Iron Mike's Marathon Swims Just another MSF Blogs site

As if I needed a reason

December 8, 2014 | 2015 Season | Permalink

I’ve been a member of USMS for a while now, and I’ve been happy. They’ve given me insurance when I needed it. Their swim meets are fun. SWIMMER magazine, at least until the wonderful H2Open came around, was not half bad.

The best part of USMS membership is when you’re swimming with a club. Or when you’re traveling. I’ve “used” my membership at Ft Bragg when I was traveling, and worked out with the Ft Bragg masters for a week, without paying anything.

But as I’m about 8000 miles from the closest USMS club, I thought I’d save some bucks in 2015 by not rejoining. “But IronMike, what if you do any of those European open water swims that require national federation membership for insurance purposes,” you might ask, dear reader(s). Well, that’s a good point. Upon further investigation, turns out I won’t need that for a lot of OW swims I can attend. And I can always join at the last minute if there’s a swim I can’t live without, as USMS sends you a virtual membership card immediately.

So I decided I’ll save the money this coming year. Then today I read the following from USMS:

According to new rule 302.2.2A, an open water swim shall not begin if the water temperature is less than 60°F (15.6°C) unless heat-retaining swimwear is required of all swimmers. A swim in which heat-retaining swimwear is required of all swimmers shall not begin if the water temperature is less than 57°F (13.9°C). For swims of three miles or more, the swim shall not begin if the water temperature exceeds 29.45°C (85°F).

As if I needed another reason to not join USMS. Talk about not OW-friendly, or marathon swimmer friendly. The above is for swims that want USMS insurance (which already is quite expensive and onerous). Many swim organizers have gone to other organizations for that (WOWSA is one I can think of off the top of my head).

What USMS has declared in the above is just crazy. Everyone knows the true test (and sometimes prerequisite) for channel swims is 6 hours in sub-60°F. This new rule by USMS is a blatant move against marathon swimmers (not just cold water swimmers, I’d say). And to say that no swim will happen at all, wetsuit or not, if the water is below 57°F is just mind-boggling. What the hell? OW swimmers do this quite often. It’s called acclimatization. And what about the upper end? I’ve been in pools hotter than that, and it sucks. I hope that upper end rule stands for indoor pools, too.

When asked to comment, the fair-weather swimmers at USMS stated that

[t]he rationale for these changes are due to athlete safety. This proposal aims to reduce significantly the risks from thermal issues from swimming in water that is dangerously cold or hot for most United States Masters Swimming members, but allows some flexibility for those who choose to swim in wetsuits. The United States Masters Swimming open water swimmer population, taken as a whole, are typically not elite athletes, in general do not acclimatize, spend more time (in some cases, much more time) in the water, have more health-related problems, and are much more likely to be using medications which can alter their adaptability.

OK, so using this rationalization, perhaps USMS should make some adjustments for the elite athletes among its population. Perhaps a 1-second delayed start per 50m in the pool? 20 minute delay for the elites in the USMS Open Water National Championship 10K? How to determine elite? Well, if you were on a national team for one. Maybe if you were in the top-3 in the event the previous year?  Yep, silly. My point.

I think their reasons for forcing wetsuits on us in a 3 degree range are wrong, misguided and ignorant. Instead of treating their clientele as adults (USMS is defined, after all, as “organized adult swimming”), they are deciding for us, deciding that our acclimatization is not sufficient, our hard work not satisfactory to carry us through 10 kilometers (or more) of cold water. And oh, we OW swimmers are all old and on meds, and too stupid to figure out we shouldn’t swim while on depressants. Thanks USMS. Good-bye. I’ll stick with MSF.

I’m all for the higher end limitation, however. RIP Fran Crippen.

The pool is full…again

December 7, 2014 | Humor | Permalink

Dear reader(s), those of you who are still sticking with me despite my infrequent posts, know that I wrote a blog entry a bit ago with a similar title. Here it is again if you missed it. (Go ahead. I’ll wait.)

Well, the pool is full again…with ice. Apparently here in Kyrgyzstan, they treat outdoor pools here with a string of half-filled plastic coke bottles. I don’t know the science behind it, but I’m guessing when the water freezes, the space in the bottle shrinks to make space for the expansion of the ice. But that’s my non-scientific explanation, and it’s purely a guess.

What do you think?

frozen pool

Finally, a real long-distance unassisted swim

October 25, 2014 | Iconic marathon swim, Spirit of Marathon Swimming | Permalink

So, finally, we have a no-shit, unassisted, observed, longest-distance swim on the record. Chloë McCardel, 29-year old awesome open water swimmer, on 23 October walked onto the beach in Nassau, Bahamas after swimming 42.5 (yes, forty-two and a half) hours from the southern tip of the island of Eleuthera, covering 124/5* kilometers.

Read that paragraph again, and find the important word(s). If you said unassisted, observed, and longest, then give yourself a gold star.

Chloë swam unassisted, meaning she had no special suit, no special mask, no fins, no jumping on the boat during lightning.  Chloë was observed by someone known to the marathon swim community, and independent of Chloë and her “machine”, one Mr. Dave Barra, marathon swimmer extraordinaire himself. And when we see his observer’s notes, I’m sure we’ll see details about Chloë’s swim, details seriously lacking in other recent attempts. Chloë’s swim is the longest on record, which can only be said because of the previous two italicized adjectives.

Great job Chloë and I hope you recover soon from your jellyfish stings and your 42.5-hours horizontal in salt-water!

*depending upon whom you read; I may change these numbers once Mr Barra’s observer notes become public. Note I said public, another requirement of a real marathon swim.

The pool is full!

September 19, 2014 | Humor | Permalink

But the weather got cold.

So I’ve written here how the swimming possibilities for me in Bishkek are limited. I’m okay with that. I’m being brave. But what I haven’t really talked about was the pool I have on my property.

Screenshot 2014-09-20 at 04.06.28

Not too shabby, eh?

The pool is about 10m long. I’ve ordered those straps you attach to your feet on one end, then you tie to the fence or run through the skimmers on the other end. They should be here in 2-3 weeks. The pool had to be drained and cleaned first. Yesterday the pool was finally full, cleaning chemicals added, and safe to swim in. That’s when the temperature dropped to the mid-50′s.

I know what my marathon and channel swimming chums would say. “So what?” True. But I’m not jumping in that water until I can strap my feet to the wall and swim. I’m sure the water is comparatively warm (I’ll have to get a pool thermometer), but with nothing to do in the pool that’ll warm me up, I’d freeze.

I’ve told people at work that I’m filling the pool and they think I’m insane. “Well, I have to get some swimming in!” That’s what I say that gets looks. “The water will be cold.” Then I tell them I spent two and a half hours in 13-15C water swimming my first 10K and they really think I lost my mind.



Forced hiatus from swimming

September 6, 2014 | Grand Plan, Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

Well, that sucks. Doesn’t look like I’ll be swimming here in Kyrgyzstan. There are pools, they do exist in this country. There are indoor ones. Also, beautiful outdoor pools. But none can be used for laps.

So during my investigations yesterday, I went to three of the fairly “near” pools to my work and home. One is literally a few steps from my house, perhaps a quarter mile. They have an indoor “sport pool” (спортивный бассейн in Russian), with two whole lanes, about 25m each. $10 to swim more than an hour. I asked about reserving my own lane for a couple hours a couple times a week. Sadly, I have to wait until the manager comes back. When we got there, the indoor part of the aqua-complex was being repaired. In true FSU fashion, the first person I spoke to said the pool would be repaired by the 10th. The second I spoke with said the 15th. By the look of things, they won’t be ready until closer to the 1st of October.

There was a pool with 5 sport lanes, and if I can get there between 11 and 3 during the work week, I’ll have a free lane. Only $10 for 45 minutes. And 30-40 minutes to get there before or after work. Not ideal. Plus, they wouldn’t let me see the pool without paying, you guessed it, $10.

The first pool I went into with my daughter, we were allowed to go walk on the deck to see the pool. After we put little blue plastic slippers over our shoes. Yes, like Russia, you’re not allowed to go into a locker room or pool deck in outside shoes. Even if it’s not snowing outside. They took us to the sport pool, and there I saw some lanes painted on the bottom of the pool, and adults and kids swimming hither and thither. Because there were no lane lines.

Now my Russian is not half bad. I’m told that often by Russian speakers. (Практика, практика, практика.) For what I lack in vocabulary or grammar (G-d damn those verbs of motion), I make up for in my ability to explain with my simple word-stock what I’m trying to say. So I asked about lane lines and lap swim hours. The very nice Kyrgyz woman looked at me, pointed at the pool, and said, “Right now is lap time.”

Oh. Dear. God. Lap time had two old folks noodling (only w/o the noodles) through the lap pool, and a passel of bratty kids swimming wherever the hell they wanted throughout the pool. Pure chaos. Absolute. Oh, and it cost $80 per month for the luxury of twelve 45-minute visits. Sadly, that’s the best price-wise. But the worst, pool-wise.

Fortunately, every one of these pools would be great for the kiddos. They all had indoor “aqua-park” areas, with huge slides, water falls, even a wave pool. So we’ll have a place to go during the cold winter to get the kids some fun. Alas, for dad, not so much.

We’re building a new embassy here, and I’ve heard tell of a pool (a la Embassy Moscow, 15m long) in the new building. I haven’t seen any plans and I doubt something like that would be built in this day and (fiscal) age, but who knows. I’ll hold out hope. But for now, I think I’m going to have to find another physical hobby, and pick marathon swimming back up in the states when we return.

The silliest thing…or is it?

August 28, 2014 | Spirit of Marathon Swimming | Permalink

News came to the marathon swimming world today about magic goggles that’ll take you to the next buoy in a perfectly straight line, no need to sight. Yeah, you read that right. And yes, these are the goggles I’ve been dreaming of for years, although my imaginings include a heads-up display arrow in the goggle always pointing to the next buoy. And of course I’m against them. But should I be?

Basically, what we got here is a pair of goggles that do actually point to the next buoy when you push a button on them. If I understand it correctly, you look to your next buoy, push a button, and then you’ll be guided to that location. If you get off course, it’ll warn you with a yellow or red light in the goggle cup on the side that you’re swimming to.  So if you’re slicing, you can start swimming to the left to get back on course. Once you get to the buoy, look to your next buoy, point the button, swim. Look forward to a logjam at the buoys as all your buddies stop to tread water and click their goggle-mouse.

The immediate response by some in the community was WTF. As well it should be because all the advertising and response has been through the lens of a triathlete (see what I did there?).  Most of the comments on the company’s FB page are from triathletes looking to spend as little time in the water as possible without actually putting effort in to getting better at open water swimming.  But just because triathletes are for it doesn’t mean we should be against it.

Nevertheless…I’m against it.  In races, definitely.  How can directors ensure every swimmer has the same benefit? Should there now be four classes for each sex? Wetsuit with special goggles, wetsuit without, skins with or without?

But what about marathon swim races or solos? Ones in which you have a kayaker who is your eyes and does the navigation for you? How is that different? Some would say these goggles are pretty much the same thing.

Well, they’re not. For one, they violate the spirit of marathon swimming, which states:

Marathon swimmers embrace the challenge of crossing wild, open bodies of water with minimal assistance beyond their own physical strength and mental fortitude. There are ways to make the sport easier, but marathon swimmers consciously eschew them.

An oft-heard adjective among marathon swimmers is unassisted. This in no way means you cannot have pace swimmers, or a kayak or boat to navigate for you. But one category of equipment that is absolutely not allowed is “[w]earable electronic devices that transmit information to the swimmer beyond the time of day and elapsed time” if you are going to claim an unassisted marathon swim. That’s the rules. And these FrankenGoggles (h/t Loneswimmer) aren’t part of these rules we marathon swimmers hold dear.

More Nyad

August 23, 2014 | Uncategorized | Permalink

Experienced marathon swimmer and professor of law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, Hadar Aviram, has recently written an in-depth analysis of the hub-bub resultant after Nyad’s assisted Cuba-to-Florida swim last year and the production of a global standard for marathon swimming; The Rules if you will. It is well worth the read.

Dear reader(s) of my blog know that I was very critical of Nyad’s swim last year. I wrote a bit about her, and even got a new fan of the blog as a result, who spent the time to write me a nice hate-filled compliment!

If you’re not in the mood to read all 55 pages, skip to Parts II and III (after reading the intro that is). If you’re new to my blog and/or marathon swimming, read Part II which will give you a little background.

Dedicated readers will be rewarded with a little surprise in the article with yours truly being quoted. Twice!


Harborfest results

August 20, 2014 | 2014 Season | Permalink

Good news! Results are in for the 5K I did right before departing for Bishkek. Even greater news: I got first place in my age group! How about those apples. I was also the oldest there, so boo-yah!

Now, before you get all impressed, know that my time, according to the website, was 2:15. I think it was more like 2:00; the race started late, so I wonder. Oh well, I knew it wouldn’t be a speedy race with little to no training before it. But wow, what a slow time.

HarborFest Tri Swims 5K

August 11, 2014 | 2014 Season | Permalink

This’ll be a quick after-action report on my 5K yesterday in the waters of the Potomac at National Harbor, MD. BLUF: A great time was had by Iron Mike!

I signed up for this swim in the hopes I’d get one more swim in before departing for Kyrgyzstan AND it would spur me on to swim more. You see, I intended on following the ChickenOSea training plan of 2x per week. I did swim more, at first. Then training began for this assignment, not to mention all the crap that comes with moving a household of six 6500+ miles, and my morning swims at the Y disappeared. So I switched to the “just be active” plan. And I decided the 5K would be purely a training, fun swim.


This happened as we were preparing to jump in. Thankfully, I know the organizer, and he let me run down the pier to where my son was to get another pair.

And it was! It took me forever. I forgot my Garmin and didn’t wear a watch, and the race organizers didn’t tell me my time (granted, I forgot to ask), but I’m thinking somewhere around 2:00. It was 5 laps of 1K each. The first lap hurt, but through it I figured I am always sore the first 1000-1500 of any long workout. Then laps 2-5 felt incredible! No pain, and my navigation was incredible. Way better than ever before. Maybe I should always taper 1-2 months prior to a swim?!

harborfest with lucy

One of my brood and I after the race. She’s a swimmer, too, but prefers backstroke in a pool.

Re: Navigation. Here’s my SOP: I start out by sighting every 6-8 strokes, taking a quick “alligator eyes” glance to ensure I am lined up on the far buoy or landscape feature I’ve pegged as close enough (for the first buoy in National Harbor, you aim for the MacDonald’s).  Then, if I’m dead on 3 glances in a row, I extend it to 10 strokes. If those 3 are good, then 12, and so on to 16. No matter how straight I’m swimming, I stick to 16 because if I go farther my brain starts yelling at me (“You know you’re slicing so you better take a peek!”).  For this race, I was incredibly straight! Each time I looked up I was on target. It was an incredible feeling, especially with my right-side only breathing style (despite my coaching and training bilateral, once I’m “in the zone” I’m a unilateral breather. “Do as I say, dammit, not as I do!”).

So, bottom line, I had a great time. I’m sore as hell today, but that’s to be expected. Boy am I gonna miss open water!


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?