My 10-mile swim in July (Kingdom Swim) will be in a lake—Lake Memphremagog, that is— so it occurred to me at some point that it would be important to spend some time training in a lake. So much open water swimming out at Coney Island and Brighton Beach could really give a swimmer a false sense of her buoyancy. The last thing I wanted was to show up for a 10-mile swim and find my body feeling bricklike. No, finding a lake in which to train would be a top priority. About the same time that I was pondering the need for a lake, I was pondering the need for more continuous, long-distance training, which was being hampered each weekend by that need to refuel mid-swim, clearly I needed some kind of “feeding station.”
Finding a lake in which to swim: Harder than it sounds!
I was surprised to find no lakes near NYC in which it is legal to swim beyond the confines of little roped-off kid-swim areas. Zero lakes! Many a’ Google search left me perplexed and defeated. Friend and training buddy Laura mentioned that she knew of a lake—Minne-what-not—up near New Paltz, but I had not yet resigned myself to traveling 2+ hours for a lake (I mean, lakes are everywhere, right?) and this particular lake required membership fees and a swim test, which just sounded like a headache. Alas, by the time David Barra (fellow CIBBOW swimmer and open water expert) suggested the very same lake and offered to help us get sorted out with permits and waivers, we jumped on it. At this point, weeks had passed and we had still found nothing. So when the long distance swimming season opened at Lake Minnewaska two weekends ago, we were there with our carefully designed feeding station, ready for a nice long swim.
Lake Minnewaska is nothing short of breathtaking. Located near New Paltz, New York, in the Minnewaska State Park Preserve, Lake Minnewaska was formed by glacial ice gouging into the bedrock as it flowed down the Hudson Valley in the last ice age (source). Swimming in the pristine glacial lake surrounded by trees and cliffs is a real treat, coming from the city. The setting serene, and the water invigorating, just one day swimming in Minnewaska and I understood why the locals endured such a long and arduous battle with the State of New York for the right to swim beyond that small designated family-swim area. The group originally fought for the ability to swim freely in the lake (as people had done for generations before the State purchased the land in 1983), but after 2 years of struggle they took what they could get. In 2002 they reached a compromise: the newly named Minnewaska Distance Swimmers Association (MDSA) after attaining recognition as a corporation, and getting nonprofit status, would administer swimming tests to all potential members, who would then sign waivers and pay for insurance. All of this would grant MDSA members the right to swim around a 200-yard cable running parallel to the shore. (More about swimming around a cable in “Mind Games” below) (Minnewaska history source)
The verdict? Swimming in Lake Minnewaska is a real dream. So thank you MDSA for your work past and present to make this lake swimmable. And thank you David Barra for making the introduction. We look forward to putting in our time as volunteers when we can.
A note for my non-swimming readers: Swimming long distances, especially in cold water, requires more calories than a swimmer can ingest before a swim. A make-shift feeding station like ours allows a swimmer to refuel mid-training-swim without getting out of the water, much like the experience of swimming with a support boat and “crew” who hand the swimmer her food of choice, or “feeds,” usually at specific intervals decided by the swimmer ahead of time.
Over the past month, Laura and Louise and I have been working out the kinks in our little feeding station, modeled after Jordan Waxman’s nearly identical feeding station. It’s a simple contraption, but includes a few individual parts. They are: a floating cooler for holding feeds, a sand anchor to keep it in place, and a buoy for stability in rough water and ease of sighting. We happened to purchase these particular products:
-24” Body Glove Floating Chiller (cooler)
-Kwik Tek Airhead Tube Anchor, with 20 feet of rope
-15″ diameter inflatable vinyl buoy
Over the course of the month of June, we spent a few days at the beach fussing with the various pieces, so we wouldn’t have to when we wanted to use it for a long swim. It turned out to be a good thing that we built in this “fussing” time; Our floating cooler, unlike Waxman’s I assume, came as two separate pieces (a floaty part and a cooler part) and there was no way to secure the cooler to the floaty. Seemed like a design flaw to me, but of course this cooler was likely designed for poolside beer-drinking, not choppy, windy ocean “feeding.” Fixing the issue took just a little elbow grease, and also some epoxy, a bungee cord salvaged from my sandals, and two metal washers. The floaty bit, when deflated, along with the anchor (which is a sturdy bag that holds rocks or sand) fit nicely into the cooler for storage and transporting. The buoy has to be carried separately, of course, which I see as a good thing, because anyone walking down a street or a path with a big orange buoy is obviously really awesome.
Once the pieces of the station were functional, our attention turned to the edibles with which we would stock it. My feeds remain quite boring (see below), but Laura and Louise really went above and beyond in testing out inventive sources of calories. Their feed menu included (but was not limited to!) the items listed below. Comments after each are collected from Laura and Louise.
Louise and Laura:
– Marzipan: Needs to be without chocolate, soft, and good quality. It is good blend of protein and sugar.
– Macaroons: Delicious, but in the end decided they are too greasy and chunky.
– Kiwi blended with maple syrup: Wanted something that was like gu but without artificial stuff. Had heard that kiwi was a good source of potassium. Mashed up kiwi by itself was too acidic. Tried to cut with maple syrup but “then I was eating a super sweet acidic green slurpy with seeds.” – Laura
– Gummy bears: Slippery when wet, which was a good way to inhale little bears. No good.
– Dried bananas and raspberries: Very sweet and strong on dry land. As a feed they were awful. Banana sticks to roof of mouth and are too chewy. Raspberries are dry and feel like trying to eat dirt.
– Lara bars in pieces: Pretty good just chewy.
– Dried pineapple and cranberries: Good when washed down with coconut water.
–EFS various dilutions: Good for pool and lake. Electrolytes not necessary for salty cold water swims.
–Gatorade: Tried blue and yellow and found blue to be the best.
– Green tea with agave: Suggestion from David Barra. Really great. Felt like it was replenishing the body and had a sweet kick.
– Coconut water: Louise only drinks Naked brand coconut water.
My nutrition of choice is coconut water (Vita Coco 100% pure) with a splash of juice. I find that I like the Purity Organic juices, and I only add just a little to an otherwise full sports bottle of coconut water (see technical diagram at right). On the second swim I tried one sports bottle of coconut water and juice with an added bit of lemonade, which turned out to be very unpleasant to drink mid-swim, as the acidic bite stayed in my throat for a long time and just made me thirstier—It’s lovely on dry land, however, and I highly recommend it.
As for solids, I pretty much stick to what I learned in Malta. Of course, the (mainly-)British coaches fed us with British treats, so I had to find American equivalents. For the British “Jelly Baby,” I substitute a Trader Joes product: “Fruit Jellies.” They taste exactly the same, but the TJ version have the added benefit of being “All natural” with no artificials or preservatives, so I don’t feel like I’m fueling on complete garbage. All mainstream American jelly products (such as Gummy bears and the like) are gelatin based and require lots of chewing; On the other hand, Jelly Babies and Trader Joes Fruit Jellies almost melt in your mouth. My other solid, mini Three Musketeers bars, is a substitute for what the Brits call a Milky Way. They are exactly the same thing. It is a little confusing, because we have Milky Way in the United States too, but our Milky Way includes a layer of caramel, which I found to be very difficult to deal with while swimming. When I have a human involved in my feeds (as opposed to a floating cooler), I will add in chunks of freshly peeled banana. I deviate from my Malta training in my post swim eats, as I avoid the super-sugary treats when I’m on dry land (no bins filled to the brim with cookies and candy for me!). I make sure to bring lots of healthy foods for after my swims, like a whole wheat bagel “scooped out” and loaded with tuna fish and cucumbers.
About the “feed station”: In the end, it worked simply, and was a pleasure to have. Towards the end of the first 6-mile swim Louise began to refer to it lovingly as the “candy station.”
Nerdy swim notes
We traveled to the lake the last two weekends in June. The drive from NYC took anywhere from 2 to 3.5 hours depending on traffic, and how many wrong turns we made (time to buy a Garmin!) The water hovered around 65-67 degrees Fahrenheit, which is substantially warmer than when our season started at the beginning of May (53 degrees F). Cold was never an issue for me, although Louise and Laura reported being chilly some after a couple hours. Both times we went we got in about 6 miles, which took just over 3 hours including feeding stops. We swam our first lake swim in a pack (which reminded me once again how lucky we are to be so well matched in pace) and stopped at our feeding station every 6 laps (or 45 minutes, or 1.5 miles) to refuel. The second weekend, we split up. I stopped for feeds every hour (or 8 laps). This worked for me until the third hour, at which point I needed a little fruit-jelly-boost mid-hour.
When I first heard of the cable around which MDSA members are allowed to swim, I thought it sounded miserable. I was very wrong. The lake is beautiful, and the cable provided a much-appreciated way to measure the swimming, while also supplying my mind with helpful units for justifying and bargaining with itself during a long push. Here’s an example:
I have 6 laps before a feed, that’s just under a mile and a half. So that’s 4 laps for the mile and 2 laps for the half, which is just under 30 minutes and 15 minutes. I know that two laps go by quickly. So in two laps from now (which will come quickly), I’ll have 2 and 2 left. Only 2s, which go by quickly. So the feed’s actually quite soon!
I find the first hour of these longer swims to be the most challenging. I’m not warmed up yet, so swimming always feels more challenging than I remember it feeling the last time I swam (I was of course all warmed up upon finishing my last swim). I struggle to relax and just swim, and instead do a lot of thinking about what I have ahead. When I start, 6 miles is infinitely longer than what I’ve swum so far (having swum nowhere yet). As soon as I’ve covered a mile, my mind has something to work with. I can think, “only 5 more of those.” But at that point, 5 more of those seems like a lot, because that first one was so much harder than it should have been. As I swim, and the time or distance I’ve swum increases, I am more able to frame it to myself in a way that sounds doable or even easy. The funny thing is that I do all this even when I’m quite enjoying myself and not hurting at all. It’s ridiculous, really. It may have something to do with the fact that I have yet to swim a long distance that doesn’t include some sort of circuit. However, ten days from now I will swim in the Kingdom 10 mile swim, which is one big loop. I look forward to getting to know my brain in that situation. Perhaps I will be able to just relax and swim… and not think too much about when my mom will signal that it’s time for a feed. But what in the world will I think about?
My mom is coming out from Seattle to be my kayaker at the Kingdom swim and perhaps begin a beautiful kayaker/swimmer-mother/daughter relationship.
Hey! Come up to Lake Galway this weekend to swim!! We will be there till Tuesday. You can stay over!
No car this weekend. :(
great report, but i’m sure i recommended ginger tea…. but if green tea works, thats good too. a lot of the CIBBOWS crowd brew strong black tea with tons of ginger and honey.
Great blog & report! Good luck with your swim at Lake Whatchamacallit
Hey Mo! Thanks for feedback. Great to meet you yesterday on stage 5 of Barra’s 8-Bridges swim. I knew your name sounded very familiar when we met, and now I realize I recognized it from this comment. I look forward to the next time we cross paths, perhaps at Brighton Beach some time. Congratulations on a great swim, by the way. Best, Caitlin
Your Mom turned me on to your blog which I find fascinating! Maggie Carr and I both did the Danskin Triathalon last summer which featured a short swim in Lake Washinton. I got my taste of swimming and thought half seriously about doing more of it, but promplty lost my enthusiasm once the cloudy skies returned. As I was reading the New York Times today (July 3rd), I noticed an article about the increase in popularity of marathon swimming in NY and a photo of David Barra swimming at Brighton Beach. Since I had just read your blog the day before I found it fascinating. Talked with your Mom yesterday and she said she’s off to NY this Thursday to be your kayak back up in the swim in Vermont. Good luck to you both. You’re a real inspiration to us all.
Thanks for the note and thanks for reading! Any more triathlons or other adventures in your future?
I was hanging out at Brighton Beach with David and Suzanne (the author of the article) the day she was interviewing him. He’s a great guy with an inspiring love of open water. I have found that It is not hard to get hooked on open water swimming… especially with a community of like-minded folks around. I don’t know what the open water scene is like in Seattle, but I have to imagine there is one, just as a result of being surrounded by so many bodies of water. Turns out that a lot of the fun of the open water is conquering the cold, so I doubt the cloudy/drizzly weather stops Seattle swimmers… so, you know, you may just get the bug after all.
Thanks again for reaching out,
keep up the good work
tom “iceman” mcgann
Will do, Tom. Thanks for your support.
My mom (Priscilla Fitzhugh) is friends with your mom and mentioned your blog to me. I see that you did some training in lake Minnewaska! I grew up in Mt Baker but now live in Poughkeepsie and belong to the MDSA– we (me and my husband, and friends from our masters’ swim team) love swimming there in the summer. Good luck at your race this weekend, and if you’re ever back up at Minnewaska it would be fun to see you.
-Emily (Johnson) Dozier
Emily- Thanks for getting in touch. What a wonderful chain of connections. I’ll be back in NY in August and will likely take a trip or two up to the lake. I’ll let you know when I do. It would be great to connect. Best, Caitlin
Love the feeding station – great initiative!