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

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.

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Two

December 15, 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 two: Friday, 15 December. Caps.

If you’re like me, you didn’t start out wearing caps. Didn’t seem to be a need. My hair has always been short enough that the goggle straps stayed put, for the most part. But as dear readers of this blog know, I learned my last time here in Moscow that caps are required in some pools. So I’ve gotten used to wearing them.

But, a swim cap is a swim cap is a swim cap, right? Not quite. You have choices when buying your cap. For marathon swimmers, I would recommend buying a highly visible silicone cap. Color doesn’t matter in a pool. The lifeguard is going to see you. But in open water, you want the drunk jet skiers to be able to see you from as far off as possible. I like bright orange and yellow. These colors stand out more in open bodies of water whether it is a sunny day or an overcast, rainy one. For caps, I am less attached to a brand than I am to the material (silicone) and colors.

The picture above is an example of the importance of bright colors. Look at the kayaks. Most of them are red or orange. Do you see the three that are not? They are lighter, white or light blue. Harder to spot. Imagine driving a boat at 30 knots.

Now look at the swimmers in the water. The heads that pop out at you are the ones wearing yellow. The ones wearing green are just a bit less visible.

Now this picture is of an overcast day. But look almost all the way across the river to the shore. See that little, round yellow buoy? And is that a yellow pedal boat? Even through the splash of dozens of arms, the main color that you see (besides wetsuit-black) is yellow from those caps.

Bottom line: Be visible.

Speedo silicone cap. Available in a nicely bright orange for the best visibility. I always have an extra one of these on-hand for when I bring a newbie to the lake with me. The more orange heads the better, as far as boaters are concerned.

TYR silicone cap. Available in a few bright colors, including pink (if you’re man enough).

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day One

December 14, 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 one: Thursday, 14 December. Suits.

I am one of those swimmers (people) who are loyal to a brand when that brand works. Particularly, I am loyal to a particular model when that model works for me. Swimsuits are no different. I buy two brands of suits and only two brands. For each of those brands, I buy one model of suit and only that model of suit. (So, with my luck, I’m sure at some point in the future those models will be discontinued.)

But the suits I buy work for me. And maybe they’ll work for you too.

Dolfin Uglies. I bought these early-on simply because I wanted to make a statement. An ugly statement. But you know what? These suits have grown on me. They’re not boring, that is for sure. And they’re square-leg, which I seem to have more and more trouble finding. I think I have 4 or 5 pairs now. Whenever I do an order with SwimOutlet I’ll throw a grab-bag suit in. Good, solid trunks that last through miles and miles of swimming.

Egads, now that’s ugly

Speedo Endurance+. These suits last forever. I’ve worn these for more than 10 years now I think, and in all that time I’ve had to throw two away. They finally got sheer in the region of the suit where you don’t want it to be see-through. And that was back before I knew any better and I used those suit drying spinny things. I wear these now mostly in open water and in races when I don’t want to make too much of a splash with my Uglies. A little more expensive than the other suits, and I haven’t see these in grab-bags yet, but worth every penny.

*Yes, I know the 12 Days of Christmas is actually from 25 December to 5 January in the western Christian tradition. But if you’re shopping for that swimmer in your life, you gotta start before the 25th!

2018 Russian Swims

October 21, 2017 | 2018 Season | Permalink

The 2018 calendar is starting to fill up in Russia for open water swims. Two of the organizations who run swims here, Champions Cup and Eurasia Swim Cup, have their schedules published. Unsure how many of these I’ll be doing as we leave in late summer and many of these are out of town. We’ll have to see how the move progresses. But without any further ado, here are the swims:

*17 March – Cyprus (yes, Cyprus), 1k, 1.9k, 3.8k, 6k, 10k, 1k in fins
6 May  – Abkhazia, 1k, 1.5k, 3k, 6k, 10k, 1k in fins.
27 May – Sicily (yes, I know that’s Italy, but the Eurasia Swim Cup folks are having two swims in Italy in 2018 as part of their series), same events as 6 May Abkhazia above.
27 May – Moscow, 1k, nautical mile, 5k, 3 x 1000m relay
27 May – Rostov-on-Don, 1k, 1.5k
*10 June – Moscow, 1k, nautical mile, 3k, 3 x 1000m relay
17 June – Pereslavl, 1.5k, 3k
24 June – Lytkarino, 1k, 1.9k, 3.8k, 6k, 1k in fins
30 June – lake Seliger near St. Petersburg, nautical mile, 5k, 10k
1 July – Yaroslavl, 1.5k, 3k
1 July – Lipetsk, 1k, nautical mile, 10k, 3 x 1000m relay
8 July – Lytkarino, 1k, 1.9k, 3.8k, 6k, 1k in fins
8 July – lake Turgoyak in the Urals, nautical mile, 4k
8 July – Rybinsk, 1k, nautical mile, 5k, 3 x 1000m relay
15 July – Lytkarino, 1k, 1.9k, 3.8k, 6k, 10k, 1k in fins
15 July – lake Baikal, nautical mile, 5k
22 July – Votkinsk, 1.5k, 3k
28 July – Volga swim, 1k, 3k, 5k
29 July – Bronnitsy, 1.9k, 3.8k
*5 August – Ritsa, 1.5k, 5.8k
11 August – Zaraysk, 1.5k, 3k
12 August – St Petersburg, 2.3k, 4.6k
12 August – Kazan, 1.9k, 3.8k
19 August – Saint Petersburg, 1k, 1.5k, 3k, 6k
19 August – Arctic swim in the Arctic ocean, 1k, nautical mile
26 August – Pereslavl, 1.5k, 3k, 6k
2 September – Samara, 1k, 1.5k, 3k
2 September – lake Sevan in Armenia, nautical mile, 5k
9 September – Rostov-on-Don, 1.5k, 3k, 6k
14-16 September – Sochi Swim Festival, 1k, nautical mile, 5k, 3 x 1000m relay
*16 September, Tbilisi, 1.9k, 5k
14 October – Abkhazia, 1k, 1.9k, 3.8k, 6k, 10k, 1k in fins
*November – Eurasia Swim Cup final in UAE

Some notes on the above. The Eurasia Swim Cup folks are still working on organizing some swims in Strogino, where I swam with them this year. Those 5.8k swims were so well-organized and fun I’m really hoping they’ll have a bunch of them before I move.

Next, that Saint Petersburg swim on 12 August will be around the Peter and Paul Fortress in the heart of St. Pete. That is so damn close to my departure, but, like my first overseas swim in Copenhagen around the Danish seat of government, I may have to make time for this one.

The dates with * are additions as of 15 December.

Below is a map I made of all the locations for the 2018 Russian season.

2018 season locations

Off-season training

October 15, 2017 | 2017 Season | Permalink

Season is over now, and I’d promised some ladies at work that I’d join them in their boot camp class after the season was done, so, had to stick to my word.

Oy! I’ve only done two classes since Sochi and that’s because after the first my calves hurt so much I didn’t want to go back till they felt better. Then when I did, half-way through the workout my right calf started acting up and I had to switch to one-legged jump rope (among other adjustments).

What is boot camp? Kind of like a mixture of aerobics, CrossFit and calisthenics. The first workout we did consisted of three cycles of two stations of five minutes each. What does that mean? Well, for instance, the first cycle was kettlebell swings, squat jump over a bench, and a dip. For five minutes you did those three exercises in a row; the first time through one rep each, the second time two, and so on, till the five minutes were up. (I think I got up to 9 in that one.) Then we (3 of us in that group) switched with the other group (also 3) and we did their workout, which if I recall correctly was a jump squat, a double-under jump rope (meaning the rope goes under your feet twice), and a lunge. One rep each through, then two and so on. After we hit those two stations (~10 min total) then we ran around the basketball court three times. That’s the part I hated the most.

I wore my calf-hugging specialty socks during this first boot camp. Bought those socks because my calves would just hurt so much by the end of the day as I was walking home. No matter if I stood at work all day or sat. The socks definitely make my calves feel good, but I’m really not sure if they help at all. This past Thursday I didn’t wear them to class and about half-way through (8 stations @ two minutes each then through them again at 1:30 each) my right calf suddenly screamed each time I would jump. I switched to one-footed jump rope (surprised myself I was still able to do 6-8 in a row before faltering). Jumping jacks didn’t work out so well; the instructor had me do some weird twisting thing that someone later told me was part of P90X (or whatever it is called).

Both times I offered to swim with anyone after the class for 15-20 minutes; no takers. In fact, each time the instructor (different one each time) looked at me and asked “Seriously? You’re gonna swim after this?” Well, yes. And each time it felt great. My boss lets me show to work a bit late on days I’m working out, so I swam till 9am or 1000 yards, whichever came first. That meant on the first day I got 500 yards swum and Thursday I did 1000.

I have an ulterior motive, though. The one and only certified, official, no-sh!t CrossFit class I ever went to was back in 2013. The base I was stationed on had a CF club and every Tuesday morning during the summer they did a swimming WOD (workout of the day). That was so blasted fun. As I recall it involved something like 3 lengths (the base pool is 40 yards per) and then hop out and do flutter-kicks, another 3 lengths and do a bunch of push-ups. Do that 10 times or so. Can’t remember exactly; too long ago. But damn was it fun.

Well, I want to run one of those swim WODs with this group. I come up with all kinds of ideas while I’m cooling down after the class. But first have to get myself more ensconced in the group and get some of them to join me in the pool after. I already know one of the instructors would support me in this: Jen, who went with me to Sochi! Just gotta get some of the other students and the main instructor to want to do it… Wish me luck!

Pictorial tour of the Sochi Swim Festival

October 9, 2017 | 2017 Season | Permalink

As discussed previously, I spent last weekend in Sochi, Russia, for the end-of-season swim festival put on by the wonderful folks at the Champions Cup. I went down to Sochi with my daughter, who acted as our collective crew, and two friends from work, Jen and Sabrina. I competed in the 5.5k while they competed in the nautical mile. All three of us took part in the 3 x 1000m relay. What follows are pictures from the festival.

We must of course start with a picture in front of the event sign. It was a beautiful weekend, air temp in the low 20’s Celsius. Sun out all day. It was wonderful.

During registration I saw this sign and couldn’t have been happier.

The sign reads “Water (temperature) 25.2 (degrees Celsius). NO wetsuits.” Despite this, Russians still wore shorties and those suits that supposedly are legal for triathlon. This despite the water getting up to 26C on open water day, which was Sunday the 1st of October.

The first day was for clinics and pool swimming. They held some events in the pool (30- and 60-min swims and 3 x 15-min team relays) that we weren’t interested in. So we went walking to find a place to dip our toes in to feel the water.

You know the water is warm if Russians are swimming in it. Then we had to walk to the Olympic village because: Sochi.

View from the hotel room. Next stop: the Olympic rings and flame.

This was the view of the Olympic flame. Jen had been here before and told us about a fountain show when it got darker. So we went on a quest to find the rings to get pictures in front of.

Near impossible to get an unobstructed view and photo in front of the rings, so this is all we got! Then the lights went on at the flame.

The moon cooperated and lined itself up perfectly for the picture. Then the show began. Wow. Wish I could embed a video here, it was just so spectacular, especially starting out with Queen’s The Show Must Go On.

After 4 or 5 songs, we decided it was time to return to the hotel to get some rest before the events of Sunday.

My event, the 5.5k, was first up. Jen and Sabrina both showed up nice and early to see me off.

As you can see, we’d be swimming inside a walled off section of the Black Sea. At the southern end (left side of the pic above) there was an opening to the sea for all those sailboats to travel through. For the 5.5k, we’d be doing 3 loops inside this area. My daughter caught the start; I’m in there somewhere near the back.

I found this woman a couple times during the loops. The organizers got a close-up of us swimming, me trying to draft off of her.

Little did I know that I’d get to “know” her even more at the end.

This is me coming in. Note who beat me in by less than a second. She and I were racing the last couple hundred meters to try and hit the finish first.

She immediately looked at me and asked or said something. I was too out of breath to understand. I told her my Russian is horrible. Then my right calf cramped up.

Turns out she was telling the RD that I skipped the last buoy.

I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about till I got out of the water, which took a bit because I had to forcibly move my foot till my calf was loose enough to climb up a ladder onto the pier. The RD said “Mike, the girl says you skipped the last buoy.” I protested vehemently. I told him that I took every buoy as instructed, on my left shoulder, including the last one. He told me not to worry about it.

I found the woman at the top of the ramp after I got my medal, water and banana. I told her the same thing, that I didn’t skip any buoys. (How the hell would she know anyway? I didn’t swim around any buoys with any other swimmers close, as far as I could tell.) She told me simply: “Well, I didn’t see you.” I was too dumbfounded to think quick on my feet, but what I should have answered was “Well, I didn’t see you either, but I presume you went around the buoys properly.” Frankly, I think she was just mad I was tapping her toes occasionally during the race. (If you don’t like contact, then don’t swim open water.)

Forget her! On to other things! I managed 1:52:33, 13th out of 23 men, 2nd out of 2 in the 50-54 age group. More importantly, that time was only a few seconds slower than my best (feeling) 5K ever in Raslina, Croatia, two years ago. I was aiming for two hours in this one, so very happy with my time.

Next up was Jen and Sabrina’s nautical mile swim.

This would be the first open water (non-triathlon) swim for Sabrina and the second for Jen. Both of them ended up doing really well in their races, Jen earning 3rd out of 12 and Sabrina 2nd out of 3 in their respective age groups. Next up, the relay!

I’d seen the term эстафета before and knew it had something to do with multiple swimmers, but because I’d never known anyone else interested in joining me, I didn’t bother looking it up. But once I found two partners in crime for this trip, I looked into it. The term means relay, but this being Russia, I wanted to make sure it was truly a relay and not just the three of us swimming together and times added up.

Sure enough, it would be a relay. We figured we’d either meet in water and trade timing chips or have to swim in to the pier, tap the sensor, exchange timing chips, and then the next person goes. We were close, but not right.

When I was done with my 5.5k, I went back into the registration tent and got the sensor for our relay. Hours later, right before the briefing for the 1k and relays, one of the young volunteers grabbed me and told me something about the timing chip for the relay. I followed him to the table where he and another volunteer had a heated discussion about timing chips, pointing to the list of the 12 teams who’d be doing the relay. I kept holding up my left arm showing them I’ve already got a chip. They kept mentioning another number. (Our team was 150, but they kept talking about 1050.)

Turns out, our second swimmer (Jen) would wear chip 1050, and after I came in (as first swimmer) I’d give my chip to Sabrina, our third swimmer. This way there was no fumbling with the velcro between legs.

The organizers marked our left arms with our team numbers. The theory being that when the first swimmer was approaching the pier, the RD would yell out “Team so-and-so, second member.” Then another volunteer would hold the second swimmer back until the RD yelled “Go!” I asked the RD if he could yell out in English for Sabrina and Jen and he agreed.

I managed my lap in 21:53, Jen hers in 22:28 and Sabrina hers in 26:25 for a total time of 1:10:59. We got 4th out of 5 mixed teams. A good time was had by all!

That relay was such a blast, I’ll definitely try and compete in them again next season.

That was it for the swimming. We had a pizza party an hour or so after the picture above. No comments on how much pizza I (we?) ate. But later that night we found a brewpub and partook in some tasty adult beverages. (Sadly, Sabrina and her husband had to depart early Sunday evening so couldn’t join us.)

Cider for my daughter

Marston’s Oyster Stout for me. And Mort Subite Wit for Jen

So that is it for Sochi, and that is it for my 2017 season. Not so bad, I’d say. Next summer will be my last in Russia and I’d like to do more (than four) swims here. We’ll see what the 2018 season brings!

Sochi Swim Festival

October 7, 2017 | 2017 Season | Permalink

I’ll do a post of pictures from my swims in Sochi, but wanted to do a quick post about how we did.

Went down to Sochi last weekend with two work colleagues (Jen and Sabrina) to take part in the Sochi Swim Festival, organized by the Champions Cup folks. I signed up for the 5.5K and my friends signed up for the nautical mile. Together, we signed up for the 3 x 1000m relay.

Jen and Sabrina both did well in their mile swim, Jen getting 3rd out of 12 and Sabrina 2nd out of 3. I also got 2nd…out of two. Ha! More importantly, I set a new PR with a 1:52.33, which was my time two years ago in Raslina when I swam my best (feeling) 5K ever. So this 5.5K swim felt even better!

The relay was a freaking blast. It was the last event (around noon) so the water started to get rough/wavy. Each of us had to do a lap; I was first, then Jen, and Sabrina finished us up. The first lap folks started en masse with the swimmers doing the 1K solo. It was a nice crowded start. I managed 21:53. We all had our team’s number on our left arms and when the RD saw us getting close to finishing, he’d call out the team number and the next swimmer would stand on the end of the pier and dive in once told to start. Together we got 4th out of 5 mixed teams with a final time of 1:10:59.

This was such a great conclusion to a fun season. More later, to include pictures of beautiful Sochi, Russia.