Welcome to Iron Mike’s Marathon Swims!

In this blog I write about my adventures in open water swimming, and more specifically, marathon swimming (swim races of 10 kilometers or farther). This blog is a continuation and, I’d like to think, an improvement over my previous blog, 10K Marathon Swim.

The opinions in this blog are my own, unless I quote and/or hyperlink to someone else’s words. Nothing here, certainly, should be considered the official view of my employer.

So, welcome to my blog. Have a look around, especially at the tabs near the top. Please leave comments. I try to respond (at least to thank you for reading!) within a day.

Less than two months

My handy countdown timer app thingy tells me that I’m under two months now until END-Wet. Wow. Nervous much?

Practically 27 miles (the way I navigate, 26.7 miles might as well be 30 miles…or more). Fewer than 60 days hence. Freaking me out. I bought my tickets this weekend. Weird to say buy when in actuality I sold miles for the tickets. I managed to get my roundtrip DC to Grand Forks for $10. Yes, ten dollars. And 50,000 miles. But I had them sitting there. If I left them there too much longer who knows what would have happened. I’ve lost hotel points before. Do frequent flyer miles on United ever die?

A few of my fellow marathoners are in the same boat as me with respect to feeling unprepared. Many of us are relying on a fellow swimmer’s report from last year’s race. Purportedly, last year several swimmers who’ve only done an IronMan distance swim completed the entire 26+ miles. So we should be able to finish, right? Plus, this year there was a lot of snow, so the organizers are expecting quite the push from current. I could use push. Like, maybe, an extra mile per hour? Are you listening God, it’s me, Margaret Michael.

Whether I finish or not, I enjoy the process. The learning. The meeting others with the same fanaticism. Seeing new places. The gravitas I get when/if I finish. (“You swam how far? And in North Dakota? Are you insane?”)  Plus, it helps my charity.

So far, my longest pool swim this year is 10K. My longest lately (defined as since my last big swim, the Tampa Bay relay) is 8K. This Friday I’m planning for a 9K. Then, next week, the base pool opens. w00t!  I intend on doing a good 2 hour swim Tuesday mornings, and then when my Friday indoor pool closes (mid-June until Oct 31st!), I’ll stop by the base pool Fridays after work to swim long. If I can get into one of the two lap lanes…

Coaching

I always thought I’d like to give coaching a try, sometime in the future. But I certainly need training. Last year, prior to moving back to the states from Russia, my local masters team hosted Level I and II coaching education, the first steps toward Masters coaching certification. This year, the team is hosting Level III. I thought I’d have to wait yet another year for the I and II to come back around, but just noticed on Monday that another team here in town will host the class in June!

Fairfax Masters, God bless ’em, will host I and II on 22 June. My calendar looks clear. I think I’m going to do it. Not sure I’d start coaching right away, but I’d like to get some education under my belt for when my masters team does an OW workout. I’d love to help coach it. Having “Level II ASCA certified” next to my name would give me some gravitas and I can use my charisma and extrovertness (if that is a word, and WordPress is telling me it’s not) to persuade the swimmers that I know what the hell I’m talking about.

One thing I’ll have to do is join the American Swimming Coaches Association. That’s costly at $70. But I only have to join for a year. When my ASCA membership lapses, USMS will still honor my cert. That’s awesome. Plus, during the year of ASCA membership, I’ll try and take advantage of membership discounts on online courses and books.

How about my dear reader(s)? Any of you considering coaching in your future?

Swimming with the kids

I’ve been swimming lately with my daughters. Not just the three of us, but their whole team. My girls are part of the local Y swim team. Not your usual kids team where parents drag their kids to morning and afternoon practice and every-weekend meets. More down to earth, 3-times weekly afternoon workouts with mandatory 4 meets per year, but two to three times that many of meets available to the kids throughout the year.

I spoke to the head coach and he said not only is it okay for me to swim with them, he wished more parents would. Not like I’m a trailblazer; there’s a mom occasionally swimming with the team, too. But I’m the first dad.

And it is fun. I don’t have masters team practice on Sundays or Wednesdays, so I swim with the kids. It’s a good way to get another 2000-3000 yards in, more “horizontal time” as I like to call it. Those 26.7 miles aren’t going to swim themselves in July!

All I am is a body adrift in water, salt and sky

It was the weirdest thing. I was lying in bed reading, as I do every night (no matter how tired…it’s a habit), and listening to my internet radio. (I prefer Indie 103.1.) And then this song came on.

Now I’m not the sharpest tack in the toolbox, so I’m sure I’m missing something obvious. Like lost love or suicide or some such sappy crap. But I choose to be simple. And just listen to the words. And then look up the lyrics and read them.

Oh boy, how many times have I dipped my toe in and thought the very same thing.

Old Style

My favorite parts of the book Wind, Waves, and Sunburn are the chapters describing some of the old style marathon races they held in the 50’s and 60’s. La Tuque 24-hour Marathon, Atlantic City Around-the-Island, the Traversée internationale du Lac Memphrémagog. Those races, simply saying those names, I get a feeling of nostalgia. Everything turns black and white (no, it’s not a tumor).

Even in my early adult years, I preferred running for a long time versus fast. While I never ran a marathon, I would run “hours” on the weekends. I’d go to the track and just run circles for an hour or more. I wouldn’t count. I’d just run, listening to my walkman (old style yellow and water-proof!). As a youth I had read about famous ultra-runners who would do crazy 24-hour or even 6-day runs. They’d just do loops (albeit, 6-miles loops) for hours and days. They’d maybe take a break, grab a nap and get a massage, then wake up and start running again. I always wanted to do one of those.

Reading WW&S, I was chomping at the bit to not only watch but to take part in a 24-hour pair swim like La Tuque. I’d love to have been around in the day to watch the likes of Abu Heif or Claudio Plit swim.

So, I’m always on the look-out for a new future iconic swim here in the DC area. The folks at WaveOne swimming here are planning a swim this summer around Roosevelt Island. The swim will be about 4K, starting at Washington Harbor in Georgetown to the Island, then around it and, presumably, back to Georgetown.

roosevelt island swim

So, I thought, might this make a good location for a 24-hour paired marathon, a la La Tuque? We can set up a rest area somewhere near the NW corner of the island, on the western bank of the river on the DC-VA border. I doubt we would be allowed to set up anywhere on the island, as it is a National Memorial, but along that trail in VA, perhaps. I’ll have to check it out.

My idea would be for each pair to have one spot tracker. (Can you even put those things in the water? Does it have to stay with a kayaker?) Volunteers at the rest area (passing point? check-in point?) could track the swimmers via the spot tracker. Perhaps each team must provide volunteer(s) to man a computer. Or there could be one location which would have the official spot tracking. If you’re the resting swimmer, you can only check where your partner is at that location. Each swimmer would have to swim at least one loop before coming in and tagging their partner. Tagging would comprise handing off the spot tracker.

How to attract swimmers and sponsors? In the good old days, companies and towns would sponsor prize money to get the swimmers there. They’d make money by making it an event and bringing in people, customers, fans, hoping to make more money than they were spending on prizes. Perhaps there’s a Teddy Roosevelt holiday during the OW season that this race could coincide with? His birthday is October 27th. I wonder how cold the water is then? In September the Potomac was in the mid-70’s. According to this site, at the Little Falls pumping station, about 8km up river from Roosevelt Island, the water was in the mid 60’s the week of TR’s birthday last year. That’s doable. July 1st 1898 was the Battle of San Juan Heights, but that’s a bit too close to Independence Day. May 22nd 1902 is when he established the National Park at Crater Lake. (I think that was the first one he established.) That might be a good day to do the race. He was a great conservationist, so this race might be a fitting tribute on that particular day.

(During his tenure as president, he created 18 national monuments, 5 national parks, 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reservations and 4 national game reservations. Oh, and the U.S. Forest Service is his baby. Can you tell he’s one of my favorite Americans?)

Perhaps aligning myself with the Theodore Roosevelt Association and the TR Memorial Association might help get this race off the ground.

To get this thing popularity and bring people there, perhaps we could also hold one-off races there, like the already-established (?) Swim Around Roosevelt Island? They’ve got that planned for sometime in July. Maybe hold that on Sunday morning and when that’s over, the 24-hour race can be within about two hours of finishing. Have it finish at 2pm or so. Start the round the island swim at 8am, have the course close at 10 or 10:30. Then keep people there with food and the excitement of the 24-hour swimmers probably starting to put the pedal to the metal.

Somewhere viewable to everyone could be a huge board with the current standings of the swimming pairs…admission to the island is free, so maybe somewhere on the island?

Hmm…

Tampa Bay Marathon Swim lessons learned

OK, so this last weekend I took part in a 6-person relay at the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim. Alert reader(s) already know this. This post, which I’m sure you’ve been waiting for with baited breath, will cover lessons I learned in this swim.

Us around sign(l to r) Kim, Patty, yours truly, Kelly

This is the first one of the “big” marathons for me, an iconic one. Tampa is up there with the English Channel, MIMS, and Catalina. According to four-time winner Chris Derks, Tampa is harder than The Channel. (You know which one I mean.)  I take that seriously as Chris has quite a resume. Besides money, Chris’s sobering account of the difficulty of Tampa was one of the reasons I did not try it solo this year. Add to that the fact that I need(ed) more experience in the logistics of a big swim like this.

I showed up on Friday and met my team, none of whom I knew prior to this opportunity. Patty, her daughter Kimberly, Ted, Richard and Kelly are all great swimmers. And a bunch of fun to be around. This was definitely the group I wanted to do Tampa with for my first time.

Dirty half dozenThe whole crew with Ted and Richard (in the hat) added.

The Dirty Half Dozen, as we were known, was one of three relays. But we were the coolest, and the oldest. There were 18 soloists, from young-gun Tommy T to the elder gentleman Carl Selles. Interestingly for me, and for my non-marathon swimming friends and family, is the fact that more than half the soloists were over 50 years old. I really enjoy being involved in a sport where you can continue to compete with an AARP membership card in your wallet.

Logistics was easier than I thought. Patty and Ted took care of the food. They stocked a big igloo cooler with sandwiches and sodas, and refused any offers of money. Very class acts. The boat driver, Wayne, had escorted this group in 2012 so knew well how to escort a swimmer. I had very little to do to prepare beyond making sure I had all my stuff ready: Desitin for my pits and crotch (marathon swimmers understand); water and Crystal Light for my liquids; sun protection for time in the water and on the boat. I was ready and had everything I needed in a backpack.

StartThe start beach at the Magnuson Hotel

The plan was that we would each do 30-minute segments. That meant 2.5 hours sitting in the boat waiting for our turn to come back up. I figured this group would knock this race out in 8-9 hours, so I thought, because I got place #2, I’d get 3 sessions in the water.

Kim startingKim starting us out with Nicole kayaking

Kimberly started us out at 7:02am. It was cool out due to an overcast sky and quite the breeze, but initially the water was almost flat. It didn’t seem too bad really. As luck would have it, the wind started to get the waves up while I was in the water. It wasn’t too rough; in fact, it was fun. We had a kayaker (Wayne’s daughter, Nicole) for the first two swimmers. She was new at this, and the poor thing, apparently, was screaming to me to turn right or left. I can’t hear anything while swimming. She realized hand and paddle signals would be best, and once she directed me, I was on point from then on. Mostly.

After I got out, the waves started to get worse. Kelly went in and destroyed the water. She navigates well, needing very little direction. She’s also really fast. By the time she got out, the waves were cresting at 3-4 feet according to Wayne. It sure felt like it, as Nicole and I were in the bow (that’s boat-talk for the front of the boat, I think) riding the waves, which was fun like a roller coaster. (I’m lucky in that I’ve never had motion-sickness problems.)  Ted jumped in but the waves overtook him so Patty took over his shift. (Ted later got back in the rotation with no problems.)

Rough seasOne of the soloists

This 2-3 hour period of rough waves led to 2-3 boats (I think 3, but radio traffic was difficult to understand and hear) took on water, one to the inevitable winner’s chagrin. Boat 3, escorting Chelsea Nauta, had a problem with its bilge pump (?) and began to sink. We heard about it on the radio, then finally caught up to it and took pictures, which you can see here. (The Coast Guard would eventually come to rescue the boat.) Chelsea and her kayaker attached themselves to a relay (NC State of Mind) and kept going. Chelsea would eventually win, only being beaten by the relay by 5 minutes! (The relay was composed of 5 swimmers aged 15-29 and one 55 year old…dad?)

ChelseaChelsea Nauta, the overall winner

Boat 3 sinking close upChelsea’s escort boat

Passing that boat was sobering. Shortly after, boat 8 came up to us. They were taking on water and needed to return to land, they asked if we could take care of their swimmer. #8 was Carl Selles, 66-years old and swimming strong. This was at about the 4-hour mark. I had just finished my second time in the water. Carl’s kayaker was his wife and she was beat. An avid yaker, she said she’s never seen water so rough. She came on our boat to rest. A short time later, after we caught up with Kelly (all along Carl asking us where she was as he didn’t want us “to lose [our] swimmer”), the race officials approached and told Carl’s wife that she’d have to get back in the water or her husband would have to withdraw. She was distraught; she said how much he wanted to do this, how long he’d been training, and it would kill her if she was the reason he didn’t finish. I have no idea why, but a couple hours later we heard he withdrew from the race. When I last saw him he was swimming strongly. Unfortunately, we had some of his feeds, which wouldn’t fit anywhere on/in his wife’s sit-on-top kayak, so perhaps nutrition is why he quit.

On my second time in the water I realized I forgot to reapply the Desitin. This is important, especially in salt water. My right pit started to feel like it was being rubbed raw. I hoped this wasn’t the start of what I’d felt in Cyprus. When I got out, I pulled the Desitin out and applied more, even though I was 2.5 hours from my next turn. I also applied some to my inner thighs (you know where I’m talking about!) as that area started feeling, well, you know. (Thankfully, I had no more of these “feelings” for the rest of the race.)

The race kept on. At some point, the 3-person relay withdrew, as did some soloists. I really think that couple of hours of washing machine action wore them out. We passed some soloists and following along on the radio as we heard #3 and the NC relay battling it out in front. On my third time in the water, at about half-way (as far as I can tell), the boat just cruised on by me. I like to keep the boat on my right so I can breath to my easy side, natural side, so I don’t have to raise my head forward. But the boat just kept going. My right-side breathing eventually became a 45-degree angle right side breathing, then a forward breathing. It just kept going, 200, 300 yards in front of me.

Then it started turning around. I thought maybe I had been going in the wrong direction and it needed the space in order to do the turn to redirect me (no, I don’t drive boats, so have no idea if any of that thinking makes sense…you ever try to make sense while stroking 60-70 times per minute and trying not to gag on water?). Eventually they were next to me again and I kept swimming. Come to find out when I got back on the boat that they weren’t paying attention and just kept going. Yikes!

While in on my fourth rotation I noticed we were passing yet another boat. I was so excited. I must have been swimming as fast as I felt! Then I noticed it was flying the #0 flag. So it was the officials. That’s no fun. When I got back on the boat, my partners told me the officials asked us to give up at 5pm if we hadn’t hit the Gandy Bridge yet, because that would mean we’d not finish till after dark. My teammates told them we’d go till 6 and then decide. But by the time I got on the boat, the rest of my team decided that we’d go till we hit Gandy or it was 6pm, then turn around. Apparently, after Gandy bridge we’d still have 6 miles to go, and at our rate, that would mean a 9-10pm finish. And we had no chem lights. I was upset, but figured it was still a learning process. And I agreed with the team.

I’ll tell you what, though. That damn bridge just never seemed to get closer. I really thought Kim would get us to the bridge (3:30 to 4pm shift). When she was done I jumped in, sure that I’d be the one to get to go under the bridge (what I really wanted). I kept my head down, not wanting to jinx it. When I didn’t see Nicole getting her kayaking gear on, I thought maybe I wasn’t going to touch the bridge. (The boat can’t fit under the area of the bridge we’d swim in, so you have to have a yaker bring you through.) I looked up and saw the bridge, as far off as it was when I jumped in. Dammit. 4:30 came and I yielded the bay to Kelly.

She had to get us there. She is so fast! Nope. Richard? He swam till 5:30 but we still hadn’t hit the bridge. Patty got in and got us to the bridge at 5:54pm. I hoped at that point someone would speak up and suggest we go all the way, but no one did. (I should have.) We were heading back.

Bridge
Patty and Nicole getting us to the Gandy Bridge

The trip back was quick, less than 30 minutes I think. Maybe more, who knows. Another lesson learned was that 30 minutes swimming goes fast. I can say without invoking poetic license that each time Kelly gave me the hand signal that my time was up, I really was suprised. I asked every time, “Is that really 30 minutes?” I recalled Swim the Suck last year when the almost 5 hours went by so fast. Time really does go fast when you’re swimming and having fun. I also learned that I could do this. With practice, and lots of horizontal time, I could swim Tampa as a soloist.

In the end, only 6 of the 18 soloists finished. Chelsea at #1, Olympian Brooke Bennett in second only 4 minutes behind #1. Interestingly, the remaining 4 were all over the age of 45. Chris Burke, 51 years old, was #3 (12:16), followed a few minutes by his training partner and my father-in-law’s GP, 55-year old Mark Smitherman (12:33). 45-year old Sergio Salamone from Buenos Aires finished next in 13:37 and to round out the six was 51-year old Ann von Spiegelfeld in 14:37. Looking at those finishing times, and recognizing that we all started at 7:02am, I am with Richard from my group when he said we should have just continued on and finished in the dark with everyone else.

The whole crewThe whole gang at the end of the day

We got back to the start beach and said our goodbyes. I wasn’t sure I’d make the award ceremony at 9-ish. I was tired and in the mood to hang out with the fam. I hugged everyone, thanked them for including me in the group, and walked out to the front of the hotel at the exact moment that my wife and half my kids drove up to pick me up. Couldn’t have been a perfect end to a long day.

LonelinessThe Loneliness of the Long-Distance Swimmer

24-mile Tampa Bay Marathon Swim this weekend!

Alert reader(s) know that I’m competing in a relay at the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim this weekend. I’ve been doing my usual limited swimming prior to the race. I’ve been debating with myself on this. With 6 people on my relay and with us doing 30-min shifts, how much swimming will I be doing?

I’ve managed to get place #2 in the order. I wanted to be as close to the beginning as possible, in the hopes that I will get more swimming than if I were #6. I don’t know if that will happen, but we’ll see.

So now I’m prepping for the trip. I leave tomorrow morning early on the cheapest flight I could find from DC to Tampa, thus that means a 4-hour layover in Atlanta. That’s fine; I like airports. Great people watching and time for reading. I managed to get a return ticket to Tampa for $170. Besides the long layover, I also have to pay for any checked bags.

But I was smart on that. Anything I needed that might be a problem in a carry-on, I gave to my family when they drove down to FL on Tuesday. (I couldn’t take 2 weeks off from work, so we had to split the trip.) Things like suntan lotion and baby oil and desitin. And since I’ll only be down there for a few days, and one of those I’ll mostly be in my swim suit, I don’t need to pack much for the trip.

For now, I am keeping my fingers crossed that we don’t have another lightning storm like last year, which resulted in the race stopping prematurely. If I’m going all the way down there, dammit, I’m going to swim! I’m also looking forward to meeting my relay. If I can judge by FB, then the Dirty Half Dozen are a fun bunch!

I’m an idiot

Most people, when they take on this ultra-endurance sport that I’ve taken on, they ease into it. For instance, most ultra-runners probably have completed many marathons before they take on their first ultramarathon. I can’t imagine a weekend 10K runner would all of a sudden decide to do the Leadville 100.

And up until this year, I followed that theory. Just look to the left under resume. In general, I started short and worked up to the 10-miler. (10 miles swimming is roughly equivalent of a 40 mile run.)

But look at my marathon schedule for this year. Ouch! My first marathon is 26.7 miles, in North Dakota. Two months after that the 15 miler in New Jersey. I finish my marathon swimming year with a repeat of the 10 miles through beautiful Tennessee.

What idiot decreases his race mileage through the season? Me. I do.

Look at it another way, though. When you do pyramid swims in the pool, isn’t it so much nicer when you’re swimming on the way down the pyramid? Yes! I can tell you I prefer swimming my broken 5K as a 2000, 1500, 1000, 500 instead of going up from 500 to 2000!

All I am is a body adrift in water, salt & sky