Last Saturday, August 26, I swam my second open water event in two weeks, and second of the summer. It was part of the Lake George Open Water Swim (LGOWS) in Hague NY, at the northern end of Lake George, in the Adirondacks. They offered 3 distances 2.5K, 5K, 10K. The course was an elongated diamond shape. One loop for 2.5K. Two loops for 5K. Four loops for 10K. At times in the past, I’ve swum all three distances (though not on the same day.) There were 271 entrants total from 21 states and the UK, the largest field the race organizers had ever attracted—reflecting the steady growth of interest in open water swimming and the growing reputation of this event, in its 6th year.LG Course Map

I chose the 2.5 K (1.55 miles) because it would be the longest distance—by 55 percent—I’d swum this summer. And my daughter Carrie Loveland and I made plans for a road trip and a swim-together. This would be the first time in about 10 years that Carrie and I would swim in the same event.

I probably wouldn’t have entered LGOWS, unless Carrie had agreed to join me . Our plan was to swim the entire way together, synchronizing our strokes. We’d done ‘synch swims’ for 200m in Lake Minnewaska, but had never attempted one in an official event, nor for a distance as great as 2.5K.  Because I’m 7 inches taller than Carrie with a much longer reach—and a highly efficient stroke—she would have to attain great stroke length and efficiency to match strokes with me.

Synch-swimming is my greatest pleasure in open water. I begin practicing it with friends in Lake Minnewaska in 2001 and noticed it made the time and distance fly. It takes considerable practice to make the micro-adjustments in stroke length and rate—and in your course—to not only keep your strokes in synch, but to coordinate your heading to stay closely abreast while minimizing contact. My longest synch swims have been:

  • 10 miles in 4h 50m from Lanai to Maui in the Hawaiian Islands with David Barra in 2010. Willie Miller swam with us, but took faster, shorter strokes.
  • 11 miles in 5h 10m across Gibraltar Strait in 2013 with Lennart Larsson of Sweden and Tommi Patilla of Finland in 2011.
  • 10 miles from Corsica to Sardinia in 4h 30m with Lennart and Tommi in 2015. This time we found it much more challenging to stay in synch, though Tommi and I swam the last 2K at a fairly brisk pace in perfect synch.

Carrie and I had no plans for a brisk pace at Lake George. Rather to swim quite easily and deeply immerse ourselves in the whole experience.

The air temp was a chilly 46F at the 7:45 am start which made the 72F water feel positively balmy.  Carrie and I started at the back of the pack and let the field clear out a bit after the starter’s horn sounded, to give ourselves extra space. We immediately fell into a comfortable mutual rhythm, Carrie to my left.

I breathed bilaterally for the first 400m, then mostly to the left to keep Carrie in view. She breathed to the right to do the same. Each time I looked I could see that our outside arms were stretched forward in parallel and our inside arms recovering in synch. I also saw the bright morning sun and green hills on the lake’s eastern shore.  And on many strokes I recited a mantra of gratitude for the beautiful day and sharing a beautiful experience with my daughter.

As we approached the green turnaround buoy at the course’s southern end, the leaders in the 10K field (the 5K would begin about an hour after the conclusion of the 2.5K) began passing us with impressive speed. We stayed calmly in our ‘bubble of synchronization’ as they passed on both sides.

At the turnaround buoy, we paused  to check in with each other, survey the course and take in our surroundings. As we swam the homeward leg the breeze picked up, making the water slightly more choppy, but it didn’t break our easy rhythm. We came upon two other 2.5K swimmers, swam with each for a while, then gradually pulled away, while still maintaining our very relaxed pace.

We made steady progress past the orange buoys marking the eastern (homeward) leg of the course, until we passed the third and last. With the sun slightly behind us, they were quite easy to see. We  also saw the bottom beneath us at this point.

Soon we  rounded the final green buoy and made a left turn toward the finish chute. With about 100 meters to go, it became too shallow to swim so we got to our feet. The timing clock read 1:13:38. To have our finish be considered official we would have to cross the timing mat (each swimmer wore timing chips on their ankles) by 1:15:00. At 1:14:50, hand in hand, we strolled nonchalantly across the finish line, 77th and 78th in a field of 86 starters.

We stand just beyond the finish line shortly after strolling across it.

We stand just beyond the finish line shortly after strolling across it.

Several days after the swim, Carrie admitted she’d been worried–in the days leading up to the swim—about whether I’d be able to finish, but hadn’t shared those worries with me. Instead she recalled that I often said the water is my best teacher and decided—as did I—to trust in the ‘spirit of the water’ which has given us so many good things. And like me, on many strokes, she recited a silent prayer of thanks.  I look forward to more days like this—especially those I can share with family—in the not-too-distant future. Like Chris Zeoli below, I’m contemplating a trip to St Croix with family to swim in the St Croix Coral Reef Swim on Nov 5.

Chris Zeoli, right, of the Middlebury (VT) Muffintops swam the 10K in 3:04:52.

Chris Zeoli, right, of the Middlebury (VT) Muffintops after finishing the 10K in 3:04:52.