Bear Lake Monster Swim Race Report

This is a little late, but I have been out of town and away from my computer until today.

Another Bear Lake Monster Swim is in the books.  It was a stressful few days leading up to the event as we watched the changing weather forecast.  Within just a couple days, the forecast changed from a nice, sunny day to thunderstorms, rain and wind.  We scrambled the last couple days before the event to come up with an alternate plan in case the weather didn't change.  For the 7-mile swim, this meant that we would have them swim loops of the 1-mile course near the shore.  That way we could pull them out quickly in case of lightning.  We got a lot of pretty negative feedback when we posted the plan on Facebook, which is understandable, but Utah State Parks was in agreement that this was the best plan.  Swimming laps would take a lot of the adventure out of the swim and would make it much more monotonous.  This is a tough decision to make as a race director.  We understand it is not ideal and is not what the swimmers are expecting, but an alternate plan is better than canceling the event all together.

I went up to Gordon's cabin on Thursday night, with the plan to swim across with Sarah and Chad as they did double crossings.  Chad had a bad bearing on his boat trailer and we spend a lot of time Thursday night and Friday morning trying to get it fixed.  In the end, we weren't able to get it fixed in time to do our swim.  In some ways, this was a relief to me.  I was ready to do the crossing, but I had been needlessly stressing myself out about it for a week.

On Friday night we had a potluck dinner at the marina.  We got to meet some of the swimmers and answer their questions about the weather and what was happening with the race.  We were lucky to have Lynn Crookston and two of his sons attend.  Lynn, who is now in his 90's, was the first recorded person to swim across the width of the lake.  We got to listen to him tell the story of his swim and answer our questions.  It was awesome!

On Saturday morning, we consulted with the Coast Guard and Utah State Parks.  After checking the radar again, it looked like the storm was going to just miss us.  It also looked like there was no lightning in the storm.  Behind the storm we were looking at was totally clear.  Although the Coast Guard was a little worried about it, we decided to send the 7-mile swimmers across the lake.  There were big cheers from the swimmers as Gordon made the announcement.  Gordon did a good job letting them know that if anyone heard thunder that the swim was over.  He also did a good job being blunt and warning the paddlers about what they would be in for and offered them a chance to back out.

The 1/2 mile and 1 mile races (both of which were new for this year) started on schedule.  Chad and I were signed up to swim the 1 mile race, but were so busy getting people checked in and answering questions about the 7-mile race that we almost missed the start.  Gordon yelled at us and we both ran down to the beach to see everyone already in the water ready to go.  Gordon started the countdown as we were still getting to the starting line.

Being a race director, I get to see everyone's estimated finish times (maybe we ought to start posting psych sheets for everyone to see).  Jay Tapp, who was the winner of the Great Salt Lake 1-mile swim, had posted a fast time so I looked for him at the start.  I stayed right with him the whole way and thought I might have a chance of actually winning the race.  The water was pretty choppy on the way out, but gave us a nice little push on the way back.  I kept an eye on Jay the whole time and let him set the pace.  As we got close to the finish, I pushed myself a little harder and swam to the first buoy.  I couldn't see Jay anywhere and though I must be ahead of him.  As I turned the buoy, I saw him getting out of the water.  I found out later that we didn't have to swim to that last buoy at the end.  Oops.  That's what I get for missing the pre-race meeting.  I ended up in 2nd place overall, missing first place by 18 seconds.  Being a race director, I don't get to race very often, so it was a lot of fun to participate in the event.

We got the 7-mile swim started and I packed up and headed to the finish line.  It was pretty windy and we had a hard time keeping our big inflatable arch upright.  It's always fun to watch the swimmers and their paddlers come in.  Despite the wind, rain, and choppy water, we had all but one solo swimmer and all relay teams finish the swim.  We didn't hear a single clap of thunder the whole time.  As soon as the race was over, the storm passed completely and the weather was awesome the rest of the weekend.

Here are some things I learned from this year's swim:

  • We need to do a better job ahead of the swim posting about the alternate plan in case of bad weather.  We can add some information to the webpage so that it is very clear to participants what will happen if the weather is bad.  That way there are no surprises (and hopefully no complaints).  We also need to post what weather conditions would trigger the alternate plan and what conditions would cancel the swim altogether.
  • For the 1/2 mile and 1 mile swims, we were relying on the 7-mile paddlers to help us staff the course and keep an eye on swimmers.  I only saw 2 or 3 kayakers on the water, which is too few (especially considering the choppy conditions).  Next year, we need to add more support paddlers.
  • We only had two people swim the 1/2 mile event.  I was hoping that this would be a good first swim for some of the younger age group swimmers, but we had a pretty low turnout.  Maybe we ought to just cancel the 1/2 mile distance for next year.
  • The 1/2 mile and 1 mile course had us swimming through reeds near the shore.  Some of them were soft and bent when you swam over them.  Others were hard and I ended up with a long scratch on my chest after swimming over one.  We need to do a better job setting up the course to avoid those patched of reeds.
  • Utah State Parks is awesome.  They did a great job communicating with us on race day and getting the Coast Guard involved.  We ended up having four boats out on the water for the 7-mile swim keeping an eye on everyone.  I don't know what the swimmers and paddlers thought, but I felt better knowing that there were a lot of boats out there in case something happened.
  • This year, we had the finish of the 7-mile swim in the water.  Last year it was too hard for people to get out on the slippery rocks and we had swimmers finishing all up and down the shore.  Having a buoy in the water to mark the finish helped a lot.  Everyone finished in the same place and everyone could take their time getting out of the water.
  • We were not very well prepared for cold conditions at the finish.  Several people were shivering when they finished.  I was able to use my towel and coat to help warm them up, but we ought to have more blankets, space blankets, etc at the finish.
  • Having Lynn Crookston there on Friday night was awesome.  Not enough people got to hear his story.  He is going to try to come up again next year, and I think we need to make that known so that more people can meet him.

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