One of the things I like about the marathon swimming community is the sense of humor in this group. From the memes created at the expense of one marathon swimmer (who is a good sport in this) to this beautiful one created for yours truly:
One of the things I like about the marathon swimming community is the sense of humor in this group. From the memes created at the expense of one marathon swimmer (who is a good sport in this) to this beautiful one created for yours truly:
Diana Nyad has been in the news again recently. She’s doing a speech in conjunction with the release of her new book, humorously and apparently not sarcastically entitled Find A Way. In the promotional materials for her speech is this wonderful line:
Why, at age 64, was she able to achieve what she could not as a young Olympian?
Funny thing is, she’s never been to the Olympics. She is not an Olympian. After some of us in the marathon swimming community started discussing this falsehood, DN’s team went in and fixed the promotional materials. (Much like they did when we discovered the supposed 7+ hours she went without food or water on night #2 of her assisted Cuba-to-Florida swim in 2013.) Thankfully, a screenshot was taken by a fellow marathon swimmer.
This whole issue has led one of our more scientifically-leaning marathon swimmers to do a little math and come up with a new scientific law.
You can’t argue with science!
Context is a wonderful thing.
My embassy put a little blurb on my Issyk Kul swim on their FB page. They asked for the five W’s and I submitted. They translated it into Russian and Kyrgyz and put it on there for all to read.
Bad enough the embassy put pictures of me on the front cover of the embassy newsletter two weeks ago without any comment that I didn’t accomplish the swim. The title simply said “Mike Tyson’s Swim Across Issyk Kul.” Many of my local and American colleagues approached me after that asking me how the crossing went. Then I had to relive my failure all over again.
So I insisted this time, while writing my five W’s, that I had not succeeded. They changed my “only made it 4.7KM” to “swam almost 5KM.” You would have thought I’d discovered an ancient civilization in the lake. Everybody and their mother has been asking me about the crossing now. Most of them are shocked that I could have swum that long (2:31) or that far (“almost 5KM”) in the lake in that water temperature. And despite my including the MSF equipment rules in my five W’s, I’m still asked if I wore a wetsuit. All of the questioners were impressed with the distance/time/temperature, but all I could think of was how I still had 8+ kilometers left in the swim.
Context is a wonderful thing.
Went to the pool today. Under a roof. Longer than 12m. With lanes. A real pool.
Well, it is sort of a real pool. It is an indoor fun pool with two lanes. Well, it used to have two lanes. They put in new bolts for an additional lane line and now what once was two lanes is now three. In the same space two lanes used to be. And the water massage folks were still there, rubbing their thighs and hamstrings in the water outlets.
I got in the wall lane with a woman and asked her if she was okay staying on “that” side and I would stay on “this” side. My side was the lane line side and hers the wall. She nodded agreement and off I went. To spend almost every lap running into the lane line.
The lane line was almost perfectly over top of the lane line painted on the bottom of the pool. My lizard brain kept wanting to get to the right of that lane line (on the “out” length) in order to stay clear of my inter-lane-cutor (see what I did there?). I kept hitting that damn lane line. On the return length I breathed left just so I could keep an eye on that lane line.
My fellow swimmer got out pretty quickly so I had the lane to myself. I took my first CSS test in months. The last time I did the 400 and 200 time trials, I swam a 6:38 and 3:10. I knew I couldn’t hit that. I swam my heart out on the 400. OK, on the first 100 of the 400. I came in at 7:20.43. Some easy 100s later I swam the 200 time trial and got in on 3:34.08.
My CSS based on today’s numbers gives me a 1:53 per 100m CSS time. My previous CSS was 1:44. So my swimming on tethers in my tiny pool lost me almost 10 seconds off my critical swim speed. I’ll be spending one workout a week doing base/CSS training, working on getting that number down. I’ll probably take the test again in 6-8 weeks, and will report here how I’ve improved (positive thinking!).
OK, here’s the lessons learned from my Issyk Kul attempt.
Logistics. Organizing swims here is hard. Not just because of the language. Other issues pop up. For one, whenever I mentioned swimming across the lake to Kyrgyz living on the lake, they all looked at me funny. Most told me only one person has done it, so why would I try? (Most all knew Akhmed, too.)
But language is one issue. Russian quickly loses its prestige the farther outside of Bishkek you go. Thank God for Talas. Without him, I would not have been able to organize the boat. And most probably, it would have been difficult for the crew on the boat to converse with the captain and his crew. Kyrgyz language proficiency was required.
Getting the boat was the most difficult. I’d been dealing, through the wonderful Ais in our Community Liaison Office, with a boat company in Cholpon-Ata. That location was much farther away from the swim start point that the company I’d ended up going with, but at the time I had no choice. Finding a boat company isn’t as easy as searching the internet. I used a group here called Community-Based Tourism (CBT) to get a contact to that boat company. But even before that, in my talks with Akhmed, I’d come up empty. When he crossed in the ’80’s and ’90’s, the Russians provided him two coast guard cutters; He had no idea where to get a boat.
The Cholpon-Ata company went back and forth on renting me the small boat or the big boat. Prices were double, and occupancy more (10-person vs. 25-person). I went back and forth with them on not needing the big boat ($1000+). It was only a couple weeks before my chosen date that they told me I had to rent the bigger boat. They cited safety concerns. I can’t argue that, of course. At first I thought they were just pushing for more money from me, but they gave us a contact for a boat captain in Balykchy. A captain with the same exact small boat, in a location significantly closer to both Bishkek and the swim start/finish. So the Cholpon-Ata folks remains a good choice in my eyes.
After Ais got in contact with Kurbat, the boat captain in Balykchy, everything for the boat started falling into place. Hell, the swim started falling into place. I wish I could have arranged with them a 2- or 3-day period for the swim, but I was trying to keep expenses down and I was asking folks on my crew to take time off of work, so I had that to consider. Reviewing it now, I am sure that some or maybe even all of them would have been okay staying through Sunday instead of just Saturday, and if I’d have postponed the swim on Friday and swum on Saturday instead, I might have made it a bit farther due to no winds or waves. Lesson learned.
Cold water acclimation. CANNOT BE UNDERESTIMATED. I had thought my swimming in a 66F pool in 55F air temp was good enough. Uh, no. Not by a long shot. But the thought of sitting in a cold tub doesn’t excite me either. I just don’t know about this. Granted, I don’t intend on trying this again next year when the water is 13C, so perhaps I’ll be okay? When we were at the lake in July this year, the water was consistently 20-21C and I never concerned myself with the temp while swimming there. So maybe if I try this in July next year, a time when all the locals say the water will be in the low 20’s, I won’t have to worry about acclimation? Now that I know the hotel in Balykchy, I’m thinking next year I might take some short 3-day weekend trips to the lake to get some swims in prior to the “big” swim in July.
Equipment. I think I had enough equipment and good enough equipment for this swim. A few issues popped up though. I brought along my homebrewing thermometer. It’s floatable, but it’s made of glass. At one point into my swim, the crew broke the thermometer. I have a plastic floating thermometer in my pool, but the temperature is off a bit; it measures about 2C above what the homebrewing thermometer says. I have reason to believe the beer thermometer is measuring correctly, so I took that instead of the pool one to the lake.
Day before the swim we went to the beach I intended on landing at. I put the thermometer in the water and got a reading of 16C. Plenty “warm” enough for me. And it felt fine wading in the water. But I wonder if maybe I didn’t let the thermometer sit in the water long enough? Or maybe that side of the lake is warmer, and it being around 3.00pm when we were there, perhaps the lake had warmed up throughout the day? Next time, I’ll bring the pool thermometer (not like I have another!) and let it sit for a while. Lesson learned.
Now for internet. We discovered that the best you can do in the middle of the lake is 2G. Nothing we can do about that, except that next year I’ll make sure everyone who wants to follow me has access to my FB. Or I’ll change my privacy settings just for the swim so whoever wants to follow me can. My son was able to update my FB on my phone with mobile data set, but not on the computer. That was a waste of equipment. Lesson learned.
GPS, SpotGen and the like. Not sure it’s worth it for me to buy a SpotGen. Besides the initial price, you have to subscribe for something like 50 bucks annually. But when’s the next time I’ll do a swim like this? Maybe I can find someone with one and borrow it? SpotGen would be the easiest way of broadcasting my location to those who want to know.
Nutrition. I think my nutrition plan was fine. For an 8 mile swim I don’t need much. I tried out the UCAN in my pool a few times prior, and my stomach was ok on it. And my energy level was fine. I just couldn’t stomach anything. It must have been the waves that nauseated me. If the waves are unavoidable next year, perhaps I’ll take a motion sickness pill first. If that’s allowed. I’ll have to check the MSF rules.
Related to nutrition is health. Just last night, a Russian couple told me that the lake is not ecologically pristine and thus not healthy (there’s no fish in the lake, apparently). Their suggestion is one I’ve heard from doctors, as well as locals: prior to swimming, drink a shot of vodka. I did get incredibly ill two days after the swim which the embassy doc attributes to the lake water I ingested. Next year I very well may take a shot of vodka prior to the jump.
Logs, crew and observers. Due to a scheduling conflict, Akhmed wasn’t able to make it as observer. Chris took up that mantle. With two others on a crew of four sick, it was a bit much for Chris to both be observer and crew chief and photographer. Lesson learned.
Timing. I know I mentioned it before, but I really think next year I’m going to set aside a three-day window. Kurbat was really positive after my attempt and he and his crew mentioned several times they expect to see me next year. With that in mind, maybe I can arrange the window. My only concern would be his fee. We’ll see.
OK, so that’s all I got for now.
I know I promised this earlier, but I’ve been sick. I was sick as a dog on Sunday, pain in the stomach and moving to the back. Lay down in bed and whine to the wife kind of sick. My swim was on Friday and this was Sunday, so certainly couldn’t be Issyk Kul’s water, right? Well, doctor I am not. Chris C., my crew chief-cum-observer (more on that later) is also a physician’s assistant. He said it is very possible that my stomach ailment could be linked to the lake water I ingested.
So, why not till Wednesday? Well, Sunday wasn’t the only day. The pain simply lessened as the days have gone by. Today is the first day I’ve felt okay to eat anything and, more importantly, drink a beer. For the past three days I’ve barely eaten anything because the thought of it made me want to vomit. Today, however, I’ve eaten well and felt good about it.
OK, all that as caveat to this blog entry. This is my review of the swim. Tomorrow I’ll (try to) go over lessons learned from the swim. Thank you dear reader(s) for the support you’ve given me on this endeavor. [Anything in brackets is from the observer log.]
The crew. OK, so the observer didn’t pan out. Akhmed Anarbaev had to be in Bishkek on Friday for a memorial to a friend of his. (At some point during the swim, he called the boat captain to wish me luck.) So Chris stepped up to be the observer. Chris is a retired Army special forces medic, too, so that is another reason to have him on the boat. Talas was my interpreter, Kyrgyz-Russian-English. Olesya was another medical professional. Despite no bathroom on the boat, she agreed to help out. She’s a chiropractor-massage therapist-physical therapist. And finally, my son Sam, our social media expert. The boat captain was Kurbat, his son, Bakyt, was first mate and Aman was the boat’s engineer.
Before the swim: The logistics was a nightmare. Suffice it to say, the boat captain I got was not the original one I thought I had for the weeks leading up to the attempt. But I’ll tell you one thing: Kurbat will be my captain (oh, captain) for any attempts I do on the western side of the lake. He’s great! I met with him on the Sunday prior and he showed me the boat and answered all questions. I felt very comfortable, safety-wise, for my crew and myself.
The other logistical detail was a place to stay. Unless you’re hitting the major cities along the lake, you’re stuck with guest houses, usually run by an old babushka, normally seen sitting by the side of the road during the summer with a sign that reads “Rooms for rent” with a note on whether or not a bathroom or shower is included. Balykchy is pretty small, but there is a nice resort-type hotel there, the Aliya hotel. Olya, the very nice owner/manager/housemistress took care of our every need. We also met her on the Sunday prior and she was very excited to hear I’d be bringing about 10 folks to the swim. (Ended up we brought 12 and got 500som, about $8, which translates to 25% off.) So excited that she called Talas twice during last week to make sure we were coming. And she called him the morning of to make sure we left Bishkek!
The swim. The hotel was great and we got all crew details figured out the night before the swim. Due to typical afternoon winds, the captain wanted us to be on the boat and chugging to the south side by 0500. That meant an early wake-up Friday morning. I of course couldn’t sleep past about 0250, and just lay there thinking positively about the swim. Trying to ignore the windy sounds I heard outside. At 0430 I gave up trying to sleep and got up and got ready.
We dragged all our crap down to the pier at 0445. Olya ensured one of her workers was up and ready to unlock the gates of the resort so we could just walk straight onto the boat. “My God, it’s full of stars!” I said of the sky as I was walking to the pier. There is so little background light in Balykchy I saw stars I hadn’t seen in decades, since camping in the Texas hill country in the ’70s. So damn beautiful I cudda watched the sky the entire boat ride! If it weren’t so damn cold!
Yes, it was cold and windy. That worried me. I stayed in the cabin and tried to nap. I went over the social media plan with Sam. The trip to the south side was incredibly rocky. Half my crew went outside for air. My son took a motion sickness pill. I was fine as far as that was concerned. The darkness slowly yielded to dawn and we slowly got to the other side of the lake. I changed into my swim suit and put on my cap and goggles. Next, I slathered Desitin A+D on my underarms, threw my t-shirt back on and sat down. My son updated the blog and FB with our status. I drank my 10oz of chocolate UCAN with a bit of warm water in it (like a warm cup of chocolate!) and ate a banana.
Chris, my crew chief, poked his head in and said it was time to go. I left the cabin and saw the shore about 400m away. “I can’t swim that far!” I said. Everyone looked at me. Uh, aren’t you about to swim 8 miles, was on their faces! I really have no idea. Do other swimmers jump in and go a quarter mile to their start? Is that normal? Thankfully, Chris had blown up the kayak and had it in the water, ready for me to jump in and be paddled to shore.
We realized much later that Chris & Co. forgot to inflate the floor of the kayak. He was kneeling behind me, his knobbly protuberances acting as a keel, turning the kayak to the right no matter which side he was paddling on. We ended up just riding the waves (a bad sign indeed!) to the shore. My one adjustment to the MSF rules was that I could wear scuba shoes from the beach. Those damn pebbles and my sensitive feet.
In the water! The water felt cold, but really not much colder than I’d been in before, to include my pool. Plus I was hyped up, which probably helped. Chris got some pictures. He thought. (Turned out he was taking video.) I told the boat to look for me to raise both arms then sound the horn. I didn’t waste any time. Arms up, horn tooted, in the water I went. [Swim started at 0718.]
It was a long walk. The boat couldn’t get close because of the shallowness, and I must admit I probably walked about 100 meters before I could swim. It was cold, indeed. Skin-feeling-hot kinda cold. I caught up to Chris in the kayak, doffed my shoes, then put my head down and swam to the boat. Once I got there, Bakyt, the captain’s son, started pointing to my left. Whoops! I was swimming east instead of north. I put my head down and got to work.
The first feed [at 0758] was practice for the crew. [Distance traveled 1.52km.] They threw out the Nalgene bottle on its 20 feet of rope only to forget to tell the captain to stop moving forward. So by the time I got the bottle, the rope went taut and I had to drop it as I didn’t want to be dragged/helped/DN’d. I caught back up with it and drank as much as I could, threw it back shipward, then put my head down and swam.
[At this point I’m going a solid 58 strokes per minute. Water temperature was 13C and air temp was 10C. Swells were one to two feet.]
Between feed 1 and 2 the water warmed up. [No it didn’t, it was still 13C.] The sun was out and wonderful. The water literally warmed up, feeling a good 2C warmer than the start. It’s at this point that I thought, “Oh, this swim is in the bag! It’ll take me longer than I planned due to the waves, but this water temp is great.”
A very short time later, after staring at the sun while breathing for the umpteenth time, I asked for a google change. That took longer than I’d hoped but I got them properly seated and never needed to mess with them again. [Time: 0810. 1.88km traveled. I told Chris I feel like I’m in a washing machine.] The waves started picking up and I knew I would miss my typical 3K per hour pace. The waves were coming at me from the side, but from the left, which is great because I breath right.
There around feed 2 (I was feeding every 30 min) I started to realize I was full. Or, at least, it felt like my stomach was full of liquids. I didn’t want to drink. I also around this time felt the need to pee, but just couldn’t. I’d slow my feet down, only to start to sink completely, so I’d kick again and then have to start my concentration again. I gave up, figuring when I really needed to pee I would. [Crew said wind was 14m/sec.]
Waves were getting really bad over an hour in. Bad enough that on some stroke cycles I’d almost get flipped over onto my right side when the wave and breathing timed perfectly. It was disconcerting. I also started feeling the cold. So much for those 2 degrees. It obviously dropped significantly. Hands began cramping.
I couldn’t really drink anything at feed #3. Water went into my mouth and I just spit it out. I tried to imbibe some, but it really made me nauseous. My mouth was starting to get numb and my knuckles needed cracking, at least that’s what it felt like. I just told myself to swim to the next feed and re-evaluate. [Mike says “I’m cold.” Due to waves hitting port beam of boat, quite a bit of roll to the boat. Table in the cabin flipped over several times. Thermometer broke. Wind steady at 12 knots. Stroke rate down to 52. He still hasn’t peed.]
That’s what I did. I started to worry at this point. I didn’t want to know how far I’d gone, nor look to the destination. I was also starting to worry about my crew; several times I saw the bottom of the boat due to a wave knocking it around. I also saw the boat dip into the water and submerge the deck. That kind of helped in that I didn’t want to be on that boat at that point. But I also saw two of my crew laying down, looking like they were in pain. Still, I didn’t let that decide for me. I knew they were better off than I was. They had two doctors on board, plus they were warm. [Talas and Olesya were sick for hours from the rocking boat.]
Feed 4 was brutal. [Mike told observer “The waves are beating me up” and “I don’t think I can do it.” Observer told Mike “You’ve only been swimming two hours” and asked Mike “What’s your longest swim?” After he answered “4 something” observer told him “You’ve only been swimming half that time.” 4.5km traveled.] I didn’t drink anything, just spit it out.
Feed 5 went nowhere. I don’t even remember if they threw me anything. Might as well have not stopped. I got nothing out of that feed. I wish I could have thrown up. I probably would have felt better and might have lasted longer. At that point I was ready to throw in the towel, but my crew kept me in the water. Not that they forced me. They used all the techniques I asked them to and it worked.
For another minute or so. I couldn’t stop shaking. I hadn’t yet gotten to the point where I didn’t know my name or that I was married to Heidi Klum. But I knew I couldn’t go the distance. I told Chris it was time for me to get out. He made me say my safe word. When I said “armadillo” he helped get me out of the water. Swim done. [4.7km traveled in 2 hours, 31 minutes, 59 seconds. So made it a little over a third of the way.]
Apres-swim. They immediately wrapped me in two wool blankets. Shivering unstoppable. So cold and sick. I didn’t want to move. Chris gave me a Nalgene bottle filled with hot water, which I hugged to my chest. Damn did that ever feel good. Pictures were taken, hugs were given. I stayed wrapped up. Boat started chugging to shore, through very rocky water. About 5 minutes later I threw off my wool blankets and had a wonderful puke session all over the side of the boat. Wow, that felt awesome. Really awesome.
The trip back felt like it took two hours. I stayed wrapped up, and when the doc (chiropractor, physical therapist and massage therapist all rolled into one!) felt better (she was also motion sick), she massaged blood back into my legs and arms. I’m not really much for massage, but that did a number on me. I started to warm up. Shivers stopped. I fell asleep.
Apparently, at some point, a fierce game of rock-paper-scissors (lizard-spock) ensued, and the poor doc lost. Therefore, I woke to find my feet on her bare stomach. She was worried that my feet (and hands) were not warming up. Unbeknownst to her, my feet and hands are always colder than the rest of me. No problem. Cold hands warm heart, right?!
We got back to the pier and there were my cheerleaders. These guys were great. They came all the way out to the lake simply to stand on the beach near Toru-Aygyr to cheer me into the beach. I couldn’t have asked for more. It was awesome to see them on the pier. I really wish I could have made it to that beach. They had a bonfire planned!
We all made it back to the hotel and had a debrief. Chris went through the pictures and video for the benefit of the cheerleaders (and those on the boat who were sick and missed some of my swim). At 1330 I took a sauna. Olya opened up her sauna to me for no charge, and Talas and I spent about a half hour in the extreme heat. Damn did it feel good, and got the final shivers out of my system.
I had arranged a plov dinner for everyone that night which turned out great. The hotel arranged it for us and we had a huge 100+ person hall all to ourselves. Conciliatory rather than celebratory, but my team made me feel like a winner anyway!
The next morning when we left Balykchy, lake Issyk Kul was laughing at me.
OK, home from Balykchy. Uploaded my GPS data and saved the screen shot so I can do this quick blog entry.
Tomorrow I’ll compose a lessons learned and in-depth swim review. I still love that damn lake so much. But boy oh boy did I learn a little bit about timing, dammit. Look at the picture from 1000 this morning:
1323: Back at the hotel. Swim did not go well. A measly 4.6km over 2:31. 13C water temp and hug swells combined to give me nausea and the unstoppable shivers. A good puking session on the boat ride back took care of one problem, and Dr. Oleysa, chiropractor extraordinaire on my crew, massaged blood back into my extremities. Full write up after my visit to the sauna. (BTW, internet on the boat was crap (2G!), so my son switched to updating FB on his phone.)
25 Sept, 0510: On the boat! We are currently at 42.44979N 076.20469E
23 Sept: Friday will be the day. It starts at 05.00 when we load the boat. That’s 17.00 Thursday for my eastern time zone reader(s); 14.00 Thursday for those in California. That should be when my son starts blogging here. My swim should start around 07.00. My boy will update this post with my location and anything else blog-worthy.
I’ll take this time now to thank all my volunteers. I could not have done this without you. Thank you. Спасибо. Рахмат.
So, Talas and I went to Balykchy today to check out the boat, meet the Captain, and walk through the hotel. All in all a good day. So, starting with the boat:
There she is. The Appak. Not sure what that means (damn, shudda asked). She’s plenty big for my crew.
Below my feet is a cabin fit for 8-10, with a table to eat at. Under the tarp are padded seats for 4 (comfortable) or 8 (squished). Behind those two white benches at the very back is a platform from which I’ll jump into the water.
And speaking of the water, it felt so nice today. I didn’t have time to put a swim in; I had to get back to Bishkek. But I dipped my hands into the water at a few places. Felt warmer than my pool, honestly.
Here’s the Captain’s map for my swim.
From the Nile-delta-looking land mass in the south, north to the little red circle in the middle of the map. About 13 and a smidge kilometers. The red circle to the west on the map by the Captain’s thumb is where the Appak is berthed.
Starting at 5am, we’re all getting on the boat and heading over to the southern shore. Captain said it should take 1:40. He wants me done by noon, when the winds show up and make the swim a little tougher. I saw today how the wind really got the lake moving, and it was at around 13.00 that the wind was going crazy.
The Captain’s made it even easier for me and my crew. The hotel we’re staying at is right on the water in Balykchy. There’s a pier at the hotel, and the Captain said he’d be waiting at the pier at 05.00 on Friday morning. That’s bright and early ladies and gentlemen. And we’ll be live-blogging it here!
That feeling you get when you jump into cold water? That shortening of breath, the waking up of your capillaries? The cold feeling on your skin that is almost burning hot? Well, there’s a word for that. And the word is curglaff.
Yes, Mr. Computer, I see that squiggly red line under the word. I know it is not in your dictionary. But neither are so many other cool English words, like dasypygal and groak. Or jirble (which I am accused of often) and snoutfair (which I’m never accused of, sadly). All fun and cool words.
But none so appropriate to the majority of marathon swimmers than curglaff. What a great word.