Category Archives: 2016 Season

My Issyk Kul swim is now an MSF documented swim

Dear reader(s) know(s) that I swam across lake Issyk Kul back in 2016. It was the pinnacle of what turned out to be a wonderful two-year assignment to the Switzerland of Central Asia. I had a great crew & support from the embassy to make that swim a success.

I’d long thought about getting it documented, but honestly thought I didn’t have enough documentation. I made sure my crew chief, Chris C., used the MSF observer document for my entire swim. And of course I followed the MSF rules. But still, did I have enough background?

Then the wonderful founder of MSF, Evan, developed a new MSF product that I just fell in love with.

(c) Anthony McCarley, used with his permission

Anthony’s awesome swim down south and the photo he got from it…my goodness that’s sweet. I wanted one for Issyk Kul. I contacted Evan and told him I’d order one, but he advised me to submit my paperwork and get it documented, I’d get a photo like the above. Well, that did it for me.

Fast forward to yesterday, and the MSF documented my swim! What’s that mean? Well, in MSF’s words

Each MSF Documented Swim undergoes rigorous review, and we only publish swims that meet the highest standards of integrity, thoroughness, and adherence to standard marathon swimming rules and conduct.

So there you have it. My swim, first ever across that part of the lake and second ever person to cross the lake, is now forever memorialized.

And soon, I’ll have that sweet photo hanging on my wall!

Issyk Kul One Year On

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!


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.

Sarah did it!

OK, so if you’ve followed the Marathon Swimmers Federation FB page, you know that Sarah has successfully swum across lake Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan. She killed it with a time of 4:43.38, destroying my time for the same crossing by more than 76 minutes.

Screenshot 2016-08-24 at 20.02.01

This makes Sarah only the third person to ever swim across Issyk Kul, the second person to cross this route, the first female to cross Issyk Kul anywhere, the second American to cross the lake, and the fastest time across this route.

I’ve said it before, but Sarah’s got a much better audio-visual crew than I ever did. Check out her video (don’t worry, she doesn’t speak Kyrgyz for the entire time):


Sarah’s swimming Issyk Kul now!

My friend Sarah is about 5KM across Issyk Kul now, 0252 GMT, 23 August. She is set to destroy my time across the lake.

Screenshot 2016-08-23 at 05.45.41

In case you’re wondering about the start icon a bit off of shore, it looks like the crew might have forgotten to click on the bootprint on the Spot Gen3, which starts the little GPS wonder tracking Sarah’s location. To keep track of where Sarah is, go to her tracker page.

I know what I’ll be doing today. How about you?

Another Issyk Kul crossing on the horizon

My friend and crew member from my swim Sarah will be crossing Issyk Kul in August. Dear reader(s) will remember that she came in and swam with me for a bit during my swim. She swam heads-up breast while I was churning the water with my adult-onset-learned technique. She’s gonna kill the crossing. I only wish I could help by crewing for her.

Sarah timing me.
sarah and flag
Sarah and the Kyrgyz flag

Training for Issyk Kul

Training for a “big” swim (quotes because this swim isn’t big in the grand scheme of things) takes a lot of training. However, not all of us have a standard job with consistent hours; not all of us have the time to swim 2+ hours, five days a week and 4+ on Saturday and Sunday; not all of us have understanding families (I do, just saying that not all of us do); not all of us have ready-access to a year-round pool; not all of us have access to a close-by open water location. With the exception of the understanding family, I fall into all of the other not all of us‘s I mentioned above.

Time horizontal. Dear reader(s) of my blog know my history with respect to time horizontal and open water race success. This need for time to get my lower back conditions features highly in my thoughts when training for something that I know will take me many hours to complete. It did for Issyk Kul, as well. Only problem was how busy I found myself this year. I was lucky in so many ways, with my big boss giving me access to her pool during work hours, AND having an understanding immediate boss who gave me time off work to swim. Despite that, the longest swims I managed were 1:40. I did a bunch of those. But still, I rarely had a week where I could leave work to swim every work day. In fact, I just looked at my logs. I didn’t have any weeks where I went everyday. I had a few weeks were I swam four times. As I mentioned elsewhere, I had only one week where I swam the equivalent of what I thought would be my time for the Issyk Kul swim (and for that matter, I thought it would be the maximum time it would take), and that was a week where I swam a total of 6:03, to include my one and only two-hour swim this training season. (Whoa…that’s scary. I swam the Issyk Kul crossing in 6:02.45…insert Twilight Zone music here.)

Outdoor pool open! Once the weather got nice I had my outdoor pool cleaned and filled. I got a significant number of swims done in that pool (still on straps of course), but it wasn’t easy. Bishkek is surrounded on the south by very large mountains, and quite often in the late afternoons summer storms would roll in. Now, this place doesn’t get much lightning. But that doesn’t mean I don’t freak out when those dark storm clouds roll in, and I’m swimming in a pool next to a bunch of out-buildings with metal roofs. Let’s just say I got a lot fewer after-work swims in than I would have preferred.

Indoor lap pool, no. I’ve talked before about the one nice and close indoor pool here. They’ve still got the noodler babushkas in there, along with the two-lanes-turned-into-three really skinny lanes. I’ve used that pool a few times, before I got access to The Boss’s indoor pool, but it was just so annoying to have to swim around folks who really don’t understand lap swimming, and then to have to do it in what amounted to a lane that is about 60% the width of an ordinary lap lane. Frustrating.

Swimming on straps. Will not make you faster, or even allow you to keep your speed, no matter how many times you do “100 strokes fast, 100 strokes slow, 80 fast, 80 slow…” It will, however, get you in the pool and get you time horizontal. Only a couple of times during my swim did I think “Oh, was that my lower back starting to hurt?” But then I didn’t think about it again for hours. (And it never hurt in the days after.) That’s pretty good when you consider this swim was the longest I’d swum, ever. Six hours is an hour and 15 minutes longer than the longest I’ve ever swum (Swim the Suck) and 2:20 minutes longer than my longest ever pool swim (3:40 for a 10,000 meter swim years ago). But my speed has definitely declined.

Speed. The last race I had was Raslina 5K in Croatia in July 2015. 1:52 and some change. Like I said in the post race report, that 5K was the best I’d ever felt in a race and I was kicking it in the high 80% effort the entire time, to include quite the kick at the end. And it is still slower than I think I could do. I prepared for that race by doing the fast/slow thing described above. But that didn’t matter. When I get to Moscow and back to that pool I know (and love), I’m going to start working on intervals, and get back to working on my critical swim speed again (thank you Swim Smooth). I know I can get myself back to 3200-3300 meters per hour, but I’m sure right now I’m closer to 2700m per hour in the pool. That’s quite a drop that I don’t think can be explained away by age. (I just did some math. Interestingly, my average hourly rate for Issyk Kul was 2297 meters, and that includes stopping 3 times per hour for feeding (I kept those short, but still that adds a couple minutes of not moving per hour). My hourly rate in Raslina with absolutely no stopping was 2680 meters per hour. Not too bad when you consider it was almost exactly a year between the two events and Issyk Kul was at a much greater elevation (5270 ft) than Raslina (21 ft).)

Elevation. How to train for a swim at a mile elevation while you live at less than half a mile elevation? I really thought this one through. I cannot be totally sure that last year’s attempt wasn’t somewhat affected by the altitude (in addition to the other issues). I searched ultramarathon runner forums for my answer. Apparently, if you’re unable to train at a higher elevation, the best thing to do is to either a) travel to the location and do your event within the first 24 hours, or b) travel to the location 3-4 days early to get acclimatized. For Issyk Kul, we arrived at 4pm on Tuesday and I started the swim right before 7am on Wednesday, so that’s within the first 24 hours. It must have worked, yes?

Open water. I had grand plans to run to the lake every other weekend starting in late April to get some open water swims in. That didn’t happen. I did, however, get two quick trips to the lake about a month prior to the swim. One was a quickie, maybe 10 minutes. The other, though, was a nice hour-long swim in 18C water, which was perfect. It was also an hour in the exact location that I planned to (and did) complete the swim, so that was nice, especially as I’m swimming to the end of my Issyk Kul swim and I’m seeing the same trees leading me to the beach. Mentally gratifying.

Good press

I was honored with a post all my own on my embassy’s FB page today.


And the best part? Exactly what I had hoped would happen: A local has expressed interest in duplicating my feat. That’s awesome! I hope to see annual gatherings of local swimmers here on the lake crossing this beautiful body of water.

Some local Kyrgyz newspapers latched onto the embassy’s page and did their own reports about me. One news agency even seems to have found the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation page on FB, because they have a bunch of pictures of me and my crew, as well as a quote from me. (They even managed to put their watermark on my pictures…nice.)

For the record, I corrected the embassy’s FB post in my first comment, pointing out that I swam it in just over six hours. With that in mind, here’s the stopwatch:



Observer logs for Issyk Kul swim

For posterity’s sake, I’m uploading my observer logs on the blog. In marathon swimming, especially when claiming as first, as I am here, it is important that an independent observer watch the swimmer, ensuring that proper marathon swim rules are followed. My observer Chris is a retired Army special forces officer and current State Department medical officer. The below are his notes along with some notes from the rest of the crew.

First, the original notes:

original1 original2 original3 original4 original5 original6 original7


Chris, being a doctor, doesn’t have the best handwriting, so he provided a typed-up version of the above, on the MSF observer log:

typed1 typed2 typed3 typed4 typed5