On July 21, 2019 I swam from Asia to Europe!
I participated in the Bosphorus Cross Continental Swim (Boğaziçi Kıtalararası Yüzme Yarışı). An annual open water swimming race between Europe and Asia (6.5km) in Istanbul, Turkey. It was an incredible experience and I’m excited to share my journey with you!
Every year over 2,400 swimmers from around the world compete in the Cross Continental Swim. The race has been going on for over 30 years and continues to grow in popularity for people of all nationalities outside Turkey. I signed up eight months in advance to secure my spot for the chance to swim between two continents. The race fills up in less than 30 minutes.
Leading up to the race I had been training with MySwimPro and receiving encouragement from our global community. In the two months before the race I was averaging 3,000 meters per workout 3-4x/week. My longest pool workout was 5km, and I maintained my lifting routine of 3x/week up until two weeks before the race.
I also mixed in a few open water swims between 1-3km in the weeks leading up to the race. I’ve competed in a number of pool and open water competitions, but this was my first international open water race. I raced at the FINA Masters World Championships in Budapest, Hungary a couple of years ago which was amazing and you can read about that here.
Arriving to Istanbul, Turkey
I arrived to Istanbul on July 19th (two days) before the race. Istanbul is +7 hours ahead of my home in Detroit, so I wanted a minimum of two days to get adjusted to the time difference. The day before the race is required registration for all athletes.
Everyone technically needs to be pre-registered to do the swim, but you’re also required to check-in the day before the race to receive an official race packet which includes your timing bracelet. It was awesome to have MySwimPro team members Cenk Arioz and Max Bilan join the fun!
When you check-in, the race packet is more like a welcome kit that is filled with race branded memorabilia including a backpack, t-shirt, towel, swim cap, timing chip, some nutrition bars and a race info booklet. After check-in, you hop on a ferry that takes race participants to the starting line and the boat guides instruct everyone (in Turkish and English) how to navigate the Bosphorus while swimming on the channel.
The boat ride the day before the race helps set your bearings for when you’ll be in the water and really opens your eyes to how beautiful the city of Istanbul is. The boat ride lasts about one hour (about the time it takes to do the swim). The only thing left before the race is to rest up, and get ready for the next morning!
Although the race is technically swum from Asia to Europe, the finishing point on the European side serves as the launch point for two massive ships that send all the swimmers to the starting platform on the Asian side.
The race starts at 10AM, but athletes are required to be ready to go at the starting point in Kuruçeşme park at around 8:00AM. 1,200 swimmers load onto one ship, and the other 1,200 swimmers load onto the other ship. Both ships depart before 9AM from what will be the finish line of the race and head to the starting point 6.5km up the Bosphorus.
At 10AM the race horn goes off and 2,400 swimmers enter the water on the Asian side and swim with the current 6.5km towards the European side of Istanbul. Not everyone enters the water at the same time, and because your time is recorded by the ankle bracelet after you cross the official starting platform, there was no need to rush to the front.
The ships are divided by age-group, so the older swimmers start the race first and as soon as their ship empties, the younger swimmers enter the water after them. I entered the water a full 5 minutes after the first swimmers entered the water and was one of the last swimmers to start the race. It was an exhilarating experience jumping into the water!
The water felt refreshing, and the current was insane. I was informed by multiple swimmers who have done the race in the past to focus on swimming in the colder water. The current of this colder water ranges from 2-7km/hr. Luckily navigating the current was pretty easy because it streamed in the middle of the channel. You can watch the full race here:
If you find yourself swimming on the sides of the channel, then you’re in trouble because that’s where the reverse current lies. Although I was swimming on my own for most of the race, I felt pretty confident that I was swimming in the ‘fast water’. I saw at least 50 jelly fish floating about 1-2 meters below the surface, but none clung on.
The scenery was beautiful. Every time I lifted my head to spot my direction or throw in a few strokes of breaststroke you could see the beauty of Istanbul. I was grateful for the opportunity to do this swim, and over the course of less than 1 hour I swam past millions of people and centuries of history.
As I passed the Galatasaray Island, and approached the finishing platform, I started to see other swimmers who had taken slightly different paths. It looked like they were a bit closer to the shore line than I was, but it didn’t matter because we were headed to the same place! The current near the finish line was the fastest current I’ve ever felt in my life.
The current is so strong at the finish, it’d be impossible for someone to swim in the opposite direction, and why the course guides advise not to wait too long to cut into the finish from the middle of the channel, because if you’re not strong enough to swim laterally to the finishing platform, you’ll be swept past the finish and into the sea of Marmara.
In the final 500-1,000 meters I was starting to fatigue a little, but the current seemed to pickup in my favor. It’s also pretty easy to get pumped up and sprint to the finish when you see thousands of people in the stands cheering everyone on, a helicopter flying overhead, and multiple drones flying just meters above the water documenting everything. It’s truly a one-of-a kind race experience!
After The Race
I finished the swim in 53:36. That time placed 3rd in my age-group and was the fastest USA Citizen overall. The fastest male was MELİKŞAH DÜĞEN and he finished in 48:28. The fastest female finisher was Turkish National team swimmer, HİLAL ZEYNEB SARAC. in 47:26.
It can not be understated the role the current plays in this race. Luckily, you swim with the stream the entire time, so you’ll be able to finish the 6.5km crossing in nearly half the time it would take you in a swimming pool or open water with no current.
Swimming 6.5km in under 55 minutes means averaging roughly 50 seconds per 100 meters. Sustaining this speed is not possible for any swimmer of any level in a swimming pool, but if you’re strategic and swim in the current, you can swim 30-50% faster than your aerobic threshold in the pool.
MySwimPro Istanbul Meetup
After the race we hosted a meetup at a restaurant right next to the finishing area in Kuruçeşme park. We played trivia, eat great food and enjoyed Cay on the Bosphorus. You can read more about our meetup here.
Istanbul, Turkey 🇹🇷
The opportunity to swim the Bosphorus is also an opportunity to explore Istanbul. At first called Byzantium, then Constantinople and finally Istanbul, the city has been the capital of three Empires which each left their landmarks : palaces, castles, mosques, churches and and many more monuments.
The global city of 15 million residents straddles Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait. It is one of the most historically significant cities in the world and positioned strategically between Asia and Europe serving as a gateway to billions of people. It is a must-see city and the Bosphorus cross continental swim is the perfect excuse to do it! Checkout some of my video from the trip:
You can use the MySwimPro app to train for races like the Bosphorus Cross Continental Swim. f you’re interested in learning more about the race or how you can complete the Bosphorus challenge in the MySwimPro app, please send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org!