Iron Mike's Marathon Swims Water, taken in moderation, cannot hurt anyone.

Memorial Day Thoughts

May 25, 2015 | SOWF | Permalink

It’s already Monday here in Kyrgyzstan, and on this day I am thinking about four Air Force Non-Commissioned Officers who are no longer with us.

If you’ve read the Charity tab on my blog, you know that I try to raise money for a wonderful charity called the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. SOWF  provides college tuition (and books, fees, room and board, a computer, printer and tutoring) to the sons and daughters of special operations personnel who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The Foundation has been around since 1980 (since Desert One), and to date has graduated 249 kids and are currently funding 134 students.

I’ve had a few friends and acquaintances die on active duty, and I’m actually lucky in only losing four colleagues. Many of our Army and Marine Corps comrades have numerable ghosts accompanying them through their days.

First today I’m thinking of TSgt Ernie Parrish. Ernie was an Area Specialist on the E-3/Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft. He and I worked together in Alaska on Elmendorf AFB. I had gotten out of the Air Force active duty in 1994, and my departure opened up a space for Ernie in our small office of about six area specialists. A little over a year later, I drove into the base to update my reservist ID card, as I had just made SSgt. Upon leaving the base, I saw a line of news vans waiting at the gate. I had no idea why, until I got home, and my wife looked at me, and said, “They’re all dead. It was probably very quick.” Then she told me what she was talking about. Yukla-27, the callsign of that day’s AWACS flight, had hit a huge flock of geese and gone down.

TSgt Ernest Parrish

TSgt Ernest Parrish

I of course wanted to start immediately calling my friends from the office. My wise wife advised against it. What if a wife answers the phone and doesn’t know about the crash? I spent hours that day waiting to hear who of my friends had just died. I don’t remember exactly when, but at some point I learned it was Ernie. RIP, brother.

Next I am thinking today about a group of three Direct Support Operators, or DSOs (pronounced Dizzos). DSOs get to fly on Air Force Special Operations aircraft, like Spectre (or Spooky) gunships, Combat Shadows and Talons, Pave Lows and Pave Hawks (back in the day), and, I presume, the Ospreys. That job was probably my favorite job while I was enlisted. And three other DSOs probably would have said the same: MSgt Navid “G” Garshasb, TSgt Rocco Lastes, and SSgt Shane Kimmett. I never got to meet Rocco, and I only met Shane for about five minutes on my way out of the unit (RIP, Rocco and Shane). But “G” I got to serve with for a bit.

TSgt Glenn "Rocco" Lastes

TSgt Glenn “Rocco” Lastes

SSgt Shane Kimmett

SSgt Shane Kimmett

Navid was from Iran. He came to the unit already as a TSgt, a cross-trainee from maintenance, I think. He was fluent in Persian-Farsi of course, but also happened to teach himself a few other languages, including two or three native to Afghanistan. I loved listening to his accent, and his sense of duty was infectious. I remember one instance when G was talking with our Squadron Superintendent, a Chief Master Sergeant whose face I can see, but whose name I cannot remember.

G: Chief, you tell me what you want me to do and I do it.

Simple. G lived the Air Force Core Values before they were systematized.

In the days after 9/11, G was one of the first in to Afghanistan, flying linguistic support on AFSOC helicopter. On one mission in November 2001, on a search and rescue mission for an Army Special Forces soldier, G’s helicopter crashes, breaking his back and hips. The helicopter crash attracts local villagers, who start approaching the downed aircraft.

Navid "G" Garshasb

Navid “G” Garshasb

The helicopter crew start to get worried. They were unsure if the villagers were armed, and they didn’t want to take a chance by letting those villagers get too close. G told the aircraft commander that he’ll go out and talk to the villagers, warn them away from the crash site, so that the helicopter coming to rescue them won’t see the villagers and react with force. The AC tells G “No, your back is broken. You need to remain here until rescue comes.” G doesn’t give up. He insists, and finally the AC allows him to go talk to them. With help from his crew, G walks up to the villagers and tells them to leave the area. For their own safety, he says, they must leave the area. The villagers took a bit of convincing, but finally relented and left. G and his crew were rescued and the helicopter destroyed to keep it out of enemy hands. (This was another reason G wanted to persuade the villagers, men and children, to leave the area.) This single act of G’s resulted in the Air Force Sergeant’s Association to award him the Pitsenbarger Award [link pdf], an award usually earned by the bad-asses of the Air Force, pararescuemen.

In the days after 9/11, I was teaching new Air Force officers at Goodfellow AFB. We had the TV on in the office all day. Once I heard of an AFSOC helicopter crash in Afghanistan, I kept my eyes on that television. The news starting showing a video put out by the Taliban about a helicopter they say they shot down. The video showed the helicopter’s remains strewn all over a mountain side, and there in the shot is an issued-helmet, with GARSHASB written on a strip of masking tape.

G was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2003, and given a few months to live. But this tough old sonuvabitch told the doctors to STFU and lived over a decade beyond their “expert” opinions. G passed away September 4, 2013, leaving his wife Joani and two sons, Shahine and Andrew.

ممکن است او در آرامش استراحت

Jamming while jamming

May 17, 2015 | Swimming Equipment | Permalink

I’ve swum with music for a while now. When I’ve remembered to charge the player. And when I’ve had the right player. And when I haven’t dropped the player on concrete and broken it. But I don’t wear my players in open water. Or coached workouts of course.

People have asked me how I can train with music, then go do a 2-4 hour marathon swim without the music. Aren’t I harming my training by not also swimming without the music player? Won’t I psychologically be handicapped without the music during the marathon.

Simple answer: No. I get into such a groove out in open water. Listening to the waves. The seagulls. Watching the trees go by. Hearing the sounds of motorboats (hopefully) not too close. Enjoying the water. Running into the occasional small log.

I get none of this swimming laps or swimming on the tether in pools. Long tedious laps forever, with only the infrequent thrill of sociological wonder that is the Kyrgyz and water jets.

What I do get swimming laps or on the tether is a nice workout for my shoulders, and time horizontal for my back. I get time to listen to tunes chosen randomly by the binary digits of my Neptune. The surprise of the next song. The feeling of just one more song till I can hit the sauna. The unknowns of putting on the gas when the fast song comes on. (Who can ignore kicking into high gear when The Immigrant Song begins?)

All of these things makes laps or swimming in place more palatable, more enjoyable. Trust me, if I could somehow create a pair of VR goggles that showed me the sides of the Tennessee river as I turned to take a breath, I’d dump the music player in a heartbeat. Alas, that is still some time off.

The Joys of Your Own Pool

May 13, 2015 | Swimming Equipment | Permalink

So I’ve decided I could get used to having my own pool. It is so nice to be able to simply throw on my trunks and jump in. Better, get out and jump into the sauna. All while walking around half naked in my own yard. Oh, to be independently wealthy.

This morning I woke early, around 0545, well rested and thought, “Hey, I could go swim!” By six a.m. I was plodding along strung up by my ankles, enjoying the morning. It was slightly cloudy with the sun starting to peak around the mountains. An enjoyable hour swimming nowhere.

Here’s some observations from having my own pool and using those straps:

  • The straps, depending upon how I attach them to the pool, tend to pull me one way or the other. I’ve strung them through the skimmer basket hole, so one side of the strap is higher than the other. When I bilateral breath, I feel like I’m rolling to one side.
  • The straps, no matter where I attach, rub along the pool side. Already the nylon covering over the stretchy part has rubbed away. I’m researching alternatives like nylon rope strung through the skimmer hole, then a carabiner, then the stretchy straps.
  • Whirlpool affect. My pool is about 12m x 4m. The two skimmer baskets are on one of the 4m sides. So when I “hook up,” and start swimming, I create a whirlpool effect. I see bugs passing by me about a foot below me every few minutes. And that raft of bugs that I forgot to scoop up passes by me every few minutes, freaking me out at least once per swim session.
  • Speaking of bugs, the pump for my pool is not very strong. When I take the cover off the skimmer basket area, I see a bunch of bugs in there. But the pump is so weak that as soon as I start swimming, those bugs come out of the skimmer area and greet me mid-swim. I’m okay with that, until that spider comes to visit. She may look dead, but I’m pretty sure she’s faking.
  • Yes, I know my pool is not the ocean. But boy oh boy did I ever think some creature of some sort came for a visit just the other day. I was swimming as usual, creating my whirlpool, when all of a sudden out of the side of my left eye I saw something red quickly approach my head. I jumped so high…to see my floating thermometer approaching me with malice.

I am lucky enough to have a sauna on the property here. I tend to set it before I jump in the pool, so it is nice and toasty when I’m done. A couple days ago, about 45 minutes into the swim, I smelled one of the neighbors burning trash, which is like a hobby here. The smoke smell drifted over the walls and hung out on top of the pool. So annoying.

Then when I finished my hour, I went into the sauna only to discover that it was filled with smoke. Great! I’m going to burn the owner’s sauna down. I turned it off, then got my wife. Of course. She’s the voice of reason. She’ll help me figure out what the hell I did.

Well, it was nothing I did. Somehow a piece of wood got stuck in the hot rocks that heat up the sauna. It was glowing red, about to “flame on.” So I tossed a bunch of water all over it and the rocks, until I was able to take the wood out. Yep, black as charcoal on one side.

I left the doors open, and today the sauna was perfect. Oh how I’m going to miss this place when we leave.

Swimming in place

May 7, 2015 | Swimming Equipment | Permalink

My winterized outdoor pool

My winterized outdoor pool

Remember this? This was my pool during the Kyrgyz winter. This is what I paid…what? $20 for? If you don’t remember, I’ll tell you. Those are empty soda bottles, filled with a few rocks each, strung along the diagonal of my little 12m-long pool. Theory being that when the ice expands, the bottles squish, taking up the space, thus saving tiles from breaking.

Well, now the pool is full of something else entirely, but still filled with a bunch of empty space.

Swimming treadmill

Swimming treadmill

Yep, that’s yours truly, enjoying the benefits of the Aqua Sphere Stationary Swimmer. I bought this thing last year, but never got to use it. It takes a bit of practice, and if you’re drowning-phobic like me (don’t ask me about lifeguard training when I was 15…eek!), the fact you can’t stand up with these things on…well, that kinda freaked me out at first. But thankfully I learned how to extricate myself from the straps quickly.

I have mine wrapped around the pool fence, which as you can see gives me plenty of space so I can swim without hitting my toes on the wall. When I first tried them out (in a 63F pool…brrr), I had a constant feeling of swimming against current, so I unconsciously put on the gas and got wore out quite quickly. My shoulders and triceps the next day were feeling it. The second day I decided to just take it easy, spend 30 minutes swimming at a nice slow pace, and it was much better. In fact, the biggest problem I have is keeping on a straight line.

I’ll notice after a while that I’m getting closer to one of the walls, despite winding the straps through the middle of the fence. So then I try to correct myself, and that for some reason is just such a pain in the butt, and really pretty difficult. In fact, at some points, it feels like my upper half is swimming higher in the water than if I wasn’t strapped in.

So, I’m still learning how to use these things. But I’m happy. I can swim! I’ve even managed to do “workouts” while strapped in. For instance, today I swam for 40 minutes (still working back up to my hour+), and decided that starting with song #3 I’d swim bilateral every odd song. (Oh, didn’t I mention? I’m swimming with my Finis Neptune.) It was a good workout, since I’m a shit bilateral breather. And in this tiny pool, I get pretty rowdy waves going, and I suck at breathing to the left, so it is a real challenge for me. And it minimizes the boredom of swimming in place.

I’ve also discovered that if I stop swimming, and angle my toes down, that’ll shoot me backwards into the wall. Then when I hit the wall, I can push off and really swim hard, like I’m doing intervals. I might try this more once I get my lungs back.

Look at that view!

Look at that view!

2015 Season

May 3, 2015 | 2015 Season | Permalink

I found a few swims to aim for this year. Um, I mean, to train for. Two 5Ks and a 10K. This will truly be an experimental “season” as most, if not all, of my training will be in my tiny 12m long pool, using the stationary strap things. (I’m heartened that others have swum much farther and bigger doing similar training, like Fast Eddie.) Also experimental because I’m still aiming to swim in some Kyrgyz lakes this year. And, from what I’m learning, some of this swimming may be spur of the moment events.

The family and I are going to the beautiful island of Brač, Croatia, this year. We’re staying in Sutivan, on the northern coast. The place looks gorgeous and the entire island is filled with beaches and old history. Right across the water is uber-famous Split, where they film some Game of Thrones scenes. Better than that, there is real history there, like Diocletian’s Palace.

Diocletian's Palace

Diocletian’s Palace

Even cooler, and more on point for this blog, there are open water swims all over the country. So…I’ve signed up for one. And I’m trying to contact the race directors of two others. The one I’m definitely in is the Raslina 5K, a mere 100k from Split (and a 50 min ferry from Sutivan). It starts at 10am, so I’ll probably leave fairly early to get there in time.

Raslina 5K Start

Raslina 5K Start

Two others are even closer. There’s another 5K in Kaštel Stari, which is only 20km from Split. It also starts at 10am, but being so much closer, it’ll be much quicker, so I can leave later.

srdela_1

And there is a 10K swim in Omiš, only 25km south of Split. That 10K worries me, but doing a 10K right before returning to Kyrgyzstan will give me the impetus to pursue some of these lakes here. The worrisome part came after looking at last year’s results. The slowest finisher came in at 3:25, about 15 minutes faster than my fastest 10K. This Omiš swim usually has a 2K too, and I have no problem doing that. I’d like to avoid being last (I know it’s silly, but my Cyprus experience has soured me), but hell, just being able to do these swims in Croatia will be fun and wonderful.

Omis_plivacki-maraton

And the expense. Talk about context. The one swim I was able to register in so far (the Raslina 5K) will cost me $11 in today’s dollars, and that includes the swim, food at the finish and t-shirt!

Cross-training

April 30, 2015 | Other Sports | Permalink

I’ve tried, dear reader(s), to swim year-round here, but it’s just not going to happen. Too busy at work, and too few locations where I can swim indoors. They just don’t appreciate swimming here that much. But, thankfully, there are opportunities for cross-training here. And fun opportunities!

Many years ago, while we were stationed in Monterey, California (yes, it was a tough assignment), my boys were involved in Boy Scouts. I volunteered as an adult leader, which was probably the best volunteer job ever. Anyway, I happened to have heard of the sport Orienteering, and had a limited amount of experience in maps and compasses. Therefore, I was appointed as the Orienteering guru.

So I did a lot of reading. A lot. I remembered how much I wanted to participate in O as a kid and a boy scout. I never had the opportunity. Fortunately, in the Monterey area, there were many opportunities for Orienteering for the boys.

The boys in Troop 43 were interested in Orienteering, and some of them were excited enough that they took part in some Orienteering meets! We took the boys to a meet a little outside of Monterey where they got to compete in a Score-O. Score-O meets are probably my favorite. The point of Score-O, as opposed to normal, usual O meets, is that you have many control points all over a map. Unlike a usual meet, you do not have to visit the controls in order. Instead, each of the Score-O controls have a point value, based on their distance from the start and their difficulty in finding. You decide which ones you want to visit. You have a time limit, and you lose points if you arrive too many minutes before or after the ending time.

So what’s this got to do with swimming and Kyrgyzstan? There is an Orienteering federation here in Kyrgyzstan. They host foot orienteering meets in the spring and late-summer/fall. Which is perfect for complimenting my swimming. On May 10th there is a trail O meet, which is being held in the park nearest our house. I cannot wait.

My pool is being filled right now. Slowly. The hose has been hanging into the pool for about 24 hours and it is almost half full. I can’t wait till it is filled so I can start swimming. After the May 10th O meet there isn’t another meet until August. Which is perfect, and the O meets continue until the snows, when they switch it to ski-orienteering. (Which I’m not going to do.) And when the snow is on the ground, there is skiing here for cross training. Imagine that, skiing as cross training!  But when it costs about $20 for lift pass and full kit, how can you not ski every weekend?

So, at least for the next year and a half, I’ll be a seasonal swimmer. I hope that will mean that I can still do some of those swims I have planned in the Kyrgyz lakes; stay tuned.

Announcing the World Release of Iron Mike’s Dry Land Swimming Program

April 1, 2015 | Humor, Swimming Equipment | Permalink

A select few of you dear reader(s) know what I’ve been working on the past year or so. To you all, I thank you for maintaining the secret. I knew you were the ones to trust. And without further ado, let’s get on with the announcement!

Today I am pleased to announce the world release of Iron Mike’s Dry Land Swimming Program(), also known as IMDLSP! IMDLSP is an innovative program to improve your open water swimming performance when you don’t have access to a traditional swimming area. Stuck in a land-locked country with unclean water? IMDLSP! Deployed to the Middle East and stuck in your forward-operating base? IMDLSP-Fobbit version! Just too tired to leave the house? IMDLSP with Equipment!

For too long, swimmers were stuck to certain geographical areas of the world, slaves to the elements. IMDLSP opens up the world to swimmers. No longer will you be stuck to living in over-priced beach-side villas, or in the ‘burbs with the accompanying pool and recreation center. No longer do you have to worry about others swimming in your lane (unless you want…more on this aspect of IMDLSP in a moment)! No longer will annoying kids or noodling grandmas take over the only swim lane in  your crappy little 20 yard neighborhood pool. You have been set free! Sure you could just do dry land training, but how many of us have dumbbells lying around?

IMDLSP‘s key is its use in any location. All you need is a DVD player or computer and about two square meters of space. And after you’ve used the DVD program a few times, you don’t even need the disc! (But we’ll give you reasons why you’ll want to keep the DVD for future practices; see below.) The DVD is the basic component of the program, but we here at Iron Mike Products have options in case you want to advance your open water swimming to the next level! But first, let’s talk about the DVD.

The DVD is region-free, meaning anyone, anywhere can use the IMDLSP! Here’s a look at the chapters in the DVD:

  • Introduction
  • Improve your freestyle for open water!
  • The start
  • Swimming in groups
  • Feeding and nutrition
  • Mistakes to avoid

But I’m sure you want to see what you’ll get for your money! So here are some actual screenshots from the DVD.

Screenshot from the chapter Improve your freestyle

Screenshot from the chapter Improve your freestyle

group1

Screenshot from chapter on Swimming in groups

 

Screenshot from chapter on Feeding

Screenshot from chapter on Feeding

Bonus! Chapter on unique problems in long open water swims, like changing out of your wetsuit

Bonus! Chapter on unique problems in long open water swims, like changing out of your wetsuit

How about that, right?!  Wow! You probably want to order the IMDLSP now, but wait, don’t rush to the bottom of this post. There’s more!

If you act right now (the computer knows when you’ve gotten to this point, so you have only 10 seconds to comply), we’ll throw in one dry land swimming table like you see in the screenshots!

So, to review: You are getting a DVD complete with open water training that can be completed anywhere, anytime! But there’s more. Included in the IMDLSP is one throw, knitted by my grandma, just like in the screenshots.*

And I didn’t want to mention this yet, but I will. Very soon IMDLSP 2 will be available! For the real crazy open water swimmers out there. If you’re planning a 24+ hour-long open water swim, you’ll need to consider things like logistics, advanced feeding, extended exposure to salt water, social media, compiling a team of sycophants, acting, dealing with the media, and turning your swim into an off-Broadway play.

Here’s the best part. Buyers of IMDLSP will get first notice of the release of IMDLSP 2 as well as a 10% coupon! You cannot beat that deal!

So, hesitate no longer! Call today:  +996 01 555 7IM DLSP. Have your credit card ready (we only take Diner’s Card). We’ll tell you the price when you call. Don’t worry, you can claim the expense as part of your crew costs!

*Restrictions apply. Grandma only made one. It may already be sold when you call. Or thrown up on by the cat.

Here we go again

March 20, 2015 | Humor | Permalink

The publishers of Marie Clare magazine have voted on and published the “8 Greatest Moments for Women in Sports.” I rushed off to the website hoping beyond hope that Chloë McCardel’s historic longest ever unassisted swim would make the 8. After all, she swam 77.3 miles without any assistance, wearing only a standard textile swimsuit, goggles and one swim cap. She never touched her support boat. She never had help putting on any shark-deterring suit or creams, she never had help eating or drinking, she never got on her support boat due to sharks or lightening. She swam straight for 41 hours, 21 minutes.

Alas, no such luck. The folks at Marie Clare magazine did include a female open water swimmer in their list of 8 greatest moments for women in sports. Sadly, that woman is Diana Nyad.

Let’s get one thing straight. DN did an amazing thing, both in the water, and in the field of logistics. She did spend an incredibly long time in the water, 53-something hours. She did swim for most of that time, or all that time. Who the hell knows; she didn’t have an impartial observer. But I do believe she spent the vast majority, probably 40+ hours, of her swim actually in the water. If she spent the entire 53+ hours, then she’s probably done the longest assisted swim, or one of the longest. Who the hell knows; she didn’t have an impartial observer & her swim documentation is seriously lacking.

But to put DN in the same list with the likes of Billy Jean King, Nadia Comaneci and Mo’ne Davis is to lessen the accomplishments of the other seven. And why did MC put DN in that list? Crappy journalism, certainly. It takes work to actually read up on the sport of marathon swimming, then researching the spirit of marathon swimming and what that means, the rules, the people. It is much easier to simply search for amazing female swimmers. Why didn’t they find McCardel? Why not Janet Evans and her amazing 800m in 1988 [link Youtube video…ignore the hokey music, but look at her swim!]?

As if you need anymore evidence to their crappy journalism, check out some of these doozies that the editor didn’t catch:

Who could you forget Nyad?

…San Antoni Spurs are so effing lucky.

…she made that ocean her beotch.

This is what passes for journalism nowadays. Oy.

The ice has melted!

March 13, 2015 | Humor, Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

This is what my pool looked like a couple months ago.

frozen pool

Dear reader(s) remember that those bottles are Kyrgyzstan’s answer to draining pools during the winter. Those empty soda bottles contract when the ice expands. I paid about $20 for specialists to come in and winterize my pool. Maybe next year I’ll just do it myself. (Granted, I am supporting the local economy, so maybe next year I’ll just pay the 1000 som.)

Well, weather has been pretty nice lately, so here’s what the pool looks like now.

imageedit_1_5253753677

Look at those little guys floating around in the corner. So ready to get them out of there and do some swimming! Although we had snow just yesterday, and I just found this when I looked at the pool really closely.

imageedit_5_5395137704

That looks disgusting. And I don’t think I want to swim in that, even if the water did warm up higher than its current 38F. I’ll have to pay the gardener to get those experts back soon to clean the pool and make sure the pump is working because I’m not sure how much longer I can keep this one from jumping in.

imageedit_4_4322531562

Best commercial ever!

March 12, 2015 | Humor | Permalink

Someone had this posted on their Facebook, and I must say I wasn’t even going to play it. But since it was one of my OW swim friends, I thought it might be worth the two or so minutes of my life that the video will take from me.

I did my best searching the Interwebs for this Marco character. My bet is on this simply being a fictional character, a commercial filmed to look like it was recorded years ago. It’s a cute story and fun, with a bit of OW swimming in it.

But most of all I like it because it features two of my favorite things: Open water swimming and shaving my chest beer! There’s nothing like a Guinness after a swim. Dedicated dear reader(s) will remember that my first stop after my first 10K in Dartmouth, UK, was a local pub, where I think I went through two pints of Guinness. You know, to refuel the carbs I’d lost to that 14C water!