’s swimming without sleep or rest for more than two days.

At publication of this blog post, she’s already been up for almost 51 hours, she’s swum 117.5 kilometers. She still has 11-odd miles to go. AND SHE’LL DO IT. She’s simply incredible.


Once she’s done, she will have swum longer, unassisted, than anyone else. Ever. She’s following English Channel rules (one cap, one pair of goggles, one non-porous suit), unlike another famous (infamous?) swimmer out there.

Simply unbelievable, Sarah. You are a wonder.

Lake Issyk Kul is on the Map!

October 2, 2016 | Iconic marathon swim, Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

NPR wrote up a great article about Sarah’s successful Issyk Kul swim back in August. It’s a great write-up, pointing out the basis for the crossing, the legend of Toru-Aygyr. It also does a good job covering Sarah’s reasons for doing the crossing: to persuade the Kyrgyz to pursue a healthier and more active lifestyle.

Heart disease and high blood pressure are common problems in Kyrgyzstan. Another problem in that country is nutrition: fully 17% of Kyrgyz, across all socio-economic classes, are malnourished; most of them children. (Carbs make up a super-majority of the Kyrgyz diet, and not the good carbs.)

Sarah’s swim also showed the Kyrgyz that women are just as capable as men. There’s a funny exchange between one of the boat crew (Bakut? Kuban? Which was it Sarah?) and her that is very illustrative of the attitudes of Kyrgyz men as far as women are concerned. (Not necessarily bad, but ignorant.)

And I must say it is very nice that Sarah made sure NPR included me in the article. Thanks Sarah, for what you’ve done for your country and host country, and for what you’ve done for swimming in Kyrgyzstan!

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.