Category Archives: Grand Plan

Issyk Kul crossing tomorrow

Another four swimmers will attempt a crossing of my route on the western end of Issyk Kul tomorrow. I must admit that I’m honored and prideful that my little swim adventures from 2015-2016 has turned into an annual event in far off Kyrgyzstan, the Switzerland of Central Asia.

This year there were to be six swimmers, two Kazakhs, two Kyrgyz and two Americans. Again, the Americans are Peace Corps members, like Sarah D’Antoni, who crossed a month after me and still holds the fastest time for the crossing (4:43). Unfortunately, the Americans did not get permission to swim this year, so there’ll just be the four locals.

And unfortunately, they’ll be wearing wetsuits. In that area of the world, cold water is scary for a lot of people, despite the fact the water there isn’t that cold. Folks in that area, with its connection to Russia, suffer from being raised by grandmothers who on the one hand will scream and cry if you go out in 50*F or cooler weather without a coat (fully zipped up!) and on the other hand will extol the health benefits of taking all your clothes off in the snow and dunking yourself three times in 35*F water in a cut-out hole in a frozen lake. The thought of swimming four, five, maybe six hours in 72-74*F water without the help of a wetsuit, is madness for these folks. While I try to persuade them to not swim the lake that way, and my friend the local doctor tries too, I am at least happy that people are even thinking of swimming across this beautiful body of water.

Tomorrow I will report more on how the swimmers do. Until then, here’s a picture of the swimmers, organizers and crew. Good luck to all!

Four new Issyk Kul swimmers (maybe five!)

(Edited 11 Aug to add water temperature data.)

I got info and observer notes from the Issyk Kul Swim Challenge that happened on the 6th. The Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation now boasts six official crossers of the historical route, the one based on the Kyrgyz myth of Toru-Aigyr (Тору-Айгыр).

The swimmers above, Denis Kochenkov, Chingiz Alkanov, Almaz Koychiev, and Nazim Turdumambetov, each swam from the southern shore of Issyk Kul near the village of Kara Talaa to the northern shore village of Toru-Aygyr. Times varied:

In the list above, the order of names is: Koychiev, Alkanov, Kochenkov and Turdumambetov. Times are not too bad, but Peace Corps volunteer Sarah D’Antoni still holds the record for the crossing with a time of 4:43.38.

These swimmers were mentored all along by Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation co-founder and federation medical officer (and certified observer) Olesya Pakseleva. The Challenge began with 10 interested swimmers. Initially, they all wanted to swim in wetsuits, but Olesya talked them out of that, citing the universally accepted rules of marathon swimming. (Olesya knows the rules backwards and forwards!)

On the day prior to the swim, as all 10 swimmers and their support crews assembled at Hotel Aliya in Balykchy, Olesya took this picture of the lake.

That picture, combined with the weather forecast for the next day and the water temperature, scared off six of the swimmers. Four stalwartly individuals stuck to their guns and committed to meeting Bakyt and his boat at the hotel pier the next morning at 0400.

Then is when the trouble began! Bakyt overslept! Olesya had to find his home address and go wake him up. He and his boat didn’t arrive at the pier until 0700. The swimmers were very nervous, but Olesya calmed them down, assuring them they’d be ok. At 0715, they set sail for the southern shore of Issyk Kul and the village of Kara Talaa. At 0915, all swimmers started.

The swimmers were each accompanied by a kayaker, with Bakyt’s boat being the base of operations. Unfortunately, no one had a GPS, and the lake still has spotty coverage so no one was able to use their phone for tracking either. Olesya ensured that the swimmers started at the same location Sarah and I did last year, as well as finished at the same spot.

The swimmers averaged between 45 and 55 strokes per minute during their crossings. Their feedings were about every 30-45 minutes. Some of them listened to the wise advice of Olesya and put diaper rash ointment in certain areas of their bodies, some didn’t…and are suffering now. (Lesson learned!) Water temperature was 22C near the shore and 18C in the middle of the lake. All four who started finished. None of them touched the boat or kayak, none got support from another person in the water, all entered the water dry and exited the water dry under their own power.

One swimmer, however, did wear one of those full body suits that aren’t technically considered wetsuits. In other words, for a triathlon whose water temperature is too warm for wetsuits, this body suit would be legal. (Chingiz is the president of the Kyrgyz Triathlon Federation.) Sadly for Chingiz, that suit is not legal for marathon swimming. He still swam across Issyk Kul and will have his name listed in the records of the Federation, but his time will not count as far as any lists of the “X-number of fastest crossings” or anything like that. Olesya tried to talk him out of wearing the illegal suit, but he wore it anyway. Perhaps next year he’ll try it again, only then wearing a proper marathon swimming-approved suit!

Additionally, two days after these four men swam across the lake, I received a link to a news story about yet another person who swam across the lake over this same route, the day prior to these four swimmers.

Russian-Kyrgyz Development Fund Board Member Erkin Asrandiyev swam across Issyk-Kul lake. The idea to cross Issyk-Kul came to him last year when he saw in the TV news that Peace Corps volunteer Sarah D’Antoni and U.S. Embassy officer Mike Tyson swam the lake following the route of the legendary horse Toru-Aigyr.

I’m trying to get in contact with Mr. Asrandiyev to find out if he had anyone observe his swim. Frankly, there is only one person not certified by the Federation who could have observed his swim and the Federation accept the results, and that person is Akhmed Anarbayev, the first person to ever swim across lake Issyk Kul. Mr. Asrandiyev never contacted the Federation, didn’t contact Olesya or any other person associated with the Federation. For now, his results will be absent from the list of successful crossings.

Dear reader(s) remember that one of my goals for swimming across that wonderful lake was to get the locals interested in using their natural resources for swimming events such as these. I was happy when I heard about their Lake Issyk Kul Challenge and will remain happy as long as I hear more wonderful stories like this. Next year they will repeat the Challenge, and hopefully have more and more swimmers, including, perhaps, an American who is missing the magic of the world’s second largest alpine lake.

Issyk Kul tomorrow!

My friend Olesya took some pictures from lake Issyk Kul today.

Tomorrow, one year and one month after my successful crossing, four intrepid local Kyrgyz will attempt to swim from Kara Talaa in the south to Toru Aygyr in the north.

Unsure how many will be with and how many without wetsuit. We will see. This is a great first step for Kyrgyz swimmers and I hope this will herald great swims on this beautiful lake in the future. Good luck! Жакшы ийгилик!

10,000 yard swim complete!

Had a great workout today. Great because I did it. Great because my niggling elbow didn’t bother me. Great ’cause it’s my birthday!

I wanted to do something big for the big 5-0. I did 50 x 100 for my wife’s 50th, but I wanted/needed something longer. So I took 4 hours off from work and went straight to the pool. I did this work-out:


This workout I created from a 25K workout that the incredible marathon swimmer Evan Morrison did prior to his incredibly successful season back in, I think, 2010. My workout, however, is only 10,000, or 40% of Evan’s. My pool being SSCM (that is: short-short course meters), where it takes three laps to do 100 yards (100.67 yards, to be exact), that means 300 laps for the above workout. For that I have a lap counter for my finger.

The workout starts out easy with the base-400 sets. But by the time I’m past the base-600 sets I’ve already done more than my usual weekday workout. The middle four, base-800 sets, is about what my usual workout is, distance-wise.

Going into the workout, I had in mind a concept that was suggested to me by another awesome marathon swimmer, LBJ. He had done Manhattan in the past, and he told me about the transition from the East river to the Harlem river. Apparently, after some time spent with the current pushing you in the East river, you get hit with current against you all of a sudden when you swim into the Harlem. His suggestion? Swim for two hours, then sprint for 10-15 minutes.

Sure enough at around the two-hour mark, I thought I’d try it. So the first of the 2 x 400 I really pushed it. By no one’s definition would it be called sprinting. But I certainly did increase the heart rate. I’d say I went from 50% effort to 75%. I sure was breathing hard after it. But I felt great! It’s at this point I realize I hadn’t swum beyond two hours straight since last July in Issyk Kul. I wondered how my elbow would do after this point. It did great! In fact, I “sprinted” all the multiple sets from that 2 x 400 on, except not the 4 x 100 at the end. Those four were spent doing backstroke and (very) easy free.

Nutrition-wise, at around the two-hour mark I started to get hungry. I had plenty to eat prior to swimming, so it wasn’t that. I just think it was calories burned in those first two hours. I brought three small water bottles with me and drank two of them. The water started getting boring pretty much from the start, so next time (in a month?) I’ll use my calorie-free powder to give the water some taste. I was missing or yearning for salt at a little over two hours, too. When I was done swimming, I went to the front desk and called the embassy cafeteria and ordered chicken nuggets, so they’d be ready for me when I was showered and dressed. Damn, did they ever taste good!

So, 3 hours and 7 minutes after starting, 10,000 yards complete (10,067 to be exact)! In one month, perhaps I’ll try 13,000?

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


Issyk Kul after party

(First post on my Issyk Kul swim here. Second post here.)

So, the swim was done and I was back on the boat. I had my daughter’s bag of chips, and some other bag of diabetes I was stuffing into my pie-hole at an alarming rate. Never did chips and crackers taste so good.

Me explaining some detail of my swim
Me explaining some detail of my swim

I was warm and happy and ready for the hour-or-so trip back to Balykchy. But when you’ve got a chiropractor-massage therapist on board, there’s no rest. Against my protestations, I was ordered to lie down and accept my fate.

Let the torture begin
Let the torture begin

Pain! But later that pain turned to comfort, especially in the legs. When I was coming into the beach to finish the swim, and popped a squat to take care of Mother Nature’s call, my calves cramped up something fierce. Once Olesya started working on my legs, I fell asleep. Next thing I know we are at the pier and the weather had turned. Clouds and heavy winds. Perfect timing on my part!


Hard to tell in that picture, but the wind started picking up, clouds came rolling in and it looked like rain to the north by the mountains. We got back to the pier where a bunch of Kyrgyz kids were swimming and enjoying themselves, the embassy folks were taking pictures, and a gaggle of Kyrgyz men came to congratulate me.

image1 (1)
Arriving back in Balykchy
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L-R: Boat captain Kurbat; his son Bakyt; me; hotel owner; no idea

After all the pictures, we headed back up to the hotel. At this point, the wonderful embassy folks who came all the way out to see me had to return to Bishkek. 5 hours (minimum) there and back just to hang out for a few minutes to congratulate me. How awesome is that? I’ve got the best co-workers.

While still on the boat, someone asked me if I wanted the sauna turned on back at the hotel. Hells yeah, I responded. They have a wonderful sauna right on the beach, actually on a pier over the water. You can heat yourself up and then jump into the lake, then repeat. By the time we got back to the hotel, however, I was ready to eat.

You can just see the roof of the sauna at the bottom of this picture
You can just see the roof of the sauna at the bottom of this picture

Two of my crew had to depart immediately with the rest of the folks going back to Bishkek. Talas had a soccer game that night to get to, and Olesya had to get home as she was scheduled to run with the famous American ultramarathoner, Dean Karnazes, who is running 525k through Central Asia. So that meant a late lunch/early dinner (linner? dunch?) with my family and Chris and Sarah.

Food was great. We found a nice place by the hotel with outside seating and had some wonderful local Kyrgyz food. Good for the body to replace the calories lost. (My Garmin says I worked off 790 calories during my six-hour swim…how in God’s name can that even be right?) Dinner took a while, but no one was in a hurry. While we were in the restaurant, the winds and clouds died down and it got back to being beautifully sunny. Upon return to the hotel, the owners asked us again if we wanted the sauna. My family and I said yes!

The sauna felt great, especially jumping back into the cool lake water. There were a few Kyrgyz boys jumping off the sauna-pier, enjoying the lake. From inside the sauna they sounded like elephants. In reality, they were 10-year olds barely hitting 70 pounds on the scale. Great kids. I asked them how deep the lake was there and they decided the best way to tell me was to show me. A couple of them jumped into the lake, yelling at me to watch them as they went under with their arms above their heads. (“Байке, Байке, посмотрите!”) About an hour later when my wife and I were ready to go back to the hotel (our kids having since returned), all the Kyrgyz boys were gone except for one little guy. I asked him how he enjoyed his swimming, and he said he had to leave because they saw a shark in the water. I guffawed and told him that’s impossible, there are no sharks in the lake. He insisted there were, and I tried to explain to him that it wasn’t possible. Finally I saw a sneaky little smile on his face and knew he was trying to josh the foreigner.

We all got cleaned up and had some tea and fruit in the hotel (the fruit here is so incredibly fresh and plentiful, I’m really going to miss it). Chris was already in his room sacked out and I was not long from that state of being as well. We had a little emergency which kept me (and everyone else) up a bit longer though.

Right before sleepy time, a huge storm came through, complete with pouring rain and lightning. Just as our son Sam was giving us the “I’m going to bed” call, a dripping of water started out of one of the ceiling lights in the kids’ room. Off I went to get a bucket. (Slowly…by this point I had a cramp in my calf that was forcing me to walk with a limp.) The owner came up to the room with her maintenance guy and they talked a bit in Kyrgyz about what’s to be done. The bucket did the job, but the dripping turned into a steady stream a few minutes later. And then to top it off, as my son (and daughters) were resigned to sleeping in the room complete with Chinese water torture, another dripping started right onto my son’s bed. This time it was coming from one of the fire suppression thingys in the ceiling. Nope, this wasn’t going to work.

The owner got my kids another room down the hall, complete with a better bathroom than mom and dad had in the “family room.” With the kids safely tucked into bed I was now ready to lie down. Sleep came quickly. In the morning, it was sunny again and I felt great. The cramp had gone (I ate a banana before bed) and the soreness in my shoulders and upper body reminded me of how awesome I am. (snort)  We had a wonderful breakfast with Sarah and Chris, who departed right after, and then the family and I headed on home to Bishkek. But not before taking a picture of the hotel crew, who gifted my kids with Hotel Aliya hats.

Hotel Aliya staff, my family and I
Hotel Aliya owners, my family and I

Swim done, thank goodness. Next up in the blog, lessons learned and my hopes for the future of swimming in Kyrgyzstan and the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation.

Wear Sunscreen

You might have heard this song before. It’s based on a newspaper article written years ago by Mary Schmich, a commencement address she said she’d give if ever asked.

The piece has lots of sound advice in it:

  • Be kind to your knees; you’ll miss them when they’re gone.
  • Floss
  • Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

But perhaps the most appropriate advice for my recent past, and one I forgot, is:

  • Wear sunscreen

I did have my daughter put sunscreen on my back, legs and arms, but totally forgot my face.

You can see the cap line on my forehead. Google marks, too.

Can you tell which side of my face spent more time out of the water breathing?



More facts

So, adding to my previous blog post on facts about my swim:

First. As far as I can find, I am the first human to cross the lake at the location I crossed. I say human because of the basis for the crossing. I spoke with the only other person to have ever crossed the lake solo, Akhmed Anarbaev,* and he told me no one else has done the route I did. I also did research online in both English and Russian, and have found no one else ever having done a crossing of this beautiful lake. I’ve asked local Kyrgyz to search for info in Kyrgyz, and they’ve only found Mr. Anarbaev.

Second. My time for the route probably will not stand long as Sarah, the Peace Corps volunteer stationed here in Kyrgyzstan, will swim the same route at the end of August. She’s a real swimmer and will certainly destroy my glacially-slow six hours and two minutes. She swam for about a half hour to support me and I was going so slowly she did heads-up, goggles-off breast and still had to stroke very slowly to stay beside me!

Sarah to my right, easily keeping up with me!

*Anarbaev crossed the lake on the eastern end in 1982. His crossing was 17 miles and took him 11 hours. More info at the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation page here on my blog or on Facebook.


OK, so my Issyk Kul crossing was a success yesterday. w00t! So excited. A little sore today, but not unexpected. Some facts about my swim:

Location: Lake Issyk Kul, the second largest alpine lake in the world after lake Titicaca. The lake sits at 5270 feet above sea level. Issyk Kul means hot lake, so-named due to the fact that the lake never freezes. (The lake’s water is anything but hot.)

Route: The route I chose, which is based on a Kyrgyz myth, is in the western end of the lake. I started the swim near the village of Kara-Talaa on the southern shore and completed the swim on the northern shore in the village of Toru-Aygyr.

Crew: Almost same crew as last year. Chris, embassy doc and retired special forces medic, was both team chief and observer (see below). Sarah, Peace Corps volunteer and collegiate swimmer (FIU), who is planning on doing the same swim in late August (she’ll complete hers much quicker), was on board to see how the crossing goes to prep for hers. Talas, Kyrgyz-Russian-English translator, coordinated all logistics with the boat captain and the hotel. Olesya, chiropractor and massage therapist, was crew cheerleader and masseuse. Sam, my son, responsible for social media and keeping the GPS connected to the tracker. Magdalena, my daughter, photographer and feed mixer.

Support: The embassy community is awesome. A bunch of folks, including the ambassador, came out to see me come in. I couldn’t believe it. Five hours (minimum) there and back just to see me, hug me, congratulate me, then drive back home. Awesome. And of course there is the rest of the family, my wife and youngest, who were on the beach when I swam in.

Time and distance and other data: Unofficial time was 6:02.45 and 13.86km. Water temp averaged 18C and air temp was about 29C during the second half of the swim, when the sun was out. I’m having trouble syncing my Garmin with the computer, so I can’t get the exact start and finish coordinates to do the straight-line measurement (to get the official distance…in marathon swimming, you only get credit for the A-to-B straight distance, no matter how much you zig-zag). My Garmin was on Chris’s wrist until he got back on the boat, at which point he put it on one of the boat’s railings. Then at the end he put it back on his wrist and paddled to the finish with me. Here’s the track from the GPS on the boat. You can see how well the Captain did with keeping a nice straight line:


More blog entries to follow, including a picture-heavy post and lessons learned (like to put sun protection on your face, too).