Swim the Suck race report, part III

First part here. Second part here.

OK, so lessons learned. Many lessons learned.

I love being escorted. Not having to sight was wonderful.

Feeds are nice, and I love the strawberry banana gu. StS gave out some new kind of feed in the goody bag. They are called Ignite Naturals. I haven’t tried them yet, but will during my next Wednesday long swim. I would love to learn to feed horizontal, but for the time I completed this swim, I’m okay with the

Goggles. Damn those goggles. I brought new ones, both tinted and clear, and I should have put on a new pair. The damn goggles had to be adjusted for leaking at least once per feed-to-feed cycle. Absolutely annoying. Only good thing is I’m getting good at adjusting them without going vertical and still moving forward. I used the same goggles yesterday during my 2 hour swim and I dumped them after the first 1500m. I put on the new pair of clear goggles and voila, no problems. I’ll put on new goggles (same brand, model, style, etc) for the next marathon.

Peeing. Yes it worried me. Worried that I would have to waste too much time vertical. Glad I figured it out.

Pre-swim clothing. I should have brought a coat. A rain jacket. Despite the weather reports showing sunny and 75, it was raining the morning of the swim. And the sun only came out a bit at the start. There were times during my swimming that my arms got cold. I know Tony was probably cold. Further, my pre-swim and post-swim clothing were the same. Nothing fun about putting wet clothing on.

1006083050_02Me in my rain-soaked pre- and post-race clothing

Towel. I should have used the backpack space for a real towel. I used the hotel one. Worse, I thought I’d save space in the race bag by taking the big hand towel. Then, at the end, I couldn’t wrap myself in that towel to change. I had to wait for the ladies to finish using the changing tent. And guys, we all know how long that takes. 😉

Robie. One day I’m going to sew myself a Robie. I can’t bring myself to spend the 80 bucks to buy one. I think two large bath towels, sewn together, leaving arm and head holes, would work just fine.

Mouthwash. Even for a non-salt water swim, a nice swish of mouthwash after the swim would have been welcome.

Racing versus swimming. I don’t know if others have this same feeling. I will feel really comfortable swimming to the point that I prefer to swim rather than rest at the wall. I’m talking masters here. You know what I mean? Hanging on the wall huffing and puffing…I really think I get more out of a calm, slow freestyle lap. It helps me bring my HR down, my breathing down, etc. Problem is, I think I get in this pace while swimming long. Every marathon I’ve done, except that 10K recently, I’ve found that I had plenty of energy left at the end. I honestly thought I could have done most of StS again after finishing. I wasn’t completly drained at the end. I have got to figure out how to pace myself such that I am completly pooped at the end. For StS, I really pushed the last 14 minutes, really hard. While I was initially breathing heavy upon finishing, that didn’t last. I still had energy. I have no idea how to translate race pace in the pool to race pace in a river, ocean, lake, wherever.

WaterGirl. I learned that she is as nice as I thought she was through our virtual friendship. So glad to have met her and her awesome. Thank you for your service, Rob, even if it was in the Navy. Also was lucky enough to meet three other members of the marathon swimmers forum. All great people I’d love to swim with again. Relay anyone?

Karah. Organizer and swimmer of StS. Great woman and awesome marathon swimmer. Doesn’t hurt the eyes, either. (I am, after all, a man.) She and her family were great and the pasta was yum. She got all kinds of sponsorships, even Moon Pies! I won a pair of Barracuda goggles that one of my daughters has stolen.

Martin Strel. I got to meet him. See the proof below. Before going, I told myself to try and recall some of my Serbocroatian (Yes, Martin is Slovenian, but my Slovene proficiency is limited to reading only. And he grew up speaking BCS during Yugoslavia times.) I forgot to study. But I still managed to speak to him race morning. He walked by and said hello, and I answered “Dobro jutro.” He nodded, walked a step, then turned and looked at me. I told him, in BCS, that I had studied it 17 years ago, but couldn’t remember any more than that. He smiled, spoke to me, and then went for a warm-up. After the swim, I spoke to him in his language again, and this time, he only spoke to me in BCS. I managed to get him to autograph my copy of his DVD Big Riverman.

Penny Palfrey. Wow. I was really looking forward to meeting her. Talk about a marathon swimmer. Incredible. Her talk about the dolphins was awe-inspiring. I won’t repeat it here because it is much better in her accent. She’s lovely. And not hard to look at either. Beautiful eyes. (That’s not a metaphor.)


I would do StS over again in a minute. No question. This swim was my favorite of the year, and probably number 1 or 2 of my OW resume. A+

Swim the Suck race report, part II

First part here.

So, we all took off at the sound of the horn. I let a lot of the speedy swimmers, like Penny Palfrey and Martin Strel (!) head off first. I started out and a short time into the first few minutes I stopped to try and find Tony. I found him and waved to him, then put my head down and got swimming. A couple minutes later I saw him far off to my right still searching for me, so I waved again, and just a few seconds later, he was beside me. Tony told me later that even at my first feeding (00:30) there were still kayakers calling out numbers and looking for their swimmers.

As I stated, this was my first escorted swim. I loved the thought of just breathing and not worrying about sighting. I still had the urge to do it for the first little bit. This was the first time for Tony as well. He’d never escorted a swimmer before. But I got over the need to look ahead really quickly and just swam.

The first feeding took quite a while, or at least it felt like it did. But the first feeding came up, and I gulped too much, like I described in Part I. Another thing that happened during the first feeding was that someone came up right behind me and, despite my efforts, ran into my feeding cup twine. I tried to get as close to the kayak as possible without touching, but I just couldn’t avoid her. No problem. She looked up, apologized, untangled herself, then kept on swimming.

After my hacking fit, the feedings just kept coming. At some point early, either between feed 1 and 2, or 2 and 3, I recalled someone in one of the forums, describing their EC swim, said, “Swim from feed to feed.” I started to do that. I really felt like I was running out of things to think about. I tried not to look too much to the right (the side I breath on) because at some point there were mileage markers. The last thing I wanted to know was how far I’d gone.

In fact, prior to the swim, these were the instructions I gave Tony: Under no circumstances should you tell me how far I’ve gone unless a) I said the safe word (which was “armadillo,” feeling confident I wouldn’t accidentally say that word, like “Did you see that armadillo I almost swam over?”); b) I was over half done, and c) I was swimming well over 2 MPH. I did not define well in c). I left that to Tony.

Anyway, I started to swim feed-to-feed. They kept coming. Tony would ocassionally disappear from my view to go ahead and clear a log out of the water, but otherwise he stayed right next to me. The bank floated by. At some points, only a couple, I felt like I was getting help from the current.

I did managed to fixate on trying to pee. I had read about how to pee while swimming. Granted, I had little opportunity to practice this skill. I didn’t want to try it at my usual masters practice. (I’m still certain they will someday devise a way for the water to change and thus show the whole world who’s peeing in the pool.) Anyway, I tried to pee between the feeds. Didn’t work. My friend WaterGirl suggested peeing while feeding, it being easier being vertical. Couldn’t do it. It didn’t work. Finally I just decided to drink as much as I could. At some point I wouldn’t be able to hold it.

The glorious moment came somewhere around the 2:00 feed. I was swimming, thinking of nothing particular, when I felt the urge. I concentrated, and then it happened. Yeah! I could do it, and not stop swimming. Task accomplished. In fact, I’m an overachiever. I completed the task two more times over the following 2+ hours.

My feed plan included liquid ibuprofin at the 2:00 feed. At the 1:30 feed, I told Tony to skip it. Of course, after that, I started to get a feeling I’d need it. Still, shoulders felt good. Back felt good. I kept being anxious about my back, afraid it would hurt again like in the 10K. But so far so good.

At 2:00, I told Tony to start feeding me my ibuprofin at 2:30 until complete. I read from another marathon swimmer that you can avoid the difficulty of trying to swallow pills by just adding some kids ibuprofin to a feed bottle. So I did. A full server, which I think was 30ml. Have no idea how that translates to mg.

Anyway, for the next three feeds I drank from my ibuprofin bottle. It was still Crystal Light, but with the medicine mixed in, it tasted a little different. No big deal. I don’t know if it was my long swims the week of this race or the meds, but I really never got sore during the swim.

Feeds came and went, until 3:30. I had been counting the feeds, so I knew where I was time-wise. I figured I had to be around 6 miles. So far so good. I did not use my safe word. But Tony told me at this feed, “Only two more.” I thought, how’s he know how many feeds I have left. I asked out loud, “Feeds?” “No,” he answered. “Miles.”

I was astounded. Not possible. Even with a good push (which I knew we weren’t getting), that would be quite fast. 8 miles in 3:30? Turns out, a motor boat had passed him about 15 min prior and told him 2.6 miles from that point. He guessed we had 2 miles to go.

So I threw the feed cup at him and put my head down and swam. I swam hard. I thought, Wow, I could finish this in under 5 hours! How exciting. Tony told me later that he had to paddle harder than before to keep up with me for the first 15 minutes after he told me that. I felt great. No longer cared about any soreness, if it had appeared.

The next feed came quick. I thought Tony had stopped me early to tell me something, but no, it was the 4:00 feed. He said the finish buoy was an orange blip way off on the horizon. I didn’t want to look; I took a quick glance but didn’t try that hard to find it. I didn’t want to see it.

At 4:30 he stopped me and asked if I wanted to drink or just finish as the buoy was only a few 100 meters away. I answered by swimming hard to the finish. I decided at that point to sight every 100 strokes. Even thought I didn’t need it, I wanted to see the buoy get bigger and bigger. It took a while, but it did get bigger. At 4:44 I touched it. 10 miles in less than 5 hours. w00t!

endingGlad to be done! (Photo by Phyllis Williams)

Next, lessons learned.

Swim the Suck race report, part I

It’s been a long time coming, but here, finally, is my swim report from the fantastically fun Swim the Suck 10-mile swim.


For those few of my readers out there who have no idea what Swim the Suck (StS) is, StS is a 10-mile swim down the Tennessee River north of Chattanooga, down stream to mile marker 443.3. The swim is current-assisted, although this year the current wasn’t as high as in the two previous iterations. Still, I got a bit of a push from the 6-17K (depending upon who you talk to) of cubic feet of water per second.

But let’s get this race report organized. First I’ll talk about the logistics for a big swim like this. Then I’ll talk about the conditions of the swim. I’ll follow that with how the swim went for me. Finally, I’ll finish with some notes.

This was my first kayak-escorted swim, so the logistics for the swim started months ago. My wife was initially going to be my kayaker, but we couldn’t figure out what to do with the kids while we were having fun in Chattanooga. So I put the call out on FB and through family for someone with kayaking experience.

A miscommunication ended up with my uncle kayaking for me. Tony had picked up kayaking about a year ago, and he agreed to accompany me to TN for this fun. I had already had a kayak reserved for my wife, so I didn’t have to fight to get a last minute kayak. For a while, I was afraid I wouldn’t get a volunteer kayaker. I contacted Karah, the organizer of StS, and told her about my wife not being able to escort me. She warned that there might not be a volunteer available for me. I’m glad I found my uncle as I would have had to cancel my participation in the great event.

TonyMy kayaker, my uncle Tony. (Photo by Phyllis Williams)

However, as I learned the morning of the swim, there were more volunteers than there were swimmers. If this ever happens in the future, I won’t even consider cancelling the event.

So I had my kayaker. I had the plane tickets, hotel reservations and rental car. All good. So packing was next. I brought more than I thought I’d need. I brought plenty of “feed.” I brought three pairs of goggles. Plenty of underwear. I had printed up all the important paperwork that Karah told me to print up.

When we arrived in Chattanooga, we found the important locations. Package pick-up at Outdoor Chattanooga and the swim start at the Suck boat launch. Then we went shopping. I almost bought a 24-pack of water bottles, but reconsidered down to the 12-pack. I had brought plenty of feeds, so didn’t need to buy any.

Tony and I returned to the hotel and mixed feeds. I say “feeds” when I really mean cool-aid. I haven’t really practiced feeding. When I did long swims in Moscow, I would drink a mixture of apple juice and water. That seemed to do the trick for my 2- and 3-hour swims. But for something that I’d hoped would only take 5 hours? What the hell do I drink?

I didn’t want to try out Maxim on a swim like this. I’ll save that for next season when I can practice in open water. So I stuck with what I know. Crystal Light. I mixed Crystal Light in three water bottles. Orange that is. Then three of “red” flavor. I also did two of my apple juice concoction, and one flat Pepsi Max. That’s nine bottles. Tony had a dry bag in which he put the bottles.

For my feeding, I took a line from Swimmer25K and used a plastic cup attached to a line. I poked a hole with a hole puncher and tied some twine to it. The twine was about 8-9 feet long. What I learned is I’ll need longer in the future. A couple times I had to swim with Tony to avoid the twine getting taut.

Plan was for Tony to half-fill the cups, then stop me every 30 minutes to drink as much as I can. This would be the first time, ever, that I would feed from a boat. So, first feed came up, I stopped, grabbed the cup, stayed on my side and gulped as much as I could, just like I’d seen in videos. That was a mistake. Went down the wrong tube. So the hacking began, and continued for about 10 minutes. Thankfully I’m skilled in coughing under water. Every feed after that, I just went vertical and drank as much as I could.

But now I’m starting to talk about the swim. Let me go back to conditions.

The day prior to the swim, the weather was awesome, 75 degrees, sunny, light wind. Beautiful. Oh course, the day of the swim, it was 59 degrees outside and raining. Miserable. That was when I wished I’d brought my rain jacket. The clothes I wore at the boat launch would be the clothes I’d wear after the swim. Wet. Damp. Yuck.

The energy at the boat launch was a freaking blast. All the volunteers. All the swimmers. 70 swimmers this year. That meant 70 kayakers. But no, wait. There’d be SUPs too. And safety kayaks. And motor boats. How the hell did Karah organize all this? It was incredible.

Then to add to the fun, a helicopter flew by three times filming us. (I can’t wait to find that video.) Karah said it was from the RiverRocks celebration. How damn nerve racking. I’ve never been more nervous. Especially after my epic fail 10K. I really didn’t want to fail. I had met another swimmer the day before at the launch, a 58-year old gentleman with an appointment with the EC in 2014. He and I were talking goals. I told him 5:00 was my goal. What I was really thinking, though, was that my goal was 5:59:59. Just want to make the 6 hour cut-off!

So there I was standing around in my suit, greased up, hoping to make the cut-off. I had greased up with Desitin, lovingly called butt cream when our kids were younger. I first used Desitin at the 5K in NJ, thanks to Rosemarymint. Desitin works. That’s what I learned. I’ll use it at all swims in the future.

We lined up in number order, mine being 48. The worst part about any swim is the standing around with no flip-flops, usually on rocky ground that hurts like hell. So we did that for about 15 minutes. Then we got the call to enter the water.

Tony had entered with the rest of the kayakers about a half hour earlier. I found him as I entered, then lost him. Way too many kayakers.

The water was cool, in the mid 70’s. No big deal. We all swim over to where a rope was strung across, with the intent of grabbing onto the rope. But someone along the way stood on it, so it was all over by then. Most of us couldn’t reach the rope or even feel it, so we just lined up as best we could. What I liked the most was the fact that the start was almost immediate. After everyone was in the water, we had a count-down from 10, and we were all off.

Next, the Swim!

Swim for the Potomac race report

So, this past Sunday, 16 September, I swam the Swim for the Potomac 10K. Or, rather, I registered and started the race. I have yet to finish it.

Flash forward from 08:40-ish, Sunday morning. Flash forward two hours. Consistent and irritating pain in my lower back. The kind that isn’t debilitating. If you’re walking on solid ground. Where you can bend over and stretch. Hard to do while swimming in the (dirty) Potomac.

I started the race with my 7 fellow swimmers. One woman and six men. All the talk was how the woman would beat us all. (Spoiler alert: She got out after 5 laps.) The other swimmers all put “nutrition” or water on a floating, round and flat buoy (looked like a big tire with a lid, no other way to describe it). I scoffed at that…in my head! Which is important. Talk went back and forth about “just want[ing] to finish.” I seconded (or thirded) that emotion.

We all jumped into the Potomac to prepare to swim our 8 laps. Yes, as explained below, the race consisted of 8 x 1250 meter laps. And one of the most interesting routes ever. Not 8 simple loops. It was described by the organizer as an envelope. Here it is.

SFTP_Course1 with edits
At the start, I swam directly NE to point 1. From there, a hard left turn to point 2. At point 2, there was a green buoy on the eastern side and a large red buoy on the western side, about where the orange arrow is pointing. At 2, I turned right to buoy 3, where I did a 270 degree turn and swam to 4. At 4, a left turn and down to the start/finish line, and that equals one lap.

The 10K started first (after the 500m swim, more on that later), with the 5K starting after the 10K finished one lap (which translated to “when Mike completes one lap”). Then, about 10 minutes after that, the 3K, with almost 60 swimmers, mostly young upstarts, started.

Where you have a problem, is with the 3K. The 3K guys did a simple loop, from start to 1, to 3, to 4, back to start, which was 1000 meters. The problem came when the 10K guys (and 5K guys) were approaching and turning around buoy 2 and the 3K guys were swimming from 4 to the start/finish buoys (orange arrow is pointing to the problem area). On one of my laps, I had to stop around buoy 2 as a group of four passed between the green and red buoys, swimming abreast. No big deal. I wasn’t going for a record or anything.

My first 4 laps (so, 5K) was apparently swum fast. My wife and kids went away after my daughter finished her 500m swim, to allow her to change and to walk around, get coffee, all that. They came back somewhere around 10:15 or so, as I was finishing my 5K. So that’s somewhere around 1:35-ish. Good for me. I screamed to them that I had 4 laps to go. They disappeared.

Lap 5 even felt okay. Until about half-way. That’s when my lower back started to hurt. My shoulders, usually in pain for the first 1000-2000 meters anyway, never really warmed up. I should have realized that was just my body saying I didn’t have enough hours on them.

Anyway, back to my back. It got to the point that I started doing side-stroke around the buoys, just so I could curl up on myself to stretch my back. It was really hurting. Still, I figured I could continue. It didn’t (yet) hurt enough that I was thinking of quitting. I just knew at the end, I’d be in pain.

At the end of lap 6 my wife and family appeared again. I was surprised and worried. I screamed that I still needed 2 laps. I started to wonder, “How long were they away?” I hate stopping to look at my watch. At one point during lap 5 I glanced at my watch to see it was 10:58, so knew that I had been swimming just over 2 hours. But lap 6 felt like it took forever, and my back was screaming. Still, I thought, if my lap was even 30 minutes (it was probably longer, but I thought 30 minutes was a “worst case”), it was only around 11:30. Uh-oh!

During lap 7, besides thinking of my back every stroke, I thought about the cut-off time. Oh shit! What if I did finish lap 6 at 11:30? Wasn’t noon the cut-off? How the hell am I going to do 2500 meters in 30 minutes? Lap 7 hurt so much I even resorted to breast stroke, after the side-stroke, for a few after each buoy. It was taking forever.

I asked one of the SUP volunteers what the course cut-off time was between buoys 3 & 4; she didn’t know. As I passed my family, I told them I might be done. They were cheering me on something fierce. It was great to hear, but didn’t overcome my pain. As I approached the start/finish spot, I asked about cut-off. “We’re thinking noon,” was the answer. I looked at my watch. 11:54. I was done. I stopped my watch. 8750 in 3:15 [link in pdf].

Lessons learned. For one, more long swims. I’ve just been out of practice. Since leaving Moscow, I’ve been swimming coached workouts, but nothing on my own. And nothing more than 90 minutes, which occured once a week, if I was lucky. I need to take advantage of the fall season not having a Wednesday night workout. I need to find a place to go swim for 2-3 hours straight after work on humpday.

Second, core workout. I think along with longer hours horizontal in the pool, some core work to strengthen my transabdominal would be beneficial. Additionally, perhaps some ibuprofin right before the race. I really was so poorly prepared for this 10K. For one, we got our household goods from Moscow the day prior. So I was busy all day Saturday with the house. I didn’t have anything for my skin for the race, so I had a sore/hot spot between the thighs after the swim. I didn’t bring any water. I didn’t drink enough water prior. I had a slice of pizza as my “pre-race nutrition” for God’s sake. The tank might have been empty, along with my poor muscular prep.

The fam and I went out to eat in the National Harbor area after. Besides drinking some Gatorade and eating a huge (probably 800 cal) muffin after the race, I downed a lamb burger and tons of fries, along with two pints of black and tan (the wife was driving).

Positives: As far as the race goes, for a triathlete-run race, this had the absolute best buoys I’ve ever raced. Hell, for any race this one had the best buoys. Plus, no foolishness, beyond the standard a) wetsuits for ridiculously warm water (~70) and b) the director stating “you can rest on the kayaks.” Seriously, though, no triathletisms. No one joking about not being able to count that high. Organizers who paid attention to the laps and/or swimmers who were honest when they didn’t finish. Even with the young brats in there, no one was annoying.

But back to the buoys. Huge! Bright! Very easy to see. Also, mid-way buoys between all points except for the little envelope maneuver (1 to 2; 2 to 3). So very easy to navigate, I think that was the best part, at least for laps 1-4, and possibly 5. I really felt straight most of the time.

Oh, and I realized how nice it is to have family cheer you on. It really did matter that they were there. I felt so sorry for my wife stuck there for over 3 hours after our daughter finished her swim. Because of parking logistics, she didn’t want to leave and then come back, and National Harbor is only so big…

And the organizers were very strong on safety. They had eyes on each swimmer going in and coming out. There were organziers on the pier as I finished each lap. The SUP and kayak volunteers were everywhere. I never felt like I had to worry. I could have, at any moment, raised my hand and had someone there almost immediately.

So, first “flat” 10K an epic failure. But not in the lessons learned department. I certainly learned a lot. And, who knows? If there weren’t a cut-off, I might have swum the last lap, despite the pain. I really don’t know. All I know for sure is, I was so relieved when they said “noon.”

Oh, and even better: my 12-year old had her first OW experience. And she loved it! She competed in the 500m swim. The longest continuous swim she’s done to date. (Her swim team experience, started only this July, has been 50s and 100s.) She said she was so bloody tired at the end of lap 1 (they did two 250-meter laps), but she didn’t want to not finish. I just wish I could have made it a two-fer for team Tyson!

Cedar Island 5K race report

Spent a wonderful, yet quick, Sunday in South Jersey with two of my Marathon Swimmers Forum colleagues. As discussed in this blog post, I was clued in to a 5K not too far from where I live now.

Yesterday I took part in the Cedar Island 5K, an awesome little (fewer than 100 swimmers) 5K swim at the Jersey shore. The swim was organized by what appeared to be triathletes. Normally that would make me either a) go the other way or 2) listen intently for triathletisms. This one ended with a third option: enjoyment!

This race really was well organized. The check-in was quick, no ID required. Got marked quickly by smiling volunteers. Even got called back to get my goody bad as I had turned the wrong way. And talk about a goody bag. One of the best (granted, my OW resume is strange). Lube (I should have used it), sunscreen, a pair of running socks (!), technical shirt, gel (raspberry), and something else I can’t think of now. Oh, and it all came in a nice canvas shopping bag.

The drive up took longer than expected. I learned a little something about Google maps. If you ask for directions, it’ll give you the time it’ll take you at that moment in time. When I first was alerted to this swim by the incredible marathon swimmer JC, my Google inquiry said it would take me 3 hours. No problem! So Sunday morning I did some honey-do chores around the house, fixed crap, cleaned crap, yelled at the kids, typical dad stuff. Around 11:00 (I had planned to leave at noon for a 3:00 to 3:45 registration) I went to Google to do the directions again. Surprise! In current traffic, the trip would take me 4 hours. Yikes!

So I grabbed my crap and left. (More on my need of a go bag later.) The drive up did indeed take me four hours. I got to the Avalon Yacht Club (say it through your nose while channeling Ted Knight) at about 3:15. What a long and relatively boring drive.

Upon arrival I texted fellow marathon swimmer JC, and then met him after we both registered. Fellow marathon swimmer Rosemarymint showed up, and thank God she had diaper rash ointment. Yep, I had forgotten that. Also my flip-flops. Yes, I was the dork in sneakers and socks and Speedo Endurance suit walking around. Also, I had my high-tech white plastic bag to put all my crap in. I am one styling marathon swimmer. On my long-ass drive home, I thought long and hard about the need for a go bag. I don’t want to show up again at a swim without needed stuff. (I also would have appreciated lotion. Anyone else’s skin dry up like a piece of paper after swimming? It’s like all the moisture from my body is wicked out.)

The 5K was an in-water start, which I love. The triathletes in their wetsuits (actually, fewer in wetsuits than expected, but still way more than half were fully clothed) mostly near the front. I hung out toward the back, so as to avoid as much of the crush as possible. Didn’t matter. Boy, did I think I couldn’t swim straight. Holy crap! I don’t know how many times I got run over. I’m sure some of it was me not swimming straight, but Jeez Louise, I’d see them coming at me then swerving away. It was incredible.

My one and only complaint about this swim was the size of the buoys, and the relative scarcity. There were only 4, at each corner of the rectangle. And they were so small I couldn’t see them (20/15, guys!) until I was about 300 meters from them. The swim could have used a couple intermediate buoys between the long stretches.

The water was relatively warm, I gotta think it was in the low to mid-60’s. It felt wonderful. I could have swum in it another loop or so. How come I always feel like I can swim more? I feel, during the swim, that I am pushing my hardest, but when I get out, I immediately think about maybe doing another loop or two. Anyone else feel like this?

There was a definite push from the current. The swim was scheduled at a time to take advantage of the incoming tide. I could feel it on the long stretch. So much so that my second half was faster than my first half. Oh! I haven’t told you my time yet!

1:11.58. Definite push from the tide. That’s almost two minutes faster than my “flat” 4K in Texas last month. Felt so good. My first half was 39 minutes. Second half much faster. I was really pushing it. But still, why did I not feel totally spent? All I felt was hungry and thirsty.

OK, here comes #2 complaint. Sorry. But I gotta say it. No water or anything at the finish! They had water AND champagne available at the half-way mark. But nothing at the finish.

Still, well worth it. Even with the 4.5 hour return drive through a thunderstorm. (I hate driving on dark highways in pouring rain, especially with the hundreds of people returning from the Jersey shore.)

So, in the end, Highly Recommended. A. (And no triathletisms…)

4K Open Water Swim Challenge…

…or how to enjoy a triathlete-organized open water swim.

This past Sunday, 29 July, I swam a 4K open water race in Little Elm, TX (great town btw), just outside Fort Worth. Good news up front: I swam it in 1:13.48. My goal was 1:20, based on 20:00 per 1000 meters, taking into consideration my lack of navigation in previous open water swims. So, way ahead of goal, and I think, better navigation on my part. Also good news: I was 2nd in my age group, out of 7, and 19th out of 50 total men. That’s an improvement over the last few years.

My navigation was seriously improved. The course was a rectangle with one long side. (I’m sure there’s an official geometric term for this, but I’m many years from my 9th grade geometry class.)

texas ow swim

The map is not all that clear, so allow me to explain. Everyone started at the start gate, at about the middle of the picture with two small red dots to the left. You swam down that green arrow, between the red trapezoid (is that it?) and small red dot, then direct to the yellow buoy. That yellow buoy was much further away than in the picture, so that once you turned around it (a 3/4 turn) you headed straight to buoy number 3 (bottom left red trapezoid in the picture), then turn to buoy four, then around four, along the blue arrow, and that’s one lap finished. Repeat, repeat, repeat, then you’re done, and you run up the beach at the bottom of the picture.

Navigation-wise, I rocked. I’m just saying. Behind the yellow buoy was a cleared area with a large house. Otherwise, it was wooded areas. So even if I couldn’t see the yellow buoy (nearly impossible, as it was huge), I could aim for the open area/big house and be on target.

The first time around each buoy, I definitely had to do some adjusting until I found the line. Then each loop I was on the right line each time. Small adjustments needed here and there. I used the sun to help navigate. If, after turning around a buoy, I noticed the sun (from under the water) off to my 9 o’clock, I’d try and swim keeping the sun to my 9 o’clock. That helped immensely.

What didn’t help was my eyes. What is it about these swims, that makes one of my eyeballs gum up. Seriously, this isn’t the first time. It is like one eyeball decides it has pink eye or just really bad morning eye boogers. The eye lashes start to stick together. The eye starts to hurt to open and close. I have to stop to rub and clean my eye. I remembered this going in, and even did what I thought was a good job of washing my eyes in the lake water prior to starting. But no, twice I had to stop and rub my eyes. At least I did it while on my back kicking.

I also had to fix my stupid cap twice. The organizers required us to wear specific colored caps, so we had to wear those crappy lycra ones. Well, my noggin is kind of huge (large brain, I tell my wife). The damn cap at about the 2.5 lap mark ended up on the very top of my head. What’s that called? The nape? No, the crown. Yes, the crown. The damn cap was sitting on the very tippy top of my head. I couldn’t believe it was still on. (My goggles were under the cap.) So, again, I flip to my back, kick like the devil, and try to put my damn cap on. (In hindsight, I should have taken my goggles off, put the cap on, then the goggles. That way, at least the cap would have stayed on. Because yes, my damn cap fell off a second time.)

Considering my four forays onto my back to fix crap, I really like my time. That’s 18 minutes and some change per kilometer. A definite improvement over the last couple of years.

I’ve already spoken on the marathon swimmers forum about the fun I had eavesdropping on the IronMen and Women. But I feel I must repeat it here. This is my second “triathlete-organized” open water swim. Triathletes are so much fun to listen to. Alert readers of my blog will remember my review of my NC 2-mile swim, and the jerk who passed me on the last buoy, with his pull buoy. Well, no pull buoys in this race. But, overheard at the start: “I’m going to try to swim 3 laps.” “Yeah, me too. I’ll try for 3 laps.”

Someone in my race only did a couple laps (one lap?). As the results sheets started coming out, there sitting on top of the 4K male results was some guy who did it in 27-odd minutes. Well, even the triathletes knew that was bogus. Some said, “He’d be in London now!” Interestingly, no one in the entire organization noticed until awards were being handed out and the race organizer (great guy btw) was about to announce the overall winner, when he said, “Wait, this can’t be right.” Ten minutes later, that guy’s DQ’d and the real overall winner (52-something) gets his beach ball.

Oh, and there’s the triathletes who “had to” (their words) walk on the small sand bar between buoy 1 and 2. Funny, I was able to swim it. But they stated for all to hear, “I had to walk it.” Four times. Nice.

Finally, there was the fun of hearing a vast majority of these guys and gals talking about how far of a swim this was. “I can’t count that high,” was what one triathlete said when she heard the race briefing. “OK, men, this is a long swim,” was what one triathlon club’s captain stated. One even said, “Why would anyone swim 4K in a pool!” Knowing how Murphy’s Law works, I didn’t dare laugh or tell anyone that I’ve swum 10K before, in a river and in the pool!

This was a first time race from these guys, and I would recommend it if you’re in the northern Texas area. It really was well run. There was a kids aquathlon before our event, and it was so much fun watching the kids. Better yet, the organizers were very attentive to how many kids entered the water and how many exited. Very nice to see. There were many local triathlon groups there, so team spirit was high. Some of the kids were swimming in kid triathlon groups. (Maybe open water groups should develop kid programs?)

All around a great time was had. And every year from now on there will be awards for 1-3 of each age group. This year being the first year, they only awarded first. Damn! I finally place and no beach ball!

What the hell is in my pool water?

Alert and dedicated reader(s) to this blog know that I swim in our embassy pool here in Moscow. Among its idiosyncracies is its length: 15-odd meters per length. Actually, to get very specific, 50 feet 8 inches. That’s 101 feet 4 inches per lap. Or 302 feet per 3 laps. Or 100.67 yards per 3 laps.

Long time readers know that another particularity of the pool is that it closes for a month or so every year. Well, it used to.  In 2010 it was scheduled to close all of August, but the peat bog fires in Russia, that covered Moscow in a lovely carcinogenic-fog, delayed that until October. (Doctors here advised we stay in as much as possible, so the embassy decided not to take the pool away during such a time.) I managed to work with the embassy community and the pool management, and teach them the proper cleaning regime.

Around moscow and smoky days 021Yes, that picture was taken at noon

(I remember fondly lifeguarding as a kid in the early ’80s, and when some kids just would not stop running, we’d make them sit in one corner of the surrounding pavement that never seemed to get wet, and thus got terribly hot. We’d make them sit with their legs out straight. And if more than one kid needed the treatment, we’d sit one out and put the other in the pool with a scrub brush to scrub tiles. It was fun to see the politics that occured between the kids. “Hey, you’re cleaning slow so I have to sit out longer. Just wait ’til I get in there!”  Nowadays, of course, we lifeguards would probably be fined or jailed for treating the kids that way. But, you know what? Few ever got caught running again!)

Anyway, another unique function of my pool is the water. There is something weird in the water. I don’t know what it is, but it’s only in the embassy water. My forays to Russian pools never resulted in what I’m about to tell you. Prepare for grossness: The water turns my ear wax blue. Yeah. Gross.

Beyond that, it turns the fair hairs between my eyebrows blue, as well. I’ve had one doctor here interested in getting some used q-tips from me. (Gross, again.)  But that’s not really necessary as I have photographed proof of what it does.

These are the same goggles, basically. The ‘blue’ ones were the same color as the non-blue ones in the picture only a few months ago. I don’t know what the hell is in my pool water, and, frankly, I’m not going to ask.

DSC_6581These started out looking like the below.

DSC_6582These will look like the above in a short few months

I am so looking forward to getting back to the states.

The Still Water 8

Sounds like a movie, doesn’t it?!  But no, it is a series of marathon swims, along the lines of Ocean’s Seven or Triple Crown.  I’d never heard of it until getting the latest issue of USMS Swimmer in the mail on Friday.

The Still Water 8 consists of eight lake marathons around the world. The idea apparently is the bright idea of Michelle Macy. As of yet, no one swimmer has completed it.  There are three ways of swimming the 8: with wetsuit, without (FINA-rules suits) and EC rules. If you swim even one of the 8 in a wetsuit or a FINA-approved (e.g. not a traditional EC costume) suit, then all your swims will be considered in that category. So if you think you’ll want to do some in trunks, cap and goggles a la EC-standard, then you better do them all.

The swims? Here they are, with whatever pretty picture I could find of each (list and info courtesy of Openwaterpedia):

1. Loch Ness (Scotland): 23 miles/37K, water temperature averages 50°F/10°C in season. Known for its deep black and chilling waters.


2. Windermere (England): 10.5 miles/16.9K, water temperature can be as low as 55°F/13°C in season. The largest natural lake in England.


3. Lake Zürich (Switzerland): 16.4 miles/26.4K, water temperature 66.2–75.2°F/19-24°C. This lake has an annual international competition.


4. Lake Tahoe (USA): 21 miles/35.4K, water temperature is 50–58°F/10–14.4°F. Difficult due to cool water and air temperatures and high altitude.


5. Lake Baikal (Russia): 7-10 miles/11-16K or blaze a course of equal or greater distance,water temperature can be as low as 50°F/10°C. The world’s oldest and deepest lake is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


6. Lake Taupo (New Zealand): 21 miles/34K, water temperature 51–73°F/11–23°C. The largest lake in New Zealand is located on the North Island.


7. Lake Ontario (Canada): 31.5 miles/51K, water temperatures are variable in a matter of hours due to wind (50–72°F/10-22°C. Difficult swim due to unpredictable wind and currents.

Lake ontario

8. Lake Titicaca (Bolivia–Peru): Temperature is 56-58°F/13-14.5°F and is highest lake in the Americas. Openwaterpedia doesn’t mention how far of a swim this would be, but looking at Google Maps, it looks like the distance would be in the mid-20s…miles that is.

Lake titicaca

Nerpa Seals Repelled by Red Flags

Today’s guest blogger is my wife, the delightfully insane recent finisher of the Lake Baikal (Half) Marathon. Enjoy dear reader(s)!


Enough of this paddling around in warm waters followed by a Mai-Tai and a massage.  Let’s talk about a real challenge.  That’s right, finding a shower with good water pressure in Siberia.  Oh, and running a marathon or half in -12 degrees fahrenheit (around -236 degrees celsius for our international readers) on the world’s deepest lake, on ice, across snowdrifts, leaping over chasms of roiling lake water, dodging hovercrafts filled with crazy picture snapping relatives, rabid seals, and the strangest sensation of frost bite and heat exhaustion at the same time.

And no toilets on the course.  It’s a lonely yet very public thing to take a potty break on frozen flat tundra with nothing to hide behind except the curvature of the earth.  Only people in Florida didn’t have a view. I did feel much better afterwards, though – and shame, yes, but I think I made the right choice.

The Lake Baikal Marathon/Half Run was some of the most fun I’ve ever had.  It takes place in the small village of Listyanka outside Irkutsk.  Listyanka is a lovely Siberian village with charming homes and incredible views of the lake and surrounding mountains.  The air is squeaky clean, the sky a palette of blues from light to dark, and the snow brilliant white.  The biggest danger for a runner is actually snow blindness, then killer seals.


There are plenty of things to do in the area — dog sledding, snow mobiling, skiing, hiking, touring other villages around the lake.  Everywhere I went the food was excellent.  The cuisine is Russian with Siberian influence.  Most of the meals in local restaurants include the fish from Lake Baikal called omul.  These guys are related to trout and quite delicious.  I could comfortably eat them everyday.  And I did!  For me, food is number one on the list of why I leave home at all.  Two forks up for Listyanka.

The race itself was very well organized.  The people running the show were personable and enthusiastic.  The runners were a hardy, insane breed from all over.  There were groups from China, Japan, Germany, and Australia.  There were a couple of guys from Spain.  I remember them because they were so excited to be there and so much fun to be around.  Also, a sprinkling of Anglo-American types, an Austrian, someone from South Africa, some other places, and plenty of locals, who swept the medals for the men’s full marathon.

DSC03648Starting line.  It’s hard to tell whether it’s a run or a scuba event.

Slide1“Please, please, no running to the left of the red flags. You may be disqualified. No questions.”   The pre-race information meeting was pretty much about not running to the left of the red flags. Pods of killer Nerpa seals must live over there.

  Nerpa dog

  Nerpa cat

DSC03686Actual baby killer Nerpa seal.  Luckily I got my shoe back.


Dart 10K race report, part II

Part I here.

The morning of the race I woke early, but not crazy-early. Registration started at 9, but my wave wouldn’t hit the water until 11:30. My main point for showing up in Totnes early was because of parking. Parking would cost me 6 pounds for the whole day (about $9.50), but I wanted to get close to where the bus at the end would drop me off. (There would be a bus from Dittisham, the end point, back up to Totnes. I wasn’t sure how beat I’d be, so wanted to plan on as little walking as possible.)

I got there bright and early. I was one of the first there, so I walked around to check out the start. I had found some guy’s youtube video of the swim from 2010, so I knew we’d be running (walking!) down the boat ramp into the river. The water looked cold. And in some parts, the current seemed to be going upstream. Stupid Mother Nature.

IMG_0101Boat launch where I thought we’d be starting

Registration was quick; got my swim cap, numbered armband (really a blue rubber band) and bag-tag. Now I just had two hours of anxious waiting until I needed to be in the starting pen. My wave, the blue wave, had to “pen up” at 11:00, where they’d check our numbers to our names. There was no electronic chipping, to keep prices down, so they were especially keen on us checking in and checking out (not the permanent way) of the race.

IMG_0104Totnes Rowing Club, home of Dart 10K registration

Because my wetsuit was sleeve-less, I had to go through the process of getting approved as a non-wetsuit swimmer. It involved an extra paperwork drill, but wasn’t onerous. It meant I’d wear an extra armband, really just a white rubber band. You’ll see in a bit that I wish I’d just worn my grape-smugglers.

Each wave left at 15-min intervals, starting with my new-found friends Liz, Liz, Charlotte and Charlotte (yes, those were their names). I stood on some stairs that led into the water, where the rowers would exit the water. Poor rowers were all kicked out of the river prior to the start by the river authority! Anyway, I stood on those stairs getting used to the water temp. Cold! I figured I’d watch my friends walk from their pen, past me, to the boat launch. Nope! Unlike 2010, the swimmers entered at the stairs! So I got the hell out of the way, and cheered from a different vantage point.

IMG_0106Just me and some of my friends

Some guys were wearing blueseventy booties. I laughed it off, until I had to start walking on pavement without my flip-flops. Ouch. But the water temp didn’t feel too bad after standing on the stairs for 15 minutes. That would change in about 30 minutes.

Waiting in the pen went fast. I checked in and marveled at another blue waver wearing his speedos only. Boy, how jealous I’ll be of him in a matter of hours. Our wave moved from the check-in pen to the “go” pen. We got our pre-race brief. Huge emphasis on checking out at Dittisham. Apparently the OSS conducted a swim a couple weeks prior and five people didn’t check out, and they started a search before those folks called someone to report that they’d already gone home. Jerks!

The pre-race brief ended with “Is everyone ready?” and us shouting “No!” Then we were off. I managed to be about mid-way through my wave, hit the water steps, okay so far, then the leap in when I ran out of stairs. Ay, caramba. Or, since I was in England: “Bloody hell!” Terribly cold. Definitely colder than Copenhagen last year. My first thought was: this wetsuit does nothing against the cold.

I made it across the river, as we had to keep to the right in the river, but the rowing club was on the left bank. The river at this point was not too wide, perhaps 30 yards or so, so that left-to-right crossing was quick and cold. By the time I got to the other side, tarzan-swimming the whole way, I realized I hadn’t started my chrono. Remedied that, put my head down, and just started swimming.

The cold feeling went away within a couple minutes; seriously, I would feel some cold spots during the swim, but nothing that really made me fearful of hypothermia (I’d gotten that once before when I was 16, so I know the signs). Waves of people passed me, as they always do at these races. Is it me not giving an honest seed-time? They asked for our one-mile OW time, which I said was 31:15, a time I did last year in my first OW race. Did the other blue-wavers give slower times so they could feel cool when they passed people? Did they have more adrenalin flowing? Who knows.

And unfortunately, each wave wore the same swim cap, so there was no way for me to see if I was catching any of the earlier waves, or being run over by the wave behind me. (OSS started the waves in slow to fast order; they wanted everyone finishing as close to the same time as possible.) The water tasted very salty, and the water level was much higher than when I scoped out the start two days prior. There must have been a huge influx of seawater; hopefully that meant the water was going back out!

In the NC 5K in July, I started a little swimming process that I thought would help me swim straight, and make the time go. I’d swim for a set number of strokes between sightings. If I noticed myself going off course, I’d cut the stroke count down. If I was going straight, I’d increase the stroke count. So there I went, sighting every 8, then 10 for a while, then 8, occasionally 6. That made the time go, and there were enough swimmers around that I could also just follow them. For the most part, I seemed to always be on course. A couple times I seemed way left, but turned out when I sighted a few times in a row, that I was cutting the corner.

Cut the corner once too far, and a paddleboarder sent me back right. That was okay; safety is paramount, and I didn’t want to do anything that forced them to pull me. Another fear of mine, a fear of the macho side of me, was the OSS policy that if you were so far back that you might not finish in the minimum time, they’d pick you up in their boat, take you a mile or so down river, and drop you back in. And if they decided to do that to you, you had no appeal. I didn’t want my first 10K to really be only 8K.

I hit the 4K feeding station really quickly. My first thought was that my “count, count x 8, sight, repeat” really helped the time go. I figured I’d hit 4K, taking into account my poor navigation skills, at about 1:20. Imagine my surprise when I looked and it was 54:05. Of course, being me, I was sure the OSS measured incorrectly.

Watching the other swimmers at that feeding station was hilarious. The station was a couple inflatable boats lashed together. All you saw were red caps around every inch of the boats. I don’t know how long any of them stayed there, but it looked like a cafe with everyone shooting the breeze. Only later did I find out what they served.

Head down, continue swimming, still amazed at the time. Only in this next stretch, 4K to 8K, did I start to realize the river pushing me. A few times I really felt the current. I have no idea the speed of the current, but it was noticeable.

We passed many boat yards, and the occasional wavy sections when rescue boats went by, but for the most part it was enjoyable and flat. It was between the feeding stations that I started to feel the wetsuit rash. I knew what it was, and just got more and more pissed as I went. Next time, no wetsuit.

The 8K feeding station looked the same as 4K, and I got to it at 2:04. Skipped it just like the other one. Shoulders, arms, legs, everything felt great. I started to do the math. My goal was 3:40, so I knew there was almost nothing that could prevent me from hitting that. How fast could I swim 2K? with river help? Who knows?

The last 1K was brutal. Not because of tiredness; I really felt like I could keep going. However, the waves were crazy. I really got to put to the test my ability to gulp a mouthful of water instead of air, but not panic. I’d worked on that the last year or so; I gulped nasty silt-filled river water every 10 or so breaths, and didn’t panic. I simply coughed it out underwater, and then got air the next right-breath.

The ending was the worst part of the swim. Since OSS sold this as just a relaxing marathon swim, especially for (us) first-timers, there was no finish gate or timers. When you got shallow enough to stand up, you were done. I stood up at 2:34:55. Then I fell down.

The “beach” was nothing more than a silt field. My initial move to the vertical resulted with my legs buried in silt to just above my knees. It literally took me 10 minutes to get out of the water. Then the rough walk up to the Ham, a green area where the after-party was. Again, I thought the booties a good idea. My feet are too wimpy nowadays.

I joined some of my fellow marathoners to change under some trees. They actually had a portable hot tub! No way I was getting in that human soup bowl. But it was funny. I also saw the most ingenious “towel” that apparently a lot of these “wild swimmers” in the UK use. Imagine a swim parka made of terry cloth, with slits up the sides of your legs to about mid-thigh. They would don this robe, and then doff their swim suits underneath, keeping all the private “bits” covered, while I struggled to take my dripping wet speedo off with one hand while holding my beach towel with the other hand.

Changed, I went to get in line for my hot chocolate. The OSS provided a nice coffee mug and free coffee or hot chocolate. They ran out of hot chocolate when I got to the front, but they had soda. So I drank my soda, to kill whatever river creatures I ingested. Then I waited in line for a bus ticket and to pick up my pre-paid hoody. I also bought a nice sweatshirt. Then I bought a Cornish pasty. If you haven’t had them, you must. Very good post-exercise calorie refiller. Imagine a calzone, but filled with lamb, potato and mint, or steak and potato, or cheese and onion. Very filling.

I hung out with my fellows for a while, then made the trek to the bus. No one said anything about climbing a hill! I must say up until that point I thought, “this marathon business isn’t too bad!” But that short walk up the hill killed me. Thankfully there was a nice green area to lay down on when I got to the top.

Bus ride was nice, talking to a lovely Brit lady who works in London dealing with international schools. She and her two friends invited me to have a beer with them in Totnes, but after swimming 10K, I was afraid one beer would put me over the limit, so I declined. I hopped in the car and drove back down to Dartmouth.

At the BRNC I surveyed the damage. My body looked like someone took flexible wire and ran it up and down my back, chest and neck. Ouch! This would take some time to heal. I showered, rinsed my wetsuit, and had a full dinner. I then walked into Dartmouth, to my favorite pub, and had a beer or three. I found out later that the official temp of the water was 15C, and 399 of the 400 starters finished, one having to be pulled for cramps. Not bad! I also found out that the feeding stations were giving out flapjacks, digestives and energy drinks. How crazy is that? Anyway, Marathon Mission complete. I am a marathoner!

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