On Saturday , July 17, 2010, I participated in the largest and longest running (62 years) open water swimming event in Canada - the Across the Lake Swim in Okanagan Lake. The lake is about 135km long starting in Vernon and reaching as far south as Penticton It ranges from 2-5 km across and has a maximum depth of about 600 feet. The city of Kelowna sits about half way down the lake.
I've had this swim on my Bucket List ever since I started swimming in 2008 and now I can finally say I've done it! If you look at the map below, you can see where I swam from the green arrow at the old ferry docks just north of the Okanagan Lake bridge, to the red arrow at Hot Sands Beach in City Park. If you swim in a straight line, the distance is about 2.1 km. If you allow strong current to pull you towards the bridge, you'll have to swim a little further. :)
View Across the Lake Swim Race in a larger map
We started off at City Park at 7:15 am where I had to pick up my timing chip to be worn on my wrist. We hauled a borrowed kayak (thanks Shelley!) down to the water and I got my wetsuit halfway on, then packed my stuff in my backpack and left it at the finish line. Erik hopped into the kayak and paddled off to the other side of the lake and I walked down to the docks to wait for the houseboat "ferry" to the starting line. I was barefoot and carrying nothing else but my goggles and cap because I'd have to wade to shore from the houseboat when we reached our destination.
I chatted with a few other swimmers while on the 10 minute boat ride across the lake. Many had done this swim many times but there were a few newbies like me. Soon we were close to shore and we were asked to come downstairs and line up single file to exit the boat. The boat stopped and I could hear someone yelling "Go! Go!". It soon became apparent that we would be jumping off the houseboat into 50' of water. Uh oh. Not part of my plan. We're all swimmers right? This should be no big deal! But if you know me and my "inch my way into the water" method of getting wet, you'll know that jumping 3 feet from a boat into 50 feet of cold water is not my idea of fun. But I had no choice and so I jumped. Well - actually, I sat down on the edge and kind of allowed myself to fall in. Yikes! Where was my kayak support team when I really needed it?
I managed to swim/dog paddle close enough to shore that I could stand up and get my bearings, then once I spotted the blue kayak, I swam over to Erik. He was already laughing at the fact that I'd had to jump into the lake. He knows me too well. :)
The starting point was way out from shore and the first wave swam out to tread water until they started their swim. Two minutes later, the next wave left, and then finally, the slow wave (me :). Here's a shot of my wave start taken by Clayton Kessler from the Tracks and Trails website who was acting as support for his son who was swimming. (Thanks for the picture!). Erik in the foreground in the blue kayak and I'm one of the swimmers out there, not too far away. It was a little crowded at first although nothing like a triathlon, and I kept Erik in sight as I started to swim. Eventually we managed to make our way over to one another and he stayed about 10-12 feet away on my right side for the entire crossing. I could barely see the ReMax hot air balloon 2 km away marking our destination so I just followed the boats and other swimmers. The water was fairly calm and I was able to swim fairly steadily for quite awhile. I'd heard the current is strongest in the middle of the lake and that it will pull you towards the bridge so I tried to aim a little north as I swam.
After about 20 minutes of swimming, my left calf began to twitch, a sign of an oncoming cramp. Not again. I knew I had to be careful to avoid a full on leg cramp which would stop me in my tracks. I've had them before in the pool and can barely get myself to the edge of the pool when it happens so I really didn't want that to happen in the lake. I stopped kicking with my left leg and just let it dangle while I swam and I let Erik know I had a potential calf cramp. All went well for awhile. By now I had reached the middle of the lake and was surprised to see I was still swimming directly towards the beach. I didn't seem to feel any current pulling me at all, nor did I have to correct my direction. However, it seemed like I was swimming and swimming and never getting anywhere though. The balloon and finish line in the distance never seemed to be getting any closer. Furthermore, a lot of people had passed me early on in the swim and I suspected I was either last or close to last. I was close enough to Erik at one point to chat with him for a moment and I asked him if I was last. Definitely not - there were still lots of people behind me. Buoyed by that, I decided I was close enough to start swimming a little harder now. I tested my left leg - nope, it still wanted to cramp, so I kicked harder with my right leg. After a few minutes, the right leg started to cramp as well. Ah well, it would be an upper body workout today I guess. I put a little more muscle into and let both legs just float behind me like a true triathlete. (On the houseboat, I'd heard swimmers talking about how to tell a triathlete from a swimmer - they don't kick ~ seriously??).
About 3/4 of the way across the lake, the wind picked up and it began to get really choppy, and downright wavy. I could feel myself being carried up and down the waves. It was kind of fun actually so I just tried to enjoy it and imagine myself diving down into the surf at the ocean. Ok seriously the waves weren't anything like ocean waves, I was just having fun. ;) The trouble is, every time I looked up now, I was headed the wrong way. The current and the wind was pushing me away from the finish line, towards the bridge. Now I seemed to be coming towards it at an angle. Grrrrr. I swam and swam and swam and it seemed to take WAY longer than it should have to go that past quarter of the swim. I'm guessing I put in at least another 100-200m longer than I needed to.
As I got closer to the shore, the waves calmed a bit but I was still fighting the current. I could hear the spectators cheering each swimmer as they got out of the water. I was surprised at how many people were lined up on shore! I've never been down to see the Across the Lake Swim so I had no idea it was such a big event. Of course the fact that there were 450 swimmers should have clued me in. LOL... I could hear Susan Knight from SunFM announcing the finishers as I finally reached the shore. I was so happy to arrive, I just stood there for a minute and whooped! Then I heard my name and turned to see my Twitter friend Lana from the coast. I stopped while she took my picture. These two are pictures that Dirk Handke took for the race. He has many many more race photos on his Flickr account here. Susan Knight actually announced me as "Kelownagurl" on twitter. I was killing myself laughing when I heard that - so much for anonymity in my own town. LOL!!!
My official time was 50:45 and, if you're wondering, I came in 54/63 in my age group and 367 out of 428 who actually finished. Their times ranged from 21:41 to 1:27:29. All in all, I figure it's pretty much in keeping with my 2 km Half Iron swim time of 45 minutes given that it was a slightly longer distance.
The Across the Lake Swim was well organized, great volunteers, and had some good schwag (nice beach towel, Solo bar, discount coupons etc) and the only thing I didn't really like, was the way prizes were handed out at the end. They started out ok by randomly picking numbers and saying that if you weren't here, they'd pick a new number until they had a winner - that made it worth the long wait to win a prize - you don't get anything unless you're there. However, after a few prizes, I guess they decided this would take too long so they started handing prizes out to the "first person to bring them a ________". Well that's all fine and dandy but I was sitting on the beach in a swim suit and not much else. Everything I owned was in the boat or in the car. Not only that, there was soon a crowd of people hanging around the announcer so you had no chance to even get your 'item' up there to show them unless you elbowed your way over. However I hung around because I really wanted a shot at the Blue Seventy Wetsuit at the end. We played the Heads or Tails game for that one which is a fun game but I was out on the first try. (PS if you're going to play the Heads of Tails game, you need to actually flip a coin, not choose heads of tails in your head - not really fair either). Next year I won't hang around on the beach for over an hour to have no real shot at winning any prizes.
All in all, I had a great first swim. I was happy with my time even though I had no real time goal set in mind - my goal was to complete the swim without having a panic attack and that is what I did! Yahoo!