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

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.


5KM became 7.76 somehow

July 28, 2015 | 2015 Season | Permalink

Swam today from Sutivan to Supetar. According to Mr Google, it is a 5.15km swim. I started my Garmin GPS watch just like every other time. When I landed in Supetar (granted, I landed a bit farther than originally planned), I stopped the watch to learn that I did 7.76km instead.

Map for the island of Brač

Map for the island of Brač

Not sure how I did that. The place I landed was only about 600m farther than planned. So how did 5 become 7 and some change? Easy. Zig zag. My crap navigation. I went back to Google maps and took my route, and made it zig zag all the way from Sutivan to Supetar and sure enough, you can get an extra 2.76km that way. Jeez.

It was a fun swim, although I’m suffering from some light sun burn on my back right now. It got really deep at one point, to where I couldn’t see the bottom, and that kind of freaked me out. I was all alone out there, pretty far from shore (500m? 600?), and you know, all those scary beach movies start to come to mind. “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” and all that. But I maintained.

About a k from the end, a jet skier went by with his kid, slowly, looking at me like I was crazy. Five minutes later, he and another jet skier came by. The new guy said, “You can’t swim here.” I answered, “No, it’s ok. I’m just swimming there,” and pointed at the ending. He said “Hop on, I’ll take you.” I said, “Uh, no. I have to swim. And I have this bright orange thing here so you can see me.” He looked at me like I was stupid and he and the other guy took off at fullspeed, and I got to swim through some bubbles for a while.

As I was approaching the landing, I got a welcome from apparently one of Supetar’s finest. Some old guy sunning himself on the rocks, commando-style, legs spread, with all of his glory out there for all to see. I found a place on the rocks a bit away from him to land, then I saw why that old guy was sitting where he was. About 20m from him, and in the direction he was facing, were three 20-something women, two of whom had no tops on. They didn’t seem to mind and he sure was happy. 😉

All in all a great swim, if not long (2:50). Fembot, her sister, and daughter #2 walked and swam to Supetar, then we all walked back. The GPS said 7k almost exactly for the walk when we got to the house, so a very good day when you throw in that other half of my duathlon! Next up on the plan, a swim to Milna?!

Results are in

July 27, 2015 | 2015 Season | Permalink

Raslina 5K start and finish

I hit under my goal of two hours with a 1:52.16 in the Raslina 5K. While that’s not my best time ever, I must say that of all the 5Ks I’ve done, it felt the best. Like I said in my review yesterday, I never felt better. I pushed hard through the whole damn race. Nothing hurt beyond my typical initial sore shoulders and arms in the first 500-1000m. My breathing was perfect, my navigation not that bad, and my pacing great. I really am happy with that time, despite it meaning that I was swimming only 2:15 per 100m. That is slow! But I think if you took my times at each kilometer, you’d find it pretty damn consistent. Except for the last one where I pushed the hell out of it!

So, all in all: happy. That time got me 17 out of 25 males in the 40-49 age group, and 59 out of 80 males total. Not sure where I stood among all swimmers, but I can tell you that only one woman swam slower than me. Also, if you know me and you know Fembot, you know I have no problem being “beat by a girl.” Just ask me about my first Olympic-distance tri and Ruth.  😉

And, I managed to get the Marathon Swimmers Federation mentioned!

And I managed to get MSF mentioned!


Plivački Maraton Raslina (5K)

July 26, 2015 | 2015 Season | Permalink

25 July was the 6th iteration of the Raslina (Croatia) Plivački Maraton, a 5K swim in beautiful and isolated Raslina, Croatia, about 80km from Split and about 5km from Krka National Park. The day was beautiful and not too hot, about 34C. Raslina lake is part of a river system that connects to the sea; it tasted slightly salty and had a gentle current. The water was about 25C, a bit cooler than the water I’ve been swimming in all week on the island of Brač, but not near as cool as I would have liked it, especially an hour or so into the swim.

start raslina

Raslina 5K start

The 5K was an out-and-back, which I love. No laps to count and remember, just a simple “swim yonder, then return.” The course was incredibly well marked, with huge red buoys every 500 meters or so, and strange square things (imagine 1.5m x 1.5m squares of compacted newspaper, and that’s what they looked like…they were much more solid and heavy, see below) which announced how far you’ve gone, if you had the wherewithal to stop and look. There was also a yellow buoy at 1000m for the 2K swimmers to turn around at as well as our 2500m yellow buoy for us 5K swimmers to turn at. The buoys were so well-visible that I had little to no trouble spotting them.

Raslina course map

Raslina course map


As I’ve said before, Croatian beaches are rocks, and I’ve got some crazy tender feet, so much so that I’ve bought scuba shoes for my swimming on Brač. That wouldn’t happen here, of course, so I wore my flip-flops till the bitter end and then handed them to Fembot, who graciously got up early while on vacation (0545!) to come with me and hold my crap. Anyway, I entered the water like a man walking (slowly) on hot coals, and lined up with the other 190+ swimmers.

me walking into raslina

Iron Mike walking into Raslina

Several minutes passed whereby angry volunteers yelled in Croatian to those swimmers who wouldn’t line up behind an imaginary line from the edge of the dock and the race director’s boat. I have no idea exactly when we started (1000 start) but we were late by a bit, but finally the horn went off and I let the speed demons charge forward and then I started. About a dozen strokes in I realized I hadn’t started my stopwatch, so I stopped quickly and did that. Then I put my head down and swam.

and theyre off

And they’re off!

As always, the first 500-1000m of any swim is a warm-up for me. I stretch before beginning a race, but I rarely get in the water and swim. I’m superstitious in that I think all my best and fastest strokes will be during that warm-up, so why not save them? I know, stupid, but it’s my stupid pre-race ritual.

It felt SO good. My stroke felt great and I got in a rhythm very early and felt very fast. After about 1000m I came across a pod of just slightly faster swimmers, about 3 of them, and kept with them for the rest of the race. Or attempted to. I drafted off one guy for a bit until I realized he was a worse navigator than I was, and got tired of being run into (or over) by him, so I bailed on him, sped up, and hung on the side and then toes of one woman. Damn she swam straight. I drafted off of her until about 3500m.

Water was nice, if a little brackish, but I kept up my 85-90% effort the entire way. At 3000 meters, the woman and I rounded the buoy together, did our alligator eyes to spot the way home, and put our heads down. It was tough keeping up with her, and that pretty much ended at about 3500m. She didn’t pull far away, but the other two guys came up alongside me and the battle to stay straight started again. I could see the woman about 5m in front of me and I tried to stay with her, on her toes if even a bit back. That worked until I ran into one of those weird square things floating in the water.

I thought I hit a person’s head the damn thing was so solid. My watch actually hit it and I stopped to see if the swimmer was ok, and I realized I hit the square thing. I didn’t hang around long enough to see what it said as far as my progress is concerned. Better not to know. I put my head down and tried to catch up with my pod of swimmers.

And I did. And I even caught up with the speedy woman. I managed to draft off her feet for quite a while, then she took off with about 1000m left. My tank was running low. I could spot the other two guys, one parallel to me and off about 10m to the right, and the other back and to the right. The final red buoys started coming after the yellow buoy. I thought they’d never end. One had the number 3 boldly printed on the side and I remember thinking, God, I hope that doesn’t mean there’s 2 more? In my mind those buoys were spaced 500m apart each, but they couldn’t be, because I’d already passed the yellow one marking 1000m from the start/finish.

I didn’t try to see numbers on the final buoys, but suffice it to say there were 2 more. After what I thought was the last one, I saw the finish. The finish was preceeded by two red buoys, larger and less round than the others, oval-shaped. These buoys were parallel from each other about 20m apart and about 50m before the finish. The finish was one of those you see in the big races where the swimmers finish right under it and have to slap it for the timers to call their time. Very awesome. Anyway, I saw these two buoys while alligator eyeing during my sighting. I started to head to the right side of that channel made my those two buoys, knowing the finish chute was on that side. Unfortunately for me, what I was seeing was yet another round red buoy on the right, and the left-side of the oval red buoy. What this meant as I got closer was that I was about to swim to the left of one of the course buoys, when you have to swim to the right of all the course buoys! So I had to adjust my course, probably losing a few seconds.

Which was important to me, because at around what I thought was the last of the red buoys (which should have been numbered 1 if logic prevailed), I put on the gas and passed the other two guys from my pod. I didn’t spend valuable time or neck muscles to try and look back to see where those guys were, but I adjusted my path to go to the right of that last (really last?) round red buoy and head into the finish chute. Kicking like a crazy person and upping my stroke rate to something fierce (while still thinking about my form). I came through and tapped the finish sign, and my nearest competitor was about 10-15 seconds behind me. We high-fived, then I remembered to turn off my stopwatch. So I don’t know for certain what the hell my time was, but I’m sure it was under 2:00, which was my goal. Actually, after my 5K last year in National Harbor, I would have been happy with 2:00! Instead, I’m ecstatic! I guess you really can train for OW in a tiny pool with elastic straps tied to your ankles.

Getting out of the water took some doing. Again those damn rocks and my weenie feet. How the hell did my feet get so sensitive after growing up in Texas and only wearing shoes for school, church and work? Fembot had to throw me my flip-flops so I could walk out of the water. She got some glamour shots of this process.


Can’t get these damn things on!


“Smile!” she says.

The swim felt incredible the entire time. I felt fast and never once gave up. I can honestly say that I gave 85-90% effort the entire swim until the very end when I gave 100%. I don’t remember a swim where I felt that ready and good. When we got home and I took my suit out to rinse it, I saw that I had a huge hole in the crotch area of the suit. Wonder how long I was flashing the Croats?