Tag Archives: MIMS

MIMS 2013 – Part 5 – Conclusion and Recommendations

Once I finally decided to go ahead with this series of posts, I decided to wait until the “Quiet MIMS” swim of Saturday the 24th of August was finished, as I did not want it to in any way interfere with any of the swimmers. A marathon swim is always a challenging prospect for swimmers and I had no wish to even slightly disturb anyone’s mental equilibrium beforehand. The title “Quiet MIMS” is NYCSwim’s term for the swim that was open to, as far as I know, a maximum of ten swimmers from July’s MIMS. (They were offered this swim, not free, or for a fuel surcharge, but at a cost of $1,225). Nine swimmers took part. All completed the course. Congratulations to all!

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Throughout this series I’ve asked you to keep to the forefront a question most swimmers would understand, a question many swimmers are now asking, based on NYCSwim’s own post-swim communication: Why exactly does MIMS cost an entry fee of $2150, if the fee doesn’t include a boat? That most of the swimmers who have ever swum MIMS have had a boat is irrelevant, when ten swimmers were left without a boat, NYCSwim did not offer any refund. I’ve previously included an NYCSwim post-swim email to one of the swimmers, and it’s worth repeating.

I know it sounds incredulous that we did not anticipate the boater shortage and the problems that spun from that, however it is the case every year that we do not have enough boaters signed up as the event approaches . . . and then they come out of the woodwork as a result of our final push in the days immediately beforehand.” 

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The same day as MIMS 2012, while I was swimming around Manhattan, there was a four kilometre local swim race here in Ireland with 100 entrants on the same day. Things didn’t go very well. Tide timing was off and many swimmers were pulled from the water. As I was resting in New York the day after MIMS, I saw the emails, discussions and recriminations. Within a short period of the event, participants, both critical and otherwise, and organisers had their say, and public acknowledgements were made on both sides of mistakes and future improvements.

If such maturity can be shown for local swim, which is entirely voluntary, why is it that it can’t be shown by a commercial organisation that is taking an amount per swimmer that is a multiple by a factor of one hundred, and is known globally?

The Triple Crown of Swimming, is for (self-) promotion of MIMS, “to compare to the famous American horse-racing series” as I was told by the chief organiser and executive of NYCSwim last year and two of the swims are in the US. This would seem designed to appeal to that market, when either the Gibraltar or Cook Channels would make more sense as a third leg. NYCSwim has a FAQ about the English Channel to foster this notion of equivalence to the English Channel. Yet in correspondence to a MIMS 2013 swimmer complaint it wrote:

“Our event is not a solo swim like a channel crossing, and because of this we have to handle all the arrangements centrally. This has benefits—such as making our swim more affordable—and drawbacks”.

Many of the 2013 boat-assisted swimmers, who paid a substantial amount, include successful English and Catalina Channel swimmers (and other locations of course) with a considerable body of knowledge between them of various swims at all levels, including previous MIMS swims.

It’s hard to credit NYCSwim’s claim that MIMS is more affordable. There is no refund because of organisational failings on NYCSwim’s side. Those who wish to swim again face all the same financial costs. NYCSwim seems to want to be compared to or granted equivalence with the Catalina and English Channels, yet to be granted exemption in how it conducts MIMS, and to so do without the transparency available to Catalina and English Channel swimmers. These swimmers have a contract with a professional pilot, a governing organisations with rules, and voting rights for members. Comparing with the English Channel, which NYCSwim fosters: A swimmer who has booked an English Channel solo, who doesn’t get to swim due to weather or a boat problem or other, usually loses no more than the deposit with the pilot, the deposit size varying with the pilot. The worst case scenario is a loss of fifty percent of the total as some pilots require a payment of that amount in the year ending before the booked swim.

  • Should you consider swimming MIMS?

This post has seen quite a bit of prevarication on my side. What aided my decision was when I was asked by a friend about MIMS 2014 as their next swim. I’d already written a first draft of this and put it aside but I felt the need to answer that person and this question honestly so I sent them the considerably longer first draft of this series, (which has seen over twenty drafts since then). I finally responded and told them that while the idea of swimming around Manhattan is highly attractive, as it was for me, the financial risk that a person would take now seems too high in light of events of MIMS 2013. My own feeling is that any swimmer considering MIMS 2014 (or later), should not apply unless there is a clear indication that the organisation has made significant procedural improvements for the future.

All other considerations aside, disagreements with me on any of this aside, NYCSwim’s own words speak for themselves.

I know it sounds incredulous that we did not anticipate the boater shortage and the problems that spun from that, however it is the case every year that we do not have enough boaters signed up as the event approaches . . . and then they come out of the woodwork as a result of our final push in the days immediately beforehand.”  

Do you want to take that risk?

Following is a list of recommendations for NYCSwim.

  • Recommendations

These are based on this one average swimmer’s experience of swimming and general requirements for safety. I have had some valued input from many friends and correspondents around the world to this list, but it mostly contains my own ideas, though I believe others will have valuable additions. I believe these actions are required for future swimmers so MIMS can regain (because it has very definitely lost) its place and credibility as a premier global marathon swim event. Some of these recommendations come from other aspects of MIMS 2013 that I haven’t even touched on in this series, which are nonetheless also an indictment of NYCSwim’s handling of the event.

  • A contract between NYCSwim and each swimmer. This should include a guarantee of a boat per swimmer or an almost full refund (excluding an NYCSwim membership cost) should NYCSwim fail to provide a boat for the swimmer, or ensure the swim starts within a reasonable period of a designated and advertised start time.
  • Refunds for those swimmers caught up in the MIMS 2013 debacle who did not get to finish and who were listed as boat-assisted, regardless of whether or not they participated in the later “Quiet Swim”, excepting swimmers who might choose to forego the refund in favour of a public guarantee and free entry for 2014.
  • A procedure to verify and ensure in advance that the boats to be used are fit for use.
  • Pairing of skippers, swimmers and kayakers with contact details to the swimmers at least a week in advance. UPDATE: Please see the very interesting comment below from Harald Johnson, MIMS 1983 winner, about how things were done before the current NYC took over,when swimmers and boats were paired months in advance.
  • Confirmation that every boat skipper has a VFH radio and is familiar with its use with guidelines to every skipper of communication and evacuation procedures and foreseeable but abnormal events.
  • Skippers and kayakers to be present at the previous day’s briefing and participation in online briefings.
  • While retaining a maximum number of two crew as reasonable, all swimmers should be able to add or substitute crew up to two weeks before MIMS.
  • Remapping of the NYCSWim.org domain name to NYCSwim.com to make clear its commercial nature.
  • Risk Assessment and Safety Plans available on NYCSwim’s website.
  • Clarification of NYCSwim’s rule on water evacuation, specifically that the penalty for a swimmer refusing to evacuate per instructions is disqualification without appeal, in common with other swims.
  • NYCSwim previously had a policy or guideline of informing swimmers should water contamination be below acceptable levels. NYCSwim should re-iterate publicly its commitment to swimmer stakeholder safety and health.
  • NYCSwim should collate and publish annual figures of swimmer illness from each MIMS swim before opening up applications for the following year’s swim as part of its avowed Mission Statement.
  • NYCSwim should publish each year’s water cleanliness test results subsequent to its major swims (in the way that it already publishes previous year’s water temperatures) as part of its Mission Statement. It should improve the reporting of water quality tests on its website and keep these current.

NYCSwim aspires to be and designates itself as a premier global marathon swimming event. I have swum it myself and loved the swim and the location. Swimmers around the world should be confident of its organisation and I make these recommendations in the hope of that the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim will address its failings, improve and prosper.

To re-establish credibility NYCSwim must make changes. These changes must put swimmers first.

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I’d like to close with some thanks once again to the many people, around the world who reviewed or contributed to this series, some of whom were consulted for their expertise in different areas: solo swimmers from MIMS 2013 and previously or eligible for future MIMS, relay swimmers, crew, volunteers, publishers, swim directors and lawyers. Without their assistance, these posts would never have been published. I am indebted to them all. I have been given permission for every quotation that I have used. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________ All facts I have researched to the best of my ability, any mistakes are unintentional and will be addressed if someone sends new, credible and verifiable information. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Other essential reading on this subject

Second-placed female swimmer Carol Cashell’s blog report

Initially-boat assisted and later successful Quiet swim finishers

Karen Throsby

Caitlin Rosen

The marathonswimmers.org forum discussion

MIMS 2013 – Part 4 – An outsider’s opinion – Swimmer control and some miscellaneous items

Part 1. Introduction

Part 2. Opening Opinion

Part 3. Start timing and boat availability

In Parts Two and Three, I raised a question, a question that overshadows much of the discussion of the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim and so needs to remain to the forefront. 

What is the significant entry fee ($2150) per swimmer actually for, if not for a boat per swimmer?

Swimmer control

The swimmers who were pulled in MIMS 2013 were (almost) all in the same region, that of the confluence of the East and Harlem rivers known as Hell Gate, the first critical timing point for MIMS.

One swimmer told me that as swimmers neared the north end of Hell Gate on the east side, (let’s call them Swimmer A, a four-kilometre-per-hour swimmer),  Swimmer A was pulled because they were told they wouldn’t get through the tide. Another swimmer (B), marginally slower, was about ten metres away behind, i.e. further into the tide. There are conflicting reports of what happened: Swimmer A says Swimmer B failed to evacuate the water after instruction, breaking NYCSwim rules. Another report is that Swimmer B never got the message1. Yet another report is that crew of Swimmer B told an NYCSwim land-based official who was stationed on the river bank to monitor in that section that Swimmer B would not evacuate.

The point here isn’t which swimmer says what or even who actually did what. It seems to me that we can actually set aside the assertions of either swimmer, both of whom I can understand and empathise with, and look at a different aspect. Whether a swimmer stayed in thereby breaking NYCSwim rules, or wasn’t accurately communicated to there results in a disturbing implication; that NYCSwim weren’t in complete control of who was in or out of the water.

During MIMS 2013, I asked NYCSwim’s twitter account, using the marathon_swimrs Twitter account that Evan Morrison and I jointly operate, if we could get the number of swimmers continuing. I didn’t ask for names or places. NYCSwim responded; “Just to note, in fairness to swimmers, we won’t be posting results on Twitter or Facebook until the official results are in”. I wasn’t owed an answer but NYCSwim’s response wasn’t directed to the question I asked.

It’s also the case that another swimmer was removed from the water later in the swim to accommodate a ferry. Having to accommodate and give way to ferry traffic is another accepted hazard of MIMS, like thunder and lightning storms.  However here it seems NYCSwim did not know until well after the event was finished and was so told by another MIMS swimmer after the award ceremony.

Open water swimming is a serious concern, which we all understand. Safety is all important. Twoof the people whom I know on the MIMS committee I also have seen to be personally and consistently highly committed to swimmer safety, above all else. If NYCSwim couldn’t account for one or two swimmers out of thirty-nine at any time, that had potentially serious implications.

Miscellaneous

  • Swimmers were told repeatedly in briefings that the course would be marked by buoys, including at the previous day’s briefing. They were told that failure to stay in the line marked would result in disqualification and this was emphasised (repeatedly according to some swimmers). Those buoys were not present on the day however. Should the inability to lay those repeatedly emphasised buoys be necessarily laid at the door of insufficient boats, it is nonetheless true that the swimmers were not told before the swim that the buoys would not be present. As any swimmer who has even been given incorrect details about a swim course, check station, buoy or similar during a short three to five kilometre swim or race can confirm, this is enough to discomfort a swimmer. Accurate information is therefore even more important in a 45 kilometre swim.
  • Another simple question that should be asked is; why the Awards Ceremony was scheduled BEFORE the race was over? What message does this send to the majority of MIMS swimmers?
  • One thing I haven’t previously mentioned, that affected a lot of swimmers and that NYCSwim put up front in their newsletter, was the unseasonably cold water. I haven’t mentioned it because that’s a swimmer preparation issue. NYCSwim weren’t responsible, it’s not relevant to the other problems. It was undoubtedly tough for swimmers not fortunate enough to have the cold waters if Ireland and Great Britain for preparation.

We all revel in the elegance of a great open water swimmer and know that the elite swimmers don’t get there by accident but through years of hard work. But anyone, anyone who thinks that finishing the course, even last, is less important to the person doing so than it is the person that finishes first, profoundly misunderstands the nature of our sport and most of its participants.

When a swimmer enters MIMS, amongst the many items they must provide are details of crew. It is not possible to change crew at a later date, and up to two crew may be named. This requires asking two people to commit to an event six months in the future, without having the incentive the swimmer possesses. Late substitutions or additions of crew aren’t possible. One swimmer added a crew member at a late date this year.

As we have seen, unlike the English and Catalina the MIMS entry fee is quite obviously NOT for a guarantee of a pilot and boat.  There’s nothing wrong with NYCSwim making money or being a commercial organisation. Channel swimmers, (Gibraltar, North, English, Santa Barbara, Catalina) pay pilots for their time and expertise and do so with signed contracts and a clear understanding of contractual obligations on both sides and therefore protection for both sides.

Most swimmers have no objection to anyone earning a living from swimming, many of us would be happy to do it ourselves, some do. But MIMS and NYCSwim seem to want to take a professional  fee from swimmers yet provide the service or (lack of) comeback of some volunteer organisations. Not all. Most volunteer organisations are responsive to their swimmers and problems, I refer you again to the swim I mentioned in the previous post in Ireland where tidal problems arose and the organisers publicly engaged in discussion.

Despite the heavy restrictions that swimmers must comply with to enter, NYCSwim, as is now apparent, don’t reciprocate and has refused refunds to swimmers who have directly requested such, being aggrieved over NYCSwim’s failures to run MIMS in a way consonant with the substantial fee.

In the conclusion I’ll ask the question many marathon and prospective MIMS swimmers will now be asking themselves:

  • Is MIMS 2014 worth the financial risk?

I’ll also consider some recommendations that NYCSwim must consider to save MIMS for future swimmers and return it to we all want it to be, a premier global marathon swimming event.

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1 I’m not sure how that would be possible given calls went out over VFH radio. I’ve also had a report from swimmer who successfully finished that their crew thought there was a terrorist attack in progress, such was the chaotic nature of the VHF calls.

This is not to say the others aren’t, I’m sure they are, it’s just that I know these two people personally and have seen this demonstrated repeatedly.

MIMS 2013 – Part 3 – Water contamination and shared boats

Part 1. Introduction

Part 2. Start Timing & boat availability

In Part Two, I raised a question, a question that over-shadows much of the discussion of the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim and so needs to remain to the front.

What is the significant entry fee ($2150) per swimmer actually for, if not for a boat per swimmer? Why does the entire fee have to be paid in advance the previous year, if NYCSwim has not been allocating part of it to ensure a boat per swimmer? I know that swimmers believe they are paying for a service that includes boat support.

NYCSwims’s Response to Water Contamination

One part of NYCSwim’s three-fold Mission Statement is “creating stakeholders with a vested interest in the local waters“.

The first line on NYCSwim.org’s page on water quality reads: “The water quality of the Hudson, East and Harlem rivers is fine“.

This is a general assertion, and it’s likely true much of the time. But the water around Manhattan on the day of MIMS 2013 was badly contaminated by over ten centimetres (four inches) of rain of the previous day, Saturday July 7th by run-off and overflowing sewage. Contaminated water is always a factor for MIMS. The organisation has an advisory that swimmers  should get Hepatitis and Tetanus vaccines, which is great advice. Allegedly, the organisation introduced a policy in 2006, based on previous experience of the race being cancelled in 2005 over water contamination issues, and according to comments on the marathonswimmers.org forum, that should water contamination exceed safe levels the swimmers would be told before the swim and the decision to swim left to them. This didn’t happen. If as has been asserted that this is a NYCSwim policy, which isn’t outlined on the website that I could see, then NYCSwim would have violated its own rules. Surely swimmers in MIMS would be amongst the most vested-interest stakeholders that MIMS mentions in its Mission Statement.

One swimmer told me: “Swimmers were told after the event (at award ceremony) that numerous agencies did not want the event to go ahead“.

MIMS swimmers, marathon open water swimmers, are in the main less concerned by these issues than the general public (as any MIMS swimmer will tell you of the many times they’ve been asked if they knew the water was dirty). But that doesn’t mean swimmers are completely unconcerned or don’t want all the relevant information. Not every swimmer has the same health or immunity or preferences. Another swimmer has said they believed most swimmers were aware that of water contamination issues prior to the start. Levels of post-swim illness certainly seemed significant across the entire entry field this year. One participant has written that another swimmer was hospitalised after the swim. I wondered last year why MIMS can’t simply collate the information of sickness from each year’s swimmers, as Ireland’s Lee Swim requests from over 300 swimmers. I still wonder.

Sharing Boats

Another situation that arose as a result of NYCSwim’s ad-hoc approach to ensuring a sufficient supply of boats is that swimmers were asked if they would consider sharing a pilot boat with another swimmer. Should they so do, they would be given a refund of a portion of the entry fee.

Swimmers who agreed to share a boat were told they would receive a $400 refund. But at least one swimmer who did share a boat, only received a refund of $200, less than 10% of the entry fee and half what that swimmer and at least one other swimmer believed NYCSwim had said, that the refund would be $400 per person sharing a boat, NOT per boat. This fractional refund and confusion over such seems mealy-mouthed.

What would have happened at MIMS 2013 had none of the swimmers agreed to share a boat? This question is a corollary of the lack of boats, and one that would worry me if I were a prospective MIMS swimmer.

Amongst those swimmers who did take the option of a shared boat, (which is a possibility any swimmer might have taken to allow other friends to be able to participate), they were sometimes paired with swimmers of significantly mismatched speed, which could be put down to this being a last-minute decision.

A pre-swim risk assessment, based on the now-known fact that NYCSwim didn’t have a plan to ensure boats for every swimmer, should have included this possibility, and more closely matched swimmer speeds. Some swimmers on shared boats, though they all had individual kayakers, of whom reports and my own experience are universally excellent,  were without boat support for sometimes an hour at a time. Kayaker support for swimmers in MIMS is voluntary.

Everyone loves to see speed records and fast swimmers and great races. But it’s the majority of average swimmers that pay the majority of the funds, that make up the majority of any event, we are the cannon fodder. Our sport is unusual in that speed isn’t everything. We celebrate toughness, individuality, endurance and resilience just as much as speed.

It’s true that I’ve covered both speed and endurance on loneswimmer.com, because I believe that I both love and appreciate the full spectrum of the sport. I have many friends covering literally the entire spectrum of swim speed, from Trent to Jackie. But I’d freely admit to having greater personal appreciation for the slower or average swimmers, and those who swim with little chance of medals or glory other than completion, who swim for personal achievement, or the Jackie Cobells, Wendy Trehiou’s and Stephen Redmonds of the sport, who demonstrate that greatness can be achieved in ways other than speed.

I believe that it is the triumph of the ordinary and average person that makes marathon swimming so fascinating and compelling. Our sport is built on a foundation of toughness and determination, of an overwhelming inexplicable desire to participate, to overcome, to finish.

Everyone should understand that there is no speed record in the world that can substitute for overcoming the odds, for being tested and prevailing, for getting there using your own arms … for just standing up at the end.

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In Part Four I will look at swimmer control and some miscellaneous items before moving to a conclusion and recommendations in Part 5.

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MIMS 2013 – Part 2 – An outsider’s opinion – Start timing & boat availability

Part 1. – An outsider’s opinion – Introduction

Heading down the Hudson toward GW bridge (crop, contrat, resize)

Critical Start Timing and Boat Availability

Timing is critical for MIMS as swimmers and applicants are essentially told, as a MIMS Selection Committee Member points out; “MIMS is timed very precisely – on a specific kind of tide, at a specific point in the cycle – to give everyone a good chance at finishing.” NYCSwim’s selection committee selects and approves the swimmers. For anyone to later imply that some swimmers were too slow is therefore disingenuous. Two swimmers were due to start twenty minutes before the rest of field because of their relatively slow speeds (though both are very experienced marathon swimmers). But all swimmers started late and the swimmer start-waves intervals were compressed.

How late?

Well, 55 minutes for the first wave, 58 minutes for the second wave. Almost an hour later than the adjusted start time, NOT the original schedule start time, over which it was delayed by 75 minutes!

The adjusted start time was a late change time to the start time in the NYCSwim/MIMS schedule which had been available to the swimmers for six months.

The two swimmers who should have been set off early were delayed by 70 minutes. The extra twenty-minute gap that was intended to allow the two slowest approved swimmers make gains on the tide disappeared and the next wave entered the water mere minutes later.

Why did this happen?

MIMS say all of this was because insufficient boats showed up at the start (that there was a shortage of ten boats), as many had been damaged by Hurricane Sandy nine months previously, and some boat owners only discovered problems late.

I have an issue with this explanation, illustrated by a question that every swimmer I’ve spoken with (and also prospective MIMS swimmers, three international race directors, a publisher and a lawyer) has asked in some form:

  • What is the entrance fee primarily for, if not for a boat?

When one pays for an English Channel pilot (or any other major world marathon swim), one signs a contract, one knows that whatever else happens and all other considerations aside, there is a boat and pilot and crew waiting, with an agreed contract, binding and protecting both parties, swimmer and pilot/organisation. If for some reason the boat has a mechanical breakdown and the swim can’t go ahead, or if the weather doesn’t comply, the swimmer is usually not charged other than their association fee and deposit, (subject to the differences between contracts and regions). With many pilots the swimmer doesn’t even pay other than an association fee and deposit until there is certainty that the swim will go ahead. But when a swimmer is accepted into MIMS, they must pay the entire fee on-line immediately.

Does the MIMS fee of $2150 in 2013 not specifically include a boat? I don’t know.

What is NYCSwim’s ongoing discussion and relationship with its pilots?

One MIMS 2013 swimmer wrote to me: “I had to keep my [pilot] in [the] loop about time changes etc, during the tropical rainstorm on Friday, he got no email to say the swim was still on.. he was in contact with me for confirmation”.

That also is a shocking indicator of the poor or non-existent communication procedures to manage the boat availability.

Here’s a quotation from NYCSwim in correspondence with a swimmer, following a direct complaint about this year’s MIMS (yes, the swimmer gave me permission to use this quotation, as others did for any quotation I’ve used):

I know it sounds incredulous that we did not anticipate the boater shortage and the problems that spun from that, however it is the case every year that we do not have enough boaters signed up as the event approaches . . . and then they come out of the woodwork as a result of our final push in the days immediately beforehand. This year, the opposite was happening – we were losing more boats than we were gaining. Boaters who had signed up in the winter expecting that they would be able to get their boats repaired in time found that they were not able to do so due to a huge backlog of repairs needed and limited resources.”

That’s an astonishing admission and NYCSwim’s own words.

That that the best-known marathon race relies on chance to provide boats for the swimmers who have paid significant entry fees and travelled from around the world and that the organisation continues to do so year after year. In an area with over three hundred miles of seafront and boating communities, the organisation is incapable of planning for sufficient boat cover. NYCSwim seems guilty of institutional blindness to its own failings. Every single organisation has problems. Difficult as this is for those caught up in them it is realistic, as no organisation is perfect. But recurring problems that arise because of repeated and unaddressed institutional failings are the real issue here.

I’ve been asked, “what would you have done differently without the benefit of hindsight“?

I think people can see the obvious answer to that. It’s MIMS2013 that has demonstrated to the global swimming community that NYCSwim didn’t have a process to ensure sufficient boats. That the substantial fee, paid in the year before the swim, wasn’t actually ensuring a boat per swimmer. None of the fee was later allocated to hire any additional boats at a late date, which would have seemed entirely possible given the lack of procedures and on-going checks for sufficient boat cover. It’s not hindsight to NYCSwim that they’ve relied on chance to provide boat cover for the swimmer’s who have paid such substantial fees, in-toto, well in advance of the swim.

One swimmer told me that, had they have known of the problem, they would and could have provided their own boat cover at short notice, something that maybe no other swimmer could have arranged, but also demonstrating the possibility and the willingness of at least some swimmers to adjust to a situation, had they know of the problem in advance.

Given also the substantial amount raised from entry fees (forty Soloists plus two relay teams) that would have been raised from the fees1, (not including fuel surcharges which previously have been $125), had a procedure been in place to check ongoing boat availability, there should have been sufficient resources to provide backup boat cover. That is, if an organisation was willing to spend the money it had received to provide for which swimmers actually thought they were paying.

NYCSwim has pointed out that due to heavy rainfall the previous day, tidal currents were affected. One swimmer reported that their pilot, with nineteen years of MIMS experience said that the rains of the previous day had shortened the swim window in the East River. The same pilot is reported as saying that even had the swim started on time, many swimmers would not have made it. So the conditions were challenging anyway, without virtually ensuring non-completion by the lack of boat cover and late start.

As another swimmer pointed out to me, NYCSwim are the locals, understanding and planning are part of their remit. This expands the question of the purpose of the fee. Since it isn’t for a definite boat, as we now know, isn’t it partly for local knowledge also? In the English (or Catalina or Gibraltar or Tsugaru or North or Maui or Cooke Channels), swimmers are paying pilots for a boat and expert knowledge. Expert knowledge doesn’t guarantee certainty that something will happen, sometimes it’s to say something won’t or shouldn’t happen. Did either happen at MIMS 2013?

Should one feel like absolving NYCSwim of these issues (the lack of boat cover, the rain and changing currents) as something they couldn’t have known or have planned for because natural events are unpredictable, the same was said by NYCSwim in response to a late start in 2009.  Yes, it’s the case that some swimmers have previously been caught by tides due to a late start. NYCswim have made mistakes, as we all do and how they respond to rectify those mistakes is the true measure of the organisation.

In 2012 I was previously asked to NOT cover my negative comments of MIMS 2012 on my blog by a member of the Selection Committee, and to send my concerns to them. There was no response to the issues I raised privately (though none were as serious as this year’s events). This avenue was used again this year as this Selection Committee member had seen it acceptable to step outside the Selection remit. Some swimmers from this year who have submitted detailed complaints to members of the NYCSwim selection committee have gone unrewarded with any answer. Given this is not the task of the Selection Committee, obviously, the reason I consider noteworthy is specifically because the community often operates on and trades in friendship and relationships. Some have said they have received an apology from NYCSwim and a virtual (but not categorical) guarantee of a place in next year’s MIMS (at the full price).

We’ll leave Part Two with a reframing of the critical point: MIMS entrants pay, well in advance, a significant entry fee and complete a comprehensive entry process. They assume, in common with all other marathon swims, that this fee includes a boat (and of course a pilot). They also assume it includes local expertise. The events of MIMS 2013 would seem to indicate otherwise.

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In Part Three, I’ll look at the problems of shared boats and water contamination on the day.

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While an extra cost would have made swimmers unhappy, it would have been less of a burden than another entry fee plus future flights and accommodation for those who might wish to attempt MIMS again.

 

MIMS 2013 – Part 1 – An outsider’s opinion – Introduction

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. 

Swimming past the Empire State Building
Swimming past the Empire State Building

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.

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Lest you think otherwise, I congratulate all those swimmers who finished, regardless of designation, and applaud those who raced into place finishes.

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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.

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MIMS medal.resized

HOWTO: Advice from MIMS 2012 for future applicants and swimmers

So let’s say you don’t feel like ploughing through the 5 parts of my MIMS write-up (you should though :-) ) but are wondering what recommendations I might have or what lessons I have to impart, or advice to give about MIMS, including the notoriously long application process?

Application Process

  • If you plan to apply, create your profile on NYCSwim.org months in advance of the application opening in November and start working on completing the various sections. Do it now.
  • Expect some document uploads to fail and having to re-upload them…the next day.
  • When in doubt add more rather than less information.
  • Be accurate in estimating your 1500m time. This is an essential part of getting your wave right and whether you are actually fast enough to complete (for slower swimmers).
  • If you have also booked and been accepted for any other big swim in the following year, note that also.
  • Estimate to spend from four to eight hours on the application process, excluding medical.
  • Get the medical done in plenty of time as you may require an X-ray or electrocardiogram and there is a medical form for your GP to complete.
  • Yes, you do have to write an essay and I have no idea how important it is in the application process. I suspect with absolutely no evidence, it’s a part of a winnowing process as is the kludgy upload procedure. If you give up at a messy long application process, will you complete the swim?
  • I will write a good swim essay for you for the mere cost of a pair of Visio View V200A-mr swim goggles!
  • You have to pay once you are accepted, not before the race.
  • Add second crew AND alternate before the entry date. You are fine with only one crew but the process is not amenable to adding crew later on.
  • If you feel there is any extra information that will help your process (e.g. in my case explaining why my Channel time was slow) put that in.
  • Book your accommodation earlier in the year.  Remember you have already decided and paid for the race so you can save money on accommodation by also paying up front.
shiny

Before Race Day and during swim

  • Don’t forget your checklist and feed schedule. It’s not a Channel swim, keep it simple.
  • Go wide and go deep. EDIT: BUT KEEP WITHIN THE SAFETY BOUNDARIES SET OUT IN YOUR SWIM BRIEFING. The primary reason for keeping the swim corralled toward one side is not to be awkward, but to protect the swimmer AND THE KAYAKER from suddenly-arriving cruise ships and to allow for time to evacuate. We always say, you must follow the safety rules. But given any allowed line, the outside is better.
  • 2012 was the first year all swimmers had trackers. These are all available on the NYCSwim.org website.
  • Make sure you attend the online swimmer, crew and course briefings. Don’t rely on  being able to view the videos later (two of them didn’t work afterwards for me). the briefing and documentation are excellent.
  • Don’t try to buy all your water the night beforehand. We picked up sequential 1.5 litre bottles every time we finished one which made it easier than carrying 10 full bottles back to the hotel.
  • Visit South Cove and the southern tip of Manhattan Island beforehand so you can get a feel for the initial period of the race. A walk over Brooklyn Bridge is recommended.
  • On race morning, don’t trust that the goddamn taxi driver has dropped you at the right pier. Only pay when you are sure or you might be literally 40 blocks away as happened us, (country bumpkins!).
  • If trying to get a taxi to/from Pier 25 / South Cove, don’t try to do it on the adjacent road as that’s a highway. Go one block over.
  • Don’t dismiss the water temperature variability.  There is a big difference in effect between 20/21° C. and 25° C. And a whole world, or at least hemisphere, between 14° C and 25° C. for us cold water swimmers.
  • If you are a cold water swimmer like me, rethink your feed plan. My advice is to decrease your Maxim (carb) feeds and increase your electrolyte feeds. You may also have to increase your volume somewhat from normal.
  • Keep your feeds on the boat cool and out of the sun. An ice cooler is recommended. Yes, this is alien territory for us cold water swimmers. Who ever heard of cooling feeds? :-) It will also help your crew keep comfortable to have cool drinks on hand. Temperatures this year were unusually warm, but there’s no reason it won’t happen again.
  • Make sure your crew will be as well protected from sun as from rain or bad weather.  An umbrella works well for sun, a hat is essential.
  • A day on a boat is a long time. Toilet considerations for women are not unimportant.
  • Make sure you have water to hand before the start, even if you have to leave an empty bottle there. Don’t trust the organisers to have water beforehand for you. Drink it all. Better to be over-hydrated than dehydrated.
  • If it is hot and sunny, use more lube than you would expect. Luckily I had used an entire 100mg of Channel grease, almost more than I used for the Channel because I saw no point in carrying it home, and therefore I was less effected by chaffing. (Though I still chaffed!). Some experienced cold-water swimmers were very badly chaffed afterwards for days after their lube had melted off while waiting for the start.
  • As a consequence of all the extra lube and suntan lotion, carry some a cloth or wetwipes to the start. Mind your goggles.
  • Suntan lotion. Then more suntan lotion. If you are a cold water swimmer, then SPF 50 Waterproof for Kids. Ronseal yourself.
  • Your bag is fairly well protected at the start line. You can probably shove a couple of most pre- or post-swim items in there if you like.
  • Don’t expect your pilot to have food even for himself, let alone your crew. Get your crew to bring sufficient food for themselves, the observer and pilot.
  • Feel free to bribe your pilot beforehand.
  • Stuff your waterproof camera in your togs and toss it to the boat at the first feed, so you can get shouts at the start since your crew won’t be around. I regret not doing this.
  • Make sure your crew has a camera. You will want to review the memories of the amazing sights.
  • I spent some time using Google Earth’s Street View to virtually circumnavigate Manhattan Island. But I was still uncertain with some of the key bridges, and the distances down the Hudson. I’d recommend familiarising yourself with more landmarks. It won’t make any difference except to give you a better idea of your location.
  • It’s a race. For most of us just because we are not seeded does not mean we don’t try our best to swim as fast as possible. Throw everything at it. Afterwards it’ll feel great to say to pool swimmers your longest ever race was 28.5 miles and you know you’ve raced. Race for the second or second-last spot if you want.
  • Do Not take the free post-swim massage if you are not used to having immediate post-swim massages. Ciarán & I felt fine beforehand and wrecked immediately afterwards. I am used to deep tissue massage but never immediately after a swim. Wait the usual  couple of days after the swim before having one. (It was also an excuse to try to hard sell me a followup session the next day when I intended to be enjoying myself).
  • Well, yes, I got sick. Four days after MIMS I developed a really nasty stomach bug that lasted over a week, constant nausea, unable to eat. Ciarán didn’t get sick. MIMS doesn’t have a request to hear from any of the swimmers if they are ill, unlike Cork’s Lee Swim. Nothing I could have done about this, it wouldn’t have stopped me, but just so you know. Occam’s Razor tells me it was the river rather than anything else.
  • Go wide and go deep. BUT KEEP WITHIN THE SAFETY BOUNDARIES SET OUT IN YOUR SWIM BRIEFING. See above.
  • Even if parts are tough (Start, Hudson), it’s an amazing, unforgettable swim. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself! And the shiny is nice.
lego New York
Donal & Brian heading toward the Emerald City

MIMS 2012 – Part 5 – Hudson River and Finish

Donal & Brian entering Spuyten Duyvil

With the swing west across Spuyten Duyvil the river changed again. The breeze I hadn’t previously noticed was now coming directly head-on and the water got choppy. Not a big chop but after four or so hours, one notices it. I had no idea how much time had elapsed, but asking wouldn’t make it go quicker, and I might discover less time had passed than I’d hoped, a no-win situation. In retrospect it was a quick section of river, though it didn’t particularly feel it. I was waiting for the very low railway swing bridge that I knew was at the northwest tip of Manhattan to appear traffic started to get really busy. The bridge was turned and blocking the river traffic, Brian and I would continue under, where there was less than two metres of clearance, and south-west into the wide Hudson river.

Spuyten Duyvil railway bridge opening

I had developed pain, but not a shoulder or muscular pain. Instead it was a growing pain in my stomach. I was aware that I’d continued to urinate, but not at my normal swimming frequency, when I’m usually pretty regular at about fifteen minutes, or to be precise, twice on a Sandycove lap. I still had intermittent minor cramps in my feet, but I taken every drop of every feed, and didn’t think we needed to increase the volume.

At the previous feed around Spuyten Duyvil the discomfort had reached such a level that I didn’t finish it, taking only about 150 mls. And as we swung out around into the Hudson aiming (as advised in the swimmer briefing) for the leftmost pillar of the George Washington Bridge rather than following the coast, all the held boats came roaring out after me, wave after wave after wave for an interminable ten minutes.

Fastest Triple Crown record holder Dave Barra entering the Hudson – Peace!

And then another feed, by which time Reel Passion had caught up. I refused that feed. For me this was a significant but very conscious decision, I’ve trained over the years to always take my feeds. But my stomach was bloating and I was now in considerable discomfort, still urinating but feeling no relief. Missing a feed is not a decision taken lightly, but I decided I need to let my stomach clear further. I knew (though not with the certainty you’d imagine on dry land) that missing one twenty feed interval wouldn’t leave me unable to swim.

About fifteen or so minutes later, after I’d tried and as always failed, to count strokes to figure elapsed time, I felt I could tackle the feed. Co-incidentally for those few minutes Brian was ahead of me, Reel Passion was behind and outside. I tried to swim to Brian but he stayed fractionally ahead of me so I shouted his name, the first sound I’d made. He stopped, I fed. My swimming and the pain in my gut resumed.

Heading down the Hudson toward the George Washington bridge

The George Washington bridge was still ahead, bisecting the world-sky like Bifrost, the Bridge of the Gods, my target estimate all along was that I should assume an hour to swim from the turn into the Hudson to under its arches.

Think of a Wolf. Not any wolf. A Wolf. Yellow eyes, black fur, lips curled back from snarling jaws.

Now don’t think of the Wolf. Eliminate it completely from your mind so that you don’t know you were thinking of the Wolf.

But think of the Wolf’s belly.

Now, don’t think of the Wolf’s belly, that black sack.

Think instead of the Wolf’s consuming hunger.

Now…stop thinking of the Wolf’s hunger. Do not think of the ravening black void inside the Wolf…

This is distance swimming. Another book comes up from the recesses, this time not an assistance. Not thinking of the hunger in the belly of the Wolf was the ongoing stomach pain. It’s an overwrought metaphor, but the one that visited me and stayed quite a while in the Hudson river. Don’t mistake my intent: this was not English Channel level of difficulty. But this was a tougher swim than I’d expected and this was the important part and this is how it felt for this part of this swim. Next time, it will feel different, next time I’ll try to find a different way of explaining it. Of all the aspects of swimming that I know and I’ve written about, I’m aware of omissions, some conscious and deliberate, some because I still struggle to convey what I intend. And because I think too much sometimes, according to my friends.

Swim your own swim. I’d said it to swimmers in Sandycove only the previous week during the qualification swims at the end of Distance Week when I was helping on the island. I’m sure other swimmers say it. Swim your own swim. Put aside the external factors of other swimmers going better, faster, stronger or tougher than us. Find the nowness and swim through that. And then swim through the next bit. And on, and on through the glacial slowness of it all.

I reached the George Washington bridge with an internal wolf, the bridge taller longer and more massive any previous bridge, the chop from across the wide river increasing. Odin’s rainbow bridge spanning the sky and worlds, swimming under its huge height. Another feed, and as I gave the bottle back, my right thigh cramped hard, another sign of dehydration. I punched it and resumed swimming. Almost immediately two kayaks and swimmers passed flanking me to east and west, moving like they were last-wave seeded swimmers, who would have all passed me long previously in the very low reaches of the East River and Lower Manhattan. I was not amused. I couldn’t risk increasing my stroke rate so far out. Swim your own swim, put it out of your mind, swim on.

Approaching Uptown & the Sewage treatment Plant

The west bank of Manhattan Island slid past and we were well out, maybe three hundred metres, far enough to feel invisible, my preferred place out the water, out deep, out far. I saw a building like a giant Battenberg cake, others that reminded me of the Planet of the Apes town (the original mind you). I still occasionally checked behind me while feeding. Ciarán was not visible but I was low in the water, surrounded by chop, no great distance vision to select targets, no time to look and figure anything out. Captain Joe shouted encouragement. Brian was positive, Dee gave me thumbs up.

I saw a spire and a hint, very low in the distance, of the Emerald City. The spire grew to a church steeple and slowly I swam past it. The chop was now constant and often large. Captain Joe moved the boat around behind me a few times for short durations to my left  hand side to partially protect me from large bow waves of the rushing navy and white-coloured East River Ferries. But the waves were mainly coming from my primary right-hand breathing side.

Donal & Brian heading toward the Emerald City

Soon afterwards, Brian told me I was at 122nd Street, to which I responded that meant nothing to me. Really, I didn’t know how far up that was. After the church spire I noticed an increasing amount of berthed boats, which meant while looking during feeds I couldn’t tell which were moored and which were the race boats. I saw one boat I recognised from swimming near it for hours in the East and Harlem rivers, Get Over It, or something similar. Not once during the swim did I equate the name with anything meaningful or useful. The pain in my stomach continued, what more is there to say, I continued to feed, I began to realise the stomach pain wouldn’t stop me at this stage.

Donal & Reel Passion passing the Intrepid

We swam slowly past Uptown and Midtown, the Empire State again, with the Chrysler barely peeking up briefly from the far side of the island this time. Piers passed, counting slowly down. I’d see Pier 112 expect and hope to see pier 102 the next time I saw a pier number, but only four would have passed. Then the number would unexpectedly drop six, always even. We moved out for the Intrepid’s Security Zone. Couldn’t say how far we had to go, as always with swims and these parts, the time itself was interminable in swimming, and short in recounting, “long in the living, short in the telling”. There was a Department of Marine and Aviation pier that took forever and was probably only a couple of minutes to pass. Tower One was a growing beacon, reeling me in.

Another glance showed me the low towers has grown large and separated. I’d been seeing both the World’s Capital and New Jersey’s towers. This heartened me greatly as I guessed the Emerald City spires were closer than Jersey. I was wrong as it turned out. At a feed Captain Joe shouted out happily that all was going well. I saw Tower One again and now I was starting to look upwards at it as it started to really pierce the sky.

I passed very close under a pier with people on the edge above me. I waved momentarily as my left arm was recovering but no-one waved back, all staring down onto me. I paused and roared out “wave back you fuckers”. Some waved back. Out on Reel Passion Dee thought someone had abused me, not realising it was the other way around. Irish stereotype abroad. I was in a good mood.

Anther feed and Brian said the Magic Words, “this is probably your last feed”. “Really?” I said. “Yes”. What did probably mean? I asked myself. Captain Joe and Dee were there. “Swim to the orange buoys, the orange buoys”. I looked and saw the orange buoys. I didn’t notice Brian leaving as he had to go into North Cove to drop off his kayak.

Hammer down

I gunned it, hammer down for about 1500 or 1800 metres, the swimmer’s mile, a lap of Sandycove, home free and unstoppable, the measure scribed deep into distance swimmers as our gauge of the world. Where pool swimmers stop counting up, we start. Marathon swimmers own watery distance in the way sailors own the wind.

Angling into the Battery Park wall, breathing mostly on the right as I pushed to the maximum, occasional breaths left to stay constant from the sea wall and to see the people, legs beating hard, all thoughts of camp and pain evaporated, kayakers paddling upstream against me, people on the sea wall, the only sound still my breathing in the water. And then the buoys were there, I rounded the wall, and that was it, the steps were there.

Donal finishing in South Cove

There were two people on the ladder which was moving up and down significantly.

They reached out to grab me and I roared again “Don’t touch me”! I hadn’t realised MIMS was a water start AND finish, requiring me only to touch. I’m a Channel swimmer, I get out of the water unaided, it is fundamental to how I see swimming. Any touch is against Channel rules and I swim Channel rules. They shouted again, “You MUST touch for a finish”. This was not covered in the briefing. I touched hands, separated, and hauled myself out and up the pontoon. “What do you want?” they asked, or words similar. “I’m going to swim back out to the boat to say thanks”. I slipped my goggles back, jumped very ungainly into water, the goggs slipped off, I re-adjusted and swam across the Cove toward Captain Joe, Dee and Observer Shi Ling. They were moving away and shouting at me to go back so I stopped, roared my thanks, and swam back, having apparently caused a mini-furore in South Cove.

Arguing about the finish! Bloody Irish.

I climbed the piling, up the slipway, got a rinse off from a hose, and waited. I felt great, no swaying, no soreness, no tiredness. I went around the Pier Wall to look up the Hudson and there were Ciarán and George coming toward me. Down for their exit at the pontoon. Manly swimmer hugs as usual on the slipway. We were all done.

Shortly afterwards we discussed the swim. Ciarán and George found it equally tough, we all experienced difficulties in the same places, the lower East River, Spuytin Duvyil, the mid and lower Hudson.

All three of my crew did an fantastic job in communication, navigation and protection but Dee carried the burden of worrying that she would somehow ruin the swim, and went into it with fantastic preparation, and always watching me.

My first stroke rate count when Dee saw me before the first feed was 76 strokes per minute. I’d assumed with changes I’d made to my stroke over the past year that my rate would be a little lower but it was 71 stroke per minutes thereafter until the end, one stroke per minute higher than the English Channel, consistent enough to be measured. The significant stomach pain I’d had was invisible to the crew, and Dee said I’d never wavered and that I looked completely in control. She also said I passed the two swimmers who’d flanked my under the George Washington Bridge which I ascribe (possibly erroneously) to the time I’ve spent in rough water.

My nick-names for landmarks (which Dee made me take out of the writeups!) around Manhattan are how I will always think of them from now and Lower Manhattan will always be the Emerald City for me … though the road there was more murky-green than yellow.

p.s. Water temperatures measured during the swim were from 76° to 78.5° F. Air temperatures were 87° to 89°F. My time was eight hours thirty-two minutes, finishing in 22nd place from start number 32.

Captain Joe & Shi Ling

Thanks to Captain Joe and kayaker Brian for their guidance (literally) and keep me safe and Shi-Ling for keeping an eye on everyone. I’d love to see her pictures. Thanks to Dee for being such great crew…and for her fab pictures!

IMG_2617Donal in mid Harlem.resized

MIMS 2012 – Part 4 – The East and Harlem Rivers

Swimming past the Empire State Building

For the three people who asked for this, sorry for the delay, it’s been a busy few weeks, Stephen Redmond and Channel swimmers are far more important.

Somewhere in the East River section I saw a boat coming up on my right with an Irish Tricolour flying above the cabin. I guessed this had to be Ciarán’s wife Margaret’s innovation (as it so proved). So the third wave had certainly caught me due to the Hold at the Staten island Ferry. Nothing to be done except swim.

UN Building

We had passed a couple of river bends and within ten minutes entered a wider stretch of river aiming north toward United Nations Plaza. After passing under the United Nations buildings, the river narrowed between the west bank and Roosevelt Island, and we were squeezed northwards like wet soap between giant concrete hands, speed unabated, passing under the Queensboro Bridge, one of the last I was to recognise, and the sounds of the traffic overhead as I flipped to backstroke again, sixteen strokes before emerging back into the sunlight and forward.

The spires of midtown Manhattan, notably the Empire State and the beautiful Chrysler building, the one building in New York I had wanted to see for myself for many years, slipped away into the past and the behind.

I thought about Christopher Priest’s mind-bending novel Inverted World, where a city on rails is always moving toward the horizon, striving for The Optimum, time compressing and slowing in front of the city and diluting and speeding up in the past. I never know what book will come to me when I’m swimming, but it seems to happen like songs come to other swimmers, but almost all are welcome and never hang around annoying me like songs. Here I was, not Helward Mann, the book’s protagonist, but just a man, swimming up into the Future, my arms the rails I must pull myself along, the Optimum always in front of me, never quite catching it.

All this time a few of us seemed, from my vantage at least, to be jockeying for position. I could pas a swimmer, get ten metres on them only to see them do the same on the other side five or ten minutes later. With a long swim ahead, there was no sprinting to put clear water between us, everyone settled into their long strokes. Since we were all wearing the same fluorescent pink RCN caps, sometimes I was sure it was the same person, at other times I seemed to randomly assign a name. Was that Graham from Jersey? Am I still just behind Genevieve from Canada? Is that George? Is that Elvis?

Ciaran and boat

At around two hours we passed Gracie Mansion and entered Hell Gate, the confluence of three rivers Harlem, East and Long Island, and so named from a corruption of the Dutch (because of the shipping lost there) and now an area for the swim that would see the blazing progress begin to slow, and an area often notoriously choppy. My second feed was good again and a quick glance while I was feeding and facing backwards while kicking showed Ciarán’s boat just behind. I don’t waste time on looking where I’m going, except inadvertent fraction-of-second glances from the top of a wavelet. It’s worse than pointless as it slows the swimmer however momentarily and being long-sighted without prescription googles meant I would gain no valuable information.

Crossing Hell Gate

Hell Gate progressed slowly, but it was not the trial I’d expected, where and when I’d expected to possibly have to put the hammer down in the third hour for anything up to an hour. I had my third feed before I crossed it, my feed plan calling for larger feeds on the hour for the first two hours, then a feed after 30 minutes for the next two feeds, until three hours had elapsed, and then changing to feed every 20 minutes, reducing time spent feeding in the early stages when there wasn’t as much to be gained from it. Of course that plan had been written in cool Ireland, though I amended liquid amounts once we realised the heat would be a factor, but only increasing the volume by 50 ml for the twenty-minute feeds. Every time I looked Dee was there on the stern on the gunnals, watching, looking intent but with everything in control, calling Brian in for feed bottles, occasionally taking a photo. I wondered what Brian thought. Apart from the words shouted from South Cove, no further word had escaped my lips. I’m not a smiler when I swim (unlike Gábor). Brian gave me the bottle. I fed, I swam on. When he spoke I looked at him and nodded from behind my dark Vanquishers if I thought it necessary, which wasn’t much. Business. I must have looked like Mr. Grumpy.

During these hours I flipped between feeling good, and feeling everyone was passing me and with everything out of my control beyond turning over my stroke. It was a huge distance to have travelled in a short two hours, quite an average training distance. Bridges had passed of different heights and widths, whose names I no longer knew nor could remember their locations.

Donal in the Harlem river

The real beginning to the Harlem river is at Ward Island Bridge. As we closed on it I realised Reel Passion was slightly wide and right of the bridge’s left stanchion heading under the main span. I kept left forcing them to readjust and I passed the left stanchion within arm reach. As I exited I saw a large industrial digger out of my left eye and as I did the water quality changed like entering a sluice. It had previously been good once the first hour’s constant diesel slicks had passed but now it tasted … nasty. Evan described it as industrial, and I felt it tasted like the stale dishwater mixed with an oily tang, a failed vintage.

Minutes later, the bridge still visible behind me, the sides closer and surrounded by mundane post-industrial landscape, Ciarán’s boat appeared right behind Reel Passion and moved quickly up beside it. Crossing Hell Gate I’d caught and left a swimmer, it seemed, who had previously been ahead. I’d had a better line I’d felt, through the decisions of my kayaker and crew. Now Ciarán was doing the same to me. His boat disappeared behind Reel Passion’s outline, he was moving much faster than me.

The next feed came, now onto the twenty-minute interval feeds, and I checked and Ciaran was forty to fifty metres behind. I switched breathing doing a minute of right-side-only breathing allowing me up my rate slightly, then reverting to bilateral breathing and kept this up for some time, maybe until the next feed. It wasn’t a sprint or anywhere near it, but an increase of pressure.

And then I got confused. All the way up the east side, the Sun had been over my right shoulder, then it moved to over my left shoulder. I began to think I was approaching the sharp swing west of the river. I was wrong, and the Sun back moved again over some time. A tower appeared in the distance. I swam toward it and the river continued moving north according to the Sun, even allowing for time elapsed.

Kayaker Brian and Donal in mid Harlem, all going well

Time passed, bridges passed, many bridges. With twenty minutes feeds I lost track of the former and had no idea of the latter. I remembered reading how Evan had felt his arms starting to ache and therefore worried at three hours. I couldn’t remember where he said he was, I was guessing Spuyten Duyvil. Just thinking about it first made me worry that my shoulders would get sore. But I’d take a few prophylactic Ibuprofen before the start and everything felt fine. Then it was the thinking about it that bothered me slightly. So i stopped thinking about it.

Not actually the Vulcan Academy of Science

The field has spread, I had no swimmer within 50 metres of most of this time. Progress felt slow, by which I mean normal. Something loomed again, it turned out to be a building I immediately thought of the Vulcan Academy of Science, looming over the east bank. Brian left for his break at the Boathouse. I was surprised because I thought we’d already passed that point. Dee was preparing to feed me when he reappeared, both Brian and Reel Passion almost always on my right hand side where I’d requested them to suit my preferred breathing and better vision. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, the GPS seems to shows this as being the slowest section of the race. I saw a big Target and Marshalls in a crook of the East bank and as I passed them, I was finally certain I was heading west into Spuyten Duyvil.

Lower Manhattan & Brooklyn Bridge

MIMS 2012 – Part 3 – The start and the first hour

Part 1

Part 2

And then it was 10:22 a.m. and Go-time. Through sheer laziness, rather than Machiavellian scheming I’d underestimated my 1500m time in the application process (not the first time I’ve done something similar) so I was off in the second wave, after the slowest swimmers in the first wave, with Ciarán and George in the penultimate wave behind me with a two-minute break between waves. (Have I mentioned I’m a lazy person in denial by the way? True, I just hide it by doing stupid stuff).

We’d been directed to swim across the Cove to hold a line about 15 metres out from the far corner, and our kayakers would pick us up from our race numbers.

(The fourth and fastest wave getting started. Waves three and two are visible out in the water.)

As soon as I started kicking, my feet cramped. Oh for feck sake.

I’m a swimmer, cramps usually means only one thing only, forget all your bananas and potassium deficiencies; cramps mean dehydration. And with my feeds on the main boat, (like everyone else’s) my first feed/liquid wasn’t scheduled for an hour after I started. Nothing to be done, keep going, if things go okay, I might stop after we pick up the boat and get a drink.

Kayakers picking up swimmers outside South Cove

And I also immediately felt like I was slipping behind, even though I’d sandbagged my 1500m time. The bastards! The horrible bastards had all underestimated times, the same as me!

We passed the Governor’s Island ferry and then a Stop was called. With less than ten minutes swum we had to stop for a Staten Island Ferry to pass, allowing the following group to catch up. The wait wasn’t too long though and we were off again, passing within minutes to the east side of the island and therefore entering the East river and the strong tidal current of a flood tide pushing us north at a rate of two to three knots.

The chop looks ok in this image.

On Thursday, Dee and I had made a point of looking at the early stretch from the Brooklyn Bridge and the Staten Island Ferry and walking along the bank south from the Brooklyn Bridge. I’d seen big bow waves from the traffic, especially the regular fast East River Ferries wash in all directions but I’d thought it was manageable.

It was, but not easily. The towers of lower Manhattan whizzed by but the swimming was horrible, I was tossed and flipped and spun like water on a hot skillet, no predicting a pattern, no immediate view because of the bow wave disruptions. We passed under the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, too rough to flip onto my back and I caught myself thinking “I hate this”. Well under an hour swimming and I was not having fun. The bastards. The horrible, horrible horrible bastards had all told me I’d have great fun. May they die roaring, as we say in Ireland.

That’s Brian. I’m underneath that bow wave.

I told myself to stop, that I couldn’t afford to think about hating the swim so early. It was however quite acceptable to just really dislike it. So I just disliked it instead.

Alrighty then, let’s get on with this.

The speed at which we (there were swimmers and kayakers within limited low level vision) passed Lower Manhattan’s towers was astonishing, even with the rough irregular chop.

Breathe left, skyscraper, three strokes breathe right, Brooklyn, three strokes, breathe left, completely different skyscraper.

Lower Manhattan & Brooklyn Bridge

A normal stroke cycle from breathing left until I breathe left again would take about eight seconds and propel me maybe nine metres (guessing) in flat unmoving water. It’s a useful rule of thumb for a long swim that a stroke takes 1 second and covers 1 metre. It’s not that accurate and varies by swimmer but it allows a swimmer a rough calculation of how many strokes were taken over the course of marathon swim (for example 40,000 strokes for a Channel crossing).

Instead, because of our slight distance and low viewpoint and parallax and foreshortening of vision, it felt like every six strokes took me two hundred metres. South Port heliport (a landing helicopter momentarily making me wonder if Rescue 117 had found me again), the Beeckman building, Verizon, all shot past, the city seeming like a Lego town, and quickly moving beside and behind me.

Passing the Manhattan Bridge the water improved very slowly as we aimed almost east and closing with the bank beside FDR Drive to heighten the sense of speed. There were still bow waves but they were no longer a constant shifting interference pattern, it was possible to grab a break from the pounding. We picked up Dee and Captain Joe, Captain of my support boat the Reel Passion just around this point and as I passed under the Williamsburg Bridge, it was calm enough to flip for a few metres of backstroke in the shadows underneath, a tip happily stolen from Evan.

Not the cliffs of the Copper Coast to which I am more used

About three hundred metres before the Williamsburg Bridge the river again shifted toward the northeast and the water continued calming. When I look at some pictures it’s very different from a Force Three or Four blow. A Force Three blow at sea would cause something vaguely similar but instead of whitecaps that would manifest at sea, the actual water surface was calm with only slight ripples caused by wind on the actual surface, The movement was all coming from the irregular bow waves of upstream and downstream craft, and some from the jostling and repositioning pilots boats. The waves came from all directions, some bow waves washing over you and then reflecting back off the seawall from the opposite direction. Three or four or five waves could reach you at the same time, from different directions and almost all with no warning unless you happened to see one as you were breathing to that side. And no warning for the head and following waves.

And with all this was diesel in the water. The water was slightly murky but clear. The expected salinity from Brighton Beach hadn’t materialised but instead was a constant strong taste of diesel in the water, causing my mouth to shrivel. This is another of the details of long swims unknown to casual that we forget about and yet which all swimmers hate.

First feed

My first feed was after an hour and I was past the Williamsburg Bridge, further out from the bank again. The foot cramps hadn’t gotten worse, Brian waved my new God-Bottle at me (thanks to Alan Clack), and I grabbed it. 750 ml of single concentrate Maxim at ambient temperature. I opened it and flipped to my back drinking and still kicking forward. All the contents finished quickly, I flipped back and continued, by now we’d left the higher towers of Lower Manhattan behind.

Not too long, maybe ten minutes after the first feed a nagging concern was alleviated when I urinated for the first time. I have never been seriously afflicted by an extended inability to urinate while swimming but I know from friends such as Liam Maher’s English Channel Solo and others, that it is always a possibility, and it can cause great pain for the swimmer and even ruin swims.

I don’t know what building I was passing, it was medium height and nondescript in New York terms, when the seal broke and I experienced what I instantly thought of as piss-bliss, excuse the language, but the less prosaic details of swims are as essential to understand. I emptied my bladder … and kept emptying. It went on until my bladder felt like a plastic bottle from which liquid had been squeezed from without letting air in, first the incredible relief, then a somewhat long pleasant sensation and then a reversal, a growing sense of vacuum contracting my insides. And all the while, keeping swimming. If you are offended, this is not the sport for you, I am not the writer for you. There is a reality in these mundane biological actions that occasionally goes beyond the forgettable actions of land. We all know this, and we all pretend otherwise.

By now the water had finally calmed sufficiently to start to derive some sense of enjoyment.

Next instalment, the remaining Eat River, Hell Gate and the Harlem River.

MIMS 2012 – Part 2 – Race day

Part 1 -

Saturday indeed broke more bearable, with temperatures in the high twenties with an almost cloudless sky and no forecast of rain or thunderstorms.

I’d brought my bag of oatmeal for porridge which I microwaved in the hotel dining room, and as usual, forced it into myself. It was not the best bowl ever made, even by my appalling standards, resembling a rapidly hardening tiling grout. To follow this was a concoction consisting of more oatmeal, Greek yoghurt and mixed fruit juices from supplies purchased in one of the ubiquitous local pharmacy/markets, (which just confuse us poor Irish country people; where do New Yorkers do the weekly “Big Shop”?). Smoothie and porridge, breakfast of marathon swimmers, taste and enjoyment not essential.

Protip: bring your own big funnel

 Using another trick from Lisa, I’d applied suntan lotion the previous night, which never seemed to dry completely. But I’d slept moderately well, which I wasn’t worried about anyway, as I’d slept well on Thursday night, which I knew was sufficient for me for a big swim. A lesson leaned the hard way, as so many more. I never expect to sleep the night before a swim, but jet lag provided some assistance. We’d packed the swim and boat gear the previous evening, much of it in my large dry-bag and I’d sat on the floor of the shower mixing Maxim into 1.5 Litre bottles. Mixing Maxim is a sticky job, even when you manage to mix everything dry, which I didn’t. The bag included things that had seemed more necessary back in cold and wet Ireland; wet-gear for Dee for the boat, wet and warm gear for me in case I had exit the water for a period due to lightning, all utterly superfluous, even ridiculous as it turned out. Four hours after reaching New York I’d emailed Ciarán asking what kind of idiot I was that I’d brought two, two, hoodies AND a heavy merino wool top to this insane heat. I have become so conditioned to cold and wet.

As an aside, it’s usually easy to spot Irish people in an airport. They arrive at their destination wearing utterly inappropriate warm clothes looking like polar bears lost in the Caribbean oozing sweat from every pore, and arrive home to Ireland, rain and cold, wearing sandals and shorts and sombreros. In winter.

We headed for Pier 25 for Dee to meet the boat and load the gear. The taxi driver conned us and we found we’d overpaid him for being nice, quick and helpful, when instead he’d dropped us at Pier 66, well Uptown. Uptown is a technical New York term by which I demonstrate my suave well-travelled and cosmopolitan erudition. But as happened all week a friendly New Yorker helped us get a taxi across the highway. Yes, Manhattanites are on the whole friendly, and were so repeatedly, usually without asking. That’s some bad PR Manhattanites have been getting, someone should fix that.

Pier 25 was busy with Soloists loading the gear and the relay teams bustling about. If you knew what to look for you could tell the experienced Soloists. I saw one relay team sitting on the ground trying to mix feeds from scoops into narrow bottles, asking how much was needed and where was the suntan lotion. The Soloists who were around were ready to go.

We said out farewells and made for the Start Point of South Cove, at Battery Park on the west side just around the south tip of the island. The water in the Cove was looking pretty dirty, but experienced swimmers know this is just an effect of eddy currents gathering debris. Carol Cashell (from Sandycove) had told me that when she swam The Little Red Lighthouse 10k last September the water was so murky that she couldn’t see her hand. I’ve swim in conditions where my arms and hands are invisible to myself, so it wouldn’t be a surprise, but it does have some implications for trying to concentrate on your stroke for a long time if you can’t see where your forward hand is.

Ciarán and I met Thomas Kofler, English Channel Soloist and graduate of the first Cork Distance Camp; George Meenan from Derry, also an EC Soloist and our third compatriot, and others such as Graham Lowe from the Jersey crew, Genevieve from Canada, Kent Nicholas from Arizona, Jim Fitzpatrick, Yale swim star Abby Nunn and others, (and sorry I didn’t get to meet everyone). With Thomas there it was literally like having a bonus Sandycove Swimmer around.

{By the way, after Thursday’s Brighton swim, Friday’s Briefing, and the morning’s pre-swim chat, I was utterly astonished and gratified that so many marathon swimmers knew about loneswimmer.com, and that’s not false modesty, you know by now what I say; one average swimmers in the middle of nowhere, taking shite}.

But it was hot. Drinking and walking to the distant toilets to urinate, we waited and talked and chatted to the occasional bemused passers-by, roared at Shaggy as he ran past (Ciarán is from Leinster), and waited some more. And we put on more suntan lotion.

With no camera, I can only fail to describe George, who, even more worried about sunburn than Ciarán and I, resembled someone who’d emerged from a tub of pancake batter due to the layers of suntan lotion and lube applied. All over. All. Over.

The support kayakers arrived in South Cove, flocking and jostling about like a bizarrely coloured flock of new marine wildlife and where possible we grabbed an introduction, and I shouted an Hello to Brian Johnson, my essential paddler, safety, navigator, feeder and lifeline.

They assembled us on the board-walk in groups according to our start waves, with no shelter, and almost no water. Then they reassembled us in groups. Then they reversed the order of the groups. Meanwhile the sun bore down, we all ran out of water, and there was no shade.

And we dripped, indeed we veritably oozed. Suntan lotion, petroleum jelly, emulsifying ointment, Channel grease, whatever anyone’s lubricant of choice was, flowed in rivulets and the smell of slowly self-basting swimmers wafted gently along the board-walk, all desperate to be in the water and protected from the heat.

The last minutes, like my Channel Grease, seeped slowly away.

Lower Manhattan from the Staten Island ferry, Battery Park (left) to the Ferry Terminal (right), the first 10 minutes of the course

MIMS 2012 – Part 1 – Three Rivers

New York maps show Manhattan Island plumbing a line from north to south, bounded by three rivers, the East and Harlem rivers circumscribe the east curve of Gotham with the East River swerving out and around lower Manhattan, up through Hell Gate and the confluence of the East and Harlem rivers and the Long Island Sound, and then the Harlem river arcs back northwest and cuts through the gash of Spuyten Duyvil, and bludgeons into the Hudson, which delineates the long straight west side of the island, arriving back at the southern tip.

It’s all a convenient and anthropocentric lie of course.

In reality there is only one river, the impressive Hudson, following an 167 mile fjord down from far up New York state, the East and Harlem rivers are just tidal straits (like the Kenmare River in Ireland is just a Bay). And there is the Atlantic, and the island is actually aligned closer to a southwest/northeast axis.

The rivers are convenient names and fictions to please mapmakers and give us humans that sense of control over the world we endlessly seek. Changing an island’s direction from reality to fiction gives us power over the world. Swimming around the same island may be another way of attempting to achieve a similar result. If you know why I swim, please tell me.

Dee & I landed in New York three days before MIMS 2012, in the middle of the first heat wave of the year, the sun above the city hammering us onto the streets with temperatures in the high thirties (97°F). It abated slightly over the next couple of days, bringing thunder storms, one of the potential difficulties with MIMS which can force delays or even stop the swim.

It’s not Sandycove. Brighton Beach, Coney Island, and some assembled MIMS and CIBBOWS swimmers

On Thursday Dee and I walked the Brooklyn Bridge, everyone else looking at the astonishing cityscape, and I mainly focusing on the East River below, watching the high volume of traffic.

Lower East River from Brooklyn Bridge ; East River & Staten Island ferries, FDNY & NYPD boats, commercial and leisure craft, all throwing wakes, and this was NOT the busier Saturday morning of the race

On Friday morning Magnificent Seven swimmer Ciarán Byrne, myself, and our crews met some of the MIMS Soloists and some CIBBOWS swimmers at their regular open water location of Brighton Beach. CIBBOWS is one of the world centres of Channel swimming, with Dover, La Jolla, London’s Serpentine, Chicago, Perth … and of course Sandycove. We met such luminaries as Dave Barra, (fastest Triple Crown ever and Director for 8 Bridges), Jim Fitzpatrick from California (once swam 700,00 yards in 30 days in training) and the remarkable Forrest Nelson and more.

Ciaran and Donal at Brighton Beach, partners in swimming crime

The water temperature was about 21° C, in the realms of “imaginary” until that point, and Ciarán and I swam an easy 45 minutes punctuated by some chatting. Very warm, (but not unbearably so we were relived to discover, as we’d been worried it would be too warm for us cold-water swimmers).

We were also relieved to discover that we both still knew how to swim, a ridiculous but perennial concern for swimmers coming off taper, all rationale, evidence and history to the contrary notwithstanding.

And very salty, similar to the English Channel’s one-percent salinity increase over our more open and exposed side of the Atlantic, where the water has more freedom than the bays and Sounds of New York to become more dilute.

Thunderstorms on Fifth Avenue

The forecast for Saturday had the thunder storms passed by Friday evening after the mandatory final briefing, when we’d met more of this year’s MIMS Soloists, of whom this year there would be a total of 38 swimmers.

Taking Back the Rivers 2012

A quick recap for those of you not familiar with MIMS, it’s NYCSwim‘s flagship event, and has been run annually as a race since 1993 1982, the island having first having been circumnavigated by Robert Downing in 1914 in under 14 hours (using a different course) and swum by many famous marathon swimmers since then. It typically runs in late June, and entries open in November, the available slots usually filling with swimmers from around the world within minutes, all of whom must already have completed at least a six-hour swim in the preceding 24 months. If I was to use my English Channel Solo as a qualification, it had to be this year or never and there would be very few Solo swimmers there without marathon experience, (a couple only having a single 6 hour qualification swim). No-one would be a beginner.

And it’s a race. With Argentina’s 2012 Parana swim cancelled for this year due to inclement weather, it would be one of the longest swim races in the world, with the record standing since seven-times World Champion Shelley Taylor Smith swam it in 5 hours 45 minutes, (only 15 minutes slower than the computer-estimated fastest possible time), in 1995, my friend Evan Morrison, a much better and faster swimmer than I, was second last year in 7:31, and other friends Eddie Irwin, Gábor Molnar and Ned Denison from the Sandycove club have previously successfully swum it.

With a later start this year than usual because of tides, the earlier online briefings were punctuated with warnings of increased traffic because of conflicting events on the rivers on the same day, and because we would be out there later in the day, and therefore winds on the Hudson would also be stronger and the water more choppy, and yet another boating event had been announced for the East river, adding to events of which we’d already been informed.

Lower Manhattan from the Staten Island ferry, Battery Park (left) to the Ferry Terminal (right) and the Brooklyn Bridge, the first 20 minutes of the course

HOW TO: Sample marathon swim feed schedule (MIMS)

(Apologies to the subscribers who got three unfinished versions of this on Saturday. I was sick for a few days and should have stayed away from the computer, especially after the first mistaken post).

Feed schedules for long swims are often discussed amongst swimmers, but for some reason we are reticent to show them, possibly for fear of criticism.

I can’t claim that any one schedule is definitely the best, only that there are schedules that work and schedules that don’t work and those may be different for different people. Schedules will also be different depending on expected event duration and water and air temperature.

The important questions you must decide are:

  • Do you need hot or cold feeds?
  • What is your feed interval? (Is it the same the whole way through from the start?)
  • Are you planning to take an electrolyte or other break from carb feeds?
  • Do you need painkillers or any medication on the schedule?
  • Do you need or want irregular solid foods or liquids (soup, fruit, tee, coffee, chocolate etc)?
I was asked what I meant by irregular foods. I mean the treats that swimmers often take to reduce salt build up in the mouth, as a comfort food, as something to look forward to in x number of feed’s time, or simply as a break from carbs. Freda Streeter, as you saw in the swim checklist, recommends Milky Ways and Cadbury’s Chocolate Rolls. Finbarr likes Fry’s Turkish Delight, I like tinned peaches, etc.

Here’s my pretty straightforward MIMS feed schedule though, where I was keeping it simple, not even a 2:1 mouthwash.

________________________________

Let feeds sit in sun for an hour. (This was an instruction to Dee beforehand. In reality it was too warm, and cold feeds, a novelty to me, would have been best for the day)

End of 1st hour     Maxim       700ml

End of 2nd hour    Maxim       700ml

2:30                       Maxim       350ml from here

3:00                       Maxim

3:30                       Maxim

4:00 Dissolved Electrolyte with Ibuprofen, 700 ml.  Mix in advance, let settle

Feed every 20 minutes from here

4:20    Maxim

4:40    Maxim

5.00    Maxim

5:20    Maxim

5:40    Maxim

6:00    Electrolyte dissolved, Mix in advance, let settle

6:20    Maxim

6:40    Maxim with Ibuprofen

7:00    Maxim

7:20    Maxim

7:40    Maxim

8:00    Electrolyte dissolved, Mix in advance, let settle

8:20    Maxim

8:40    Maxim

9:00    Maxim

9:20    Maxim, only if more than 10 mins from end

____________________________________________

So the pattern is five Maxim feeds before taking a break and having an electrolyte, with prophylactic painkillers taken twice, just in case, especially since I’d been having shoulder pains for three weeks beforehand. The electrolytes were a larger volume, 750ml and on the third I was only able to take half, despite ongoing dehydration problems, (more details on that in the MIMS swim report). As usual I’d been off caffeine for months beforehand and the Zyn electrolyte was one with added caffeine (20mg), not enough as it turned out as I felt no coffee kick at all, especially at the total amount of caffeine ingested was only about 50mg, about half a cup of standard coffee, which I hadn’t calculated properly beforehand, another lesson. We had actually taken a flask of coffee but with the heat decided against it. A bottle of cold coffee with the electrolyte added would have been the solution, but I didn’t think of this during the swim.

Related articles

MIMS 2012

Ciaran Byrne and I take to the water around Manhattan on Saturday 23rd for a spot of fun with Dee crewing for me & Margaret and Jim for Ciaran.

Due to the usual communication difficulties, there will be no update to the blog. NYCSwim.org have told us we will all have Trackers, but as of right now, there’s still no detail available.

Check http://nycswim.org/Event/Event.aspx?event_id=2202&from=gps in the hope they finally add something there. I sandbagged my 1500m time too much and so I’m off in the second slowest wave, number 32. Ciaran is in the third wave (second fastest) two minutes later, number 21. (There are 38 Solos this year).

New York has been experiencing a heat wave since we arrived, with temperatures in the high 30s C.! When have Ciaran and I ever had to worry about dehydration? They’ve dropped a bit this evening though and should be a bit better tomorrow again. The water was 20 C+ at Brighton Beach today with some other MIMS swimmers and CIBBOWS swimmers!

The Maxim is mixed, the first layer of suntan lotion (SPF50 for Kids :-)) is drying, I’m off to the scratcher for me sleep, hopefully.

Congratulations to the MIMS swimmers

Congrats to my adopted Hungarian child Gábor, Eddie Irwin, and Evan Morrison on finishing the Manhattan Island swim yesterday. Evan finished in third place about 10.20pm GMT after a storming swim down the Hudson overtaking two people, fantastic. He reached a maximum speed on 7mph on the other side of the island! Erica Rose (US) was first and John Van Wisse (Aus, Double EC last year while we over there, and visitor here last year with Chloe McCardel, last year’s MIMS winner) was second.

MIMS 2011 GPS finish

The GPS was a bit flaky for the last 45 minutes making it difficult to figure out who was where. At one point it looked like Erica Rose might have abandoned only half a mile from the finish. Eddie and Gábor finished before midnight (not sure exactly, Eddie said it was a lovely swim).

Well done one and all. Looking forward to the swim reports

MIMS – best of luck to all today

In a few hours Gábor Molnár and Eddie Irwin and Evan Morrison will be tacking the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. I want to wish all three the best.

Here’s Evan’s GPS tracker. Here’s the official NYC Twitter.

MIMS is 28 and half miles long around the island. I recommend using Google Earth on Street View and following the road around the island to get some idea of what’s ahead for them. Tides are once again the most important thing with some of the course being tide-assisted. They will swim in three different rivers!

A successful English or Catalina Channel solo or a 4 hour swim in the correct temperature (about 14C/60F) is the qualification requirement for MIMS, which is notoriously difficult to gain entry to.

If I recall Hell’s Gate is believed to be the toughest spot, with a narrowed and therefore stronger flow. Start and finish is at Battery Park. Another difficulty is thunderstorms, often requiring swimmers to be evacuated from the water until a restart is possible. To non-swimmers this may sound like a rest but swimmers will tell you it’s not, you get cold and stiff. They’ll prefer to keep swimming.

Anyway best wishes to all again. We’ll be following.