Iron Mike's Marathon Swims Water, taken in moderation, never hurt anyone.

A Marathon Swim in Russia!

January 27, 2016 | 2017 Season, Grand Plan | Permalink

OK, so late-to-the-game IronMike here just heard about the Global Swim Series. I’ll let the good folks at the GSS explain what the series is:

The Global Swim Series is a collection of independent races from all over the world that have joined together to promote open water swimming and a healthy, active and adventurous lifestyle.

Imagine yourself independently wealthy. Also imagine yourself (unless you already are) competitive and in love with all things points or series. Now, imagine you swim OW races around the world, and get points for participation and placement in the race. (Are you as excited as I am now?) All this imagining has been realized by these guys at GSS.

Races from Australia to Canada to Spain to USA. I was perusing the race list when I saw Russia. What? Что? A race in Russia? It must be that “nautical mile” race I missed 3 summers running when I was in Moscow.

NOPE! It’s a freaking, legit, 25 kilometer race. In freaking Russia! Get outta town, you’re saying. No, I’m serious, I respond. 25 kilometers from St. Petersburg to Kronstadt Island in the Finnish Bay. 25 wonderful kilometers in water around 15-20C.

The beauty of the Kotlin Race (that’s what it’s called) is that it is a solo effort, done anytime between 15 May to 15 September. The organizer, Dima Egorov, arranges everything for you, boat, observer, everything. You, of course, must provide him a resume and medical document, but he’ll take care of the swim for you.

Someone has the Kotlin Race on his 2017 schedule! Can you guess who, dear reader(s)?!

kotlin race

I’ve been selected to represent the U.S. in a new event!

January 21, 2016 | Humor | Permalink

I’ve just learned that I’ve been selected to represent the United States in a new swimming event. This event will be a demonstration sport in the next Olympics, in 2016 in Rio. The hope is that if the event “brings in the crowds,” when 2020 comes around (Tokyo!), the event will become a full Olympic event.

The U.S. Olympic Committee, in their letter to me asking me to be on the team, told me that my years of experience in Russia helped them in their decision process when choosing me. I must say that I experienced quite a bit in my almost three years in Russia. Many, many nights of practice and working out. So glad I’ve finally been recognized for my special abilities.

Below is a video of the Estonian Olympic try-outs for this awesome new swimming event. Check it out!

Another pause

January 18, 2016 | Iconic marathon swim, Other Sports, Spirit of Marathon Swimming | Permalink

Unfortunately, my pool access has been put on hold. Maintenance had to be done so I’ve been out of it for a couple weeks now. That’s ok, better now than closer to the big swim (attempt #2) in early summer.

Plus, I’ve been lifting with my awesome wife. Lifts are getting bigger, at least in some of the lifts (bench, mostly). I’m still barely lifting what a guy my age and weight should lift, but I have hope that sometime in the future I’ll be able to lift without embarrassment.

The pool should be available mid-week, so here’s hoping I’ll be in the pool again very soon!

Meanwhile, marathon swimmer extraordinaire Dan Simonelli just replicated George Young’s 1927 Catalina Channel swim. Yes, 89 years later, in the cold that is January, Dan swam from Catalina Island to the California mainland in an awesome time of 13:31.11. Congrats Dan!


January 7, 2016 | 2016 Season | Permalink

Been a while since I wrote, dear reader(s). Thought I’d update you on the goings-on in IronMike’s life.

Pool found!

My great (new) boss has graciously offered the use of her pool. While it is too cold here to use my outdoor, 12-m long pool, she has an indoor 5-ish meter pool that I can use. I strap ankles to the straps I used during the summer, and then swim away. It’s lovely to be swimming regularly again, and I am thankful my boss is fully supportive of my Issyk Kul attempts.


…was great! Our Croatian vacation allowed me to do a lot of salt water OW swimming. From my 7k+ swim from Sutivan to Supetar, to my awesome 5K in Raslina, I had such a great time. No other OW swims were done, unfortunately, but that’s mostly due to my current location. Unlike when I was in Moscow, a “simple” trip to Europe for a swim requires about 24 hours of air flight, each way! Not to mention the cost.

Toru-Aygyr attempt

But let’s not forget my attempt at crossing Issyk Kul. I learned a butt-load on that attempt, mostly in the logistics and scheduling realms. I’m happy that I still have tremendous support from my co-workers and locals on attempting again in 2016. And this time it’ll be in June or July when the water is about 7C warmer!


Despite having some dry months, I have been staying in shape. I’ve been working out with the wife, who is an excellent lifter. Sadly, my record-breaking lifts put me in the “stronger than 1% of all men 40-49 years old” category. But hey, you gotta start somewhere, right? The wife and I also took part in a “hot yoga” session a couple weeks ago and loved it. We’re looking forward to doing it again. We did yoga for a couple years or so many years ago and I’ll tell you: there’s nothing for improving your push-ups than doing yoga planks over and over and over again. And…


The skiing here in Kyrgyzstan is incredible. And cheap (relatively). The family has gone six times and I’ve gone three. And it doesn’t break the bank. Can you beat these views?

Karakol, Kyrgyzstan


2016 will have us moving again. We’ll see what the OW season will look like once we get closer to our move. For now, I’m scheduled for my Issyk Kul attempt, but beyond that, who knows. I’d also like to jump up into the 5% strength category!

DN back in the news

Marathon swimmer extraordinaire Anthony McCarley did an academic review of the official documents available for Diane Nyad’s assisted Cuba-to-Florida swim from 2013. It is well worth your reading if you’re wondering what all the hub-bub is or why all us (real marathon swimmers) haters are going on and on about her.

OK, that’s it for now. I hope this post finds all you dear reader(s) enjoying your new year so far. For all my friends fighting off the resolution-crowd in their lap lanes, I’m praying you’ll get your lanes back soon.  😉

Toru-Aigyr in the news

December 16, 2015 | Grand Plan | Permalink

I was reminded of my September attempt again when one of my crew (Спасибо, Олеся!) sent me an article in Kyrgyz news recently retelling the story of Toru-Aigyr. While it is more simplified than the version I gave my dear reader(s) earlier in the year, it pretty much tells the same story: A famous horse was stolen from his boy-trainer. The horse missed the kid and swam across the lake, dying upon arriving on the shore and seeing the boy.

It’s funny how a little story on the embassy’s FB page had spread to the point that I’m asked by other embassy employees how many training is going, when I’ll attempt it again, even requests to swim with me! It’s really amazing and humbling.


I’ve gotten good news recently. My boss, who has an indoor pool (smaller than my own) has offered for me to use it! It’s big enough for my straps, and nice and warm in there, so I think that’ll help out with the training. The indoor facility I’ve been going to is okay, but there are those times when I get there and the pool is full of kids who don’t understand what the lanes mean. And it’s running about 7-8 bucks per visit. We’ll see.

In other words, the pool has been winterized, this year with more bottles. It really is funny to see.

With friends like this…

October 20, 2015 | Grand Plan, Humor | Permalink

One of the things I like about the marathon swimming community is the sense of humor in this group. From the memes created at the expense of one marathon swimmer (who is a good sport in this) to this beautiful one created for yours truly:

12042791_10207852301530607_1141293553168624400_nI’ve said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times: I love this community. Thanks Jen!


She rears her head again

October 15, 2015 | Humor | Permalink

Diana Nyad has been in the news again recently. She’s doing a speech in conjunction with the release of her new book, humorously and apparently not sarcastically entitled Find A Way. In the promotional materials for her speech is this wonderful line:

Why, at age 64, was she able to achieve what she could not as a young Olympian?

Funny thing is, she’s never been to the Olympics. She is not an Olympian. After some of us in the marathon swimming community started discussing this falsehood, DN’s team went in and fixed the promotional materials. (Much like they did when we discovered the supposed 7+ hours she went without food or water on night #2 of her assisted Cuba-to-Florida swim in 2013.) Thankfully, a screenshot was taken by a fellow marathon swimmer.

This whole issue has led one of our more scientifically-leaning marathon swimmers to do a little math and come up with a new scientific law.

You can’t argue with science!


October 11, 2015 | 2015 Season, Grand Plan | Permalink

Context is a wonderful thing.

My embassy put a little blurb on my Issyk Kul swim on their FB page. They asked for the five W’s and I submitted. They translated it into Russian and Kyrgyz and put it on there for all to read.

Bad enough the embassy put pictures of me on the front cover of the embassy newsletter two weeks ago without any comment that I didn’t accomplish the swim. The title simply said “Mike Tyson’s Swim Across Issyk Kul.” Many of my local and American colleagues approached me after that asking me how the crossing went. Then I had to relive my failure all over again.

So I insisted this time, while writing my five W’s, that I had not succeeded. They changed my “only made it 4.7KM” to “swam almost 5KM.” You would have thought I’d discovered an ancient civilization in the lake. Everybody and their mother has been asking me about the crossing now. Most of them are shocked that I could have swum that long (2:31) or that far (“almost 5KM”) in the lake in that water temperature. And despite my including the MSF equipment rules in my five W’s, I’m still asked if I wore a wetsuit. All of the questioners were impressed with the distance/time/temperature, but all I could think of was how I still had 8+ kilometers left in the swim.

Context is a wonderful thing.

First time flip-turning in months

October 5, 2015 | Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

Went to the pool today. Under a roof. Longer than 12m. With lanes. A real pool.

Well, it is sort of a real pool. It is an indoor fun pool with two lanes. Well, it used to have two lanes. They put in new bolts for an additional lane line and now what once was two lanes is now three. In the same space two lanes used to be. And the water massage folks were still there, rubbing their thighs and hamstrings in the water outlets.

I got in the wall lane with a woman and asked her if she was okay staying on “that” side and I would stay on “this” side. My side was the lane line side and hers the wall. She nodded agreement and off I went. To spend almost every lap running into the lane line.

The lane line was almost perfectly over top of the lane line painted on the bottom of the pool. My lizard brain kept wanting to get to the right of that lane line (on the “out” length) in order to stay clear of my inter-lane-cutor (see what I did there?).  I kept hitting that damn lane line. On the return length I breathed left just so I could keep an eye on that lane line.

My fellow swimmer got out pretty quickly so I had the lane to myself. I took my first CSS test in months. The last time I did the 400 and 200 time trials, I swam a 6:38 and 3:10. I knew I couldn’t hit that. I swam my heart out on the 400. OK, on the first 100 of the 400. I came in at 7:20.43. Some easy 100s later I swam the 200 time trial and got in on 3:34.08.

My CSS based on today’s numbers gives me a 1:53 per 100m CSS time. My previous CSS was 1:44. So my swimming on tethers in my tiny pool lost me almost 10 seconds off my critical swim speed. I’ll be spending one workout a week doing base/CSS training, working on getting that number down. I’ll probably take the test again in 6-8 weeks, and will report here how I’ve improved (positive thinking!).

Lessons Learned from Issyk Kul

October 3, 2015 | 2015 Season, Grand Plan, Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

OK, here’s the lessons learned from my Issyk Kul attempt.

Logistics. Organizing swims here is hard. Not just because of the language. Other issues pop up. For one, whenever I mentioned swimming across the lake to Kyrgyz living on the lake, they all looked at me funny. Most told me only one person has done it, so why would I try? (Most all knew Akhmed, too.)

But language is one issue. Russian quickly loses its prestige the farther outside of Bishkek you go. Thank God for Talas. Without him, I would not have been able to organize the boat. And most probably, it would have been difficult for the crew on the boat to converse with the captain and his crew. Kyrgyz language proficiency was required.

Getting the boat was the most difficult. I’d been dealing, through the wonderful Ais in our Community Liaison Office, with a boat company in Cholpon-Ata. That location was much farther away from the swim start point that the company I’d ended up going with, but at the time I had no choice. Finding a boat company isn’t as easy as searching the internet. I used a group here called Community-Based Tourism (CBT) to get a contact to that boat company. But even before that, in my talks with Akhmed, I’d come up empty. When he crossed in the ’80’s and ’90’s, the Russians provided him two coast guard cutters; He had no idea where to get a boat.

The Cholpon-Ata company went back and forth on renting me the small boat or the big boat. Prices were double, and occupancy more (10-person vs. 25-person). I went back and forth with them on not needing the big boat ($1000+). It was only a couple weeks before my chosen date that they told me I had to rent the bigger boat. They cited safety concerns. I can’t argue that, of course. At first I thought they were just pushing for more money from me, but they gave us a contact for a boat captain in Balykchy. A captain with the same exact small boat, in a location significantly closer to both Bishkek and the swim start/finish. So the Cholpon-Ata folks remains a good choice in my eyes.

After Ais got in contact with Kurbat, the boat captain in Balykchy, everything for the boat started falling into place. Hell, the swim started falling into place. I wish I could have arranged with them a 2- or 3-day period for the swim, but I was trying to keep expenses down and I was asking folks on my crew to take time off of work, so I had that to consider. Reviewing it now, I am sure that some or maybe even all of them would have been okay staying through Sunday instead of just Saturday, and if I’d have postponed the swim on Friday and swum on Saturday instead, I might have made it a bit farther due to no winds or waves. Lesson learned.

Cold water acclimation. CANNOT BE UNDERESTIMATED. I had thought my swimming in a 66F pool in 55F air temp was good enough. Uh, no. Not by a long shot. But the thought of sitting in a cold tub doesn’t excite me either. I just don’t know about this. Granted, I don’t intend on trying this again next year when the water is 13C, so perhaps I’ll be okay? When we were at the lake in July this year, the water was consistently 20-21C and I never concerned myself with the temp while swimming there. So maybe if I try this in July next year, a time when all the locals say the water will be in the low 20’s, I won’t have to worry about acclimation? Now that I know the hotel in Balykchy, I’m thinking next year I might take some short 3-day weekend trips to the lake to get some swims in prior to the “big” swim in July.

Equipment. I think I had enough equipment and good enough equipment for this swim. A few issues popped up though. I brought along my homebrewing thermometer. It’s floatable, but it’s made of glass. At one point into my swim, the crew broke the thermometer. I have a plastic floating thermometer in my pool, but the temperature is off a bit; it measures about 2C above what the homebrewing thermometer says. I have reason to believe the beer thermometer is measuring correctly, so I took that instead of the pool one to the lake.

Day before the swim we went to the beach I intended on landing at. I put the thermometer in the water and got a reading of 16C. Plenty “warm” enough for me. And it felt fine wading in the water. But I wonder if maybe I didn’t let the thermometer sit in the water long enough? Or maybe that side of the lake is warmer, and it being around 3.00pm when we were there, perhaps the lake had warmed up throughout the day? Next time, I’ll bring the pool thermometer (not like I have another!) and let it sit for a while. Lesson learned.

Now for internet. We discovered that the best you can do in the middle of the lake is 2G. Nothing we can do about that, except that next year I’ll make sure everyone who wants to follow me has access to my FB. Or I’ll change my privacy settings just for the swim so whoever wants to follow me can. My son was able to update my FB on my phone with mobile data set, but not on the computer. That was a waste of equipment. Lesson learned.

GPS, SpotGen and the like. Not sure it’s worth it for me to buy a SpotGen. Besides the initial price, you have to subscribe for something like 50 bucks annually. But when’s the next time I’ll do a swim like this? Maybe I can find someone with one and borrow it? SpotGen would be the easiest way of broadcasting my location to those who want to know.

Nutrition. I think my nutrition plan was fine. For an 8 mile swim I don’t need much. I tried out the UCAN in my pool a few times prior, and my stomach was ok on it. And my energy level was fine. I just couldn’t stomach anything. It must have been the waves that nauseated me. If the waves are unavoidable next year, perhaps I’ll take a motion sickness pill first. If that’s allowed. I’ll have to check the MSF rules.

Related to nutrition is health. Just last night, a Russian couple told me that the lake is not ecologically pristine and thus not healthy (there’s no fish in the lake, apparently). Their suggestion is one I’ve heard from doctors, as well as locals: prior to swimming, drink a shot of vodka. I did get incredibly ill two days after the swim which the embassy doc attributes to the lake water I ingested. Next year I very well may take a shot of vodka prior to the jump.

Logs, crew and observers. Due to a scheduling conflict, Akhmed wasn’t able to make it as observer. Chris took up that mantle. With two others on a crew of four sick, it was a bit much for Chris to both be observer and crew chief and photographer. Lesson learned.

Timing. I know I mentioned it before, but I really think next year I’m going to set aside a three-day window. Kurbat was really positive after my attempt and he and his crew mentioned several times they expect to see me next year. With that in mind, maybe I can arrange the window. My only concern would be his fee. We’ll see.

OK, so that’s all I got for now.