I titled this post “It’s a Big Lake” because my athlete Alex R has been telling me this for the last 8 months. He completed the Skaha 11.8k Ultra Swim in August 2017 and decided he wanted to go back and do it again in 2018. He wanted to improve upon his time and overall experience. So, he enlisted my help.
Alex is correct. It IS a big lake.
I put Alex on a progressive swim training plan where I slotted him swim workouts on a weekly basis. He also attended a couple of group swim sessions each week including a weekly 90min to 2 hour “Red Mist” session where distance covered started at 3.5k and built to 6k.
On August 12th, 2018 Alex completed the Skaha Ultra Swim for the 2nd time. He improved his time by 30 minutes over the prior year and it sounds like this might become a ‘three-peat’ event. I asked Alex a few questions about his experience and wanted to share his event feedback.
Coach Mary: “Were you warm / cool in your wetsuit?”
Alex: “I was perfect – water was about 20 degrees I overheard someone mention, not sure how accurate.”
Coach Mary: “What was the approximate % of wetsuit vs non-wetsuit wearers?”
Alex: “At the start they announced that 3 were without wetsuits. I only saw one – think he finished quite quickly – just a little over 3 hrs.”
Coach Mary: “How many in the event this year? Did it seem bigger this year vs last?”
Alex: “Same. I think they filled up at 100, but had a few cancellations to bring the number down into the 80’s. Rattlesnake swim was the same weekend – so many on the waitlist ended up doing the Rattlesnake instead. There’s plenty of room, doesn’t feel busy at all, and certainly not after the first 10 min. It’s a big lake.”
Coach Mary: “What went well for you?”
Alex: “Lots. training in particular. Also, knowing that after the middle section of chop, it would likely calm down during the last third after Ponderosa point. Having done it before I felt that awareness was a significant advantage. Conditions were quite good. While a bit choppy in the middle-third, that section was somewhat better than the year prior. The first and last third were relatively calm as they typically are unless there is bad weather.
Coach Mary: “What didn’t go well for you?”
Alex: “Was still a tough last 3-4km. Seems like you are almost done when you near Ponderosa point (at about 8k), but there is still a long 3-4km to go. During this stretch, and the 1km prior, I often questioned whether I was moving at all. Things look close, but don’t seem to get much closer over time. I started looking up and spotting a bit for myself because the landmarks at this point are closer & clearer. It’s a change up from simply looking at your kayaker for hours on end.”
In the photo below you can see the 1st 8k of the swim. Where the lake narrows is “Ponderossa Point”
Coach Mary: “What would you do differently on race day next time?”
Alex: ” Try even harder to push through without additional ‘mini-breaks’ during the last 3km; also perhaps take a Robaxacet or advil before or during to assist with low back stiffness (not sure on that one). I would also start my Garmin sooner so it connected to GPS before the start of the race. Many of us messed this up. It finally hooked up at a break with 4km to go but it would have been very nice to be able to look back at my tracking map to see how good a line we took.”
Coach Mary: “How did your fuelling plan go? Did you execute it as planned? Would you do anything differently?
Alex: “It went perfectly. Had GU shots (2 every 35 min., with water), then some chocolate near end. Differently, I would have packed much less. I had loads – too many GUs and various drinks packed – it was no harm, but had much too much on board the kayak for what was needed.” Coach Mary:“Better to have too much and a variety of options than too little!”
Coach Mary: “How did you feel for the first 4-6 hours after the event?”
Alex:I liked that I stayed on the beach at OK Falls for a bit. Felt ok. Had a couple of sandwiches there, and some energy smoothie that was being offered by FTC company, which likely helped.
When I returned to the Skaha side, I laid on the beautiful grass next to beach with a pillow, and read under a nice tree for a couple hours. Then went for dinner with another swimmer and his wife from Calgary which perked me up, allowed sharing of stories, and was great.”
Coach Mary: “How did you feel 24 hours later?”
Alex: “Fantastic! Shockingly I started thinking about a 3-peat, as did other swimmers I spoke with.
Coach Mary: “What’s the event SWAG like -is there any?
Alex: “This year they added a towel. There is also a hoodie and T-shirt (both very nice) you can order when registering, or buy at check-in. The color this year is a light teal and a bit feminine, but can’t complain as I think there were a few more women in the event then men, and nice that they changed up the color from last year.”
Coach Mary: “Any final thoughts?”
Alex: “Overall, I think it’s a great and unique event, albeit most (certainly including me) find the last 3.5k to be a real grind, and the crux of the challenge. I must admit to having asked my paddler (support kayak) to put me out of my misery at about 10k. Thankfully he advised that he “didn’t have the means”.
Training wise, you no doubt did a great job, as my arms/shoulders weren’t sore at all (I swam a couple hundred metres the day after not feeling any discomfort). Shockingly, last year all who didn’t drop out were done by about 5:20. This year at least 3 swimmers gutted it out into the 6:40 timeframe – that’s tough.
I also think it’s a nice luxury to not rush out of town Monday morning. I had time for a nice breakfast (again, with a couple of Calgary swimmers) and some time on the grass by the beach before flying back late in the afternoon (as well as 3 games of pickle ball at the excellent courts nearby). Flying into Penticton should definitely be considered, you land only blocks from Skaha beach, and it is so much easier than driving.
If you would like more information about swim specific training plans please Contact Us
Further information about this race can be found here Skaha Ultra Swim
If you are interested in open water swim events in the Okanagan there are some great events of varying length: