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

I did not swim around Manhattan…

July 23, 2017 | 2017 Season, Iconic marathon swim, Spirit of Marathon Swimming | Permalink

…I almost swam around Manhattan. Let me explain.

Yesterday I started the 20 Bridges marathon swim, an iconic swim 28.5 miles around the island of Manhattan. This swim is historical. It used to be called the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, but had to be picked up by another organization, the incredibly organized and run NY Open Water. This swim is also a part of the Triple Crown of Marathon Swimming, sharing that title with the English and Catalina Channels.

The swim is not a race. Swimmers start at different times based on their average one-hour pool swim distance. My distance was in the 3600-yard range in my weird tiny Russian pool. Rondi Davies figures out your start time based on that. My start was 0715. The earliest start was 0655 and the latest was 0720. These times are all figured so that you catch the tides and swim around the island with Mother Nature’s help.

My kids, Sam and Maggie, were my crew. We met our kayaker, the incredible Agnes M., and observer, Hsi-Ling, got the requisite jump photo, and got on Paul’s boat, the All Aboard.

(Henceforth, all times and distances are estimated. I need to get back to Moscow so I can sync my Garmin and see the data.) I went out too slowly, obviously. At my second feeding (1:30) my kayaker told me I had to pick it up. So I went into overdrive…as much overdrive as I can anyway. Same thing at the second feeding (2:00). During this time, two (of two!) jet skiers came by and spoke with Agnes. Hmm…

I breath right-side only, despite preaching and sometimes practicing bilateral. Can’t help it. So for this swim, I knew I wouldn’t see anything of Manhattan, only other parts of NY and NJ. That’s fine. And this turned out to be great. If I had seen…

So at my 2:30 feed, jet skier Ed told me we had to have a talk. I had to decide whether I wanted to quit or be moved and have an assisted swim. Then he and Agnes pointed to my left side. I saw the wall she had me swimming next to, and I was very quickly moving backwards. Apparently, for some unspecified time I was making no progress. I learned later  that one of the jet skiers had told her I had 55 minutes to go 50 city blocks, and I managed only 20.

Well when they ask you if you want to quit a mere couple hours into a swim you’d been training for for months or get moved up river a bit and be disqualified (but still get to swim!), of course you respond “I’ll take the assisted swim.”  Ed and Agnes both cheered. I got on Ed’s bladder torture board on the back of his jet ski, and got on my boat, while Agnes paddled like lightning to get to bridge #5 (Ward’s Island footbridge). (I had passed bridge #4 maybe 200-300 yards earlier.)

I apologized to my observer and my boat driver. They brushed it off. I thought about asking Hsi-Ling how my stroke count was prior to getting pulled, but decided against it. I made the decision there and then that the minute I started up again in the water, I’d stick to the rules again. Just because I DQ’d and am doing assisted, doesn’t mean any other part of my swim needed to be assisted. I wouldn’t hang on to the kayak or boat or anything like that once Agnes and I started up again. When Agnes was just about ready I jumped in, peed (ah, relief) and got back to work. All negative thoughts left my brain and I just concentrated on my swim.

(When I got back to the AirBNB last night after a wonderful dinner with family (more on that below), I pulled up Google maps and did some elementary mensuration. Turns out I got pulled a little over 6 miles and then from where I restarted to the finish was a bit over 21 miles. So really what I did yesterday instead of swimming all the way around Manhattan was do two marathon swims with a ~25 minute break in between.)

The swim from here on out was, at least for a few hours, awesome. The Harlem is very thin and not so deep. I’d see a bridge coming up and then zoom, I was past it. As the river got thinner, I’d see the walls zooming by. I felt so fast. Feeds came and went. It was lovely.

I had two mantras during this (these?) swim(s): Swim to the next feed. If I ever felt blah, or wanted to quit (often), I’d just think swim to the next feed and reevaluate. Repeat.

The other mantra I’ve adapted from something David Barra, incredible marathon swimmer and founder of NY Open Water, said, and I paraphrase:

The most anyone can hope for during a marathon swim is to come to a general understanding with the body of water you’re swimming in.

So yes, your former atheist returned Catholic did, several times during difficult parts, ask for the river’s help with a push. I know the Harlem listened, wasn’t sure the Hudson did until the end, and didn’t start asking the East early enough.

After the Harlem we turned into the choppy Hudson. Very wide, with only one bridge very early on and very tall. It also went by pretty quickly, so I assumed I was still getting a push, but hard to tell with such distances. At the first feeding in the Hudson, I asked Agnes if that was bridge 19. She said nope, it’s the last one. That made me feel great! Only…I failed to remember looking at the map weeks ago. That bridge comes quickly and then there’s still something like 11 miles after that. Ugg.

The Hudson was tough. I wanted to quit several times. The water all around was slightly salty, but still too salty for my liking, and I was starting to hate the taste. I can’t say I ever got queasy like in Issyk Kul the first time, but a few times I thought “I think I’m gonna puke.” A couple times I was hoping I would puke so I could stop thinking about it. But then I’d change up my feed and hope for the best.

My feeds were water with Crystal Lite and Justin’s Nut Butters. I had also brought along small bite size pepperoni and baby bell cheeses. When I asked for one of those (“Agnes” stroke stroke “pepperoni” stroke stroke) she actually smiled. I think she must have thought it odd for a swimmer to bring those types of foods!

I grabbed a pepperoni, switched to elementary backstroke, and enjoyed the tangy taste. Same, later, with the cheese. Wonderful switch from the nuts.

Agnes had me in some fast water. I’d start to view buildings over in Jersey and watch as they were first at 1 o’clock relative to me, then quickly 2 o’clock and then I’d zoom by them. I was very thankful. But suddenly she gave me the sign to swim away from her and she had me take quite the angle away. I was very confused when I saw some pilings. Wait! There’s no turn in the Hudson. What are we doing.

The NYPD boat had us get out of the middle of the Hudson because a cruise ship was backing up and departing. They pushed us to an isolated cove where some folks were learning how to kayak. Agnes got me up to date. She continued to follow my rule of not telling me how far I’ve gone or how far I’ve got, thank God. I asked her for some cheese and pepperoni. “Yeah, might as well have a picnic while we’re here.” In a few minutes (five?) the cops told us we could continue.

I knew at some point I’d see coming into my 1 o’clock Lady Liberty. Yet, at the same time, I really didn’t want to look for her. I was afraid she’d be so incredibly tiny that I’d know I still had a long way to go. Thankfully, it was so choppy I really couldn’t and wouldn’t be able to see her as the waves were blocking anything small over there. So I just stuck with the buildings abeam of me and kept stroking. One more time, who knows how long after the first time, they pulled us over again, this time for a ferry, so I ate and gabbed. More quickly we were back on it.

My crew, my kids Sam and Maggie, took tons of pictures, as did Agnes. I figured I was passing historical stuff. I didn’t want to look. I just wanted this over with. At one point, as the island curves to the left, I caught a glimpse of One World Trade Center. Pier 25, where we loaded the boats in the morning, is right there at that building. And it was still far away. Ugg. Dammit. When will this swim be done? Why not just quit?

No! So I kept stroking. At one of my later feedings I took a glance to the left, and One World Trade Center was closer, grand and tall. Thank goodness, that means I only have a little ways to go. I waved off the next two feeds and just kept going. I had enough liquids in me as I was peeing once or twice between each feed. Let me finish this!

It never seemed to end, but I knew I was close as Ed was back with his jet ski but this time smiling. I started to hear cheering and thought it was nice of those folks to cheer for the last place guy. Then I heard my sister-in-law’s whistle (incredible!) and knew it was my family. Then a horn went off, Agnes smiled and raised her paddle and I was done.

Sure enough, my family (20+ folks!) were all there, along with dozens of others wishing me well. It was awesome. I got on Ed’s bladder torture board and he took me to my boat, where I immediately emptied the rest of my bladder.

Back at Pier 25, we alighted from All Aboard, thanking Paul for his help. I thanked Hsi-Ling for her help today, and proceeded to the bathroom to change. Along the way I met another swimmer that started with me (sorry, can’t remember your name!) and his observer (Patty) and we gabbed a bit about the swim. After I was changed we went and found Agnes, running into Rondi along the way. She was telling me she was sorry about me not getting past Hell’s Gate (that should have clued me in, that name!). OMG, Rondi, not your fault! The fault was all mine! You were amazing!

Agnes gave me back all my stuff, we hugged many times, got pictures (no jumpography, this time), and promised to stay in touch. (I can 100% recommend her for anyone doing this, or any other NYOW swim.)

The kids and I took a taxi down to Pier A where my family all were waiting for me. Felt great to see them all, get and give hugs and kisses (we’re a very touchy family…Italians) and then proceed to the Pier A Harbor House to try and find room for 21 people to eat. We found 3 tables that covered 16 of us. The table next to mine had two men at it with beer. I offered to buy their next beers if they’d give the table to us. They refused the beers and said no problem, they just needed to pay their bill then they’d move to the bar. What wonderful people New Yorkers are!

We ordered and ate. I hardly tasted my tuna burger. For the first time ever I was unable to finish a Brooklyn Brewery beer (Summer Ale). I think it was the salty water, but my voice was like I’d been shouting all day and nothing tasted right, especially that beer.

We finished up, my family and I started the 2.3 mile (according to Google) walk to the house, and the rest of the family went to their rentals up by Times Square. I agreed to the walk when my sister told me “You’re only staying a mile from here.” About 15 minutes into the walk, when I still didn’t recognize anything, I asked my sister-in-law, “This is a long mile.” She said, “No, we were 2.3 miles away.”  Ugg. So I can add a 2+ mile walk to my list of stuff I did that day!

All in all, great and difficult experience. My sincerest thanks to the wonderful people of NY Open Water: Dave Barra, Rondi Davies and Alex Arévalo. Thanks to Hsi-Ling Chang for observing my swim, to Paul Stone for piloting the boat, and super big hugs to Agnes Michalek for getting me around the island and through some tough spots, both physically and mentally. Finally, love, hugs and thanks to my crew-kids Sam and Maggie who didn’t mind getting up at 0400 to spend the next 14 hours with their dad, instead of seeing more of NY. I could not have done it without you all!

Issyk Kul One Year On

July 6, 2017 | 2016 Season, Spirit of Marathon Swimming, Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

A year ago today I successfully swam across lake Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan. I became the first American and second person to cross the lake, also the first person to swim across the historical route, on the western side of the lake, between the villages of Kara-Talaa in the south and Toru Aygyr in the north.

Since my crossing, Peace Corps volunteer and FIU swimmer Sarah D’Antoni also crossed the lake, becoming the first woman and second American to cross the lake and simultaneously destroying my time by about 1:20, setting the course record of 4:43.

My hope after my crossing was to show the Kyrgyz people how wonderful their lake is for open water swimming. I have a dream that sometime in the future there will be an Ironman-length triathlon held there. There already is a marathon held along the lake each year. Once they finish repaving the road encircling the lake, the bike route will be safe enough for a 112-mile race. And we already know the second largest alpine lake in the world has plenty of water for a measly 2.4 miles!

But my  greatest wish is that some locals will start crossing the lake. And it looks like that is going to happen! On July 16th this year, five swimmers will attempt to replicate mine and Sarah’s crossings, following all the same rules that we did last year. [Edit: Within two hours of composing and scheduling this post for publication, my friend contacted me and informed me that these swimmers have decided to change the date to 6 August and to wear wetsuits.] The news of the Lake Issyk Kul Swim Challenge, when I read about it on 3 July, excited me so much, it was a little embarrassing. Like a little kid Christmas morning! I hope to be able to bring you, dear reader(s), good news on 16 July about five new names in the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation database. Good luck to all the swimmers!

Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Challenge

July 3, 2017 | 2018 Season, Iconic marathon swim, Spirit of Marathon Swimming, Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

I was terribly excited today to see a notification pop up in my FB account. Someone uploaded a picture to the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation.

Turns out my local doctor from my crossing has been talking up the wonderfulness of swimming across Issyk Kul with some triathletes and swimmers at World Class Fitness in Bishkek, and these guys have decided to try their hand at crossing the lake!

My doctor friend is getting more info from the guys attempting this and will pass it on to me, so I’ll do another blog entry after I learn more. What I have learned so far is that they’re going to follow the rules that I followed: no wetsuit, no touching the boat, dry land to dry land, same route I did almost a year ago (6 July 2016).

So glad to see this beautiful lake get some love from swimmers. Oh, and they intend to do this every year, so perhaps this’ll be on Iron Mike’s schedule next year!

Eurasia Cup, July 1st

July 2, 2017 | 2017 Season | Permalink

Yesterday I swam my second time with the wonderful people at the Eurasia Cup open water series here in Moscow. As mentioned before, these folks have a series of 14 open water swims throughout (mostly western) Russia, including four in Moscow proper. It was a wonderful surprise for me this time around in Russia.

The wonderful organizer of the series, Fyodor Teplyukhin, Master of Sport, gifted me the shirt above, the only one in blue. I had asked him over FB how I purchase one of his shirts, and his only response was to ask me my size. When I got to the swim yesterday, one of the young volunteers, Yegor, called to me, “Michael, I have a shirt for you.” I learned a little lesson in Russian next:

Me: How much [does it cost]?

Yegor: XL

Me: Ah! I mean: how much does it cost?

Apparently, in all my years of studying this infuriating language, I never knew that their word for “how much” also applies to the size of things. I had to throw the verb (“to cost”) in there in order for him to understand I was asking how much the shirt cost. Then, of course, he looked at me and said: “Michael, no charge!” These guys are so nice.

Anyway, on to the swim.

It was a nice day, although the last few weeks in Moscow (actually the whole summer) have been weird, weather-wise. We seem to go through all versions of summer here in one day, from blazing hot, to cool breezes, to thunderstorms with crazy winds.* All in one day. Yesterday’s forecast called for partly sunny with 20% chance of rain. It was beautifully sunny upon arrival and pretty much kept to the promise of partly cloudy throughout.

Registration was quick, as they know me. I paid my fee, got my cap and chip. This time the whole family came. Daughter #1 was going to run the entire time I was swimming, in preparation for her marathon in September. Daughter #2 and my wife brought their scooters, so they were set to have a nice day scooting around the lake and verdant parks in this part of Moscow.

I was looking around for people I recognized from the previous two swims. No one looked familiar; seemed there were fewer people there than on 11 June. That’s too bad. I was hoping to see my friend who worried about me without wetsuit at the last swim here in Strogino lake. The girls and I went to the start.

We watched the 3.8k swimmers line up. Very happy to see a couple skins swimmers, including a woman who ended up finishing second, and a couple of men in speedos. The water didn’t feel any warmer than last month, but I was soon to learn that it was. As I started to walk into the starting corral, I heard someone call my name. Sure enough, it was my friend Damir from the 11th. He was there with his wife and son. He came right up to me and said, “Michael, I want you to know that because of your example the last time, I have decided to swim today without wetsuit.” I congratulated him, told him he’d enjoy it, and see him at the finish. (He beat me by about 10 minutes last time.)

Thirteen of us, ready to go, two “brave” souls without wetsuits. I think they all would have enjoyed the swim without the suits. The initial dive-in was cold, sure, but unlike last time, where I would hit cold pockets and feel a little shock, this time there were no cold or warm spots. The water was deliciously cool the entire time. I forgot about the water temperature within about six strokes and just concentrated on following the route, which was a little different than last time.

Last time, we started down the beach about 100m to the right of the finish area (the blue box on the right in the circle). This time we started right by the recreation building, to the left of those “sea” pools (the blue box on the left in the circle). Otherwise, it was pretty close to the same. We didn’t go as far to the right of the lake; in fact, that half-submerged houseboat that confused me last time was no worry this time. We didn’t swim close to it at all. The 3.8k swimmers did that big loop once, while we did a small 2k loop after the big one.

We started about five minutes after the 3.8k swimmers, and I was shocked pretty early on, maybe a kilo in when I passed a couple of them. That is quite a boost, really. However, something about how I wore my cap wasn’t working for some reason. The damn thing kept trying to come off. I had to do quick stops often in the first half of that big loop to adjust it. I got pretty good at using one hand to pull it back down my forehead while stroking with the other arm (aligning with my coaching maxim: Always be moving forward).

The wind was really howling yesterday and there were parts of the swim where I thought I was swimming in the ocean. On that long stretch at the top of the lake, the wind was coming from behind, which a lot of people like. Me, not so much. I don’t mind the push, but along with each wave comes the downward part where you feel like you’re going backwards. Hate feeling like I’m not making progress! In addition to that, the buoy kept blowing up between my back and sometimes between my right arm and body, interfering with my stroke.

A word about their safety cover. Very robust, but not like in the states. No kayaks or SUPs. Nope, they have rubber dinghys, jet skiis, small motorboats. And if they need to get to a swimmer, they don’t care if their propulsion kicks up waves! (They were, however, very aware of where all the swimmers were, so no worries about being run over.) We also had the MChS (Coast Guard) boat out there too. The day being so windy, one end of the lake (left-most in the map above) was full of windsurfers. The MChS guys kept them on their end of the lake, except for the one who got through and breezed by me only about 10m away.

Swinging around on that big loop I caught the wind in my face for what seemed like a very long time. At this point I passed another 3.8k swimmer, and for the entire return trip to the finish chute he was behind me. Another boost to my ego. I made a tactical error when completing this big loop. Last time, there were buoys near the finish chute, and we 5.8-ers were to swim between the finish chute and those buoys and then head off on our small loop. Well, I swam toward the finish chute, but then saw another orange cap (5.8k) swimming along to the next buoy, and the straight line to that next buoy was much shorter than it would be if I went to the chute. I adjusted toward that buoy and put my head down. Then I remembered Fyodor telling another one of the swimmers at the briefing that we needed to swim “near the finish chute.” Damn. I took a sighting again and noticed a different orange cap swimming close, right past the chute. OK, that’s confirmation enough for me. I adjusted tack again and went to the chute. Once close, I took what felt like a sharp left turn and headed out for the small loop.

When we first passed these first buoys, there were four of them. Easy to know if you were hitting them correctly. The first and third had a white top while the second and fourth were all red. In the explanation, Fyodor told everyone “Swim past the buoy with the white hat, then without, then with the hat, then without.” Well, at some point after everyone passed the buoys the first time, they took the third buoy away. That confused me. Did I miss one or swim on the wrong side of it? Scan the horizon. Nope, it’s gone. Head down. Pull.

One of the boats was with me when I turned around the fourth (third now) buoy. I knew to aim for the very large/tall buildings, but I picked the wrong ones. The boat guys aimed me in the right direction, I picked out what to sight on, and again: head down and pull. I was dying to ask them if I was the last swimmer. They stayed with me just about the entire time. But, shortly after turning, probably between pulls 300 and 400 (yes, I count my strokes), I saw another 5.8k swimmer pass me going the opposite way. Hurray! I’m not last!

The wind was blowing so hard that by the time I got to the finish chute, it was perpendicular to me. Initially I thought “Jeez, how off course am I?” Then after landing and waiting for others to come in, I could see how the waves were moving the chute all over the place. I was indeed not the last, or second or third last. While the results don’t show it, there was another male swimmer who came in about 20 minutes after me. I remember because he had bare arms, and Damir’s wife and son thought it might be Damir, until the guy got to the finish chute and we all realized he had on a farmer John wetsuit. He was pretty hilarious, actually, because he put his timing chip on his foot. We were trying to figure out what he was doing hanging on the finish banner, until we saw him pull his wetsuit leg up and hit the banner with his ankle. For some reason, he is not listed in the results.

Damir finished just under three hours. We cheered him in, and I asked him how he felt. He loved swimming without the wetsuit. I think I’ve converted him!

As for me, I cut about 19 minutes off my last time. I think I swam straighter, too, at least that was my thought when I finished and turned off my Garmin. Last time, I swam 7.2k over a 5.8k course. Poor navigation. This time, the Garmin read 5.98k. Wow! Significant improvement. Then I got home and uploaded the tracks and got this.

The Garmin lost sync twice for some reason. I wasn’t doing backstroke or anything. In fact, it kind of pissed me off the first time. See, whenever I train, I set the GPS to beep/shake at me every kilometer. I turn that off for races. I was sure I turned it off. But sure enough, a bit into this swim, the Garmin starts vibrating. Dammit, I thought, it’s still set for every kilometer. Then, nothing else for a very long time. I kept waiting for the second kilometer. By the time I got to the finish chute the first time, I knew something was up. I thought maybe the Garmin turned off for some reason, or I had accidentally (how?) hit the lap button. Then, on the small loop, the Garmin went crazy again. What the hell is going on? Well, that map above shows what happened. And this continued later when we tried to find a different way home. The car GPS couldn’t get a connection either. Weird.

So, bottom line, not sure I swim straighter (5.98k) compared to last swim. I can tell you I swam faster! This time I swam it in 2:16.26 whereas last time it was 2:35.21. Nice!


*There’s a joke in Moscow that goes: How can you tell it’s summer in Moscow? The picnic got cancelled. 


June 29, 2017 | 2017 Season | Permalink

Already scheduled for a swim back in Strogino for Saturday the 8th of July. (Also this Saturday!) Then on Monday one of my FB groups pops up alerting me to yet another 5k in Moscow on the very same day. And that one is even closer to my house!

But, I’m already committed to returning to Strogino to try and improve my time from earlier this month. So nice to have choices though!

In other news, Yes!

Today’s the day!

June 25, 2017 | Uncategorized | Permalink

NY Open Water is holding the first iteration of the 20 Bridges circumnavigation of Manhattan right now! To follow along, go to the tracker page here.

In about a month’s time I’ll be attempting the same and will also have a tracker. I will of course publicize it here at my blog.

Good luck to the 12 swimmers in the water today!

Sri Chinmoy Nautical Mile Swim in Moscow

June 24, 2017 | 2017 Season, Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

On Monday last week I learned of yet another open water swim happening in Moscow. The Sri Chinmoy nautical mile swim took place today in a little offshoot of the Moscow canal. I was unsure what to think of it, having seen the canal in other parts of the city. (Hint: not clean!) But I shouldn’t have worried; the area was great and the water was fine.

Yes, that sign says “Swimming Prohibited”

The swim was held concurrent with a triathlon, the final of three events the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Club of Moscow holds, the other two events being a duathlon and aquathlon. The triathlon swim was 750 meters, or one small loop. Ours was two larger loops, as described below:

Two loops, keeping the red buoys on my left until coming back on the second loop, hit the yellow buoy with it on my right.

The water was great, reportedly 16C, but I think it was closer to 18C. Unlike the last swim I did a couple weeks ago, there were a few more skins swimmers.

The start was in waves, which was fine because we all had those sensor things on our ankles. The entry was grassy and silty, with about 10 meters you could run on, then you had to dive in and get to work. The water was a great temperature, and while the sun was out it was nice. Even when the sun went behind the clouds, the temperature was fine. No idea how those folks lasted in their neoprene prisons.

At the start I ran into a woman swimming on each side of me! Both were in wetsuits and I managed to draft off one of them for a bit, but she kept running into me when she would start breathing away from me, so I started to put on the gas. Not sure if that did anything; unsure if she did the same, but after a while she and I weren’t running into each other anymore. I also got passed by a wetsuit with an orange swim buoy, so I followed him/her for a loop and a half.

I stupidly opted to put my Garmin outside my cap this time, wrapped around the back of my goggles. It kept sliding to one side or the other. I adjusted a couple of times, but figured it would be alright. Boy was I wrong.

My goodness, I was all over the place! Lesson learned: put the Garmin under the cap from now on.

In and out pretty quick for me. Felt fast the entire time. Great swim.

Great organizers too! Didn’t even tell you about my registration. So, on Monday when I found the swim, I wrote on their FB page asking if it was too late to sign up. They said no and sent me the registration page URL. No issues with paying this time because everyone had to pay at the event. I signed up, and even put MSF as my club.

So I showed up in time to get my timing chip and swim cap. When I got to the table they asked my name. “Michael Tyson” I proudly responded. All of a sudden, a lovely young lady put her hand to her mouth and started apologizing. Seems as she was going through the list yesterday, she saw the name and thought someone was playing a joke on them, so she tried calling me. I didn’t hear the call, so she assumed someone was joking, so she removed me from the registration list. Uh-oh!

Thankfully, there were still plenty of spots and caps, so she signed me back up and of course only charged me the cost for those who registered prior to the day-of. She was so sweet. She saw me later going toward porta-potties that were closed and redirected me, apologizing again for de-registering me last night. After the swim, the wife and I went to the refreshments.

Yep! On the left is borscht, while on the right they had a warm lemon/ginger drink, as well as coffee and tea! So very Russian. While I was waiting in line, my wife decided to not get any because she figured it was for the competitors. Our lovely new friend (above in orange sweatshirt) came over to my wife, insisting she get some borscht. “No, the food and drink is for everyone!” She was so nice. And boy was that borscht good (with sour cream of course).

We stayed and watched the triathletes come in and get their finishing medals and a small matroshka made specially for the event. When we were done eating and drinking and about to leave, another one of the organizers, who was at the table when I “registered” in the morning, came over and offered me one of the matroshkas. “We have plenty.” Again, so very sweet. I will definitely do this race again next year.

Swimming’s more fun with friends

June 18, 2017 | 2017 Season | Permalink

Or a friend. Went back to Strogino lake today, bringing my neighbor. He’s a triathlete, former head coach of the club team at University of Montana, and he’s fast! I had no chance of keeping up with him, with or without his wetsuit. Yes, he wore a wetsuit, but who could blame him. He’s skinny, with little bioprene on him like yours truly. It was a farmer john-style suit, and he felt the cold when he dove in. But so do I. It is cold. He was prepared to come back to shore to take his suit off if he got too hot. By the end of our short swim, he said that he was warm enough and probably could have gone without. I think the water today might have been a half or full degree C warmer than yesterday. But who the hell am I to know. I’m often wrong. One of these days I’ll buy a pool thermometer.

Today we swam to the sunken houseboat. I had thought it was 300-400 meters away. Nope. I wore the Garmin outside my cap this time, and my fellow swimmer checked out the distance once we got there. A little over 500 meters. Nice!

The black dot is half-way through the first leg of our swim today. That first leg ends at the houseboat. We then sighted on a very high building to the southeast for the next leg. Where you see that little dip in that leg is where we stopped for a boat. The boat was going nice and slowly and the driver even waved to me, so I was sure that she saw me. We continued on till we couldn’t see the building anymore (the trees blocked it). We then turned back and headed straight (as straight as I could) back to the start. I sighted on the same buildings I had sighted on for the final leg of that race I did last weekend. It was a nice strong push for home, a little over a kilometer (I counted my strokes). But just as I was getting close to home, one of those MChS (Russian Coast Guard) boats stopped right by me. The driver told me no more swimming through the middle of the lake; I needed to keep “along the shore.” Damn.

So next weekend I’ll probably do a couple legs to the houseboat and along the coast, back and forth, boring. 🙁

Nice swim in Strogino

June 17, 2017 | 2017 Season | Permalink

For reasons beyond my control, I had to bail on the 10k in St. Petersburg this weekend. No worries. I would make up for it by fitting in a couple of open water swims in the lake I swam in last weekend, Strogino.

Brought the family. My eldest daughter ran (12+ km!) while my youngest and wife walked around the lake. I aimed to do 1:40 (to match my running daughter’s plan), but forgot to look at my watch when I started. I set my Garmin to vibrate every kilometer. My goal was 4k, knowing that I am slow in open water and when swimming by myself I stop a lot. From boaters not paying attention to me wanting to look at the surroundings, I just tend to stop often when I’m not “racing.”

And today was no different. I decided to try some new speedo goggles I bought a couple months ago. They are purportedly for open water, and I got them for a good price, so might as well try them now. Big mistake! No, that’s not fair. Better to try them today when timing didn’t matter. But they are not for my face. Nice goggles, otherwise. But I either have to wear them loosely (in which case water finally does seep in) or crank them tightly (and have my eyelashes hit the inside of the goggle cup…annoying!). I stopped about 10 minutes into the swim today and opened up my dry bag (uh-oh) to get out my regular pair. I did this operation as carefully as possible, but found out upon completion of the swim that I did get some water inside.

This whole operation took a while, as per Mr. Garmin. Almost 2:30. First had to open the dry bag. Then pull out the new goggles, stuffing them in my suit. Then close the dry bag. Then take off the outer swim cap. (Stuff that in my suit.) Take off the Garmin, hold that carefully. Then take off the leaky goggles. Stuff those in my suit on the other side. Continue holding on to the Garmin. Put the new goggles on. Insert the Garmin between the goggle straps. Put on the outer swim cap. Done? Nope. Take off the buoy. Thread the crap goggles onto the waist belt. Don the buoy. Now done. Thinking about it, I’m surprised it only took me 2-ish minutes!

Here’s the Garmin tracks:

That little diamond in the middle West of the track was fun. I found a field of white and red buoys. On the way back from that far turn, as I approached the half-sunken houseboat I talked about last entry, I came across this field. I decided to swim around it a couple times, practicing my sighting. It was nice! There’s a little pier out there. I did catch a boater coming out of the other side of the pier while circling those buoys, happy to be on the “safe” side.

The water was nice, probably 16-17C like last week. I was the only person in the water, besides the windsurfers on the northeast side of the lake. People were looking at me funny, but no one said anything. On the way back from that far point I heard (underwater) a boat coming. As always when I hear that, I stop and look around. Far enough away from me (100m?) and going like a bat out of hell was an MChS (Ministry of Emergency Conditions…think Coast Guard) boat. He was aiming toward that far point in the above map. What you can’t see is a little south of the end point there is an opening where this lake attaches to the River Moscow. In total, three boats during my swim, all far enough away from me. Not sure if that means the pilots saw me or not.

Tomorrow I’m going back with one of my neighbors, a triathlete. He’ll be in a wetsuit and I’ll bring a nice and brightly visible cap in case he doesn’t have one. Two swimmers in the water are better than one, but I always worry about these dark black wetsuits when the waters are dark, like this lake. Tune back in tomorrow for another report!

Eurasia Cup, 11 June 2017, Swim Analysis

June 12, 2017 | 2017 Season | Permalink

(First part here. Second part here.)

Now on to the analytics. Here’s my Garmin track.


As you can see, I’m all over the place. I really don’t swim very straight. Probably due to my breathing. For this swim, like almost all of my swims, when the rubber hits the road (hand hits the water?), despite all the bilateral breathing practice, I still breath on my right only. I caught myself slicing to the right. I used my usual breath every 8-10 then sight, and whatever I was aiming on moved to the left, so I’d have to adjust. All this back and forth, zigging and zagging, added more than a kilometer to what I swam. One of these days I’m going to have to practice what I (used to) preach.

To be sure, I took the turn points, the buoy locations, from my tracks above (I hugged all the buoys, that much I was sure to do) and put them into Google, then measured the distance. I came up with 5.9km. The Garmin came up with 7.2km from my not-straight routing.


As I’m not in the running for any sort of competitive team, I’m not all that upset about my navigation. Again, I still prefer to breathe every or every other right. When I’m escorted I go pretty darn straight, of course. Those are the times that my swim-time really matters. Issyk Kul last year and Manhattan next month.

Now that I’ve got all the logistics for swimming here in Russia down, I’m looking forward to the next one at this location. I hope the organizers keep the same routing, since I now know what to look out for (that damn houseboat!). We’ll see on 1 July.