Swimming Off the Beaten Path – Bosphorus Cross-Continental Swimming Race

Swimming Off the Beaten Path – Bosphorus Cross-Continental Swimming Race

Larry_Bosphorus1I recently returned from Istanbul, Turkey, where I swam in the 6.5-km Samsung Bosphorus Cross-Continental Swimming Race. Sometimes it’s fun to try something different. I had a terrific time and thought I’d share the tale.

The Race
I’ve had my eye on this race for several years. Obviously, Istanbul is off my beaten path geographically, but I finally found the chance to schedule a short trip for the race.

Istanbul is fascinating city. I visited for the first time as a high school student in the early 1970s. I can recall being amazed then at the newly built suspension bridge over the Bosphorus, the strait that connects the Black Sea in the north to the Sea of Marmara in the south. Running right through the city, this strait also separates the European and Asian continents. With much of the city spread along the hills overlooking the Bosphorus, Golden Horn and Sea of Marmara, the setting is spectacular. I last visited Istanbul in 2007 on a cruise ship. Pulling into the Bosphorus on the ship and watching the many ferries on the waterway, I wondered aloud about swimming the approximately 1-mile stretch across the Bosphorus from Europe to Asia. It took a few more years, but I finally got things organized.

The Cross-Continental swim race is now in its 27th year, organized today by the Turkish Olympic Committee. This event has become one of the world’s largest open water swim races, with nearly 2,000 participants from more than 45 countries this year. The race is a 6.5-km point-to-point, non-wetsuit swim, starting on the Asian side of Istanbul at the Kanlica Ferry Port and finishing on the European side in central Istanbul, at the foot of the original Bosphorus Bridge.

Training
Coach Justin organized the swim training leading up to the race. This would be my longest-ever non-wetsuit swim in open water. Because of a shoulder injury, I did very little swimming in the second half of 2014. But by the time of the EC Tucson Camp in February of this year, though, I was back to swimming three times per week, a routine that we kept through this spring and summer. The two weekday workouts focused on strength and speed and a longer weekend workout focused on endurance. The longest swim session was 7,200 yards, about three weeks prior to the race.

Getting There and Getting Ready
To avoid the online entry frenzy, I joined a tour group organized by SwimTrek out of the U.K. that had been allocated 200 slots. The kind folks at SwimTrek took care of the local lodging and transportation arrangements, which was very helpful. I flew to Istanbul overnight on a Thursday, for a short four-night stay. The race was on Sunday. There was time for some sightseeing on Saturday afternoon and again on Monday, the day after the race.

There was an elaborate race village at the finishing area in the Kuruscesme Cemil Topuzlu Park. There were tented spectator grandstands, media towers, temporary cafes, all to provide a great race-day experience for athletes and spectators alike. On the day before the race, there was a guided boat tour of the course for swimmers and supporters, with narration describing useful tactics for the upcoming swim.

Race Day

On race day, the swimmers and supporters gathered at the race village and at 8:30 a.m. we began to load onto the ferry that would take us to the start. The scene was very reminiscent of the boat trip to the start of the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon: 2,000 swimmers, steamy interior, too little AC. There was lots of applause from the onlookers as the ferry boat departed for the 30-minute trip to the start. There was a flotilla of vessels that accompanied the ferry to the start—Turkish Coast Guard, medical boats, rescue teams and the like. Once docked, a barge was brought alongside the ferry that served as a starting platform.

At a couple minutes after 10:00 a.m., I left the boat onto the barge, crossed the timing mat, and jumped into the water. I followed the advice that had been provided the day previously and swam toward the middle of the waterway, where there was a helpful current and a comfortable water temperature of about 70F. With the shipping traffic suspended, without the worry of dangerous marine wildlife, and with easy navigation down a waterway with towering hills on both sides and a giant suspension bridge at the finish, it was easy to concentrate on steady swimming and watch the scenery go by.

The swim went by in a flash—actually, 1:23 by the clock. I finished 206th overall and 16th/135 in my age group. A solid effort, I thought. And acknowledging a helpful surface current, there aren’t many opportunities to cover 6.5k in less than 90 minutes—at least while swimming in the open water!

Some Thoughts
I enjoy this type of event because it’s something different. I would put running races (of almost any distance) or long cycling events into this same category. In recent years I’ve enjoyed a variety of longer open water swim races, including the 4.4-mile Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, the 2.4-mile Waikiki Roughwater Swim, and the 14-km Henley Bridge-to-Bridge Swim. Events like these provide a challenge not only on race day, but also in the training leading up to the event. It’s always fun to stretch a bit.

Longest Workout (SCY)
1000 swim w/fins as 150 free/50 back continuous
4 rounds of:
4 x 25 kick on :45
8 x 25 swim, descend 1-4 on :30
Main Set
Two rounds of:
5 x 200 buoy on 3:00
8 x 50 swim on :50
8 x 125 paddles/buoy, descend 1-4 (2x) on 2:00
200 choice cool down

About Author

Larry Creswell

Larry Creswell, M.D., is a cardiac surgeon and Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi. In addition to his regular column on Endurance Corner, he maintains The Athlete’s Heart blog to offer information about athletes and heart disease in an informal way and to encourage exchange and discussion that will help athletes build a heart-healthier lifestyle.