August 18-19, 2020: 17 Hours, 58 Minutes, 34 seconds
Fastest Solo Completion, Fastest Female Solo Completion, Oldest Solo Completion, First New Zealander ( pending ratification )
A Swimmer‘s Story of Swimming the Queen of American Lakes during a pandemic year
If I had only one sentence to recap my record setting swim, I would quote Bob Singer
“It is 32 miles of clear water with the best views” Bob Singer
I reached out to Bob on July 21st, 2020 to ask him if he and his lovely wife Deb Roberts would be interested in supporting a swim of Lake George in the following month. I had met Bob 5 years earlier at a swimming convention and loved his energy and undisguised love of his home lake, Lake George. It was clear he knew the lake like the back of his hand and what struck me even more was how connected he was to the history of the lake and marathon swimming. I was hooked and registered for the 32 mile Lake George Marathon swim in September 2016, there I got my first taste of Lake George. Although inclement weather forced the field to be pulled early that year, I learnt a-lot about the lake and wanted to return. What better year than 2020 right!
I was blessed with a fun loving team of support, who knew how to laugh, were top rate on all things safety and support of a marathon swimmer, and they clearly loved being out in nature and on an adventure. That’s a winning formula.
Janine Serell was our team’s observer/crew. She was the chef of the ship sending me out an endless variety of fuel at my 30 minute feed intervals on our way down the lake. Lyn Goldmsith and Eri Itsunomiya headed up kayak support working in rotations every few hours. Dave Snyder piloted a Pontoon Boat with calm and ease.
The big unknown was whether would we be permitted to travel to New York state from Vermont, and if we could travel safely, given each state had their own individual COVID travel restrictions and/or quarantine regulations, which were based on county COVID infection case numbers. When we were in the planning stage Vermont and Lake George, NY had similar low COVID case loads, meaning travel was permitted between the two areas. I checked daily leading up to my swim window, we were still green, meaning good to travel to and from and we drove to Lake George NY, on Monday August 17th, the weather looked good for the 18th, and we decided that I would be swimming Lake George the very next day! Gasp!!
A Bird’s Eye view of the Lake
Bob Singer and Deb Roberts had graciously invited our team to stay at their home, we masked up, socially distanced and had terrific hospitality, with a delightful dinner and evening. The next morning Bob surprised me and Eri with a flight over Lake George, I loved it. Bob piloted our flight and gave us an arial tour of the lake, pointing out all the predominant landmarks. I’m a very visual person and loved hearing about the Lake George’s features and personality. There is Rodger’s Rock a big shingle slope on the side of a mountain at the northern end of the lake named after a British solider who is said to have sneakily escaped form the French in a battle in the 1700’s by sliding down the shingle slope. Then Black Mountain, which Bob told me you can see for miles, and not to forget the narrows, a narrow area of the lake spotted with many little islands, the water so clear you can see the bottom! Soon the flight was over and it was time for our crew meeting.
Crew Meeting : Time to talk feeds, motivation and put weaknesses on the table!
It was time for Janine, Lyn, Eri and me to sit down and talk game plan. That included going over supplies, feeding, and schedule.
Here’s the feed menu:
Chocolate Perpetuem Hammer/ Hammer Gels/ Raisins/ Cashews/ Cape Cod Potato Chips/ Honey/ Peppermint Tea/ Chicken Soup/ Maple Syrup/ Slippery little peaches
Let’s Talk Motivation:
I was lucky enough to have this performance boosting technique shared with me by my Vermont training buddy, and marathon swimmer Paula Yankauskas. The idea is to have a word given to you each feed. You come up with words that resonate with you. The words I chose were geared to give me additional mental strength on my journey down the lake, and some were intended just to make me laugh.
Weaknesses, that’s a gutsy thing to talk about!
I wanted to go over my weaknesses, so the team knew how to best reduce their impact on my swim. Yip get those achilles heels up on the table!
“The cold night air, it’s forecast to drop into the 50s”, “to succeed I’m going to need to swim strong to keep warm, take hot feeds from the get go, and not dilly dally at feed time, fast feeds is a must”
“I need to keep hydrated and my electrolytes in balance” I knew I’d need to drink plenty of fluids, even if I didn’t feel like it, plus keep my electrolytes in balance with electrolytes tablets. I also had supplies of my tried and true salt fixes: salted cashews, potato chips, and gatorade.
Now time for the Strengths
Strength: Wind and Waves
Strength: Mental Focus
These things were going to help us out, I am fortunate to have a bit of speed in my back pocket and wind and waves increase my drive, I put my head down and pull even stronger. Finally I have the ability to focus to draw mental strength, I say have the ability, because we all have times when focus can be lacking or hard to find, I came equipped with a mindset of steel and a collection of inspirational words to reinforce it.
So there we have it my Lake George 2020 plan of attack: Swim Strong, Swim Fast, Feed Well, Feed Fast
Next up it was dinner prepared by Lyn and Janine, my favorite pre swim Steak and mashed Potatoes, a quick rest, then into the car and off to Snug Harbor, a 32 mile + drive up the lake, after which I would swim back!
Diane’s Rock ” Where are you?”
Bob drove to the northern end of the lake where we staged at Snug Harbor, Ticonderoga. The team loaded the boat, I met Dave Snyder, our captain and kept my long down jacket zipped up until it was time to climb down the ladder of the Snug Harbor dock. Soon it was time to strip off and slide into the water. The air felt cool and the water felt silky warm. I stroked easily over to Diane’s Rock, with Eri by paddling by my side in Tsunami, David Barra’s sea kayak ( thanks David!!!)
My swim would start after I left the legendary ” Diane’s Rock “, I reached the rock. I slipped on, off and into Diane’s Rock, smacking my arm, elbow and knee in the process. Ouch! Not to worry I had made it off and was now swim was underway, I was excited. I felt a little disorientated, the lights were glaring and I wasn’t sure what direction I was heading, I was just grateful to be swimming! I heard the whistle blow, and I came to an abrupt stop, picking my head up.
“That was not Diane’s rock”, Eri shouted, “this way”, “you started on the wrong rock” , she added. Oh dear, I thought, “it’s my shortest do-over ever”, I giggled under water and swam back to the real Diane’s rock to try again.
Well, I did not gracefully approach the real Diane’s rock, I slithered, slipped, bumped and banged my way on to the rock. I raised my arm signaling I was there, and promptly slipped back into the water with a bang. My elbow and shoulder smacked on a nearby rock and ached, I decided at that point it would be a good idea to push off strongly in a streamline to get a good start after all my slipping. Not a good idea! I pushed straight into a submerged rock banging my hands, jolting my shoulder again. It was a bumpy entrance into what would be my new aquatic home for the next 18 hours, but I made it and my swim was finally underway.
Settle Down Kiwi
“Who’s the new girl”, I laughed at my bumbling swim start! Now it was time to settle down, it took me at-least 45 minutes. First the light was blinding me, it was all I could think of, then I was hungry, finally I adjusted mentally, by focusing on pulling long and strong, stroke by stroke, I relaxed and at an hour it was time for my first feed. In an effort to keep my feeds warmer we had shifted from my regular plastic feed cups to an insulated cup. The cup was great, my dexterity was not, and I struggled hard to get the top off. I took the feed and it was perfect. It would be the first of 37 feeds that Janine aced!
The night was dark, yet I could make out the silhouette of a mountain line, it was Rodger’s Rock, I imagined the steep slope and how Rodger slid down it in the 1700’s making his cunning escape from the French. A southerly wind had picked up and the Lake was tossing waves at me, I drove my head down and pulled harder, grateful for the waves, they made me work harder generating more body heat to keep my body warm. “Head wind, bring it on”, I thought.
Stroke by stroke, feed by feed, we were moving down the lake. The aching in my shoulder, knee and elbow from my rocky start had been firmly replaced by my mind focusing on nature, my breath and Eri beside me in the kayak. We were in a good rhythm. At each feed she was shouting my motivational word, first there was “Wonderful”, then “Optimistic”, “Dedication” and “Easy Power”.
Silver Bay 10 Miles
I could see twinkling lights light up the sky as breathed to my right, it was Silver Bay. The playful reflection of the lights danced along the surface of the water especially on the crest of the waves. The wind had picked up. We had originally planned to swim from South to North, but the forecasted wind direction had shifted to a Northerly wind prior to our launch, in response we had changed the direction of the swim to North to South. Clearly the wind was going to have the last word it defiantly blew from the south, during the first 9 hours of my crossing. Some times it eased other times it did not, by the time I was enjoying the twinkling lights of Silver Bay the wind was a merry old 10 miles/hour.
Dreaming of Chicken Soup
About this time I began dreaming of hot chicken soup, the cold air was driving into the exposed bare skin on my arms, shoulders and back, and the back of my head felt cold. If I drove my head down lower into the water, it felt like I could bury it away from the cold night air. I played this game repeatedly, dreaming of hot soup at the same time. As if Janine could sense what I was thinking out came some delicious chicken soup at my next feed. The warm fluid heated me up as I gulped it down. I was so disappointed when it was gone that I unscrewed the lid and slid down all the noodles and mushy vegetables as well. I felt like Pooh Bear downing a jar of honey. Once it was gone I rolled onto my belly and off I swam.
It wasn’t long before I started feeling nauseous, I kept my pace up and groaned as I swam, I felt awful! The word at my next feed was “Upbeat”, boy did I need that word. I hauled up my spirits and swam on determined to hold pace. I did, and as I swam I hurled up the chicken soup, it was warm and chunky as it streamed down my thighs as I swam. At my next feed I declared that the Chicken Soup was “Instant Regret”. That will teach me for being a piglet and downing it all! Lyn passed me my warm Hammer drink. I didn’t feel like it, but I drank it anyway, swam on and threw that up too. My Word for the feed was “Laughter”, and it made me laugh, perfect, despite feeling sick, I was swimming happy and that’s when I swim my best!
Things that hit you in the night
I struck a few objects in the night, there were the few rocks at the start, and a few pieces of driftwood during the dark of the night. Other than that there was only the extreme beauty, of Lake George that struck me, I could feel it. It was truly moving, the lake was vast, the mountains surrounding the lake were majestic, and I was feeling grateful, for the Lake, the Team supporting me, my conditioning and my mental strength, it was powerful and a time I still treasure to this day.
Where’s the sun
We were making progress, there was no doubt about it, Bob Singer was right, you could see the summit light on Black island for miles and miles, it was like a beacon drawing me closer, stroke by stroke, feed by feed. Janine was keeping me well fueled physically and mentally. I was keeping my fluid intake up and had added some salty solid foods, like cashews. I began longing for a glimmer of dawn, a glimpse of the silhouette of the pontoon boat, the kayak and the team. It had been such a dark night, and finally after 9 hours, the darkness began to lift, I was elated.
I felt like I had a whole new playground to check out, it was exciting! My eyes traced the ridges of the mountains each time I took a breath, I studied Tsunami, the kayak, Lyn skillfully navigating the waves. I swam feed to feed and each feed came with a new word and a little more daylight. There are “Determination”, ” Robust”, ” Fun” , “Will Power”.
Harbor Islands 15 Miles
We were moving out of the wide northern end of the lake and entering into the narrow part of the lake, here lies Harbor Islands, 15 miles from the start. Clustered together under the watch of Black Mountain, these islands played host to campers, including Pilot Dave’s family! As I swam by they were on the dock waving to us. It must have been an early start for them and I so appreciated seeing them and their encouragement.
The Narrows 20 Miles
The sun was reluctant to join us, although we had a beautiful sunrise from a distance in the northern end of the lake, we were stuck under a thick blanket of cloud. I was looking forward to seeing the sun and felt confident that eventually it would shine. In the meantime the wind had dropped and I was enjoying more distance per stroke by getting long and pulling strong. The highlight of the narrows was that I could really get a first hand view of how beautifully clear the water was, with lots of pretty little darting fish below. This was my favorite part of the lake to date!
Company in the Water
After 13 hours I had a lovely surprise. First Janine sent out some of Lyn’s homemade mashed potatoes, they hit the spot like you wouldn’t believe and I’m pretty sure my only words were…more, more, more. Then to top it off, Bob and Deb pulled up alongside the pontoon boat, they had motored out to see us. ” Want some company, would you like Deb?” Janine called, during my feed.
I was thrilled, off we went, Deb positioned herself behind me and to my side, what fun. My word was ” Epic” and it was, the sun was out, the water calm, and we were swimming strong. I had been in the water 13 hours and knew there was much more swimming ahead of me, I drove my head down and pressed south.
Feed time was a dime a dozen, down the hatch went electrolyte water, honey, slippery little peaches that felt good on my throat, there was also ginger tea. I was feeling the early onset of cramping in my legs so turned my attention to additional measures, out came the gatorade and Cape Cod Potato Chips. It was hard to fathom that one could put away this much food and liquid yet into the vault it was going and I needed it.
Weathering the Storm
With Pilot Knob behind us we were 25 miles in. I was so excited as this was now my Personal Best Lake swim ever. Lake Memphremagog was my longest Lake Crossing at 25.2 miles, and I ‘d just broke my own record. “What a day”, I thought. It was feed time again, I scooped up my feed and Janine leaned over the boat, it looked like an intervention, I was curious and did my best to listen through my earplugs ” If you can swim the next 6 miles in less than 4 hours you’ll break the speed record”. I’m pretty sure she added ” Don’t kill yourself though”. ” Well off we go then” I thought to myself, my word was ” Reel it In”, ” Pretty appropriate ” I thought!
I swam off taking it all in, and decided that easy power and maintaining my rhythm was the way to go. I had a consistent strong pace, and decided to stick with the same formula: Swim Strong, Swim Fast, Feed Well, Feed Fast
Then the storm hit. The further south we got the more boat wakes there were, they jostled me this way and that, tossing me about unpredictably. Then miraculously the boat wakes disappeared! I couldn’t believe my luck. “All the boats are taking a break for lunch I guess”, I was happy with my mind’s explanation. Then I noticed the dark clouds, the aggressive wind and felt the pelting rain on my back, shoulders and head. It was teaming and the water began to swirl around. It was a storm, ” Oh Dear” I thought, as I noticed a police/coastguard boat lurking around behind us. I drove my head deep under water hoping they may not see me, I did not want to be pulled from the water, and knew if they asked us to clear the water, I ‘d have to oblige and my swim would be over, and painfully so, being so few miles to the finish. So I kept swimming.
Eventually when the storm eased up I noticed a boat pull alongside us. It was a big boat with a loud speaker. Hanging over the rails were people waving and cheering for us. We’d made it through the storm and the local tourist cruise boat was back on the Lake and they were shouting my name and cheering us on. I’m not sure how they knew. Janine had the New Zealand Flag flying, the sun had reappeared, and we were approaching Lake George Village. The end of the lake was approaching!
North Wind Where are You?
After 16.5 Hours of swimming the wind was back, but this time it was a welcome North Wind, yes you guessed, it a tail wind. The waves once again picked up and I repositioned my balance to breathe in the troughs and ride the crests as best I could. Stroke by stroke I pulled closer to the village, I kept my head down pulled hard and continued to feed every 30 minutes. After my last feed I had less than a 1000 meters to reach the public dock, I put all my effort into focus, I knew from experience that you need to be all in until you run out of water, otherwise the swim could be over before you reach the finish.
I allowed myself to sight a few times, the pontoon boat had given way for me and Lyn to approach the sea wall. I could see people gathered on the grass behind it.
My last few strokes Lyn was smiling so wide, jostling her paddle above her head, I drove my hand on to the sea wall, we’d done it!
I looked up and there was Bob Singer, holding an iPad with my daughter Heidi Brynn on the screen smiling and cheering. He had Face Timed her to be there at the finish, it was a complete surprise and I was thrilled.
I swam under the public dock to the ladder on the pontoon boat and climbed up. Janine, and Eri helped get me dressed. I still felt a bit nauseous, and grabbed the bucket off the boat to take with me for the car ride back to the house. Then it was off the dock and out to the street to wait for Deb to come pick us up. Janine walked with me and when we got to our pickup spot I turned the bucket upside down, sat on it and looked up at her, ” We did it” , I said, “how far off the record were we?” I added, “You broke the record” she smiled. “Shut Up”, I said and I grinned a very big grin!
Shout out to the “Queen of American Lakes”, Lake George, and my amazing support team: Bob Singer, Deb Roberts, Janine Serell, Lyn Goldsmith, Eri Itsunomiya, Dave Snyder, and Heidi Brynn.