Issyk Kul crossing: the swim!

(First part here, covering everything leading up to the swim.)

OK, so now on to the swim!

I woke at about 4:30 Wednesday morning, after a fitful 4 hours of sleep. (Maybe.) Woke my kids and wife up, and put on some shorts, grabbed my stuff, and left the room. My crew were already downstairs in the parking lot getting the gear together. The boat and crew were waiting for us at the pier.

My crew and I at oh-dark-thirty
My crew and I at oh-dark-thirty

We all got on the boat, but not before accomplishing the most important pre-swim ritual of jumpography.


We got on the boat and I proceeded to set myself up in the cabin for the ~2 hour trip to the south side of the lake. I knew I needed to rest…my nerves and my body.

Getting my crap ready
Getting my crap ready
Look at that sky. Yikes!

Sure, that sky might look ominous, but could you ask for better conditions on the lake?

Flat like a mirror
Flat like a mirror

Tried my best to sleep, and I think I even got some right before arriving at the launch point. I asked the crew to wake me 30 minutes prior to launch. All of a sudden Chris came into the cabin and told me to wake up. So of course I laid down to sleep more. Then about 5 minutes later I thought I better get up, so I asked my daughter to go ask the captain how close we were. She came back a minute later to tell me only 10 more minutes.

I got up, warned Sarah of the impending nudity (she ran out of the cabin quickly), and changed into my suit. I put my cap and goggles on and Maggie slathered me in sun screen. Next up came the baby butt cream (fancy people call it diaper rash ointment) under my arms and around my neck. By the time we were done with this, I headed out and Chris was ready with the kayak.


We were able to get so much closer to the shore than last year. I don’t understand lake fluid mechanics, but I don’t need to.

Captain Kurbat
Captain Kurbat

Kayaking took only a couple minutes to get us to shore. Plan was for me to get feet-dry and then raise both arms when I’m ready.


Both arms up = swim begins
Both arms up = swim begins

So, the swim began at 0651. The water felt good. I learned later that it was 18C, pretty much throughout the swim. Of course, the swim began as they always do. Me wondering why I signed up to do this. Why I spent countless (obviously not true as I counted for the last blog entry) hours in the pool. Why I voluntarily thrust myself into cold water at about a mile above sea level to swim for hours and hours. But, like I said, this is how my swims always begin (and talking to others, this is how their swims begin too).

So, from the log: mostly cloudy, flat water with a slight breeze from the west. Air temp was right at 19C. My stroke rate the first kilometer was 55 SPM. In fact, I swam the first kilometer in exactly 20 minutes, a good rate, but expected at the beginning of a swim, since nerves were driving me.

I told my crew I wanted to swim the first hour without any feeds. I had been training that way for some time, so I was ready and able to go without for an hour. First feed came up and Chris accidentally told me how far I’d gone. I yelled at him (sorry Chris!) and he never again told me. Looking at the logs now, I had swum 2.54 km in the first hour. Off my hoped for 3 km, but I expected as much with swimming at so much closer to the sun.

At an hour and a half, I was at 3.87 km. Somewhere around here I was still thinking “Why am I doing this?” Normally, that feeling is way gone by this point. On the positive side, I was peeing, which is important. (Last year, I never peed, and the doc and I think that might have helped me get nauseous.)

By 9am, the air temp was 21.6C. No wind and still overcast, with flat water. Only thing I wished for was the sun to come out. It peeked every once in a while, and it is amazing how much that does for one’s psyche. While the water remained 18C, there were cold spots that would bring my spirits down. Again, why the hell am I doing this?

But all the support I got leading up to this swim, not to mention the tough love I received from a very experienced marathon swimmer, kept me going. I didn’t want to fail anyone. And really, what’s 5 hours or so? I’ve done almost that much before.

At feed 5 (2:40 elapsed) is when I asked for some ibuprofen. My elbow started niggling me. I was really afraid that damn arthritis would knock me out. I was kind of keeping up with my timing based on the feeds, so I figured I was at about half done with the swim. Could I keep this up with a bum elbow?

At about 3:20 elapsed is when the sun started to come out. The ibuprofen was mixed in feeds 6-8, and must have done the trick because I didn’t think about my elbow again after feed 7. At 10:25 local my support swimmer and future Issyk Kul swimmer Sarah entered the water. She was way off to my right, and swimming so easily I immediately felt bad for her. With Sarah came the sun. It was glorious! So nice to feel warmth on my back. The sun kept me going for the rest of the swim. (Air temp at this point rose to 31C.)

Sarah continued heads-up breast next to me until 11:05. It really did help to have a friend in the water. Almost an hour later Chris jumped in to take some underwater shots. The water in the lake is so buoyant that his plan to take some underwater shots of me were for naught.


Feed number 11 was only water at my request. I’d had enough of Crystal Lite Mojito and Cherry-Pomegranate. Feed 12 I waved off. But right after waving off, I stopped and asked Chris if he had brownies on the boat. “No, back at the hotel.” Damn. (You see, Chris had brought a gallon-sized bag of dark chocolate brownies to Balykchy.) Being LCHF, I of course avoided them the night before (lie). But, at this point in the swim, I was so tired of the minerally lake water. I needed something. I don’t think I was hungry (wrong); I just needed to rinse my mouth.

Also by this point I started seeing trees coming up. I saw Talas and Sarah on the boat looking through binoculars, so assumed that my wife and daughter were on the beach waiting for me.

See that white dot? That's my wife.
See that white dot? That’s my wife’s car.

Sure enough, they were on the beach waiting for me. I just couldn’t get to them. Seemed I’d never get to them. The trees just looked the same…forever and ever. At this point I made the mistake of starting to sight ahead of me. When Chris came out in the kayak, I knew I must have been pretty close, but still it never seemed to end. Probably because I was going so damn slow.


Look how slow I got toward the end there. I just wanted this damn swim done.


(If I hadn’t stopped to pee, I would have completed the swim in under 6 hours.)
And the swim is done!
And the swim is done!

The minute I got feet-dry, my wife and daughter came over and gave me hugs. Unluckily for the girl, she had a bag of shashlik-flavored chips in her hand. I must have looked at it hungrily enough that she gave the bag to me. Those carb bombs tasted so damn good. I spent very little time on the beach. I really wanted to get back to the boat and back to the hotel.



Next up, the after party and lessons learned.

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