Category Archives: Spirit of Marathon Swimming

Walter Poenisch: 2020 Honor Swimmer

Today it was announced that Walter Poenisch, the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida, will be inducted as a 2020 Honor Swimmer into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame. I’ve written about Mr. Poenisch before here. Instead of reiterating what I’ve written before, how about we just read what IMSHOF wrote:

Walter Poenisch at the age of 65 was the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida: 128.8 miles/ 207 km in 34 hours and 15 minutes. The swim ended on July 13, 1978, when he reached Little Duck Key, Florida. Walter swam under pre-announced rules, under independent witness and the observation report was in the public record. The observer/authenticator was J. Marvin Mims the President of the International Federation of Professional Ocean Swimmers and Divers. Their rules allowed: fins, snorkel, shark cage and getting out of the water four times for no longer than five minutes at a time to administer emergency medicine, receive critical nourishment, or for any reason that directly threatened the life of the swimmer. These facts were never in dispute and he broke his own record for the longest ocean swim.

As a young man his occupation was listed as a cookie baker, rodeo competitor and strongman. Walter was late to marathon swimming (50 years of age) – first entering (but not finishing) the 1963 Jim Moran Lake Michigan Swim. He was credited as the “World’s Strongest Endurance Swimmer” for such feats as towing 30-ton paddlewheel boats while swimming with his hands and feet shackled.

Walter set world records for the longest ocean swims before the Cuba swim: 90.75 miles/146 km in the Atlantic Ocean and four year later 122.5 miles/197.1 km from the Florida Keys to the tip of the Florida peninsula.

Motivated by the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, Poenisch conceived of the idea of Swim for Peace, swimming from Cuba to the USA: “to further better relations between my country and Cuba.” It took him 15 years of letter writing and lobbying, to both governments, to obtain permission. Walter was the first swimmer to use publicity to deliver a positive political message (now called “Speedo Diplomacy”) – other IMSHOF Honorees including Lynne Cox and Lewis Pugh have since followed.

Cuban Leader Fidel Castro was on hand (proposing a toast honoring his efforts and his dream of peace between their two nations), on Walters’ 65th birthday. The next day he started and completed the swim.

Congratulations to Mr. Poenisch. The induction ceremony will be in May next year and I hope to see his lovely wife there to accept in his honor.

The Lady Swims

What a week for marathon/channel swimming!

Sarah Thomas, already holder of the longest current-neutral swim in the world at 104.6 miles (67 hours 16 minutes), went and changed what we thought about human endurance by swimming the English Channel four times in a row without stopping. Yes, dear reader(s), that means she entered the water from England, swam to France, turned around and swam back to England, turned around and swam back to France (at that point becoming only the fifth person to swim a triple), then turned around and swam back to England, where she finally got to lay down and rest.

No one has ever done this. Only four people had ever done a triple, and none of them got back in the water and even started to swim a fourth leg. Sarah swam straight for 54 hours and 10 minutes, and her comment at the end was “I’m pretty tired right now.” No crap!

Sarah is a powerful swimmer and one can see from the plots that she had some serious fights with the water during those 2+ days. English Channel rules for multiple legs require the swimmer to clear the water and immediately re-enter, but if any part of the swimmer is still in the water, the swimmer then has 10 minutes before they have to start swimming again. All other rules are the same: no one can touch the swimmer, swimmer can’t touch anyone else. But the swimmer’s support can hand them food, lanolin, etc, as long as the swimmer does everything herself.

Currents were such for the first leg that Sarah “landed” at a rock in France where all she could do was hang on; no beach to rest on for 10 minutes. She held onto the rock while her support swimmer, another incredible marathon swimmer named Elaine Kornblau Howley, handed her lanolin and cooked rice. But, as Sarah reflects in her after-action report, those 10 minutes were up pretty quickly and she was off on lap 2.

Lap 1 done, off on lap 2

Lap 2 took Sarah back to England and again, because of currents (and some other swimmers starting their swims on the beach), she got pushed to a seawall and had to tap the wall, signifying end of lap 2 and start of lap 3. She was so looking forward to a moment of zen on the beach there but had to go straight back to work. But as those of us who follow this amazing swimmer have grown used to seeing, she was all business and continued her powerful swim.

Lap 2 done, off on lap 3

It wasn’t until the end of lap 3 that Sarah finally got to rest, on a rock that she could sit on. Still not a beach. And after more than 36 hours of swimming.

The horrible lap 4

Her 10 minutes up, Sarah headed out for lap 4, making history. Lap 4 sounds horrible, and I don’t know how the hell she did it. To see the video of her landing, one wonders how she could even hold herself up long enough to clear the water. And how she was still awake.

Sarah on the beach © NBC News

Oh, and did I mention Sarah was nauseous throughout? Puking throughout the first three laps? She’s a “freak of nature,” right Sarah‘s mom?!

Sarah is an international star, especially in Britain. She’ll be back in the states this weekend and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of her on the news in this country next week. She has in every media event lauded her crew as the reason she made it through. She’s an incredible swimmer but even more so, she recognizes that this is not an individual sport. None of us can make any of our swims without the support of awesome people who volunteer their time for our insane pursuits.

Sarah, because of her professionalism, openness about her swims, and strength, has earned the respect of everyone in the marathon swim community and is an example for other swimmers to follow, especially those who claim to follow the “fair, just, ethical and agreed-upon rules of our sport.”

Observant readers may wonder why I’ve linked every instance of Sarah‘s name in this post. Well, every single linked “Sarah” is a different news outlet telling the world about this incredible feat. To include foreign press, so you might be surprised at some of the links.

Boston Frogman Swim

Had the honor on Sunday to volunteer for the inaugural Boston Frogman Swim.

The Frogman swim is in honor of the fallen among the Naval Special Warfare community. Over 100 Naval special operators have died since 9/11. Several families showed up today to represent their loved ones while 27 swimmers completed a 5K swim, each swimming in the name of one of the deceased.

Showed up at oh-dark thirty to help set up for the swim. In usual military style, the whole place was set up in no time at all, and at the end, torn down in less than 30 minutes like we’d never been there.

I was amazed at how many volunteers showed up to help out for the event. I was equally, or maybe, more amazed at all the people who volunteered who were not in any way connected to the military. Seriously, the first five people I spoke to, fellow volunteers, none of them had been in the military. Neither did they have any connection! They simply had friends who were in the Navy or thought it would be great to support the community. So wonderful and the reason why I love living in this wonderful country!

My new friend Jane was swimming today, and I was happy to see a couple other open water swimmer friends, Polly and David, swimming the event! Wetsuits were mandatory unfortunately, but probably best for the distance and temperature (53F).

Some actual Navy Seals swam it, as well as one kid who is going to BUD/S soon. Most of those guys all swam it with legit fins and mask. Due to the cold water, it was still quite the challenge.

I counted swimmers in and out of the water, along with my new friend Renee from the timing folks and we had former Navy guy Nick doing med checks at the end. The goal, said Nick, was to get each of them to put thumb and index finger together in the OK sign and use the letter F. He made all of them flash him the sign and “Repeat after me and say ‘I’m fine.'” Amazing how many of them responded “I’m great!” One former (retired?) Seal looked at him, flashed OK, and said “I’m f^&king great!” Not exactly what Nick asked, but he got the f-word he needed.

Then of course, the after-party. You can’t have a military crowd, or an event run by military, without having a get-together after to trade stories and drink beer. I walked that way with a swimmer named Ashe. She’s new to marathon swimming and this swim so far was her farthest. What a swim to tackle as your first 5k! We got to know each other on the one mile walk, and I also got to know her brother (kayaker) and her mother. (I pointed her toward all the great people at MSF as she was interested in going longer!)

The party was great. Volunteers and swimmers got to eat free and families just paid a little to join us. The ReelHouse did a great job. Still not sure if it was turkey or pork tenderloin. Don’t care. It was very tasty. And they had Lord Hobo’s Boomsauce. Oh hells yeah. Yours truly represented the Air Force honorably, but after four Boomsauces, it was time for IronMike to go home and take a nap.

Charlie (L) and Glenn, Navy Seal Foundation Ambassador

Rory did a little speech and gave out a few awards, but most importantly, there were no number ones or anything like that. This was a challenge, not a race. My new buddy Charlie, from the Highlands of Scotland by way of Montana, Texas, California and Florida, won for raising the most money of anyone (swimming all three Frogman swims) and being the slowest. And if you’re so inclined, it is never too late to donate to this wonderful charity!

Rory giving a short history before handing out awards

I’ve said it before, but volunteering really is a must if you’re serious in this community. I went many years just swimming and not volunteering and I’ve been working to correct that. Take a new open water swimmer out with you. Coach some kids in open water. Volunteer at a triathlon. Crew for someone’s marathon. Pay it forward and you will not be disappointed!

Crewing is where it’s at

I had the honor of crewing for Bridget S. in the Boston Light Swim, an 8-mile ocean swim with a long, illustrious history. She lucked into a slot when someone who made it through the swimmer lottery had to drop out. She and I know each other going back to 1992, so it was just dumb luck that I’m living here now and she got a slot in the swim. And I was already volunteering on the Friday night prior to the swim.

I must admit up front that I volunteered for selfish reasons: If you make it through the volunteer lottery (yes, a lottery for swimmers and volunteers), and you qualify, then next year you can skip the lottery to swim the race! So while I’d love to say I volunteered for altruistic reasons, I really had a game plan for 2019.

Friday went well; I got to meet a lot of swimmers I’d only known through the internet and the MSF forums. I also met some great swimmers who aren’t on the forums, to include a man who has swum the BLS 20 times, but also has swum BLS doubles at least 3 times. He’s also swum the original Boston Light route (12-miles from downtown Boston to the Light). Kim Garbarino was incredibly modest, and quite the swimmer. I met an 80-year old swimmer who has written the histories of the BLS; yes, I had to buy his books to add to my OW swims history collection. Bob McCormack was wonderful to meet and a true lover of this swim.

Saturday found us up early and out of the house by 0455. We had to stop at a Dunkin Donuts (they’re like Starbucks here) to get our pilot an iced coffee. We met all the other swimmers, got Bridget’s stuff together for the fly-away bag, and went out to the pier to wait for Kevin, our pilot.

(c) Jon Washer

This really is the worst part of any swim, the nerves at the beginning. All you can think about is the swim: How will I feel? How cold will the water be? Will the weather hold/get worse/get better? Did I train sufficiently? What did I forget? Where’s the pilot?

Kevin arrived and we loaded the boat. His boat was pretty small; Bridget had told me that he said she could have one crew member. I can see why. Small boat, but very capable. We motored on out to the Light for the start.

(c) Jon Washer

You can kind of see what looks like a small radar at the front of his boat. That is something like a “trolling motor,” if I understood him correctly. It is electric and with this motor Kevin can control his boat by remote control, with the main engine off. There would be times during B’s swim that I realized the motor was off and Kevin was steering the entire boat with a handheld remote. Nice and slow like the swimmer, none of this rush ahead, let the swimmer catch up, repeat.

The swim would start with a 5-min warning by radio, then two short horn blasts. Nothing fancy. Swimmers were not allowed in the water till those horns blasts. The current was in the swimmers’ favor, so jumping in early, then you have to fight to stay back behind the line. So the blasts go off and Bridget gets in the water. She is admittedly a gradual enterer in cold water so this jumping in was not to her liking. In fact, she jumped in, surfaced and screamed. Turns out the water was 57*. Bridget didn’t whine or hesitate, she simply put her head down and got to work. Within 60-90 seconds, she was cruising with a beautiful stroke.

She actually started in the very back of the line; all other swimmers were ahead of her at the start. But within 30 minutes, she had passed 5 other swimmers. Within an hour, she had passed eight more swimmers. Most of this was due to Bridget’s beautiful stroke, but a large part of this was the navigation by Kevin. He found fast water. He took an occasional weird route which turned out to be the right choice as Bridget would just zoom by other swimmers. Turns out he isn’t new at this. He’s piloted for BLS swimmers before, and knows the course.

She passed all those swimmers!

Between Spectacle and Thompson islands, a bunch of different currents met, and there was slow water there. I ended up calling that area the Doldrums. (I didn’t tell Bridget that till after the swim.) It was about a half mile or so long and a lot of swimmers got stuck. I didn’t stop her at the 30:00-feed mark in this area because I didn’t want her to see herself being pushed backwards. Kevin took us almost directly north to Spectacle after we went through the Long Island “bridge,” then we took a sharp left past Thompson and caught a beautiful current.

Almost there!

That current took her straight to the L Street finish. I asked Kevin a couple times if he thought she would make it to the beach before the five hour cut-off. I didn’t want to stop her for a feed if she was within minutes of finishing. Kevin had no worries. He had her on a good line. One of the Irish swimmers was going directly to the yacht club where we started. Only problem with that is that was not the finish. By the time his pilot realized, Bridget almost caught up. It became a race then. Kevin wanted her to beat that guy! And she almost did.

Unofficial results shows the Irishman beat her by only one second! (c) Jon Washer

Kevin and I cheered for Bridget as she arrived, then motored on back to the yacht club where we started. I tentatively booked Kevin for 2019. After watching him find fast water for Bridget, I knew who I wanted to be my pilot next year!

Akhmed Anarbaev, First Kyrgyz Olympian, and First Across Lake Issyk Kul

In the midst of planning my next escapade, I came across this wonderful interview with one of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, Akhmed Anarbaev.

Akhmed Anarbaev, first Kyrgyz Olympian and first to swim across lake Issyk Kul.

Mr. Anarbaev was the first Kyrgyz Olympian, competing for the Soviet Union in swimming in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, specifically in the 400. He didn’t make the pedestal, but that didn’t stop him from another first in swimming.

I met Mr. Anarbaev in 2015 in Cholpon-Ata on lake Issyk Kul. Annually he hosts a swimming weekend, with indoor and outdoor events. He owns and runs a LCM pool on the shore of Issyk Kul, the only pool of that length in all of Kyrgyzstan. I met him after his indoor competition was over and asked if I could take part in the short (300m) open water swim later that day. He had no problem with that, and even introduced me to the other swimmers there, most of them also former members of the Soviet swim team in the ’60s and ’70s. Later that day I managed to talk 3/4 of my kids into swimming the competition with me. Along with dozens of other swimmers. All of whom were beat by Anarbaev, who at the time was 67. And in great shape.

This interview I just found, from 14 January 2018, sheds some light on the history of his Issyk Kul swims that I tried to gather back in 2015 with my so-so Russian.

His first Issyk Kul crossing, from Kyzyl-Suu in the south to Ananyevo on the north shore, 36 kilometers, he completed in 1982 in 11 hours (as exact as he gives). This is the route we call “historical” in the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation. This I learned back in 2015, but what I didn’t know was that he swam it with someone else, some unnamed swimmer. (If I make it back to Issyk Kul this summer, I will have to ask him who the other swimmer is so I can update the crossing list.) Also, a little about his nutritional preparation for that crossing: He and the other swimmer split a can of stewed meat. In his own words, “It is good that we were escorted.”

Unbeknownst to me, he tried a solo crossing of the widest spot on the lake, from Tamga in the south to Cholpon-Ata in the north, a distance of about 65km. That crossing was unsuccessful. For this crossing he started at 7pm. He chose to start at that time because he wanted to swim in cold water at the beginning of the swim and to finish the swim in warm water after the sun had been up for 12+ hours. Unfortunately, his swim turned out quite different than planned, and frankly it is lucky he’s still alive. Strong winds, rain, lateral waves, his escort boat lost sight of him at one point for an hour twenty.

Even more strange was the second time the boat lost sight of Anarbaev. He kept swimming, but started to hear someone calling his name. He saw a boat on the waves so he swam up to it, but it wasn’t his boat. It was another from Balykchy, the village on the westernmost point of the lake! (Dear readers will remember this village as the home base for my crossing.) The crew of the boat thought they saw a dead body floating 200m away from them. Alas, the body was swimming. And the crew knew of only one person who could be swimming in the middle of Issyk Kul, so they started yelling “Akhmed! Akhmed!”

Anarbaev was lost a third time, and when he caught up, was forced to swim at the back of the boat. The boat only had one light in the stern so he decided to swim from that point so as to not get lost again. But swimming back there he was fighting against the currents of the propellers and started to breath in diesel exhaust. His breathing suffered, his chest muscles and abs got tight, and they finally pulled him out of the water, after only 5.5 hours. The doctor checked all his vitals and he was fine. (It is here that Anarbaev tells the interviewer that it didn’t matter that the doctor said he was okay, because “by the rules, at any point if you touch the boat, your swim is over and won’t be recognized.”)

There’s more to the interview, to include his philosophy on health, drinking and sport. Google translate doesn’t do too bad of a job (ignore all the he‘s and she‘s; Russian has grammatical gender), so if your Russian is lacking and you want to read the Google version of the interview, the translation is here.

Review of the film “Sea Donkey”

“Tenacity” is one of the adjectives used to describe Adrian Sarchet, resident of Guernsey, long distance swimmer and the 28th person to swim the Irish Channel, star of the film Sea Donkey.

The movie is 1:35 and starts out pretty slow. Kind of like many adult open water swimmers! The first half hour or so covers his months of training in the waters off Guernsey. Especially appreciated is the glimpses of his failures. You learn so much from your failed attempts, I’m glad the producers decided to keep those bits in the film.*

Sarchet is lucky in that he has a super supportive family, to include his wife, father, mother, friends from his swim club, locals. This is highlighted throughout the movie; this would be a great movie for your family to watch or for your crew to watch, especially if they are new to supporting a crazy person who’ll be swimming for 12+ hours. He follows a rule that some of us have learned: no spouse on the boat. The last thing he wanted was to worry about his wife getting sick. The last thing his wife needed was to see how hurt he was at the end.

I’ve already given up the ending, but that doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of watching this film. Watching Sarchet’s determination and tenacity. Realizing the effects a swim of that magnitude and cold has on a body. How your health is affected by jellyfish and cold water. Yet, how will can win over pain.

IronMike’s rating: Two thumbs up!

*Be sure to spend the time to watch the bonus features; well worth it.

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Twelve

Iron Mike here presents to you twelve days of gift ideas for the marathon swimmer in your life. Check back daily!

Day twelve: Monday, 25 December, Christmas!

No. It is not too late to get the marathon swimmer in your life a gift for Christmas. And no, I’m not calling on Amazon’s unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver Christmas cheer in two hours or less.

More than anything, your swimmer wants to thank you for your support in his/her crazy pursuits. Your swimmer wants you to know that they love you for it and are so happy that you are in their life.

So if you want to get the marathon swimmer in your life something that they’ll remember forever, march right over to and hug them. Give ’em a big hug and kiss and say “I love you. And even though I have no idea why you enjoy immersing yourself in cold water for hours simply to go from point A to point B, I love you for it. You’re an oddball, but again, that’s why I love you.”

From IronMike’s family to yours, a very Merry Christmas!

12 Days of Christmas Gifts: Day Eleven

Iron Mike here presents to you twelve days of gift ideas for the marathon swimmer in your life. Check back daily!

Day eleven: Sunday, 24 December, Christmas Eve Movie Night!

You can find movies (DVDs) on swimming technique all over the internet. That’s not what I’m talking about. (But if I were, I’d recommend this one by the folks at Swim Smooth.) I’m talking about entertaining films that are about swimming, specifically marathon or channel swimming and the spirit of marathon swimming.

One that I loved watching was Dangerous When Wet. Loved it so much I did a review of it. It’s a bit cheesy, having been filmed in 1953, but the best part of it is when the English Channel race organizer goes over the rules of the race:

Do not touch your rowboat. Or your trainer. Or you will be disqualified. When you reach Dover, you must wade ashore unaided.

At another point, the main character is in the middle of the English Channel and her love interest comes out to swim with her, and she says “Stay back, don’t touch me!” Even movie producers in the ’50s understood marathon swim rules and why we marathon swimmers are so passionate about them.

Bottom line, if you want a nice, romping and cheesy family movie with a huge swim as the setting, watch Esther Williams in Dangerous When Wet.

Next, I recommend Driven. This is one of the most fun movies you’ll ever watch. If you’re not a marathon swimmer, but you wonder why crazy people do things like swim in cold water for half a day (or more), then you need to watch this film. The film makers follow three marathon swimmers as they train and swim some difficult channel crossings in the Santa Barbara Channel. The cinematography is incredible, offering views few get to see. (How many support crew want to dive into 57* water and swim under the marathon swimmer?)

Driven was crowd-sourced and I am in awe of what the community was able to do to get this film produced. It was a final selection in two international film festivals (Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo); what I would have done to get to see it on the big screen. I couldn’t say it any better than the Santa Barbara Independent, when they said the movie…

…manages to wow with its story-line while simultaneously mesmerize with its cinematography”

Two thumbs up. And it is available in digital format as well as physical DVD.

There are other movies out there, but I haven’t seen them. There’s a movie out there about Captain Matthew Webb, first person to swim the English Channel. Fittingly it is called Captain Webb. I have not seen it as I can’t get online access to it here in Russia. Maybe I’ll watch it when next in the U.S.

Another I want to watch when I get access to it is Heart: The Marilyn Bell Story, about the teenager who in 1954 became the first person to swim across Lake Ontario. Her story is incredible and should be known among all marathon swimmers. Her story is also a great story for young girls, and one I shared with my daughters.

USMS destroying open water swimming

The U.S. Masters Swimming organization is now meeting in Dallas for their convention. One of the proposed amendments (link pdf…go to page 179) to the USMS rule book was contrary to the tradition of open water swimming:

303.3.2 Swimmers may receive the following assistance from any escort craft:
A. Food or drink may be passed from escort craft to swimmer as long as deliberate contact is not made between the two.

303.3.3 Swimmers shall not receive the following assistance from any escort craft:
A. Swimmers shall not receive flotation or propulsion forward progress from any escort craft nor make intentional contact with any craft.

Those strike-outs are significant. What that means now is that swimmers can rest by holding onto a support craft (boat, kayak, SUP) during USMS-sanctioned open water events. The rationale behind these two rules’ amendments is to align them to rule 303.9.5, which has been amended in Dallas to:

303.9 DISQUALIFICATIONS
A disqualification can be made only by the referee, the starter or a judge within whose jurisdiction the
infraction has been committed. Swimmers shall be disqualified if they: …
303.9.5 Receive assistance Make forward progress by pulling, pushing, or resting, or maintaining contact on physical features and/or craft on or near the course, other than the bottom near the start and finish and at specified locations. Incidental contact shall not be a basis for disqualification.

The rationale of this proposal, according to documents and a couple people present at the convention, is that it “removes resting on a stationary object as a disqualifying offense, for swimmer safety.”

There it is. “…for swimmer safety…” Because we’re all children.

Apparently, swimmers who have never swum more than 3k in training sign up for 5k and 10k swims en masse, thus they need to be protected. (In my experience, no one signs up for half or marathon swims who have never swum even half of that in open water already. Those distances are just too far for most, without training.) Because sure, resting in the middle of an hour or more-long swim event isn’t an aid to the swimmer.

The spirit of open water swimming is that the swimmer completes the distance solely under his/her own power. In fact, it is kind of a bragging point for most of us. “Yes, I swam 10k from location X to location Y. No, I didn’t get in the boat to rest. No, I didn’t hang on the side of the kayak when I got tired. I swam the entire distance without touching the bottom or holding on to anything. Yeah, I’m bad-ass.” You know, kind of like when pool swimmers complete a 500m swim. They swim 5 or 10 laps solely under their own power. Not stopping to rest on the lane lines.

In fact, the first 5k event I swam was kind of a big deal…to me. I had swum that far in a pool, but after swimming that in open water, water with currents and salt, with other competitors running into you, salt rash under the arms, well, you kinda feel invincible. I remember returning to the airport the next day, seeing a sign on the highway announcing that the next town was 5 kilometers away, thinking to myself “My God, I swam this distance yesterday.” Sure, the taxi only took 5 minutes and I took significantly longer than that. But seeing the road pass by, the hills and ground, trees and signs pass by, it cemented in my brain that I did something significant. This rule demeans all of that.

In the UK during my first 10k, they had two “comfort stations,” one at 4k and the other at 8k. They touted tea and biscuits. I thought that would be great, as I knew the water would be cold. When I got to the 4k comfort station (really just a big raft), I noticed it was surrounded by swimmers hanging off the sides, like barnacles. I thought to myself, Why would I waste minutes I could be swimming waiting for a small cup of hot tea? I can just put my head down and get done with the remaining 6k and have all the tea I want, reveling in the feeling of being done with swimming 10 whole kilometers on my own power.

No sprinter in his right mind would sign up for a 1500m pool event if he wasn’t ready to swim the entire distance. No swimmer should sign up for a 5k swim, which takes us mere mortals at least an hour and a half (closer to two hours for me), if he isn’t ready to swim for a couple hours. He should know going in that he can’t stop and rest halfway through the swim.

One delegate, a marathon swimmer, voted yes on this proposal. Her reasoning? New swimmers who enter open water events may be nervous or anxious in open water. If that person gets kicked in the face, s/he can rest on the boat to recover. Therefore, for the swimmer who has never swum in open water, s/he can now rest while the other swimmers actually swim the entire event.

Why’s that matter? Well, if you’ve ever been in open water, swimming like the wind trying your hardest to pass the swimmer in front of you (regardless of whether or not s/he is in your age group), you know that swimming in open water takes training and practice. You work your heart out to swim fast and straight. You want to complete the distance solely under your power wearing a cap, goggles and suit.

But what if one or more of the swimmers in your age group swims his or her hardest and is 100s of meters ahead of you? Why, that person can simply rest for a bit hanging on to the side of a boat. Catch his breath. Take a few minutes breather. Then start fresh. Or at least, fresher than you, who have been swimming at your race pace since starting the event.

Why not just let him wear fins? Or use a pull buoy? This is similar to giving one basketball team more time to bring the ball past half-court than the other. You know, because one team is new to basketball, and might need 60 seconds (instead of 10) to bring the ball from their end of the court to their opponent’s.

I’m reminded of an incident several years ago (2013?) where a woman got sponsors to help her pay for her English Channel swim. She planned to swim the channel for charity and did actually start. However, a few miles in she got on the boat, put on a wetsuit and fins, and “finished” the swim. In publications she touted herself as an English Channel swimmer. Um, no. You’re not. You cheated.

To their credit, one delegate proposed that the rule include a rider that a race director can state in the race rules that touching a support craft is disqualifying. That passed, thank God. Still, that is up to race directors to include in their event’s rules. And in my experience, I think many USMS events in the future will allow holding on to a boat to rest. And this is too bad, as the USMS hosts several championships every year, in distances ranging from one mile to ten. My guess is those events now will allow people to rest on boats mid-swim. Those events won’t get my money.

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!
Finishers!

 

*All photos by the incomparable photographer Giovanni Casini.