Lac Leman – Lake Geneva
#weswam Hour 1, 3.9km, hour 7, 4.2km, hour 13- 3.2k (currents?!) hour 19-3.5km, hour 25, 4.2km big pull trying to get the team home ! Not quite. Hour 31 finished us with a final 3km. Beautiful swim Geneva. @l.g.s.a — at Lac Léman – Lac de Genève. @speedo @dryrobe
The lure of a long swim had been hanging over me for many years. The lure of the Channel however, not so much. With its tough currents, temperatures and tricky departure windows due to the weather and tough acclimatisation Dover swims has always just been too much of an organisational nightmare. The chance to swim a relay the length of Lake Geneva at 70km had other challenges but appealed as it was slightly easier to prepare for and enter. Endurance and lack of sleep being the key issues.
This was going to be 5 or 6 x 1hour swims with 5hours rest between each if all went well in terms of manageable distances each hour from the team and the weather being kind. I had hoped for 4km averages in early discussions but this was all down to the weather. Lac Leman is big enough that it does have some widely fluctuating temperatures, weather fronts and currents as various rivers flow into it from various high cold places.
I trained for the event on the VASA ERG swim bench which is my preferred method as it does not involve a ‘surface recovery’ only a submerged pull. I like to race long distance open water swims but I struggle to train long in the pool. Despite my many hours of ‘prehab’ strengthening my shoulders and keeping them healthy I can only swim 2-3x per week and only 5km max before the shoulders start to complain.
I also use the rowing ERG a lot, 60mins of ‘dull’ rowing is great preparation for 4-5km of swimming. It works all the body and toughens you mentally. I also try to race a lot in the summer once the season opens. I find Race Preparation great training as it gives you a chance to go hard, to encounter real swim scenarios <goggles snapping recently in the Oxford 4km race> and put your swim technique under race stress.
70km is big, so big I had try to put it out of my mind but as you sit on the train for 90mins travelling from Geneva along the edge of the Lake around to Villeneuve it is hard not to ignore. I was the swimmer in our team of 6. Lorraine, Kate, Elsa, Dipa and Lisa all keen swimmers but I had the swimming background and I was trying hard not to show my nerves for fear of worrying them. I was first off the beach and wanted to get a good start to build some momentum.
We were blessed with great conditions from the weather, no surface waves and minimal currents but Jacque our pilot warned of harder efforts ahead. We boarded on a small jetty and sailed over to the start where I would enter and swim back to shore and meet Ben our LGSA swim rep and contact for the official start. The swim happens under strict Channel Crossing conditions and so we had an official observer with us.
The water was warmer then I had anticipated as I got in from the boat to swim back to shore. You can’t help but feel you are in a beautiful place when you start a swim event next to a medieval fortress. Recent swim competitions had gone well and I felt my numbers were good in terms of fitness so swimming hard for an hour was not the problem but I would ease into this first swim after a long day of travel just the day before. My 3rd swim I calculated would be at 3am mid lake in the cold and dark. Two key areas I just had not had a chance to prepare for that well. Closing your eyes for 6 strokes during the Great London Swim is not quite the same. This was going to be my real test I thought.
No wetsuit would be interesting as I enjoy the freedom of nothing around the shoulders but the free speed & enhanced body position suits my swim technique. I felt good during the first swim and without a warmup was ok with 3.9km but then I got side tracked with unpacking settling into boat life. It is amazing how quickly 5 hours comes around as you cheer and support teammates, apply sun cream stay hydrated in hot conditions and start checking route, currents and progress. I forgot to eat during this busy time and during my second swim my arms faded towards the end leaving my thinking the next 4 swims would be really unpleasant. I had literally packed a suitcase of food so this was just a silly thing to overlook but with the beautiful conditions and amazing scenery, easily done.
The 3rd swim felt quite tough and the numbers suggested it was really hard going. I had fuelled well for it and Jacque could see my disappointment but he said this part was notoriously quite slow given the currents. He felt the boat drag. This was good to hear after the tiring 2nd swim that I felt I might not have recovered from. We were not half way and I did not want to be slowing to 3km/hour otherwise the team would be into 7 swims each territory and this was something we had not planned for. Not just in terms of fatigue but time allowed on the boat, water and food supplies were also a factor.
The stars were out for my 3am swim and it was pretty. But it was also a cold part of the lake and despite years of getting up for early morning practice jumping in to the lake after a 2hr nap I was not at my best. Worries of swimming into something, being brushed by a weed were also nagging doubts. All day I had been watching the lake and had to admit problems were unlikely. I had hardly seen a twig or leaf in the water all day. The water in Lake Geneva is some of the best I have ever swum in. Breathe right to the boat, just keep going until you see the lights blink and the hour will be up before you know it. It is an interesting phenomenon that with each passing hour in the water the hours do feel like they speed up. The boat looked pretty lit up with neon glow sticks I was thinking of the Inbetweeners boat party for giggles to keep me going. I was also counting 70 strokes repeatedly helping me tick off the 100m blocks as this is usually my stroke count. Getting close to 3.6km was good given the time and conditions. I was recovering and fuelling well now and felt fit and strong. Regular stretching and band work on the boat were keeping shoulders in check and food/rest/nap was now on auto pilot.
SWIM 5 – decisions decisions.
We were getting close, once around the left hand outcrop of Yvoire we would see Geneva for the first time. Go for it to try a big effort so that we would all be done on 5 swims each. Miss this though and be tired for another 60min block into the finish would be heart breaking. We were warned the SW winds would increase around 4pm and the final few km into the finish would be tough due to the extra boat traffic. I decided I had to go for it and ty to inspire the team for one last swim. I jumped in and felt great by some odd chance. Jacque our pilot said this would be a fast section due to the narrowing of the Lake and to take advantage. I stretched my stroke out in an attempt to be economical but fast with the addition of the flow. I did not need to up my cadence to fight tougher water for now. That was going to be likely in swim 6. As mentioned the hours were getting quicker and I was out before I knew it, a quick calculation suggested we were at 57km. At 2km averages for the next 5 swimmers I was likely to have to get in again which would be tough but I was secretly delighted I would likely finish the swim for the team.
The last few km into the finish were as promised the hardest, it was late afternoon, the wind was up, the boats were out and despite the great earlier conditions the Lake was not going to give this to us easily. Finally, it was like being in the sea with good waves and swell to contend with. The team were amazing and followed me in for the last 300m onto the shore where our official observer took our time.
As a former swimmer I had all the skills to accomplish this. I once swam 16km in a winter training single session at Ohio University with Scott Hammond our coach. The others in the team not only had to deal with the cold, the dark and the distance but also work on swim technique and efficiency during busy work lives. I take my swim hat off to them. Well done Lisa, Elsa, Kate, Dipa and Lorraine. Thanks especially to Lorraine who made it happen with sponsorship as 2day boat hire is not cheap!