Since 2019, I wanted to be able to participate in the 50th edition of the Toroneos Gulf crossing, but because of the pandemic - it wasn't to be. The 50th edition was held locally, in a limited number, of the pandemic.
After I was with my soul Sergiu, when he crossed the Gulf of Toroneos in 2018 and I read his story, I set out to live a similar experience. Sergiu and Ovidiu's companion, on the other hand, were physically with me, fulfilling the role of assistant on the boat, respectively on the shore. If they hadn't been with me, it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, for me to swim.
Toroneos Bay is located in the Aegean Sea, between the Kasandra Peninsula and Sithonia, in the Khalkidhiki region. The event involves swimming between Kallithea Kasandra and Nikiti Sithonia, being organized with the support of local entrepreneurs, associations, private individuals and Nikiti City Hall.
The organizational details may vary from one edition to another, depending on approvals and budget, but the desire and effort of the organizer are to offer free assistance, a boat with skipper, prizes and 2 nights accommodation for the swimmer and his assistant.
The swimmer pays on the spot a registration fee, modest in relation to everything he receives, of 150 euros.
The evening before the event we gathered in the port of Nikiti, at Marina, where the technical meeting was held. Although several athletes from abroad were admitted, including the famous swimmer Michael Read (nicknamed "the king of the English Channel"), I was the only foreigner present at the event.
The next day at 6, fixed, we were to be in Pallini Beach, Kallithea.
In the morning of the swimming there was a real movement of troops, the boys came on a motorbike, took me by car, I went to Kalithea, from where Ovidiu returned by car to recover his engine and Laura could come with the children on arrival. Logic, not a joke.
Good. We show up at the starting place 15 minutes late and surprise! 🙂 we are the first to arrive, among the participants, at the right place.
At the start, a sports-loving couple was waiting, at sunrise, on a swimmer's holiday from 5:30. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that the first arrivals, participants and spectators, were all Romanians. I'm reading a post by Fabian from that morning - "Good morning! I came with the sun, who comes with a coffee? ” the answer would be "We"
The water was a little rough on the shore, unlike the day before when it had been "lake".
I understood from a local man that at 9 the forecast would be updated and according to the last forecast we would start with wind and waves in front and end at noon with a strong wind / side current.
So it was, including in the forecast from 9
The strategy of the race was to start harder, to position myself in a group with which to shoot (without draft) and according to which to report as a position in the race.
Sergiu shared with me that he hopes to finish on the "podium". The race is not competitive, all those who finish the crossing deserve all the appreciation. I expressed my reservations, knowing the history of the crossings, the level of preparation of the participants; and I correctly estimated the place in the final list.
I take into account my expectations and the training I had.
I had a better physical shape than last year, I managed to train well, in a 25m pool, but I had too few outings in open water, Buftea Lake is more dry, and walking to the sea does not it is always accessible; managing to swim only once in the sea before Toroneos.
8 o'clock, the start is given. Wind ahead, not very big waves.
In a short time I meet by boat, Sergiu in assistance.
An athlete detaches himself from the group. For about 60 minutes I walk in parallel with a group of 2-3 other swimmers.
Here I receive signals that they are going wrong to the left, that I have to keep my boat to the right.
I look "home" at the GPS track and notice that we were a little too far to the right of the right track - but maybe good for what awaits us on the last piece.
After another 30-60 minutes, the 2-3 are positioned at about 100 m in front.
Quoting Sergiu "there is one far in front, and these 2-3 that we reach immediately".
The truth is that by coming out of a medium / reserve effort, you can get those in front back - if that's the point.
The general diet plan is based on carbohydrates = energy, with fast absorption.
I took into account the advice of Liviu Irimia, triathlete, tested before the event.
In the middle of the effort, the wind and the waves calm down, I catch a good swimming swim, I increase my speed, but I am a little confused by the fact that after 6 hours I didn't manage to urinate at all. The water is hot, too hot for my taste (so hot that in a breeze it's warmer in the water vs. outside at 32+ degrees), the sun burns enough to make you squeak.
3 strikes breathing, which I consider optimal for an effort dosage and low energy consumption. So low that at one point I am fed up with so many carbs. I feel so "fed" after 5-6 hours, as if I got up from the table now.
Due to the salinity of the water, I start to dislike the drink, although it is a little sweet compared to traditional gels.
I ask Sergiu to change the food content, to cross the water more often. Don, more water, issue fixed.
I admit that I wanted, with short breaks, to reduce the distance from those in front. And I think there was a time when I reduced the distance.
But at one point I was blown away by the whole context (sun, hot water, lumbar, salt water - mouth) and I said to conserve energy for the announced current, from the end.
As we were in the middle, we had discussions about which landmark on the shore to take and I insist that I would like to take the landmark on the boat, and not on the shore - even if the use of the shore is recommended for sailing courses. The landmark in front of the shore / in front is sinful for the swimming position and in the conditions of a salt water, which raises your legs and the pelvis - it ends up generating, as it actually generated, great hip / lumbar pain.
I express "I'm going after you", we talk about the parallel and the boat landmark 🙂 and I hear when I put my head in the water like "I will stay behind".
I said .. oh sh*t .. now i'll see in front, after the boat :))) and so it happened.
The last part is so beautiful, that at one break I did almost 16 kilometers, and at the next break (over 30 minutes) I find out that I did about 16 kilometers. :)))
At km 16-18, we take as a landmark “the upper left corner of a valley.”
And in the last kilometers, as we approach the shore, we take as a landmark “the right corner at the bottom of a green triangle - of trees ”, which the peak is closer to the upper right corner of the valley :)))
I hear that a sportswoman in front, so (not knowing her) theoretically better than me, gave up and I remember the side current.
I start to conserve energy, swim at a lower speed - I slow down, I emphasize a relatively correct technique - to avoid injuries.
Note 1: In the end I will find out that the sportswoman is a glory of her Greek colleagues, in open water swimming, who most probably gave up from exhaustion, being involved in an effort before him - with too little recovery time between them.
Note 2: ref to the recovery time in endurance sports, the term of 3 weeks between major efforts, similar to blood donation, is considered a benchmark for an optimal recovery (salts, carbohydrates, muscle, etc.).
In the last part comes the wonder of the side current, which pushes us to the left.
So I went right - forward - pushed left - right forward and so on - taking into account the ability to correct the direction given by the boat.
The boat tries to run parallel to me, at a distance of a few meters, enough not to draft or use its wake, but also enough to see how it bends in the waves, as if it is about to fall on me.
And here the effort of Sergiu and the boatman is very useful, because in the absence of this arrangement - I would have struggled quite (much) hard to reach the shore. During the filming, at home, I notice various verbal indications transmitted by Sergiu, such as "come to the boat", "go further to the right", "come on ..." - I don't know what ... but I couldn't hear them.
The distance measured by MSF according to the rules of marathon swimming of 24.5 km. Distance measured by the clock from Sergiu's hand, on the boat , is 25.85 km. A difference of 1.3km, may by given by GPS quality
I am approaching the finish, I am trying to find out in which direction I am coming out of the water: with the pontoon / dock with people in front on the left, the pontoon / dock with people in front, the beach on the right. I remember from the images I watched before, with Sergiu - that he goes out on the beach, so the others indicate.
My participation in this event would have been unlikely if I had not been supported by a family dear to me, known through Sergiu, who became our friends. The children, Tudor and Diana, were the first to finish the open event of 1500m swimming, during the swimming marathon. Tudor, 15, was accepted to compete in the big race after turning 16.
On the last hundred meters I meet them, who accompany me swimming to the exit.
On arrival I am greeted by a large crowd of spectators, who applaud and encourage each newcomer, climbed on an open stage, and the organizers crown the finishers with a wreath of olive branches, and offer a cup, a medal, a diploma, water and an invitation to a free meal at the restaurant, which I did not have the opportunity to honor.
It was a great pleasure for me to find on arrival the family, the children, and the two Romanian families mentioned earlier, after a long period of effort for me and waiting for them.
Among those waiting for the swimmers at the end was a gentleman who swam 41 times (years) since the 51 editions. He lived with so much emotion that his hair stood on end when the swimmers arrived. This gentleman told me that it was one of the most difficult races in the history of the event, according to conditions - the best time representing the 2nd weakest first time in the history of the 51 years of editions.
Speaking of Laura, that's how lucky I am to catch the rare moments.
I tried to compare the times of the 2018 edition (last published on the MSF website) with that of this year, 2021 and the conclusion would be this:The best crossing time recorded by MSF (the whole history) is 5h25 ′. The first to arrive in 2018 traveled in 6h18 ′, in 2021 8h19 ′ => so it took the first one 2 hours more.
I finished in 2021 at 9:45 am and I notice that in both editions I would have positioned myself in the same place 7, with luck. The first one in 2021 finished in front of me with 1h25 ′, the last one finished after me at 5h10 ′.
I asked the organizers to indicate a place for the records of the historical swimming, the 51 editions, for their registration on the MSF website. I still haven't received an answer. Given that the longswims.com database managed by MSF seems to me the most (possible) complete reference in the world; updating the profiles of the swimmers with all the historical swims would be a special gesture.
Special thanks to my family, Sergiu and Ovidiu, to the families present on the spot (Cristi, Adina, Tudor, Diana, Horatiu, Fabian, Monica), to the Toroneos organizers, to those who offered me training conditions (Navi pool, Catalin Murgoci - personal trainer), the group of swimmers and support "from Buftea" and Eduard Constantinescu / IntraNet, who supports the project I called "Marathon Swimming Romania" in this website.