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!

Dart 10K race report, part I

All good trip reports start with the story of the beginning. This trip started with me flying to London from Moscow. I chose to take bmi airlines, because they were cheap. Unfortunately, they are somehow connected with the ever-horrible Transaero, one of the worst airlines I’ve ever traveled with.*

Thankfully, I managed to get to London without any serious horribleness. I rented a car in London to drive myself to Dartmouth, where I’d be staying. I managed to get accommodation at the Britannia Royal Naval College. This transpired after a wonderful, half-drunk night spent with some British chums at their embassy bar. I mentioned this swim. They mentioned the college in Dartmouth. I asked if they had a visitor’s quarters for Yanks.

Next thing I know, one of the blokes emailed me to tell me that accommodations have been arranged. Blimey! They even had an American liaison officer there who would take care of me. Awesome! So I made flight arrangements and prepared myself for the swim.

I had heard that the College was like Hogwarts. I didn’t believe it till I saw it. That’s the college at the top of the hill.


I showed up a day prior to what they planned, but lucked out: the College was on summer break, thus they had about 400 rooms empty, so they were able to fit me in.


They gave me a room with a million-dollar, or at least hundreds-of-pounds view of the Dartmouth harbor. Um, I mean, harbour.


The cafeteria was still running. I ate three breakfasts and two dinners there. Total cost for all five meals? 4 pounds, 13 pence. Or $6.60! Incredible! And when I asked my liaison how much the billeting would cost, he said “One pound 50 a night.” WHAT? Are you serious? Two and half dollars a night? Incredible!

So I splurged on tourist crap. And beer at the wonderful pub The Ship in Dock Inn.

IMG_0118Best way to replenish calories after a marathon swim

Next time, part II: The swim!

*I’ve flown Transaero, counting this time, six times. On the return from London, at the very start of the flight, the toilets were already out of toilet paper. On two previous flights, the seat I had lacked an overhead light. On one flight the overhead light just didn’t work. On the other, the entire freaking light was missing from the ceiling. Also, on both of those flights, the in-flight video system AND the music didn’t work. And both flights were full, and on both flights, the people around me had working entertainment systems and lights.

Southern Zone Championships, Pinehurst Lake, NC (5K)

Swam USA Swimming’s Southern Zone championship 5K today in Pinehurst, NC. Unlike Cyprus (faithful readers will remember my excellent finish in Limassol), I was not the only adult in the race. In fact, there were two of us! Yes, two of us in the “over-19” class.

The other guy, David, I met while waiting to walk over the sensor mats. I found out his number so I could be on the look-out, so was glad to find him. We commiserated. Despite only 8 people being signed up for the race on the website, there were approximately 100 of us racing the 5K. As it was a zone championship, oodles of 13-18’s from as far away as Florida competed. David and I used our age and guile to out-smart the youth of the South. We set ourselves up toward the back of the pack.

And the horn went off…and pandemonium ensued. Those kids were off, and the evil in me hoped that half of them would get tuckered out enough that I could pass them and NOT be last in a 5K (again). I followed some kids for a while, relying on at least a couple of them being better navigators than I am. Soon I was on my own, at least for the first lap.

The course was 5 x one kilometer laps. The course was triangular, isosceles specifically, with the “top” at the beach, which is where we started. The “base” of the triangle ran parallel to the shore, making the “second” leg of each loop very long.

My navigation, as is typical of me, sucked. But, it only sucked the first couple laps. At least once on each of these first two I switched to breast stroke to try and get a good look. But starting on the third lap, I finally got sight of some landmarks that I could use instead of trying to see the tiny red buoys. On the first and second legs, I noticed definitive breaks in the tree line, to which I could aim and get relatively close to the buoy. On the third “going home” leg, the only thing I could sight on were two lights on the beach, which were a little to the left of the buoy. Additionally, starting on lap 3 and to the end, I began counting my strokes. Generally I would stroke 10, look, repeat. If I found that I was getting off target every 10, I would cut it back to every 8.

I got run over, yes, run over, by the kids twice. The 3K was run 10 minutes after our start, so I had the speedy 5K kids and the speedy 3K kids to deal with. And those kids don’t care how slow you’re going or where you’re going. It was good fun. Those kids were speedy and good swimmers.

As I’ve done in every OW swim I’ve done to date yet, I forgot to start my stop watch. I set it up to beep every 20 minutes (my goal for each 1K), but never started it. I’m not quite sure what my time was, but I think I did not get under my goal of 1:40:00. I think I was closer to 1:45. But I really felt like my 4th and 5th laps were really fast. I wasn’t last, I know that much. I think one or two of the youngins came in after me. David, the other “over-19” (who is actually 41), who just did an Ironman in Idaho (in 57 degree water!) last month, finished in 1:21. He had his GPS on him and it came up exactly 5 kilometers. So that guy swims straight!

So, two OW swims in a period of 8 days. Much fun was had by me. And I think my navigation got better. Now, if I could just find a place to swim OW weekly, I might just get better at this damn hobby!

Big Deuce race report

I’m in the states for a business trip, so I arranged an early arrival so I could take part in the Big Deuce, a two-mile swim in Jordan Lake, near Morrison, NC. The lake is huge, and North Carolina has turned the entire area into a recreation area. There are many boat launches and lots of places to camp. The lake is incredibly pretty and the water is fabulous.

The swim start was at Vista Point, one of the many camping areas on the lake. The swim was early enough that we didn’t have to pay six bucks for entry, which is good, considering the almost $50 entry. (I had to pay ten bucks for a one-time USAT license. More on this later.)

I got there early, probably too early, but that’s a function of my wanting to make sure I didn’t miss the swim. I had plenty of time to rest and wait. I picked up my swim cap and t-shirt, got numbered (lucky #96), and returned to the car. I realized then that I didn’t get my timer, so I marched back and got it. Doh!

The water was incredibly warm, I think someone said 84 degrees. I took a few yards of practice, warm-up, goggle-check. All was good. The race brief was, well, brief. I knew I was at a triathlete OW swim when the race director said, ‘If you need a rest, you can hang on to any of the kayaks or surfboards out there. Just take a break, and when you’re ready, start the swim again.’ Uh, what?

The course was a triangular out-and-back. We had a running start, but from about knee-deep water. So that was interesting. I intended on doing that dolphining thing that Fran Crippen (RIP) teaches on his DVD.

That didn’t quite work. I realized right before the start that I was in the front of the line, so I backed up. When the horn sounded, I waited, urging the racers on. Well, for about 10 seconds I did that. I just couldn’t stand there. I was off! We had to swim directly to the first buoy, turn left (the only left on the course), and head for the far buoy on the left. It was a crowded start, but I managed to make space for myself and head to the buoy fairly straight. We were headed directly east, and this being 7:20 in the morning, we had to sight directly into the sun.

At this point I was able to just follow the leaders, but after the turn it started to thin out. And on this first straightaway I began wondering, as I do and have done during all my OW swims, what the hell was I thinking? My shoulders hurt and I couldn’t swim straight. How the hell did I expect to swim a 10K in September?

But by the first far turn buoy, I was stretched and no longer whining. I still couldn’t swim straight, but I was not out there swimming alone, like in Cyprus. There were others out there, including some who swim as crooked and zig-zaggy as I do. I followed one guy along the return course to finish the first mile, and I was gaining on him, based on the size of his swim cap. After what seemed like a long stretch, I finally realized that what I was chasing was not a guy in front of me, but a white buoy, unrelated to this swim, with colors matching the swim caps we wore. I passed this buoy and realized that I was off course for the 1-mile turn buoy. Dammit.

The turn went fine, although for a full 200-or so yards it felt like I kept going left from the line. I really wanted to stop, stand up where I was, and see if I were in the middle of turn buoy two and the mile turn buoy. I felt like I was swimming straight, but can’t be sure. When I get back to the states, and start swimming OW more often, I’m going to get one of Rob D’s GPS watches, and start checking my navigation IQ on the computer.

And going into mile 2 is when I started to feel good. This is the same thing that happened in Cyprus. Now I was cooking with gas! I felt like I could swim another 3-4 laps. On this lap I intended on swimming better navigationally. The course had two yellow sight buoys a little more than half-way down the course. On the first lap, I realized how these were placed, so I aimed to the left of the left sight buoy. After passing the yellow buoy, I had a beam on turn one. I swam next to another guy for a while. What is it about these triathletes? This guy swam by with a pull buoy between his legs. Yes, I’m serious. Coming into turn one, I came from the left, feeling like I had to continually correct to the right.

After buoy turn 2, I hoofed it straight for the finish buoy. I avoided the white fake buoy, aiming for a little to the left of the left yellow sight buoy. Coming into the final turn buoy I had another swimmer directly on my left, anywhere from a meter to three on my right and left. This poor guy had worse navigational IQ than I did. On my right, about 10 meters away was another swimmer; turns out later that this is the pull buoy guy.

Coming into the final turn, I put on the gas. I beat both these guys to the turn, or at least I thought I had. The guy on my right was clearly 10 meters off and with me breathing every right, I should have spotted him, but all of a sudden he’s next to me right after the buoy. Did he cut to the right of the buoy? He might have, seeing how he was swimming with a pull buoy!

No matter. I sprinted to the finish. I couldn’t keep up with these guys though, and they both beat me to the finish, pull-buoy guy proudly running up the beach with his swimming implement in his hand. I came in at 1:04:16. Four minutes over my goal. #26 out of 50 men. #6 of 12 in the 40-44 age group. #1 of 3 in the 44-years old age group. (I made that age group up.)

I hung out at the beach for a while, in and out of the water. I went to the picnic tables where we registered, and got myself some flat soda and peanut butter bread. Lamest after-race food ever! I washed my feet and headed to the car.

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:

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…

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