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

Lucy ceesa

March 4, 2017 | 2017 Season | Permalink

So we had some excitement this week. No, not me. Yes, I got some swims in. That’s not the big news.

Daughter #2 took part in an international swim meet here in Moscow. Her international school, Anglo-American School (AAS), hosted 7 other schools from Central and Eastern Europe (Bucharest, Baku, Kyiv, Sofia, Prague, Budapest, and Warsaw). It was a 2-day tournament and for the first time in her short swimming career, she had preliminary heats she had to swim in order to qualify.

The pool is SCM and her coach signed her up for 4 individual events and 2 relays. She made all her finals, which was wonderful for her. Below are her races and times. If her prelim time was faster I include that. Her place and number of total swimmers follows times.

50 SCM free 33.63 (33.46 prelim), 4/28;
100 SCM IM 1:25.60, 1/16;
200 SCM Team medley 2:31.48,  1/9 (Lucy did back: 38.61);
100 SCM free 1:16.71, 5/27;
50 SCM back 38.25, 3/21;
200 SCM relay 2:13.72, 1/9 (Lucy: 34.36).

Sadly, no pictures of her as they had to move the tournament from Sat/Sun back to Th/Fr and I wasn’t able to get off work. Her team (Middle School Girls) got 1st overall. Sadly, her medley relay team missed the school record by 0.02 seconds! (She wants her name up on the wall of honor so bad!)  She’s got one more tournament-chance to get her name on the wall under middle school girls. She’ll be working her buns off to go even faster in a couple months!

In the “what a small world” department

February 24, 2017 | Humor | Permalink

Did another great (feeling) swim today. Still babying my elbow, so a calm 10 x 500 with a little 100 back/free cool down. Felt great, elbow didn’t hurt. Did the 5000m in 1:40, which is great for me.

But the most amazing part of the swim today is when I showed up. My daughter’s coach (also named Mike) had a UT Longhorns t-shirt on. I gave him the Hook ’em Horns sign and mentioned that I was raised in Texas. He asked where. “Small town outside Houston” I said. “Really? Where?” When I told him where, he was shocked. “Did you go to Willowridge High?”  Sure enough, I did!

Ended up he went to the high school only 15 miles from my high school, and fewer than 10 miles from my home! He graduated Clements High in the fourth-ever class to graduate. I only know this because a guy that I knew from Scouts graduated in the school’s first-ever graduating class of something like 5 or 6 total students  in 1985.

It gets weirder. We of course talked about swimming and I mentioned my best friend from high school being the sole member of the Willowridge High swim team, and it turned out that Mike knew my friend. They both swam in the same club team! Even weirder, when I mentioned what suburb I lived in (Hunters Glen I), turns out Mike lifeguarded in the neighboring suburb, Hunters Glen III!

Wow, talk about a small world.

Happy birthday!

February 22, 2017 | 2017 Season, Humor | Permalink

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Today’s is my wife’s birthday. What does a marathon swimming husband do for his wife on her big 5-0?  Swim 50 x 100, of course!

Before you think I’m some kind of monster, rest easy, dear reader(s). My wife was at the gym too, only she was weight-lifting!

My 100s went well. The pool is SCM, so I’m not too fast in that size pool. The first ten were on a nice 1:45, getting to 1:50 by the end. But that wore me out. So I changed my interval to 2:10 for the next 30+. It’s funny how many meters I have to do before I feel loose and fast. I cut the interval down to 2:05 and even for 40-44 I swam them at just under two minutes so for those five 100s I took off right on 2:00. Then the last 5 x 100 I slowed it down to 2:15-ish, with the last one being half back/half free. Total time, 1:45. Great for me.

Wow, February already?

February 19, 2017 | 2017 Season | Permalink

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Hadn’t realized it has been so long since I posted. Jeez. Much has happened. For instance, I didn’t win the Marathon Swimmers Federation solo swimmer. Not big surprise for the competition I had. (Congrats Howard James!)

What has been happening most germane to my swimming was trouble with my elbow. I’ve had a bum elbow for quite a while. During my military retirement physical, the orthopedic doc, staring at an x-ray of my hinky joint, told me “I’ve never seen arthritis in an elbow, but I imagine if I were to look at one, this is what it would look like.”

Well, now that elbow gives me the occasional, and annoying, pain in the, um, elbow. The pain sometimes radiates down my forearm to my hand, putting parts of it to sleep. The pain is sharp and only lasts for a second, but the shooting pain down the arm lasts longer. I’ve tried to isolate when it happens; seems more so that it is when I’m extending for the pull.

A different pain occurs sometimes when I’m swimming in the tendons around the inner elbow. Using my crack research team (Google, WebMD), it seems what I’ve got there is golfer’s elbow. At least that’s the closest I can seem to find for that particular pain.

I’ve dealt with this over the last couple of months by lessening my swimming volume, but also quitting things like pull-ups, and holding heavy bags in my right hand. It seems to be doing the job. The last couple of weeks the swimming has felt fine, elbow-wise, if not volume-low (only about 4 miles a week the last two). I’m keeping the sessions boring and low-impact; no speed work, no intervals. I need my elbow to maintain for my summer plans and I hope this plan of LSD (not the drug, mom, but Long Slow Distance) will work.

This recent elbow pain came up in a conversation with my wife. She reminded me of my Issyk Kul swim last year. The day after on the drive home, I was sitting in the passenger seat and reached to the glove compartment with my right arm and pain immediately shot down the arm. Same pain. Dammit.

For that swim I had a regimen of pain killers which I followed. I’m not following that regimen with my weekly swimming. Maybe I should start taking 600mg of ibuprofen on the days that I swim and see if that helps. I’ll certainly be following a regimen in July in Manhattan!

So that’s what I’ve been doing since before Christmas. How about you, dear reader(s)? What have you been up to?


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.