6th Cyprus International Swimming Marathon (open sea), 5&10km Men and Women

OK, so I did it. I swam a 5K. If 10K is a marathon, that means I (finally) ‘did’ a half marathon, right? Let’s just get this out of the way right now. 1:48. Yes. An hour and 48 minutes. Slow as molasses. And 8 minutes over my goal. But, that time got me first place in my age group.

Of course, that’s not hard when you’re the only one in the race who was alive while the Soviet Union still existed:

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Yes, those are birth years…

Imagine my surprise when I show up to see that every high school swim team in Cyprus (and Greece, and Bulgaria, and Ukraine) sent their best swimmers to compete in this race. I was older than most of the coaches for God’s sake! I was surrounded by skinny, fat-less punks who looked like fast swimmers when they were simply standing on the beach. But let’s start at the beginning.

Everything started out strange when I landed at Larnaca and I could have sworn the flight attendant told us the time. In Russian and English. Wow, I thought. We got here like 45 minutes earlier than scheduled. I found my taxi driver, who was late (thus bolstering my opinion that we arrived early), and we were off for the 74KM drive (not 45 as originally thought) to Limassol (or, Lemesos, in Greek).

He dropped me off at my hotel, the Park Beach hotel, a nice little place with a large dining room. Since I registered for the race through the Cyprus Swimming Federation, not only was the taxi covered, but the hotel included full board. I looked forward to dinner. I dropped my crap off in my room and walked to where the technical meeting would be at 7pm.

There was a Bennigan’s across from the Famagusta Nautical Club, so I stopped in for a Guiness and some nachos (I was carbo-loading after all), and enjoyed the cool evening. At 15 til, I walked into the club and looked for the swimmers. No one. Just some diners (the club is also a restaurant as well as a sailing, canoeing, and kayaking club). I saw a guy holding what looked like a buoy and he asked who I was. I introduced myself and he asked if I knew about the 7pm technical meeting. I said yes, looked at my watch, and said I’m early. He looked at his watch, showed it to me, and I realized I was an hour late. Apparently Cyprus is only one hour behind Moscow, not two. (My iPod’s clock did not include any Cyprus cities.) I apologized and he accepted and we got on with our one-on-one meeting.

He described the course (different from the map) and the buoys. There would be a small buoy, like he was holding (perhaps 18″ high) every 250 meters. There would a large buoy, maybe 4-5 feet high, at the 1250 m turn-around, and at the start. The course was straight for the first 1000m, then turned about 30 degrees to the right for the last 250 of the leg. We would be swimming between the beach and the break-waters (those rocky looking things in the map). Since we wouldn’t be able to see the large buoy from the start, he said it didn’t matter if we swam on the left or right of the small buoys. (A fact that didn’t hit me til the race.) He told me to be back promptly at 8am and the race would start at 9 sharp. I walked back to the hotel and got a good nights sleep.

cyprus halfSwim route as advertised

The next morning I was up bright and early, gathered my stuff and walked down to the Club. I was the first one there, at about 7:30. People started filing in. This was my first indication of trouble. Sure, perhaps that’s just their mom. She’s out to take her kids swimming. No, they’re part of the race. Oh, here comes another…kid. Uh-oh. As they all started to collect, in little giggling, cackling groups, I started to worry. How come all the people my age we already drinking (not water)? Oh, they’re staying nearby and are just here to enjoy the beach.

Promptly at 8:30 (sarcasm intended), the sign-in started. Or rather, a bunch of Greek yelling started, and a lot of Greek kids started running to a wall. Turns out you had to find your name, then come tell the guys with the markers what your number was so they could mark you. Uh-oh again. I was number one. Doesn’t that mean I’m supposed to be fast? Oh crap. I hope these kids don’t think I’m fast.

There were about 60-70 5K swimmers and six 10K swimmers. I thanked God for that. Despite their apparent speed (as evidenced by their lack of body-fat (the boys) and their huge muscly thighs (the girls)), I doubted any of them could swim the 10K in less than 1:40. At least I wouldn’t be the absolute last person out of the water.

I ended up helping a nice Ukrainian woman who was the trainer for 3 female swimmers (okay, teens). The organizers didn’t want to let one of her girls swim in her suit, since it went below the knees, but with my help, we explained that the material was natural and the suit was on the newly approved FINA list. The woman loved me after that and made sure I met her swimmers.

One of them, sweet thing (not saying that in a gross old-man way), asked me if I was swimming the marathon. I answered no, just the 5K. She smiled and said that her personal best was 1:04 (she actually said “one hour, zero four minute”) and she hoped to do as well here today. I congratulated her and said I am also hoping for that same result, only “one hour, four zero minute.” I found out later, that that young lady is the Ukrainian national champion at 5K. More on them later.

DSC03067The Ukrainian National 5K Champ picking up her 2nd place trophy

We gathered in the cold water. No official temperature, but I’d say warmer than Copenhagen, perhaps 68 degrees…maybe 66. Anyway, the 9am-sharp start started promptly at 9:30 (again, intended). In-water start, which is fine with me since there are many small-to-boulder sized rocks on the Cypriot beaches. I kept up with the little punks almost to the first 250m buoy. I was proud of myself on that account! There were 2 or 3 I was able to follow for about 1000m until it was just me and Mister (or Misses) yellow-cap.

DSC03057The start flags

Again, navigation killed me. I couldn’t see the intermediate buoys. I think I saw 2 of the first 4, and passed one on the left and one on the right. My initial thought was to cut from the start straight towards the turn-around buoy, under the theory (not really a theory…this is math here) that the hypotenuse is always shorter than the two sides added together. I ended up way over to the left, destroying my plan. Closer to the turn-around, I started coming head-on to swimmers on their return leg. Ah! Left or right of the buoys…there’s a problem there!

I followed yellow-cap and we did the turn-around probably 15m from each other. Then I followed him back. This time I intended on following the hypotenuse back in. And again, I swayed out of line. It is at about this point, 1500m into the thing, that my muscles finally started feeling good. I’ve always felt this way in the pool, that it takes me a good 1000-1500 before I feel like I can really swim, really push it. I started to push it, and felt pretty darn good. I never caught yellow-cap, but I stayed with him or her to the 2500m turn. I glanced at the watch quickly and the time was 51 and some change. So I’m a minute+ over my goal. But I feel great. Time to push it.

On the return, I really had trouble spotting any of the buoys. I realized the current was coming in, because I couldn’t see yellow-cap except every 2-3 times I sighted. Troughs and peaks. The current was coming into the beach at an angle. I was swimming east, and the current was coming in northeast. More on that later.

Came head-on again with some swimmers. We managed to not hit each other. But again I was way off course, too far left toward the beach when I should have been closer to the break-waters. I kept up with yellow-cap til the 3750 turn-around, but lost him/her after that. Now I really started to feel the current and the waves. I felt like I was swimming in place. However, I managed to keep check on the intermediate buoys. Or so I thought. When I thought I passed the last buoy, only 250m away from the finish, I kicked. I sighted and swore I saw the final buoy, marking the finish. I kicked and kicked til my calves started to cramp. Then I realized I had just come upon the real 250m buoy. Dammit. I continued to kick as much as I could, but started to lose steam. I had a final kick about 100m from the (real) finish, and came across at 1:48 and some change. 57 minutes on the second loop. That current (and navigation, or lack thereof) killed me.

This is where the video of the nasty current would go if I could figure out how to upload it…

I loped onto shore to see the real swimmers all sitting down, already changed and dry, enjoying food and drink. Oh, not free food and drink. The Cyprus Swimming Fed offered nothing by way of liquid or sustenance. I had to buy two bottles of water before I passed out. Oh, and you know what else I learned? Just because you don’t wear a wetsuit doesn’t mean you don’t need body glide. My underarm (only the right) got a serious rash. I wonder does this happen in fresh water? Was it just the salt water?

DSC03062The Famagusta Nautical Club and the already-dry and rested 5K kids

No one noticed me finishing, thank God. I grabbed my stuff then went to sit with the Ukrainians. The coach congratulated me and gave me a gift. Turns out they were from a Handball team in Kiev, and a few of her athletes just “happen to swim, too.” Yea, just happen to swim enough to be Ukrainian national champ. And then her 10K swimmer finished…first. Overall. Pissing off some Greek boys. Oh, and the Bulgarian girl finished second. Overall.

DSC03068The winner of the 10K…a Ukrainian Team Handball player

What the swimming fed did right was the trophies. Very nice and large, probably just what the kids wanted on their mantle-pieces, if anyone in Cyprus has a mantle-piece. Overall, though, very disorganized. The Ukrainians mentioned it, and I don’t think they’ll be back next year. I certainly won’t. Cyprus is nice, and the water was amazing (I swam 2k on Sunday and again on Monday before heading to the airport). But there were not enough competitors in my generation (or even one below me) to make it worth a second trip.

And I have to laugh every time I see the words “Men” and “Women” in the title of this race…

Yet another post in my Swimming Anthropology series

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The formula above can be used to determine the maximum number of noodlers possible in a swim lane before you either a) give up and go home or b) forcibly drown someone.  My result today:  22.

Today being Saturday, and this past week being very busy from a work perspective, I decided to not go swim, unless I woke up early enough.  I didn’t set an alarm clock.  The wife and I wanted to sleep in.

Well, our dog had other ideas.  At the crack of 7, he was scratching at our door, begging to go outside.  He’s got the upper hand in this relationship, because it’s no big deal for him to just go pee on the floor.  Not the easy-to-clean-up part of the floor.  No.  He particularly likes our oriental rugs.

So up I jumped, threw on my clothes, grabbed my son’s flip-flops and took the little beasty out for a pee.  I brought him back in the house, reversed the sequence I had just completed, and jumped back into bed…fully intent on getting more sleep.

Next thing I know, my Catholic guilt crept up and I ended up at the pool.  Suddenly, my spravka isn’t good enough; apparently I’m in need to a small triangular stamp.  There was talk of them not taking Xerox’d copies.  My spravka isn’t a copy.  The only way to prove it is this elusive triangle.  I guess I’m going back to the doctor’s on Monday.

I got in the pool at 9, in the proper lane, with the proper headgear.  About 15 minutes and already many passes into my workout, our lane changed ownership, and I found myself surrounded by many teeny-bopper swimmers, just like last week.  I switched to one of the two remaining free lanes.  Unfortunately, both lanes filled up pretty fast, and before I knew it, we had reached critical noodler mass.  Twelve in my lane, and ten in the other.  I checked out the demonstration pool, and all lanes there were for teams or lessons.  900 meters total.  Pathetic Saturday swim.

Funniest of all was what I saw when I returned to the embassy.  Despite all the advertisements that the gym/pool facility’s Grand Reopening will be on Wednesday, the pool was open when I walked by!  I could have swum here today, unmolested by scantily-clad grannies.  Sure I would need far more flip-turns to swim my 4000m, but still, I would have swum it, right?

BTW: thanks to the extremely quick Evan for the title of this post.

I finally got it right!

Here in Moscow, at the Olympic pool specifically, if you don’t have your ducks in a row, you’re setting yourself up for trouble.  But this week, I finally got it right!

My first mistake was going to the pool a couple months ago, thinking I could talk myself in to at least look at the pool.  That didn’t go so well.  My purposefully “poor” Russian didn’t work its usual magic (normally what happens is the Russian is so impressed that I’m even trying, that they’ll be a little more lenient or helpful).  I tried to get past the guard babushka to go look at the pool.  Wasn’t gonna happen, not without 240 rubles and a doctor’s note.

DSC02991 Don’t even try to enter without these!

The second time, I went to the pool with the spravka in hand, 240 rubles, and all my crap.  Well, I thought it was all my crap.  They don’t issue towels.  Not only that, but you better bring a plastic bag to put your dirty disgusting outdoor shoes in or else you’re opening up yourself to possible reprisals from guard babushka #2, better known as the locker-room babushka.

Trip #3 went well…until the lifeguard stopped me to inform me about the critical requirement to have your head covered.  In that case, my fake crappy Russian worked.

On the 27th I had all my ducks in a row.  Everything was going right.  Unfortunately, about 15 minutes into my warm-up, I noticed that the only other swimmers in my lane had been alive during WWII.  I noticed the board on the starting block had an adjective I had not seen before.  I looked a few lanes over, and sure enough, the other signs were the ones I was used to:  Разовые Билеты (Single tickets).  The one in my lane had the additional adjective: Льготные.  I didn’t know what that meant, so I asked a Russian guy in the adjacent lane.  Well, turns out I was in the lane for those swimmers given a complimentary ticket, because they are so bloody old.  Whoops.  Another fail.

So, finally, TA-DA, trip #5 on the 28th went perfectly.  I had every requisite piece of equipment with me and successfully swam without interruption from the lifeguards.  Success!

Towel? Check. Bag for ‘outdoor’ shoes? Check. Swim cap? What? I have no hair! What the hell do I need a swim cap for?

Just got back from Ekaterinburg, Tyumen and Chelyabinsk (Екатеринберг, Тюмень и Челябинск).  Not much to see in the latter two cities.  Ekaterinburg had more to offer, especially the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, a sight to behold.  Beautiful church, and the location where the Tsar and his family were murdered by those despicable communists, may they rot in hell.

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Their bodies were rolled in blankets, then taken out into the woods to Ganina Yama (Ganya’s pit).  Currently this location is the home to an orthodox monastery.  There are seven churchs, each dedicated to a member of the last Tsar’s family.   Very beautiful.  The Tsar and his family’s bodies were thrown in an old disused iron mine shaft.  (The hole in the picture below.)

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There was also beer in Ekaterinburg.  Of course, there has been beer in every Russian city I’ve visited so far.  And sometimes I’ve got interesting fellow dipsomaniacs.

Mike's drinking partnerAll in all, a fun trip.

So what is the point of the title?  Well, of course, the entire time I was tooling around the Ural region of Russia, I missed swimming.  I was actually dreaming of it.  (Someone in the USMS forums mentioned that once you start open water swimming, you really count the days between swims, and I sure am doing that now.)  I got back Friday afternoon, took my daughter to eat at TGI Fridays (Ти Джи Ай Фрайдис) for her 11th birthday, and first thing this morning, went back to the Olympic pool.

Today I got up at 6am, still being on Urals time (2 hours ahead).  The pool doesn’t open till 7, and I had some emailing to do (to my fellow blogger and vet, Rob), so I tooled around the house til about 7:15, then headed out the door.  Everything followed just like my first day, until I finished my 500m warm up.  One of the lifeguards stopped me and I thought he asked me where my hat was.  Dumbfounded, I explained that my Russian was horrible, would he please repeat.  With a little Russian sign language and repeating his question slower, I realized he asked me where my swim cap was.  Apparently they are required in Russian pools.  God forbid some of my long hair fell out (correction: more of my hair fell out) and clogged the pool filters!  I prepared to beg, thinking as fast as I could how to say “pretty please with a cherry on top” in Russian.  (A literal translation might be “довольно пожалуйста, с вишней на вершине.”  But I’m sure that wouldn’t really translate…where is my idiom dictionary when I need it?)  To my surprise, the lifeguard smiled and said, “Next time is fine.”  Happiness!

Knocked out 4000m at a good pace, right along my usual 1000m/20:00 pace.  But this included stopping, slowing down, and passing breast strokers, back strokers, and otherwise recreational fitness swimmers.  Let’s just say I got a lot of passing practice today.  Also, right at the end, literally on the last lap, I was tapped on the shoulder by one of the teeny-bopper-esque Russian girls who had commandeered my lane.  Her coach yelled at me that the lane I was in is for training now.  I could kindly move my ass to lane 6.  I apologized in my purposefully horribly-accented Russian, and her frown turned to a smile (as did the bevy of Russian devushki) and she said no problem.  I jumped out, walked down to 6, swam 50m back to the other end, then got out.  Workout finished.  All together, 1:20 of swimming, to include a minute stop after a 500m warm up to get instructed on proper headgear, then another one minute stop at the end of my 3000m set to rest for my 500m cool down.  Not bad.

Fitting swimming into your day…no matter where you are

My current job has me traveling quite a bit.  I love it.  Any day outside the office is a good day.  Not much worse than sitting in a window-less space, breathing recycled air and catching everyone else’s germs.

As long as I get to swim every day.

That’s the hard part.  When I’m home, here in Moscow, I can always go to the pool.  And I do, 4-5 days a week.  I workout in the morning, because if I don’t, I won’t.  It is just too hard to workout after work.  The kids are home, dinner is smelling good, and I’m beat from work.  Who the hell wants to jump in the pool then?

But when I travel, it’s hard to get swims in.  I manage it when I travel to the states.  Many hotels have pools, however small.  (I managed 45 minutes straight in a pool only 10m long. That was a lot of flip-turns.)  Then there are nearby gyms and YMCAs.  But in Russia, pools aren’t as easy to find.  And those you find, might not let you in, you dirty foreigner!  Oh, and don’t forget your spravka.

I’ve traveled to some obscure places, at least for an American.  Khabarovsk has an indoor pool, but only for Russian military.  There’s a great river there, the Amur.  Huge and beautiful.  But apparently not clean, or safe.  St. Petersburg has wonderful canals in which I’d love to do some time.  Of course, the Russians (and some visitors) use the canal to dump trash.  Very sad.

There is no indoor pool in Ulyanovsk, Ufa or Ekaterinburg, but I believe I’ve been misinformed.  Each of those three cities is the third largest city in Russia, if the taxi drivers are to be believed.  Gelendzhik is on the Black Sea, and the Black Sea is very swim-able.  But not when you’re busy the entire one day you’re there.

DSC_0007 Yes, that sign warns that swimming is dangerous to your life.

I’ve written before about Russian work scheduling and why I’m not currently able to swim in my “home” pool. Unfortunately, I’ve managed to get some damn virus from my kids, which I’m not shaking.  So my plan to swim in the Olympic pools here in Moscow is delayed.  Perhaps next week…if I’m not traveling somewhere!

Russian work scheduling

I’ve written very little about the weirdo pool I have to swim in here in Moscow.  The embassy’s indoor pool (at least it’s indoors) is about 16m long, thus I do three laps and call it 100 yards.  Or meters.  Or whatever I feel like calling it that day.

The most disgusting part of the pool is that no one cleans it.  I realized this recently when I noticed a line of green scum at the water level in each of the four lanes.  I don’t touch the wall now, except to flip turn.  I keep telling the “lifeguard” (really just a Russian dude paid to zap our badges upon our entry) I’m going to bring in a scrub brush and clean my own lane.

Well, being new to Moscow, I didn’t know that the embassy solves this cleanliness problem with something even worse: they close the pool for (at least) three weeks.  What?  WTF?  Three weeks?  Yes.  They close it to re-tile (every year?!) and clean the pool.  It must be disgusting…gross.

Yes, I will be without my beloved pool from September 13th to roughly 4 October.  The search has begun to find a Russian pool to swim in.  I found the Olympic (1980) pool complex.  It’s got a bunch of pools in it.  And I even got my spravka (справка, по-русски) from the doctor.  (Gyms require a note from your doctor stating that you are fit enough to use their facilities.  Without your spravka, you won’t get in.)  This coming weekend I will test run the trip to the facility, as it is a few metro stops away.  I’ll check out the prices and pools, see if they have lockers, shower facilities, and whatever else I need.  With work, I think I’ll be able to maintain my workout schedule during the pool closure.  Crossed fingers!

Christiansborg Round swim report

Well, I finally made it to an international swim. Got the right airport and everything. Christiansborg Round was a 2K swim around the Danish Parliament, in downtown Copenhagen. What a great event! Over 1000 (1033 to be exact) swam in the 2K, 93 in the Mens 40-44 age group.

DSC02603The 10K racers giving a “school” on drafting.

The race started in Frederiksholms Kanal. I swam past the Black Diamond, continued along the waterfront, under Knippelsbro Bridge, past the Stock Exchange, Højbro Plads and Gammel Strand, and concluded in the straight in Frederiksholms Kanal. The water was incredibly (for me) cold. The day prior they measured it at 16 degrees Celsius, or about 60 degrees F. When I jumped in (it was an in-water start), I thought my diaphragm would seize up. Sure I wore my wetsuit, but it was sleeveless, and did not keep the cold out.

DSC02666That is me on the far right with my arm over my head, right before the horror of 60 degree water.

The water was interesting. Sure I knew the water in the canal came from the sea, and would be salty, but I don’t think I’ve ever swum that distance or amount of time in salt water. After a while, the taste was starting to get to me. Nausea, per se, didn’t come rear its ugly head, but I felt that anymore time in the water, and I would have to fight that demon.

DSC02670One of the few instances when I led my heat.

There were two times when I had to stop, or, rather, flip over to my back and do a modified easy backstroke. The sensor that the race directors handed out was a velcro’d affair and the strap started to come off at about the 500m mark. I slipped the end of it into my watch strap and was good to go. I surely didn’t want to spend the 600 danish kroner or whatever outrageous sum they’d charge me for not returning it at the end.

DSC02677The reason I like OW swimming: battling through slower swimmers.

The other ‘easy backstroke’ point was when one of my goggle lenses filled with water and stung my eyes. I work long and hard getting my goggles right, and I’ve got something like 14 pairs, most of them the Speedo hydrospex that seem to fit my head and eye sockets best. Still, I always seem to have a goggle problem in anything longer than 1000m. This incident happened at about the 1500m mark.

DSC02701Isn’t that beautiful. Sadly, no time to smell the water lillies while racing.

There were also two sections of what I could only call forest. At these points I got entangled in weeds and vines, to the point where I had to let my recovery hand drag a little to allow loops of vines to slip off my arms. However, I never did stop even when I was seemingly encased in the vegetation!

DSC02688The “face” that my support team (my son Sam) made fun of.

Which leads to the subject of navigation. Again I relapsed into my comfort zone–breathing only on the right. In essence, I was blazing the trail, and cutting through the vegetation myself. A few times I looked to the left and saw the experienced (read: smarter) swimmers drafting off each other way to the left, close to the canal walls. I would adjust my line to go meet them, then a few 100m later I ended up back too far right. I probably really swam 2200 or 2300 meters, based on my zig-zag course.

DSC02676This pic was taken right at the third turn. I should be closer to the wall.

My goal was 40:00, and I finished at 40:46. I think I could have beat my goal with better navigation and bilateral breathing, which is what I’ll work on between now and the next swim. Whenever and wherever that will be.

IMG_0083Only about 15 meters from the finish…

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