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.

Just 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…

Yet another post in my Swimming Anthropology series


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.


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.)


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!

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