Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Donner Lake Swim Race

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Saturday was the Donner Lake Swim Race, a 2.7-mile traverse of Donner organized by Sierra Nevada Masters. I got to watch the race from a kayak, sharing both paddling and photographing duties with Nenad.

The recent spate of cold weather that left Truckee shivering at 39ยบ and socked in with a heavy fog on race morning also cooled the lake off a few degrees for this non-wetsuit swim. Trepidation rode shotgun with the fog as nervous athletes dipped their toes in the water and peered into the mist.

East End Beach

Surveying the situation

As the nearly 300 swimmers checked in, news was circulated that the police were going to hold the start until the fog burned off to better ensure the safety of the swimmers from a visibility standpoint.

Brothers Scalise at check-in

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Eddie, as ready as he's gonna get

Grim acceptance

Rick, not as bothered

Check in and body marking complete, everyone headed to the beach, where conditions were improving by the minute. The tension filled the air as every swimmer's individual focus came to the forefront: some hoping to win, some hoping to simply complete the longest swim of their life, some hoping to set a personal best time, and so on.

Norm, ready to go

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The police are feeling more comfortable with the visibility; start impending

The last mist burns off

The assembled field

Within a couple minutes of the horn sounding the start, clear groups had been established. Eric Scalise, Ryan Evans, and Michael Weiss comprised the lead group of three. Larger groups further back would be unlikely to bridge up to the fast pace these guys set. Behind the big groups were ones and twos spread out across nearly the entire width of the lake, the horizon filled with splashing limbs and kayaks.

Eric and Ryan at the front

The pace picks up

Nenad and I paddled back and forth between some of the bigger groups and watched the race unfold. In the lead, Ryan pulled his group most of the way across, while Eric and Michael did less work at the front. All of their strokes seemed so relaxed, testament to their amazing technique even while swimming fast.

In the groups further back, exertion was far more evident, and many swimmers were visibly working far too hard to sustain their pace.

Banner in sight for the leaders (far left of frame)

In the last few hundred meters, Eric and Michael picked up the pace. Michael outswam Eric, but then swam too far into the shallow water, allowing Eric to stand up and run past him to the finish line 10 feet up the beach. Eric secured his fourth consecutive win, and I'm sure Michael took some valuable experience away from his first effort at this race. Eric's winning time was 54 minutes and change for 2.7 miles in open water with no wetsuits. That's pretty darn quick.

Norm, steps away from winning his finish line sprint

Norm was about a minute and a half off his goal time, but he still did great. Eddie also came home in fine form.

A Sierra Nevada Masters regular

Brothers Scalise post-race

Needless to say, the unseasonably cold water took its toll on more than a few people.


My romping second cousin Newton, part of Norm's cheering section

Many thanks to my old swim coach Sharon for setting me up in the kayak with Nenad. I had a great time watching the race unfold, even if I did have to report for volunteer duty at 6am. ;)

Past Detritus