Tbilisi Swim Fest (guest post)

Today we have a guest post from my friend Jen, telling us about her win at the Tbilisi Swim Fest last month!

I’ve become a distance-ish swimmer over the past five years or so.  I was a competitive diver for many years as a kid, but continued swimming as an adult – for fitness and because I love the water.  While I was in Moscow with Mike, he encouraged me to train and increase my distances – we did training swims in the Moscow River and a great race in Sochi in Oct. 2017.

Last summer I trained for the first Eurasia Swim Cup to be held here in the Tbilisi Sea (actually a large reservoir) in September, just outside of the capital Tbilisi, Georgia, where I currently live.  I trained regularly with a friend of mine, Barry, and was pretty disappointed when it was cancelled due to lack of interest.

Fast forward to this summer – I started out pretty strong in the pool 2-3 mornings per week, but when Barry moved away in July, I got lazy.  I would swim a mile on the weekend (to remind myself I could), but it’s amazing how much more motivating a training partner can be.  I did get a nice swim in Lake Bled in Slovenia in early July – I’d love to do a race there someday.

I signed up for the Tbilisi Swim Fest, part of the Swimcup series (Кубок Чемпионов) at the Tbilisi Sea on September 22, 2019 (the same guys who did the 2017 Sochi Swim – they do a fabulous job).  I experienced issues registering online since I don’t have a Russian phone number, but emailed the organizers who registered me for the 3k.  BUT, I got nervous because I hadn’t trained enough, so I changed to the 1852m race, which is always a comfortable distance for me.

View from water

The morning started off around 8:30a – they even had Georgian dancers provide great entertainment to start the day.

Georgian dancing

The conditions were rough so the organizers reduced the distances due to the weather and wave conditions.  I believe 7k became 4k, 3k became 1852m, 1852m became 1000m and 1000m became 500m.  I was given competitor #1 (which I’ve never been in any race) and waited until about noon for our start.  I was one of the only swimmers without a wetsuit in the entire Swim Fest – and the only one of four women in the 1000m race swimming skins. Water was 18C, but compared to the chilly, windy air, I was so glad I didn’t wear one.

That’s me!

The water felt really good, although it resembled an ocean swim, especially the first portion, swimming into the waves.  After the turnaround, swimming with the waves was more fun, but many of us were annoyed at the buoy impeding our stroke (the rope needs to be longer, so it doesn’t chafe under the arm).

Thumbs up!

I finished in 13:06 and ended up surprising myself with first place for the women.  When I finished, I wanted to keep swimming – I would have much rather swum a longer race (my fault for not sticking to the 3k!).  But I was certainly glad I showed up.

I won!

They handed out beautiful medals and Georgian wine for those who placed.  Alexander Koshkin, a paraswimmer, competed as well, showing us that nothing is impossible.

First place swag

Sadly, the season is ending, but I may try my hat at a SwimRun next year.  Have fun everyone and JUST KEEP SWIMMING!

Group pic

Damn cold

Wow! Took 14 days off from the open water, and boy oh boy, that was a mistake. Last time I swam outdoors, 66F was the temp I believe. Bearable. Even warm.

Saturday, however, not so much. Different place, sure. But holy crap. 54 freakin’ degrees. Brrrr…

As I walked in there were three guys throwing a tennis ball around, diving into the water. They were complaining about the water temp, as I would have if I had friends swimming with me, and I asked them if they wanted to know the temp. One of them guessed 54F. The thermometer said 56F. We both agreed it was cold.

15 minutes later, after much head-out-of-the-water breast stroke, I looked at the thermometer: 54F. F for freakin’ cold. That local was right. Damn.

So, only 38 minutes and 0.84 miles, hardly anything. Except a lot of cold water adaptation. Really looking forward to the Vampire swim at the end of October; really think I’ll actually be able to swim this year instead of just stand in cold water!

The Lady Swims

What a week for marathon/channel swimming!

Sarah Thomas, already holder of the longest current-neutral swim in the world at 104.6 miles (67 hours 16 minutes), went and changed what we thought about human endurance by swimming the English Channel four times in a row without stopping. Yes, dear reader(s), that means she entered the water from England, swam to France, turned around and swam back to England, turned around and swam back to France (at that point becoming only the fifth person to swim a triple), then turned around and swam back to England, where she finally got to lay down and rest.

No one has ever done this. Only four people had ever done a triple, and none of them got back in the water and even started to swim a fourth leg. Sarah swam straight for 54 hours and 10 minutes, and her comment at the end was “I’m pretty tired right now.” No crap!

Sarah is a powerful swimmer and one can see from the plots that she had some serious fights with the water during those 2+ days. English Channel rules for multiple legs require the swimmer to clear the water and immediately re-enter, but if any part of the swimmer is still in the water, the swimmer then has 10 minutes before they have to start swimming again. All other rules are the same: no one can touch the swimmer, swimmer can’t touch anyone else. But the swimmer’s support can hand them food, lanolin, etc, as long as the swimmer does everything herself.

Currents were such for the first leg that Sarah “landed” at a rock in France where all she could do was hang on; no beach to rest on for 10 minutes. She held onto the rock while her support swimmer, another incredible marathon swimmer named Elaine Kornblau Howley, handed her lanolin and cooked rice. But, as Sarah reflects in her after-action report, those 10 minutes were up pretty quickly and she was off on lap 2.

Lap 1 done, off on lap 2

Lap 2 took Sarah back to England and again, because of currents (and some other swimmers starting their swims on the beach), she got pushed to a seawall and had to tap the wall, signifying end of lap 2 and start of lap 3. She was so looking forward to a moment of zen on the beach there but had to go straight back to work. But as those of us who follow this amazing swimmer have grown used to seeing, she was all business and continued her powerful swim.

Lap 2 done, off on lap 3

It wasn’t until the end of lap 3 that Sarah finally got to rest, on a rock that she could sit on. Still not a beach. And after more than 36 hours of swimming.

The horrible lap 4

Her 10 minutes up, Sarah headed out for lap 4, making history. Lap 4 sounds horrible, and I don’t know how the hell she did it. To see the video of her landing, one wonders how she could even hold herself up long enough to clear the water. And how she was still awake.

Sarah on the beach © NBC News

Oh, and did I mention Sarah was nauseous throughout? Puking throughout the first three laps? She’s a “freak of nature,” right Sarah‘s mom?!

Sarah is an international star, especially in Britain. She’ll be back in the states this weekend and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of her on the news in this country next week. She has in every media event lauded her crew as the reason she made it through. She’s an incredible swimmer but even more so, she recognizes that this is not an individual sport. None of us can make any of our swims without the support of awesome people who volunteer their time for our insane pursuits.

Sarah, because of her professionalism, openness about her swims, and strength, has earned the respect of everyone in the marathon swim community and is an example for other swimmers to follow, especially those who claim to follow the “fair, just, ethical and agreed-upon rules of our sport.”

Observant readers may wonder why I’ve linked every instance of Sarah‘s name in this post. Well, every single linked “Sarah” is a different news outlet telling the world about this incredible feat. To include foreign press, so you might be surprised at some of the links.

Revere not so cold

Where all the cold water at?

Revere today was delightfully warm at a constant 66F throughout my crazy track. Sun was out, people were lying on the beach, all in all, a great day of swimming.

Swam over toward where the breakwater rocks are, but this time the tide was in; seems I’m always there when the tide is out. Nice to have deeper water today. Once I got over to that area, I turned west and hugged the shore for quite a while. As the water got shallower, I did a 180 and headed back out. I saw a buoy way off, near the jetty, so I aimed for that. Within about 300 strokes I couldn’t find it anymore. Stopped and sure enough, I had just passed it. Seemed farther away!

I swam north toward the large rose-colored building I aim for often. Swam for a while and saw that I was beyond where I entered. The wife and I discussed prior to the swim that I’d get out down by the bathrooms to use the showers. I’ve never used the bathrooms there, so had no idea if they’d still be open and if the outdoor showers would still be on.

Started heading in and saw a weird group of birds floating near the beach. Weird color for a bird, and they seemed to be floating and moving in sync. A few strokes later and I realize it was an old man floating on his back. Whoops.

Came in and walked to the showers. A bunch of high school-aged kids were out and about with trash bags cleaning up the beach. So nice! Showers were on, washed my feet off and managed to keep them sand-free to the car. Another successful swim at Revere! But, when is the water gonna go below 60F?!

Revere getting a wee bit colder!

Had a nice swim today back at my old haunt, Revere Beach.

Yes, those are Mennonites out enjoying the beach. The kids were so cute!

Water was cold! Colder than last weekend by far. I stupidly forgot my thermometer, but I’d guess 62-63F. Not as cold as the Salem swim at the beginning of August. Hardly any waves; tide was going out.

My wife used the time to go get in a good walk, getting 6400 steps in the hour+ that I was in the water. I got 1.73 miles in, which was fine. Again, I enjoy looking around too much! Although this time I stopped less often. Did about 1300 strokes to the jetty to the south, where I found my wife hopping around on the rocks. I thought of getting up on the rocks with her for a selfie, but the shallow water had so many rocks there I didn’t want to get rolled. So instead she took a pic of me.

Wife took pictures of me as I was approaching the point in the picture above. I often wonder how visible I am. Mostly because of crazy boaters and jet skiers. The first picture below is zoomed in.

This next picture was taken seconds later, not zoomed in.

Still kinda visible, at least the orange SaferSwimmer buoy. My bright yellow MSF cap, not as much; most of it is underwater after all. When I wear my lime-green rash guard, I think I’m even more visible, but I’ll have to test that out next time my wife goes with me.

Made my way back to finish up the hour. Beach got a bit more crowded when I got back to the beach, sun-worshipers enjoying the day. I love seeing people out. Unlike when I was last here, and even last weekend at Nahant, there were no swimmers! One couple went down to the water and dipped their toes in and did some glamour shots, but nothing above the ankle got wet.

Was able to dry off, change and sit on the beach for a bit till my wife got back. Really beautiful day out there. Wonder what the water temp will be next weekend?

Summer’s over

Unfortunately, summer’s over. At least up here in New England. Had some beautiful days lately. The kinds where you can turn off the a/c and open all your windows. Really perfect.

Bostonians are already wearing jackets. It’s not that cold yet. But I guess low 60s and cool in the shade is too much for some. Speaking of 60s, the water at Nahant Beach yesterday was 66-67F. Beautiful. Not at all cold. Not anymore. I’m sure I would have considered it cold last year. So nice to be sorta acclimated to the water!

August was a good month for me, swimming-wise. Got 13 swims in, totaling a bit over 17 hours of swimming (the more important of two metrics) and 26.34 miles. Also got a lot of books read (another hobby) and lots of language study (ditto). Took a language test and got great results. All in all a banner month for Iron Mike!

Friday was my last day at Mirabella. I’m gonna miss that odd-ball of a pool. Crystal clear and clean water. Great views. Had time for a 2-mile swim on the last day. A great way to end the outdoor-pool season. But it got even better.

Yep. That old lady is the USS Constitution. This is the second time she’s sailed by me while swimming laps and at least the fourth time she’s been out this summer. I’m embarrassed to say that prior to moving to Boston I thought she couldn’t ever leave port. That she was permanently installed somewhere along the harbor. Nope. She still can sail. There’s active duty Navy sailors assigned to her. They all learn how to sail her and they actually take her out. I’ve seen her with her sails unfurled as well as like above. I wasn’t gonna miss her this time so mid-way between miles 1 and 2 I jumped out, grabbed the phone and took her picture.

That’s her returning to port a couple hours later sailing past the Coast Guard base, firing her cannons. She’s a beauty!

I managed to get 21 swims in in open water this summer, and will get more in before the year is up. I want to see how far into fall I can go. Some of you dear readers know that last Halloween I tried to swim in 51F and managed a few strokes before standing up and walking out. Then this past May I did 34 minutes in 50-51F at Winthrop. I wonder how much lower and/or longer I can go?

Brrr!

I bailed on the Boston Light this year, deciding after my slow-ass 10K in Rhode Island that I’m just not fast enough or salt-adapted enough to swim eight miles in five hours in Boston Harbor. Even with currents helping me. Then the race had to be canceled due to fog. I feel for the swimmers who traveled up here and paid for hotels and especially the boat pilot. Luckily, I gave mine enough notice that I didn’t lose anything but the entry fee.

But, as mentioned, I did get a 10K (really, 10.5K) in down in Rhode Island. It was so nice, if a lot of work, and nice and small with just a few swimmers. I’m looking forward to doing that one again next year. The area is really pretty.

The Beavertail 10K’s iconic buoy. (c) Mike Scott

And Salem. I stupidly signed up for both the 2-mile and 5K this year, even though they would both be on the same weekend. Figured sure, I can do both. Not so much. I was so wore out from the 2-miler, which I thought I swam fast, that I wasn’t moving my arms the next day, never mind for a 5K. The 2-miler was in wonderfully cold water, 58F or so. I was one of only a handful of skins swimmers. Unfortunately, the Wild Fish Swim people don’t differentiate skins from neoprene, my only complaint about that swim.

A few skins swimmers in a sea of neoprene

One more swim this season, and that’s my favorite Swim the Suck in Tennessee. I will write at length about that swim later. Looking forward to meeting up with everyone in October in Chattanooga!

But yes, summer is over. Mirabella is closed. I’ll have to move my pool swimming indoors. Gonna try a new Y close by, see if their pool is nicer than my local Y. The local one is ok, but sometimes the water tastes funny; I think something is up with their filtration system. I have literally been kicked out of the pool before because the chlorine level was zero. Yes, 0.0. How does that actually happen?

Edit: Forgot to mention my DD took a trip down to Cape Cod. She was excited about the beach. Then she saw this sign.

Rainy day swim

Got a nice fast swim in today down in Rhode Island. Went to McCorrie Pt and met up with Beavertail 10K veteran Dan. Dan is fast so it was quite a bit of work trying to keep up with him. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t.)

Ugly day…still better than not swimming

Water was choppy and there were bits of rain, so my arms now are sore as hell. Water deliciously warm at 72F. So salty. Low tide. Lots of boats, all moored. Tons of little squiggley jellyfish or something that feels like schmoshy sausages floating around in the water. At one point something big and bag feeling floated over my back. Also caught something in my underarm. If these are anything like the little squiggleys I met at Beavertail, then I’m gonna have some itchy spots in a day or two.

Fast forward to now, about 30 minutes after the above. My wife cut my hair and I showered McCorrie off of me. Sure enough, spots along my neck and under one arm. Itching ETA, 24 hours.

Dan swam fast as hell, getting to each of our checkpoints well before me and he waited, which was nice. Once we got to the far end, a bit over a mile, we turned around to swim back, straight through without stopping. He kept near the coast, I tried to beeline it back. I kinda did, as you can see in the screenshot below. My total was 1.95 miles while Dan’s was 1.99. (The loops at the bottom of Dan’s tracks is an extra mile he threw in at the end for an even 3 miles.)

My swim today: 1.95 miles
Dan’s swim

Been to Rhode Island 10-12 times. Swam there four times and only once was it sunny, and that was for Beavertail 10K. What’s up Rhode Islanders? You guys ever sunny?

Nahant swim with the kitesurfers

Checked out a different place today, near my usual haunt, Revere Beach. This time I went to Nahant Beach. I’d been warned about going anytime after 7am, due to limited parking and crowds. Well, part of that turned out to not be an issue today. Tons of parking and I even got a spot directly in front of beach entrance #6.

It really was a terribly pretty day. The one issue I had was the crowds…of kitesurfers. Seriously, look at all of them!

And that’s not all of them! At one point I stopped counting at 12. I had to be very careful entering the water. I waited till there was a space between kitesurfers then entered and began swimming as quickly as I could into the waves to get deep(er) so as to avoid them.

Two of them came close, but both made a point to look at me and wave. I appreciated this as it meant they actually saw me. I can’t be that hard to spot: I’m wearing a bright yellow MSF cap, a bright lime green rash/sun guard, and towing a bright orange buoy. That should be sufficient, I think.

As I mentioned, the water was pretty rough today, and it’s been weeks and weeks since I’ve been in salt water. In fact, I think the Beavertail 10K was the last time, so three weeks. I decided to do just a bit over a mile and then get out. That mile took forever. Half of it was me stopping to look out for the kitesurfers and to check out the views (it really is pretty there), the other half was me fighting those waves, trying to get distance. My moving time had me doing 100 yards at 2:10-ish, but with all the stops I ended up taking over 2:30 per 100y. No biggie.

If you were to go by the pic above, you’d think I’d forgotten to start Mr. Garmin till after I started. But the satellite view clears this up nicely, dear reader(s).

Low tide was about an hour in the past when I showed up, so got a nice push home near the end. If one were to come around that point at the bottom of the map (Eastern Point) then swim directly west for four miles, you’d end up on Revere Beach.

So, good day today. Oh! Water was wonderfully warm at 66-67F throughout. Couldn’t ask for a better temperature. If the water were flatter, would have stayed longer.

Issyk Kul Swim Challenge, 2019

I’m not that much of a marathon swimmer. That’s been proven by my 44% DNF rate. I’m not saying this to get a bunch of comments telling me I’m great. Thanks, but not needed. It’s a point of fact.

But one thing that I’ve done that is great, that I am terribly proud of, and not afraid to pat myself on the back for, is my Issyk Kul swim. But not for completing it, but for what came after.

Tomorrow, 18 August, begins the third annual Issyk Kul Swim Challenge, tracing my route from Kara-Talaa to Toru Aygyr in the second largest alpine lake in the world. What’s more, tomorrow 22 swimmers will start! Two of them, even, will be sans wetsuit: Madina Kurmandleva, a female swimmer from Kazakhstan and Tatiana Shatskikh, from Kyrgyzstan. (Yes, they’re the only ones.)

Finish arch night prior to race

For purposes of posterity, here is the start list. If previous years are anything to go by, some of these swimmers will bow out in the morning, but here’s hoping all swim.

My “in” over there in Kyrgyzstan, my chiropractor and massage therapist for my swims, Olesya Pakseleva, will report to me and provide pictures in the near future, and I’ll pass this all on here as soon as possible.

All I am is a body adrift in water, salt & sky