We who swim open-water a lot forget what a first experience swimming in a lake might be for someone who has never tried it before. A friend of mine mentioned his unease to me after he tried to swim in Eel Lake in Coos County for the first time.
“There was no bottom. I couldn’t see more than eight feet. I almost panicked,” he said.
“Almost?” I asked carefully.
He smiled and then said, “Almost. I turned around and got out.”
It is common for first time open-water swimmers to quickly become disoriented when there is no line on the bottom of the lake and no visual reference points except when the swimmer raises his or her head to sight for some point in the distance above the surface of the water.
That is only one problem that neophyte open-water swimmers encounter. Another is water temperature. There is a big difference between the 80-82 degree water of most swimming pools and the 65+ cooler water of most Oregon lakes.
Foster Lake, for instance, in June for the Two-Mile Cable National Championship was conveniently called 68 degrees. Eel Lake on the Oregon coast right now is 67-68 degrees. That’s at least 12 degrees below most pools.
And in open-water swimmers cannot wear wet suits if they wish to be counted in National Championships.
So what to do? especially if there are few lakes available nearby to practice in, such as around Portland. Hagg and Blue Lake are about it in the north.
One solution is coming up at the end of July near Bend. There is another Open-water Championship available to Oregon swimmers at Elk Lake, July 28-30. Information for this is at http://swimoregon.org/events/elk-lake-swims-usms-long-distance-open-water-national-championship/. On-line entry deadline is July 22.
The national championship distance is 5K, a bit long for a first time open-water swim. However, around the national championship aropen-watere four other races where a brand-new open-water swimmer can be introduced to this new aspect of swimming.
Friday, July 28, is a 3K in the evening, and you get to eat Hardy Lussier’s chicken wings afterward. Saturday, July 29, has the best entry swims.
First on Saturday is a 500-meter cable swim, away from and back to the beach, following a bright, yellow, poly-cable all the way, making navigation easy. Second is a 1500 meter, once around the triangular course set in Elk Lake. You swim towards the South Sister and make a left turn to the next course buoy.
The 1500-meter on Saturday sets the swimmer up for the 5K on Sunday, which will be three times around the basic course with a slight difference. The difference is that the first circuit is a 2000-meter diamond, not a 1500-meter triangle. You swim to a far buoy once and then do two more circuits around the 1500-meter triangle. Because Elk Lake is so scenic, it’s like swimming to the South Sister three times.
The meet ends with a 1000-meter swim which is done in waves, groups of 10 to 15 swimmers at a time, paralleling the shore going out and then coming back outside the cable set up to mark the course. If you swim all five events, you get a “Survivors” award. In the past that was a priceless cobalt blue glass mug.
Frankly, I do not recommend a Masters swimmer, new to open water, to do all five Elk Lake events the first time there. Do the “Sprint Series,” the 500-meter, 1500-meter, and 1000-meter, and watch the other events.
Watch what experienced open-water swimmers do to get ready for a 5K. Watch how they go around the buoy turns. Ask what they eat and drink before and between races.
Enjoy the comradery of those on the beach in between and after races. That is the real virtue of open-water swimming. After finishing any event in a lake where there are no lane lines, no starting blocks, buoys way off in the distance, every swimmer is a winner.
Every swimmer is greeted enthusiastically, and then we ask, “How much time before the next event?”