All posts by ironmike

Gold medals!

Last weekend I attended the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics; I participated in both swimming and orienteering.

Swimming was on Friday. I did the 50 (yards) free and 900 free (sold as “the half-mile”). In-water starts for all events but the 100s.

I was interested in the 50 back, but didn’t want to do it right before the 900. (Turns out I needn’t worry.)

There were 6 of us in the 55-59 male group for the 50, and I managed a bronze! Time was 36.07. Very happy with that.

I got work to do when I move into the 60-64 group. Damn look at those times!

By the time we got to the 900 free, the volunteer director told us they were going to run the women’s 900, then take lunch. Ugh. Could have done the 50 back. Ron (#4 in the 50) and I were told by the very same volunteer director that he’ll “make them stuff the pizza in their mouth, drink a soda, then come back out.”

Not true! After the ladies were done, all the volunteers disappeared. It was noon. No sh!t they didn’t come back till 12:25 and then they had a meeting. We did get put in lanes around 12:30 at least. And they are volunteers, so I’ll just STFU.

Another water start. Shared a lane with a “kid” in the 50-54 age group (he’s 51). He passed me twice; I think he finished in the 12-min range. I did a practice swim a couple days prior: 300 fast, 300 pull, 300 fast, and finished the first in 5:00, then 5:38, then 4:58. So I was hoping for something in the 15-ish.

Went out ‘fast’ in the first 5-6 laps, then calmed down till the last 4 laps. I was shocked when the timer told me 14:47. Oh yes, I’ll take that!

Then Sunday I did the beginner orienteering course. The “white” course was to be 1.9km long with 9 controls. I actually ran some of it! Some elevation change. Missed one control and had to go back to the last known point and restart, thus the fairly long time (13:16) finding 4.

I forgot to start my phone tracker so can’t give you a picture of my tracks. But this time of 37.01 got me a Gold in the Senior Olympics. Even better, that time got me a second place among all the orienteers (2nd out of 21). Then I tried the yellow and again, lost a control!

That 35 minutes I was looking for 4 cost me. Still, I ended up 13 out of 25. If I’d only spent 17 minutes finding 4, I would have ended up 9th! Dammit!

Swimming in jeopardy and a little walk in 17,500 acres!

I’ve had a bit of a thing going on, dear reader(s), on my right cheek. Been going on for a number of years now. Red blotches, sometimes redder than other times. My wife noticed that these spots get inflamed looking after swimming. I finally “did” something about it back in October, with a tele-med appointment (I know, but weeks and weeks quicker than an in-person). Doc said it looked like rosacea. Prescribed a 3x-a-day cream. Did that for about two months. Didn’t do much.

In the last six months or so the redness has moved to my nose, and in the last month, month and a half it’s gotten really bad. Hurts to the touch. Did some webmd-ing and learned that people can actually become sensitive to chlorine, even after swimming lots. Of course. My luck. I had started liking running in the very early 2000s when my right knee exploded and I couldn’t run (much) anymore without having to hobble for days after, popping motrin like candy.

So, I’ve got a dermatologist appointment this coming Friday. Wish me luck. What do I do if I can’t swim anymore? (Before you say saltwater pool, the closest is dozens of miles away in the wrong direction.)

In other news, the wife and I just got back from a fun, tiring orienteering event. A rogaine is an endurance orienteering event that lasts for hours (and sometimes days) in which your team has to find as many control points in a very large area. The Search for Big Mack was held in the Blue Ridge Boy Scout Reservation, all 17,500 acres of it. We had from 8am to 6pm to find as many controls as we could. We didn’t find many! They were hard. But we did walk a lot. And I mean, a lot. Over hill and dale. Up and down (the worst). We ended up walking a bit over 18 miles in those 10 hours, with but one 20-ish minute break to eat and refill water bottles. I ended up walking 50,830 steps in that 10 hours. (My week’s total step count was over 124,000!)

So this is our map before we marked it up. (Click on it to follow along.) The start (S/F) is way over on the left by that lake. Each black-outlined square is 1km x 1km. To give you some context, if you take the straightest possible trails frm the S/F to the lake on the east side (right), that’s 5 miles of walking (elevation gain and loss along the way).

You will see small purple circles peppered throughout that map. The tens digit of each control is the point-value of that one, 4 the easiest (supposedly) and 9 the hardest. Here’s our map after we planned our route:

Plan was to head south along Big Mack’s trail and make our way about halfway across the map, then cut up Gumstand to Greenwood Road for a bit, then up Oak Hollow till Little Laurel Creek all the way to Ottari camp. There was a standard orienteering course set up over there. Figured we could get over there by noon, run the O course to get a lot of points, then head back along Little Laurel, take a right to get control 87 (at the summit; my wife wanted to do one “high” control), then back down Little Laurel back to Greenwood Rd to Sidewinder trail back to the S/F camp where we’d do the orienteering course there, to be done before 6pm. (For every minute past 6 the team arrives, they lose 5 points.)

How naïve! The first two controls we got (84 and 44) took us about two hours. We looked for 65 for way too long and never found it. We went on to 55 then up Gumstand. 56 took us forever because we went down the wrong (mostly dry) creek first. But we finally found it after going up the wrong reentrant. Once we hit Little Laurel Creek trail we had to make a decision. It was well past noon. We could skip the Ottari camp and head back, but I only had one bottle of water (of three) left and wasn’t sure I could make it all the way back to camp and find controls with only that one bottle. So we made the decision to walk to Ottari, fill our water bottles, eat something, then head back.

We learned something there. We should have taken our Lifestraw bottles so we could just grab some creek water. Or iodine tabs, because we ended up at Ottari around 2pm. We still thought we had time to get back. We tried for too long to get 47; that wasted time and was thirsty work. We were excited that we got 97. It was up that reentrant quite a way, but 9 points! Then the long slog up (those contour lines are 5m apart; from 97 to the intersection was about 100m of elevation gain. I got us lost then. I thought we were at the intersection of two trails a bit SW of 85; but our intersection had a trail going WNW and one going ESE, but that made no sense from where I thought we were. Plus there were signs for trail North Ridge and Matheny’s something, neither of which is anywhere on the map. So we took the WNW trail and boom, ended up at 87! That wasted plenty of time and those 8 points weren’t worth it in the end (spoiler alert: we were 6 minutes late, thus lost 30 points).

Water refill & apples!

So down we went along Little Laurel, knees hurting, something like 200m of elevation loss. I was limping by the time we got to Greenwood Rd, at just about 5pm. There was no more looking for clues, we just fast-walked up to Sidewinder, then switch-backs till we ended up on the back side of the start building (dining hall), checking in at 10:05.44. 6 minute penalty.

We ended up getting only 7 controls totaling 45 points, but with the time penalty of 30 points, our final score was 15. (We’re particularly proud of 97 and those two 8s!) The after-party was funny to look at. Even those teams who got 18+ controls and ran both orienteering courses were walking around like my wife and I. One of the volunteers (thanks Lora!) made fantastic chili, both vegetarian and “mammal and poultry” chili. (My wife asked her about that. Lora has a friend who got bit by the tick that made her allergic to meat from mammals: my nightmare!)

My chili with Doritos: been years since I had those!
Wife’s chili with standard tortilla chips. And she had beer!








And we weren’t last! We were 27th out of 30 teams. I’ll take it. Not so bad considering our relative newness to orienteering!

This is why I swim Thursday mornings


I swim twice on Thursdays. Once in the morning on base, but only about 2000 yards. I do this in case I don’t get to swim Thursday night at National Harbor. You know, work, or maybe a family event, or possibly, the WEATHER.

Yesterday evening didn’t start that way. It was terribly hot and sunny.

About 6-7 of us were ready at 6:30pm, but the wind was picking up and all the kayakers weren’t here yet. 15 minutes later, kayakers here and buoys going out. Then the clouds rolled in. At almost 7pm, the coach came up to the pier with his weather radar app, as we watched lightning hitting not far away. The app said 9.9 miles away, moving north past us. In the 5 minutes the coach was talking, the cell moved to 7.5 miles away. Coach asked us: Want to wait 30 minutes, see if it passes us by? We all agreed.

Less than 20 minutes later, it was on us and the coach officially cancelled the swim. Ugh.

So a lame 4000 yards this week. I suck.


Sunset swim in National Harbor

Great swim tonight with WaveOne! Wavy and windy, so had to fight the waves, which made it very fun. Hardly anyone showed up, probably due to the air quality (thank you Canada).

Normally you’d see beautiful blue skies beyond the Ferris wheel.

The ten or so of us jumped in and started the swim. Denis, our coach, said the loop was 295m. But he just makes that up. Us regulars laughed. The new folks all looked at us.

Jump in and swim straight down the pier.

Can’t tell by the picture, but the tide was coming in and with the wind, you got pushed to the right. I aimed left of the far buoy and think I did pretty well, getting straighter in my years of practice.

Buoy 1 to 2 (green/yellow) the wind was in our face. That was fun. Then 2 to home buoy was with the tide, so easy-peasy. I did 5 laps but in lap 3, holy shit but I had serious cramping issues. Not sure if it was the lifting a few hours earlier or no food, but my plantar tendon in the right foot seized up. I tried all the tricks: kick while pulling the toes up; spreading the toes wide, but nothing worked. Had to “pull over” and massage it. The tendon was so taut I wondered if I could even relax it. Finally did and kept swimming. It would threaten a cramp a couple times more during the third and then fourth lap, but I finally was able to keep swimming.

But when I finished and was getting dressed, the three middle toes of that same foot seized up. I had to manually manipulate the toes, stretching them up and down, just to ease the cramp. No idea what the deal was.

Five laps, 2260 meters, one hour. Not impressive, but fun and lots of hard work. Unsure if I’ll swim in the morning, but will prep for it in case I feel good in the a.m.

National Harbor was playing a movie as I walked to the car. I’m pretty sure this is the Will Smith movie about Venus and Serena Williams. Kind of neat to be able to sit outside in the (relatively) nice weather and enjoy a movie!

We’re in the Harbor again!

Today, WaveOne Swimming started up again in National Harbor. 

We’re on the opposite side of the pier this year, closer to the ferris wheel, after the REI fiasco. Today, Denis (the coach) set a short course (300-315m) for the dozens of us who showed up. (Way more than any of us thought.)

My LEO friend, Jen, and I decided to just take it easy. She hasn’t been swimming much so we just paced off each other. The water was wonderfully cool, 76F. Felt so nice to jump in. Lots of debris in the water, logs and pieces of wood, but simple to swim through.

Jen and I made it 8 laps! About 65 minutes. Wonderful sunny day, as well. Forgot my rescue buoy so no tracks from my phone, but will remember Thursday.

There were some shenanigans going on today, what with the wonderful weather and all that. These two were frolicking somewhat before we started swimming. Saw them later preening themselves on the small beach.

REI screwed us

Here it is half-way through June and we’re still not swimming in National Harbor. From the WaveOne coach:

As some of you know, the WaveOne community has called National Harbor our swimming home since 2009. Last week we were completely surprised to find our equipment removed and informed the dock is now under control of REI, Inc. the new dock tenant.

Our first swim, Washington’s Crossing, has been postponed due to this. That’s the swim that I constantly poorly navigate (see previous posts) that I love.

Very soon we’ll be at a month since we were supposed to been swimming at National Harbor. And still no open water swimming. Thus, I’ve asked my boss to allow me a 2-3 hour late arrival every Friday so that I can do some long swims. Swim the Suck is not going to swim itself.


We finally have good news that we will be returning to National Harbor Sunday June 25. The final agreement is still being completed but we have a verbal agreement for Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings. We will be swimming at the same pier, off the smaller dock on the other side where Monumental mini boats rentals were (they are completely gone). I’ll have details as we progress.


Marathon Swimming homecoming date set

Looks like I’ll be attending homecoming this year. I’m so excited!

Dear reader(s) know that I consider Swim the Suck to be the homecoming of the marathon swimming world. At least, the North American world. I’ve met so many marathon swimmers I’d only met online in Chattanooga in Octobers past (2012, 2018, 2019). The after-swim (apres-swim?) party feels so much like a family get-together. I’ve really missed it the last few years.

So Saturday 8 April I told my family I had to sit at home in front of my computer at noon because Swim the Suck registration opens at that moment. I’d learned in the past that if you waited a couple days to decide, you’d miss out. The swim often sells out in a few hours!

This year I got in! I’m so happy. I needed a goal like this to even get me back in the pool (yes, I’ve been absent for months). I miss open water so much; it’s not as close here as it was in Boston. But I’ve been back in the pool for the last two weeks and am looking forward to swimming, slowly, down the Tennessee River on October 7th!

Last swim of the season

The 2022 season ended Sunday morning with a great 2.25km swim in National Harbor. And head coach Denis Crean gave us a great course.

Denis set out a start buoy (orange) and a final turn buoy (also orange). “Out” were three lime-green buoys. We were allowed to choose which lime-green buoys to swim to, as long as once we got there, we swam outside the other lime-green buoys.

Jen, my friend from embassy Moscow, moved back to town. She swam the 2.5k comp last weekend and swam with me this Sunday. We decided to do a double (swim to the middle lime-green buoy), then swim a triple (swim to the far right lime-green), then a single, then a double, then a triple. All told, only 2.25km. But so much fun.

Great season. Thanks Denis and to all the volunteers at WaveOne Swimming!

Swim for the Potomac, part II

Today was day two of Swim for the Potomac (S4tP). 5K on tap for me. Woke up quite sore, but didn’t really think I wouldn’t swim. Jumped in and the water was refreshingly cool.

First lap, 1250m, felt pretty good. I decided to really push it for lap 2 (2500) and 3 (3750): strokes 1-20 fast, 21-100 normal. Felt really, really fast. Lap 2 flew by. So did lap 3, till the whistles.

I told myself I wouldn’t look at my watch till the end of lap 3. After all, I only had to do 4 laps. If I was swimming as fast as I thought, I’d finish this 4-lap 5K easily. We jumped in at 0845, 15 minutes past sked time. I don’t blame anyone; I’ve never been a race director, but things happen. But I had hoped we could have more time in the water. There again, I can’t blame anyone: WaveOne has to get permits and such so that we can swim in National Harbor.

The saddest part: bringing the buoys in

Still, I thought I had finished the first 3 laps in 1:15, thus it would be 10:15 when I finished lap 3. But: the whistles. I ignored them, hoping they weren’t meant for me. No such luck. A hundred meters or so into lap 4 a kayaker gave me the bad news. We’re done. I looked at my watch. 1:35 for a measly 3.85km. Ugh.

The good news is, I felt very good, despite the 4+ hour swim yesterday. 13.85km in two days (8.6 miles). Feel good. Tomorrow morning I’m sure I’ll be very sore.

Better news? WaveOne will still swim, this coming Thursday night and Sunday morning. w00t!

Swim for the Potomac 10K

Today was the Swim for the Potomac. Actually this weekend is S4tP. I foolishly signed up for both the 10K today and a 5K tomorrow. Real goal was to finish the 10K today.

Ten years ago, I attempted S4tP 10K, a month before my first Swim the Suck (StS). That 10K ended poorly. My back ached and I only finished 7/8 laps. I was worried about StS, but I did much “time horizontal” as I termed it and finished that 10 miles in 4:44. I was very happy.

But always, throughout, this particular 10K in National Harbor, MD, has been on my mind. It’s my neighborhood. I needed it in my life. And today, I had it.

That was the course today, a loooong 1666m course. Buoy 1 to 2 and 3 to 4 were so long. Laps 1-3 (5K) went by smoothly. Had some issues sighting 3 to 4, but got that figured out. Finished it around 1:55. If I could keep that pace, I could finish in the 4:00 course limit.

I knew that wasn’t going to happen during lap 4. Was starting to get tired. Stopped seeing others. Except for, I think, Kathy, who is so fast. She was most probably passing me on her 5th lap. (A month ago during HarborFest, she did 7K in the two hours we had.) Lap 5 was difficult, I had to distract myself: strokes 1-79 my normal old man speed, 80-100 fast. That got me through lap 5. That and hoping they’d let me start lap 6.

They mentioned pulling people at 11:30. I started lap 6 at around 11:00. At that point, I just kept hoping to get to the next buoy. I looked at it like: okay, one lap is just four lengths (two horribly long ones: 650m?), swim length per length. When I got to the first buoy and turned to start the first long length, I just wanted to make it to buoy 2. I figured if they pulled me at buoy 2, I’d have to swim back to the start anyway. I’d zig and zag enough to make the full 10,000. At buoy 3 I saw a jet-ski with a sled and thought, Oh shit. Last I was in one of those was at the end of 20 Bridges. Please don’t pull me!

Thankfully, they didn’t. I did the last length in forever, but finished. That’s all that matters. 4:15. And I wasn’t last. That’s kinda nice, too. All in all, a great day. And now I am sore, and wonder how the 5K will go tomorrow.