Category Archives: 2020 Season

After the swim

Thought I forgot, dear reader(s)? No! Here’s the promised apres-swim post.

Immediately upon exiting, I’ve written about that already. After getting back to my room and scarffing down that ice cream, I went to the “grab-n-go” and got some hot dogs and cheese and PB and chips. I think I already spoke about this.

Then I slept. Well (for once).

I woke up and tried to sit up in bed. Holy Jehoshaphat, my abs! I guess the 1400 flip-turns (+/- 10 for the stops) I did the day prior really took their toll on my transabdominis. Shoulders? Nope. Back? Nope. Abs? Oh yes, pain!

Work followed, as it always does here. (Fun fact, till my swim on 23 Jan, I hadn’t taken a day off of work since 1 September.) I have a standing desk, but didn’t stand long. The entire abs area was painful.

People not in the know about marathon swimming were really impressed with my swim. They thought, and I believe still think, that I was being cocky or dismissive when I told them it really was like lying down for a long time. They also don’t believe that all I really wanted was a day to swim without being kicked out of the pool because my reservation was over. I didn’t want to be bugged!

But seriously, a swim like this does take some conditioning, but with the expected caveat of exiting the pool for Nature’s call, 10 hours isn’t really that much work. Every time I got out of the pool was a break. Non-crazy swimmers don’t understand how comforting it is to be vertical, and feel gravity, after hours of horizontal and sorta-weightlessness. It was so nice to exit the pool and feel the Earth’s pull.

I started doing ~90 minutes before getting out to pee (and sometimes eat). As the day went on I got out closer to every hour. Or at least stopped to get water while staying in. But this wasn’t anything like a 10-hour marathon swim. I tried to explain to folks how different it is when you’re treading water while eating, not touching anything that can give support. That’s a rough 10 hours.

But what I did was a mental test. 700 laps in a tinier-than-normal pool is taxing. I had to come up with other things to think about. Besides counting laps. I thought of stories I’d like to write. I thought of my daughter and her search for a college. At the end, it really was tough to do those last 20 laps.

The second day, Monday, I awoke with painful shoulders. “Ah! That makes sense,” I thought. Abs didn’t hurt anymore, but I most certainly could feel the swim when I raised my arms.

By Tuesday, muscle pain was gone. But I didn’t feel very good. Funky. Almost like I wanted to vomit. I had intended on going back to the pool that morning, but thought this was body telling me to take one more rest day. So I did.

And Wednesday felt great. Did a mile in the pool. Same on Thursday. Did two miles on Saturday and a mile and a half on Sunday.

And that’s been it ever since. Swimming-wise. Pool’s been closed for annual maintenance ever since. And then last night I saw this.

Water in the pool!

I was so excited. So of course this morning I had to go by again.

Almost full!

Getting there! Finally, this evening:


The MWR Director emailed me today and told me to get ready to be able to make reservations in the coming days. I am 9.5 miles away from 150 miles swum here in Africa. And I leave in two weeks. I can do it!

Oh, and what did I learn from the 10-hour pool swim? Never again!

Previous posts:
10-hour pool swim
Observer logs
The Swim

The Swim

The day of the 10-hour swim came. I woke early from a fitful sleep, like most nights here. I ran into work for about an hour, then I wanted to just get started.

The original intent was to do a 12-hour swim. I learned early that the pool was only open 10 hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Found out that if I wanted to do 12 hours, I’d have to pay for 3 lifeguards for 2 hours. Nah. 10 hours is enough.

A week before the swim, some Navy guys here on base realized they never reserved the pool for a special annual event. They requested it for 0800-1000. The MWR Director was quite upset that they thought they could just roll in last minute. She thankfully told them: the pool’s already reserved from 0900-1900, but I’ll ask the other party and see if they’d be willing to give you an hour.

Even better, the Director offered to keep the pool open till 2000 so I could still get 10 hours in. I relented, but told these sailors that my crew and I had to get in at 0945 to set up.

Come Saturday morning, and sure enough, they were gone and we had the pool. I set about getting ready. Towel on a chair, backpack with treats in the lifeguard office, along with a Igloo cooler. Angela from work brought ice. I had everything set. One last bathroom break. Somehow, all the above took 15 minutes. Shower’d off and jumped in the pool at 1000 and started.

First mile flew by; I found out later it was in the 28-min range. Not so bad, but that’s from the excitement. I put my head down and swam 3400m to make it a nice and round 5K before I got out for a bathroom break.

(c) MC2 Colin Sens

Let’s talk about that. This is a pool, so of course I’m not gonna pee in it. That’s gross. It would also be quite obvious to swim for 10 hours and never get out. So get out I did, sandals on, quick pee, quicker shower, “You got me?”, got a nod, then more swimming.

The time really did go quickly. My first fear was my muscles. On Tuesday prior to the swim, I was intent on a mile, part of my tapering. I was maybe 4-5 laps in when I felt a horrible pull from the middle of my neck through my traps to my right lats. It hurt so bad to breath right. Switched to left only, and it didn’t feel much better. Slowed down and did 20 laps (half mile), but got out. Didn’t swim anymore between then and Saturday.

Like most of my long swims, I took some meds before starting, to “get ahead”of muscle ache. Three or so hours in I finally remembered this neck pull. Nothing. Then I stopped thinking about it, and just swam.

For quite some time. Still had to get out for pee breaks, but also for food. No food is allowed by patrons of the pool, anywhere. But due to my swim, MWR allowed me to eat. As long as I did it in the lifeguard office. I ate bites of calories on almost all pee breaks from about the 4th or 5th hour on. I was getting hungry, but didn’t feel like I had hit the wall.

There was a time, somewhere between 1700-1800, where I was starting to feel it. Jay, my crew chief, mentioned that he hadn’t seen me, up to that point, out of breath. And sure enough, I was breathing heavily while eating and drinking. I don’t think the mile or so I’d just finished was particularly fast. But looking back after, there was almost three hours in there somewhere that I had hit zone 5 with my HR.

After 1800, I was ready for it to be done. I’d stop after every mile, get something to drink, then head down and swim. Slowly. Never ending.

At some point at or just after 1930, Jay said, “Ok, 20 minutes left. I’ll need 40 laps to make it an even 18 miles.” I laughed at him, then pushed off the wall.

That last 20 laps took me however many minutes were left till 1958-ish. I did backstroke down, free back. Again, very slowly. But 20 laps (half mile), because I couldn’t handle finishing and having to tell people I swam 17.34 miles or whatever.*

Distance and the time of day when I hit the distance.

At the end of those 20 laps, I looked at the clock, and it was close enough to 2000, I called it. Somewhere I found enough energy to climb out and fist bump every single person who came out and were still there. The Friends of Africa Volunteers wanted a picture immediately, but I was in my grape smugglers, so I quickly put some trunks over and a shirt on and got photos.

The wonderful FAV folks

Then my wonderful crew packed my stuff up and drove me to my room. Even more awesome was the chocolate/peanut butter ice cream they got me. The first thing I did in my room was gulp down that wonderfulness. Shower followed, then a trip to the grab-and-go for some hot dogs, cheese, bag of chips and more PB. I took more meds before bed, then slept pretty well.

Till the next morning when I found my six pack. But more on that later.

*Irony is, 40 laps in the pool, advertised everywhere here as a mile, is actually 0.99 of a mile. Multiply 700 laps by 40 meters and you actually get 17.398 miles. 

Finally on the board in all events

First time back in the pool this morning since the big swim on Saturday. Felt good! Kept it to one mile though. I’ve had bad sleeps Sunday and Monday night, so was dragging during the days. Had an okay sleep last night, a good and solid six hours. Hoping this swim today and the walk I just took around base will help me sleep tonight.

When I got to the pool this morning I noticed the lifeguards hadn’t erased the tracking board from Saturday, thankfully, because I never got a picture.

Distance and the time of day when I hit the distance. (Event started exactly at 10:00)

On Saturday, I noticed that Upul finally got the printer working and my 800m time from weeks (and weeks) ago was on the board. I now have times in all events.

All events covered now
That damn Crowe

When I arrived this morning, Upul welcomed me and asked me how I was doing. Then when I went to take the pictures above, he commented: Sir, you swam your first mile on Saturday in only 28 minutes. This one was over 30 minutes. You need to redo all these swims!

Tonight while going to dinner, the senior enlisted guy on base, who advised me at the beginning on how to arrange this insanity, saw me and asked how my swim went. I told him great, and he responded “So, easy then?” I almost choked, said no, but told him I was happy with the result.

“What? You swam 17 and a half miles in that little pool?” The commanding general looked at me differently. His security guy, someone with whom I’ve had chats a couple times a week for the last five months, looked at me and said, “You’re that guy?!”

I love destroying assumptions. Yes, these puny arms and shoulders pulled this dad bod through 700 laps. Surprise!

Pictorial tour of the 10-hour insanity

I’ll write more on this swim this weekend, but for now, here are some pictures taken by the wonderful folks who came out in support.

Base pool before the excitement
(c) MC2 Colin Sens
(c) MC2 Colin Sens
(c) MC2 Colin Sens
Last lap
Lap #700 almost complete
Just some of the Friends of Africa volunteers who spent the day collecting clothing and toiletries for needy families here in Djibouti
Some of the lap counter crew

Observer logs

Had a beer for the first time in a week. Ok, three beers. But they have Flying Dog here, so had to carb up from my 10-hour effort yesterday.

People today were very interested in my swim, and I was surprised that so many of them were interested in how many calories I burned yesterday. Apparently that’s something people track. I don’t.

My 10 hours of swimming yesterday burned 8000 calories according to a GPS watch that fails to connect to GPS ever. So besides not knowing what 8000 calories really means, How does this watch know how much work I did yesterday?

I’m a bit sore today, but I usually get swim-sore the second day, so we’ll see what tomorrow brings. I can lift my arms today, so that’s good. The most sore of any of my muscles are my abs. I guess you’ll get that with 1400 flip turns. I have to roll out of my bed. And when I walk up stairs I feel it. I guess those 1400 “air” squats yesterday did a number on my quads.

I’m off to bed soon. Here are the three pages of “observer” logs from yesterday. I had wonderful volunteers who took time off from their busy days here and watched me do lap after lap. (Boring!!!!)


10-hour pool swim

Yesterday I completed a 10-hour pool swim here. Just woke up. Wow…the arms…

Managed 700 laps in the pool. In their math here (1600m=1 mile), that 17.5 miles, but in real numbers, 700 laps x 40m is 17.398 miles. Let’s call it 17.4 miles.

I write more on this. I’ve been “working” it for a couple months now. Almost as much logistics as a marathon swim. But this time there were lawyers!

What is similar though is the need for a crew. And I had a great one. I was never lacking in support, and for that I am eternally grateful!

Just some of the folks who took time off from their work to come support me.

Another t-shirt!

On Sunday I hit 100 miles of swimming since starting here. Way more than I thought I’d do even this entire year, what with the craziness that 2020 has been.

Started swimming here 9 September, back when it was 3x per week, 30 min max. That lasted a week or two I think, then I went to 5-6x a week. Usually I can swim more than the 30 min but there are times that all 3 reservations actually show up to swim and I have to get out at the 30-min mark. Still, I manage at least a mile in that time.

Looking back at my flog, I managed 39 miles of swimming before pools (and beaches) closed. When beaches opened back up, I swam 21 miles in two months. In a little less than four months here I’ve swum 102 miles! Not too shabby. As of today I’m just under 162 miles for the year. Add one or a smidge more if I go tomorrow morning.

This is the last shirt I’ll get here. They have no 150 mile shirts. No idea if they’ve never had them or if they just ran out and didn’t reorder.

12 days of Christmas swim

Over the last two days I completed a 12 Days of Christmas swim. For the uninitiated, this swim involves one doing a length for each day. For example, the swimmer would swim a length on the first day of Christmas. For the second day of Christmas, they’d swim two lengths (two turtle doves) and one length (partridge in a pear tree). And so on.

Now, swimming it “up” like that is heart-breaking. And I just wasn’t ready for the mental challenge this year, so I swim “down,” which basically meant I started on the 12th day: thus, 12 lengths, then 11, then 10, etc. all the way down to that one length for the partridge.

As dear reader(s) know, the pool here on base is limited to 30 min sessions. If no one comes when your time is up, you can keep swimming. This theory has resulted in me swimming as much as two hours straight a couple weeks ago, to swimming a total of an hour, forty over a two hour, 15 min period due to people showing up and filling all three lanes.

Yesterday, Christmas day, I started at the 12th day and swam down through the 9th, complete. Here, with each length being 20m instead of the usual 25, these four “days” totaled 4880m. I couldn’t end there so I did a 120m cool down for a nice and even 5km.

Today I went back and completed the workout, swimming down from the 8th day of Christmas to the 1st day, which totaled 2400m. Did a 200m cool down.

These two days brought my total mileage since getting over here to 99 miles. One more till the 100-mile t-shirt!

Only one event left

A few weeks ago I completed another time trial at the pool on base. Took them a while to put my name up though; their printer has been down.

Only event left is the 800m. Unsure when I’ll do that one. Maybe this week? We’ll see. I certainly want my name on the board for all events before I leave.

I’m at 82 miles as of Sunday. Only 18 more till the 100 mile shirt! I also learned this weekend that the pool will be closed 1-14 Feb. Ugh…

Gulf of Aden, part III

Got another swim in today in the Gulf of Aden. 3.43 miles in relatively warm water (upper 80s?). Again brought my GoPro, so got some cool pics. Check out this beauty; looks like it has long eye lashes!

And I was able to get closer to the HMS Tetanus.

Including under her.

I’m at about 62 miles now; that 100 mile t-shirt is not too far away.

Speaking of the pool, I did swim the 400m this week, so I’ll have my name up on the board again, this time in 2nd place: 6:33. Very happy with that. Was figuring on 7-ish minutes. I sure was breathing hard though. Oy!