I just got home from Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake Marathon swim… I had a totally fun weekend. The swim was really interesting, the weather was great, the views were spectacular and we had an awesome group of swimmers there from all over the country. Gords, Josh, and all their helpers did a fantastic job of reviving a really cool and really unique event. I’ll admit I had my doubts about doing a big swim in the Great Salt Lake, but now that I’ve done it I’m sold! Turns out Utah can be a pretty rad place to go open water swimming, who knew?
I camped out Friday night at the marina with Gords and his son Jacob (who was paddling) so I had a pretty pressure free commute to deal with that morning :) I took all my bags to the curb and started sorting my stuff out so that my B70 backpack would have all my necessary swim gear in it and all my other junk would be in my duffel bag and another bag I packed just to hold stuff while I was swimming since the backpack doubled as my carry on for my flights. A guy who I think has something to do with the local sailing club talked to me out there for a while about the area. Showed me how to see where the levels the lake used to be on the mountains and explained that the big smoke stack behind the marina was part of a copper plant. He said I was welcome to come out and sail with him in the lake in the afternoon if I wanted, but I was pretty sure I’d be all Salt Laked out by then :)
While it was still quiet I walked to the water’s edge and watched the lake move for a little while. The good news was the lake looked beautiful underneath the rising sun and ringed in snow capped mountains. The bad news was that fantastically favorable current from the night before was nowhere to be seen. The wind was still light, but it was all going the wrong direction. Instead of pushing roughly Southwest towards the finish at Black Rock it was pushing more East towards the shore. Hmmm… this could be exciting depending on how much more wind the afternoon brought.
After a little while some of the other swimmers, paddlers and volunteers started showing up. I met up with Josh and Goody first, John from New York came around not too long after. There’s a little observation point at the tip of the parking lot with great views of the lake so I made sure to stop all of them and do quick video interviews. Hopefully bits and pieces of them pop up in a USMS video sometime in the near future :) Slowly but surely the crowd kept filling in. Once everyone was present and accounted for Gords gave us a quick run down on the history of the race and how things were going to go for us today.
The first part of getting this swim on the road was literally getting on the road… for like 2 hours. Antelope Island isn’t particularly easily accessed so we had to make a big drive to get out there. We had 6 swimmers in our van (Suzie, Sylvia, Goody, Greg, John, and me), and we managed to pass the time pretty easily joking around and talking about this race and other swims we’d done or were thinking about. When we got far enough to actually enter the park there were signs warning us about biting gnats out on the island… that sounded pretty charming and exciting to people with plans of stripping down to swimsuits and standing around for a while. As we pushed deeper into the park the road gave way to dirt paths and we off road adventured for a while. The view out there was awesome and we even saw some antelopes (imagine that right? haha) and bison hanging out.
At the end of the road there was a group of folks standing around looking like beekeepers with these nets over their heads to protect their faces. Heh… oh boy… apparently the sign we saw like half an hour ago wasn’t kidding! All the swimmers bailed out of the van and we used bigger rocks as makeshift get ready areas. We had to sort out our swim gear, cap and goggle up, and do some serious swim lubing. I used an egregious amount of Bag Balm because I had no desire to chafe mean salty holes in myself today. I gooped it all over my neck, the tops of my shoulders, under my arms, and down yonder in the danger zone. After that I put some sunscreen on my dome to avoid getting a sweet altitudinally charged cap line around my bald head. The only thing that I couldn’t really do any preventative maintenance with was my mouth. I knew that salt water was going to jack my tongue up and there wasn’t a whole lot to do about it. Once I was good to go I threw on another rubber glove to help Greg get full sunscreen coverage on his back.
From here I marched down to the beach barefoot which probably wasn’t the right answer. There was no real trail and you had to forge your own. I kept stepping on really prickly little plants and rocks… luckily I spend most of my life barefoot so my feet were tough enough to deal with it without incident. En route I noticed all kinds of things were trying to bite me. Some were successful, but a lot of the gnats and mosquitoes had made the mistake of going for my shiny spots that were covered in swim lubricants. They got stuck and died… take that jerks! Try to bite me will ya :p Down on the sand it was really muddy and gushy. Your feet sank right in and that mud stuck on you really well. While out there I made the command decision to take my GPS out of my cap. Although I wanted exact data from on my person it already wasn’t comfortable. The race cap was brand new and plenty tight and just pressing it straight through my noggin. Instead at the water’s edge I hit start and gave it to Gords to keep in the kayak. So the first half mile of the map is actually me walking in the water, but I moved all that distance under my own power… I just happened to be standing for part of it.
The plan for starting the race to do it in water at about waist level. Turns out we had to take a pretty epic walk to get there! We got all the kayaks out far enough to float and then started to shuffle out. The bottom continued to be really smooshy for about 200m and then hardened up enough to be easier to walk on. All the swimmers and kayakers got a chance to talk and laugh at how weird this swim was. I assure you there is no other swim like it :) Everyone was smiling and in a pretty good mood and wondering when the water would actually you know… get deeper. I was particularly concerned with this because I kinda needed to pee, haha.
Slowly the water got deeper but not by much. Eventually Gords called it and determined that we had found our starting point. By the time we stopped we must have been half a mile off shore. We lined up and ran through a countdown from 15 together.
We were all massed together for a little bit with the kayaks lining the outsides. I used the big smoke stack at the copper plant as my guide while waiting to meetup with Gords in the kayak. After a few minutes the pack started separating. I saw Will and Greg break away, John peel off to the right, and there were one or two mystery swimmers (Joe and Jason I think) that took a line more towards the left that I never got a good look at because I don’t breath on that side. I had a drafter early on… it was Goody… he joked that this would happen, and well there he was :) Once he realized he was all up in my business he pulled to the side a bit and swam on my left instead.
The first part of the swim remained really shallow, I even hit the bottom once maybe half a mile into it. The water was pretty lumpy from the beginning. Lots of chop that wasn’t really going the way we wanted it to. It was a struggle to take a breath and not get some of that super salty water inside. My shoulders were feeling pretty crappy and I was wishing for colder water to help me not feel them… I was missing my frosty Pacific Ocean’s analgesic properties for sure. All that aside I mainly spent a lot of time just dealing with the salt. My mouth was all swollen and not good feeling pretty early on. My lips felt like they were going to split apart! Luckily that never happened, but it felt imminent! I felt like I was in dire need of chap stick or something but there wasn’t any to be had and I just had to suck it up, plus no idea if that would have even actually helped.
At the first feed it was my chance to see what was going on behind me. Best I could tell at this point I was right in the middle of the swimmers in the water. I had Goody and Christine right behind me, and Suzie, Sylvia, John and Scott were spread out behind them. Goody and Christine passed me while I was eating but I caught up shortly thereafter. The same thing happened on feed number two, but after number three my shoulders had warmed up, I found my pace, and I pulled away. As a swimmer I pretty much never saw anyone again although Gords had a pretty good view of the world from up in the kayak. Gords isn’t a big talker but was really good at letting me know what was up quickly while I was feeding. I like to stay on top of distance covered, time in the water, and stuff like that while swimming and he kept me in the loop.
After about 2 hours I started taking mouthwash with feeds to mellow out the salt. It was borderline magical. The alcohol sort of burned that salt action off my tongue and gave me a brief reprieve. It’s hard to explain the sensation of that water’s saltiness… Sylvia likened it to licking the inside of a Pringles can. I think it’s more like if you’ve ever dissolved a sugar cube in your mouth, but instead of sugar it was salt… eww. I was drinking and eating at every stop. Normally I don’t eat that much, but I just needed something in my mouth to temporarily scrub out the lake. The Gu Chomps were especially awesome because they left a residue on my tongue that gave me a welcomed relief and a better flavor to focus on temporarily.
Over time the water laid down a little bit and I could feel my progress pick up. I could really start to stretch my stroke out now that I didn’t have to modify it as much just to breath. That current never really went away though. I knew I was getting pushed around because the lake is so shallow that I could see the bottom moving underneath me for a lot of the swim. I could also tell just by the way Gords was paddling. He basically went outrigger canoe style for like 6 of 8 miles by just paddling on the left side of the boat. He had one hand just under the right blade of the paddle and kept pulling left to avoid getting pushed into me.
As we started to push into that 6-7 mile range I started to have sneezing fits. The salt had basically burnt all the snot out of my face and the tickle off the water in there kept triggering off sneezes. I worked on timing the sneezed to happen between breaths while my face was under water. It probably looked ridiculous from above… or like I was yaking. I made sure to let Gords know that I was just sneezing a lot, not puking my brains out down there.
I was really encouraged when we got to a point where I at least felt like I was in line with the marina and we were passing the big smoke stack. The water was a little busier out here though. There was a sailing event going on and plenty of boats were out doing their thing. At one point I had to stop because we were cut off by a sailboat! They were just motoring back, not even sailing, and crossed right in front of us. I saw this mast growing over the top of the kayak and eventually stopped and asked Gords “so they’re really going to do that huh?” and they did. Only upside is that I got to sneak in a bonus feed since I was just sitting around anyways.
At this point I could actually see Black Rock while swimming and it was a big tease. I knew it would be, but living through it sucked. I hate the last mile or two of long swims… I need to learn to not look so much. Gords told me that depending on how our lines converged I was going to be pretty close to either Jason or Joe. I couldn’t see them, but just the though of it lit a little bit of a fire under my ass and I tried to pick it up a bit. After 4 hours in the water I’m sure from above it didn’t look any different, but at least I felt like I was trying harder :)
As we neared the rock we took a line that was dead on the rock itself, but a little off of where the tiny beach that housed the finish was. We did a little dog leg around the corner to hit the finish. I could hear a little bit of yelling and clapping coming from the shore… I was so stoked to almost be done. Based on earlier conversations I was expecting a bit of a walk/run to the beach, but it stayed just deep enough for me to swim it all the way in. I stumbled around for a while trying to get my act back together on dry land and in the midst of all this I had a finisher’s medal tossed over my head, yay! I kinda forgot it was there though and still had it on way later when I checked into my hotel :) I ended up finishing at 4 hours and 23 minutes putting me 5th overall, right behind Joe and a little ways in front of Goody. Will Reeves, the oldest guy in the race, gave us all a beat down coming in at a smoking fast 3:41. You can see all the results at www.greatsaltlakeopenwater.com.
After my swim I put some shorts and sandals on, reapplied sunscreen, and watched everyone else finish. It was great to watch the other swimmers hit the finish, smile and stumble out. There’s something about finishing a long point to point swim that is supremely satisfying. Once everyone was done we took some pictures, rehashed the swim a bit, compared tongues and then started to scatter from the beach.
I caught a ride with Cathi to my hotel while the others took vans back to their cars at the marina. I checked in looking a total mess… beard all full of salt and bag balm, a little sun burnt, swollen puffy tongue, and wearing a medal… the kid behind the counter had no idea why I looked like this and just smiled and gave me my room keys. After being a fancy Marriott Gold Elite member for a long time I finally scored a big upgrade! I got a 2 room suite, super rad timing. After unpacking a little, my first order of business was washing the lake off me. First a shower and then a bath. Luckily the race bag came with samples of swimmer shampoo so I could wash all the salt and bag balm out of my beard… it was pretty gross, but the adventure beard did it’s job… no chaffing! Later in the evening I went out with the same crew as Friday night for some Vietnamese food in downtown SLC that was fantastically good. I may have also ordered a pizza a little later in the evening just to top off my stomach… don’t judge, it was a long day and I’m a growing boy! :p
Now that I’m home reflecting on the whole thing I’m just really stoked with how it all went down. It had everything I like… unique venue, point to point course, and a bunch of really fun people to share it with. The open water community is full of so many nice people that are total characters and I totally love it. I’m really glad I decided to come out and do this swim and be a part of Utah Open Water history and the resurgence of such a historically rich swim! I really want to thank all the volunteers and paddlers for making the whole thing possible. And I really want to thank Gords for turning me onto the swim, paddling for me, taking pictures and video from the boat, giving me a place to sleep, arranging rides, and everything else. I really owe that guy one for helping me have such a good time in the race! I hope the swim continues to go on and become successful, and maybe I can come back out again sometime in the future and take on the Great Salt Lake one more time… it’s definitely going on the repeat list… just as soon as I finish peeling my tongue from this swim :p