Michael Tyson - Lake Issyk Kul

Kara-Talaa to Toru-Aygyr

13.5 km (8.4 miles)

6 hours, 2 minutes on 6 July 2016

Observed and documented by Christopher Carson



  • Name: Michael Tyson
  • Gender: male
  • Age on swim date: 49
  • Nationality: United States
  • Resides: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Support Personnel

  • Chris Carson: observer, medical
  • Olesya Pakseleva: medical
  • Kurbat: pilot
  • Bakyt: 1st mate
  • Sam Tyson: social media
  • Maggie Tyson: feeds
  • Talas Isaev: all-around support
  • Sarah d’Antoni: support swimmer; observing for her own swim the following month

Escort Vessel: Appak (Balyckchy)

Swim Parameters

  • Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
  • Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
  • Equipment used: Swim cap, goggles, swim shorts.

Route Definition

Kara-Talaa to Toru-Aygyr


No known previous swims of this route. Other Lake Issyk Kul swims listed at LongSwimsDB.

Swim Data

  • Start: 6 July 2016, 06:51 (Asia/Bishkek, UTC+6).
  • Finish: 6 July 2016, 12:53
  • Elapsed: 6 hours, 2 minutes.

Summary of Conditions

Feature Min Max
Water Temp (C) 18 19
Air Temp (C) 19 30
Wind (knots) 0 1

GPS Track

Trackpoint frequency: 30 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).

Speed Plot

Nutrition: 4oz water with koolaid flavoring, every 20 min after first hour.

Observer Log

Download PDF


Planning for this swim started way back last year (2015) after my DNF trying to swim this same route. Last year, due to logistics issues, I couldn’t attempt the swim until the end of September, when the water was cold (for me) at 13C. I learned a lot about organizing a swim like this in Kyrgyzstan, which helped inform me and the crew for the swim this year. Many moons ago, the Ambassador offered me the use of her pool. That came at the perfect time, as swimming at the indoor place was getting tougher. Calypso Aqua Club has a two lane pool (with a side section for kids and grandmas) which they’ve turned into a three-lane pool. A really skinny three-lane pool. The only good times (read: fairly empty) to go were between 1000-1400. Hard to get away from the office and put in enough time. Especially when I’d show up and all lanes would be full with grandmas and their swim noodles not wanting their hair to get wet. Hard to do serious laps in such a skinny lane.

So, an indoor pool all my own came at a great time. It is small, so I would have to use straps around my ankles, which I am a big fan of if you’re stuck with small pools. I shared the pool with the Ambassador and one other woman in the American diplomatic community, and it was a perfect relationship. I managed to get plenty of swimming in. I averaged 7000 meters per week in the 25 weeks prior to the swim, counting an hour of non-stop strap-swimming as 2500 meters. That’s not a lot for most marathon swimmers, but we must consider that for the last two weeks prior to swim-week, I only swam once each week. My elbow started to give me troubles. (I have arthritis pretty bad in my right elbow from an injury years (and years) ago.) I was afraid that my elbow would flare up during the swim; the pain can be described as a stabbing pain every time one bends the elbow. That’s serious especially when you love drinking beer.

So, take those two weeks out and the average goes up a bit, closer to 8000 meters per week. I also had a good “heavy” week of 18K about 6 weeks out from the swim. I think that helped prepare me for this swim. I like to at least swim the distance plus (depending upon race distance, I aim for 1 to 1.5 times the distance) about a month out from the swim. The swim being 13+K, my 18K week was sufficient to prepare the body. I needed a good long time “horizontal.” I only had one 2-hour swim prior to the big swim. Probably could have used a 3-hour swim prior, but I can’t argue with the results!

Timing-wise, I was thinking July 4th. Wouldn’t it have been great to shoot off fireworks after my success?! Unfortunately, I had to work on July 4th, so that wouldn’t work. Also, I wanted to have a window of possible swim days, instead of choosing one day weeks out and then having to stick to it, like last year. Thankfully, the boat Captain (Kurbat) was so impressed that a foreigner wanted to swim his lake last year, that when Talas called him to beg for a three-day window for my swim, he responded: “The boat is Mike’s for as many days as he needs” (only in Kyrgyz, not English). Wonderful! So I picked 6-8 July, with 5 July as the travel out day and 9 July as the travel back day.

For lodging for me and my crew, I chose the Hotel Aliya again. They took care of us last September, so I decided to stick with them. The hotel is in a good location in Balykchy, right next to where the boat captain berths Appak, and with a wonderful beach and pier. Great place for people to hang out while I’m swimming the lake. Unfortunately, Olya, the wonderful lady who took care of us last year, no longer worked at the hotel. No matter; the owners were great; they and their daughters took care of us well. The crew was easy. Most all of the same folks from last year wanted to come back and see me succeed. Added to the crew was my 16-year old daughter, Maggie, and the Peace Corps volunteer Sarah, former college swimmer who will destroy my time for this same route in August!

We drove out to the lake on 5 July, checking in rather late (4pm or so). Once the entire crew was there, we took a trip to the beach where I planned to end the swim, so my wife could see how to get there. (Plan was for my wife and youngest to meet me there at the beach, and be there for others from the embassy who might want to come see my swim.)

After the trip to the beach we went back to the hotel to eat. Dinner wasn’t too good, but I did manage to stick to my low-carb diet. After dinner, we rallied in the hotel lobby by our rooms and discussed the plan. I went over the rules of marathon swimming, and pulled out all the equipment, much of it different from the previous year.

Last year, the plan was for my son, Sam, to update my FB with my location and how I was doing. We brought our internet router on the boat and thought we’d have internet. Well, we learned that in the middle of the lake, the best you could do is 2G. My son last year did his best using up data on my phone to update people, but it wasn’t enough.

This year, I got a SpotGen and linked it to the MSF’s track.rs application. This turned out to be a wonderful choice. Due to the GPS, we didn’t have to worry about internet; all we needed was for the little orange wonder to see clear sky. Family and friends from around the world told me they were able to easily follow me.

OK, so back to the equipment discussion. I brought along a solar panel (Goal Zero Nomad 7) and battery pack (Goal Zero Venture 30). I wanted to be ready for any contingency. The battery could power a couple phones, and even more important, it could keep the GPS alive. I went over how I wanted everything to go. I reminded the crew about my safe word. Other personal rules: Never tell me how far I’ve gone or for how long. If I ask for my distance, then I have to use my safe word. In this case, if I’m over half done, go ahead and tell me. If I’m not half done, lie to me. I also made sure everyone on the boat knew that only my observer, embassy doc Chris, could end my swim. (Well, technically, I could by using the safe word and persuading Chris that I was serious. But Chris told me that this year if I asked to quit, he’d just flip me off and tell the boat to speed off.)

Discussion went well and we broke off to go to the local grocery store to get food and treats for my crew. Bought a metric crap-ton of water along with carb-crap for the crew. I got my sausages and cheese, should I need any food. We got back to the hotel at around 10pm. With a 4:30 wake-up, I was ready to hit the sack. I read for a little bit, then fell asleep around 11pm. Then promptly woke up again at midnight. Even with melatonin I was having trouble sleeping. Thankfully, I can sleep on the boat to the start the next morning, right?!

I woke at about 4:30 Wednesday morning, after a fitful 4 hours of sleep. (Maybe.) Woke my kids and wife up, and put on some shorts, grabbed my stuff, and left the room. My crew were already downstairs in the parking lot getting the gear together. The boat and crew were waiting for us at the pier.

We all got on the boat, but not before accomplishing the most important pre-swim ritual of jumpography.

We got on the boat and I proceeded to set myself up in the cabin for the ~2 hour trip to the south side of the lake. I knew I needed to rest…my nerves and my body.

Tried my best to sleep, and I think I even got some right before arriving at the launch point. I asked the crew to wake me 30 minutes prior to launch. All of a sudden Chris came into the cabin and told me to wake up. So of course I laid down to sleep more. Then about 5 minutes later I thought I better get up, so I asked my daughter to go ask the captain how close we were. She came back a minute later to tell me only 10 more minutes. I got up, warned Sarah of the impending nudity (she ran out of the cabin quickly), and changed into my suit. I put my cap and goggles on and Maggie slathered me in sun screen. Next up came the baby butt cream (fancy people call it diaper rash ointment) under my arms and around my neck. By the time we were done with this, I headed out and Chris was ready with the kayak. Kayaking took only a couple minutes to get us to shore. Plan was for me to get feet-dry and then raise both arms when I’m ready. My feet were dry in no time.

So, the swim began at 0651. The water felt good. I learned later that it was 18C, pretty much throughout the swim. Of course, the swim began as they always do. Me wondering why I signed up to do this. Why I spent countless (obviously not true as I counted for the last blog entry) hours in the pool. Why I voluntarily thrust myself into cold water at about a mile above sea level to swim for hours and hours. But, like I said, this is how my swims always begin (and talking to others, this is how their swims begin too). I told my crew I wanted to swim the first hour without any feeds. I had been training that way for some time, so I was ready and able to go without for an hour. First feed came up and Chris accidentally told me how far I’d gone. I yelled at him (sorry Chris!) and he never again told me.

At an hour and a half, I was still thinking “Why am I doing this?” Normally, that feeling is way gone by this point. On the positive side, I was peeing, which is important. (Last year, I never peed, and the doc and I think that might have helped me get nauseous.)

By 9am, the air temp was 21.6C. No wind and still overcast, with flat water. Only thing I wished for was the sun to come out. It peeked every once in a while, and it is amazing how much that does for one’s psyche. While the water remained 18C, there were cold spots that would bring my spirits down. Again, why the hell am I doing this?

But all the support I got leading up to this swim, not to mention the tough love I received from a very experienced marathon swimmer, kept me going. I didn’t want to fail anyone. And really, what’s 5 hours or so? I’ve done almost that much before.

At feed 5 is when I asked for some ibuprofen. My elbow started niggling me. I was really afraid that damn arthritis would knock me out. I was kind of keeping up with my timing based on the feeds, so I figured I was at about half done with the swim. Could I keep this up with a bum elbow? A bit later the sun started to come out. The ibuprofen was mixed in feeds 6-8, and must have done the trick because I didn’t think about my elbow again after feed 7. My support swimmer and future Issyk Kul swimmer Sarah entered the water at some point. She was way off to my right, and swimming so easily I immediately felt bad for her. With Sarah came the sun. It was glorious! So nice to feel warmth on my back. The sun kept me going for the rest of the swim.

Sarah continued heads-up breast next to me for a while. What a motivator! It really did help to have a friend in the water. Almost an hour later Chris jumped in to take some underwater shots. The water in the lake is so buoyant that his plan to take some underwater shots of me were for naught.

Feed number 11 was only water at my request. I’d had enough of Crystal Lite Mojito and Cherry-Pomegranate. Feed 12 I waved off. But right after waving off, I stopped and asked Chris if he had brownies on the boat. “No, back at the hotel.” Damn. (You see, Chris had brought a gallon-sized bag of dark chocolate brownies to Balykchy.) Being LCHF, I of course avoided them the night before (lie). But, at this point in the swim, I was so tired of the minerally lake water. I needed something. I don’t think I was hungry (wrong); I just needed to rinse my mouth.

Also by this point I started seeing trees coming up. I saw Talas and Sarah on the boat looking through binoculars, so assumed that my wife and daughter were on the beach waiting for me.

Sure enough, they were on the beach waiting for me. I just couldn’t get to them. Seemed I’d never get to them. The trees just looked the same…forever and ever. At this point I made the mistake of starting to sight ahead of me. When Chris came out in the kayak, I knew I must have been pretty close, but still it never seemed to end. Probably because I was going so damn slow.

Look how slow I got toward the end there. I just wanted this damn swim done.

Once I could stand, I popped a squat and had a great pee. Turns out if I hadn’t done that, I would have finished the swim in under six hours. Chris had gotten there and was ready to stop the clock when I was feet-dry. The minute I got up on the beach, my wife and daughter came over and gave me hugs. Unluckily for the girl, she had a bag of shashlik-flavored chips in her hand. I must have looked at it hungrily enough that she gave the bag to me. Those carb bombs tasted so damn good. I spent very little time on the beach. I really wanted to get back to the boat and back to the hotel.

So, the swim was done and I was back on the boat. I had my daughter’s bag of chips, and some other bag of diabetes I was stuffing into my pie-hole at an alarming rate. Never did chips and crackers taste so good.

I was warm and happy and ready for the hour-or-so trip back to Balykchy. But when you’ve got a chiropractor-massage therapist on board, there’s no rest. Against my protestations, I was ordered to lie down and accept my fate.

Pain! But later that pain turned to comfort, especially in the legs. When I was coming into the beach to finish the swim, and popped a squat to take care of Mother Nature’s call, my calves cramped up something fierce. Once Olesya started working on my legs, I fell asleep. Next thing I know we are at the pier and the weather had turned. Clouds and heavy winds. Perfect timing on my part! The wind started picking up, clouds came rolling in and it looked like rain to the north by the mountains. We got back to the pier where a bunch of Kyrgyz kids were swimming and enjoying themselves, the embassy folks were taking pictures, and a gaggle of Kyrgyz men came to congratulate me.

After all the pictures, we headed back up to the hotel. At this point, the wonderful embassy folks who came all the way out to see me had to return to Bishkek. 5 hours (minimum) there and back just to hang out for a few minutes to congratulate me. How awesome is that? I’ve got the best co-workers.


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