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Fat Salmon 1st Open Water Race

Diana Holman - Saturday, September 15, 2012

Yesterday, I swam in my first open-water race,the 1.2 mile at the Fat Salmon.

The beginning of the day started out with check-in at 6:15 am followed by a safety briefing that warned of the risks of open water swimming such as getting hit by a boat propeller, struck by lightning or pulled to the depths by lake monsters. After the safety briefing, those of us who weren’t part of a carpool would have to walk to the starting line, a mile away, carrying our gear (wetsuit, goggles, cap, bible). I decided, “I’ll walk; it’ll be a good warm-up.”

Putting on a wetsuit first thing in the morning is challenging enough; lots of powder, swearing, contorting your body into weird positions. However, putting on a wetsuit after walking for a mile, sweating, in a park with God and everybody watching is an entirely different animal. Sweat and neoprene are not a good combination. Fortunately, I brought my Costco-sized container of baby powder and as I was liberally dousing myself, the wind shifted and everybody around me also got covered. My apologies to everyone that was affected by this; at least it was lavender scented and we all smelled wonderful!

Okay, I’m all geared up now. I had my wetsuit, cap and goggles on, scent of day-spa in the air and I was ready! As I entered the water I began my routine of acclimation by submerging my face into the water and practicing my breathing. As I did so, I was once again awed by the transition of worlds… from land to what exists below the water’s surface. “Awed” is probably not the best word for this…“Horrified!”, “Why can’t I see my feet?”, “What is that growing on the seaweed?” and “This is where the lake monsters live” better describe my reaction.

Finally in the water with 160 other swimmers and we’re getting ready for the start. My adrenaline was pumping and the countdown began...3...2...1...GO! I had wondered why this race was dubbed “Fat Salmon” when it’s done in a lake. Why not call it the “Fat Trout?” That became quite clear at the start of the race. I was reminded of my trip to Alaska during salmon spawning season when the salmon are fighting to swim upstream and it appears that there are more fish than water.

For the first five minutes of the race it was all green caps, elbows and feet, scrambling to get through the buoys in front of us. This was the part of the race that I wasn’t looking forward to because I wasn’t sure how I would react having so many people around me jockeying for their position. Amazingly enough I found myself giggling. I’m not sure how that was possible but there I was. The experience was thrilling! There I was with the throng of others, standing my ground, grinning and laughing like a fool. The most amazing sense of clarity washed over me; I was alert and completely aware of my surroundings.

Once we were through the buoys and had started dispersing a bit, the work started. I settled into my pace and concentrated on my breathing. Every 20 strokes or so, I’d lift my head and scan the horizon ahead, charting my course by picking a large, stationary object on land. In this case, it was the tall condominiums that lie just south of the finish line at Madison Park. The water wasn’t as calm as I’d hoped; the previous days’ wind and thunderstorms left the lake quite choppy.

The rest of the race itself was thankfully pretty uneventful and I celebrated a strong finish. All-in-all, I was very impressed with the level of organization and efficiency that went into putting on this race. After many a sleepless night worrying about this race, worrying about what “could” happen, worrying about my physical limitations, I’m so incredibly glad I followed through and stuck to the plan. What a great experience! I’m definitely geared up for a repeat next year.

This article appeared in The WetSet September/October edition for PNA. The newsletter is available online at


Filed under: BWAQ Swimmer Stories, Newsletters, Open Water Swimming


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