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

Pictorial tour through an open water swim in Issyk Kul

August 31, 2015 | 2015 Season, Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

What follows is a pictorial tour of the open water swim competition held during the International Swimming Meeting of Veterans of the Soviet, Russian and Kyrgyz National Teams, which was held the weekend of 29-31 August, 2015.

So let’s start out with the Dramatis personæ. Here’s IronMike’s crew, 3/4 of his kids and himself (the other quarter kid is behind the camera):



Now the requisite jump pictures, first yours truly, with the girls bookending me:



Next we have the girls making their entrance:



And now, boy #1, making a splash in his cargo shorts and underwear (he decided to swim at the last minute):



So we had to swim about 200m (300m according to Google maps) to the start on the beach. None of us wanted to walk over the rocks, so we lined up in the water. If you look to the left of the picture, you can see a guy with a white flag. I have no idea who this guy is. I didn’t even know he was there. According to boy #2, the guy dropped the flag a couple of times and we never went anywhere. All I know is Anarbaev said March and we all started.



Here’s where the speedsters start coming in, just a couple minutes after we started. Anarbaev, a healthy 68 years old, is among them.



Most of us are in at this point, so we had a group shot.



Here is me and daughter #2:



And there is daughter #1 after she came in, treading next to me:



Boy #1 was having none of it and got out as soon as he finished:



This is what we were racing to avoid!



Fun was had by all! If I’m still here next year, I’ll come back. The folks were great, and the lake, incredible!

Issyk Kul

August 31, 2015 | 2015 Season, Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

The dinner with 1968 USSR Olympian and 1970 world champion swimmer Akhmed Anarbaev went well. Due to the weather, he didn’t feel confident that having the dinner at his house, under the stars, would not result in rain, so he reserved a restaurant for the plov. Damn was that good plov. The evening ended with a wonderful Russian listening practice hour where we discussed not only his open water swimming experience, but his philosophy on cold water recovery, the future of wrestling in the Olympics, and why he is looked at strangely in some immigration offices. But more on him later.

The owner of the guest house we stayed at mentioned that he gets up every morning and swims in the lake at 7. I told him I’d join him Monday morning. That meant I had to get up. Sometimes I need that extra oomph to get me out of bed. So promising him I’d join him, coupled with how damn pretty it is at the lake, made it pretty easy for me to get up this morning. Our guest house is right after the green sign in the picture below. Check out the view of the lake!

issyk kul view of the lake


And those clouds in the background? Those are covering the tops of the 4-5,000 meter peaks! God this place is beautiful. As my wife said the first time she was here, “There’s something special about that lake.”  I agree.

So this morning I got up promptly and put my t-shirt and sweatshirt on, as it was about 50-something F outside. I walked down the stairs to see my host dressed in his grape-smugglers and a towel. I asked him if he was cold. “No, Mike, it doesn’t matter. The lake is so warm.” This from someone who is acclimatized to 18-20C. (I’m getting there.) We got to the pier and spent no wasted time diving into the water 8 feet below the pier (he’s in his late 60’s). I took a few minutes to fill my SaferSwimmer with my shirt, sweatshirt and shorts. Threw my goggles on, wrapped my Garmin around the back of my googles (a mistake, as you’ll soon see), and jumped in.

Yes, it was cold. But seriously, only for a few seconds. It didn’t take my breathe away, like Dart 10K did. This really was warm. (If I haven’t said it yet, Issyk means hot in Kyrgyz, while Kul means lake.) I swam out to where my new friend was treading water, wished him happy holiday (today is Kyrgyz Independence Day) and told him I’d see him in about an hour.

crazy issyk kul swim

As you can see, I lost satellite connection a few times. I really didn’t swim all crazy like that. The damn watch kept beeping at me, so I suspect it lost connection. Lately I’ve been throwing the watch into the dry bag. I thought today I’d try a trick I saw online a year or two ago where you simply wrap it around your goggle strap in the back. Easier to access, to start and stop. But since I wasn’t wearing a cap, the damn thing kept dragging the goggle strap down. Which made it difficult to “alligator-eye” sight, as the watch was right there, center back, hitting me in the back whenever I tried to look forward. I think the best option is how I used to wear it in the states; under the cap, flat, at the top of my head. Never lost connections. Second best, start it, throw it in the dry bag, close the bag, jump in and swim.

So, anyway, I stopped a lot. The mountains are so damn beautiful. They’re snow covered at, I’m guessing, about 10,000 feet. Speaking of altitude/elevation, yes, I got winded on this swim. Look at the green. I was swimming at 5,253 feet elevation. So yeah, just under a mile up. Bishkek is at 770 meters, at least according to Mr. Garmin (Mr Wikipedia says “about 800 meters”). 5,253 feet is 1,601 meters. So that’s a bit of difference from where I swim at in Bishkek. I really can feel it.

Which brings me to what I’ve been planning the past few months. I was going to attempt a crossing from the southern coast of Issyk Kul to Toru-Aygyr (see map below). Speaking with Anarbaev, I’ve come to the conclusion getting boats arranged will take some doing, and I probably need more time. So I’ve scrapped a crossing until next year. I think what I’d like to do next month is a test swim just to see how I can take the temperature and the elevation. I’m thinking about a 7 to 10 mile swim. I can get away with using a kayaker and a driver. The kayaker taking care of me in the water and the driver meeting us where I hope to end up many hours later. Think of it as a 5-6 hour test swim. I’ll let you all know how it turns out.

issyk kul crossing idea 1


Next up, a pictorial tour of the open water swim with the veterans!



August 30, 2015 | Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

It was like it was meant to be. It really was. Usually, I don’t believe in fate, or kismet, or what have you. But this weekend everything was falling into place so perfectly, it couldn’t be anything else. Fate. Kismet even. Or just damn perfect luck.

We arrived in Cholpon Ata around 2pm on Saturday, after a 4-hour drive from Bishkek, with mixed road qualities from perfect Chinese-made highways to crap roads bumpy like braille from years of pot-hole filling. The lake makes all the crappy driving and drivers worth it though. There is just something magical about this lake.

issyk kul aug15

That’s where we went swimming as soon as we arrived. The kids and I dropped in for about 30 minutes in the cold, refreshing water. Daughter number one and I seem built for this type of water, at least enough so that we can take the temperature better than three others of our kin. The water felt in the range of about 18C, +/- 1.5C, and really felt better the farther out we went. That little red blob in the middle of the picture is about a meter long with DIVER BELOW printed on the side. If you look close, you can see four of us swimming by it.

So after this quick swim, we jumped into the car and tried to find Akhmed Anarbaev‘s pool. It is a LCM pool, as I’ve mentioned before, and certainly must stand out or at least be known to people here. We drove east through the village, nothing resembling a giant indoor pool catching our eye, until we got to the edge of the village, and stopped for gas. While one of the techs was pumping the gas, I asked a young lady employee if she knew Anarbaev and where his pool was.

“Come with me,” she stated, and I followed her into the gas station. She grabbed a copy of Friday’s Vechernyy Bishkek (Evening Bishkek) and turned to a middle page and asked, “Him?”

Sure enough, there was an article in the paper about Anarbaev. She directed us 10 minutes further east outside the village, saying that we couldn’t miss his pool. We got back into the car and headed out.

It didn’t take long to realize how wrong she was, either in our ability to spot his pool or in her knowledge of where his pool was. We turned back and returned to the guest house. When we got back, the wonderful hosts asked how our outing was. I pointed to the picture of Anarbaev in the newspaper and said that we tried to find his pool. They both looked at me, pointed to the house next to them, and said, “He lives there and his pool is right over there,” pointing a little farther off.


So I called Anarbaev. I know, I know, I should have done that earlier. But I’m just so bad on the phone speaking Russian. I do better IRL, when I can see the person talking, using some of their facial expressions to help with the context, to make up for my so-so (чут-чут, по-русски) Russian. He explained that the next morning as his place he was hosting a bunch of veterans for a swim meet and I was invited. I thanked him and said I’d try to be there.

Breakfast in Cholpon Ata

Breakfast in Cholpon Ata

The next morning after breakfast the owner took me over there. It was past the time of the meet, which was fine by me because me and pool meets just don’t get along. His pool was so close, about 50 meters away from the guest house. Anarbaev was nice, immediately stopping all the other swimmers there (Soviet teammates of his from the late 60’s through the 70’s) that he had a guest all the way from America who was here to swim with them. Talk about embarrassed! I tut-tutted and explained that I was an adult-onset swimmer and very slow, which made them laugh. I don’t know why.

Daughter #2 and I left there with a small bucket full of very tasty locally-grown plums and an invitation to an afternoon open water swim…at the same place we swam the day before! What a coincidence. I had asked Anarbaev about talking to him about logistics on the lake and to interview him for an article on his swimming endeavors. The newspaper article had mentioned that he not only crossed Issyk Kul “several times” but also Lake Baikal, which was news to me, and the Bering Strait, which I had read about. He told me there’d be plenty of time to talk tonight at dinner.

Yes, he invited me and all my kids to dinner, where he’d be cooking plov [link jpg] and we could talk. It was like something wanted me to meet this guy. Who, by the way, is the nicest guy you’d ever meet! I also met another Soviet Olympian who now lives in New Jersey. I hope to get names of the other veterans this evening.

I managed to talk both daughters into swimming with me. The boys went with us to the pier where we’d been the day before. All the veterans and Anarbaev showed up and he explained how the swim would go. We’d all jump in and swim leisurely to a beach about 200m away (300m according to Google), where we’d line up and all swim back to the pier. The girls and I managed to talk son #1 into swimming too, in his canvas cargo shorts. Which was nice, because the most exercise that boy ever gets is walking to work (half-mile) or using the joy stick on his computer. That left boy #2 to be the photographer.

We jumped into the cold water and all swam “leisurely” to the beach. My son took the longest. The elevation was getting to him. Girl #2 was freezing while we were standing waist deep in the water waiting for the boy. Before we knew it, Anarbaev said March* and everyone took off. I told the kids I’d see them at the finish and took off too.

About half-way through I thought, wow, I’m already winded. I’d forgotten about the elevation, too. Lake Issyk Kul is at an elevation of 5,269 feet, making it an alpine lake. It’s area of 2,408 mi2 makes it the second largest alpine lake in the world, after Lake Titicaca. Bottom line: I wasn’t intaking as much oxygen as I was used to! I managed to say with some of those guys, but most of these guys (in their 60’s!) beat me handily. We gathered together in the water for some pictures, then I waited for my kids to come in.

I managed to get a picture with girl #2 really quickly before she beat almost everyone out of the water. Poor thing is a stick and more suited to swimming in a nice warm pool. Girl #1 hung out with me for a while, after she was done talking with one of the veterans as they both swam in. Boy #1 was last in and he was having no pictures (although boy #2 did get some of him) as he was having trouble catching his breath and wanted to get out. That was the most cardiovascular work he’d done in I don’t know how long.

So we ended the afternoon with a promise from Anarbaev to call me with directions to where the plov will be. I’m hoping I’ll get to sit near him so I can talk his ear off. It’ll be good Russian practice, and I’m dying to know about his crossings. For history’s sake, I want to get a good rendering of his experiences for the marathon swimming community. There’s probably a lot for us to learn from this side of the globe, and I’ll do my best to chronicle it.

So, check in tomorrow. I’ll see what I can learn tonight and report back tomorrow. And once I get home, I can upload some pictures that are stuck on this old digital camera of ours that has some fascist card in it that’ll only work on certain computers that are not Chromebooks.

*For some reason, he said марш which is also how Russian troops start marching. No idea if this is typical for starting races or not.

Heading off to the lake

August 28, 2015 | 2015 Season, Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

The kids and I are heading off to Cholpon-Ata, on the northern shores of Issyk Kul tomorrow morning. There, I’ll meet with Akhmed Anarbaev, 1968 Olympian for the USSR in swimming. He owns a LCM pool there and hosts a swimming festival every year around the Kyrgyz Independence Day, which happens to be 31 August.

I’ve got a couple reasons I want to meet with him. Anarbaev crossed Issyk Kul in 1982, apparently the first (and only?) person to do it so far. I’d like to talk to him about that crossing, sort of interview him, and then write it all up.

Secondly, I need to talk to him about getting a boat. I’m planning a swim at the end of September, but logistics is difficult here, with the language barrier and the cultural barrier. Additionally, Cholpon-Ata is 4+ hours away from Bishkek, so I can’t just run up there on a Saturday. If I can’t find a boat, I’ve got other options. But I can’t make final plans till I talk to Anarbaev.

Inshalah, after this weekend, I might have an announcement to make!

That “5K” in Croatia

August 19, 2015 | 2015 Season, Science! | Permalink

No, not that legitimate 5K. The 5k I did from Sutivan to Supetar on the island of Brac. The one that Google said was only 5K.  This one:

Sutivan to Supetar

Sutivan to Supetar


Yeah, that one. 5.61km. But Mr. Garmin said it was much farther.

Sutivan to Supetar Actual

Sutivan to Supetar Actual


Quite different. 8489 yards is 7762 meters. That’s more than 2k beyond what Google was saying. Well, it is easy to see how I “over-swam” when you lay both routes over top each other:

S to S both routes

S to S both routes


Wow, in some of those areas I was way out there!

Swimming in a storm

August 13, 2015 | Swimming Anthropology, Swimming Equipment | Permalink

Managed to get an hour-long swim in before the storm started this evening. Which reminded me of this experience [link is an mp4] of a couple weeks ago. A whopping 900-something meters in 40 minutes of trying. My shoulders were dead after that. Thankfully, I picked a better day about a week later and made it all the way to Supetar.

Angry sea no like Mike swimming

Veles is angry and does not like Iron Mike swimming in his sea

If you didn’t click on the movie link, I understand. It is kind of a big file (48MB) and I couldn’t figure out how to make it smaller. But the picture above should show how angry that damn sea was. You can just make out my head, and I’m only about 20m off the shore. More importantly, you can clearly see the SaferSwimmer, with its bright orange color. I am sold on that thing. I used it for three weeks in Croatia and a long weekend in Issyk Kul and really I didn’t have to worry about getting run into by a jet skier.

Sure enough, when I got out of the shower after my swim tonight, it was raining cats and dogs. And lightening!

Welcome home, cupcake!

August 11, 2015 | Humor | Permalink

We arrived home from Croatia on Sunday morning at around 11:00am. First thing I saw was an empty pool. Our gardener decided to wait until last Wednesday (the 5th) to drain the pool and clean it. You know, instead of doing that at anytime the previous three weeks since we left on 18 July. Doh! I mean good on him for keeping it clean, but really. Timing! I asked him yesterday to fill it back up, which he started last night, using the tried and true Kyrgyz traditional way of hooking up the garden hose to the neighbor’s water spigot. This morning, glory of glories, the pool was full! I went to work happy to know that tonight after work I’d swim. Hurray!

So I grabbed my new square-leg trunks I bought in Croatia (in baby blue, truly nauseating, but as my dear reader(s) recall, I blew a hole in my old ones at Raslina), swimp3, goggles, strap and readied myself for a nice hour-long swim. Till I put my legs in the water that is. Holy sh!t is that ever cold. I grabbed my handy-dandy thermometer that had been floating in the pool, under the sun all day and saw that the water temp was…wait for it…58F!  (That’s 14.4C to my non-American readers.) Wow! I hadn’t swum in that kinda water since 2011 for the Dart 10K. My God.

I tried, dear reader(s), I really did. I unstrapped myself after about half a song and went and got my swim cap. A nice black lycra number, hoping beyond hope that sun would beat down on the black of the cap and heat my head up. I actually did laps for a while, breast and free. Which in my tiny pool is about 3 strokes then flip. After a full song, the skin on my back and chest began to burn. No biggie, I just need to swim more. My arms actually felt good, so I thought I’d do a half-hour on the straps then call it a day.

Then for some reason, my ears filled up with the water and BAM! Immediate headache. It was overpowering. I felt immediately sick. I jumped out of the pool, which was a mistake because I almost fell down as soon as I stood up. My balance was way off. The cold must have really hit my middle ear. I ran into the sauna, which I thoughtfully turned on when I went for my swim cap. Nope, not warm enough, and I’m not sitting in a barely-warm sauna waiting for it to heat up. (I know…first world problems.) I turned it off and went inside.

In the end I did about 10 minutes in the cold water. I refuse to turn the pool heater on. I will get used to it and it will warm up with the weather. The water is just cold because it was recently filled up.  Right?

Home from Croatia

August 9, 2015 | 2015 Season, Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

After 20-something hours of travel, we are finally home in Bishkek from our Croatian vacation. What a great time the family and I had. Loved the beaches, despite needing shoes to walk on the beach. Loved the water, with the clear views dozens of feet below us, despite the salt. Loved the race I got to do as well as the “long” point-to-point swim I did. Sadly, I could never arrange the longer 12-14km swim I was planning, but that’s ok. There’ll be plenty of time for that.

I got home and immediately turned on my computer and Garmin and uploaded my swims. Nice to see them on a map, see exactly where I swam. And as promised, here’s the first one, actually from Croatian Vacation Day #2, because the first day’s swim, for some reason, jumped all over the place as if I lost satellite reception. Anyway, as described, swim #2 in Croatia was a smidge over 3km, paralleling the beaches of Sutivan.

Croatian Vacation Day #2

Croatian Vacation Day #2

Slow, but enjoyable. Lots of little pauses to check out the scenery. A great swim really. The areas along the water that weren’t beaches included steps built into the rock walls. For this first swim, I got out at one of those stairs, making it easy to walk east past the restaurant ( the square thing creeping out into the water in the photo below) to the shower [link jpg] at the beach about 15m further east along the road. Free word of advice: Don’t forget to shower off the sea water. Few things worse than walking around in heat checking out some catacombs with your skin all itchy from the salt water.

Day 2 finish close-up

Day 2 finish close-up

What these pictures also show is the difficulty of getting a proper, accurate time and distance for your swim when you’re putting your GPS inside the SaferSwimmer dry bag. Each time, I’d have to start the watch recording, throw it in the dry bag, then wrap the bag, and walk out into the water. Reverse it on the way out. So my Croatia swims include about 10m of walking on either end as well as a few minutes added for that. I intended on wearing my swim cap and putting the watch under it, making it easy to press START/STOP (and even LAP), but it was so damn hot there the last thing I wanted or needed was my head to be wrapped in latex.

Another relaxing swim

August 2, 2015 | 2015 Season, Science!, Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

Got up this morning at the crack of 10 a.m. and went out for a swim. Yeah, that’s how I roll on vacation. Sleep late, stay up (moderately) late. Drink. You know. Relax.

Morning swim 2 August

Morning swim 2 August

I don’t know what it is about salt water, but besides the buoyancy, I feel like I can breath less often. Bilateral or every-4 breathing patterns are no problem for me in this water. (I still breathed every right during my race last week, but I always do that when I’m racing.) Additionally, the problem that plagues me in the pool, namely, water pouring into my left ear canal whenever I breath on that side, doesn’t seem to affect me in this water.* I don’t know why. Is it the beautifully clear water and the fish swimming around under me that lulls me into a nice, even, calm breathing pattern?

Not sure what it is, but that part of swimming here I’m going to miss in a week. What I won’t miss is the taste of the salt water. Yuck. My mouth tasted gross after my 7.76 (5.15?) swim to Supetar last week. I couldn’t imagine spending anymore time in this water. Although, I’m trying to arrange a boat for a Sutivan-Milna (12.26km) swim. If that happens, I’ll be sure to have a bottle of half-mouthwash/half-water to rinse my mouth during the hours that distance will take me.

*It’s like my left ear canal opens or gets wider (?) when I’m breathing hard. I get the same feeling when I valsalva on a plane. Almost like my Eustachian tube opens up on that side. Same reason I can’t wear ear plugs; at some point in the swim my left ear canal will do this thing and a bunch of water will come flooding past the ear plug and just slosh around in there. Any of my dear reader(s) doctors? Advice?

Nice evening swim

August 1, 2015 | Swimming Anthropology, Swimming Equipment | Permalink

Yesterday I swam a nice, gentle 3.16km in and around Sutivan. The waves were 1-2ft, so I didn’t try to fight the water, more like just enjoy the experience.

Evening swim, 31 July

Evening swim, 31 July

I went west initially into the waves & current (and sun). Figured I’d do all the work up front and then just cruise on home. Well, I know that I got assistance from the current on the way back. But it surely didn’t feel like that. When you’re on the front of the wave, you can feel a push, and if it syncs correctly, I’ll kick and pull harder when I’m on that side of the wave. But, there’s also that feeling that you get when you’re on the back end of the wave. The feeling that you’re actually going backwards. That’s the feeling I can’t get out of my head when I’m swimming.

This evening swim had other challenges. On the way west there was still enough light left that I could see the bottom, and I could actually see things on the sea floor passing me by. So despite swimming into current & waves, I knew that I was making progress. On the way back east, the sun was close to setting, and I could barely see the bottom. Yes, I know that I was making progress by seeing buildings pass me by, but still that feeling you get of going backwards when you’re on the back end of the wave was hard to shake. Thankfully, as I was not racing or in any kind of hurry, I just let the swim progress, and before long I made it back to where I wanted to get out.

Used the SaferSwimmer again. Love that thing. Love having all my crap with me wherever I get out of the water. During this swim, a wave came up behind me twice and kicked the dry bag up and over my stroking arm, locking it back, freaking me out. (Yes, I still have drowning nightmares from a couple of incidents in my life…can’t shake them.) I stopped, unwrapped my arm, and got back to work.

The swim was also great practice for navigation. I realized early on that the turn-around spot I was swimming to was directly west. It hurt the first time I tried to alligator-eyes sight. But then I discovered that I could see where the sun was in the sky by looking through the water. So I kept the sun “head’s up” in the water and pretty much went the right way for the first half of the swim. Easy peasy.

The weirdest thing about the swim occurred a couple hours later. I was sitting in bed and realized that the whole building was rocking to the waves, the same tempo I was rocking to a couple hours earlier! I hadn’t had that feeling in quite a while, probably mid-20’s, mid-recovery from a bad drunk.