Category Archives: 2017 Season

Off-season training

Season is over now, and I’d promised some ladies at work that I’d join them in their boot camp class after the season was done, so, had to stick to my word.

Oy! I’ve only done two classes since Sochi and that’s because after the first my calves hurt so much I didn’t want to go back till they felt better. Then when I did, half-way through the workout my right calf started acting up and I had to switch to one-legged jump rope (among other adjustments).

What is boot camp? Kind of like a mixture of aerobics, CrossFit and calisthenics. The first workout we did consisted of three cycles of two stations of five minutes each. What does that mean? Well, for instance, the first cycle was kettlebell swings, squat jump over a bench, and a dip. For five minutes you did those three exercises in a row; the first time through one rep each, the second time two, and so on, till the five minutes were up. (I think I got up to 9 in that one.) Then we (3 of us in that group) switched with the other group (also 3) and we did their workout, which if I recall correctly was a jump squat, a double-under jump rope (meaning the rope goes under your feet twice), and a lunge. One rep each through, then two and so on. After we hit those two stations (~10 min total) then we ran around the basketball court three times. That’s the part I hated the most.

I wore my calf-hugging specialty socks during this first boot camp. Bought those socks because my calves would just hurt so much by the end of the day as I was walking home. No matter if I stood at work all day or sat. The socks definitely make my calves feel good, but I’m really not sure if they help at all. This past Thursday I didn’t wear them to class and about half-way through (8 stations @ two minutes each then through them again at 1:30 each) my right calf suddenly screamed each time I would jump. I switched to one-footed jump rope (surprised myself I was still able to do 6-8 in a row before faltering). Jumping jacks didn’t work out so well; the instructor had me do some weird twisting thing that someone later told me was part of P90X (or whatever it is called).

Both times I offered to swim with anyone after the class for 15-20 minutes; no takers. In fact, each time the instructor (different one each time) looked at me and asked “Seriously? You’re gonna swim after this?” Well, yes. And each time it felt great. My boss lets me show to work a bit late on days I’m working out, so I swam till 9am or 1000 yards, whichever came first. That meant on the first day I got 500 yards swum and Thursday I did 1000.

I have an ulterior motive, though. The one and only certified, official, no-sh!t CrossFit class I ever went to was back in 2013. The base I was stationed on had a CF club and every Tuesday morning during the summer they did a swimming WOD (workout of the day). That was so blasted fun. As I recall it involved something like 3 lengths (the base pool is 40 yards per) and then hop out and do flutter-kicks, another 3 lengths and do a bunch of push-ups. Do that 10 times or so. Can’t remember exactly; too long ago. But damn was it fun.

Well, I want to run one of those swim WODs with this group. I come up with all kinds of ideas while I’m cooling down after the class. But first have to get myself more ensconced in the group and get some of them to join me in the pool after. I already know one of the instructors would support me in this: Jen, who went with me to Sochi! Just gotta get some of the other students and the main instructor to want to do it… Wish me luck!

Pictorial tour of the Sochi Swim Festival

As discussed previously, I spent last weekend in Sochi, Russia, for the end-of-season swim festival put on by the wonderful folks at the Champions Cup. I went down to Sochi with my daughter, who acted as our collective crew, and two friends from work, Jen and Sabrina. I competed in the 5.5k while they competed in the nautical mile. All three of us took part in the 3 x 1000m relay. What follows are pictures from the festival.

We must of course start with a picture in front of the event sign. It was a beautiful weekend, air temp in the low 20’s Celsius. Sun out all day. It was wonderful.

During registration I saw this sign and couldn’t have been happier.

The sign reads “Water (temperature) 25.2 (degrees Celsius). NO wetsuits.” Despite this, Russians still wore shorties and those suits that supposedly are legal for triathlon. This despite the water getting up to 26C on open water day, which was Sunday the 1st of October.

The first day was for clinics and pool swimming. They held some events in the pool (30- and 60-min swims and 3 x 15-min team relays) that we weren’t interested in. So we went walking to find a place to dip our toes in to feel the water.

You know the water is warm if Russians are swimming in it. Then we had to walk to the Olympic village because: Sochi.

View from the hotel room. Next stop: the Olympic rings and flame.

This was the view of the Olympic flame. Jen had been here before and told us about a fountain show when it got darker. So we went on a quest to find the rings to get pictures in front of.

Near impossible to get an unobstructed view and photo in front of the rings, so this is all we got! Then the lights went on at the flame.

The moon cooperated and lined itself up perfectly for the picture. Then the show began. Wow. Wish I could embed a video here, it was just so spectacular, especially starting out with Queen’s The Show Must Go On.

After 4 or 5 songs, we decided it was time to return to the hotel to get some rest before the events of Sunday.

My event, the 5.5k, was first up. Jen and Sabrina both showed up nice and early to see me off.

As you can see, we’d be swimming inside a walled off section of the Black Sea. At the southern end (left side of the pic above) there was an opening to the sea for all those sailboats to travel through. For the 5.5k, we’d be doing 3 loops inside this area. My daughter caught the start; I’m in there somewhere near the back.

I found this woman a couple times during the loops. The organizers got a close-up of us swimming, me trying to draft off of her.

Little did I know that I’d get to “know” her even more at the end.

This is me coming in. Note who beat me in by less than a second. She and I were racing the last couple hundred meters to try and hit the finish first.

She immediately looked at me and asked or said something. I was too out of breath to understand. I told her my Russian is horrible. Then my right calf cramped up.

Turns out she was telling the RD that I skipped the last buoy.

I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about till I got out of the water, which took a bit because I had to forcibly move my foot till my calf was loose enough to climb up a ladder onto the pier. The RD said “Mike, the girl says you skipped the last buoy.” I protested vehemently. I told him that I took every buoy as instructed, on my left shoulder, including the last one. He told me not to worry about it.

I found the woman at the top of the ramp after I got my medal, water and banana. I told her the same thing, that I didn’t skip any buoys. (How the hell would she know anyway? I didn’t swim around any buoys with any other swimmers close, as far as I could tell.) She told me simply: “Well, I didn’t see you.” I was too dumbfounded to think quick on my feet, but what I should have answered was “Well, I didn’t see you either, but I presume you went around the buoys properly.” Frankly, I think she was just mad I was tapping her toes occasionally during the race. (If you don’t like contact, then don’t swim open water.)

Forget her! On to other things! I managed 1:52:33, 13th out of 23 men, 2nd out of 2 in the 50-54 age group. More importantly, that time was only a few seconds slower than my best (feeling) 5K ever in Raslina, Croatia, two years ago. I was aiming for two hours in this one, so very happy with my time.

Next up was Jen and Sabrina’s nautical mile swim.

This would be the first open water (non-triathlon) swim for Sabrina and the second for Jen. Both of them ended up doing really well in their races, Jen earning 3rd out of 12 and Sabrina 2nd out of 3 in their respective age groups. Next up, the relay!

I’d seen the term эстафета before and knew it had something to do with multiple swimmers, but because I’d never known anyone else interested in joining me, I didn’t bother looking it up. But once I found two partners in crime for this trip, I looked into it. The term means relay, but this being Russia, I wanted to make sure it was truly a relay and not just the three of us swimming together and times added up.

Sure enough, it would be a relay. We figured we’d either meet in water and trade timing chips or have to swim in to the pier, tap the sensor, exchange timing chips, and then the next person goes. We were close, but not right.

When I was done with my 5.5k, I went back into the registration tent and got the sensor for our relay. Hours later, right before the briefing for the 1k and relays, one of the young volunteers grabbed me and told me something about the timing chip for the relay. I followed him to the table where he and another volunteer had a heated discussion about timing chips, pointing to the list of the 12 teams who’d be doing the relay. I kept holding up my left arm showing them I’ve already got a chip. They kept mentioning another number. (Our team was 150, but they kept talking about 1050.)

Turns out, our second swimmer (Jen) would wear chip 1050, and after I came in (as first swimmer) I’d give my chip to Sabrina, our third swimmer. This way there was no fumbling with the velcro between legs.

The organizers marked our left arms with our team numbers. The theory being that when the first swimmer was approaching the pier, the RD would yell out “Team so-and-so, second member.” Then another volunteer would hold the second swimmer back until the RD yelled “Go!” I asked the RD if he could yell out in English for Sabrina and Jen and he agreed.

I managed my lap in 21:53, Jen hers in 22:28 and Sabrina hers in 26:25 for a total time of 1:10:59. We got 4th out of 5 mixed teams. A good time was had by all!

That relay was such a blast, I’ll definitely try and compete in them again next season.

That was it for the swimming. We had a pizza party an hour or so after the picture above. No comments on how much pizza I (we?) ate. But later that night we found a brewpub and partook in some tasty adult beverages. (Sadly, Sabrina and her husband had to depart early Sunday evening so couldn’t join us.)

Cider for my daughter

Marston’s Oyster Stout for me. And Mort Subite Wit for Jen

So that is it for Sochi, and that is it for my 2017 season. Not so bad, I’d say. Next summer will be my last in Russia and I’d like to do more (than four) swims here. We’ll see what the 2018 season brings!

Sochi Swim Festival

I’ll do a post of pictures from my swims in Sochi, but wanted to do a quick post about how we did.

Went down to Sochi last weekend with two work colleagues (Jen and Sabrina) to take part in the Sochi Swim Festival, organized by the Champions Cup folks. I signed up for the 5.5K and my friends signed up for the nautical mile. Together, we signed up for the 3 x 1000m relay.

Jen and Sabrina both did well in their mile swim, Jen getting 3rd out of 12 and Sabrina 2nd out of 3. I also got 2nd…out of two. Ha! More importantly, I set a new PR with a 1:52.33, which was my time two years ago in Raslina when I swam my best (feeling) 5K ever. So this 5.5K swim felt even better!

The relay was a freaking blast. It was the last event (around noon) so the water started to get rough/wavy. Each of us had to do a lap; I was first, then Jen, and Sabrina finished us up. The first lap folks started en masse with the swimmers doing the 1K solo. It was a nice crowded start. I managed 21:53. We all had our team’s number on our left arms and when the RD saw us getting close to finishing, he’d call out the team number and the next swimmer would stand on the end of the pier and dive in once told to start. Together we got 4th out of 5 mixed teams with a final time of 1:10:59.

This was such a great conclusion to a fun season. More later, to include pictures of beautiful Sochi, Russia.

Pictures from Issyk Kul Swim Challenge

Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation doctor and observer, Olesya, sent me a batch of great photos* from the swim challenge held on 6 August 2017. Thought I’d do a post with them as many of them are perfect to show you how beautiful this lake and country are. Take a gander.

The inevitable wait for the boat

Beautiful morning on Issyk Kul
Here comes the boat!
Of course you have to warm up
Kayaker and crew meeting
Swimmers getting ready
It’s not an official federation crossing without the flag picture!
And of course the pre-swim prep
Can’t have a swim like this without a great crew!
Starting spot. Note the snow. (This is August, remember.) Didn’t I say this place is beautiful?!
The traditional arms up ready!
Look at that beautifully flat water.
Look at that view!
Miss that lake
Last guy coming in!


*All photos by the incomparable photographer Giovanni Casini.

Great weekend of swimming

Managed three days at the lake over this wonderful 3-day weekend, 9.12 kilometers. Even better was that I had company each day! Open water is definitely more fun with others.

On Saturday and Sunday I took my friend Jen back to the lake. She’s a glutton for punishment, having done three days of “boot camp” (basically CrossFit horror), which made her sore all over, and a day of pool swimming, then two days of lake swimming with me. Saturday was way colder than last week, with the water probably in the 16-17C range. But the sun was out which was nice. As usual, within a minute or so of swimming we didn’t feel the cold.

That’s our Saturday. We hung by the coast there in the south, so much so that we ran (swam?) aground at one point. I knew we were in trouble when I looked to the right and saw a fisherman about 5 meters from us standing in the water…water up to his knees. Looking at us like we just ruined his fishing. So of course I said good morning and we went on our way. By the time we headed back, he was no longer at that spot. Done or moved? No idea.

There were tons of folks out that day as it was so pretty out. As you can see above, the air temp was 21C, which is warm enough even for Russians to be out in bathing suits and bikinis sun-bathing. Even saw two people (!) in normal skimpy suits swimming! Say it isn’t so! My daughter came with so she could get a long run in, and Jen and I remembered to get a pic by the water.

Sunday the weather was crap. At least in the morning. Cloudy, windy and kind of cold, about 12-13C air temp. We both were regretting our decision to go swimming. As usual we walked in our suits from parking to the lake, getting looks along the way. And it was quite breezy. We brought sweatshirts for after.

Toe-dip thermometer, however, reported an increase in water temp since Saturday. It actually felt like it was 19-20C. Very inviting. In fact, by the time we were done, we didn’t want to get out as it was way warmer in the water than out! Anyway, Jen wanted to do at least an 1:15, so we went a little farther than Saturday. As we were turning for home, we didn’t go straight in. There were some fishermen whose lines we wanted to avoid, plus we thought we’d have to swim past our entry point to get to the full time. Turned out we’re either slow enough or misjudged our speed because as we got close to the start, we had had enough time so took a sharp turn left and swam in, as you can see below.

Sunday we spent less time gabbing and stopping for boat-watch, so our “moving time” average was 2:00 per 100 meters, which I’m very happy with for an OW practice session. I’m also getting a bit better at sighting as the summer progresses, which might help at the end of the month when we swim in Sochi.

The weather got better later in the day. But during the swim, it was cloudy and overcast. Very few people at the lake and no one without a thick jacket (Russians get cold when the air temp falls to 60F). We did manage to get a pic of ourselves in front of the “Swimming forbidden” sign.

Labor day! Jen had other plans, but Sabrina, our teammate for the upcoming 3 x 1000 in Sochi, wanted to go to the lake, so I had another partner! She is a triathlete, so I honestly figured she’d swim with a wetsuit. I was happy to see she didn’t bring one! Actually, turns out she doesn’t even have one, so that’s a good sign.

We did the same route as Jen and I on Saturday, basically. The water was a bit colder than Sunday but not that bad, maybe 18C. And the sun kept peeking out from behind the clouds, which was nice. We even had some of those MChS (Russian coast guard) boats go by, but they didn’t even care about us. Most likely that’s because I listened to them a month or so ago when they said to not swim through the middle of the lake!

Sabrina’s shoulder was giving her pains, so once we got back to the sunken houseboat, we bee-lined it straight back to the shore. On our way coming in, I stopped to let her catch up and I saw a passel of grandmas and grandpas (babushki and dedushki) with their little charges up on the shore staring at the strange people in the water. I yelled to them “good morning” and waved, and they all waved back, the kids laughing. Very sweet and very Russian. My daughter went running again today and got a picture of us swimming in. (And that’s it on pics, as I forgot again to get one of us by the lake.)

So it was a great swim-weekend. Great swim week as a matter of fact, since I swam Tuesday and Thursday as well. Not a lot distance-wise (13.8-ish km) but good in-the-water time. And since the 26th of August, 24.2km. I’ll take that!

What a difference 3.3 inches makes

I’ve made a concerted effort to make better use of my daughter’s school’s pool this year. It is right next to where we’re living, a whole 300 meters away maybe. How can I pass up a SCM pool that close? Especially when the alternative is the weirdly-shaped Russian one that requires three laps to do 100.66 yards?

Fact of the matter is the pool isn’t open for laps that often. One Saturday per month for four hours (and twice last year they closed early for lack of lifeguards, yet my lifeguard-trained daughter sits here at home not offered a job?) and Tuesday and Thursday nights for two hours. Unfortunately the weekday nights are 19.00 to 21.00, and frankly by the time I get home (between 19.00 and 19.30) I just want to eat and sit.

But that’s lazy. And I’ve got a supportive wife and daughters, so I should just go swim. So this week I swam both weekdays till 20.00 (and did an 8k workout last Saturday). That meant 45 minutes one day and 50 the other, but still. I got in the pool and worked on my stroke, in a SCM pool! Fewer laps and fewer flip turns!

Last night I did a CSS test. Figured I should since I plan on swimming in that pool more often. My last CSS in the small Russian pool resulted in a CSS of 1:32 for that pool. I’m happy with that time, yet know that it is fast compared to what I’d get had I tested in a normal SCY pool. After all, I’m getting 6 flip-turns for every 100 instead of 4.

Well, yesterday I discovered what that translates to when I test in an actual SCM pool. My CSS in the school pool is 1:50! That extra 3.33 inches per meter sure adds up when you’re swimming 400 meters (6:56) and 200 meters (3:17). Next week I’ll do some CSS workouts to see how I feel in that pool. (I have to set the tempo trainer to 27:38 now for each length.) I look forward to improving my times over the fall and winter!

Introduced a friend to Russian open water

Today was a beautiful sunny day in Moscow. Partly cloudy by the time I got to the lake, but the sun made several appearances, which was welcome. Brought my friend Jen to the lake at Strogino today. We forgot the water-side selfie, but we managed to take one by the tank that fronts the entrance to the park area.

Unseen is we’re still in our suits, getting respectful looks and comments from Russians walking in the park bundled up against the 15C air temperature.

The water was wonderful. With all the rain on Saturday, I figured the water would be cold, but it really wasn’t. I’m guessing in the 20-22C range. Jen brought her shorty-wetsuit, but I told her the water would probably be ok. She toe-tested the water and decided not to go running back to her car and to just swim in her normal, English Channel-legal suit. She was glad she did. Within only a few strokes we were both plenty warm, with or without the sun out.

The lake was also practically empty. We saw two boats, and they were going very slowly and the drivers apparently saw us in our bright yellow swim caps with my bright orange tow-float. Having learned from the MChS boat a month ago, I had us stay near the shore. None of those ministry boats were out patrolling, but at one point we both realized the bottom was getting closer and closer (like a meter or so from the surface) and we stopped, and noticed a fisherman standing in the water looking at us like we’d just ruined his catch. I apologized for us and we took off, going a bit farther from shore.

Jen is just getting back into swimming, so when we were a bit away from our proposed turn around point, we stopped, right around the entrance to the Moscow river. I’ve seen boats come screaming out of the river into the lake, so I wanted to warn her about keeping our eyes open. She was really interested in keeping today’s swim to around a nautical mile. We had already passed a kilometer (I set my Garmin to warn me every k), so we decided to turn around right there and repeat our route.

I forgot to start the Garmin at first, so we’re about 50 meters shy for the total. No biggie. About a mile and a half in total, not bad for all the stopping we did. Everything goes well, we’ll probably swim there again next weekend. We’re two members of the three-person team going to Sochi at the end of September to swim at an open water festival in the Black Sea. Jen, Sabrina and I will each do a kilometer loop in a 3 x 1000 relay race (эстафета, in Russian). Jen and Sabrina will also swim the nautical mile event and I’m swimming the 5.5k. We will of course report from Sochi.

Eurasia Swim Cup and Cup of Champions Changes

Recently, the two major swim series here in Russia have changed things up. Both involve the beautiful town of Sochi!

The Eurasia Swim Cup, the wonderful folks who gave me one of their t-shirts and who welcomed the crazy wetsuit-less foreigner with open arms, had a swim on their schedule in Sochi, set for 17 September. Unfortunately, that swim is now missing from their schedule. It hasn’t been replaced by anything, it is simply gone. I was looking forward to that swim as I haven’t ever been to Sochi. The closest I’d ever come was the lovely town of Gelendzhik, some miles up the coast from Sochi.

But Sochi may not be out of my plans completely. Just announced today is the Cup of Champions’ new event on their schedule: The Sochi Swim Festival. The Festival will run from Friday, 29 September through Sunday, 1 October. They will hold workshops throughout the weekend, in the pool, in open water, and in classrooms. But there’ll be lots of swimming, too. On Saturday, there’ll be a 30-minute and a 60-minute swim for distance in the pool. There’s also a team event: 3 people swim 100s for 15 minutes, trying to out-distance other teams. These seem to be popular over here. This organization has a whole series of these pool swims throughout the winter. I might have to try my hand at the hour swim, or find two friends to do the 15-minute event with.

Sunday is open water day! They’ll have three individual events: 5.5k, nautical mile, and 1k. There’s also another 3-person event, 3 x 1000. Swim map below.

The yellow is for the 1k course. The red loop for the other two events: one loop for nautical mile and three loops for 5.5k. The timing is such that I might be able to do both the 5.5k and the 1k, or maybe even the 3 x 1k! Unknown what those green arrows are, but probably they are where the workshops and host hotel are. The host hotel looks nice. It’s the Imeretinsky Resort. These types of resorts are very popular here. You pay one price for room and board (2 or 3 meals a day) and live in a communal and social (ex verbo socialism) environment. This is the type of place I stayed in for my Cyprus swim all those years ago.

For now, decisions decisions. Can I go? Can I find two friends who want to swim with me? We’ll have to see.

More pictures from Manhattan

Finally downloaded pictures from my kids’ and wife’s phones from our NYC trip. This’ll be a picture-heavy post, with comments along the way. Enjoy!

Beautiful sunrise to start the day
Magdalena appreciating the weather at the start
Rounding the southern tip of Manhattan
Strangest building
Nice view of the southern skyline
Not sure which bridge I’m going under here. Brooklyn?
Ditto. Bridge #3?
More in our series of “strangest building”
I passed the United Nations at some point…blissfully ignorant
The point of my restart, Wards Island footbridge (#5)
Entering the Hudson
Passing under the last bridge. Only 11 miles to go!
Passing the High Line
This is the cove the NYPD made us wait in while the cruise ship was pulling out
U.S.S. Intrepid
Port view of the Intrepid. Is the Nicholas Cage up there?!
Another strange building candidate on the right
I thought I’d never get to the One World Trade Center

Of course, marathon swimming is a team sport. I couldn’t have done it without my crew.

Agnes, the best kayaker a swimmer could ask for. Whatcha doing in two years?

And my kids, the best crew a dad could ask for.

Sam and Maggie
Crew’s gotta eat, am I right?!
…and sleep

The family and I did more than this swim during our NYC trip. Can’t visit Manhattan without seeing some stuff!

We met the Dalai Lama
And Lady Liberty
We had great Chinese food
And good local beer!
We rearranged some sculpture
Caught some great views

And of course, you can’t have a trip with IronMike without jumpography. Lots and lots of jumping!

Sadly, I have no pictures of the boat pilot, Paul, or of my observer, Hsi-Ling. Will have to remedy that the next time!

Lessons learned and way ahead after 20 Bridges

Today marks a week since I attempted to swim around Manhattan.* I’ve been thinking of little else since. What could I have done to get past Hell Gate? Did I really push it enough, or did I hold back? Should I have stopped and asked Agnes what’s up when I saw both jet skiers come by to talk to her?

Initial thoughts? I should have been prepared to go 70 strokes per minute (SPM) for about an hour, an increase of 15 SPM over my usual. However, after talking to a swimmer I admire and trust, and after reading the Bible of open water swimming technique, I don’t think that would have helped. My technique isn’t what it should be; it certainly is not as effortless as my daughter’s. I work a couple times a week on getting my technique correct. More often than not, my technique suffers after either a long time in the water or my mind wandering. I sometimes go back to the sloppy “keyhole” technique I, and most kids in the ’70s, learned at the Y or in Scouts. I’ve worked over the years to erase that technique from my mind and I think I mostly have. What suffers most is my catch. When I’m not paying attention, more often than not I will all of a sudden throw in a pause right before the catch and/or push down rather than back when I start the catch.

So I think by working on my technique for longer periods, I will improve my distance per stroke (DPS) which could help me get through Hell Gate next time. In fact, my speed had improved over the last year while training for 20 Bridges. I did three CSS tests in my weird Russian pool (3 laps equals 100 yards): October my CSS was 1:36. Six weeks later in mid-December, it improved to 1:35. Three months later a vast improvement to 1:32. I think what I’ll do in the coming years is continue to test my CSS, but do it in my daughter’s school’s pool (SCM). The problem with the Russian pool is that for each 100 (yard) set I get six push-offs vs. four in a normal pool. My initial results will be probably in the 1:40’s since I’ll have fewer flips and meters vice yards, but that’s ok.

Two areas of my swim were absolutely on point: nutrition and injury prevention. Nutrition-wise, I stuck to my usual plan: let me swim for an hour before you give me anything to drink. I need that hour to get the nerves out and brush away the cobwebs. In that first hour I knocked out almost four miles, and it felt great seeing three bridges zoom on by me. My feeds consisted of Crystal-lite flavored water, Justin’s nut butter samplers, little bite-sized pepperonis from Whole Paycheck Foods, little Babybel cheese. I didn’t want my first feed till 2:00, and it would be a nut butter (always Agnes’s choice of flavor). When I didn’t get a feed at 2:00 I should have known I was in trouble. When the nut butters got boring, I asked for something different. “Agnes,” stroke stroke “pepperoni,” stroke stroke. She seemed really excited that I had cheese and meats as feeds; perhaps I was the first swimmer to not just give her a bunch of bottles of carb mix? I should add here that at the end of the swim, Agnes complemented my kids for always having the feeds ready for her, so I can say that my crew was also on point.

As for injury prevention, this was, frankly, the most surprising to me. I tried to keep it quiet in my social circles, both online and IRL, but my funky elbow has been giving me troubles for the past four or five months. First, for those who only know me through this blog, a picture of my fukt-up elbow.

From top to bottom: elbow from the outside (posterior?); elbow from the inside; elbow extended as much as possible; elbow contracted as much as possible. (Btw, the marks on the mirror are from white-board markers; we use the mirror as a message board!) Even thought my elbow looks horrid, I don’t think it affects my stroke at all, or at least not much. I have no problem with the elbow during the catch phase. I guess the only affect would be when my hand enters the water as I can’t reach as far with the right arm as I can with the left.

However, for the last few months my elbow’s been giving me trouble. Pain has ranged from the bony deposits on the olecranon (in picture one, the topmost part of my arm you see is not my elbow (medial epicondyle, technically) but the bony growth on my olecranon). I think technically it is known as an osteochondroma, but can’t be sure. The medical records covering my elbow surgeries are in St. Louis in the military archives; I never made copies, unfortunately. All this bony growth has led to arthritis. Interestingly, when I had my military retirement physical, an orthopedic surgeon took x-rays of my elbow, and spent a great deal of time looking at the films. He seemed genuinely interested. His only comment, and this from a doctor who looked to be in his mid- to late-50’s, so probably with a few decades experience behind him: “I’ve never seen elbow arthritis, but I imagine if I ever did, it would look just like this.”

So I knew five years ago that I might have trouble with this in the future. And it reared its ugly head months ago. But that’s not all! No, not all. I was lucky enough to get tendinitis as well! At least, that’s what my extensive WebMDing came up with. The pain started in the brachialis, and would get severely painful, almost hot. (Climber’s elbow?) I would feel it swimming when I extended my arm in preparation for the catch. It affected my swimming so much I’d have to shorten the reach of my right arm. More often than not, the pain would be so great I’d have to cut my workout short. Then, normal things like walking, with my arm hanging naturally, would hurt those tendons. I bought one of those elbow braces that are really just a warm snuggly hug on your elbow, thinking that warming up the tendon prior would do the job, but no. It still hurt. My wife’s had tendinitis before and found that continuing to use the tendon, cautiously, was the trick. So I cut my workouts back but still did them. I was okay for maybe two days then it didn’t matter. More pain. I took an entire week off. Still hurt just walking around.

I decided to stick to one plan and see how it goes. I took ibuprofen when the pain necessitated it. I swam an hour a day, two days on, one off. That seemed to do the trick. (I managed to do two long swims during this period, 10,000 yards and 11,200 meters, with low pain.) It still would hurt when I did speed work, and after my first open water swim here in Russia (5.8k), it was very painful for the rest of the day. Ibuprofen again.

I came up with a plan for 20 Bridges with the help of my crew chief cum doc from Issyk Kul: 800mg of ibuprofen 30 minutes prior to the start of 20 Bridges, then the equivalent of 800mg in Children’s Motrin (40ml) as needed during the swim, not to exceed 2400mg in 24 hours. Therefore I knew I had two doses I could take while swimming. (I put the 40ml into a water bottle with about 4oz of water. Doesn’t taste good, but it gets the meds into my system quickly.)

Well, during the swim, maybe around 4:00, I started to think about my lower back. I knew the minute I had anything even approaching pain, I had to get the meds down my gullet. So, another stroke stroke “ibuprofen” to Agnes, and somewhere around four hours into the swim I took my first dose. And never took another one.

It was an incredible feeling. The last thing I expected was to not have pain in my elbow. Not sure why, but I’m thanking God (and my training?) for nine-plus hours of swimming with no elbow pain. My left shoulder a couple times, however, went “Ouch” really loud. It would be when I wasn’t paying attention and my catch would slip. I rarely have shoulder pain, so this took me by surprise. But it really wasn’t anything for me to worry about during the swim. The next morning, while on our way to see Lady Liberty, I pointed to something with my left hand, back behind myself. Imagine, if you will, locking your elbow to your side, lower arm parallel to the ground, and rotating your lower arm away from your body keeping your elbow glued to your side. I did that movement and made it maybe three inches before extreme pain in the front deltoid. Weird. Within a few days, I had full motion again with no pain.

But, most important, my elbow never hurt during the swim nor after! The day after my Issyk Kul crossing last year I was in the car and reached with my right arm to open the glove compartment and BANG extreme pain in the elbow. Remembering that, I brought a sling and my elbow brace with me to NYC. Used neither. It was wonderful.

Finally, the mental game. You sometimes read or hear marathon swimmers mention how this sport is so-and-so much percentage mental. I really believe that. I spent the last eight months or so imagining myself swimming the whole thing. (I should have visualized myself swimming through Hell Gate!) I had all these great things I was going to do after. I was going to consider myself a “real” marathon swimmer. I was going to write up a short article for a work newsletter. I was going to get an iconic swim next to my name in the long swims db. Maybe The Seafarer tattoo I’ve wanted for so long?

Granted, I didn’t swim around Manhattan. I’ve already discussed that. But boy oh boy, did mental toughness ever get me through the second ‘half’ of the swim. So many times I wanted to quit. But I really didn’t have a reason. I wasn’t cold. I wasn’t nauseous. I wasn’t in pain. At times I was bored, or really, how to describe it…tired of being in salty water? Weary of the tedium? Running out of things to think about? Praying for the Hudson to push me even faster? Not sure, but I couldn’t quit. I came way too far, in air miles, in $$$, in training. Just couldn’t do it.

I guess that means three areas were on point: nutrition, injury prevention, and the mental game. Good. Now I can concentrate on my speed. Hell Gate, I will conquer you! See you in 2019?

*Coincidentally, a friend of mine just completed 40 Bridges today. Yes, she swam around Manhattan twice non-stop. Granted, she’s renowned for how incredible of a swimmer she is.