Very occasionally there are posts I don’t want to write. This is one of those posts/series. These posts include details that I would want to know if I was a prospective MIMS swimmer. I know that some people will be unhappy or angry about these posts, others will deny aspects herein. But I’ve always tried to be honest in my posts. Usually that’s at my own expense. If I am happy to tell you about the mistakes I’ve made and stupid things I’ve done in swimming, why would I avoid talking about other’s mistakes? Well, I’ve avoided it because I neither naturally seek nor enjoy confrontation unlike others who seek to provoke confrontation. I wrote this because I felt it had to be done.
I’d prefer to be honest and trusted than to be politic and part of some clique. And if it does all go wrong, if I become this week’s global swimming bad guy, as seems possible, I can always go swimming on the Copper Coast. The jellyfish won’t care.
Background: MIMS is the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim: MIMS started in its current incarnation in the 1990’s; it’s currently the longest amateur swimming race in the world at 28.5 miles, current-assisted; run once a year; open to a limited number of applicants, (previously less than 40); who must undergo a lengthy application and screening process; and which places fill within 30 minutes of going live; to swimmers of a range of speeds from around the world; who must have a minimum of a six hour swim in their resumé. MIMS is also utterly unique in swimming in that its location is entirely in a spectacular urban environment. MIMS costs about $2100 to enter, with possible extra fuel surcharge fees on the day. MIMS is the flagship event run by a private organisation, NYCSwim, which also holds many other open water events of differing distances in the New York region, throughout the year.
Disclaimers: I swam MIMS in 2012, and I have many friends who have also completed it over the years, of a range of speeds. I have friends on the selection committee. All may very well be angry at this post and me. I was contacted by the principle organiser apparently due to my criticism of how NYCSwim handled the dropping of CSA Channel Soloists from Event to Observer qualifying status, (an esoteric problem unless you are a swimmer who has vested interest in this argument). I was also tackled for writing “go as wide as is legal down the Hudson”, something over which I still stand. From the 2013 field, I know or have met fourteen of the forty entrants and had communicated with more. Many of the entrants, both official finishers and boat-assisted, I consider friends. However I am NOT speaking for any of the swimmers but myself and I have not been asked to write this, though I have received feedback and constructive comments for which I am grateful, from many people including swimmers, and others around the world who volunteered in MIMS, wish to swim MIMS in the future, have significant race event or other swimming experience and even other relevant areas of expertise.
The purposes of this series are to bring the issues from 2013 out into the light, and most importantly, to make MIMS better, safer and worthwhile for future swimmers.
Lest you think otherwise, I congratulate all those swimmers who finished, regardless of designation, and applaud those who raced into place finishes.
MIMS 2013 was a fiasco for many involved. Thirty-nine swimmers started and eleven were official finishers, four were DNF, and most of the remainder were designated as “boat-assisted”.
Why so many “boat-assisted”? Because the race started late. I don’t think anyone is arguing this, though there is a less-than-complete explanation of what happened from NYCSwim.
I have spoken with many of the swimmers, not initially with a view to writing this, but because we are all swimmers and I’m certain people considering MIMS for the future will want to understand. It’s been said about MIMS 2013 that we don’t know the full story. That’s true. But that’s always true of everything and we do know plenty, much of which hasn’t been discussed publicly, and some of which goes to the future of MIMS as a globally important marathon swim.
- Why is it important that MIMS 2013 is discussed openly?
Any swimmer wants to know that an organisation has due care and consideration for swimmer’s safety. Any swimmer wants to know they will be treated fairly. Any swimmer wants to know that the organisation they are entrusting is reputable. Any swimmer wants to know that the risks they are taking are understood and don’t include a significant financial risk. Any swimmer, like myself, wants to see MIMS continue as a properly-run event. NYCSwim must improve its procedures. No-one wants to see swimmers put at risk, whether their safety or finances, beyond the inherent accepted risks of the sport.
- Why am I writing when others who were there aren’t writing?
Many swimmers who were caught by the late start are nervous to speak out because they fear they will be looked-over for entry should they re-apply next year. Some others are “disgusted” by NYCSwim’s repeated contravention of its own guidelines and a seemingly cavalier approach to swimmer’s stated concerns and formal complaints and have avowed to me no further support of the swim or the organisation, a very strong stance.
None of this year’s swimmers have asked me to write this, but many MIMS 2013 swimmers are friends, and we are all fellow swimmers. People occasionally tell me that they trust me to tell the truth about swimming, at least as I know it. I also feel both lucky and slightly guilty that I swam MIMS 2012 without these complications, without realising just how close to the edge of chaos the organisation had skirted. I’m pretty much sure based on lifetime of experience that when a situation arises where people are unwilling to speak out that something somewhere is wrong. A swimmer who has done nothing wrong should have nothing to apprehensive about, (though that may be naive). I use the words chaos and chaotic in these posts, partially because that how it strikes me, but also because almost every single person I’ve communicated with used one or both of those words, unprompted.
MIMS requires that swimmers pass Hell Gate on the east side of Manhattan at the junction of the East and Harlem Rivers or they will be caught in a turning tide and unable to progress. It also requires they be at Spuyten Duyvil at the northern tip of Manhattan within a maximum time to catch the tide back down the Hudson river. This means an important qualifying question for MIMS is the swimmer’s speed. Swimmers entered range from slow to elite swimmers, started in waves a couple of minutes apart, with the fastest last. NYCSwim can and has accepted slow swimmers that are supposed to be set off first to allow them to meet these critical points in time.
Here’s what NYCSwim’s email newsletter contained, sent two weeks after the event:
“June 8, 2013, also known as the day of the 2013 Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, was a tough day. This isn’t to say it’s ever easy, but even by MIMS standards, this year’s swim was mighty difficult. Manhattan was drenched by over four inches of rain in the 24 hours before gunshot. Boats committed to the event had trouble making it in, resulting in a shortfall and a delayed start. All this, on top of already unseasonably cool water temperatures, compounded problems caused by Sandy last fall. On race morning, the NYC Office of Emergency Management considered canceling [sic] the race due to water quality issues. Despite the challenges, the race was held, with just one swimmer bowing out. That afternoon, 11 solo swimmers and one relay triumphantly finished the course straight through. […] We’re looking at went wrong in 2013, both within and outside of our control, and we’re confident this knowledge will make 2014 a great swim. Still for all those involved, in water or on land: Good on ya! Thank you for your participation and your understanding.”
That’s pretty much the extent of NYCSwim’s public commentary on this year’s MIMS. It’ll be worth bearing in mind when we come to an example of direct communication from NYCSwim in a future post in this series.
In the next part I’ll interrogate various aspects of this year’s swim.