Category Archives: Swimming Anthropology

Vermont is done

Went back up to Vermont to pick up our daughter, who was working there for the summer. We’re in “move mode,” meaning, we’re not long for New England. So I had to get some more lake swims in. Which I did!

That was Friday, my second day in that reservoir (Westbury Center Reservoir).

And this was the first day up there.

I had forgotten my Garmin on this trip to Vermont, and didn’t want to miss out on mapping a lake swim. This Runkeeper app is really nice, it actually has a swimming function. I was concerned if I just pressed Start, it would know that I couldn’t be running in a lake and wouldn’t record. Nope, swimming function to the rescue.

The interesting part is the app talks to you. At one point on Thursday I heard someone speaking to me. I stopped and looked around, assuming a paddle-boarder was near me. Nope, it was the app telling me how slow I was.

I’ve since used it also on a hike with the dog, and I really like it. I can certainly recommend it. Oh, and yes, I started it, then sealed my safety buoy, and the app still recorded everything. I think I’ll retire the 10+ year old Garmin.

Annual pool maintenance check-in

Yesterday morning as I went on a walk (that’s what I’m stuck with now instead of swimming), I stopped by the pool to take a gander.


The lane lines are just about scraped off. What was surprising, though, was who was doing the scraping: Yep, the lifeguards!

I was astounded. My buddy Upul told me that contractors do come to do all the work, but if they left it up to them, “it would be a month we’re closed.” Thankfully, Upul and two other lifeguards, at least, were there Wednesday morning at 0700-ish, mad at work.

Looks so weird w/o water

Evening came, and Djibouti is still fairly pleasant. Another walk was in my future. Of course, had to run back by. Imagine my surprise when but 12 hours later, the pool looked like this:

Them there’s new lane lines!

So much in one day! I have no idea what else is involved in this annual Navy-mandated pool maintenance, but this has got to be a good sign, no?

In between those two walks I had called the MWR reservations line to see if I could get pool times. Nope,  not taking any lane reservations just yet. A quick email to Jill the MWR Director revealed that they’re waiting till they have an end in sight.

But with the last picture above, could the end be far? Fingers crossed I’ll be swimming again soon.

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.

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!

Back to Revere!

Haven’t swum at Revere at all this year. COVID and what-not. I’ve swum a bunch in Pleasure Bay in South Boston, but that’s only because I was driving to work then, and the bay is close. Now we’re at a stage where most of the base is open and working, thus back to the requirement to be on base by 6am if you want parking. Homie don’t play that, so I’m back on the train to work, and Revere (9 miles from my house) for swimming.

I knew today would be slow, and it was. Slow swimming and, as is oft the case for me, lots of stopping to check out the scenery. If average Joe swimmer were with me he’d wonder what the big deal is. Hell, some people around here call Revere the ghetto beach (talk about racist). But genuinely, I love this place. The sky is wide, the beach is huge and today full with smiling families, the gulls and other sea birds follow me around, and there is ample space should I really want to swim for longer than a damn hour. The only prettier place I’ve swum in this town is Walden Pond. The issue with that place is parking, both paying for it and finding spots during normal-people times.

When the water is clear, tons of crabs and other sea creatures to watch (no, not the gentleman in the gray suit, thank the Lord). And rarely any kite-surfers to watch out for. I pretty much have the whole place to myself, which isn’t as fun. I’ve asked others to join me on the Boston Open Water Swimming FB group; no takers yet. However, I guess I’m known for Revere. Some new area swimmers have asked about Revere and other members pass on my name! Hopefully soon I’ll have some company.

Mandatory apres-swim photo

Tbilisi Swim Fest (guest post)

Today we have a guest post from my friend Jen, telling us about her win at the Tbilisi Swim Fest last month!

I’ve become a distance-ish swimmer over the past five years or so.  I was a competitive diver for many years as a kid, but continued swimming as an adult – for fitness and because I love the water.  While I was in Moscow with Mike, he encouraged me to train and increase my distances – we did training swims in the Moscow River and a great race in Sochi in Oct. 2017.

Last summer I trained for the first Eurasia Swim Cup to be held here in the Tbilisi Sea (actually a large reservoir) in September, just outside of the capital Tbilisi, Georgia, where I currently live.  I trained regularly with a friend of mine, Barry, and was pretty disappointed when it was cancelled due to lack of interest.

Fast forward to this summer – I started out pretty strong in the pool 2-3 mornings per week, but when Barry moved away in July, I got lazy.  I would swim a mile on the weekend (to remind myself I could), but it’s amazing how much more motivating a training partner can be.  I did get a nice swim in Lake Bled in Slovenia in early July – I’d love to do a race there someday.

I signed up for the Tbilisi Swim Fest, part of the Swimcup series (Кубок Чемпионов) at the Tbilisi Sea on September 22, 2019 (the same guys who did the 2017 Sochi Swim – they do a fabulous job).  I experienced issues registering online since I don’t have a Russian phone number, but emailed the organizers who registered me for the 3k.  BUT, I got nervous because I hadn’t trained enough, so I changed to the 1852m race, which is always a comfortable distance for me.

View from water

The morning started off around 8:30a – they even had Georgian dancers provide great entertainment to start the day.

Georgian dancing

The conditions were rough so the organizers reduced the distances due to the weather and wave conditions.  I believe 7k became 4k, 3k became 1852m, 1852m became 1000m and 1000m became 500m.  I was given competitor #1 (which I’ve never been in any race) and waited until about noon for our start.  I was one of the only swimmers without a wetsuit in the entire Swim Fest – and the only one of four women in the 1000m race swimming skins. Water was 18C, but compared to the chilly, windy air, I was so glad I didn’t wear one.

That’s me!

The water felt really good, although it resembled an ocean swim, especially the first portion, swimming into the waves.  After the turnaround, swimming with the waves was more fun, but many of us were annoyed at the buoy impeding our stroke (the rope needs to be longer, so it doesn’t chafe under the arm).

Thumbs up!

I finished in 13:06 and ended up surprising myself with first place for the women.  When I finished, I wanted to keep swimming – I would have much rather swum a longer race (my fault for not sticking to the 3k!).  But I was certainly glad I showed up.

I won!

They handed out beautiful medals and Georgian wine for those who placed.  Alexander Koshkin, a paraswimmer, competed as well, showing us that nothing is impossible.

First place swag

Sadly, the season is ending, but I may try my hat at a SwimRun next year.  Have fun everyone and JUST KEEP SWIMMING!

Group pic

DNF as learning

In a swimming forum I frequent, I brought up my DNF rate to a beginning marathon swimmer. It just so happened that Saturday’s Beavertail 10K broke me out of the 50% DNF rate, to a whopping 44%. (DNF’d 4 of 9 swims I’ve attempted at 10K or longer.)

In response to my comment, another swimmer, a very novice open water swimmer/wanna-be marathon swimmer (N.b., he is 1 for 1 in marathon swims he’s done) responded thusly:

44% DNF rate?! I would have already given up the sport.

That surprised me. And made me think. What would make someone want to quit this wonderful sport? Would my interlocutor not have said it if my DNF rate were closer to 10%? 20%? What’s the number?

First, what is the equivalent to a DNF in other sports? If a (running) marathon and a 10k swim are roughly equivalent, let’s look at that event for comparison: How many  marathoners DNF their marathons?

Forbes did “the numbers” for the 2018 NY marathon. Fully 99% of runners completed that marathon. Now, the 1% who did not is +/- 500. That’s a lot. But still, 99% of runners completing a marathon is great!

There is a course time limit for the NYC marathon, based on when the last of the 50,000+ runners start the marathon:

In the interest of safety…race courses will remain open to all participants who are able to maintain a 13:45-per-mile pace (based on the time when the last runner crosses the start line). Those participants who are not able to maintain this pace should be aware that fluid stations…may not be available, and participants in races staged on city streets may be asked to move to the sidewalks. Late participants will be able to cross the finish line, but they are not guaranteed to be timed and recorded as official finishers.

By contrast, not many marathon swims allow the swimmer to “move to the sidewalks” or continue after the “last [swimmer] crosses the start line” as long as they maintain a certain pace. For comparison, Boston gives everyone six hours from when the last runner crosses the start line. That’s almost 14:00 per mile pace; equivalent to 58:00 per open water mile. But that 14:00 per mile is not including the minutes until the last runner starts. And those minutes aren’t trivial. The first runner wave starts at 9:32 am. The final wave starts on or about 11:15. So that makes the minimum run pace per mile just over 17:00, or the equivalent of an hour and 12 minutes per open water mile. I don’t know of any marathon swims with that kind of course time limit!

For that matter, in a marathon, if you get tired, you can walk and still make progress along the marathon’s route. The closest you can get to this in swimming is if you just happen to stop in water that is moving in the same direction as your swim route. Same with a bike race: if your legs get tired and you want to stop pedaling for a bit, you can plan it on the down-half of a hill, or even on a flat if you’ve got the speed. The only equivalent of this is the push a swimmer gets when going with the current. But in that case the swimmer is still stroking, so it’s not the same as a biker just sitting and resting his/her legs.

I think there are two major reasons for DNF in marathon swimming: a) speed (course time limits) and b) preparation (leading to injury preventing you from completing the distance). Frankly, that’s probably the reason in running, too. So let’s look at my 4 x DNFs.

  1. Swim for the Potomac 10K. Marathon swim #2. Distance completed: 8750m in 3:15. DNF classification: preparation. I had one more lap (1250m) to go, but only had 6 minutes left in which to swim that 1250. However, I wouldn’t classify this DNF under speed because the issue that slowed me down was my lower back. I did the first 5k in 1:35, leaving almost two hours to do the second 5k. I was ill-prepared to swim the distance, physically. After this swim I worked on “more time horizontal” to help get my back used to so many hours prone. (In comparison, marathon swim #1 was the Dart 10K, swum in a river with wonderful current, which only took me 2:35. Not long enough to put my lower back through the stress.) In fact my “time horizontal” worked as I had marathon swim #3 a month later and did great. (Swim the Suck, 10 miles, 4:44.)
  2. Ocean City Swim, 9 miles. Marathon swim #4. Distance completed: 4.1 miles in 2:30. DNF classification: preparation.  Too cold. Salt water issues. Some very slight race logistics issues, but DNF 99% my fault. Learned that for any future salt water & cold water swims, I need to acclimatize.
  3. Issyk Kul crossing attempt #1, 13.5km. Marathon swim #5. Distance completed: 4.7km. DNF classification: preparation. No course time limit as this was a swim of my own making. Cold water and elevation (5100 feet above sea level) did me in. 13C throughout and I couldn’t pee nor could I take any liquids after like the third feeding. I learned a couple things. For one, I need to sked this swim in July or August when the water is warmer. Number two: I need to get some cold(er) water training in. (Happy to report to new readers that I did successfully cross the second largest alpine lake in the world, only the second person ever to have done it, less than a year later in July 2016!)
  4. 20 Bridges, 28.5 miles. Marathon swim #7. Distance completed: 7+ miles, then 20+ miles. DNF classification: preparation and maybe speed? So first, for new readers I’ll explain the distances I listed there. I didn’t make it through the East river before the tide changed directions and started swimming in place/backwards. They gave me two options: quit, or be moved a mile up and continue, but the swim not counting. I of course didn’t quit. When I restarted, I swam again according to the rules for a bit over 20 miles. I say DNF for prep and speed because: If I had a faster pace during the first two hours, I could have gotten far enough into the East river that the change of current wouldn’t have affected me so much. I say preparation because if I’d done more reading and consulting with other experienced swimmers, I would have known that you gotta really push like crazy the first few hours to beat that river. I learned so much from this swim, and I really should count it as two marathons because according to the Garmin on the kayak, I did over marathon distance for each half! (No, I don’t count it as that.) The second half still counts as the longest in both miles and time that I’ve gone swimming (20 miles in 6:20).

So those are my four DNFs, out of nine marathon swims. I have one DNF in a 5k which I’d put down as speed. The current in the river was so strong I just couldn’t do the requisite laps before the cut-off. This is upsetting to me because 5k is my favorite distance. But, again, I learned something!

So to Michael, the commenter who simultaneously wants to be an elite-level swimmer in only two years (after only starting open water swimming this year) and would quit the sport after a few DNFs: I hope you read this and reevaluate. This is a great sport and community. I’ve rarely met more supportive people.

More swims at Lake Issyk Kul

In August, three more swimmers completed crossings in the second largest alpine lake in the world, lake Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan.

Finishers Daulet, Batybek & Arsenii

As I’ve discussed here before, marathon swimming is, if not new, then very rare in that part of the world. Tooting my own horn, I’ll say that mine and Sarah d’Antoni’s swims in 2016 opened up interest in crossing lake Issyk Kul, and with the help of Olesya Pakseleva, the lake has enjoyed an annual crossing. The latest was held on 26 August.

Arslan from Nomad Sport & Olesya

Originally, seven swimmers were scheduled to cross the lake: three from Kazakhstan, two from the US, and two from Kyrgyzstan. On the eve of the crossing, unfortunately, Olesya found out that the two Americans would not be swimming: they hadn’t received permission from their leadership to do the swim. I’m not sure what leadership; perhaps these folks were Peace Corps like Sarah or embassy employees. As well, one of the swimmers from Kazakhstan didn’t get his doctor’s permission so he wasn’t able to participate.

Three of the swimmers taking off from Kara-Talaa

So four starters. All wore wetsuits, despite Olesya’s protestations. Unfortunately, their times won’t count for any records or claims. As this is still a new sport over there, I’m just happy that people are swimming the lake. We get enough of these events going over there, more people will attempt the swim and more will swim it the EC way.

Arslan briefing the swimmers prior to start

Four started, but only three finished. One of the Kyrgyz swimmers DNF’d. Daulet Kurmanbaev, Arsenii Eliseev and Batykbek Turusbekov all finished in the low 5 hours range.

Batybek & Arsenii after the swim
All 4 starters at the end

Congratulations to all the swimmers, as well as Olesya, Arslan from Nomad Sport, and all the volunteers!

Swimmers, organizers, volunteers & family, all part of the marathon swimming team!

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!