Iron Mike's Marathon Swims Just another MSF Blogs site

What’s a marathon swimmer?

July 25, 2014 | Uncategorized | Permalink

I read a lot about marathon swimming, mostly in the online community called the Marathon Swimmers Forum and H2Open magazine. There is so much information available there for current and aspiring marathon swimmers. Really, it is worth a great deal of your time, especially if you’re considering venturing out into this obscure, addictive, weirdly-communal-yet-individual sport. Hell, if you’ve got a loved one or friend who needs your help as crew, you should read the Forum. Consider it your handbook.

There is no absence of opinion, either on MSF or on the Internets themselves, on the definition of a marathon swim. Some stick to the current, FINA-approved definition of 10K. Talk to some very experienced swimmers, present at the time FINA, USS (?) and Olympics-interested swimming authorities were talking about it, and you’ll hear 25K as the distance that should be considered a marathon swim.

And so far we’re only talking about distances. There are those, me among them, who believe that a marathon swim means you’re wearing no more than a cap (not neoprene), goggles and suit (porous and not a wetsuit). Oh, and don’t you dare purposefully touch that kayak! Or any of your crew. Or that seal, while you’re at it! (Rules are important in any sport.)

That’s all well and good, IronMike, but what the hell’s that got to do with your blog post?

Absolutely right! I’ll get back on topic now. But you’ll see the above is very relative to what I’m asking. Let’s start with me. I’ve got some DNFs. I learned a lot from them and I’m getting over them, slowly but…surely slowly. In due time I’ll forget about them.  (Right?) I’ve swum a couple races (10K and 10 miles, both with current) that meet one of the distance definitions of a marathon swim, but not the other. I haven’t swum a race longer than 3K in the last two years.

Am I a marathon swimmer?

I’ve got nothing on tap, unlike several of my colleagues. I’m training for nothing right now, despite having a race in a little over a week. (I’m taking a page from my triathletes on this one. Who needs practice anyway? It’s just a 5K! Right?)  I’ve got the swim blues something fierce, and I’m having a very hard time getting out of the funk.

So am I a marathon swimmer?

If I never again swim anything near 10K (or farther, for that matter), can I call myself a marathon swimmer? If I never save the money, train tirelessly for two years, spend two weeks getting acclimated to the water in __(fill in location here)__, attempt to swim across a channel or huge lake, can I call myself a marathon swimmer?

What if you’ve devoted two years of your life to swimming The Channel. Many hours swimming tens (hundreds?) of thousands of yards, including many multi-hour straight swims. Your kids don’t know what you look like in the morning because you’re never home when they wake up. But you haven’t done any competitions of any “significant” distance. You do a six-hour, cold water swim, no problem. You dive in the Channel and swim for four or five hours, but you get sick and can’t finish your swim. Are you a marathon swimmer? For that matter, were you a marathon swimmer once you finished your six-hour EC qualifying swim?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. Do you?

The plan…

July 21, 2014 | Grand Plan, Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

A few of you know that we’re moving to Kyrgyzstan. We’ll live in Bishkek, the capital city of the Kyrgyz Republic. It’ll be a great opportunity for the kids, for speaking Russian again, for exploring the Silk Road, for more swimming anthropology. We’re looking forward to it.

But swimming? Will I be able to keep swimming, or will I have to find another hobby? A basic search around Bishkek reveals there are pools there. Who knows. Open water? In Central Asia? We’ll see.

Kyrgyzstan just happens to be the one country on earth that is farthest away from any ocean. So there will not be ocean swim conditioning for me there! But, Kyrgyzstan also just happens to be home to the second largest alpine lake (defined as lakes usually at 5000 feet elevation or higher) in the world, after Lake Titicaca. The lake is called Issyk Kul. It is also a saline lake, the second largest in the world after the Caspian Sea. Finally, interesting factoid #4: the lake never freezes, even though Central Asia gets wicked cold in the winter.

Issyk Kul is one of almost 2000 lakes in Kyrgyzstan. Recently one of my Kyrgyzstan blogs highlighted the 5 most beautiful lakes in the republic. Issyk Kul is of course one of them. The others aren’t too shabby, either.

So, here’s my grand plan. Probably won’t happen. But it’s nice to dream. I’d like to swim in these five lakes. Perhaps do a crossing of one or more of them. Maybe I’ll call it Besh Kul, or Five Lakes. Below are pictures of these five lakes, with a little bit about each one, thanks to the guys at the blog Trip to Kyrgyzstan.


Issyk Kul, which we’ve already discussed

Chatyr kul. highest lake in Kyrgyzstan at 3530m!

Chatyr Kul. highest lake in Kyrgyzstan at 3530m!

Sary-Chelek, a bit far (500k) from Bishkek.

Sary-Chelek, a bit far (500k) from Bishkek.

Kel-Suu, mysterious they say. Sure is. I can't find it in Google Maps.

Kel-Suu, mysterious they say. Sure is. I can’t find it in Google Maps.

Son-Kul, just a few hours south of Bishkek and the country's 2nd largest lake.

Son-Kul, just a few hours south of Bishkek and the country’s 2nd largest lake.

Who knows, dear reader(s), you might read about Iron Mike in a year or so swimming in some strange lake in some obscure country in an historical region of the world! Anyone want to come visit and crew for me?

Finally, a race

July 14, 2014 | 2014 Season | Permalink

OK, I probably just jinxed myself. So prepare for a later blog entry entitled something like Dammit, I jinxed myself. But just in case my saying I jinxed myself unjinxes the jinx, I’ll tell you what the hell I’m talking about.

I signed up for a race! Yee-haw! Haven’t raced (outside) since last year. I had signed up for a couple for the start of summer, but I ended up going temporarily to Moscow to help out the embassy there, so I had to drop out of the races that I signed up for (Nanticoke, Jim McDonnell) as well as a POW class with WaveOne. And with our impending move overseas, I didn’t want to sign up for any because pretty much our weekends are full with getting the house and kids ready to move 6578 miles away. But I found a close race that’ll be over and done by noon on a Sunday. It’s only 5 miles away and starts at 8:30.

The race is the HarborFest Tri Swims, Tri because the race distances are triathlete-friendly, with a 750-meter swim along with a half-IM and IM distances thrown in. Even better, last year a couple swimmers swam a 5K. The organizer, Denis Crean of WaveOne, is hoping to have a 5K this year, too. I had to sign up for the 2.4 miler and wait for the day of to find out if the 5K will be swum, but that’s fine by me. I’m swimming in open water before moving to Kyrgyzstan. That’s what’s important! Race report to follow shortly after 3 August.

My new Critical Swim Speed

July 3, 2014 | Science! | Permalink

Well, on Wednesday I did my CSS test. First time in a long time. My new CSS is 1:39 per 100 yards.

How, you ask dear reader(s), did I come up with that time? Simple really. It just takes some math:

CSS (y/sec) = (400 – 200) / (T400 – T200)
then 100/CSS = time per 100 yards

Where T400 and T200 equal your times in the 400 and 200 time trials in seconds. (My 400 was at 6:28 and my 200 at 3:11.) Or, you could simply use the calculator at Swim Smooth’s website here.

 As you know, dear reader(s), I’m a big fan of using the CSS. Now I’ll use this CSS on my quality days or what the Pyramid calls base training. Or, further confusing the issue, what Swim Smooth, in their workout books, calls Fresh and Fruity Threshold sets. One such threshold set might be 20 x 100 at CSS. That’s a lot of 100s at 1:39. But does that mean no rest? Or does that mean beat 1:39 so I can get rest?

The answer is Neither. A threshold set, or a pace awareness set (yet another name for it), is designed so that you learn how to maintain a constant pace over a set distance. So you can know, while swimming, what a 1:39/100 yards feels like. Thus, I’ll need to swim each of those 100s on 1:39, hitting each wall at around 24 or 25 seconds. Well, how the hell do I do that?

I use a tempo trainer. Or a watch. As I’ve not had a lot of luck with watches over the last three years, I’m sticking with Finis’s Tempo Trainer Pro, one of the few electronics by Finis that actually doesn’t break easily. You set the TTP to beep when you’re supposed to hit the wall, then you swim, working on hitting the wall exactly when it beeps. So for my 1:39, I’ll set my TTP to beep every 24.63 seconds. Then I’ll chase the beep. With respect to the above workout, once I’ve hit the wall on the fourth beep, I’ll stop and wait for another beep to start. Thus, I’ll be doing 20 x 100 with :24.63 sec rest. It sounds counter-intuitive, but swimming a set like this once a week will lead you to improve your speed. My CSS last year kept getting better, by a second to 1.5 seconds, every 4 weeks when I’d retest. Strange but true.

For now, as I’m not training toward anything, I’ll stick to my CSS for the threshold sets. But I could use the CSS if I were working for something longer, like perhaps a 30K race in a Swiss lake. In that case I might start doing CSS + :20. Who knows.

Been awhile

July 1, 2014 | Uncategorized | Permalink

Wow. Had no idea it has been so long since my last post. Been awhile.

Tomorrow I’ll be updating my CSS. It has been way too long since I did my last CSS test. If you don’t know the CSS, click on the link. I’m sold on using the CSS as a way to prepare for marathon swims.

CSS is a measure of your fitness with respect to a 1500m race. What you get out of doing a CSS test is a pace for 100m (or yards, if you do your tests in a yard pool) that you can use as a basis for your training. If you’re training for a 1500 race, you can expect that your 1500 time will be close to your CSS x 15. If you’re going to swim the English Channel, you could expect your 100 average to be around CSS + :30-:40, possibly even CSS + :60.

A good 3/week workout plan, according to Swim Smooth (and approved by IronMike) is 1x technique session, 1x endurance session with long sets and 1x “quality session working on your threshold speed.”

I’ve combined Swim Smooth’s recommendations for workouts from their book with Steve Munatones’ Pyramid of Open Water Success. If you don’t know the pyramid, it is a very good guide to what’s important, dependent upon your level of expertise. As I’m a perpetual beginner, I’m worrying over the base-level of the pyramid. This includes Base Training, Speed Training and Distance Tolerance. 


An example of a distance tolerance day for me is: 10 x 800 at CSS +:10-:20 (depending upon what I’m working toward, which right now is nothing) plus 200 hard after each 800 for a total of 10K. A speed training day would be nice and short, about 3K. Perhaps a main set of 8×50 as 25 fast, 25 easy; :20 rest after each 50. Then 16×25 odds fast, evens easy with :10 rest after each 25. Finally, a base day main set would be 2000 (descend each 500), then 3×500, 3×100, 4×50.

Now, just to get off my ass and actually get in the pool!

If you’re not going to open at 0600, update your website

June 11, 2014 | Humor | Permalink

Was so proud of myself. Monday night, right after work, I prepped my swim bag. Got the requisite number of undergarments and (?) overgarments for the next day of work into the bag. Got all my swim stuff in the bag. Got shower stuff in the bag. All packed and ready for morning swim.

The base pool opened Memorial Day weekend. That means morning swim. They have lap swim from 0600-0800, plenty of time to get a good 5K workout in and a shower and still get to work early enough. Drove into work early enough on Tuesday to avoid the CrossFitters (see this post), getting there around 0645. To an empty parking lot. Uh-oh.

Sure enough, there were white stickers covering the 0600-0800 hours. Dammit. I went into work and logged into my computer. I went to JBAB‘s fitness page. Sure enough, hours for lap swim are 0600-0800.

lap hours

WTF? I called the fitness manager, and she told me they don’t have the lifeguards. They hope to get some hired in a month or so. When I brought up the website, her response blew me away.

Oh jeez, I didn’t even think about marketing. I guess I have to call someone to remove that from the website.

Uh, yeah, you think?

N.B., The image I captured above was from Wednesday night and the website is still not updated.

MSF has an official logo now

June 9, 2014 | Uncategorized | Permalink

The Marathon Swimmers Federation has its own logo now!

MSF new


How’s that for professional-looking, dear reader(s)?  Pretty nice, eh? I love it, and look forward to getting one about 4 or 5 inches in diameter for the back of my rad Rav4. That’ll look pretty nice embroidered on a navy blue polo, too. And as a patch on my swim bag. Or on a license plate.

MSF license plate

The Power of the People prevailed

June 5, 2014 | Uncategorized | Permalink

Well, that didn’t last long. The Thursday evening happy hour swims (called officially by the organizers “Thursday Open Water Sunset Swims”) are back! As my dear reader(s) know from a few blog posts back, the National Harbor folks denied WaveOne permission to hold the evening swim practices. But that denial lasted all of two weeks.

WaveOne’s founder Denis Crean sent out an email to his distro list yesterday stating unequivocally that the swims “resume June 5 at 7:15pm.” Period. Dot. Simple. Wonderful. Seems the local community came together on this one:

We extend our sincerest thanks to the community of open water swimmers, triathletes and paddlers who stood behind WaveOne and voiced their support for the importance of safe open water swimming in the Washington, DC area. We welcome you back to the Thursday night Sunset Swims and look forward to sharing your continued growth and successes as open water swimmers and triathletes.

Thank you to all the locals here who helped bring this wonderful event back. Bravi!

Marathon Swimmers Federation shirts coming soon to a store near you

June 4, 2014 | Uncategorized | Permalink

I’m one of those weird people that wears polos or t-shirts advertising products that I love. Therefore I’ve got a few beer shirts. Some polos from old military units of mine. My swim event t-shirts of course.

The Marathon Swimmers Federation (MSF) is currently abuzz about creating a logo to represent artistically our love for long open water swimming. The logos look great, but I am impatient. I want to wear my MSF polo to work tomorrow!

Why am I this kind of person, walking around showing my hobbies or allegiances to others? I think the primary reason is because I want others to join me in the fun. And I’m loyal. If I find a brand I like, I tell everyone about it!

MSF works. MSF is a great community. MSF represents great folks. I want others to see the MSF logo on my chest and ask, “What the heck is a marathon swim?” or “What the hell is the Marathon Swimmers Federation?”


Is this the future image of the MSF?

The Battle of the Commencement Speeches

May 28, 2014 | Uncategorized | Permalink

Two recently-held commencement speeches have come to my attention. They both just happen to have occurred at schools I’d once considered attending. The speakers are people I am familiar with, to varying degrees. With regards to the amount of respect I have for each of them, they couldn’t be more different.

Diana Nyad gave the commencement speech at Middlebury College. Milliseconds go by before she starts with the I, a sure sign of a narcissistic speech. But I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. She may be alluding to something that came up earlier in the commencement when she said she wanted a selfie with the graduating class. Within a minute (0:48-ish) she mentions her Florida swim, and within the first two minutes she thanks the school for inviting her and thanks her team of 44 for, you guessed it, her Florida swim.

Her speech is a lot of I‘s and me‘s, but does have a good message when she relates the 17-year old swimmer at the 1968 Olympic trials (2:47-ish) talking to her about giving it her all so that she can say she couldn’t have swum her heat a fingernail faster. I thought that part was very good, a good motivational moment. She related it to herself. She could have related it to the graduating class (that’ll come later, I’m sure).

But, what’s this? What did I just hear at 7:01-ish? “…moving on to the trials or not.”  What? I thought she said she was at the 1968 trails?!  So of course, this means I have to do some research. And some rewinding (remember when that word meant something?). OK, yes, at the 2:45-ish mark, she mentions swimming at the 1968 trials (“…it came to be the Olympic Trials for Mexico City…”). She also mentions her event, the 100 back. But I cannot find her on this list (pdf) of the heats and finals for the 1968 Olympic swimming trials. I’m no expert at Olympic history or USA Swimming, perhaps they had a pre-trials? I don’t think so though. DN mentions that the top 3 from her race will go on to the Olympics (3:25), and that she congratulated the three girls who would be going at the end of the race (8:03). Was she under a different name? I couldn’t find any other Diana‘s on the list.

At 3:58 she says something that struck me. To give her the benefit of the doubt, maybe she was channeling her teenage self, for which I will excuse her. How many among us were not selfish when we were young? Anyway, she is mentioning her dreams and all the work she put in to fulfill them. She mentioned how her parents sacrificed for her (nice), and then she says, “my brothers and sisters, their dreams were so small compared to mine.” Was she just comparing size? Or was she putting a value judgement on their dreams? Harkens back to the comments she made about what she thought of her followers (Nyadians?) helping other marathon swimmers.

Compare and contrast Nyad’s speech with the one given by Admiral McRaven at the University of Texas. (Caveat: I have met the admiral. I was a nameless Captain sitting in the briefing room with him in Iraq, he the deputy commander. I liked him.) Yes, there are some I‘s in his speech, as in “my team and I.” But it was far from narcissistic. He mentions his graduation from UT 37 years prior at the 0:30 mark. At 3:00, after all the thanking of everyone in attendance, he starts giving advice, based on his experience during his six months of SEAL training. When he uses the pronoun I from that moment forward, he uses it with my team and.  His advice is useful and humorous. It’s something I’d like my kids to listen to. His stories are fun and way more believable than anything the Middlebury speaker told us.

Edit: I just saw this “speech” by Denzel Washington. He should have been Middlebury’s speaker!